Two Prefaces

The 1894 Preface and the 1918 Preface

Intended Purpose Of The Philosophy Of Freedom Changes In 1918

This first English translation of Rudolf Steiner's Die Philosophie der Freiheit has only been available if you were fortunate enough to locate one of the rare 1916 books. For this reason alone its seems appropriate to republish it now, yet this edition is distinct in other ways. It is the only translation sanctioned by Rudolf Steiner himself. The joint translators, Prof. and Mrs. R. F. Alfred Hoernlé, were selected for their outstanding qualifications.

“their thorough knowledge of philosophy and their complete command of the German and English languages enabling them to overcome the difficulty of finding adequate English equivalents for the terms of German Philosophy.” H. Collison, 1916 Editor’s Note, The Philosophy of Freedom

R. F. Alfred Hoernlé was trained in philosophy at Oxford and taught it at Harvard. He was familiar with the philosophical issues of Steiner's day. A review of Hoernlé's book Studies in Contemporary Metaphysics (1920) said he had a flexible and assimilative mind and:

"He has had quite exceptional opportunities for seeing contemporary philosophies in the making and for understanding, from personal experience, how far a set of philosophical opinions can bear transplanting from one country to another... a very staunch believer in the truth of the philosophical tradition.1921 Oxford University Press

This Hoernlé translation is based on the original, unrevised German Die Philosophie der Freiheit published in 1894. The other translations, available up to now, are not based on the original Die Philosophie der Freiheit, instead they are based on the 1918 revised edition. Rudolf Steiner revised the original German text twenty-five years after it was originally published. The Hoernlé translation is also unique to the extent that later translations have been influenced by the thought and terminology of theosophy and spiritual science.

To explain why The Philosophy of freedom was revised and came under the influence of theosophy it is necessary to understand the two different periods of Rudolf Steiner's life. The first is his ascent to freedom that began with training in mathematics, science, and philosophy culminating in his philosophy of life founded upon individualistic truth and ethical individualism. The Philosophy of Freedom describes his path to freedom and contains the ideas he formed in this first period. In the second period of his life Steiner converted to theosophy and began speaking of his clairvoyant research into spiritual realms.

Steiner intended that this first period, as it is expressed in The Philosophy of Freedom, stand independent of his later work in theosophy and spiritual science. In 1906 he says:

"You will find nothing at all in The Philosophy of Freedom that is derived from clairvoyant communications of spiritual science. It is written for the express purpose of disciplining thinking without any mention of theosophy." Rudolf Steiner, Berlin Oct. 20, 1906

Rudolf Steiner's original aim in The Philosophy of Freedom is to justify individualistic truth. This is presented in Chapter I, The Aim of Knowledge, that was part of the original 1894 edition:

It is no longer enough merely to believe, we want to know. Belief demands the acceptance of truths that are not quite clear to us. But the individuality that seeks to experience everything in the depths of its own being, is repelled by what it cannot understand. The only knowing that satisfies us is one that does not submit to outer norms, but rather springs from the inner life of the personality.Rudolf Steiner, in the original Philosophy of Freedom, Chapter I, The Aim of Knowledge.

In 1900 Steiner entered the second period of his life and his work took a new direction. He began lecturing on his clairvoyant research into spiritual realms to the Theosophical Society (later in the Anthroposophical Society that he started with a group of theosophists). Before this, Steiner seemed willing to speak to any group on a variety of topics, but now he gave lectures regularly on spiritual science to members of the Theosophical Society. This new direction likely led to his revising Die Philosophie der Freiheit in 1918 for the benefit of his theosophy followers who he regularly encouraged to read the book, but without much success as they were having great difficulty with it.

