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The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity

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The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity

On-line since: 6th February, 2006

IX

The Idea of Spiritual Activity (Freiheit)


The concept of a tree, for my activity of knowing, is conditional upon my perception of the tree. With respect to a particular perception I can lift only one particular concept out of my general system of concepts. The connection between concept and perception is indirectly ad objectively determined by thinking in accordance with the perception. The connection of the perception with its concept is known after the act of perception; their belonging together, however, is determined within the thing itself.

The process presents itself differently when knowledge, when the relationship of man to the world which arises I knowledge, is regarded. In the preceding considerations the attempt was made to show that a clarifying of this relationship is possible when an unprejudiced observation is directed upon it. A right understanding of such observation comes to the insight that thinking, as a self-contained entity, can be looked upon directly. Whoever finds it necessary for the explanation of thinking as such to draw upon something else — physical brain processes, for example, or unconscious spiritual processes lying behind our perceived conscious thinking — fails to recognize what the unprejudiced observation of thinking gives him. Whoever observes thinking lives during his observation directly within a spiritual, self-sustaining weaving of being. Yes, one can say that whoever wants to grasp the being of the spiritual in the form in which it first presents itself to man, can do this within thinking which is founded upon itself.

When thinking itself is regarded, there merge into one what otherwise must always appear separately: concept and perception. Whoever does not recognize this will be able to see, in the concepts he works out with respect to his perceptions, only shadowy copies of these perceptions, and his perceptions will represent for him true reality. He will also build up for himself a metaphysical world modeled upon the perceived world; he will call this world the world of atoms, the world of will, unconscious spirit world, and so on, according to his particular way of picturing things. And it will escape him that in all this he has only hypothetically built himself a metaphysical world modeled upon his world of perception. Whoever does recognize, however, what lies before him with respect to thinking, will know that in the perception only a part of reality is present before him, and that the other part belonging to the perception, which alone first allows it to appear as full reality, will be experienced in his thinking permeation of the perception. He will not see, in what arises as thinking in his consciousness, a shadowy copy of a reality, but rather self-sustaining, spiritual, essential being. And about this essential being he can say that it is present for him in his consciousness through intuition. Intuition is the conscious experience, occurring within the purely spiritual, of a purely spiritual content. Only through an intuition can the being of thinking be grasped.

Only when one has struggled through to the recognition — won through unprejudiced observation — of this truth about the intuitive nature of thinking, will the way be successfully cleared for a view of the human physical and soul organization. One recognizes that this organization can bring about nothing with respect to the essential being of thinking. Completely obvious facts seem, at first, to contradict this. Human thinking appears for ordinary experience only in connection with and through this organization. This appearance makes itself felt so strongly that it can only be seen in its true significance by someone who has recognized how nothing plays into the essential being of thinking from this organization. But then such a person can also not fail to see how particular the nature of the relation of the human organization to thinking is. This organization brings about nothing with respect to the essential being of thinking, but rather draws back when the activity of thinking appears; it ceases its own activity; it frees up a place; and upon the place now freed, thinking appears. The essential being which works within thinking has a double task: first, it represses the human organization's own activity, and secondly, it sets itself in the place of this activity. For the repressing of the bodily organization is also the result of thinking activity. And indeed, of that part of thinking activity which prepares for the appearance of thinking. One sees from this in what sense thinking finds its counterpart in the bodily organization. And when one sees this, one will no longer be able to misapprehend the significance of this counterpart for thinking itself. If someone walks over soft ground, his feet leave prints in the ground. One would not be tempted to say that the forms of the footprints were pushed in by forces of the earth working up from beneath. One would ascribe to these forces no part in the coming about of the forms of the prints. Just as little would someone who observes the being of thinking without prejudice ascribe to the imprints in the bodily organization a part in the coming about of the being of thinking; these imprints arise through the fact that thinking prepares its appearance through the body.*

* In other writings that have followed this book the author has shown how the above view is confirmed in psychology, physiology, etc. This account intends only to characterize what is yielded by unprejudiced observation of thinking.

