Cunningham Summary - Chapter 3

Chapter Summary Of The Philosophy Of Freedom
Eric Cunningham

Chapter 3 Thinking in the Service of Apprehending the World
Steiner opens this chapter with an illustration: billiard balls in collision on a table. In pointing out the difference between observing the balls as they collide and then thinking about the collision one has just observed, he notes that "(a)s certain as it is...that the occurrence takes place independently of me, it is just as certain that the conceptual process cannot occur without my participation (25)."

Steiner asserts that "observation and thinking are the two starting points for all the spiritual striving of man (26)." All concepts must have at their core 1) an observed phenomenon, and 2)the thinking about that phenomenon that turns the observation into a mental image. He argues that thinking is unique among human activities, because we are able to think about thinking itself, creating additional concepts for ourselves. Feeling, for example, is not the same--we get feelings of pleasure from the way something affects us--not from any active "feeling" we apply to that thing. Thinking about the way an event happens is not the same as receiving pleasure or pain from its happening.

The activity of thinking is directed at the object of thinking, not at the personality doing the thinking, nor at the activity of thinking itself. Thus, Steiner argues, "(t)he first observation that we can make about thinking is...that it is the unobserved element of our ordinary spiritual life (30)."

But, we can direct our thinking at the activity of thinking, taking it as the object of our thought, although we can't simultaneously think and think abouth what we're thinking--we can only do the latter after the fact.

The ability to think about our thinking is, for Steiner, vitally important, and what matters in this ability is not how one concept leads to another (in a neurobiological sense), but how the larger content of our thoughts creates the conditions that motivate us to bring certain concepts into meaningful relationship with one another. Thinking then, is not a materialistic (chemical) process, but a spiritual activity.

When we observe our own thinking as an object of perception, we are "confronting our own activity," and we can explore the deeper inter-relationships of our own thinking. When we practice this, it empowers us to explore more deeply our relationships with purely external objects that enter our perception, and use this to acquire a greater knowledge of the object world. Because our thinking is something that we ourselves create, by thinking about our own thoughts, we gain a greater knowledge of the creative process in the larger world. As Steiner asserts, "...there is no starting point for looking at all world happening more primal than thinking (38)."

Steiner takes issue with the idea (popular among many philosophers of his day, including Nishida) that the starting point of his philosophy should be consciousness rather than thinking. "I must reply to this that if I want to clarify what the relationship is between thinking and consciousness, I must think about it (40)." Since thinking arises from within consciousness, it certainly presupposes the existence of consciousness--but the task for the philosopher is not to create a world beginning with "first things," but to understand it using the "last things," of which thinking is the most directly and immediately given.

Ultimately then, for Steiner, thinking is the fundamental spiritual activity; one whose practice and perfection optimizes our ability to understand the world in which we live.

3/14 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