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Philosophy of Spiritual Activity
GA 4

IX. The Idea of Freedom

THE concept “tree” is conditioned for our knowledge by the percept “tree.” When faced with a determinate percept I can select only one determinate concept from the general system of concepts. The connection of concept and percept is mediately and objectively determined by thinking in conformity with the percept. The connection between a percept and its concept is recognized after the act of perception, but the relevance of the one to the other is determined by the thing itself.

The procedure is different when we examine knowledge, or rather the relation of man to the world which arises within knowledge. In the preceding chapters the attempt has been made to show that an unprejudiced observation of this relation is able to throw light on its nature. A correct understanding of this observation leads to the insight that thinking may be intuitively apprehended in its self-contained nature. Those who find it necessary, for the explanation of thinking as such, to invoke something else, e.g., physical brain-processes, or unconscious spiritual-processes lying behind the conscious thinking which they observe, fail to grasp the facts which an unprejudiced observation of thinking yields. When we observe our thinking, we live during the observation immediately within the essence of a spiritual, self-sustaining activity. Indeed we may even affirm that if we want to grasp the essential nature of Spirit in the form in which it immediately presents itself to man, we need but look at our own self-sustaining thinking.

For the study of thinking two things coincide which elsewhere must always appear apart, viz., concept and percept. If we fail to see this, we shall be unable to regard the concepts which we have elaborated in response to percepts as anything but shadowy copies of these percepts, and we shall take the percepts as presenting to us reality as it really is. We shall, further, build up for ourselves a metaphysical world after the pattern of the perceived world. We shall, each according to his habitual thought-pictures, call this world a world of atoms, or of will, or of unconscious spirit, and so on. And we shall fail to notice that all the time we have been doing nothing but erecting hypothetically a metaphysical world modeled on our perceived world. But if we clearly apprehend what thinking consists in, we shall recognize that percepts present to us only a portion of reality, and that the complementary portion which alone imparts to reality its full character as real, is experienced by us in the permeation of percepts by thinking. We shall regard that which enters into consciousness as thinking, not as a shadowy copy of reality, but as a self-sustaining spiritual essence. We shall be able to say of it, that it is revealed to us in consciousness through intuition. Intuition is the purely spiritual conscious experience of a purely spiritual content. It is only through an intuition that we can grasp the essence of thinking.

Only if one wins through, by means of unprejudiced observation, to the recognition of this truth of the intuitive essence of thinking will one succeed in clearing the way for a conception of the psycho-physical organization of man. One recognizes that this organization can produce no effect whatever on the essential nature of thinking. At first sight this seems to be contradicted by patent and obvious facts. For ordinary experience, human thinking occurs only in connection with, and by means of, such an organization. This dependence on psycho-physical organization is so prominent that its true bearing can be appreciated by us only if we recognize, that in the essential nature of thinking this organization plays no part whatever. Once we appreciate this, we can no longer fail to notice how peculiar is the relation of human organization to thinking. For this organization contributes nothing to the essential nature of thought, but recedes whenever the activity of thinking appears. It suspends its own activity, it yields ground. And the ground thus set free is occupied by thinking. The essence which is active in thinking has a two-fold function: first it restricts the human organization in its own activity; next, it steps into the place of it. Yes, even the former, the restriction of the physical organization, is an effect of the activity of thinking, and more particularly that part of this activity which prepares the manifestation of thinking. This explains the sense in which thinking has its counterpart in the organization of the body. Once we perceive this, we can no longer misapprehend the significance for thinking of this physical counterpart. When we walk over soft ground our feet leave impressions in the soil. We shall not be tempted to say that the forces of the ground, from below, have formed these footprints. We shall not attribute to these forces any share in the production of the footprints. Just so, if without prejudice we observe the essential nature of thinking, we shall not attribute any share in that nature to the traces in the physical organism which thinking produces in preparing its manifestation through the body. [The way in which the above view has influenced psychology, physiology, etc., in various directions has been set forth by the author in works published after this book. Here he is concerned only with characterizing the results of an unbiased observation of thinking itself.]

