EVERYTHING DISCUSSED in this book centers around two problems which are fundamental to the human soul-life. One of these problems concerns the possibility of attaining such insight into human nature that knowledge of man can become the foundation of all human knowledge and experience of life. We often feel that our experiences and the results of scientific investigations are not self-supporting; further experiences or discoveries may shake our certitude. The other problem is Has man any right to ascribe freedom to his will, or is freedom of will an illusion arising out of his inability to recognize the threads of necessity on which his will depends, just like a process in nature? This question is not artificially created. In a certain disposition it arises quite spontaneously in the human soul. And one feels that the soul lacks in stature if it has not at some time faced in deep seriousness the question of free will or necessity. In this book the intention is to show that the inner experiences caused by the second problem depend upon what attitude man is able to take toward the first problem. The attempt will be made to show that it is possible to attain such an insight into man's nature, that this can support all the rest of his knowledge, and further that this insight completely justifies the concept of freedom of will, provided only that first the region of soul is discovered where free will can unfold.
This insight in relation to the two problems is such that, once attained, it can become a living content of man's soul life. A theoretical answer will not be given which, once acquired is merely carried about as a conviction, retained by memory. For the whole manner of thinking on which this book is based, such an answer would be no answer. Such a finished, limited answer will not be given, but a region of experiences within the human soul will be pointed to, where, through the soul's own inner activity. living answers to the questions are to be found ever anew and at every moment when man needs them. Once the region of soul is discovered where these questions unfold, a real insight into this region provides man with what he needs for the solution of these two problems of life so that, with what he has then attained, he can penetrate further into the breadth and depth of life's riddles, as need or destiny leads him. — It will be seen that a knowledge has here been outlined, which proves its justification and validity, not only through its own existence, but also through the relationship it has with the entire soul-life of man.
These were my thoughts about the content of this book when I wrote it twenty-five years ago. To-day, again I must write similarly if I am to characterize the aim of this book. In the first edition I limited myself to saying no more than was in the strictest sense connected with the two fundamental problems described above. If anyone should be surprised at not finding in this book as yet, any reference to that region of the world of spiritual experience described in my later writings, then he must consider that at that time it was not my purpose to describe results of spiritual research, but first to lay the foundation on which such results can rest. This “Philosophy of Freedom” does not contain any special results of this kind, any more than it contains special results of the natural sciences. But what it contains cannot, in my view, be dispensed with by anyone who strives for certainty in such knowledge. What I have said in this book can also be acceptable to many who, for reasons of their own, will have nothing to do with the results of my spiritual scientific research. But one who can regard these results of spiritual scientific research as something to which he is drawn, will recognize as important what is attempted here. It is this: to prove that an open-minded consideration of just the two problems I have indicated, problems which are fundamental to all knowledge, leads to recognition of the fact that man is living within the reality of a spiritual world. In this book the attempt is made to justify knowledge of the realm of spirit before entering upon spiritual experience. And this justification is undertaken in such a way that, for anyone able and willing to enter into this discussion, there is no need, in order to accept what is said here, to cast furtive glances at the experiences which my later writings have shown to be relevant.
Thus it seems to me that, on the one hand, this book occupies a position completely independent of my writings on actual spiritual scientific matters, and yet, on the other hand, it is also most intimately connected with them. All this has caused me now, after twenty-five years, to republish the content of this book practically unaltered in all essentials. I have, however, made additions of some length to several chapters. The misunderstandings of my argument which have come to my attention seemed to make these detailed extensions necessary. Alterations have been made only where what I said a quarter of a century ago appeared to me clumsily expressed. (Only ill-will could find in these changes occasion to suggest that I have changed my fundamental conviction.)
The book has been out of print for many years. Nevertheless, and in spite of the fact, apparent from what I have just said, that to me it seems that to-day must be similarly expressed what I did express twenty-five years ago about the problems I have characterized, I hesitated a long time about the completion of this revised edition. Again and again I have asked myself whether at this point or that, I ought not to define my position toward the numerous philosophical views which have been put forward since the publication of the first edition. Yet the heavy demands on my time in recent years, due to purely spiritual scientific research, prevented me doing as I might have wished. Also, a survey, as thorough as possible, of the philosophical literature of the present day has convinced me that such a critical discussion, tempting though it would be in itself, has no place in the context of what this book has to say. All that, from the point of view of the “Philosophy of Spiritual Activity,” it seemed to me necessary to say about recent philosophical tendencies, may be found in the second volume of my “Riddles of Philosophy.”