Changes of text have been made only where it appeared to me that I had said clumsily what I meant to say a quarter of a century ago.” Rudolf Steiner, 1918 Preface to the Revised Edition

The principles of individualistic truth found in the first chapter of the original Die Philosophie der Freiheit were removed and replaced with a new preface giving the book a new aim, that of justifying his later research into the spiritual realm. Steiner explains in the new preface added in 1918:

The aim of this book is to demonstrate, prior to our entry upon spiritual experience, that knowledge of the spiritual world is justified.” Rudolf Steiner, 1918 Preface to the Revised Edition

Other 1918 revisions included the books fundamental opening “question of freedom” which was revised to include a theosophy based preconception with the addition of “spiritual being”:

1894 original: Ist der Mensch in seinem Denken und Handeln frei,...
1918 revision: Ist der Mensch in seinem Denken und Handeln [ein geistig freies Wesen]...

1894 original: Is man, in his thinking and action free,...
1918 revision: Is man, in his thinking and action [a spiritually free being],...

The circle of the Anthroposophical Society became the authority to sanction and publish future translations after Steiner's death in 1925. The encroachment of theosophy continued in 1936 with revisions made to the Hoernlé translation by theosophist/ anthroposophist Hermann Poppelbaum, Director of the Anthroposophical Society, such as always translating “Geist” as “spirit” rather than “mind”. While recognizing the excellence of the Hoernlé translation, Poppelbaum's aim was to correct it according to the Society’s developing perspective on Steiner thought. Poppelbaum's objective was to,

“check certain words and phrases from the strictly Steiner point of view." 1939 The Philosophy Of Spiritual Activity, Editor's Preface to the Fourth Edition

Theosophy enters again in 1964 with the popular Michael Wilson translation:

Any work describing Steiner's point of view in terms of English philosophy would have to deal with the mind as a central theme, but here our task is to introduce readers to Steiner's concepts of spirit and soul.” Michael Wilson, 1964 The Philosophy of Freedom, Introduction by translator Michael Wilson

In 1995 Zen Buddhist and Anthroposophist Michael Lipson brings a Zen philosophy to his translation by avoiding attachment to words. Lipson's flexibility with words permits him to re-title the book Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path:

“By approaching Steiner through inadequate and changing English terms, we are the more likely to face the inadequacy of all terms, and leap to his meaning.” Michael Lipson, 1995 Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path, Translator's Introduction

The unedited Die Philosophie der Freiheit and Hoernlé's first English translation remain true to the individualistic mood of thought out of which the book was originally written. This is what makes the first edition of The Philosophy of Freedom distinct from others. It was written for everyone who is striving to “live and let live” as free human beings, including those who may not have an interest in Steiner's later spiritualistic writings.

“this book occupies a position completely independent of my writings on actual spiritual scientific matters... What I have said in this book may be acceptable even to some who, for reasons of their own, refuse to have anything to do with the results of my researches into the spiritual realm.” Rudolf Steiner, The Philosophy of Freedom, 1918 Preface to the Revised Edition

TOM LAST May, 2011



You can see how the intended purpose of The Philosophy Of Freedom changed by comparing the original 1894 Preface with rewritten 1918 Preface. The original Philosophy Of Freedom carried a human freedom impulse that everyone could be part of. The revised 1918 Preface was written for a narrow audience of German spiritualists trying to find a connection between The Philosophy Of Freedom and Steiner's later writing for Theosophy/Anthroposophy. 

Note: Chapter 1 was called The Goal Of Knowledge in the 1894 original Philosophy Of Freedom. In 1918 it was removed from the book but still can be found at the end of the revised edition as an Appendix. it is sometimes called the original Preface. Below is the original Table Of Contents: 

The original Philosophy Of freedom was subtitled a "Philosophy Of Life". In 1918 Steiner said, "The purpose of The Philosophy Of Freedom is to lay the foundations of ethical individualism and of a social and political life."


A barrier to the study of The Philosophy of Freedom is bringing in terms and ideas Steiner later used in Anthroposophy, such as the terms “imagination” and “intuition”. “The members read The Philosophy of Freedom, but reading is not the same as understanding. They took what I offered, not as something issuing from my mouth or written in my books, but rather as what this one thought ‘mystical,’ that one ‘theosophical,’ another something else again” 1918 Rudolf Steiner on His Book The Philosophy of Freedom

Steiner gave these terms a different meaning in Anthroposophy, while their meaning is closer to normal usage in the Philosophy of Freedom. Michael Wilson explains in his Notes on the translation:

In later writings Steiner describes how this ordinary faculty of imagining, or making mental pictures, can be developed to the point where it becomes the faculty of perceiving the creative ideas behind the phenomena of nature. In these later writings “Imagination” becomes a special term to indicate this level of perception, but in this book the meaning remains near to the ordinary usage.