However, a significant question arises here. If the human organization has no part in the essential being of thinking, what significance does this organization have within the total being of man? Now, what occurs within this organization through thinking has, indeed, nothing to do with the being of thinking; but it has very much to do with the arising of “I”-consciousness out of this thinking. Within thinking's one being there lies, indeed, the real “I,” but not “I”-consciousness. The person who actually observes thinking without prejudice recognizes this. The “I” is to be found within thinking; “I-consciousness” arises through the fact that in ordinary consciousness the traces of thinking activity imprint themselves in the sense described above. (Through the bodily organization, therefore, “I”-consciousness arises. One should not confuse this, however, with any kind of assertion that “I”-consciousness, once it has arisen, remains dependent upon the bodily organization. Once arisen, it is taken up into thinking and shares from then on in thinking's spiritual nature.)

“I-consciousness” is built upon the human organization. From this organization flow the actions of the will. According to the direction of what has been presented thus far, an insight into the relationship between thinking, conscious “I,” and acts of will goes forth from the human organization.*

* Page 130 to the above sentence is an addition, or, as the case may be, reworking for the revised edition of 1918.

For the individual act of will there come into consideration: motive and mainspring of action. The motive is a conceptual or mentally-pictured factor; the mainspring of action is the directly conditioning factor of willing in the human organization. The conceptual factor or the motive is the momentary determining factor of willing; the mainspring of action is the lasting determining factor of the individual person. Motive for willing can be a pure concept or a concept with a definite relation to perception, that is, a mental picture. General and individual concepts (mental pictures) become motives for willing through the fact that they affect the human individual and determine his action in a certain direction. One and the same concept, or one and the same mental picture, as the case may be, affects different individuals differently, however. They move different people to different actions .Willing is therefore not merely a result of the concept or mental picture, but rather of the individual make-up of the person as well. Let us call this individual make-up — we can follow Eduard von Hartmann in this respect — the characterological disposition. The way in which concept and mental picture affect the characterological disposition of a person gives a definite moral or ethical stamp to his life.

The characterological disposition is formed through the more or less lasting life-content of our subject, i.e., through our content of mental pictures and feelings .Whether a mental picture, arising in me at the moment, stimulates me to will something or not, depends upon how it relates to the content of the rest of my mental pictures and also to my peculiarities of feeling. My content of mental pictures, however, is again determined by the sum total of those concepts which is the course of my individual life have come into contact with perceptions, that means, have become mental pictures. This again depends upon my greater or lesser capacity for intuition and upon the scope of my observations, that is, upon the subjective and objective factors of my experiences, upon inner determinants and location in life. My characterological disposition is most especially determined by my lift of feeling. Whether I feel pleasure or pain with respect to a definite mental picture or concept, upon this will depend whether I want to make it a motive for my action or not. — These are the elements which come into consideration with respect to an act of will. The immediately present mental picture or concept which becomes my motive determines the goal, the purpose of my willing; my characterological disposition moves me to direct my activity toward this goal. The mental picture of taking a walk in the next half hour determines the goal of my action. But this mental picture will only then be raised into a motive for willing when it hits upon a appropriate characterological disposition, that is, when, through my life up till now, mental pictures have formed I me as to the purposes for taking a walk, as to the value of healthiness, and furthermore, when in me the feeling of pleasure unites with the mental picture of taking a walk.

We have therefore to distinguish: 1. the possible subjective dispositions appropriate to making particular mental pictures and concepts into motives; and 2. the possible mental pictures and concepts capable of influencing my characterological disposition in such a way that willing results. The former represents the mainsprings, the latter the goals of morality.

The mainsprings of morality we can find by examining what are the elements out of which our individual life is composed.

The first level of our individual life is perceiving, more particularly, perceiving with the senses. We stand here in that region of our individual life where perceiving passes over directly into willing, without any feeling or concept coming in between. The human mainspring of action which comes into consideration here is simply called drive. The satisfaction of our lower, purely animal needs (hunger, sexual intercourse, etc.) comes about in this way. The characteristic feature of the life of drives consists in the immediacy with which the individual perception activates the will. This way of determining the will, which originally is peculiar only to the lower life of the senses, can also be extended to the perceptions of the higher senses. With the perception of some sort of happening in the outer world, without further reflection, and without any particular feeling in us connecting itself to the perception, we let there follow an action, as this happens especially in conventional social life. One calls the mainspring for this action tact or social propriety. The more often there occurs such an immediate causing of an action through a perception, the more will the person concerned show himself inclined to act purely under the influence of tact, that is tact becomes his characterological disposition.

