Steiner Online Library Spiritual Science for Human Evolution

The Philosophy of Freedom
GA 4

The Reality of Freedom

XI. Monism and the Philosophy of Freedom

The naïve man who acknowledges nothing as real except what he can see with his eyes and grasp with his hands, demands for his moral life, too, grounds of action which are perceptible to his senses. He wants some one who will impart to him these grounds of action in a manner that his senses can apprehend. He is ready to allow these grounds of action to be dictated to him as commands by anyone whom he considers wiser or more powerful than himself, or whom he acknowledges, for whatever reason, to be a power superior to himself. This accounts for the moral principles enumerated above, viz., the principles which rest on the authority of family, state, society, church, and God. The most narrow-minded man still submits to the authority of some single fellow-man. He who is a little more progressive allows his moral conduct to be dictated by a majority (state, society). In every case he relies on some power which is present to his senses. When, at last, the conviction dawns on some one that his authorities are, at bottom, human beings just as weak as himself, then he seeks refuge with a higher power, with a Divine Being whom, in turn, he endows with qualities perceptible to the senses. He conceives this Being as communicating to him the ideal content of his moral life by way of his senses — believing, for example, that God appears in the flaming bush, or that He moves about among men in manifest human shape, and that their ears can hear His voice telling them what they are to do and what not to do.

The highest stage of development which Naïve Realism attains in the sphere of morality is that at which the moral law (the moral idea) is conceived as having no connection with any external being, but, hypothetically, as being an absolute power in one's own consciousness. What man first listened to as the voice of God, to that he now listens as an independent power in his own mind which he calls conscience.

This conception, however, takes us already beyond the level of the naïve consciousness into the sphere where moral laws are treated as independent norms. They are there no longer made dependent on a human mind, but are turned into self-existent metaphysical entities. They are analogous to the visible-invisible forces of Metaphysical Realism. Hence also they appear always as a corollary of Metaphysical Realism. Metaphysical Realism, as we have seen, refers the world of percepts which is given to us, and the world of concepts which we think, to an external thing-in-itself. In this, its duplicate world, it must look also for the origin of morality. There are different possible views of its origin. If the thing-in-itself is unthinking and acts according to purely mechanical laws, as modern Materialism conceives that it does, then it must also produce out of itself, by purely mechanical necessity, the human individual and all that belongs to him. On that view the consciousness of freedom can be nothing more than an illusion. For whilst I consider myself the author of my action, it is the matter of which I am composed and the movements which are going on in it that determine me. I imagine myself free, but actually all my actions are nothing but the effects of the metabolism which is the basis of my physical and mental organization. It is only because we do not know the motives which compel us that we have the feeling of freedom. “We must emphasize that the feeling of freedom depends on the absence of external compelling motives.” “Our actions are as much subject to necessity as our thoughts” (Ziehen, Leitfaden den Physiologischen Psychologie, pp. 207, ff.).

Another possibility is that some one will find in a spiritual being the Absolute lying behind all phenomena. If so, he will look for the spring of action in some kind of spiritual power. He will regard the moral principles which his reason contains as the manifestation of this spiritual being, which pursues in men its own special purposes. Moral laws appear to the Dualist, who holds this view, as dictated by the Absolute, and man's only task is discovering, by means of his reason, the decisions of the Absolute and carrying them out. For the Dualist the moral order of the world is the visible symbol of the higher order that lies behind it. Our human morality is a revelation of the divine world-order. It is not man who matters in this moral order but reality in itself, that is, God. Man ought to do what God wills. Edouard van Hartmann, who identifies reality, as such, with God, and who treats God's existence as a life of suffering, believes that the Divine Being has created the world in order to gain, by means of the world, release from his infinite suffering. Hence this philosopher regards the moral evolution of humanity as a process, the function of which is the redemption of God. “Only through the building up of a moral world-order on the part of rational, self-conscious individuals is it possible for the world-process to approximate to its goal.” “Real existence is the incarnation of God. The world-process is the passion of God who has become flesh, and at the same time the way of redemption for Him who was crucified in the flesh; and morality is our co-operation in the shortening of this process of suffering and redemption” (Hartmann, Phanomenologie des sittlichen Bewusstseins, § 871). On this view, man does not act because he wills, but he must act because it is God's will to be redeemed. Whereas the Materialistic Dualist turns man into an automaton, the action of which is nothing but the effect of causality according to purely mechanical laws, the Spiritualistic Dualist (i.e., he who treats the Absolute, the thing-in-itself, as spiritual) makes man the slave of the will of the Absolute. Neither Materialism nor Spiritualism nor generally any form of Metaphysical Realism has any room for freedom.

