“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

The End of “Philosophy of Freedom”

My brief lecture for our Urphänomen reading group on the last chapter of Rudolf Steiner’s Philosophy of Freedom. A summary transcript of my lecture is below (ChatGPT put the video transcript into complete sentences which I line edited).

Our study of Steiner’s book isn’t merely an intellectual exercise; it represents a form of fellowship that has been palpable throughout our journey. Even though it’s saddening to conclude today, remember that we are merely finishing this book, with much more lying ahead of us.

My lecture focuses on the final chapter, “The Consequences of Monism,” which is essentially a summary of our journey through Philosophy of Freedom thus far. It also introduces some vital leading thoughts, or hints about the connections between this work and anthroposophy and spiritual science, which I’d like to emphasize.

Steiner seeks a uniform explanation of the world—a monistic account—but wishes to do so purely in terms of human experience. This includes what we can experience in our thinking, our perception, and the sources of our own free actions. Steiner argues that these sources are part of a single world and that we don’t need to refer to a separate physical or moral world order transcending the world of experience. Everything we need to understand is right here in our thinking and perceiving.

Monism does not seek to add something non-experienceable or transcendental to our experience but instead finds full reality in concepts and percepts. Steiner’s monism rejects any speculative inference that abstracts elements from experience and projects them onto a transcendent realm supposedly causing those experiences. He advocates that we stick with experience, as even abstract metaphysical speculation can only draw its elements from experience.

Initially, we regard the perceptual part of the universe as something existing independently because we do not see the fundamental forces or the “belts and ropes” of the cosmos that keep the wheel of our life revolving. These fundamental forces are the conceptual nexus, cosmic thinking activity, or what you could even call the Logos.

When we observe with our thinking, we’re involved in a process belonging to the order of real events. There’s no second world beyond the one we experience in our thinking and perceiving. We don’t need to receive our understanding of the laws of nature or moral law as a prepackaged gift from God.

As long as we comprehend ourselves merely through self-perception, we see ourselves as specific individuals. However, when we gaze at the world of ideas illuminating within us, unifying all that is separate, we see the absolute reality living and shining within us. In this way, each person connects with the universal primordial being pervading everything through their thinking. Hence, God isn’t something external, providing us with laws of nature or moral laws. Instead, we participate in God through our thinking.

We are always participating in the spiritual world through our everyday thinking activity, often without realizing it. We must establish our aims through our moral imaginations, for if we don’t, we’ll be led by the aims of others. The idea that actualizes itself in an action involves detaching a specific idea from the unified world of ideas and making it the basis of our will. This process translates something universal into something individual, which can lead to free actions.

This is then the transition from ordinary thinking into spiritual science. On our life journey, we passively encounter whatever comes to us by way of percepts. The question Steiner poses is whether, from the perspective offered by purely intuitively experienced thinking, we could also perceive spiritual things along with those perceived by the senses.

Intuitively experienced thinking, an active process occurring in the human spirit, provides a spiritual percept without a physical sensory organ. Thus, through intuitive thinking, we are already in contact with a spiritual reality.

From this experience of spirit in our own intuitive thinking, we can turn around, in a sort of metanoia, to a different kind of perception, not of the physical sense world but of the spiritual world.

This turning can be likened to the image from Plato’s Republic, of someone trapped in a cave and turning towards the light. Initially, this new reality can be blinding, and it’s difficult to distinguish our own thinking activity from what we perceive, because unlike the sensory world which we experience as separate from us, the spiritual world isn’t separate. Spiritual perceptions are intimate, participatory experiences, and spiritual practice is required before we gradually learn to distinguish what we are willing from what we are feeling.

In my interpretation, there’s a cyclical process at work: We meet our percepts through our senses in the physical world; thinking links these percepts together via concepts; to achieve a free action, we develop motives through moral imaginations imbued with feeling; these motives translate into deeds which then change the physical world again.

While our physical eyes give us a sensation of the physical world, the spiritual heart is the organ of perception that aids in the cultivation and development of moral imaginations to motivate the will. This intuitive thinking allows us to develop moral imaginations that result in free deeds, changing the physical world that we sense. Hence, there aren’t two separate worlds here; rather, there are two ways of looking at one world.

Steiner’s effort has been to wake us up to what we’re always already doing – participating in the spiritualization of the world – not by fleeing from the physical world but by recognizing that the physical world, rightly seen and felt, is the spiritual world.

Steiner closes his book by addressing the challenges of truly communicating with another individual when entrenched in a materialistic worldview. He beautifully explains the process of real human communion, highlighting the way our own thinking goes to sleep as we take in another person’s thinking. However, there’s a sense of tragedy here as Steiner reveals that many people, lost in abstraction, might not grasp these ideas. Despite Steiner’s successful attempt to lead us into the experience of intuitive thinking, he admits that the effort to truly understand must come from the individual.






2 responses to “The End of “Philosophy of Freedom””

  1. apprenti Avatar

    Dear Matthew, nice subject. See the name of my autobiographic book from 2014: ‘Exclusion of a Monad’ > https://www.lulu.com/shop/wilfred-bastiani/exclusion-of-a-monad/paperback/product-125gg26z.html?q=exclusion+of+a+monad&page=1&pageSize=4

  2. uponstanding Avatar

    Hello! I started following your work because I have a deep curiosity about anthroposophic medicine, and I’m trying to read and study Steiner on my own. I’ve found your commentary to be very informative. If your group ever organizes another open book club on Steiner’s works and wouldn’t mind having a newbie, I’d be very interested. My background is in biomedical research and eastern traditional medicines, but I’m curious about the links between philosophy and spirituality, and how those might inform the medical sciences. Cheers!

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