Introduction - Otto Palmer

Introduction to The Philosophy Of Freedom

Otto Palmer
No other book Rudolf Steiner wrote was as often and exhaustively discussed by him as The Philosophy of Freedom. He not only refers to it to call attention to some particularly interesting matter treated in its pages; he points again and again and yet again, from every imaginable angle, to what he intended this work to accomplish —indeed, to initiate. From 1905 until his death in 1925 not a year passed without some discussion of this first work.

This book offers those who study it the possibility of making themselves truly "free spirits." Materialism does just the opposite. It seeks to reduce us to creatures completely determined by heredity and other such influences, hence totally unfree and little better than animals. That is what Materialism has set out to do, and let us not deceive ourselves; it can do it.

Following a path means moving one's feet, not standing still. If one cannot rouse oneself to do this, one resembles a person who studies a map carefully and knows exactly where the path goes, but never starts out to travel it. The map is all that interests him.

It is perfectly justified within certain limits to take a more theoretical approach to the study of the path Steiner opened up. But there is a danger in it —the danger of becoming too much involved in following up the quotes from Spinoza, Fichte, Hamerling and the various others and making them more of an object of study than is at all necessary for a grasp of The Philosophy of Freedom.

The quotations included in The Philosophy of Freedom were put there for a quite different purpose. That purpose stands out clearly if we leave out the names of the philosophers quoted and consider their thoughts alone, a procedure that changes nothing of consequence in the structure of the book. Then these thoughts serve partly as an obstacle course for the strengthening of our own thinking, partly as prods to stimulate us to reach out for new ideas, and partly as fences to keep our thoughts from straying off in wrong directions.

If one responds to the tutelage the quotes provide, one begins to notice that the thoughts presented in this book are not arranged in a set abstract logical sequence, but instead conduce to a thought dynamics, a veritable thought eurythmy. What we have here is philosophy as an art of thinking.

Another danger is that the reader will rest content with familiarizing himself with Steiner's comments and use this as an excuse for not developing his own thinking will.

A person engaging in this dynamic mode of thinking has to activate his will, which gives rise to the "thinking will" that Rudolf Steiner refers to again and again as so essential. Once the reader succeeds in setting this thinking will in motion it is only a question of how far he can develop it, for there are no limits to its possible intensifying.

So he launches out on the path that Rudolf Steiner cleared for him. He learns to transform ideas into ideals. The idea of freedom is a free gift offered him but it is up to him to make this idea activate his will. If he does so, the idea becomes an ideal. He lifts himself toward the ideal of the "free spirit" and works to make it a reality.

A person who lifts himself to a truly individual level in the sense of The Philosophy of Freedom has, by the same token, developed the capacity to find the concepts and ideas that belong to the phenomena with which the surrounding world confronts him. 

His efforts in this direction bring forth yet another kind of harvest. He develops intuition, that not only enables him to have ideas of his own, but to absorb those of others as though they were his. He is thus able to blot out his own world of ideas in order to let another's light up in him. So he comes to understand his fellowman and to develop into a social being.

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