Friday 21 July 2023

Do you really want to be free? Then know that Thinking is the domain of freedom (but only when that Thinking is free!)

Back in the 1890s (but almost ignored) Rudolf Steiner made clear that freedom (such as free will') is actually the domain of thinking - in other words, it is not 'will' that is free, so much as thinking. 

But not all thinking is free - nor even most thinking: but only that thinking which is free!

In other words, there is a kind of thinking in which we are free, and we know that we are free. And it is only there and then that we really are free. 

One value of Steiner's philosophical writing, and that of Owen Barfield afterwards, was therefore to inform us of this fact of freedom in (a kind of) thinking; explain why it was the case that thinking was potentially the domain of freedom - and therefore assist us in the recognition, acknowledgment, and pursuit of freedom in thinking. 

(At least, for those people who desire freedom - which is, apparently, far from everybody.) 

Active thinking of any kind is indeed rare - mostly thinking is almost automatic... Almost, but never quite... because always there is some degree of choice and will that directs thinking down one path from the possibility of others

This is why our thinking is always our responsibility - because we have chosen its path. 

No matter how relatively-restricted the 'input' provided by our surrounding world, and no matter how deeply inculcated are our habits of interpretation; there never a single path of thinking, but instead are always many possibilities that must be chosen-between...

From deciding what (from all of reality) to attend to, and keep attending to; through how to interpret the data that comes-in, and what (if anything) to do about our conclusions - from a positive or negative evaluation, through to what physical action to take.  

Therefore, because it is always a consequence of choice and will; thinking is never neutral, but always value-laden. 

Thinking (even when almost automatic) is never free from responsibility; but always moral, aesthetic and concerned with the truth (even when, as often, the choice of thinking is to reject virtue, beauty, honesty - or maybe to choose their opposites). 

We are always and necessarily choosing our thinking, and that thinking goes on all the time that we have any comprehension of the world. 

Because; when thinking stops, as in deep sleep, the world loses meaning. 

What actually happens is that - for most people, most of the time - chosen thinking is as automatic as possible. The choice is to align thinking with what is dominant in the external world, as it impinges upon us: official, media, and social.

In other words, people choose to direct their attention to... whatever people and powers at-this-moment are 'telling' them is important; and they think in ways (e.g. using values and methods) that they have absorbed from this same external world. 

And, although alternative paths of attending and interpreting will always be presenting themselves from the vast external world and also from impulses and intuitions arising from within our-selves; and although these alternatives will challenge the ongoing schemes of attention and interpretation we have absorbed from externally -- nonetheless, habit and expediency mean that it requires only only a little will and choice to stick-to the mainstream-approved form of thinking.

Such 'mundane' thinking is unfree - and this unfreedom has been, and continually is-being, chosen. 

We are - all of us - responsible for the mental enslavement of our own thinking.   

So... the fact that it does require even this little will and choice means, on the one hand, that we are responsible, and to-blame-for, our habitual mainstream opinions and convictions. 

Yet, because there always must be this irreducible element of will and choice; on the other hand, externally-controlled, unfree thinking can be changed: and freedom of thinking with a cosmic scope and creative power can instead emerge and be enjoyed - by those who desire it. 

The method is simply one of willing a redirection of attention, and making different choices. 

But for this freedom to be Good and not to be merely-arbitrary; and to motivate and energize the new thinking to overcome the old; entails that such redirection be motivated from that within us which is its real, true, virtuous and beautiful - because divine, and in contact with God

We need to discover within us (because it is typically lost or even hidden, suppressed, rejected...) that true 'self' which stands beyond all external influence, and is the origin of freedom in thinking. 

...And how do we do that? 

Well, we start by wanting it; and wanting it is the basis for changing our will, our choices, and overcoming those massively-inculcated habits that currently prevent us from attaining freedom.

If we do not want freedom then we will not have it; because we will choose to be unfree, because that is easiest, most expedient: the default. 

But if we do want freedom in thinking, then nothing on earth or elsewhere can stop us from attaining freedom; because that is precisely the nature of freedom!


Francis Berger said...

Your point about thinking being motivated by that which is "real, true, virtuous, and beautiful because divine and in contact with God" -- i.e., thinking from the true self -- cannot be stressed enough. Otherwise, the thinking you describe here can easily be confused with conventional, modern "freethought", which is not connected to the true self, the divine, God, etc.