Intuition is again the same as the German word, and means the faculty and process of grasping concepts, in particular the immediate apprehension of a thought without reasoning. This is the normal English usage, though Steiner uses the term in an exact way, as follows (see Chapter 5, Knowing The World):

In contrast to the content of the percept which is given to us from without, the content of thinking appears inwardly. The form in which this first makes its appearance we will call intuition. Intuition is for thinking what observation is for the percept.

In later writings, Steiner describes a stage of perception still higher than that called “Imagination”, the stage of “Intuition” in which one immediately apprehends the reality of other spiritual beings. The Philosophy Of Freedom deals only with the content of pure thinking,



0.0 Impulse Of Freedom

[1] I BELIEVE I am indicating correctly one of the fundamental characteristics of our age when I say that, at the present day, all human interests tend to center in the culture of human individuality. An energetic effort is being made to shake off every kind of authority. Nothing is accepted as valid, unless it springs from the roots of individuality. Everything which hinders the individual in the full development of his powers is thrust aside. The saying “Each one of us must choose his hero in whose footsteps he toils up to Olympus” no longer holds for us. We allow no ideals to be forced upon us. We are convinced that in each of us, if only we probe deep enough into the very heart of our being, there dwells something noble, something worthy of development. We no longer believe that there is a norm of human life to which we must all strive to conform. We regard the perfection of the whole as depending on the unique perfection of each single individual. We do not want to do what anyone else can do equally well. No, our contribution to the development of the world, however trifling, must be something that, by reason of the uniqueness of our nature, we alone can offer. Never have artists been less concerned about rules and norms in art than today. Each of them asserts their right to express, in the creations of their art, what is unique in them. There are dramatists who write in dialect rather than conform to the standard diction which grammar demands.

[2] No better expression for these phenomena can be found than this, that they result from the individual’s striving towards freedom, developed to its highest pitch. We do not want to be dependent in any respect, and where dependence must be, we tolerate it only on condition that it coincides with a vital interest of our individuality.

0.1 Outer Truth
[3] Truth, too, will be sought in our age only in the depths of human nature. Of Schiller’s two well known paths, the second will be preferred today:

We both seek truth; you in outer life,
I in the heart within. Each of us are sure to find it.
The healthy eye can track the creator through the world;
The healthy heart mirrors the world within.

0.2 Inner Truth Empowers
[4] Truth that comes to us from outside always bears the stamp of uncertainty. Only truth that appears within ourselves will convince us. Only truth can give us confidence in developing our individual powers. Whoever is tormented by doubts finds his powers weakened. If we are baffled by a world full of riddles, we can find no goal for our creative activity.

0.3 Understandable Truth
[5] We no longer want to believe; we want to know. Belief demands the acceptance of truths without having the insight to fully understand. But what is not clearly understood goes against what is individual in us, that wants to experience everything in its deepest inner core. The only knowing that satisfies us is the kind that submits to no external standard, but springs from a person's own inner life.

0.4 Advance In Knowledge
[6] Nor do we want the kind of knowledge that has been formulated in rigid academic rules, and stored away as valid for all time. Each of us claims the right to start from the facts we know, from our personal experience, and from there advance to knowledge of the whole universe. We strive for certainty in knowledge, but each in his or her own way.

0.5 Cultivate Desire To Know
[7] Nor should the teachings of science be presented in a form that implies its acceptance is compulsory. None of us would give a scientific work a title like Fichte once did: “A Crystal Clear Report for the General Public on the True Nature of the Latest Philosophy. An Attempt to Compel the Reader to Understand.” Today, no one should be compelled to understand. We demand neither acceptance nor agreement from those who are not moved to a certain view by their own particular, individual needs. We do not want to cram facts of knowledge into even an immature human being, a child. We try rather to develop the child’s capacities in such a way that the child no longer needs to be compelled to understand, but wants to understand.

