There are two fundamental questions in the life of the human soul towards which everything to be discussed in this book is directed. One is: Is it possible to find a view of the essential nature of man such as will give us a foundation for everything else that comes to meet us — whether through life experience or through science — which we feel is otherwise not self-supporting and therefore liable to be driven by doubt and criticism into the realm of uncertainty? The other question is this: Is man entitled to claim for himself freedom of will, or is freedom a mere illusion begotten of his inability to recognize the threads of necessity on which his will, like any natural event, depends? It is no artificial tissue of theories that provokes this question. In a certain mood it presents itself quite naturally to the human soul. And one may well feel that if the soul has not at some time found itself faced in utmost seriousness by the problem of free will or necessity it will not have reached its full stature. This book is intended to show that the experiences which the second problem causes man's soul to undergo depend upon the position he is able to take up towards the first problem. An attempt is made to prove that there is a view of the nature of man's being which can support the rest of knowledge; and further, that this view completely justifies the idea of free will, provided only that we have first discovered that region of the soul in which free will can unfold itself.
The view to which we here refer is one which, once gained, is capable of becoming part and parcel of the very life of the soul itself. The answer given to the two problems will not be of the purely theoretical sort which, once mastered, may be carried about as a conviction preserved by memory. Such an answer would, for the whole manner of thinking on which this book is based, be no real answer at all. The book will not give a ready-made self-contained answer of this sort, but will point to a field of experience in which man's inner soul activity supplies a living answer to these questions at every moment that he needs one. Whoever has once discovered the region of the soul where these questions unfold, will find that the very contemplation of this region gives him all that he needs for the solution of the two problems. With the knowledge thus acquired, he may then, as desire or destiny impels him, adventure further into the breadths and depths of this enigmatical life of ours. Thus it would appear that a kind of knowledge which proves its justification and validity by its own inner life as well as by the kinship of its own life with the whole life of the human soul, does in fact exist.
This is how I thought about the content of this book when I first wrote it down twenty-five years ago. Today, once again, I have to set down similar sentences if I am to characterize the main ideas of the book. At the original writing I limited myself to saying no more than was in the strictest sense connected with the two fundamental questions which I have outlined. If anyone should be astonished at not finding in this book any reference to that region of the world of spiritual experience described in my later writings, I would ask him to bear in mind that it was not my purpose at that time to set down the results of spiritual research, but first to lay the foundations on which such results can rest.
The Philosophy of Freedom does not contain any results of this sort, any more than it contains special results of the natural sciences. But what it does contain is in my judgment absolutely necessary for anyone who seeks a secure foundation for such knowledge. What I have said in this book may be acceptable even to some who, for reasons of their own, refuse to have anything to do with the results of my researches into the spiritual realm. But anyone who feels drawn towards the results of these spiritual researches may well appreciate the importance of what I was here trying to do. It is this: to show that open-minded consideration simply of the two questions I have indicated and which are fundamental for every kind of knowledge, leads to the view that man lives in the midst of a genuine spiritual world.
In this book the attempt is made to show that a knowledge of the spirit realm before entering upon actual spiritual experience is fully justified. The course of this demonstration is so conducted that for anyone who is able and willing to enter into these arguments it is never necessary, in order to accept them, to cast furtive glances at the experiences which my later writings have shown to be relevant.
Thus it seems to me that in one sense this book occupies a position completely independent of my writings on actual spiritual scientific matters. Yet in another sense it is most intimately connected with them. These considerations have moved me now, after a lapse of twenty-five years, to republish the contents of this book practically unaltered in all essentials. I have, however, made additions of some length to a number of chapters. The misunderstandings of my argument which I have met seemed to make these more detailed elaborations necessary. Changes of text have been made only where it appeared to me that I had said clumsily what I meant to say a quarter of a century ago. (Only ill will could find in these changes occasion to suggest that I have changed my fundamental conviction.)
For many years my book has been out of print. In spite of the fact, which is apparent from what I have just said, that my utterances of twenty-five years ago about these problems still seem to me just as relevant today, I hesitated a long time about the completion of this revised edition. Again and again I have asked myself whether I ought not, at this point or that, to define my position towards the numerous philosophical views which have been put forward since the publication of the first edition. Yet my preoccupation in recent years with researches into the purely spiritual realm prevented me from doing this in the way I could have wished. However, a survey of the philosophical literature of the present day, as thorough as I could make it, has convinced me that such a critical discussion, tempting though it would be in itself, would be out of place in the context of this book. All that it seemed to me necessary to say about recent philosophical tendencies, from the point of view of the Philosophy of Freedom, may be found in the second volume of my Riddles of Philosophy.