Perhaps it's not too outlandish to claim that freethinkers have tainted the kind of thinking that leads toward freedom. I sense that most Christians, particularly the orthodox/traditional -- quite correctly reject modern, established freethinking and freethinkers. Unfortunately, this rejection also entails the rejection of anything even remotely connected to freedom via thinking, thus, keeping said Christians entrenched in retrograde modes of thinking.

I suppose this is where the development of consciousness becomes meaningful. The freethinking that began in 17th century was a step in the right direction, for lack of a better phrase, but it strayed from its original motivations and quickly became errant and degenerated into the idea that people are "free" when they think about whatever their false selves want to think about. Without that connection to the true self, to God, to beauty, etc., freethinking became driven by false self motivations, leading to disastrous results. It's telling that most modern freethinkers reject the existence of the divine altogether.

As you often state -- motivation is key. Modern freethinking does not lead to real thinking or freedom because the motivation behind it denies the existence of the supernatural, the true self, and God. However, thinking that aligns with the true self and God does make one free. Christians must not confuse the two, nor allow the presence of "freethinkers" -- present or historical -- to dissuade them from *really* thinking toward freedom.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - An important consideration.

We need to recognize, and properly evaluate, the way that every aspect of evil-modernity that dominates the world today has *some* basis in truth and the good. It is this truth and goodness which gives evil its surface appeal, and which serves as the basis for distortion into the evils of this time.

Often - modern mainstream Secualr leftism is often broadly correct in its negative critiques of Christianity and the churches; and it is the twist applied after this point when the evil is done.

So, although - say - feminism and egalitarianism are net evil (very evil) they both have a core insight of validity which means that if they are rejected *in toto* then we will have arrived at another evil.

In other words, because all effective evil contains good, therefore the negation of evil is also evil.

What we must instead do, as Christians, is propose a further and higher good as a positive goal - therefore not merely attempt to oppose and negate existing evils (which tactic, anyway, never works out...)

William Wildblood said...

"feminism and egalitarianism are net evil (very evil) they both have a core insight of validity which means that if they are rejected *in toto* then we will have arrived at another evil. "

Very true. They both have roots in something good which is the value of the free individual but the good in them has been deformed and made into an evil. However, because there is this basic good at their core it is hard to argue with them as they are presented now on an either/or basis which is what the argument usually gets reduced to. You have to go above and beyond the good/bad dichotomy to find the truth about many things these days which is why we have to go outside both traditional and progressive thinking to get anywhere.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William "You have to go above and beyond the good/bad dichotomy to find the truth about many things these days which is why we have to go outside both traditional and progressive thinking to get anywhere."

Exactly! And that principle applies to so many of these dichotomous arguments. The answer is almost-never any kind of compromise, moderation, a bit of one and a bit of the other - but nearly-always by means of a third and higher value to which both sides are subordinate.

Mia said...

Given your expertise, I would be interested to hear how intelligence and creativity play into the freeness of thinking in your view. Thinking about my own thinking, I was impressed how quickly my thinking went to the Vonnegut story, which I am fairly sure I have never actually read myself, and how that rapidly leads to thinking along the lines of "but if we ever achieved free thinking they would just torture it out of us." Pre-packaged despair in a story allegedly meant to warn the good but that really powers evil- even when you never read it!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Mia - I don't really have much of a place for intelligence - at least not the differences in intelligence between people. These don't seem very important in general terms (although all such individual differences are very important for our personal destiny); although the quality of intelligence is indeed part of the mind, and cannot be separated from it.

(I think of intelligence as something like the speed or efficiency of thinking, somewhat analogous to the processor of a computer. Faster speed helps in doing what you are doing; but intelligence is not about the aim, or content, or actual processes of thinking. Certainly, the most intelligent people include a high proportion of those whose consciousness is Most seriously, and evilly, distorted.)

Creativity - on the other hand - I regard as very much bound-up with freedom of thinking: two different ways of emphasizing the same thing. We are free when we generate, or create, our own thoughts - from within our-selves. (Rather than in response to that which is outside ourselves.)

This inner-outer distinction cannot be pushed to the limit, because we are all joined together in some ways, and there can be no complete separation of one Being from another in God's creation.

Nonetheless, I think it is reasonable to say that we are being creative when we are free, and are free when creating. This gives a much better idea of the nature of our freedom than does the commoner business focusing on 'free will' or the matter of 'wanting'.