Thursday 7 November 2019

Limitations of Rudolf Steiner's (nonetheless essential) Philosophy of Freedom

Rudolf Steiner's The Philosophy of Freedom (PoF; 1894) played a very important role in my personal development - indeed, it was perhaps vital. Nonetheless it is ultimately wrong and can cause serious problems if not (after understanding it) one fails to discard or transcend it. .

This is because PoF explains itself in terms of an abstract, simplified, and grossly incomplete model of human thinking. It is A Model (Percept + Concept = united by Thinking).

And any model is false - because simplified compared with complex reality; and false because abstract when reality is 'animistic' (about Beings and their Relationships).

The PoF is, in fact, Ahrimanic in structure: it divides the world into categories of percepts and concepts, and suggests that these are united in thinking. Yet the world is not really divided into percepts; not is thinking objectively divisible into concepts.

Therefore if we begin in Ahrimanic materialist alienation; if we then understand PoF which tells us how it works, and how to escape it...

But if we stop at that point; assume the validity of PoF and try to live by the model of PoF - then we will be stuck in just another kind of abstract materialism: we will loop back into the demonic traps of Ahriman.

We will just create yet-another bureaucratic religion - as happened with Rudolf Steiner's Anothroposophy: which consists merely in learning stuff (studying the scriptures of The Doctor) and doing Anthroposophic stuff (education, medicine, agriculture etc) according to the usual Ahrimanic vocabulary/ lexicon, blueprints, flow charts, recipes, rules and regulations...); as defined by the usual Ahrimanic hierarchy or authority and temple structure with sacred places and rituals...

The Philosophy of Freedom does not, therefore, in itself give us freedom, not even a little bit - unless it is seen as a first step; as a ladder that is ascended then discarded. We need an alternative to Ahriman, not merely a different kind of Ahriman; nor a reaction back to seek an impossible to Luciferic unconscious instinct - or Original Participation...

We need, in other words, to move forward to what Steiner called the Intuitive Soul and Barfield called Final Participation - and this entails something qualitatively different-from the analysis, theories and methods of Steiner's Anthroposophy, and different too from the philosophical abstractions of Barfield.

They are perhaps essential - at least for some people such as myself, but they are a starting-point merely.  


Keri Ford said...

My understanding of the percept concept breakdown and how it relates to Barfield is through Barfield's thinking that he terms: Figuration. The thinking we do which renders sense data into the world we experience. I agree with Steiner that in our experience of the World, the World presents itself to us as percepts perceived through the senses and concepts perceived through intuition and in thinking these are combines and in this the world exists for us.

Keri Ford said...

I should have added that I haven't yet been able to properly follow Steiner's arguments regarding Freedom, I need to read it carefully and make notes.

Keri Ford said...

I should have marshalled my thoughts before commenting. Going back to Steiner's arguments about reality being in the joining of percept and concept that happens in thinking. What I see he is doing with this argument is showing that we do experience reality, Kant and others who posit as the essential split being subject and object,had come to the conclusion that the subject could never experience the object as it really is and so we are ever alienated from reality. But Steiner argues that subject and object is a split that is created in thinking and is not fundamental. Percept and concept come together in thinking to form reality, our thinking is within reality, we do experience reality and we are participants within it.

ps. I am glad I have been passing the tests that show I am not a robot

Bruce Charlton said...

@Keri - I think tyhat if you are signed into your Google account before you comment, you don't get asked to do the robot tests. Unfortunately, if I leave off the tests, I am swamped with spam.

I have the same understanding as you do of Steiner's argument, and I found it vital in my own development. However, I now find it too Ahrimanic - abstract, geometrical, rational - to be regarded as any kind of final truth. To think of oneself as being angeged in 'combining percept and concept' is too aleinating to be an aim in life. I think we need to experience the world as alive and conscious, and that means overcoming abstractions such as percept and concept.

So I am trying to reconceptualise the argument of FoP - in a sense I'd like to be able to explain it to a child (in theory, if not in practice). Only then would I really feel I understood it.

Keri Ford said...

Thanks for the clarification Bruce, food for thought, but I'd have to go away and digest that.
I suppose I have never felt I needed Steiner as "the way" and have never felt constrained by his thought, I see him as an important corrective in the Western tradition (or the later part of it) as amorphous as that is. I think part of FOP is that reading it is an exercise in self reflection, it seems to me to be a different approach but not a contradiction to his other works.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Keri - wrt the Way - I regard Final Participation as the main thing I need to do (and that The West needs, as well). But when one tries actually to live by the advice of PoF, there are problems - it can easily degenerate into a cold technical 'exercise'.

This happened a lot in the Anthroposophical Society, with people embarking on long courses of training and learning and practising... Ahrimanic Observances! - with what strike me as distinctly unimpressive results.

Steiner did not do this himself - but he set up many such schemes for his followers. A mistake, in my view.

I have found Arkle my best practical guide for what needs to be done, how to do it - Arkle emphasis that there is no method, because we all differ in nature and circumstances and in what we each most need to learn; instead a very personal process of trial and error, and awareness of the nature of the 'set-up'.

Mark said...

Hey Bruce,

I think you are very correct in diagnosing Steiner: "But if we stop at that point; assume the validity of PoF and try to live by the model of PoF - then we will be stuck in just another kind of abstract materialism: we will loop back into the demonic traps of Ahriman."

The answer to this problem was found by a George O'Neil in his manuscript Workbook to the Philosophy of Spiritual Activity. One cannot use the theory of the Philosophy of Freedom to attain freedom. It is conscious understanding of the placement of thoughts and systematic practice of repeating the ideas in the paragraphs like a musical score. In a kind of hidden form Steiner says this much in the Preface and Second Appendix. But George work it out on a higher level. Lowndes wrote about George's discovery in Das Erwecken Des Herzdenkens (freies Geistesleben, stuttgart 1998). I did a shorter version on my website