The second sphere of human life is feeling. Onto my perceptions of the outer world, specific feelings connect themselves. These feelings can become mainsprings of action. If I see a starving person, my pity for him can represent the mainspring of my action Such feelings are for example: the feeling of shame, pride, sense of honor, modesty, remorse, pity, the feelings of vengefulness and gratitude, reverence, faithfulness, the feelings of love and duty.*

* One can find a complete compilation of the principles of morality (from the standpoint of metaphysical realism) in Eduard von Hartmann's Phenomenology of Moral Consciousness (Phaenomenologie des sittlichen Bewusstseins).

The third level of life, finally, is thinking and mental picturing. Through mere reflection a mental picture or a concept can become the motive for an action. Mental pictures become motives through the fact that in the course of life we continuously connect certain goals of our will with perceptions which recur again and again in more or less modified form. This accounts for the fact that with people who are not entirely without experience, there always arise in their consciousness, along with particular perceptions, also mental pictures of actions which they have carried out in a similar case or have seen carried out. These mental pictures hover before them as determining models in all future decisions; they become part of their characterological disposition. We may call the mainsprings of will just described practical experience. Practical experience passes over gradually into purely tactful action. When certain typical picture of actions have united themselves in our consciousness so firmly with mental pictures of certain situations in life that in a given case we skip all reflection based on experience and go directly from the perception into willing, then this is the case.

The highest level of individual life is conceptual thinking without regard to a specific content of perception. We determine the content of a concept through pure intuition out of the ideal sphere. Such a concept then contains, to begin with, no relation to specific perceptions. When, under the influence of a concept which points to a perception — that is, under the influence of a mental picture — we enter into willing, then it is this perception that determines us in a roundabout way through conceptual thinking. When we act under the influence of intuitions, then the mainspring of our action is pure thinking. Since one is used, in philosophy, to calling the ability of pure thinking “reason,” so one is also fully justified in calling the mainsprings of morality on the level just characterized, practical reason. The clearest account of these mainsprings of will has been given by Kreyenbühl (“Philosophical Monthly”* Vol. XVIII, No.3). I consider his article in this subject to be one of the most significant creations of modern philosophy, more particularly of ethics. Kreyenbühl describes the mainsprings of action we are discussing as practical a priori, that means an impulse to action flowing directly out of my intuition.

*Philosophische Monatshefte.

It is clear that such an impulse can, in the strict sense of the word, no longer be considered as belonging to the sphere of my characterological disposition for, what works here as mainspring is no longer something individual in me, but rather the ideal and therefore universal content of my intuition. As soon as I recognize the validity of this content as a foundation and starting point for an action, I enter into willing, regardless of whether the concept was already there within me beforehand in time, or only entered my consciousness immediately before my action; that is, regardless of whether the concept was already present in me as predisposition or not.

It then comes to a real act of will only when a momentary impulse of action, in the form of a concept or mental picture, works upon the characterological disposition. Such an impulse then becomes the motive of willing.

The motives or morality are mental pictures and concepts. There are philosophers of ethics who also see in feeling a motive of morality; they maintain, for example, that the goal of moral action is the promotion of the greatest possible amount of pleasure within the individual acting The pleasure itself, however, cannot become a motive, but only a mentally pictured pleasure. The mental picture of a future feeling, but not the feeling itself, however, can work upon my characterological disposition. For in the moment of the action the feeling itself is not yet there: it is meant, in fact, first to be effected through the action.

The mental picture of one's own or of someone else's good, however, is rightly regarded as a motive of willing. The principle of causing through one's action the greatest amount of pleasure to oneself, that is, of attaining individual happiness, is called egoism. One seeks to attain this individual happiness either through the fact that one thinks ruthlessly of one's own good only, and strives for this at the cost of the happiness of other individuals (pure egoism), or through the fact that one promotes the good of others because one anticipates indirectly a favorable influence upon one's own person from the happiness of these other individualities, or because one fears, through the harming of other individuals, also the endangering of one's own interests (morality of prudence). The particular content of the principles of egoistic morality will depend upon what mental picture a person makes for himself of his own or of another's happiness. According to what a person regards as a good thing in life (luxury, hope of happiness, deliverance from various misfortunes, etc.), he will determine the content of his egoistical striving.

