Summary - Rita Stebbing

Chapter Summary Of The Philosophy Of Freedom
Rita Stebbing



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

The Philosophy of Freedom as a Path to Self-Knowledge

In a course of lectures titled Mystery Centers given at Dornach, Switzerland in 1923, Rudolf Steiner refers to his book, The Philosophy of Freedom, as follows:

“In The Philosophy of Freedom thinking is so experienced, that within the experience of thinking we come to the realization: 'if man really experiences his thinking he is living in the cosmos, even if at first this experience is somewhat indefinite.' The Philosophy of Freedom is built upon man's union with the process of the world. In this book you will find the sentence: 'In thinking, man takes hold of a corner of the world-process.' This, though simply expressed, is meant to imply that when a man really experiences thinking he feels himself no longer to be outside the divine essence but within it. When a man attains to the reality of thinking within himself he attains to the divine within himself.”

And in another course of lectures, Rudolf Steiner also refers to the Philosophy of Freedom, saying:

“The importance of this book lies not so much in what it says, though of course that too I wanted to convey to the world, but what is of most importance is that here for the first time, a book appears that is based solely on pure independent thinking. No one can understand this book who is unable to think independently. This book is therefore to be regarded as a means of self-education.”

These words of Rudolf Steiner may explain on the one hand why this book tends to be neglected even by many who are keen students of his other works, and on the other hand why for those who do make the effort, not only is their comprehension of Rudolf Steiner's other writing enhanced, but life itself becomes different for them. It is impossible for a person making that effort, even to some degree, not to become changed, for he becomes aware of what is usually an unconscious activity: his own thinking.

The basis and starting point for higher stages is the clear, exact thinking of normal consciousness, such as is essential for a study of natural science.

One need only consider the enormous development of natural science since the fifteenth century, in order to recognize that for centuries man's thinking has been employed and developed in a very one-sided manner. Man's ability to investigate external nature and make use of what he discovers for his own purposes has reached frightening dimensions. Yet, great though these discoveries are, they all deal with what is dead or dying, not what is living and coming into existence. Ever more brilliant inventions are made, but the keen intellect capable of these great achievements cannot solve the continually growing problems of social affairs, for example. Rudolf Steiner shows that a thinking capable of creating new moral ideas, one that itself has power of life and growth, is needed for the solution of these urgent questions.

To give some indication of a living activity of thinking---an activity we may use in everyday life but of which we are normally unaware---one could take an example which any reader of The Philosophy of Freedom can ascertain for himself: A sentence or paragraph may be taken from the book, one which as yet is not comprehensible, and can be lived with for a few days (it may be found that less time is needed, or sometimes perhaps longer). If he simply ponders it without unduly “tearing” at it, he will find that of itself the thought grows within him until it becomes translucent and understandable. With practice and a more sensitive awareness, he will also become conscious of this activity within himself. He will then know that Rudolf Steiner's statement that the book is written out of a thinking that is living, and independent of the brain, is a fact. He will experience how each thought in the book evolves out of the preceding thought and grows into the one that follows it. This thinking is something very different from our normal thinking that merely combines the facts and laws it discovers in external nature. Steiner shows that only such a living thinking is able to create new moral laws and man's higher nature as a moral being.

Before it is possible consciously to develop the slumbering forces inherent in thinking, it is necessary to know what thinking is. Steiner is the first philosopher who not only indicates a knowledge of thinking itself, but also describes how this knowledge is attained. Immanuel Kant, who more than any other philosopher attempted to show what thinking cannot achieve, succeeded in erecting artificial barriers before human thinking, barriers which until the appearance of Steiner's Truth and Science and The Philosophy of Freedom, have been universally accepted. Kant's is still the outlook on which natural science is based. The books just mentioned not only refute Kant's theory of knowledge; they open the portals to a new understanding of the process of cognition, and therefore to a new understanding of knowledge itself.

Because Steiner's works, more particularly his books, are written in the way indicated, they contain a living structure also to be found in true works of Art. One could, for example, compare The Philosophy of Freedom with Leonardo da Vinci's fresco of The Last Supper, where every detail is a living part of the whole, where a center---the figure of Christ---determines every single detail, the position and attitude of each disciple. Or again one could compare The philosophy of Freedom with a great work of architecture, a definite structure like a Greek temple, for example, a temple of Apollo.


© Tom Last 2017