Why Read The Unrevised Philosophy Of Freedom?

The first English translation of Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy Of Freedom was by R. F. Alfred Hoernlé and published in 1916 (online) (PDF) (amazon). It is the only one sanctioned by Rudolf Steiner himself. Many of the later translations have borrowed from this edition. It is also the only translation based on the original 1894 German edition "Die Philosophie der Freiheit". For this reason it more fully expresses the author's mood and intention at the time the book was written, which was to describe the free spirited radical individualist. The other translations are based on the 1918 revised German edition after the book was edited to take another direction.

Introduction to the 1916 Hoernle English translation by Tom Last

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 (original chapter one) with the rewritten 1918 Preface where the discussion turns to spiritual science. Both prefaces are below. In the new 1918 Preface Steiner admits that a connection between The Philosophy Of Freedom and spiritual science is not apparent,

"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."

Natural Science
The Philosophy Of Freedom was originally written in a way to present a science of freedom to the many science-minded readers in the general public. The book is the result of Steiner’s study of human nature where he discovered that the purest expression of human nature is what he chose to call the "free spirit". The free spirit expresses itself in those moments of free thinking and free ethical action. The method of research used was natural science: observation and analysis. The descriptions in The Philosophy Of Freedom are verifiable by anyone willing to observe their own thought-processes.

The Philosophy Of Freeedom has little to do with Anthroposophy. The Anthroposophical Society did not exist at the time of the writing of The Philosophy Of Freedom. The Anthroposophical Society was founded 20 years later.

Occult Science
It was 25 years after the writing of The Philosophy Of Freedom, since the 1918 edition, that the book underwent many revisions and additions to appeal to theosophists and spiritualists guided by the attempt to make a connection between The Philosophy Of Freedom and Steiner's later occult writings. The revisions continued for many years after 1918.

Occult science uses the method of clairvoyant perception of the spiritual worlds. As a youth Steiner was already having clairvoyant experiences of the spiritual world. He seems to have been born with clairvoyant abilities. Attempts by others to develop this clairvoyant ability through exercises has not been very fruitful. This makes the verification of Steiner's perceptions of spiritual worlds and beings difficult.

Natural science and occult science are based on two very different methods of research. This makes it difficult to establish The Philosophy Of Freedom as the grounds to support occult science. The Philoosophy Of Freedom takes you up to the point where you perceive your own thought. This is something that anyone who is willing can do. This is far from the clairvoyant perception necessary to perceive spiritual worlds and spiritual beings necessary for ocult science.

The Problem
The problem is that all the effort has gone into attempting to use The Philosophy Of Freedom to justify spiritual science while the philosophy of life that actually appears on its pages is ignored. There has been less interest in the urgent need to learn about Ethical Individualism and the necessity of developing free thinking. 

“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

The intended purpose of The Philosophy Of Freedom is to “lay the foundations of ethical individualism and of a social and political life” in this world.

The Philosophy Of Freedom Is A Clarion Call To Build A Social Order By Free Thinking
“So I can say at the time, the beginning of the nineties (1890’s), I very much wanted my Philosophy Of Freedom to sound a clarion call for the exact opposite of what we see happening today… Developments of recent times brought about social conditions in which perverse human instinct pursued a direction completely counter to what a grasp of present-day humanities true and deeper goal required we take. That is the terrible tragedy of our times. It makes it absolutely necessary for us, in our future efforts, to recognize that the social order must be built in a way that is made possible only by free thinking, by trust...” Rudolf Steiner

Building a social order on the foundation of free thinking begins by learning about free thinking, practicing free thinking, and standing up for the right of free thinking. 


Revised Editions Are A Barrier To Learning
In the study of The Philosophy Of Freedom there are barriers to learning. One of them is reading a revised edition. The original 1894 edition of Die Philosophie der Freiheit has gone through many revisions and translations over the years that have distanced it from the author's original intention and mood. To understand why this has happened it is necessary to know the two periods of Steiner's life; the scholar period and the occult period. Begining with the publication of the revised 1918 German edition there has been an ongoing effort to revise the book in order to connect it with the spiritual science of the occult period.

"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

Currently there is only one edition that is based on the original 1894 Die Philosophie der Freiheit and that is the 1916 English translation by Prof. and Mrs. R. F. A. Hoernle.

Note: In the 1894 original Philosophy Of Freedom Chapter One was called "The Goal Of Knowledge". In 1918 it was removed and placed in the back of the book as an appendix. It is sometimes called the original Preface. Below is the original Table Of Contents that includes "The Goal Of Knowledge". The Philosophy Of Freedom originally began with "The Goal Of Knowledge" because by reading it you get a sense of the spirit of the book.

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."



(original chapter one "The Goal Of Knowledge")
0.0 Impulse Of Freedom

[1] I BELIEVE one of the fundamental characteristics of our age is that human interest centers in the cult of 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 that hinders the individual from fully developing his powers is thrust aside. The saying “Each one of us must choose his hero in whose footsteps he toils up to Mount Olympus” no longer holds true 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 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 one asserts the right to express in the creations of his art what is unique in him, just as there are playwrights who write in dialect rather than conform to the standard diction grammar demands.