One can then regard the purely conceptual content of an action as a further motive. This content does not, like the mental picture of one's own pleasure, relate itself to the single action only, but rather to the founding of its action out of a system of moral principles. These moral principles, in the form of abstract concepts, can regulate one's moral life, without one bothering about the origin of the concepts. We then simply feel our submission to the moral concept, which hovers over our action like a commandment, as moral necessity. We leave the founding of this necessity to the one who demands the moral submission, that is, to the moral authority whom we acknowledge (head of the family, state, social custom, authority of the church, divine revelation). One instance of these principles of morality is that in which the commandment does not make itself known to us through an outer authority, but rather through our own inner life (moral autonomy). We then perceive within our own inner life the voice to which we must submit. The expression of this voice is conscience.

It signifies moral progress when a person no longer simply takes the commandment of an outer or inner authority as the motive of his action, but rather when his striving is for insight into the reason why one or another maxim of action should work in him as motive. This progress is one from authoritative morality to action out of moral insight. At this level of morality the person will seek out the needs of moral life and will allow himself to be determined in his actions by his knowledge of them. Such needs are: 1. the greatest possible good of all mankind, purely for the sake of good; 2. cultural progress or the moral development of mankind to ever greater perfection; 3. the realization of individual goals of morality grasped purely intuitively. The greatest possible good of all mankind will naturally be comprehended by different people in different ways. The above maxim does not refer to a particular mental picture of this good, but rather to the fact that each person who acknowledges this principle strives to do what, in his view, best promotes the good of all mankind.

Cultural progress is seen, by the person in whom a feeling of pleasure is united with the good things of culture, to be a special case of the foregoing moral principle. He will only have to take into the bargain the downfall and destruction of many things which also contribute to the good of mankind. It is, however, also possible that a person sees in cultural progress, aside from any feeling of pleasure connected with it, a moral necessity. Then this progress is for him a moral principle of its own beside the foregoing one.

Both the maxim of the good of all and that of cultural progress are based upon the mental picture, that is, upon the relation one gives the content of moral ideas to specific experiences (perceptions). The highest conceivable principle of morality is, however, the one which from the beginning contains no such relation but rather springs from the source of pure intuition and only afterwards seeks a relation to perception (to life). The determining of what is to be willed goes forth here from a different quarter than in the foregoing cases. The person who holds to the moral principle of the good of all, will, in hall his actions, first ask what his ideals contribute to this good of all. The person who subscribes to the moral principle of cultural progress will do the same thing here. There is, however, a higher principles which, in each individual case, does not start from one particular single goal of morality, but which rather attaches to all maxims of morality a certain value, and, in any given case always asks whether one or another moral principle is more important. It can happen that someone will, under certain circumstances, regard the promotion of cultural progress as the right principle and make it the motive of his action under others, the promotion of the good of all, in a third case, the promotion of his own good. But only when all other determining factors take second place does conceptual intuition itself then come first and foremost into consideration. Other motives thereby step back from their leading position, and only the ideal content of the action works as its motive.

Of the levels of the characterological disposition, we have designated that one as the highest which works as pure thinking, as practical reason. Of motives, we have just now designated as the highest conceptual intuition. Upon closer reflection, it immediately turns out to be the case that at this level of morality, mainspring of actions and motive coincide, that is, neither a predetermined characterological disposition nor an outer moral principle accepted as norms affects our action The action is therefore not stereotyped, carried out according to some rule or other, and also not of the kind which a person performs automatically in response to an outer impetus, but rather one determined purely and simply by its ideal content.

A prerequisite for such an action is the capacity for moral intuitions. Whoever lacks the capacity to experience the particular maxim of morality for each individual case, will also never achieve truly individual willing.

The exact antithesis of this principle of morality is the Kantian one: Act in such a way that the basic tenets of your action can be valid for all men. This principle is the death of all individual impulse to action. Not how all men would act can be decisive for me, but rather what for me is to be done in the individual case.

