Stebbing Summary - Chapter 9

Chapter Summary Of The Philosophy Of Freedom
Rita Stebbing

Chapter 9 The Factors of Life
In Chapter 8 the reader is made to pause, so to speak, and to look back over the content of the first part before he begins Chapter 9. Here we come to the heart of the book: “the innermost sanctuary of the temple.” The light that can illuminate it is essentially the content of Chapter 3. In that Chapter the search began for “a region of the soul.” In Chapter 9 that region is found.

As one reads this chapter one watches this region of the soul of man being born in the interaction between his spiritual nature and what rises up from his bodily nature. One could imagine not only a book, but a whole library developed from this chapter, dealing with PsychologyMedicineEducationPrison-reform, and much else. A truly majestic picture of man arises before the reader, depicting not only what man is, but above all what he will become.

To attempt to give an account of the content of Chapter 9 is rather like being confronted with a cave full of treasures---so much could be chosen, so little can be singled out.

The unusual activity of observing one's own thinking, of which a study of the first half of the book really consists, will have led the reader to recognize that that part of his being with which he thinks, that is, his true individuality or 'I', lives within thinking, and when thinking is observed, the 'I' observes from within its own activity.

In Chapter 9 Steiner explains that the 'I' needs bodily nature to become conscious of itself as 'I'. The 'I' is not the body, but it uses the body as its tool; just as a person who walks over soft ground leaves his footprints in the soil, so thinking leaves his footprints in the bodily nature. This has led to the superficial conclusion that it is the physical brain that thinks, which would be the same as saying of the foot prints that forces from below the ground had created them.

The way man's higher being takes up its abode and uses the bodily nature for earthly tasks unfolds like a mighty drama before the reader. Seen like a battle between light and darkness, the verses at the beginning of St. John's Gospel come to mind: “And the light shone in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not.”

On the quality of the darkness will depend the quality of the colors that arise when light shines into darkness: Whether the colors will be dark and muddy, or pure and transparent. One could imagine man asking: Of what quality is the 'house' into which I must go? Shall I have to live in it as in a prison, enslaved by passions and desires, chained down by prejudices and conventions, or shall I be free in it and live as master of the house, able to give expression through it to my own light-filled nature?

Steiner depicts man's path upward to freedom that is, to union with his higher self, as an ascent of a moral ladder of self-development. This ladder consists of three steps leading up to a fourth; or one could think of three steps leading up to the Holy of Holies in the temple. The lowest level is egoism
based on instincts---when a man lives purely to satisfy cravings arising from selfish desires; here the light of thinking shines but dimly. The second level is authority---based on feelings. It is so much easier to let some authority such as family, State or Church guide one's life, rather than think things out for oneself. The third level is moral insight based on practical experience---that is, on thinking conditioned by the external aspects of a situation when one always looks back on past experience, on what others did in a similar case, etc. This is indeed a higher level, one which most people will have reached (though one usually will have to admit that very often one remains on either of the levels below). Yet just at this third level there is the greatest danger of becoming fixed, so to speak, judging everything on the basis of past experiences. This is rightly applicable only to something finished, not to man, an evolving being. Steiner shows that what pertains to man's individuality can be judged only on the highest level, the fourth step of the ladder. Here man experiences his higher self, which is to experience the sphere where freedom is possible; this in turn means to possess the ability to judge a situation from the level of conceptual intuition based on pure reason. This level Steiner calls ethical individualism.

One may recognize these levels (merely summarized above) as stages through which man evolves; historically in humanity as a whole, and also repeated in every growing child. In a certain sense one might say that every infant lives on the level of egoism (rightly so), demanding and expecting attention and help from his whole surroundings. His life is governed by bodily needs. The child's attitude becomes wrong only if carried over to later stages of his life. The older child rightly expects and needs authority from those who bring him up. His life is governed by the life of feelings awakening within him. The teenager will attempt to apply what he has learned, he will try to “put the world right,” that is, apply the thoughts he has taken over from his teachers. Only the grown-up person who has “come of age,” that is, whose 'I' has taken full possession of the “house,” can give himself the “final polish,” as Steiner expresses it. Then he can exert his power of independent thinking and form his own judgments. If he does this, past experiences, tradition and conventional viewpoints merely serve as a basis, but do not influence his judgment of what is unique in the situation he confronts. Only on this level of ethical individualism it is possible to judge an individuality.

In order to come nearer to an understanding of what is meant by ethical individualism we may consider for a moment what is meant by conceptual intuition. In Chapter 5 Steiner describes intuition as the power to see thinking and what is produced by thinking: concepts and ideas. When a person looks at a tree and later remembers the tree, this ability to see the concept (the representation of the tree) in his mind, is intuition. However, in this example it is not yet conceptual intuition, for what he sees refers to a physical object, that is, to something other than thinking. If he remembers a feeling, whether hate or love, or a will impulse, this again is not conceptual intuition; it is still based on something external to thinking. In other words, conceptual intuition is the ability to see the pure idea without any veils around it. Only a conceptual intuition could see thinking, or rather, when we come to conceptual intuition, seeing is to be “at one” with the thing which is seen. Only at this level is it possible to speak of freedom in the true sense.

