In the Preface to the 1918 revised edition of the Philosophy of Freedom, Rudolf Steiner writes (Rita Stebbing translation):
Everything to be discussed in this book centers around two problems which are fundamental to 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.
Steiner takes up this first problem in chapter three, which – in terms of the answers it provides – stands as a kind of seed form, out of which the next four chapters develop. If we choose to actively take up the path to knowledge which is implicit in the Philosophy of Freedom, this seed form of chapter three can emerge for us into the following Foundational Exercise:
2) Think about your observation.
3) Observe the thinking that you did.
The development of this exercise out of chapter three is chronicled in the website for the conference we are planning for October 2015: www.philosophyfreedom.ca. (See the “Foundational Exercise” tab and cursor down to “Foundational Exercise – Its Derivation”.)
The exercise appears quite straightforward and yet its significance should not be underestimated. Steiner writes in chapter three that “For everyone… who has the ability to observe thinking – and with good will every normal man has this ability – this observation is the most important one he can possibly make.” [Michael Wilson translation.]
The movement from step 1) to step 2) requires an exertion of will. We have so many, varied experiences over the course of a day. But how often do we take the time to stop and actively think about what we perceive? And yet, these first two steps describe our usual process for coming to understand our world and our place within it.
The movement from 2) to 3) involves an even greater exertion of will. And it represents a marked departure from our usual process for gaining understanding. Steiner writes, “Whereas observations of things and events, and thinking about them, are everyday occurrences filling up the continuous current of my life, observation of thinking itself is a kind of exceptional state.”
In the process of working with the Foundational Exercise, a conversation can develop among the individual steps in the exercise, a conversation which enriches each of the discrete experiences at each step. Thinking about my observation, for example, can raise questions which lead me back to the observation to examine it more closely or to gather additional observations. Observing my thinking can reveal to me those places where my thinking lost mobility or can lead me on to more fully consider avenues of thinking which had not initially occurred to me. In this way, I cultivate a thinking in step 2 which is richer and more alive, a thinking which offers a more fertile terrain to observe in step 3.
Over time, such conversations provide a confirmation through experience that the observation of thinking imbues thinking itself with flexibility, depth, life. Indeed, the observation of thinking leads us back to the world – or, to be specific – that part of the world which we have observed, with insights we would never had gained had we halted at step 2. And so, on the one hand, the observation of thinking is an activity which enlivens thinking and leads us back to the world.
On the other hand, it is an activity through which we can become able to directly perceive our thinking as an objective non-physical reality. For this to happen we need to stop the conversation among the steps in the exercise and, through a powerful intensification of will activity, live entirely within step 3, where we hold our thinking before us as a living organism which we can observe simultaneously in the moment of its birth.
In a lecture entitled “Freedom and Love” delivered in Dornach, December 19, 1920, Steiner said:
Now we have the possibility of becoming wholly free – free in our inner life, that is – if we succeed in shutting out any thought content based on externalities while at the same time raising to high intensity the will element that rays through our thoughts when we form judgements or draw conclusions. This means turning our thinking into what I termed pure thinking in my Philosophy of Freedom; we think, but will alone lives in the thinking process. This is an aspect on which I laid particular stress in the 1918 edition of the book. What lives in us then lives in the thought sphere. But when it has become pure thinking, it can just as correctly be termed pure willing. We rise to the level where we transform thinking into will when we achieve inner freedom; we ripen our thinking to the point where it is wholly irradiated by our will, no longer letting outer stimuli affect it, but living wholly in the will. But it is just through strengthening the will element in our thinking that we equip ourselves for what in the Philosophy of Freedom I called moral fantasy, a faculty which reaches up to the sphere of moral intuitions, which then suffuse and irradiate our thought-become-will or will-become-thought. Thus we lift ourselves above the level of natural necessity, imbue ourselves with something that is peculiarly our own, and ready ourselves to exercise moral intuition. In the last analysis, moral intuitions account for everything that comes from the spiritual world and fulfills human nature. Freedom comes alive in us as a result of making will ever more powerful in our thinking process.
On the weekend of October 23 – 25, 2015, you are invited to join colleagues to take up this epistemological treasure quest at a weekend conference to be held at the Christian Community church in Thornhill, Ontario (Toronto). Please visit www.philosophyfreedom.ca and leave your contact information if you would like to receive occasional updates about the conference and be informed when we are ready to start taking pre-registrations.
The planning group for the conference met in September (2014) to work through the Foundational Exercise and discuss the conference objectives and structure. At that time we decided that for October 2015 we will focus on the first part of the book, “Knowledge of Freedom”. An imagination is already developing for a subsequent conference for October 2016 focusing on exercises which are implicit in the second part of the book, “The Reality of Freedom”.