Naïveand Metaphysical Realism, if they are to be consistent, have to deny freedom for one and the same reason, viz., because for them man does nothing but carry out, or execute, principles necessarily imposed upon him. Naïve Realism destroys freedom by subjecting man to authority, whether it be that of a perceptible being, or that of a being conceived on the analogy of perceptible beings, or, lastly, that of the abstract voice of conscience. The Metaphysician is unable to acknowledge freedom because, for him, man is determined, mechanically or morally, by a “thing-in-itself.”

Monism will have to admit the partial justification of Naïve Realism, with which it agrees in admitting the part played by the world of percepts. He who is incapable of, producing moral ideas through intuition must receive them from others. In so far as a man receives his moral principles from without he is actually unfree. But Monism ascribes to the idea the same importance as to the percept. The idea can manifest itself only in human individuals. In so far as man obeys the impulses coming from this side he is free. But Monism denies all justification to Metaphysics, and consequently also to the impulses of action which are derived from so-called “things-in-themselves.” According to the Monistic view, man's action is unfree when he obeys some perceptible external compulsion, it is free when he obeys none but himself. There is no room in Monism for any kind of unconscious compulsion hidden behind percept and concept. If anybody maintains of the action of a fellow-man that it has not been freely done, he is bound to produce within the visible world the thing or the person or the institution which has caused the agent to act. And if he supports his contention by an appeal to causes of action lying outside the real world of our percepts and thoughts, then Monism must decline to take account of such an assertion.

According to the Monistic theory, then, man's action is partly free, partly unfree. He is conscious of himself as unfree in the world of percepts, and he realizes in himself the spirit which is free.

The moral laws which the Metaphysician is bound to regard as issuing from a higher power have, according to the upholder of Monism, been conceived by men themselves. To him the moral order is neither a mere image of a purely mechanical order of nature nor of the divine government of the world, but through and through the free creation of men. It is not man's business to realize God's will in the world, but his own. He carries out his own decisions and intentions, not those of another being. Monism does not find behind human agents a ruler of the world, determining them to act according to his will. Men pursue only their own human ends. Moreover, each individual pursues his own private ends. For the world of ideas realizes itself, not in a community, but only in individual men. What appears as the common goal of a community is nothing but the result of the separate volitions of its individual members, and most commonly of a few outstanding men whom the rest follow as their leaders. Each one of us has it in him to be a free spirit, just as every rosebud is potentially a rose.

Monism, then, is in the sphere of genuinely moral action the true philosophy of freedom. Being also a philosophy of reality, it rejects the metaphysical (unreal) restriction of the free spirit as emphatically as it acknowledges the physical and historical (naïvely real) restrictions of the naïve man. Inasmuch as it does not look upon man as a finished product, exhibiting in every moment of his life his full nature, it considers idle the dispute whether man, as such, is free or not. It looks upon man as a developing being, and asks whether, in the course of this development, he can reach the stage of the free spirit.

Monism knows that Nature does not send forth man ready-made as a free spirit, but that she leads him up to a certain stage, from which he continues to develop still as an unfree being, until he reaches the point where he finds his own self.

Monism is not a denial of morality; it is the clear realization that a being acting under physical or moral compulsion cannot be truly moral. It regards the stages of automatic action (in accordance with natural impulses and instincts) and of obedient action (in accordance with moral norms) as a necessary propædeutic for morality, but it understands that it is possible for the free spirit to transcend both these transitory stages. Monism emancipates man in general from all the self-imposed fetters of the maxims of naïve morality, and from all the externally imposed maxims of speculative Metaphysicians. The former Monism can as little eliminate from the world as it can eliminate percepts. The latter it rejects, because it looks for all principles of explanation of the phenomena of the world within that world and not outside it. Just as Monism refuses even to entertain the thought of cognitive principles other than those applicable to men (p. 81), so it rejects also the concept of moral maxims other than those originated by men. Human morality, like human knowledge, is conditioned by human nature, and just as beings of a higher order would probably mean by knowledge something very different from what we mean by it, so we may assume that other beings would have a very different morality. Possibly, even, the standpoint of morality would not apply to their actions at all. In short, to talk about such matters is from the point of view of Monism absurd. For Monists, morality is a specifically human quality, and freedom the human way of being moral.

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"You can see from this, my dear friends, what mischief will be set on foot if the truths of Spiritual Science are withheld. For man will be exposed to the forces of evil, and he will only be protected from it by giving himself up to the spiritual life of the good. To withhold the spiritual life of goodness from men is to be no friend to humanity. Whoever does this, be he Freemason or Jesuit, is no friend to humanity. For it means handing men over to the forces of evil. And there may be a purpose in doing so. This purpose may be to confine goodness to a small circle, in order by the help of this goodness to dominate the helpless humanity who are thus led by evil into the follies of life."

—Rudolf Steiner,
Spiritual Science Notes On Goethe's Faust, Vol. II, No. 273-8.

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