Man experiences freedom when he is able to identify himself completely with the object or being which he confronts, setting aside all his own opinions, views and inclinations for the time being and seeing the world purely and solely through the eyes of the other. In other words, he becomes utterly
selfless--he manifests a selflessness achieved through a strong ego which has taken its own development in hand. It is a selflessness that enables man to find his true'”I” through the other being or object who becomes a gateway to “The All-One Being that pervades everything” (Chapter 5).

That Steiner himself judged the viewpoints of others on this level may be seen in his book The Riddles of Philosophy, where the changes in man's consciousness are shown in the development of philosophic thought since its beginning in Ancient Greece. Steiner presents the views of innumerable
philosophers by identifying himself with each one, and looking at the world through their eyes. Thus he was able to make a true assessment of their contribution to man's spiritual development.

To the degree that a person has really reached the fourth level he will have undergone a complete transformation. An illustration of this in The Philosophy of Freedom can be seen in the three levels on which feeling may be experienced: At the end of Chapter 1 Steiner refers to the difference between merely,instinctive love, i.e., sexual desire, and what he calls human love. He shows how the latter is called forth, not by physical perception but by thinking. i.e., we form thoughts about the qualities of the person or object, and these thoughts kindle our love. In other words, we are dealing with feelings which do not merely well up from the instinctive bodily life and therefore do not come before us as perceptions prior to the activity of thinking. Rather, they are born from thinking, without which they would not come to exist.

In the Addition to Chapter 8 Steiner speaks of a different love---the capacity of thinking to dive into the depths of the phenomena, and this power he calls spiritual love. Although the feelings of a person in whose heart love has awakened because he admires some spiritual qualities in the other, are on a much higher level than in he case of mere sexual attraction, his feelings may still be bound largely to his personality. They will depend on what he considers worthy of admiration. But when a man is able to assess the external object solely for its own sake, irrespective of whether it pleases or displeases him, when he understands it completely and can identify himself with it, then the love that now awakens in him is spiritual.

This love is no longer bound to his personality, any more than is the concept of the object in question. Both thinking and feeling, i.e., both his knowledge of and his feelings for the object, are concerned with the object, not with himself. One could also say that his feelings now partake of the spiritual nature of thinking. He lives not in his 'I' which is one with the “World-I.” He has crossed the “abyss” and has risen into the universal life of thinking.

In very ancient a times when man had but little feeling of selfhood, feeling himself merely as a member of his tribe, he did not say: “I think,” but: “the world thinks in me.” This had to change, for otherwise man would never have reached the possibility of freedom. His consciousness contracted until it became as narrow as his physical body which gave him his 'I'-consciousness, and to-day he says rightly: “I think.” as we have seen, his next step must be to be able to say: “When I truly think, then at the same time the world thinks in me.”

From the above line of thought it follows that deeds done on the fourth level will be free deeds, done under no compulsion---neither the external compulsion of authority, nor the internal compulsion of selfish desires. The external compulsions are overcome through knowledge. There is no need to compel a man to do what he himself recognizes as right. The inner compulsion is overcome through self-development, i.e., not by exterminating feelings and will impulses as attempted in misunderstood asceticism, but by transforming them.

When man's being is understood in terms of his present stage of evolution, one cannot ask whether he is free or not, for he is partly free and partly unfree. He is free insofar as he has freed himself from external and internal fetters; he is unfree insofar as he has not yet managed this.

In connection with the four levels of development described in Chapter 9, attention may be drawn to something else. Particularly in this book Steiner shows how utterly and completely man is thrown back upon himself. The idea of some Godhead guiding and leading mankind from a realm external to man is utterly rejected here.

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The Knowledge of Freedom

Chapter 1   Conscious Human Action
Chapter 2   The Fundamental Urge for Knowledge
Chapter 3   Thinking in the Service of Comprehending the World
Chapter 4   The World as Percept
Chapter 5   Attaining Knowledge of the World
Chapter 6   The Human Individuality
Chapter 7   Are There Limits to Knowledge?


The Reality of Freedom
Chapter 8   The Factors of Life
Chapter 9   The Idea of Freedom
Chapter 10  Philosophy of Freedom and Monism
Chapter 11  World Purpose and Life Purpose (Mankind's Destination)
Chapter 12   Moral Imagination (Darwinism and Morality)
Chapter 13  The Value of Life (Pessimism and Optimism)
Chapter 14  Individuality and Type
The Consequences of Monism