Chapter Summary Of The Philosophy Of Freedom
Chapter 14 Individuality and Genus
In this last (and relatively short) formal chapter of the Philosophy of Freedom, Steiner takes up the issue of individuality and genus in the human being, and explains the degree to which humans are truly individual, or embedded in their generic identities.
By genus, Steiner is referring to race, gender, family lineage, "folk," religion, and nationality. Steiner maintains that people bear "the general characteristics" of the various groups to which belong, and that genus identity can answer the question of why people "appear in the forms" in which they appear. The collective qualities of genus function as a "medium" through which people express their particular being.
On the question of individuality, Steiner argues that the cultivation of intuition (including thinking, matters that are discussed in more detail in earlier chapters) allows a person to break free of the limitations of genus identity (whichever genus identity it happens to be) and to define him or herself as a true individual.
Taking note of the tyranny that social and gender identities can exercise on a person--in particular the case of women, who are constrained by constructed generic expectations--he asserts that "they must be allowed to determine for themselves what is in accordance with their nature (226)."
It is the task of each individual to break through the boundaries of their defining groups, and attain that intuition that enables them to become truly free, and truly unique. In turn, we must learn to understand the individuality of others, and not assess them according to their generic qualities. If we learn to do this, by entering into the individuality of the other, we increase our own ability to break free of the constraints of the generic. As Steiner puts it:
"People who immediately mix their own concepts into every judgment about another person can never arrive at an understanding of individuality (228)."
The degree to which a person can become individuated is, to Steiner, the degree to which he or she can become "a free spirit in the human community," and, by implication, a moral person living ethically for the sake of the human community.
"All moral activity of mankind springs from individual ethical intuitions and from their being taken up into human communities (229)."