Introduction - Michael Wilson

Introduction to The Philosophy Of Freedom

Michael Wilson
The Philosophy OF Freedom can be seen as the crowning achievement of nineteenth-century philosophy. It answers all the problems of knowledge and morality that philosophers had raised, argued over, and eventually left unsolved with the conclusion that “we can never know”. Yet this great achievement received no recognition. Perhaps if Steiner had spent the rest of his life expounding his philosophy, he would today be recognized throughout the world as a major philosopher. Indeed, philosophy has got itself a bad name, perhaps from its too-frequent negative results, so it might even be better to consider the Philosophy of Freedom not just as a chapter of philosophy, but as the key to a whole way of life.

Considered just as a piece of philosophy, it might in any case be thought out of date, having only historical interest. But this would be to misunderstand the nature of philosophy. Steiner deals in turn with each possible point of view, illustrating each one with an example from the literature, and then showing the fallacies or shortcomings that have to be overcome. Many of the old philosophical points of view, dating back to Kant, survive among scientists today who are very advanced in the experimental or theoretical fields, so that Steiner's treatment of the problem of knowledge is still relevant.

Confusion concerning the nature of perception is widespread, because of the reluctance to consider the central part played by thinking. Thinking is all too often dismissed as “subjective” and hence unreliable, without any realization that it is thinking itself that has made this decision. The belief that science can deal only with the “objective” world has led to the position where many scientists are quite unable to say whether the real world is the familiar world of their surroundings, as experienced through the senses and pictured in the imagination, or the theoretical world of spinning particles, imperceptible forces and statistical probabilities that is inferred from their experimental results. Here Steiner's path of knowledge can give a firmer basis for natural science than it has ever had before.

Its main value lies in the sound scientific basis it gives — a basis for knowledge, for self-knowledge, for moral action, for life itself. It does not “tell us what to do”, but it opens a way to the scientific path to truth.

Today we hear about the “free world” and the “value of the individual”, and yet the current scientific view of man seems to lend little support to these concepts, but seems rather to lead to a kind of morality in which every type of behavior is excused on the plea that “I cannot help being what I am!” If we would really value the individual, and support our feeling of freedom with knowledge, we must find a point of view which will lead the ego to help itself become what it wants to be — a free being. This cannot mean that we must abandon the scientific path; only that the scope of science must be widened to take into account the ego that experiences itself, which it does in the act of thinking. Thus the Philosophy of Freedom takes its start by examining the process of thinking.

After having established the possibility of knowing, the book goes on to show that we can also know the causes of our actions, and if our motive for acting comes from pure intuition, from thinking alone, without any promptings from the appearances and illusions of the sense-world, then we can indeed act in freedom, out of pure love for the deed.

Man ultimately has his fate in his own hands, though the path to this condition of freedom is a long and a hard one, in the course of which he must develop merciless knowledge of himself and selfless understanding of others.

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