An important question, however, emerges here. If the human organization has no part in the essential nature of thinking, what is the function of this organization within the whole nature of man? The effects of thinking upon this organization have no bearing upon the essence of thinking, but they have a bearing upon the origin of the I-consciousness, through this thinking. Thinking, in its own character, contains the real “I,” but it does not contain, as such, the I-consciousness. To see this we have but to observe thinking with an open mind. The “I” is to be found in thinking. The “I-consciousness” arises through the traces which, in the sense above explained, the activity of thinking impresses upon our general consciousness. (The I-consciousness thus arises through the bodily organization. This view must not, however, be taken to imply that the I-consciousness, once it has arisen, remains dependent on the bodily organization. Once arisen it is taken up into thinking and shares henceforth the spiritual being of the latter.)

The “I-consciousness” is built upon the human organization. The latter is the source of the acts of will. Following out the direction of the preceding exposition, we can gain insight into the connection of thinking, conscious I, and act of will, only by studying first how an act of will issues from the human organization. [The passage from p. 111 down to this point was added, or rewritten for the Revised Edition (1918).]

In a particular act of will we must distinguish two factors: the motive and the spring of action. The motive is a factor of the nature of concept or representation; the spring of action is the factor in will which is directly conditioned in the human organization. The conceptual factor, or motive, is the momentary determining cause of an act of will; the spring of action is the permanent determining factor in the individual. The motive of an act of will may be a pure concept, or else a concept with a definite relation to perception, i.e., a representation. General and individual concepts (representations) become motives of will by influencing the human individual and determining him to action in a particular direction. One and the same concept however, or one and the same representation, influence different individuals differently. They impel different men to different actions. An act of will is, therefore, not merely the outcome of the concept or the representation, but also of the individual make-up of human beings. This individual make-up we will call, following Eduard von Hartmann, the “characterological disposition.” The manner in which concept and representation act on the characterological disposition of a man gives to his life a definite moral or ethical stamp. [Students of modern science may care to turn at once to the Editor's Note on p. 135.]

The characterological disposition is formed by the more or less permanent content of the individual's life, that is, of the content of his representations and feelings. Whether a representation which enters my mind at this moment stimulates me to an act of will or not, depends on its relation to the rest of my representations, and also to my peculiar modes of feeling. The content of my representations in turn, is conditioned by the sum total of those concepts which have, in the course of my individual life, come in contact with percepts, that is, have become representations. This sum, again, depends on my greater or lesser capacity for intuition, and on the range of my observations, that is, on the subjective and objective factors of my experiences, on my inner nature (development) and place in life, and on my environment. My life of feeling more especially determines my characterological disposition. Whether I shall make a certain representation or concept the motive for action will depend on whether it gives me pleasure or pain.

These are the elements which we have to consider in an act of will. The immediately present representation or concept, which becomes the motive, determines the aim or the purpose of my will; my characterological disposition determines me to direct my activity towards this aim. The representation of taking a walk in the next half-hour determines the aim of my action. But this representation is raised to the level of a motive only if it meets with a suitable characterological disposition, that is, if during my past life I have formed the representations of the wholesomeness of walking and the value of health; and, further, if the representation of walking is accompanied in me by a feeling of pleasure.

We must, therefore, distinguish (1) the possible subjective dispositions which are likely to turn given representations and concepts into motives, and (2) the possible representations and concepts which are capable of so influencing my characterological disposition that an act of will results. The former are for morality the springs of action, the latter its aims.

The springs of action in the moral life can be discovered by finding out the elements of which individual life is composed.

The first level of individual life is that of perception, more particularly sense-perception. This is the stage of our individual lives in which a perceiving translates itself into will immediately, without the intervention of either a feeling or a concept. The spring of action here involved may be called simply instinct. Our lower, purely animal, needs (hunger, sexual intercourse, etc.), find their satisfaction in this way. The main characteristic of instinctive life is the immediacy with which the percept releases the act of will. This kind of determination of the will, which belongs originally only to the life of the lower senses, may, however, become extended also to the percepts of the higher senses. We may react to the percept of a certain event in the external world without reflecting on what we do, without any special feeling connecting itself with the percept. We have examples of this especially in our ordinary conventional intercourse. The spring of this kind of action is called tact or moral good taste. The more often such immediate reactions to a percept occur, the more the agent will prove himself able to act purely under the guidance of tact; that is, tact becomes his characterological disposition.

The second level of human life is feeling. Definite feelings accompany the percepts of the external world. These feelings may become springs of action. When I see a hungry man, my pity for him may become the spring of my action. Such feelings, for example, are shame, pride, sense of honour, humility, remorse, pity, revenge, gratitude, piety, loyalty, love, and duty. [A complete catalogue of the principles of morality (from the point of view of Metaphysical Realism) may be found in Eduard von Hartmann's Phaenomenologie des sittlichen Bewusstseins.]