0.6 Application Of Principles
[8] I am under no illusion concerning the characteristics of the present time. I know how much a stereotypical attitude, lacking all individuality, is prevalent everywhere. But I also know that many of my contemporaries strive to orient their lives in the direction of the principles I have indicated. To them I would dedicate this book. It is not meant to be the "only possible" way to Truth, but is meant to describe the path taken by one for whom truth is central.

0.7 Practice Of Pure Thinking
[9] This book at first leads the reader into more abstract regions, where thought must have sharp outlines if it is to reach clearly defined positions. But the reader is also led out of these arid concepts into concrete life. I am fully convinced that if existence is to be experienced in all its aspects, one must raise oneself up into the realm of concepts. Whoever appreciates only the pleasures of the senses misses the sweetest enjoyments of life. Oriental sages make their disciples live a life of resignation and asceticism for years before imparting their own wisdom to them. The Western world no longer demands pious exercises and ascetic practices as a preparation for science, but it does require a sincere willingness to withdraw oneself awhile from the immediate impressions of life and enter the realm of pure thought.

0.8 Wholistic Knowledge
[10] There are many realms of life and for each of them specific sciences develop. But life itself is one, and the more deeply the sciences are immersed in their separate fields, the more they distance themselves from viewing the world as a living whole. There must be a kind of knowing that seeks in the separate sciences the principles that leads to the fullness of life once more. The aim of the scientific specialist is to become aware of the world and gain insight into how it works. The aim of this book is philosophical: science itself is to be instilled with the life of an organic whole. The various branches of science are preparatory stages on the way to this wholistic science. A similar relationship governs the arts. The composer's work is based on the theory of composition. This theory is an accumulation of principles that one has to know in order to compose. In composing, the rules of theory serve life itself, that is, it serves true reality. In exactly the same sense philosophy is an art. All genuine philosophers have been artists in the conceptual realm. Human ideas become their artistic materials and scientific method their artistic technique. Abstract thinking takes on concrete individual life. Ideas turn into life-forces. Then we do not merely have knowledge about things, but have made knowledge into an actual self-governing organism ruled by its own laws. Our consciousness, alive and active, has lifted itself beyond a mere passive reception of truths.

0.9 The Science Of Freedom
[11] The main theme of my book concerns these questions: How philosophy, as an art, is related to freedom; what freedom is; and whether we do, or can, participate in it. All other scientific discussions are included only because they ultimately throw light on this question. In my view, the question of freedom is the most immediate concern of the human being. These pages offer a "Philosophy of Freedom".

0.10 Human Development
[12] All science would be nothing but the satisfaction of idle curiosity, if it did not strive to elevate the value of existence for the human personality. The true value of the sciences is seen only when we have shown the importance of their results for humanity. The ultimate goal of the individuality cannot be the cultivation of any single faculty, but only the development of all capacities dormant within us. Knowledge has value only in so far as it contributes to the all-around development of the whole of human nature.

0.11 Ethical Use Of Science
[13] Therefore, this book does not regard the relationship between science and life in such a way that human beings must bow down before ideas and devote their powers to its service. On the contrary, it shows that we should take possession of the world of ideas to use them for our human goals, which go beyond those of mere science.

0.12 Confront Idea
[14] One must be able to confront an idea as master; otherwise one will fall into its bondage.



In the following is reproduced, in all essentials, what stood as a preface in the first edition of this book. Since it shows the mood of thought out of which I wrote this book twenty-five years ago, rather than having any direct bearing on its contents, I include it here as an appendix. I do not want to omit it altogether, because the opinion keeps cropping up that I need to suppress some of my earlier writings on account of my later ones on spiritual science. Only the very first introductory sentences of this preface (in the first edition) have been altogether omitted here, because today they seem to me quite irrelevant. But the rest of what was said seems to me necessary even today, in spite of, indeed, just because of the natural scientific manner of thinking of our contemporaries.

