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The Philosophy of Freedom

On-line since: 22nd November,1996

Author's Prefaces

Preface to the first edition, 1894; revised, 1918

In the following is reproduced, in all essentials, what stood as a preface in the first edition of this book. Since it shows the mood of thought out of which I wrote this book twenty-five years ago, rather than having any direct bearing on its contents, I include it here as an appendix. I do not want to omit it altogether, because the opinion keeps cropping up that I need to suppress some of my earlier writings on account of my later ones on spiritual science. Only the very first introductory sentences of this preface (in the first edition) have been altogether omitted here, because today they seem to me quite irrelevant. But the rest of what was said seems to me necessary even today, in spite of, indeed, just because of the natural scientific manner of thinking of our contemporaries.

Our age can only accept truth from the depths of human nature. Of Schiller's two well-known paths, it is the second that will mostly be chosen at the present time:

Truth seek we both — Thou in the life without thee and around;
I in the heart within. By both can Truth alike be found.
The healthy eye can through the world the great Creator track;
The healthy heart is but the glass which gives Creation back.

(Translation by E. Bulwer Lytton.)

A truth which comes to us from outside always bears the stamp of uncertainty. We can believe only what appears to each one of us in our own hearts as truth.

Only the truth can give us assurance in developing our individual powers. Whoever is tortured by doubts finds his powers lamed. In a world full of riddles, he can find no goal for his creative energies.

We no longer want merely to believe; we want to know. Belief demands the acceptance of truths which we do not fully comprehend. But things we do not fully comprehend are repugnant to the individual element in us, which wants to experience everything in the depths of its inner being. The only knowledge which satisfies us is one which is subject to no external standards but springs from the inner life of the personality.

Again, we do not want any knowledge of the kind that has become frozen once and for all into rigid academic rules, preserved in encyclopedias valid for all time. Each of us claims the right to start from the facts that lie nearest to hand, from his own immediate experiences, and thence to ascend to a knowledge of the whole universe. We strive after certainty in knowledge, but each in his own way.

Our scientific doctrines, too, should no longer be formulated as if we were unconditionally compelled to accept them. None of us would wish to give a scientific work a title like Fichte's “A Pellucid Account for the General Public concerning the Real Nature of the Newest Philosophy. An Attempt to Compel the Readers to Understand.” Today nobody should be compelled to understand. From anyone who is not driven to a certain view by his own individual needs, we demand no acknowledgment or agreement. Even with the immature human being, the child, we do not nowadays cram knowledge into it, but we try to develop its capacities so that it will no longer need to be compelled to understand, but will want to understand.

I am under no illusion about these characteristics of my time. I know how much the tendency prevails to make things impersonal and stereotyped. But I know equally well that many of my contemporaries try to order their lives in the kind of way I have indicated. To them I would dedicate this book. It is not meant to give “the only possible” path to the truth, but is meant to describe the path taken by one for whom truth is the main concern.

The book leads at first into somewhat abstract regions, where thought must draw sharp outlines if it is to reach clearly defined positions. But the reader will also be led out of these arid concepts into concrete life. I am indeed fully convinced that one must raise oneself into the ethereal realm of concepts if one would experience every aspect of existence. Whoever appreciates only the pleasures of the senses is unacquainted with life's sweetest savors. The oriental sages make their disciples live a life of renunciation and asceticism for years before they impart to them their own wisdom. The western world no longer demands pious exercises and ascetic habits as a preparation for science, but it does require the willingness to withdraw oneself awhile from the immediate impressions of life, and to betake oneself into the realm of pure thought.

The realms of life are many. For each one, special sciences develop. But life itself is a unity, and the more deeply the sciences try to penetrate into their separate realms, the more they withdraw themselves from the vision of the world as a living whole. There must be a knowledge which seeks in the separate sciences the elements for leading man back once more to the fullness of life. The scientific specialist seeks through his findings to develop awareness of the world and its workings; in this book the aim is a philosophical one — that knowledge itself shall become organically alive. The separate sciences are stages on the way to that knowledge we are here trying to achieve. A similar relationship exists in the arts. The composer works on the basis of the theory of composition. This theory is a collection of rules which one has to know in order to compose. In composing, the rules of the theory become the servants of life itself, of reality. In exactly the same sense, philosophy is an art. All real philosophers have been artists in the realm of concepts. For them, human ideas were their artists' materials and scientific method their artistic technique. Abstract thinking thus takes on concrete individual life. The ideas become powerful forces in life. Then we do not merely have knowledge about things, but have made knowledge into a real self-governing organism; our actual working consciousness has risen beyond a mere passive reception of truths.

How philosophy as an art is related to human freedom, what freedom is, and whether we do, or can, participate in it — this is the main theme of my book. All other scientific discussions are included only because they ultimately throw light on these questions, which are, in my opinion, the most immediate concern of mankind. These pages offer a “Philosophy of Freedom”.

All science would be nothing but the satisfaction of idle curiosity did it not strive to raise the value of existence for the personality of man. The sciences attain their true value only by showing the human significance of their results. The ultimate aim of the individual can never be the cultivation of a single faculty, but only the development of all the capacities that slumber within us. Knowledge has value only in so far as it contributes to the all-round development of the whole nature of man.

This book, therefore, conceives the relationship between science and life, not in such a way that man must bow down before an idea and devote his powers to its service, but in the sense that he masters the world of ideas in order to use them for his human aims, which transcend those of mere science.

One must be able to confront an idea and experience it; otherwise one will fall into its bondage.




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