The third and last level of life is to think and to form representations. A representation or a concept may become the motive of an action through mere reflection. Representations become motives because, in the course of my life, I regularly connect certain aims of my will with percepts which recur again and again in a more or less modified form. Hence it is that with men who are not wholly without experience, the occurrence of certain percepts is always accompanied also by the consciousness of representations of actions, which they have themselves carried out in a similar case or which they have seen others carry out. These representations float before their minds as determining models in all subsequent decisions; they become parts of their characterological disposition. We may give the name of practical experience to the spring of action just described. Practical experience merges gradually into purely tactful behaviour. That happens, when definite typical pictures of actions have become so closely connected in our minds with representations of certain situations in life, that, in any given instance, we omit all deliberation based on experience and pass immediately from the percept to the action.

The highest level of individual life is that of conceptual thinking without reference to any definite perceptual content. We determine the content of a concept through pure intuition from the ideal sphere. Such a concept contains, at first, no reference to any definite percepts. When an act of will comes about under the influence of a concept which refers to a percept, i.e., under the influence of a representation, then it is this percept which determines our action indirectly by way of the conceptual thinking. But when we act under the influence of intuitions, the spring of our action is pure thinking. As it is the custom in philosophy to call the faculty of pure thinking “reason,” we may perhaps be justified in giving the name of practical reason to the moral spring of action characteristic of this level of life. The clearest account of this spring of action has been given by Kreyenbuehl (Philosophische Monatshefte, Vol. xviii, No. 3). [ Ethical-Spiritual Activity in Kant] In my opinion his article on this subject is one of the most important contributions to present-day philosophy, more especially to Ethics. Kreyenbuehl calls the spring of action, of which we are treating, the practical a priori, i.e., a spring of action issuing immediately from my intuition.

It is clear that such a spring of action can no longer be counted in the strictest sense as a characterological disposition. For what is here effective in me as a spring of action is no longer something purely individual, but the ideal, and hence universal, content of my intuition. As soon as I regard the validity of this content as the basis and starting-point of an action, I pass over into willing, irrespective of whether the concept was already in me beforehand, or whether it only enters my consciousness immediately before the action, that is, irrespective of whether it was present in the form of a disposition in me or not.

A real act of will results only when a present impulse to action, in the form of a concept or representation, acts on the characterological disposition. Such an impulse thereupon becomes the motive of the will.

The motives of moral conduct are representations and concepts. There are Moralists who see in feeling also a motive of morality; they assert, e.g., that the aim of moral conduct is to secure the greatest possible quantity of pleasure for the acting individual. Pleasure itself, however, cannot become a motive; only its representation can. The representation of a future feeling, but not the feeling itself, can act on my characterological disposition. For the feeling does not yet exist in the moment of action; it has first to be produced by the action.

The representation of one's own or another's well-being is, however, rightly regarded as a motive of the will. The principle of producing the greatest quantity of pleasure for oneself through one's action, that is, to attain individual happiness, is called Egoism. The attainment of this individual happiness is sought either by thinking ruthlessly only of one's own good, and striving to attain it even at the cost of the happiness of other individuals (Pure Egoism), or by promoting the good of others, either because one anticipates indirectly a favourable influence on one's own person through the happiness of others, or because one fears to endanger one's own interest by injuring others (Morality of Prudence). The special content of the egoistical principles of morality will depend on the representations which we form of what constitutes our own, or others', happiness. A man will determine the content of his egoistical striving in accordance with what he regards as one of life's good things (luxury, hope of happiness, deliverance from different evils, etc.).

Further, the purely conceptual content of an action is to be regarded as yet another kind of motive. This content has no reference, like the representation of one's own pleasures, solely to the particular action, but to the deduction of an action from a system of moral principles. These moral principles, in the form of abstract concepts, may guide the individual's moral life without his worrying himself about the origin of his concepts. In that case, we feel merely the moral necessity of submitting to a moral concept which, in the form of law, overhangs our actions. The justification of this necessity we leave to those who demand from us moral subjection, that is, to those whose moral authority over us we acknowledge (the head of the family, the state, social custom, the authority of the church, divine revelation). We meet with a special kind of these moral principles when the law is not proclaimed to us by an external authority, but comes from our own inner life (moral autonomy). In this case we hear the voice, to which we have to submit ourselves, in our own souls. This voice expresses itself as conscience.

