31 August 1921, Stuttgart
In his book The Philosophy of Freedom, Rudolf Steiner wished to present ‘the results of spiritual observation according to the methods of natural science.’ This was the antithesis to the object of Edward von Hartmann's book, The Philosophy of the Unconscious, which presents ‘metaphysical results according to the methods of inductive natural science’. This title implies a conclusion drawn from what you perceive to what is not perceptible, and this can never lend to true spiritual knowledge. Just as facts in natural science are observable, so must psychic-spiritual facts be accessible to spiritual observation also. Through thought we can unite ourselves not only to the outer world, but also to our I-consciousness, and in I-consciousness lies human freedom. Agnostic natural science has veiled this experience and then has disowned it. But the way of observing it must be conducted differently from the way in which we observe outer nature. Instead of relying on sensory experience, as in observing nature, we must look out upon what stands before our I-consciousness, and at the same time develop our thinking just as it has been developed by the things of the outer world. Thinking itself must bring about the state of freedom, in that it is not void of contents while ceasing to rely upon sensory perception, but that it fills itself with the contents of the human soul. The methods of spiritual science are nothing else than the experience of the content which is there when the human soul loosens itself from the rivets of outer objects, and can still have the strength to experience something. The Philosophy of Freedom confines itself to investigating the human being himself as a free being in the physical world. But even here we already embark upon supersensible research, and little by little the way opens up for further penetration. Most particularly we learn thus to know the imponderable nature of the human soul; in investigating the problem of freedom we enter upon the search into what is supersensible.
We must, above all else, come to an understanding of what the impulse for freedom springs from, otherwise we do not stand on firm ground in our knowledge, but experience an undermining of it which makes us unfitted for life. For action, a philosophy of freedom is required; but, to gain this, supersensible investigation is imperative.
Whoever, during the last third of the 19th century, wished to disentangle the problem of freedom had to reckon with Nietzsche. To Nietzsche perception of the outer world was an experience of inner pain, for it was to him tainted by the conceptions of natural science. He felt that the world could give mankind no satisfaction and therefore he sought everywhere for elements in human culture which would lift him above this pain. These elements he found in two instances: on the one hand, in the art of Richard Wagner and on the other, in the philosophy of Schopenhauer. Both seemed to him to be in accord with his own sympathy with the spirit of the Greeks. Later on he became a fighter against the lies of his time, a fanatic champion for the reality of the outer sense-perceptible world which caused him such anguish. Thus did he become entirely influenced by the scientific outlook upon the world. He was deeply affected by such sentences as: ‘Science ends when supernaturalism begins’ (Du Bois Raymond). What weighed on Nietzsche's soul penetrated his whole manhood. Feeling and emotion seemed to burn up his thoughts. He wanted to add inner experience to outer perceiving. This is expressed in his Zarathustra. If men remain men, then must they be overcome by pain. Therefore must they rise to be supermen. But for his supermen he had no content. When the terrible idea arose in him of the ‘eternal repetition of the same’, then came to Nietzsche the appalling tragedy of his life. He is wrecked upon the rock on which agnosticism builds its faith as absolute correct knowledge. To begin with he could still live in isolation, but our age demands that men live as social beings. Nietzsche lacked the proper weapons for his battle against agnosticism. He was never able to win a really deep relationship to modern natural science in his outlook upon the world; to him it seemed coarse and repulsive, and, therefore, he arrived at a transformation of Darwinism into the teaching of the superman. In him there lived the impulse towards an altruistic striving, but in an unhealthy organism, an organism capable of allowing him to soar to the heights, but at the same time an unhealthy one.
One must come to an understanding with Nietzsche if one wishes to understand freedom, and this is what Rudolf Steiner has done in his book Nietzsche, a Fighter against his Epoch.
In order to build up an outlook suitable to our epoch, we have to reckon with another symptom.