A superficial judgment could perhaps object to this: How can your actions at the same time be shaped individually toward a particular case and a particular situation, and still be determined in a purely ideal way out of intuition? This objection rests on a confusion of moral motive with the perceptible content of an action. The latter can be a motive, and is, for example in cultural progress, in action out of egotisms, etc.; in action based upon purely moral intuition, it is not a motive. My “I” of course directs its gaze upon this content of perception; the “I” does not allow itself to be determined by it. This content is used only in order to form for oneself a cognitive concept; the moral concept belonging to it, this the “I” does not take from the object. The cognitive concept of a particular situation which I am confronting is only then at the same time a moral concept if I am standing upon the standpoint of a particular moral principle. If I would like to stand upon the ground of the principle of cultural development alone, then I would go around in the world with fixed marching orders. From every happening that I perceive and that can concern me, there springs at the same time a moral duty; namely, to do my bit so that the particular happening is placed in the service of cultural development. In addition to the concept, which reveals to me the connections of natural law of a happening or thing there is also hung upon the happening or thing a moral etiquette, which contains for me, the moral being, an ethical directive as to how I am to conduct myself. This moral etiquette is justified in its sphere; it coincides, however, from a higher standpoint, with the idea which occurs to me when confronted by a concrete case.

People are different in their capacity for intuition. In one the ideas bubble up; another acquires them for himself laboriously. The situations in which people live and which provide the stage for their actions are no less different. How a person acts will therefore depend on the way his capacity for intuition works in a given situation. What determines the sum total of the ideas active within us, the real content of our intuitions, is that which, in spite of the universality of the world of ideas, is individually constituted in every person. Insofar as this intuitive content passes over into action, it is the moral content of the individual. Allowing this content to live itself out is the highest moral mainspring of action, and at the same time the highest motive, of the person who sees that all other moral principles, in the last analysis, unite in this content. One can call this standpoint ethical individualism.

The decisive factor for an intuitively determined action in a concrete case is the finding of the appropriate, completely individual intuition. On this level of morality it can be a question of general moral concepts (norms, laws) only insofar as these result from the generalizing of individual impulses. General norms always presuppose concrete facts from which they can be derived. Through human action, however, facts are first created.

When we seek out the lawful (the conceptual in the actions of individuals, peoples and epochs), we do obtain an ethics, not as a science of moral norms, however, but rather as a natural history of morality. Only the laws won in this way relate to human action the way natural laws relate to a particular phenomenon. These laws, however, are not at all identical with the impulses upon which we base our actions. If someone wants to grasp how a person's action springs from his moral willing, then he must look first of all at the relationship of this willing to the action. He must first of all take a good look at actions for which this relationship is the determining factor. When I or someone else thinks back over such an action later, one can discover what moral maxims come into consideration for that action. While I am acting, the moral maxim is moving me, insofar as it can live in me intuitively; it is bound up with my love for the object which I want to realize through my action. I ask no person nor any rule: Ought I to carry out this action? — rather, I carry it out as soon as I have grasped the idea of it. Only through this is it my action. The action of someone who acts only because he acknowledges certain moral norms is the result of the principles which stand in his moral codex. He is merely the executor. He is a higher kind of automaton. Throw a stimulus to action into his consciousness, and immediately the cogwheels of his moral principles are set into motion and turn in a lawful manner to execute a Christian, humane, to him selfless action; or one of cultural-historical progress. Only when I follow my love for the object is it I myself who acts. I act on this level of morality, not because I acknowledge a master over me, nor outer authority, nor a so-called inner voice. I acknowledge no outer principle for my actions: love for the action. I do not test intellectually, whether my action is good or evil; I carry it out because I love it. It will be “good” when my intuition, imbued with love, stands in the right way within the intuitively experienceable world configuration; “evil” when that is not the case. I also do not ask myself how another person would act in my position — but rather I act as I, this specific individuality, see myself moved to will. It is not what is generally done, the general custom, a general human maxim, a social norm, which leads me directly, but rather my love for the deed. I feel no compulsion, neither the compulsion of nature which leads me in the case of my drives, nor the compulsion of moral commandments, but rather I simply want to carry out what lives within me.