It is a great moral advance when a man no longer takes as the motive of his action the commands of an external or the internal authority, but tries to understand the reason why a given maxim of action ought to be effective as a motive in him. This is the advance from morality based on authority to action from moral insight. At this level of morality, a man will try to discover the demands of the moral life, and will let his action be determined by this knowledge. Such demands are (1) the greatest possible happiness of humanity as a whole purely for its own sake; (2) the progress of civilization, or the moral development of mankind towards ever greater perfection; (3) the realization of individual moral aims conceived by an act of pure intuition.

The greatest possible happiness of humanity as a whole will naturally be differently conceived by different people. The above-mentioned maxim does not refer to any definite representation of this happiness, but rather means that everyone who acknowledges this principle strives to do all that, in his opinion, most promotes the good of the whole of humanity.

The progress of civilization is seen to be a special application of the moral principle just mentioned, at any rate for those to whom the goods which civilization produces bring feelings of pleasure. They will only have to pay the price in the decay and annihilation of several things which also contribute to the happiness of humanity. It is, however, also possible that some men look upon the progress of civilization as a moral necessity, quite apart from the feelings of pleasure which it brings. If so, the progress of civilization will be a new moral principle for them, different from the previous one.

Both the principle of the public good, and that of the progress of civilization alike, are based on the representation, i.e., on the way in which we apply the content of our moral Ideas to particular experiences (percepts). The highest principle of morality which we can think of, however, is that which contains, to start with, no such reference to particular experiences, but which springs from the source of pure intuition and does not seek until later any connection with percepts, i.e., with life. The determination of what ought to be willed issues here from an arbiter very different from that of the previous two principles. Who accepts the principle of the public good will in all his actions ask first what his ideals contribute to this public good. The upholder of the progress of civilization as the principle of morality will act similarly. There is, however, a still higher mode of conduct which, in a given case, does not start from any single limited moral ideal, but which sees a certain value in all moral principles, always asking whether this or that principle is more important in a particular case. It may happen that a man considers in certain circumstances the promotion of the public good, in others that of the progress of civilization, and in yet others the furthering of his own good, to be the right course, and makes that the motive of his action. But when all other grounds of determination take second place, then we rely, in the first place, on conceptual intuition itself. All other motives now yield place, and the ideal content of an action alone becomes its motive.

Among the levels of characterological disposition, we have singled out as the highest that which manifests itself as pure thinking, or practical reason. Among the motives, we have just singled out conceptual intuition as the highest. On nearer consideration, we now perceive that at this level of morality the spring of action and the motive coincide, i.e., that neither a predetermined characterological disposition, nor an external moral principle accepted on authority, influences our conduct. The action, therefore, is neither a merely stereotyped one which follows certain rules, nor is it automatically performed in response to an external impulse. Rather it is determined solely through its ideal content. [Cf. Editor's Note on p. 135.]

For such an action to be possible, we must first be capable of moral intuitions. Whoever lacks the capacity to experience for himself the moral principle that applies in each particular case, will never rise to the level of genuine individual willing.

Kant's principle of morality: Act so that the principle of your action may be valid for all men — is the exact opposite of ours. His principle would mean death to all individual impulses of action. The norm for me can never be what all men would do, but rather what it is right for me to do in each special case.

A superficial criticism might urge against these arguments: How can an action be individually adapted to the special case and the special situation, and yet at the same time be ideally determined by pure intuition? This objection rests upon a confusion of the moral motive with the perceptual content of an action. The latter, indeed, may be a motive, and is actually a motive when we act for the progress of culture, or from pure egoism, etc., but in action based on pure moral intuition it never is a motive. Of course, my “I” takes notice of these perceptual contents, but it does not allow itself to be determined by them. The content is used only to construct a cognitive concept, but the corresponding moral concept is not derived from the object. The cognitive concept of a given situation which faces me, is a moral concept also only if I adopt the standpoint of a particular moral principle. If I base all my conduct on the principle of the progress of civilization, then my way through life is tied down to a fixed route. From every occurrence which I perceive and which attracts my interest there springs a moral duty, viz., to do my tiny share towards using this occurrence in the service of the progress of civilization. In addition to the concept which reveals to me the connections of events or objects according to the laws of nature, there is also a moral label attached to them which contains for me, as a moral agent, ethical directions as to how I have to conduct myself. Such a moral label is justified on its own ground; at a higher level it coincides with the Idea which reveals itself to me prompted by the concrete instance.

