Freedom and Limits (American Philosophy)

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Whereas our feelings tell how the world affects us, our will tells how we would affect the world. Neither attains to true objectivity, for both mix the world's existence and our inner life in an unclear way. Steiner emphasizes that we experience our feelings and will - and our perceptions as well — as being more essentially part of us than our thinking; the former are more basic, more natural.

He celebrates this gift of natural, direct experience, but points out that this experience is still dualistic in the sense that it only encompasses one side of the world. With regard to freedom of the will, Steiner observes that a key question is how the will to action arises in the first place. Steiner describes to begin with two sources for human action: on the one hand, the driving forces springing from our natural being, from our instincts, feelings, and thoughts insofar as these are determined by our character - and on the other hand, various kinds of external motives we may adopt, including the dictates of abstract ethical or moral codes.

In this way, both nature and culture bring forces to bear on our will and soul life. Overcoming these two elements, neither of which is individualized, we can achieve genuinely individualized intuitions that speak to the particular situation at hand. By overcoming a slavish or automatic response to the dictates of both our 'lower' drives and conventional morality, and by orchestrating a meeting place of objective and subjective elements of experience, we find the freedom to choose how to think and act Wilson Ch.

Freedom and Limits

Freedom for Steiner does not consist in acting out everything subjective within us, but in acting out of love, thoughtfully and creatively. In this way we can love our own actions, which are unique and individual to us, rather than stemming from obedience to external moral codes or compulsive physical drives. Both of the latter constitute limitations on freedom:. Freedom arises most clearly at the moment when a human being becomes active in pure, individualized thinking; this is, for Steiner, spiritual activity. Steiner differentiates pure thinking into "moral intuition" formulation of individual purposes , "moral imagination" creative strategies for realizing these larger purposes in the concrete situation , and "moral technique" the practical capacity to accomplish what was intended.

He suggests that we only achieve free deeds when we find an ethically impelled but particularized response to the immediacy of a given situation. Such a response will always be radically individual; it cannot be predicted or prescribed. Steiner's ethical philosophy is neither utilitarian nor deontological. For Steiner, the highest morality exists when a person acts in the world through deeds of love realized by means of individually developed and contextually-sensitive moral imaginations, [20] This of course raises the difficulty of the one who loves evil and acts on the basis of this love.

Are his actions of "the highest morality"? This all is by way of introduction and recapitulation. Steiner then introduces the principle that we can act out of the compulsions of our natural being reflexes, drives, desires or out of the compulsion of ethical principles, and that neither of these leaves us free.

Between them, however, is an individual insight, a partly situational ethic , that arises neither from abstract principles nor from our bodily impulses. Here Steiner articulates his fundamental maxim of social life:. Here he describes a polarity of influences on human nature, stating that morality transcends both the determining factors of bodily influences and those of convention:.

For Steiner, true morality, the highest good, is the universal mediated by the profoundly individual and situational; it depends upon our achieving freedom from both our inner drives and outer pressures. To achieve such free deeds, we must cultivate our moral imagination , our ability to imaginatively create ethically sound and practical solutions to new situations, in fact, to forge our own ethical principles and to transform these flexibly as needed - not in the service of our own egotistical purposes, but in the face of new demands and unique situations.

This is only possible through moral intuitions , immediate experiences of spiritual realities that underlie moral judgments. Toward the end of the second part of the book, Steiner writes that "The unique character of the idea, by means of which I distinguish myself as 'I', makes me an individual.


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If an act proceeds out of genuine thinking, or practical reason, then it is free. Steiner concludes by pointing out that to achieve this level of freedom, we must lift ourselves out of our group-existence: out of the prejudices we receive from our family , nation , ethnic group and religion , and all that we inherit from the past that limits our creative and imaginative capacity to meet the world directly. Only when we realize our potential to be a unique individual are we free.

Thus, it lies in our freedom to achieve freedom; only when we actively strive towards freedom do we have some chance of attaining it. Before , Steiner was laying the epistemological basis of his thought.

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Steiner mentioned that The Philosophy of Freedom was intended to give the philosophical foundations for what had been outlined in his earlier work Truth and Science In works written after , Steiner began to explain how thinking can evolve to become an organ of perception of higher worlds of living, creative, spiritual beings. Steiner frequently referred to The Philosophy of Freedom in his later lectures and in written works. A second revised edition appeared in Further German editions reprinted the text until , when a revised edition was produced based on Steiner's corrections of the galley proofs of the edition.

Minor changes, including corrections to some of Steiner's citations, were made in the German edition. Nothing is accepted as valid, unless it springs from the roots of individuality. The saying Each one of us must choose his hero in whose footsteps he toils up to Olympus no longer holds for us. If only we probe deep enough into the very heart of our being, there dwells something noble, something worthy of development. In the appendix added to the edition, Steiner stated emphatically that the monism "of thought" proposed in his book was quite different from what Eduard von Hartmann and others called "epistemological" monism.