The defenders of general moral norms could respond to this: If every person strove to lie out fully what is in him, and to do whatever he pleases, then there is no difference between good conduct and criminal behavior; any knavery that lives in me has the same right to live itself out as the intention of serving what is universally best. The fact that I have scrutinized an action from the ideal point of view cannot be the decisive factor for me as a moral person, but rather my testing as to whether it is good or evil. Only when the former is the case will I carry out the action.

My answer to this objection, which is obvious, but which nevertheless springs only from a faulty understanding of what is meant here, is this: Whoever wants to know the nature of human willing must distinguish between the path which brings this willing up to a certain level of development, and the particular nature which this willing acquires when it nears this goal. On the way to this goal, norms play their justified role. The goal consists in the realization of moral goals which are grasped purely by intuition. A person attains such goals to the extent that he possesses the ability to lift himself at all to the intuitive idea-content of the world. In individual cases of willing, other mainsprings of action or other motives will usually be mixed in with such goals. But what is intuitive can still be a determining or codetermining factor in human willing. What one ought to do, this one does; one provides the stage upon which “out to” becomes doing; one's own action is what one allows to spring from oneself. There the impulse can only be a completely individual one. And, in truth, only an act of will which springs from an intuition can be an individual one. That the act of the criminal, that something evil, might be called the expressing of one's individuality, in the same sense as the embodiment of pure intuition, is possible only if blind drives are reckoned as part of the human individuality. But the blind drive which moves one to commit a crime does not stem from anything intuitive, and does not belong to what is individual in man, but rather to what is the most common in him, to that which prevails in all individuals to the same extent, and out of which a person extricates himself through what is individual in him. What is individual in me is not my organism with its drives and feelings, but rather the unified world of ideas which lights up within this organism. My drives instincts, and passions establish nothing more about me than that I belong to the general species man; the fact that something ideal expresses itself in a particular way within these drives, passions, and feelings, establishes my individuality. Through my instincts, drives, I am a person of whom there are twelve to the dozen; through the particular form of the idea by which I designate myself as “I” within this dozen, I am an individual. Going by the difference of my animal nature, only a being other than myself could distinguish me from others; through my thinking, that means, through the active grasping of what expresses itself as something ideal within my organism, I myself distinguish myself from others. Therefore one cannot say at all of the action of the criminal that it goes forth from the idea. That is, in fact, exactly what is characteristic of criminal actions, that they issue from the non-ideal elements of the human being.

An action is felt to be free to the extent that its reason stems from the ideal part of my individual being; every other part of an action, regardless of whether this part is performed under the compulsion of nature or the constraint of a moral norm, is felt to be unfree.

A person is free only insofar as he is in a position at every moment of his life to follow himself. A moral act is my act only when it can be called free in this sense. Here, our considerations have first of all to do with the prerequisites under which a willed action is felt to be free; how this idea of inner freedom, grasped in a purely ethical way, realizes itself within the being of man, will appear in what follows.

An action out of inner freedom does not by any means exclude the laws of morality, but rather includes them; it only proves to be on a higher level when compared to an action which is only dictated by these laws. Why then should my action serve the universal good any less when I have done it out of love, than when I have performed it only because I feel it is my duty to serve the universal good? The bare concept of duty excludes inner freedom, because it does not want to acknowledge what is individual, but rather demands submission of the latter to a general norm. Inner freedom of action is conceivable only from the standpoint of ethical individualism.

But how is it possible for people to live together, if everyone is striving only to bring his own individuality into effect? This objection is indicative of a wrongly understood moralism. This moralism believes that a community of people is possible only when they are all united through a communally established moral order. This moralism does not, in fact, understand the unity of the world of ideas. It does not comprehend that the world of ideas active within me is no other than that within my fellowman. This oneness is, to be sure, only the result of experience of the world. But this oneness must be such a result. For were this oneness to be known through anything other than through observation, then, in the realm of this oneness, individual experience would not be in force, but rather the general norm. Individuality is possible only when each individual being knows of the other only through individual observation. The difference between me and my fellowman does not lie at all in our living in two completely different spiritual worlds, but rather in the fact that he receives other intuitions than I do out of the world of ideas common to us both. He wants to live out his intuitions, I mine. If we both really draw from the idea, and follow no outer (physical or spiritual) impulses, then we can only meet each other in the same striving, in the same intentions. A moral misunderstanding, a clash with each other, for morally free people is out of the question. Only the morally unfree person, who follows nature's drives or a commandment he takes as duty, thrusts aside his fellowmen if they do not follow the same instinct and the same commandment as he himself. To live in the love for one's actions, and to let live in understanding for the other's willing, is the basic maxim of free human beings. They know no other “ought” than that with which their willing brings itself into intuitive harmony; what they shall will in a certain case, this their capacity for ideas will tell them.

