Philosophy of freedom and connectedness (Rudolf Steiner 1894 – Kae Tempest 2020) – Part 1

The key to free actions is found in a subtle transformation of our awareness: we turn and think at the same time as we observe how our resolutions arise.

Philosophy of freedom and connectedness (Rudolf Steiner 1894 – Kae Tempest 2020) – Part 1

“The most sublime act is to set another before you.”                                                                      William Blake

Any attempt at a philosophy of freedom is paradoxical. If we understand freedom as unboundedness, as the absence of fetters, this says nothing about its quality. It can lead to mere egoism or sheer eccentricity. And if we understand freedom positively as a capacity to act without restriction, we cannot get beyond the stigma of boundless arbitrariness. The free person is potentially the lonely person who, in his or her particularity, may indeed determine his or her desires or opinions, but ultimately freezes – or rots – in the glamour of absolute disposability. The freedom aspect of unboundedness thus requires a balancing principle. But is restriction sufficient for this? No. With a mere concept of limited freedom, we could not transcend the formulated paradox, the play of arbitrariness and limitedness.

The concept of freedom that interests us begins where we confront this paradox. This is not easy, since real freedom is not half freedom or shared freedom, in the sense of a compromise. But at least it helps us to become aware of freedom when we feel its limits. How else could we know something of it unless its opposite also became an experience for us? Obviously, freedom has something to do with how we make our experiences; they are rarely limitless. But freedom also has something to do with how we function in the world; it is never unlimited. But limits cannot only be found or drawn, they can also be modified, transcended or dissolved. Here, in the interplay of experiencing and acting, freedom emerges more clearly in its quality because it always applies to a person. A person who becomes aware of the two contrary elements of experience and effect is able to shape them. So, how are we conscious of our inner workings? And how do we give shape to our actions through the nature of our awareness?

Observing how our resolutions arise

These were the two questions that the 32-year-old Rudolf Steiner took as his starting point in his book,The Philosophy of Freedom, published in 1894. [1] Like two pillars standing side by side, the two halves of the book are marked by these guiding questions. The ascending first half deals with questions of consciousness and cognition and is entitled: “The Science of Freedom.”  Based on the cognitive standpoints gained, the second, descending half of the book deals with aspects of becoming effective and is entitled: “The Reality of Freedom.” The path to freedom is clearly marked out by the composition of this book. Our actions are free when we are clear about their motivations. The key to free actions is found in a subtle transformation of our awareness. We turn and think at the same time as we observe how our resolutions arise. The material on which we base this is, thus, our thinking, just as we experience it every day, if we pay attention to it.

If we now begin to observe ourselves attentively as our processes of consciousness – and especially our conceptual processes of thinking – proceed, we notice ourselves in thinking as actively producing and freely observing at the same time. We have thus entered a field from which free actions can arise. Now we need to explore this field with a view to the appearance of free intuitions that become actions. This is the real work of the book, a work that Rudolf Steiner undertook by noting down his sentences like the protocol of his observations of thought and which he, at the same time, advanced by developing the path of his thoughts in a series of theses. This is a work that for us, all readers, may consist of tracing his observations and judging them as true or not true, or modifying them from our own observations.

From the previous train of thought, we note that in Steiner’s philosophy of freedom, the orienting, third principle of freedom is to be found in the experience of thinking. Freedom can be realised when we start from our ability to think. According to Steiner, we are already elementarily connected with the world when we think. Thus, on this basis, our free action will not be arbitrary, particular or egoistic. In thinking, we are given the principle of connectedness. It is connectedness with the natural world, the culturally shaped world as well as the spiritually understood world. According to Steiner, there is also a connectedness with other persons through thinking. Thinking leads us out of the paradox of freedom because we are dealing with a universal region in which there can be no real particularity because of its comprehensive generality. On this basis, freedom would always have to include the freedom of all others.

It must be asked, what connection between a person and another person, between an individual and the world, does this thinking really create? Does it not, rather, remain abstract-separating and will-less-intellectual? Does it not lack the richness of feeling with its many facets? And finally, can we really encounter something as unique as another person in thinking, this “haven of the universal”? Thinking, in this sense, would logically have to include feeling and willing.  Conversely, as thinking, it would have to be able to immerse itself in feeling and willing and, as such, even align itself with these elements. In some form, thinking would have to be capable of empathy because that is precisely what is to be observed in the other person, that which is not accessible to the general concept, but that which is the very special aspect of the person, let’s call it his or her self. We encounter the paradox of freedom in a new, sharpened form. How does thinking relate to feeling and willing on the one hand? How does it relate to the other person on the other hand?

(to be continued in part 2)


[1] The quotations are taken from the 15th edition (1987) of the Collected Works of Steiner in German language.

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Date: April 30, 2022
Author: Ulrich Kaiser (Germany)
Photo: Saad Chaudhry on Unsplash CCO

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