Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Philosophy of Freedom Treasure Quest

The Philosophy of Freedom Treasure Quest:
A Conference in Epistemological Experimentation

- by Tim Nadelle

The Philosophy of Freedom is a treasure map.  In general, we can work with the map in two ways.  Firstly, we can study the map.  We can read it, make notes, meet in study groups to discuss and deepen our understanding.  This first approach to the work is a necessary and essential precursor to the second approach, which is to set out to find the treasure. 

In the Preface to the revised edition of 1918 of the Philosophy of Freedom, Rudolf Steiner poses questions which can set our hearts and imaginations on fire.  He points over the horizon, towards a land he has traveled where, for anyone who would take up the quest, there is treasure in abundance.  He 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.  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?

He goes on to describe the treasure, while at same time providing some initial practical advice for those who wish to take up the epistemological journey: [1]

The book will not give a ready-made, self-contained answer… 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 once has discovered the region of 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.

So at the outset it becomes clear the treasure is not a series of philosophical proofs we can learn.  Neither can we find it merely by immersing ourselves in the content of the Philosophy of Freedom, no matter how deeply we study it.  Cartography is a preparatory activity: it can only point out the way.  If we wish to take up the knowledge quest, we need to find that field of experience in which our inner soul activity supplies living answers to these questions.

Happily, potential soul activities for exploration jump off virtually every page of the book.  However, we need to engage our imaginations to discover them.  In this, the Philosophy of Freedom diverges from Steiner’s introductory anthroposophical works.  In Theosophy, Occult Science, Knowledge of Higher Worlds – Steiner explicitly provides the soul activities, the exercises for us to follow.  In the Philosophy of Freedom, those activities are implicit.  Each individual finds them himself or herself.

For example, in chapter three of the Philosophy, Steiner characterizes the central, elementary soul activity which will set us firmly along the path, the observation of thinking:

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.  For he observes something of which he himself is the creator; he finds himself confronted, not by an apparently foreign object, but by his own activity.  He knows how the thing he is observing comes into being.  He sees into its connections and relationships.  A firm point has now been reached from which one can, with some hope of success, seek an explanation of all other phenomena of the world.

A natural starting point, therefore, will be to ask ourselves: How do we go about observing our own thinking?  Chapter three (including its “Author’s addition, 1918”) is in fact, replete with practicable indications for how to go about doing so.  Our way forward shall be first to understand these indications, then to commence the actual work of observing our own thinking.  

Conference invitation
In October 2015, you are invited to join with colleagues to take up this quest at a weekend conference to be held in or near Toronto.  Please visit and leave your contact information if you would like to receive occasional updates about the conference agenda and venue.

Over the course of the year, we will be sharing several thought experiments on the conference website which you might choose to take up by way of preparation for the conference.  (They may even be of interest if you have no intention of participating in the conference.)  Please visit if you wish to have a look at the first of these thought experiments.

The experiments are not destinations; they are possible points of entry along the path.  You might choose to work with one for a while, modify it for your own needs or discard it altogether and create something more suited to your own unique direction.  The experiments are intended only as creative provocations for subsequent individual work. 

Hope to see you there!

[1] This and all subsequent quotes from the Philosophy of Freedom are taken from the Michael Wilson translation.

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