Men vary greatly in their capacity for intuition. In some, Ideas bubble up like a spring, others acquire them with much labour. The situations in which men live, and which are the scenes of their actions, are no less widely different. The conduct of a man will depend, therefore, on the manner in which his faculty of intuition works in a given situation. The aggregate of Ideas which are effective in us, the concrete content of our intuitions, constitute that which is individual in each of us, notwithstanding the universal character of the world of Ideas. In so far as this intuitive content has reference to action, it constitutes the moral content of the individual. To let this content express itself in his life is the highest moral spring of action and at the same time, the highest motive of the man who regards all other moral principles as subordinate. We may call this point of view Ethical Individualism.

The decisive factor of an intuitively determined action in any concrete instance, is the discovery of the corresponding purely individual intuition. At this level of morality, there can be no question of general moral concepts (norms, laws), except in so far as these result from the generalization of the individual impulses. General norms always presuppose concrete facts from which they can be deduced. But facts have first to be created by human action.

When we investigate the leading principles (the conceptual principles guiding the actions of individuals, peoples, epochs), we obtain a science of Ethics which is, however, not a science of moral norms, but rather a natural science of morality. Only, the laws discovered in this way are related to human action as the laws of nature are related to a particular phenomenon. These laws, however, are very far from being identical with the impulses on which we base our actions. If we want to understand how a man's action arises from his moral will, we must first study the relation of this will to the action. For this purpose we must single out for study those actions in which this relation is the determining factor. When I, or another, subsequently review my action we may discover what moral principles come into play in it. So long as I am acting, I am influenced by the principle of morality in so far as it lives in me intuitively; it is united with my love for the object which I want to realize through my action. I ask of no man and of no moral code, whether I shall perform this action or not. I carry it out as soon as I have formed the Idea of it. This alone makes it my action. If a man acts only because he accepts certain moral norms, his action is the outcome of the principles which compose his moral code. He merely carries out orders. He is a superior kind of automaton. Inject some stimulus to action into his mind, and at once the clockwork of his moral principles will begin to work and run its prescribed course, so as to issue in an action which is Christian, or humane, or seemingly unselfish, or calculated to promote the progress of culture. It is only when I follow solely my love for the object, that it is I, myself, who act. At this level of morality, I acknowledge no lord over me, neither an external authority, nor my so-called inner voice. I acknowledge no external principle of my action, because I have found in myself the ground for my action, viz., my love of the action. I do not examine with my intellect whether my action is good or bad; I perform it, because I am in love with it. My action is “good” when my intuition, immersed in love, inserts itself in the right way into the world-nexus as I experience it intuitively; it is “bad” when this is not the case. Neither do I ask myself how another man would act in my position. I act as I, this unique individuality, feel impelled to act. No general usage, no common custom, no general maxim current among men, no moral norm is my immediate guide, but my love for the action. I feel no compulsion, neither the compulsion of nature which dominates me through my instincts, nor the compulsion of the moral commandments. My will is simply to realize what in me lies.

Those who defend general moral norms will reply to these arguments that, if everyone strives to live his own life and do what he pleases, there can be no distinction between a good action and a crime; every fraudulent impulse in me has the same right to issue in action as the intention to serve the general good. It is not the mere fact of my having conceived the Idea of an action which ought to determine me as a moral being, but the examination of whether it is a good or an evil action. Only if it is good shall I carry it out.

This objection is easily intelligible, and yet it had its root in what is but a misapprehension of my meaning. My reply to it is this: If we want to get at the essence of human volition we must distinguish between the path along which volition attains to a certain degree of development, and the unique character which volition assumes as it approaches its goal. It is on the path towards the goal that the norms play a legitimate part. The goal consists of the realization of moral aims which are apprehended by pure intuition. Man attains such aims in proportion as he is able to rise at all to the level at which intuition grasps the Idea-content of the world. In any particular volition, other elements will, as a rule, be mixed up, as springs of action or motives, with such moral aims. But, for all that, intuition may be, wholly or in part, the determining factor in human volition. What one should do, that one does. One supplies the stage upon which, what one should do, becomes action. One's own action is what one lets come forth from oneself. The impulse, here, can only be wholly individual. And, in fact, only an action which issues out of intuition can be individual. To regard evil, the deed of a criminal, as a manifestation of the human individuality in the same sense as the embodiment of pure intuition, is a confusion which only becomes possible when blind instincts are reckoned as part of the human individuality.