Freedom and Limits

There is a comparison tool to compare most of the above translations. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Rita Stebbing N. The German original is, "Beobachtungs-Resultate nach naturwissenshcaftlicher Methode" Steiner, , title page. Wilson translation Alan W. Wood ed. The same thing may be remarked in what has taken place in Europe. This same method has only been established and made popular in Europe in proportion as the condition of society has become more equal, and men have grown more like each other. Let us consider for a moment the connection of the periods in which this change may be traced.

In the sixteenth century the Reformers subjected some of the dogmas of the ancient faith to the scrutiny of private judgment; but they still withheld from it the judgment of all the rest. In the seventeenth century, Bacon in the natural sciences, and Descartes in the study of philosophy in the strict sense of the term, abolished recognized formulas, destroyed the empire of tradition, and overthrew the authority of the schools.

The philosophers of the eighteenth century, generalizing at length the same principle, undertook to submit to the private judgment of each man all the objects of his belief. Who does not perceive that Luther, Descartes, and Voltaire employed the same method, and that they differed only in the greater or less use which they professed should be made of it?

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Why did the Reformers confine themselves so closely within the circle of religious ideas? Why did Descartes, choosing only to apply his method to certain matters, though he had made it fit to be applied to all, declare that men might judge for themselves in matters philosophical but not in matters political? How happened it that in the eighteenth century those general applications were all at once drawn from this same method, which Descartes and his predecessors had either not perceived or had rejected?

To what, lastly, is the fact to be attributed, that at this period the method we are speaking of suddenly emerged from the schools, to penetrate into society and become the common standard of intelligence; and that, after it had become popular among the French, it has been ostensibly adopted or secretly followed by all the nations of Europe? The philosophical method here designated may have been engendered in the sixteenth century — it may have been more accurately defined and more extensively applied in the seventeenth; but neither in the one nor in the other could it be commonly adopted.

Political laws, the condition of society, and the habits of mind which are derived from these causes, were as yet opposed to it. It was discovered at a time when men were beginning to equalize and assimilate their conditions. It could only be generally followed in ages when those conditions had at length become nearly equal, and men nearly alike.


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  • The philosophical method of the eighteenth century is then not only French, but it is democratic; and this explains why it was so readily admitted throughout Europe, where it has contributed so powerfully to change the face of society. It is not because the French have changed their former opinions, and altered their former manners, that they have convulsed the world; but because they were the first to generalize and bring to light a philosophical method, by the assistance of which it became easy to attack all that was old, and to open a path to all that was new.

    If it be asked why, at the present day, this same method is more rigorously followed and more frequently applied by the French than by the Americans, although the principle of equality be no less complete, and of more ancient date, amongst the latter people, the fact may be attributed to two circumstances, which it is essential to have clearly understood in the first instance. It must never be forgotten that religion gave birth to Anglo-American society.

    In the United States religion is therefore commingled with all the habits of the nation and all the feelings of patriotism; whence it derives a peculiar force.

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    To this powerful reason another of no less intensity may be added: in American religion has, as it were, laid down its own limits. Religious institutions have remained wholly distinct from political institutions, so that former laws have been easily changed whilst former belief has remained unshaken.

    Christianity has therefore retained a strong hold on the public mind in America; and, I would more particularly remark, that its sway is not only that of a philosophical doctrine which has been adopted upon inquiry, but of a religion which is believed without discussion. In the United States Christian sects are infinitely diversified and perpetually modified; but Christianity itself is a fact so irresistibly established, that no one undertakes either to attack or to defend it.

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    The Americans, having admitted the principal doctrines of the Christian religion without inquiry, are obliged to accept in like manner a great number of moral truths originating in it and connected with it. Hence the activity of individual analysis is restrained within narrow limits, and many of the most important of human opinions are removed from the range of its influence. The second circumstance to which I have alluded is the following: the social condition and the constitution of the Americans are democratic, but they have not had a democratic revolution.

    They arrived upon the soil they occupy in nearly the condition in which we see them at the present day; and this is of very considerable importance. There are no revolutions which do not shake existing belief, enervate authority, and throw doubts over commonly received ideas. The effect of all revolutions is therefore, more or less, to surrender men to their own guidance, and to open to the mind of every man a void and almost unlimited range of speculation.

    When equality of conditions succeeds a protracted conflict between the different classes of which the elder society was composed, envy, hatred, and uncharitableness, pride, and exaggerated self- confidence are apt to seize upon the human heart, and plant their sway there for a time. This, independently of equality itself, tends powerfully to divide men — to lead them to mistrust the judgment of others, and to seek the light of truth nowhere but in their own understandings.

    Everyone then attempts to be his own sufficient guide, and makes it his boast to form his own opinions on all subjects. Men are no longer bound together by ideas, but by interests; and it would seem as if human opinions were reduced to a sort of intellectual dust, scattered on every side, unable to collect, unable to cohere. Thus, that independence of mind which equality supposes to exist, is never so great, nor ever appears so excessive, as at the time when equality is beginning to establish itself, and in the course of that painful labor by which it is established.

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