The most sublime act is to set another before you.
How does thinking relate to feeling and will?
Steiner answers the first question with an anthropology. He claims that in feeling we are only connected to ourselves, but in thinking we are connected to the whole world. “Thinking is the element through which we participate in the general events of the cosmos; feeling is that through which we can withdraw into the confines of our own being.” (108 f.). The paradox of freedom becomes an anthropological paradox because the human being is characterised by this “double nature” (108). At this point, however, we have to ask whether our thinking does not close us off from the world and others just as much or even more, and whether our feeling does not connect us with others and the world? There is at least as much evidence for this as for Steiner’s statement.
A closer look at the text shows us that Steiner is often indefinite at this point. Already in the first chapter it says in a patriarchal gesture that “thought is the father of feeling”, but on the other hand also, “love opens […] the eyes” (25). In other words, love also has a quality of knowledge. Not only that, love also becomes the decisive characteristic of freedom of action. “Only when I follow my love for the object is it I myself who act. […] I do not recognise any external principle of my action, because I have found in myself the reason of action, the love of action. I do not examine intellectually whether my action is good or evil; I perform it because I love it” (162).
Steiner himself was not unaware of this paradoxical indeterminacy of feeling, thinking and acting. He resolves it through a dynamic principle. Between feeling and thinking, between withdrawal and openness to the world, there is a “continual swinging back and forth” (109), it is “like a living pendulum swing” (182). The image of the pendulum refers to an ongoing developmental task in which it is important for the individual to “take up the material of transformation within himself” (170) and form himself into a free being. In this, thinking, feeling and willing, as well as the conscious and unconscious, self-determination versus determination by others, are in a developing interplay. This is not a process in which a predefined program would run, otherwise it would not be free. Rather, it is a creative process. It is creativity in action.
How does thinking relate to the other person?
Now, to explain Steiner’s second answer, how thinking relates to the other person, I would like to refer to another person. In 2020, Kae Tempest, a spoken word artist and poet, published the essay On Connection. From now on, she will no longer write with the female first name Kate, but will create the non-binary, i.e., genre-independent name Kae. As a result of her/his development process, Tempest thus escapes the general gender order “male” or “female” and strengthens the principle of individuality over that of general terms and classifications. She/he could seamlessly complete Steiner’s reflections in the last chapter of his book, The Philosophy of Freedom, in which the latter declares the individuality of the person to be essential and condemns rigid gender roles. In Steiner’s view, not only should persons emancipate themselves, but thinking should also transform itself accordingly. “Just as free individuality frees itself from the peculiarities of the species, so cognition must free itself from the way in which the generic is understood” (341).
With Tempest’s reflections and experiences on interconnectedness, the paradox of freedom is now transcended in a way similar to Steiner’s demand to think in a non-rigidly generic way. However, Tempest does not cite the experience of thinking as the principle of interconnectedness, as Steiner did, but rather that of creativity. Tempest says that we find the basis for emotional understanding in creativity. When we listen to narratives, our ear is also emotional; attitudes of caring and empathy arise in us that are at the same time creative. “A creative connection brings a person closer to themselves when they have started to drift; this proximity is profound and encourages deeper focus and better listening, which in turn re-encourages profound connection.” (p. 56)
Tempest concentrates more than Steiner on the energetic processes of understanding and listening. But equally important for Tempest are the aspects of practice and development. “A daily practice of intentionally connecting to someone else’s story can offer me, the engaged reader, a lived example of how to approach an exchange without being exploitative, violent or selfish.” (p. 56) Here, too, it seems as if Tempest takes up and fills out Steiner’s legacy words in his Philosophy of Freedom with concrete life, with passionate practice. “Individuality is only possible when each individual being knows of the other only through individual observation.” (165 f.) Let us note Steiner’s categorical statement in its strictness: only through individual observation! The motto of William Blake quoted at the beginning becomes a program here. Thinking, which in individual relationships can also be experienced as separative, becomes subordinate to individual-emotional experience and creative-spiritual activity, even if this does not diminish its rank. Rather, it becomes an integral part of the transformation processes to which Steiner’s work and Tempest’s each bear witness in their own way. They also stimulate, if not demand, in the reading of their works, thinking and being connected.