Friday, 23 November 2018

How to read Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom

There is, perhaps, no more-important book that The Philosophy of Freedom (PoF) by Rudolf Steiner; yet it is, of course, limited in its scope - and potentially misleading.

Steiner himself apparently took several years to see its limitations (after-which he became a, very-unorthodox, Christian), and never properly acknowledged the fact that PoF was written from something like an anarchist/ Nietzschian/ anti-Chrstian stance. He pretended that the later Christian and spiritual metaphysics was latent in, and implied by, the PoF - which untruth makes the book extremely bizarre, and deeply puzzling to the spiritual-Christian reader...

It is possible to read PoF as a free-standing and self-justifying work; and indeed I think it likely that that is the best, perhaps the only, way to understand it. Contextualising the work can only come after it has been understood. So I would recommend accepting the book's implicit premises while reading it - until the overall thesis has been grasped. There is a useful website called The Philosophy of Freedom which does exactly this.

This way of reading PoF accepts Steiner's assertion that he has proved his thesis with 'evidence' (evidence from logic and introspection) - and it therefore accepts the book's self-designation as epistemology - and its function in terms of a libertarian-anarchist rationale for absolute individuality.

But further reflection reveals that PoF is metaphysics, Not epistemology; it is asserting a thesis about the structure of reality, not merely about knowledge of reality. But only if PoF were true epistemology (and only if epistemology could deliver on its promise of assumption-free knowledge - which in fact it cannot ever do!) could PoF legitimately use evidence to prove its thesis - since if the thesis is true, it changes the nature of what-counts-as evidence. And this is to assume what is being proved - and so the argument undercuts its own legitimacy.

At the level of epistemology (as is usual/ universal with epistemology), PoF is therefore circular reasoning - and the reader can only choose either to enter the circle and believe its truth; or else reject it. And on what possible legitimate grounds (other than prior metaphysical assumptions) should he make such a decision?   

PoF leaves-open such questions as why reality really-is the way that it is described by PoF; and if it was - how could we ever know the fact?

Most importantly, the book simply asserts that freedom is the ultimate value - which many or most people would dispute. PoF asserts that a real morality must be independently arrived at and embraced wholly by the individual from his own resources - yet this is the opposite to traditional ideas; and there is no way (other than a kind of mockery) rationally to argue that the one morality is better than the other; except by asserting the (assumed, never proved) primacy of freedom, autonomy, agency...

Furthermore, in order to explain clearly; PoF presents a very simple model of how cognition is inserted into the world, which it splits between sensory phenomena and the concepts requires to make sense of them. This is very helpful, but must be transcended since, again, it is a circular model and gives no idea of how we could know its truth, or its limitations.

(Did Steiner personally observe his consciousness being instered into the world, and the effect it had? Does he personally know what life without/ before consciousness is like? Can he compare individual morality with universal morality to confirm that they are one? Clearly not - so where does this knowledge come-from?)

None of these limitations to PoF are a significant problem if we read it from the Christian metaphysical perspective that there is a loving creator God, we are his children; and creation was set-up and continues mainly to make possible the development of human consciousness towards a divine situation in which freedom/ autonomy/ agency are indeed prime goals.

From such a perspective PoF is revealed as being about both individual agency and the cohesion of reality; because they are the same. The true concepts by-which we understand the perceived world are the same as those of God's creation; and the truly-agent individual is able to participate in God's on-going creation - which is the purpose of the evolutionary-development of consciousness towards freedom and autonomy.  

But we need to bring this metaphysical perspective to our reading of PoF - it is not to be found within the work itself.

My advice is to do just this - and then to read it!