[1] Everything discussed in this book is organized around two root questions of the human soul. First, can we understand human nature in such a way that this understanding serves as the basis for everything else we may meet in the way of experience or science? (For we have the sense that what we meet in this way cannot sustain itself, because doubt and critical thinking can drive it into the realm of uncertainty.) Second, can we human beings, as willing entities, ascribe freedom to ourselves, or is this freedom a mere illusion that arises because we do not see the threads of necessity upon which our willing, like any other natural event, depends? This is no artificial question. It proceeds naturally from a certain mood of soul. We even feel that the soul would be less than it should be if it never earnestly came face to face with these two possibilities: freedom or necessity of the will. The purpose of this book is to show that our inner experiences of the second question depend upon how we view the first. I try to present a view of the human being that can support all other knowledge. I also attempt to show how this view fully justifies the idea of freedom of the will, provided that one finds the region of the soul where free will can develop.

[2] Once achieved, this view can become part of the very life of the soul itself. But no theoretical answer is given that, once acquired, is simply carried as a conviction preserved by memory. Such an answer would have to be an illusion, according to the style of thought underlying this book. Therefore no such finished, closed-off answer is provided here; rather, reference is made to a region of soul experience in which, through the soul’s inner activity, the question answers itself in a living way, always anew, whenever a human being needs it. Once we have found the region of the soul where these questions unfold, really perceiving this region gives all that we need to answer these riddles of life. Thereafter, we can journey further through the depths and breadths of this life of riddles, as need and fate provide. Indeed, with this region of soul experience, we seem to have located an insight that finds justification and validity through its own life, and through the relationship of this life to the whole life of the human soul.

[3] This is how I thought about the content of this book when I wrote it out twenty-five years ago. Today as well, I must characterize the book’s key thoughts in the same way. At that time, I limited myself to saying no more than is connected in the strictest sense to the two root questions described above. If anyone is surprised to find nothing here about the world of spiritual experience described in my later writings, it should be borne in mind that I did not want at that time to discuss the results of spiritual research; rather, my purpose was first to lay the foundations on which such results can rest. This “philosophy of freedom” does not contain specific results of that kind, any more than it contains specific results from natural science. But what it does contain will be indispensable, in my opinion, to anyone striving for certainty in such knowledge. What the book says might also be acceptable to many who, for whatever reasons of their own, want nothing to do with the results of spiritual-scientific research. Those who are drawn to these results may also find significant my attempt to demonstrate how an unprejudiced consideration of simply the two questions characterized above, which are fundamental for all cognition, leads to the view that human beings live within an actual spiritual world. In this book, I try to validate cognition of the spiritual realm before one enters spiritual experience. Hence there is no need to cast furtive glances toward the experiences that I put forward later on, as long as one is able or willing to enter into the style of the discussion itself.

[4] Thus this book seems to me quite separate from my actual spiritual-scientific writings. On the other hand, it also seems to be connected with them in the most intimate way, so that now, after twenty-five years, I can republish the text essentially unaltered. I have, however, made additions of some length to a number of chapters. Misinterpretations of what I had said made such extensive additions seem necessary. The only passages I have rewritten are those in which, a quarter century ago, I expressed myself poorly. (Only people of ill will would take these changes as proof that I have changed my fundamental conviction).
The book has now been out of print for many years. I feel that the same things need to be said today as twentyfive years ago; nevertheless, I hesitated long over the completion of this new edition. I asked myself again and again whether I ought, in this or that passage, to confront the numerous philosophical views that have come to light since the appearance of the first edition. In recent years, involvement in purely spiritual-scientific researches prevented me from doing this in the way I would wish. Yet I have convinced myself, after the most thorough survey I could make of current philosophical work, that such discussion does not belong here, tempting as it might be in itself. What seemed necessary to say about the latest philosophical tendencies, from the point of view taken in The Philosophy of Freedom, can be found in the second volume of my Riddles of Philosophy.

April, 1918
Rudolf Steiner