The Philosophy of Freedom
The Theory of Freedom
I. The Goal of Knowledge
I believe I am indicating correctly one of the fundamental characteristics of our age when I say that, at the present day, all human interests tend to centre in the cult of human individuality. An energetic effort is being made to shake off every kind of authority. Nothing is accepted as valid, unless it springs from the roots of individuality. Everything which hinders the individual in the full development of his powers is thrust aside. The saying “Each one of us must choose his hero in whose footsteps he toils up to Olympus” no longer holds for us. We allow no ideals to be forced upon us. We are convinced that in each of us, if only we probe deep enough into the very heart of our being, there dwells something noble, something worthy of development. We no longer believe that there is a norm of human life to which we must all strive to conform. We regard the perfection of the whole as depending on the unique perfection of each single individual. We do not want to do what anyone else can do equally well. No, our contribution to the development of the world, however trifling, must be something which, by reason of the uniqueness of our nature, we alone can offer. Never have artists been less concerned about rules and norms in art than today. Each of them asserts his right to express, in the creations of his art, what is unique in him. There are dramatists who write in dialect rather than conform to the standard diction which grammar demands.
No better expression for these phenomena can be found than this, that they result from the individual's striving towards freedom, developed to its highest pitch. We do not want to be dependent in any respect, and where dependence must be, we tolerate it only on condition that it coincides with a vital interest of our individuality.
Truth, too, will be sought in an age such as ours only in the depths of human nature. Of the following two well-known paths described by Schiller, it is the second which will today be found most useful:
Wahrheit suchen wir beide, du aussen im Leben, ich innen
In dem Herzen, und so findet sie jeder gewiss.
Ist das Auge gesund, so begegnet es aussen dem Schöpfer;
Ist es das Herz, dann gewiss spiegelt es innen die Welt.
A truth which comes to us from without bears ever the stamp of uncertainty. Conviction attaches only to what appears as truth to each of us in our own hearts.
Truth alone can give us confidence in developing our powers. He who is tortured by doubts finds his powers lamed. In a world of riddle of which baffles him, he can find no aim for his activity.
We no longer want to believe; we want to know. Belief demands the acceptance of truths which we do not wholly comprehend. But the individuality which seeks to experience everything in the depths of its own being, is repelled by what it cannot understand. Only that knowledge will satisfy us which springs from the inner life of the personality, and submits itself to no external norm.
Truth seek we both — Thou in the life without thee and around;
I in the heart within. By both can Truth alike be found.
The healthy eye can through the world the great creator track;
The healthy heart is but the glass which gives creation back.
Again, we do not want any knowledge that has encased itself once and for all in hide bound formulas, and which is preserved in Encyclopædias valid for all time. Each of us claims the right to start from the facts that lie nearest to hand, from his own immediate experiences, and thence to ascend to a knowledge of the whole universe. We strive after certainty in knowledge, but each in his own way.
Our scientific doctrines, too, are no longer to be formulated as if we were unconditionally compelled to accept them. None of us would wish to give a scientific work a title like Fichte's A Pellucid Account for the General Public concerning the Real Nature of the Newest Philosophy. An Attempt to Compel the Readers to Understand. Nowadays there is no attempt to compel anyone to understand. We claim no agreement with anyone whom a distinct individual need does not drive to a certain view. We do not seek nowadays to cram facts of knowledge even into the immature human being, the child. We seek rather to develop his faculties in such a way that his understanding may depend no longer on our compulsion, but on his will.
I am under no illusion concerning the characteristics of the present age. I know how many flaunt a manner of life which lacks all individuality and follows only the prevailing fashion. But I know also that many of my contemporaries strive to order their lives in the direction of the principles I have indicated. To them I would dedicate this book. It does not pretend to offer the “only possible” way to Truth, it only describes the path chosen by one whose heart is set upon Truth.
The reader will be led at first into somewhat abstract regions, where thought must draw sharp outlines if it is to reach secure conclusions. But he will also be led out of these arid concepts into concrete life. I am fully convinced that one cannot do without soaring into the ethereal realm of abstraction, if one's experience is to penetrate life in all directions. He who is limited to the pleasures of the senses misses the sweetest enjoyments of life. The Oriental sages make their disciples live for years a life of resignation and asceticism before they impart to them their own wisdom. The Western world no longer demands pious exercises and ascetic practices as a preparation for science, but it does require a sincere willingness to withdraw oneself awhile from the immediate impressions of life, and to betake oneself into the realm of pure thought.
The spheres of life are many and for each there develop a special science. But life itself is one, and the more the sciences strive to penetrate deeply into their separate spheres, the more they withdraw themselves from the vision of the world as a living whole. There must be one supreme science which seeks in the separate sciences the elements for leading men back once more to the fullness of life. The scientific specialist seeks in his studies to gain a knowledge of the world and its workings. This book has a philosophical aim: science itself is to be infused with the life of an organic whole. The special sciences are stages on the way to this all-inclusive science. A similar relationship is found in the arts. The composer in his work employs the rules of the theory of composition. This latter is an accumulation of principles, knowledge of which is a necessary presupposition for composing. In the act of composing, the rules of theory become the servants of life, of reality. In exactly the same sense philosophy is an art. All genuine philosophers have been artists in concepts. Human ideas have been the medium of their art, and scientific method their artistic technique. Abstract thinking thus gains concrete individual life. Ideas turn into life forces. We have no longer merely a knowledge about things, but we have now made knowledge a real, self-determining organism. Our consciousness, alive and active, has risen beyond a mere passive reception of truths.
How philosophy, as an art, is related to freedom; what freedom is; and whether we do, or can, participate in it — these are the principle problems of my book. All other scientific discussions are put in only because they ultimately throw light on these questions which are, in my opinion, the most intimate that concern mankind. These pages offer a “Philosophy of Freedom”.
All science would be nothing but the satisfaction of idle curiosity did it not strive to enhance the existential value of human personality. The true value of the sciences is seen only when we have shown the importance of their results for humanity. The final aim of the individuality can never be the cultivation of any single faculty, but only the development of all capacities which slumber within us. Knowledge has value only in so far as it contributes to the all-round unfolding of the whole nature of man.
This book, therefore, does not conceive the relation between science and life in such a way that man must bow down before the world of ideas and devote his powers to its service. On the contrary, it shows that he takes possession of the world of ideas in order to use them for his human aims, which transcend those of mere science.
Man must confront ideas as master; lest he become their slave.