But the blind impulse which drives a man to a criminal act does not spring from intuition, and does not belong to what is individual in him, but rather to that which is most general in him, to that which is equally present in all individuals and from which man finds his way out with the help of his individual part. The individual part in me is not my organism with its instincts and feelings, but rather the unified world of Ideas which reveals itself through this organism. My instincts, cravings, passions, justify no further assertion about me than that I belong to the general species man. The fact that something ideal expresses itself in a particular way through these instincts, passions, and feelings, provides the foundation of my individuality. My instincts and cravings make me the sort of man of whom there are twelve to the dozen. The unique character of the Idea, by means of which I distinguish myself within the dozen as “I,” makes of me an individual. Only a being other than myself could distinguish me from others by the difference in my animal nature. Through my thinking, i.e., by the active grasping of the Ideal-element working itself out through my organism, I distinguish myself from others. Hence it is impossible to say of the action of a criminal that it issues from the Idea within him. Indeed, the characteristic feature of criminal actions is precisely that they spring from the non-ideal elements in man.

An act the grounds for which lie in the ideal part of my individual nature is felt to be free. Every other part of an act, whether done under the compulsion of nature or under the obligation imposed by a moral norm, is felt to be unfree.

Man is free in so far as, in every moment of his life, he is able to obey only himself. A moral act is my act only when it can be called free in this sense. So far we are concerned here with the presuppositions under which an act of will is felt to be free; the sequel will show how this purely ethical Idea of freedom becomes realized in the essential nature of man.

Action on the basis of freedom does not at all exclude, but includes, the moral laws. Only, it shows that it stands on a higher level than actions which are dictated by these laws. Why should my act serve the general good less well when I do it from pure love of it, than when I perform it only because I feel it is a duty to serve the general good? The concept of mere duty excludes freedom, because it will not acknowledge the individual element, but demands the subjection of the latter to a general norm. Freedom of action is conceivable only from the standpoint of Ethical Individualism.

But how about the possibility, of social life for men, if each aims only at asserting his own individuality? This question expresses yet another objection on the part of Moralism wrongly understood. The Moralist believes that a social community is possible only if all men are held together by a commonly fixed moral order. This shows that the Moralist does not understand the identity of the world of Ideas. He does not grasp that the world of Ideas which inspires me is no other than that which inspires my fellow-man. This unity is, indeed, but a result of the experience of the world. It cannot be anything else. For if we could recognize it in any other way than by observation, it would follow that not individual experience, but universal norms, were dominant in its sphere. Individuality is possible only if every individual being knows of others only through individual observation. I differ from my neighbour, not at all because we are living in two entirely different spiritual worlds, but because from our common world of Ideas we receive different intuitions. He desires to live out his intuitions, I mine. If we both draw our intuitions really from the world of Ideas, and do not obey mere external impulses (physical or spiritual), then we cannot but meet one another in striving for the same aims, in having the same intentions. A moral misunderstanding, a clash is impossible between men who are morally free. Only the morally unfree who follow their natural instincts or the accepted commands of duty, turn their backs on their neighbours, if these do not obey the same instincts and the same laws as themselves. To live in love of action and to let live in understanding of the other's volition, this is the fundamental maxim of the free man. He knows no other “ought” than that with which his will intuitively puts itself in harmony. How he shall will in any given case, that will be determined for him by his faculty of conceiving Ideas.

If sociability were not deeply rooted in human nature, no external laws would be able to inoculate us with it. It is only because human beings are one in spirit that they can live out their lives side by side. The free man lives out his life in the full confidence that all other free men belong to one spiritual world with himself, and that their intentions will harmonize with his. The free man does not demand accord from his fellow-man, but he expects it none the less, because it is inherent in human nature. I am not referring here to the necessity for this or that external institution. I refer to the disposition, the attitude of soul, through which a man, aware of himself among his fellow-men for whom he cares, comes nearest to living up to the ideal of human dignity.

