Cunningham Summary - Chapter 10

Chapter Summary Of The Philosophy Of Freedom
Eric Cunningham

Chapter 10 Philosophy of Freedom and Monism
Chapter Ten is a brief but potent essay on the nature of Monism as a philosophy of inner freedom. I think it's unfortunate that in reaching a conclusion to this lengthy philosophical argument, Steiner would choose a term whose meanings are so fluid that they often refer to their own opposites. As a philosophy, Monism is usually used to describe a thought system that opposes dualism or pluralism. Against those who argue, for example, that there is a distinction between a perceiving subject and a perceived object, or that there is a difference between body and soul, spirit and matter, etc., a Monist will argue that these distinctions are false, and that the difference is resolved in some higher unity. In my own opinion, (I may be wrong) Steiner is actually arguing for a dialectical synthesis between the perceiver and the perceived, between the subject and the object, between mind and body, etc. He has already referred to this synthesis as "thinking." To now say that the synthesis is also Monism is only a partial step to get past the "naive" dualism, but Steiner, in his many, many books and lectures is anything but a Monist. (In a later chapter in this book specifically dealing with Monism, he will refer to the world as a "unity," but in his own cosmologies and studies of nature, reality is anything but homogeneous--it is wildly diverse with a multiplicity of spirits, angels, elementals; in short, a variety of natural, sub-natural, and super-natural beings).

So, I think the best way to look at these later chapters is to bracket out the word "Monism" (and try to become acquainted with the great variety of philosophical monisms) and concentrate on the thing he is critiquing, which, once again, is naive realism and the dualism that informs it.

In the opening pages he traces a kind of hierarchy of development. Naive people will seek to follow a trustworthy person. More "advanced" people will follow the norms of a society of civilization. More advanced people will seek truth from "higher," i.e., spiritual, powers," and the most advanced people will act upon the moral idea as an impulse that comes from within the conscience, and not from any external authority.

At the point where moral ideas are "generated" by the free self and not treated as commandments to obey, they appear to be entities unto themselves--as if moral ideas were accessed rather than invented--and have an identity of their own, completely independent of the thinking subject.

Monism as Inner Freedom
"Both naive and metaphysical realism, to be consistent," Steiner writes, "must deny our inner freedom for one and the same reason, because they see in man only the one who executes or carries out principles forced upon him by necessity (165)."

Naive realism denies freedom by forcing submission to some authority, whether real, or symbolic, or even conscience-based. Metaphysical realism denies inner freedom because (a la Kant) it sees the human being as being so far removed from the external authentically free "thing in itself" that man is really just "mechanistically or morally determined" by that thing.

The monist, Steiner asserts, sees that naive realism is partially correct, inasmuch as it validates perception as a means of acquiring truth--which is to say, it validates the notion that ideas can be acquired--whether from the outside (unfreely) or from intuition (freely). But monism (this kind of monism, anyway) rejects the metaphysical idea that truth can be gained from an abstract external thing that compels us to act in any way.

For the monist, the activities of human beings are both free and unfree; unfree in the world of perception, and free in the world of thought (spirit).

Monism, Morality and Freedom
The final section in Chapter Ten recapitulates Steiner's argument that no imposed or coerced code of morality can be truly free. "The moral commandments," he writes, "which the merely inference-drawing metaphysician has to regard as flowing from a higher power, are, for the believer in monism, thoughts of men (166)." Our mission in life is not, Steiner says, to satisfy the will or intentions of a higher power, but to achieve the purposes of the the free spiritual self as it unfolds.

"Each of us is called upon to become free spirit, just as each rose seed is called upon to become a rose (167)."

Monism is thus a "philosophy of inner freedom," and understands the human being to be constantly "self-developing."

The thing that seems difficult to nail down in this chapter is the reconciling what appears to be a precise kind radical subjectivity, i.e., the inherent freedom of the self, with a very ambiguous definition of monism, which in this case is merely a reality in which there is no distinction between subject and object. The difficulty comes from the fact that in Steiner's hundreds of later writings and lectures, he states quite clearly that we are constantly under the influence of external spirit beings, spirit impulses, thoughts, passions, etc., all of which have an objective identity of their own. This reality, which Steiner's own work proves clearly that he believes, seems to undermine his own definition in this work of a monistic nature in which the human is capable of acting freely without external influence.

Indeed, his reference to "nature" is interesting and if not contradictory, is at least a bit conflicted."Monism knows that nature does not release man from her arms already complete as a free spirit, but rather she leads him to a certain stage from which, still as an unfree being, he develops himself until he comes to the point where he finds himself (167)."

Does this mean that man is under compulsion from a nature that apparently has the power to "release" him, "lead" him, etc.? Where is man's freedom in this relationship with nature?

While the argument for a purely spiritual, intuitive freedom is elegant and compelling, Steiner's logic seems to either break down here, or suffer from a lack of clear explanation of what "monism" is really supposed to mean. If man is at once free and unfree, a monism that permits unqualified freedom can't really exist, right?

In the addenda to this chapter, Steiner fails to address this question, and instead rushes back to the idea of "thinking" being the bridge between the self and the object world. In the first addendum, he says that thinking about the contradiction between the universal (ideas) and the concrete (individual morality) is itself a "living concept." I can't help but see this as a kind of dodge. The second addendum jumps up to a more transcendent level, and places the life of ideas in contradistinction to materialism. This is ground on which Steiner is much more comfortable, talking about spiritual realms as a more authentic mode of reality than material phenomena. The chapter would have been much more satisfying if he had been a little more rigorous in defining monism.

10/14 Next

The Knowledge of Freedom

Chapter 1   Conscious Human Action
Chapter 2   The Fundamental Desire for Knowledge
Chapter 3   Thinking in the Service of Apprehending the World
Chapter 4   The World as Perception
Chapter 5   The Activity of Knowing the World
Chapter 6   The Human Individuality
Chapter 7   Are There Limits to Cognition?


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 Genus