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The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity
GA 4

X. Philosophy of Freedom and Monism

The naive man who regards as real only what he can see with his eyes and grasp with his hands, also needs to have motives for his moral life that are perceptible to the senses. He needs someone who will impart these motives to him in a way that he can understand by means of his senses. He will let them be dictated to him as commands by a person whom he considers wiser and more powerful than himself, or whom he acknowledges, for some other reason, to be a power standing above him. In this way the moral principles already mentioned come about through being prescribed by authority of family, state, society, church, or the Divinity. An undeveloped person still trusts in the authority of a single individual; a somewhat more advanced person lets his moral conduct be dictated by a majority (state, society). But it is always perceptible powers upon which he relies. When at last the conviction dawns upon him that fundamentally all these are weak human beings just like himself, then he will seek guidance from a higher power, from a divine Being, whom, however, he endows with sense-perceptible qualities. He lets the conceptual content of his moral life be dictated to him by this Being, again in a perceptible way, for example when God appears in the burning bush, or moves among men in bodily human form and in a manner perceptible to their ears tells them what to do and what not to do.

The highest level of development of naive realism in the moral sphere is reached when the moral command (moral idea) has been separated from every foreign entity, and is hypothetically thought of as an absolute force in one's own inner being. What at first is sensed as the external voice of God, is now sensed as an independent power within man, and is spoken of in a way that shows the inner power to be identified with the voice of conscience.

When this happens, the level of naive consciousness has been abandoned and we enter the region where moral laws become independent rules. They no longer have a bearer, but have become metaphysical entities, existing by themselves. They are similar to the invisible-visible forces of the metaphysical realist who does not look for the reality of things in the human soul's participation in this reality through thinking, but who hypothetically imagines reality as an addition to actual experience. Extra-human moral rules, therefore, always accompany metaphysical realism. Metaphysical realism cannot do otherwise than seek the origin of morality too in a sphere beyond human reach. And here there are several possibilities. If the presupposed Being is thought of as in itself unthinking, acting according to purely mechanical laws, as materialism thinks of it, then out of itself it must also produce, by purely mechanical necessity, the human individual and all that belongs to him. The consciousness of freedom can then be only an illusion. For while I believe myself to be the creator of my deeds, it is the material substances of which I am composed, together with their processes, that are at work within me. I believe myself to be free, whereas in reality all my actions are but results of the material processes which are the foundation of my bodily and spiritual organism. According to this point of view, it is simply because we do not know the motives compelling us, that we have the feeling of freedom. “We must emphasize that the feeling of freedom is due to the absence of external compelling motives.” “Our actions as well as our thinking are subject to necessity.” [49]

Another possibility is that the extra-human absolute is seen as a spiritual Being behind the world of phenomena. Then the impulse to action will also be sought in such a spiritual power. The moral principles to be found in man's reason will be regarded as issuing from this Being-in-itself, which has its own particular intentions with regard to man. Moral laws appear to such a dualist as dictated by the Absolute, and through his reason, man simply has to discover and carry out these decisions of the Absolute Being. The moral world-order appears to the dualist as the perceptible reflection of a higher order that stands behind it. Earthly morality is the manifestation of the extra-human world order. It is not man that matters in this moral order, but the Being-in-itself, the extra-human Being. Man ought to do what this Being wills. Eduard von Hartmann, who sees the Being-in-itself as the Godhead whose very existence is suffering, believes that this divine Being has created the world in order that through the world he will be redeemed from his infinitely great pain. This philosopher therefore regards the moral development of mankind as a process which exists for the purpose of redeeming the Godhead.