[2] No better expression for these phenomena can be found than this, 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 it coincides with a vital interest of our individuality.

0.1 Path Of Inner Truth
[3] Truth, too, will be sought in our age only in the depths of human nature. Of the following two well-known paths described by Schiller, it is the second that will today be found most useful:

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 in the outer world;
The healthy heart reflects the world within.

Truth that comes to us from outside always bears the stamp of uncertainty. We are only convinced by what appears to each of us inwardly as truth.

0.2 Empowered By Truth
[4] Only truth can give us assurance in developing our individual powers. Whoever is tormented by doubts finds his powers weakened. If baffled by a world full of riddles, he can find no goal for his creative activity.

0.3 Understood Truth
[5] We no longer want to believe; we want to know. Belief demands the acceptance of truths that we do not wholly understand. What is not clearly understood goes against our individuality, that wants to experience everything in the depths of its inner core. The only knowing that satisfies us is the kind that submits to no external norm, but springs from the inner life of the personality.

0.4 Advancing In Knowledge In Our Own Way
[6] Nor do we want the kind of knowledge that has been encased 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 own direct experience, and from there advance to knowledge of the whole universe. We strive for certainty in knowledge, but each in his own way.

0.5 Driven By Individual Need To Understand
[7] Nor should the teachings of science be presented in a way to imply that its acceptance is compulsory. None of us would give a scientific work a title like Fichte once did: “A Crystal Clear Report to the General Public on the Actual Nature of the Latest Philosophy. An Attempt to Compel the Reader to Understand.” Today, no one should be compelled to understand. We expect neither recognition nor agreement from anyone who is not driven to a certain view by his own particular, individual needs. We do not want to cram facts of knowledge into even an immature person, a child. We try to develop the child's capacities in such a way that he no longer needs to be compelled to understand, but wants to understand.

0.6 Living The Principles Of Individual Truth
[8] I have no illusions as to the characteristics of the present time. I know how much a stereotypical attitude, lacking all individuality, is prevalent everywhere. Many flaunt a way of life that follows only the current cultural trends. But I also know that many of my contemporaries strive to conduct their lives in the direction of the principles I have suggested. To them I dedicate this book. It does not claim to offer the only possible way to truth, but is meant to describe the path taken by one whose heart is set upon truth.

0.7 Practicing Pure Thinking
[9] At first the reader is lead into abstract regions, where thought must draw sharp outlines to reach clearly defined positions. But the reader is also led from arid concepts into concrete life. I am fully convinced that to experience life in all its aspects, one must soar into the realm of concepts. Whoever is limited to the pleasures of the senses misses the sweetest joys of life.

The oriental sage requires his disciples to live a life of resignation and asceticism for years before he shares with them his knowledge. The West no longer demands pious exercises and ascetic practices to attain knowledge. It does require, however, a sincere willingness to prepare for science by withdrawing oneself awhile from the immediate impressions of life, and entering the realm of pure thought.

0.8 A Wholistic Science
[10] There are many regions of life. A specific field of science develops for each one. But life itself is a unity, and the more the sciences immerse themselves in separate fields, the more they move away from seeing the world as a living whole. It is essential to have a wholistic knowing that seeks in the separate sciences the principles for leading man back to the fullness of life. The aim of the scientific specialist's research is to gain knowledge of the world and how it works. The aim of this book is philosophical: science itself is to become a living whole. The various branches of science are preparatory stages on the way to the all-inclusive science intended here.

A similar relationship governs the arts. A composer works on the basis of the theory of composition. This theory is an accumulation of principles of what one needs to know in order to compose music. In composing, the rules of theory serve life, that is, theory serves actual reality.

In the same way philosophy is an art. All genuine philosophers have been artists in the conceptual realm. For them human Ideas become their artistic material and the wholistic method of science becomes their artistic technique. Abstract thinking takes on an individual life of its own. Ideas become powerful forces in life. We no longer  merely know about things, but have made knowing into a real self-governing organism, ruled by its own laws. Our actual working consciousness has lifted itself above a mere passive reception of truths.

0.9 A Science Of Freedom
[10] The main theme of my book concerns these questions: How philosophy, as an art, relates to freedom; what freedom is; and whether we do, or can, participate in it. Scientific discussions are included because it is science, at long last, that will throw light on these questions which are the most intimate that concern humanity. These pages offer a "Philosophy of Freedom."

0.10 A Science For Humanity
[11] All science would be nothing but the satisfaction of idle curiosity, if it did not elevate the existential value of human personality. The true value of the sciences is seen only when we are shown the importance of their results for humanity. The ultimate aim of the individuality cannot be the cultivation of only a single capacity. Rather, it must be the development of all the potential that slumbers within us. Knowledge has value only by contributing to the all-around development of the whole of human nature.

0.11 Ethical Use Of Science
[12] This book does not regard the relationship of science to life in such a way that the human being must bow down before the world of Ideas and devote his powers to its service. On the contrary, it shows that he should take possession of the world of Ideas to use them for his human aims. These extend beyond those of mere science.

0.12 Master Of Ideas
[13] One must confront an Idea as master, experiencing it; otherwise one falls 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 researchThose 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

© Tom Last 2017