If the primal basis for sociability did not lie within man's nature, one would not be able to instill it into human nature through any outer laws! Only because human individuals are of one spirit are they also able to live and act side by side. The free person lives in the confidence that any other free person belongs with him to one spiritual world and will concur with him in his intentions. The free person demands no agreement from his fellowmen, but he expects agreement, because it lies within man's nature. This does not refer to the necessities which exist for certain external regulations, but rather to the attitude, to the soul disposition, through which the human being, in his experience of himself among his fellowmen whom he values, most does justice to human worth and dignity.

There are many who will say to this: the concept of the free person, which you are sketching here, is a chimera, is nowhere realized. We, however, have to do with real people; and with them one can hope for morality only when they obey a moral commandment, when they conceive of their moral mission as a duty and do not freely follow their inclinations and love. — I do not doubt this at all. Only a blind person could. But then away with all this hypocrisy about morality, if this is supposed to be the final word. Just say then that human nature must be compelled to its actions as long as it is not free. Whether one controls this non-freedom through physical means or through moral laws, whether a person is unfree because he follows his unlimited sexual drive, or because he is bound in the fetters of conventional morality, is, from a certain standpoint, a matter of complete indifference. But one should not claim that such a person can rightly call an action his own, since he is after all driven to it by a force other than himself. But out of the midst of such enforced order, those people lift themselves, the free spirits, who find themselves, within the welter of custom, law's coercion, religious practice, and so on. They are free insofar as they follow only themselves, unfree, insofar as they surrender themselves. Who of us can say that he is really free in all his actions? But in each one of us dwells a deeper being, in whom the free person expresses himself.

Our life is constituted of actions of freedom and of non-freedom. We cannot, however, think the concept of man to its conclusions, without our coming upon the free spirit as the purest expression of man's nature. Indeed, we are truly human only insofar as we are free.

Many will say that this is an ideal. Doubtless; but it is an ideal that, within our being, does work its way to the surface as a real element. It is no thought-up or dreamed-up ideal, but rather one that has life and that clearly makes itself known even in the most imperfect form of its existence. Were man merely a being of nature, then his seeking of ideals, that is, his seeking of ideas which at the moment are inoperative, but whose realization is called for, would be nonsensical. It is by the thing in the outer world that the idea is determined through perception; we have done our part when we have recognized the connection between the idea and the perception. With man this is not so. The sum total of his existence is not determined without man himself; his true concept as moral human being (free spirit) is not already objectively united beforehand with the perceptual picture “human being,” and merely needing afterward to be ascertained through knowledge. The human being must, through his own activity, unite his concept with his perception of the human being. Here concept and perception coincide only if the human being himself brings them into coincidence. He can do this, however, only if he has found the concept of the free spirit, that is, his own concept. Within the world of objects, because of our organization, a boundary line is drawn for us between perception and concept; our activity of knowing overcomes this boundary. Within our subjective nature this boundary is no less present; the human being overcomes it in the course of his development by giving shape to his concept in his outer manifestation. Thus, both the intellectual and the moral life of the human being lead us to his two fold nature; perceiving (direct experience) and thinking. His intellectual life overcomes his twofold nature through knowledge; his moral life does so by actually realizing the free spirit. Every being has its inborn concept (the law of its existence and working); but in outer things the concept is indivisibly united with the perception, and only within our spiritual organism is it separated from this perception. For the human being himself, concept and perception are at first actually separated, to be just as actually united by him. Someone could object that to our perception of the human being there corresponds at every moment of his life a particular concept, just as with everything else. I can form for myself the concept of an average person and can have such a person also given to me as perception; if I bring to this concept that of the free spirit as well, then I have two concepts for the same object.