“Only through the building up of a moral world-order by sensible, responsible individuals can the aim of the world process be carried through ...” “Existence in its reality is the incarnation of the Godhead—the world process is the Passion of the God becoming flesh, and at the same time the path of redemption of Him who was crucified in the flesh; and morality is the co-operation in the shortening of this path of suffering and redemption.” [50]

Here man does not act because he wills, but he ought to act because it is God's will to be redeemed. Just as the materialistic dualist makes man into an automaton whose conduct is merely the result of purely mechanical laws, so the spiritualistic dualist (that is, he who sees the Absolute, the Being-in-itself, as a spiritual entity in which man has no conscious share) makes him into a slave of the will of the Absolute. Freedom is out of the question in materialism as well as in one-sided spiritualism, in fact in any kind of metaphysical realism which does not experience, but infers something extra-human as the true reality.

Naive as well as metaphysical realism, in order to be consistent, must deny freedom for one and the same reason, since they regard man as being simply the agent or executor of principles which are forced upon him by necessity. Naive realism kills freedom through subjection to the authority either of a perceptible being or of an entity thought of as similar to a perceptible being, or else through submission to the authority of the abstract inner voice which is interpreted as “conscience;” the metaphysical realist, who merely infers something extra-human, cannot acknowledge freedom because he lets man be determined, mechanically or morally, by a “Being-in-itself.”

Monism must acknowledge the partial justification of naive realism because it acknowledges the justification of the world of perceptions. Someone who is incapable of bringing forth moral ideas through intuition, will have to receive them from others. Insofar as a man receives his moral principles from outside, he is positively unfree. But monism ascribes equal significance to the idea compared with perception. And the idea can come to manifestation in the human individual. Insofar as man follows the impulses coming from this side, he feels free. But monism denies all justification to a metaphysics which merely draws inferences, and consequently also to impulses of action stemming from a so-called “Being-in-itself.” According to the monistic view, man's action is unfree when he obeys some perceptible external compulsion; it is free when he obeys himself. Monism cannot acknowledge any kind of unconscious compulsion hidden behind perception and concept. When someone maintains that a fellow man was not free when he performed an action, it must be possible to prove the existence within the perceptible world of the thing, the person, or the institution that made the man act; but if an appeal is made to causes for the action lying outside the sphere of physical and spiritual reality, then monism cannot enter the discussion.

According to monism, in his activity man is partly unfree, partly free. He is unfree in the world of perceptions, but brings the free spirit to realization in himself.

The moral commands which the metaphysical realist merely infers and cannot but consider as issuing from a higher power, for the monist are thoughts of men; for the monist the moral world order is neither a copy of a purely mechanical natural order, nor of an extra-human world order, but entirely a free undertaking of man. Man does not have to carry out the will of some Being existing beyond his reach; he carries out his own will; he does not bring to realization the decisions and intentions of another Being, but brings his own to realization. Monism does not see the purpose of a foreign rulership behind man, determining him from outside, but rather that insofar as they bring intuitive ideas to realization, human beings pursue solely their own human purposes. And indeed, each individual pursues his own particular purpose. For the world of ideas expresses itself not in a community of men, but only in the individual man. The common goal of a group of men is nothing but the result of the separate will-activities of the individual persons, and usually of a few outstanding ones whom the rest follow as their authorities. Each one of us is destined to become a free spirit, just as every rose seed is destined to become a rose.

The monistic view, in the sphere of truly moral conduct, is a philosophy of freedom. And as it is also a philosophy of reality, it rejects metaphysical and unreal restrictions of man's free spirit just as it acknowledges physical and historical (naively real) restrictions of the naive man. Since monism does not regard man as a finished product, as a being who at every moment of his life unfolds his full nature, it seems futile to discuss whether man, as such, is free or not. Man is seen as a being in the process of self development, and one may ask whether, in the course of this development the stage of the free spirit can be attained.

Monism knows that nature does not release man from its care complete and finished as a free spirit, but it leads him up to a certain level from which, still unfree. he continues to develop until he reaches the point where he finds his own self.