There are many who will say that the concept of the free man which I have here developed, is a chimera nowhere to be found realized, and that we have got to deal with actual human beings, from whom we can expect morality only if they obey some moral law, i.e., if they regard their moral task as a duty and do not simply follow their inclinations and loves. I do not doubt this. Only a blind man could do that. But away with all this hypocrisy of morality if this is the final conclusion! Let us then say simply that human nature must be compelled to act as long as it is not free. Whether the compulsion of man's unfree nature is effected by physical force or through moral laws, whether man is unfree because he indulges his unmeasured sexual desire, or because he is bound tight in the bonds of conventional morality, is quite immaterial from a certain point of view. Only let us not assert that such a man can rightly call his actions his own, seeing that he is driven to them by a force which is not his own. But in the midst of all this network of compulsion, there arise free spirits who, in all the welter of customs, legal codes, religious observances, etc., learn to find themselves. They are free in so far as they obey only themselves; unfree in so far as they submit to control. Which of us can say that he is really free in all his actions? Yet in each of us there dwells some deeper being in which the free man finds expression.

Our life is made up of free and unfree actions. We cannot, however, form a final concept of human nature without coming upon the free spirit as its purest expression. After all, we are men in the fullest sense only in so far as we are free.

This is an ideal, many will say. Doubtless; but it is an ideal which is a real element in us working its way to the surface of our nature. It is no ideal born of mere imagination or dream, but one which has life, and which announces itself clearly even in the least perfect form of its existence. If men were nothing but beings of nature, the search for ideals, that is, for Ideas which as yet are not actual but the realization of which we demand, would be an impossibility. In dealing with external objects the Idea is determined by the percept. We have done our share when we have recognized the connection between Idea and percept. But with the human being the case is different. The content of his existence is not determined without him. His true concept as a moral being (free spirit) is not a priori united objectively with the percept-picture “man,” so that knowledge need only register the fact subsequently. Man must by his own act unite his concept with the percept “man.” Concept and percept coincide with one another in this instance only in so far as man himself makes them coincide. This he can do only if he has found the concept of the free spirit, that is, if he has found his own concept. In the objective world, a boundary-line is drawn by our organization between percept and concept. Knowledge breaks down this barrier. In our subjective nature this barrier is no less present. Man overcomes it in the course of his development, by unfolding his concept in his outward existence. Hence man's intellectual as well as his moral life lead alike to his two-fold nature, perception (immediate experience) and thinking. The intellectual life overcomes his two-fold nature by means of knowledge, the moral life succeeds through the actual realization of the free spirit. Every being has its inborn concept (the law of its existence and action), but in external objects this concept is indissolubly bound up with the percept, and separated from it only in our spiritual organization. In man concept and percept are, at first, actually separated, to be just as actually reunited by him.

Someone might object that to our percept of a man there corresponds at every moment of his life a definite concept, just as with every other object. I can form for myself the concept of an average man, and I may also find such a man given to me as percept. Suppose now I add to this the concept of a free spirit, then I have two concepts for the same object.

Such an objection is one-sided. As object of perception I am subject to perpetual change. As a child I was one thing, another as a youth, yet another as a man. Moreover, at every moment I am different, as a percept-picture, from what I was the moment before. These changes may take place in such a way that either it is always only the same (average) man who exhibits himself in them, or that they represent the expression of a free spirit. To such changes my action, as object of perception, is subjected.

In the perceptual object “man” there is given the possibility of transformation, just as in the plant-seed there lies the possibility of growth into a fully developed plant. The plant transforms itself in growth, because of the objective law which is inherent in it. The human being remains in his imperfected state, unless he takes hold of the material for transformation within him and transforms himself through his own force. Nature makes of man merely a natural being; society makes of him a being who acts according to law; only he himself can make a free man of himself. At a definite stage in his development nature releases man from her fetters; society carries his development a step farther; he alone can give himself the final polish.

From the standpoint of free morality, then, it is not asserted that the free spirit is the only form in which a man can exist. The freedom of the spirit is looked upon only as the last stage in man's evolution. This is not to deny that conduct according to norms has its legitimate place as a stage in development. The point is that we cannot acknowledge it to be the absolute standpoint in morality. For the free spirit transcends norms, in the sense that he recognizes as motives not commands alone, but he regulates his conduct in accordance with his impulses (intuitions).