This is one-sided thinking. As object of perception, I am subject to continual change. As a child I was different; different again as a young person and as an adult. At every moment, in fact, my perceptible picture is different than in the preceding ones. These changes can occur in the sense that in them the same one (average person) is always expressing himself, or that they represent the manifestation of the free spirit. It is to these changes that my actions, as object of perception are subject.

There is given to the human being as object of perception the possibility of transforming himself just as, within the seed, there lies the possibility of becoming a whole plant. The plant will transform itself because of the objective lawfulness lying within it; the human being remains in his unfinished state if he does not take up the stuff of transformation within himself and transform himself through his own power. Nature makes out of man merely a being of nature; society, a lawfully acting one; a free being, only he himself can make out of himself. Nature releases man from its fetters at a certain stage of his development; society leads this development to a certain point; the finishing touches only man can give to himself.

The standpoint of free morality does not maintain therefore, that the free spirit is the only form in which a human being can exist. It sees in free spirituality only the human beings' last stage of development. This does not deny the fact that actions according to norms do have their justification as one level of development. But these actions cannot be regarded as the absolute standpoint of morality. The free spirit, however, overcomes norms in the sense that he does not only feel commandments as motives, but rather directs his actions according to his impulses (intuitions.)

When Kant says of duty: “Duty! You great and sublime name! You who include within yourself nothing beloved which bears an ingratiating character, but demand submission,” you who “set up a law ..., before which all inclinations grow silent, even though they secretly work against it,”* then, out of the consciousness of the free spirit, the human being replies, “Freedom! You friendly human name! You who include within yourself everything morally beloved, which my humanity values most, and who makes me the servant of no one; you who do not merely set up a law, but who rather awaits what my moral love itself will acknowledge as law, because this love feels itself to be unfree when faced with any law only forced upon it.”

*Critique of Practical Reason (Kritik der praktischen Vernunft).

That is the contrast between a merely law-abiding and a free morality.

The philistine, who sees in something outwardly established morality incarnate will perhaps even see in the free spirit a dangerous person. He does so, however, only because his gaze is constricted into one particular epoch of time. If he were able to see beyond it, then he could not but discover at once, that the free spirit has just as little need to transgress the laws of his state as the philistine himself does, and never to set himself in any real opposition to them. For the laws of a state have all sprung from intuitions of free spirits, just as have all the objective moral laws. There is no law enforced by family authority that was not at one time intuitively grasped as such by some ancestor and established by him; the conventional laws of morality are also set up first of all by particular people; and the laws of a state always arise in the head of a statesman. These spirits have set up laws over other people, and only that person becomes unfree, who forgets this origin, and either makes these laws into commandments outside man, into objective moral concepts of duty independent of men, or into the voice of his own inner life, thought of in a falsely mystical way as compelling, which gives him orders. But the person who does not overlook the origin of laws, but rather seeks it within the human being, will relate to a law as though to a part of the same world of ideas out of which he also draws his moral intuitions. If he believes that he has better ones, then his effort is to establish them in the place of existing ones; if he finds the latter to be valid, then he acts according to them as though they were his own.

One may not formulate the principle that the human being is there for the purpose of realizing a moral world order which is separate from him .Whoever were to assert this would still be taking, with respect to the science of man, the same standpoint taken by that natural science which believed that a bull has horns so that it can butt. Scientists, fortunately, have sent this concept of purpose to its grave. Ethics is having more difficulty in freeing itself from this. However, just as horns are not there because of butting, but rather butting through the horns, so the human being is not there because of morality, but rather morality through the human being. The free person acts morally because he has a moral idea; but he does not act so that morality will arise. Human individuals, with their moral ideas belonging to their being, are the prerequisite of a moral world order.

The human individual is the source of all morality and the center of life on earth. State and society are there only because they result necessarily from the life of individuals. That state and society should then work back upon the life of the individual is just as comprehensible as the fact that butting, which is there through the horns, works back upon the further development of the bull's horns, which would atrophy through prolonged disuse. In the same way the individual would have to atrophy if he lived a separate life outside of any human community. Indeed, that is exactly why a social order takes shape, in order to work back again upon the individual in a beneficial way.




Last Modified: 07-Oct-2019
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