To monism it is obvious that a being acting under physical or moral compulsion cannot be moral in a real sense. It regards the level of transition through automatic conduct (according to natural urges and instincts) and through obedient conduct (according to moral rules) as necessary preliminary stages of morality, but it also recognizes the possibility for man to overcome both transitory levels through his free spirit. A truly moral world view is released by monism, both from the fetters of naive moral principles in man's inner world, and from the moral principles of the speculating metaphysicist in the external world. The naive principles of morality can be eliminated from the world as little as can perceptions. The metaphysical view is rejected because monism seeks all the factors for explaining world-phenomena within the world, and none outside it. Just as monism finds it unnecessary to entertain thoughts of principles of knowledge other than those inherent in man, (p. 140) so it also definitely finds it unnecessary to entertain thoughts of principles of morality other than those inherent in man. Human morality, like human knowledge, is determined through human nature. And just as knowledge would mean something quite different to beings other than man, so other beings would also have a different morality. Morality for the monist is a specifically human quality, and freedom is the form in which human morality finds expression.

First Addition to the Revised Edition, 1918: Difficulty in judging what is presented in the two preceding chapters may arise because one believes oneself to be confronted by a contradiction. On the one hand, the experience of thinking is spoken of as having a general significance of equal value for every human consciousness; on the other hand, it is shown that though the ideas realized in moral life are of the same kind as those worked out by thinking, they come to expression in each human consciousness in an individual way. If one cannot overcome seeing a “contradiction,” in this, and cannot recognize that it is just in a living experience of this actually present contrast that a glimpse into man's true being is revealed, then it is also impossible to see either the idea of knowledge or the idea of freedom in their true light. For those who think of concepts as merely drawn (abstracted) from the sense-world, and who do not give full recognition to intuitions, the thought presented here as the reality must seem a “mere contradiction.” For an insight that recognizes how ideas are intuitively experienced as a self-sustaining reality, it is clear that in the sphere of the world of ideas man penetrates in cognition into something which is universal for all men, but when he derives from that same idea world the intuitions for his acts of will, then he individualizes a member of this idea world by means of the same activity which, as a general human one, he unfolds in the spiritual ideal process of cognition. For this reason what appears as a logical contradiction, namely the universal character of cognitive ideas and the individual character of moral ideas, when experienced in its true reality, becomes a living concept. A characteristic feature of human nature consists in the fact that what can be intuitively grasped oscillates in man like a living pendulum between knowledge which is universally valid, and the individual experience of this universal element. For the man who cannot recognize one swing of the pendulum in its reality, thinking will remain merely a subjective human activity; for the one who cannot recognize the other swing, all individual life appears to cease in man's activity of thinking. To the first person, cognition is unintelligible, to the second, moral life is unintelligible. Both will call in all sorts of representations in order to explain the one or the other, all of which miss the point, because both persons, fundamentally, either do not recognize that thinking can be experienced, or take it to be an activity which merely abstracts.

Second Addition to the Revised Edition, 1918: On page 34, materialism was referred to. I am well aware that there are thinkers like the above-mentioned Th. Ziehen, who do not in the least consider themselves materialists, but who must nevertheless be described as such from the point of view expressed in this book. It is not a matter that someone says that for him the world is not restricted to merely material existence and therefore he is not a materialist. It is a matter of whether or not he develops concepts which are applicable only to a material existence. One who says: “Our conduct, like our thinking, is necessitated,” expresses a concept applicable only to material processes, but applicable neither to actions nor to existence; and if he thinks his concepts through, he will have to think materialistically. That he does not do this is only the outcome of that inconsistency which is so often the result of a thinking not carried through.—One often hears it said nowadays that the materialism of the nineteenth century no longer plays a part in science. But in reality this is not so at all. It is only that at present it is often not noticed that no other ideas are available than those which can be applied only to something material. This veils present day materialism, whereas in the second half of the nineteenth century it was plain for all to see. And present day veiled materialism is no less intolerant of a view that grasps the world spiritually than was the openly-admitted materialism of the last century. However, it deceives many who believe they must reject a comprehension of the world which includes spirit, because after all, the natural scientific comprehension of the world “has long ago abandoned materialism.”