When Kant apostrophizes duty: “Duty! Thou sublime and mighty name, that dost embrace nothing charming or insinuating, but requirest submission,” thou that “holdest forth a law ... before which all inclinations are dumb, even though they secretly counter-work it,” [Translation by Abbott, Kant's Theory of Ethics, p. 180; Critique of Practical Reason, chap. iii.] then the free spirit replies: “Freedom! thou kindly and humane name, which dost embrace within thyself all that is morally most beloved, all that my manhood most prizes, and which makest me the servant of nobody, which settest up no mere law, but waitest what my moral love itself will recognize as law, because it feels itself unfree in presence of every law that is forced upon it.”

This is the contrast of morality according to law and according to freedom.

The philistine who looks upon an external code as embodied morality is sure to look upon the free spirit even as a danger to society. But that is only because his view is narrowly focused on a limited period of time. If he were able to look beyond, he would soon find that the free spirit needs to go beyond the laws of his state as seldom as the philistine himself, and that he never needs to confront them with any real contradiction. For the laws of the state, one and all, have had their origin in the intuitions of free spirits, just like all other objective laws of morality. There is no traditional law enforced by the authority of a family, which was not, once upon a time, intuitively conceived and laid down by an ancestor. Similarly the conventional laws of morality are first of all established by particular men, and the laws of the state are always born in the brain of a statesman. These free spirits have set up laws over the rest of mankind, and only he is unfree who forgets this origin and makes them either extra-human commands, or objective moral duties independent of the human content, or — falsely mystical — the compelling voice of his own conscience.

He, on the other hand, who does not forget the origin of laws, but looks for it in man, will respect them as belonging to the same world of Ideas which is the source also of his own moral intuitions. If he thinks his intuitions better than those already existing, he will try to put them into the place of the latter. If he thinks the latter justified, he will act in accordance with them as if they were his own intuitions.

We must not coin the formula: Man exists only in order to realize a moral world-order which is independent of him. Anyone who maintains that he does stands, in his science of man, still at that same point at which natural science stood when it believed that a bull has horns in order that it may butt. Scientists, happily, have cast the concept of objective purposes in nature into the limbo of dead theories. For Ethics, it is more difficult to achieve the same emancipation. But just as horns do not exist for the sake of butting, but butting because of horns, so man does not exist for the sake of morality, but morality exists through man. The free man acts morally because he has a moral Idea, he does not act in order that morality may come into being. Human individuals, with the moral Ideas belonging to their nature, are the presupposition of a moral world-order.

The human individual is the fountain of all morality and the centre of earthly life. State and society exist only because they have necessarily grown out of the life of individuals. That state and society, in turn, should react upon the lives of individuals, is no more difficult to comprehend, than that the butting which is the result of the existence of horns, reacts in turn upon the further development of the horns of the bull, which would become atrophied by prolonged disuse. Similarly, the individual must degenerate if he leads an isolated existence outside human society. That is just the reason why the social order arises, viz., that it may react favourably upon the individual.



The distinction here drawn by Dr. Steiner between “motive” and “spring of action” is of fundamental importance and is implicit in the common English usage of these terms. But because this distinction has been blurred in recent scientific works the word “motive” has come to have a different technical usage which may confuse some readers of this book.

An example of the psychological usage is R. Woodworth's definition of “motive” as “a state or set of the individual which disposes him for certain behaviour and for seeking certain goals.” This does not bring out the important difference, to which Steiner draws attention, between having a goal, purpose or task, which a man finds by the characteristically human activity of thinking and adopts as the right thing to do in the particular circumstances, and being stimulated by a percept or feeling to an impulsive or emotional act. Steiner uses the term “motive” only when the act of will comes about under the influence of a concept or representation, and he traces a progressive ascent in this direction to the point where action is determined by the content of pure intuition.

An instance of contemporary ethical usage is A. C. Ewing's alternative definitions of “motive” as “(i) Desires causing action or (ii) Circumstances relevant to an action to which attention is directed at the time.” Here, also, recognition of the unique character of a motive grasped out of pure intuition is precluded.

In the first part of this book Dr. Steiner has shown how a concept can be grasped by the Ego from the thought-content of the world in a fully conscious act of intuition. In this chapter and the subsequent discussion of moral imagination he shows how such a freely grasped concept can be imprinted on the world as deed without losing the element of freedom. Thus it is shown how the spirit can work creatively in a human act of free will.

Upon the recognition of this fact depends a clear understanding of the essential difference between man, who can develop the power to create freely out of the spirit, and the animal.