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Odysseus and the Sirens. Painting by John William Waterhouse (1891)

The ancient Greek word for freedom - "Éleutheria" - originally meant something like: "to set out on a journey and overcome all difficulties in order to reach a beloved goal", as Homer describes it in his Odyssey.

Man is created free, is free,
And if he were born in chains.

Friedrich Schiller: Die Worte des Glaubens (German)

Only in limitation the master shows himself,
And only the law can give us freedom.

Johann von Wolfgang Goethe: Natur und Kunst ... (German)

The Panther

His gaze has, from the passing of the bars,
grown so weary that it cannot hold.
To him, there seem to be thousand bars
and behind those thousand bars no world.

The smooth pace, the strong and supple stride,
that circles in the smallest space,
is like a dance of force around a middle,
in which a strong will’s paralysed.

Only at times the pupil’s veil
lifts without a sound –. An image enters,
moving through the body's rigid hush-
and in the heart ceases to be.

Rainer Maria Rilke: Neue Gedichte, p. 37
English translation by A.F.

Freedom (Latinlibertas; Greekἐλευθερία éleutheria) of man lies, according to Rudolf Steiner, in the fact that he can recognise the laws of his actions and base his decisions on them. The starting point of freedom is therefore not freedom of will, but freedom of thought, which man can attain in pure, sensuality-free thinking through moral intuition - not out of blind instincts, drives or desires, nor in the mere observance of external norms, but knowing out of fully conscious love for what he does. Only in this way can he shape his actions self-determinedly, autonomously, in defiance of all external constraints. If he lacks inner freedom, he cannot make use of outer freedom, no matter how generously it is granted to him.

„Read in my "Philosophy of Freedom" what great importance I have attached to not asking about the freedom of the will. It sits below, deep down in the unconscious, and it is nonsense to ask about the freedom of the will; one can only speak of the freedom of thought. I have kept this apart in my "Philosophy of Freedom". The free thoughts must then impulse the will, then man is free.“ (Lit.:GA 235, p. 46ff)

That this is a distant ideal, rarely achieved, can hardly be doubted. Only rarely does man act truly free out of fully conscious insight into the true reasons for his actions. Often he is the slave of his own egoisms or at best follows the external rules that he has been brought up with. But in his I lies the power to approach this ideal step by step in the course of a long development and finally to become a true Spirit of Freedom. That this goal is not attainable in a single earthly life, but requires many repeated earthly lives and the healing power of karma, does not seem implausible when viewed in this light.

According to Rudolf Steiner's ideas on social threefolding, a free spiritual life, based on the individual abilities of man, is to develop today as an independent member of the social organism alongside economic and legal life.

„The spiritual member in the threefold social organism comprises science, art, religion, the entire educational system and the judicial administration of justice. All these spiritual-cultural factors can only fulfil their task and fertilise social life in the right way in complete freedom from state intervention. Spiritual life, culture, must develop out of the free co-operation of all spiritual-creative individual personalities and give itself its own administrative bodies.“ (Lit.:GA 24, p. 473)


The Greek term Éleutheria (Greekἐλευθερία) probably derives from Greek ἐλευ éleu, which roughly means: "to reach a beloved goal" (to be able to), quite in the sense of an external (sea) journey that one must accomplish and thereby develop one's powers and abilities in order to reach the desired, beloved goal, as classically described by Homer in his Iliad and Odyssey. Éleutheria was also an epithet of the goddess Artemis, who was worshipped in this form especially in the city of Myra in Lycia in Asia Minor. In Roman mythology, the goddess Libertas corresponds to her, for whom the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World) in New York City also stands.

Freedom of thought and moral autonomy

„The point is that we have developed freedom firstly in thought. The source of freedom arises in thought. Man has an immediate consciousness of the fact that in his thought he is a free being.“ (Lit.:GA 235, p. 54)

Consciousness of the regularities of one's own actions is a particular case of cognition in general, but when cognition is directed towards the conscious activity of the I, this regularity no longer lies outside the cognized object, but is content of the I itself, conceived in living activity, which brings forth these laws from itself and from insight into the circumstances. The perceiver and the perceived, subject and object, fall into one, become identical, and thus we are no longer governed by moral commandments and laws imposed from without, nor by instinctive modes of action imposed from within, but we absorb the former into our own being, or we clarify what the latter demand of us and only carry out that which we command ourselves, i.e. that which we ourselves have raised to conscious motives of action.

„Truly our actions are, after all, only those in which we completely set aside the concept of duty and solely allow individuality to rule.“ (Lit.:GA 38, p. 143)

„An action is felt to be free in so far as the reasons for it spring from the ideal part of my individual being; every other part of an action, whether it is carried out under the compulsion of nature or under the obligation of moral standard, is felt to be unfree.

Man is free in so far as he is able to obey himself in every moment of his life. A moral deed is my deed only if it can be called a free one in this sense.“ (Lit.:GA 4, p. 164)

Thus, in Steiner's sense, moral autonomy, ethical individualism and a thoroughgoing tolerance in the interplay of man, society and the world are established. The prerequisite for this is to love what one does out of insight, i.e. to identify oneself in free devotion with what one is doing while respecting social and natural conditions. From this follows the basic maxim of free people, which Rudolf Steiner formulated in his “Philosophy of Freedom”:

„To live in love towards our actions, and to let live in the understanding of the other’s will, is the basic maxim of free men.“ (Lit.:GA 4, p. 166)

Rudolf Steiner offered an in-depth presentation of his thoughts on freedom in his fundamental philosophical writings at the beginning of his public literary activity in "The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe’s World Conception" (CW 2), "Truth and Knowledge" (CW 3), and in "The Philosophy of Freedom" (CW 4), and later -- after decades of experience gained through dealing with the path of knowledge conceived in his early works and after the realisation of the idea of freedom in regard to the forces of consciousness within the world-view systems and the increasing universality of individual thought in humanity had undergone a long development -- in his writing "The Riddles of Philosophy" (CW 18).

„Those who study my book, ‘Philosophy of Freedom’, will find, however, that I was compelled to speak not of a freedom of the will at first, but of the freedom which is experienced in thought, namely, in thought free from sensuality, in pure thought, in that thought which consciously emerges in the human soul as an ethical, as a moral ideal, and which attains that strength which can have a motivating effect on the will of man. We can speak of human freedom when we speak of those human actions which are shaped by man’s free thinking, when the human being, through a moral self-education, comes to the point at which instincts, drives, emotions, his temperament do not influence him to an action, but only the devoted love for an action. In this devoted love for an action can develop that which arises from the ideal strength of pure moral thought. This is a real free action.“ (Lit.:GA 79, p. 128)

In order to make it clear that human thinking is an outright pole of freedom, which Steiner already wrote in the “Philosophy of Freedom”, Joseph Beuys once put forward the following formula: Thinking = Knowledge = Freedom

Freedom and intellectualism

Through intellectualism our spiritual being is deadened; however, it is precisely through this that we are given the possibility of freedom. The intellect is not a reality but a mere image and therefore cannot compel us. By creatively transforming this image and shaping the moral impulses that guide our actions, in complete freedom in our thinking, we thereby realise our very own spiritual being.

„Man had to become intellectualistic so that he could become free. Man loses his spiritual being in intellectualism, for he can carry nothing from intellectualism through the gates of death. However, he acquires freedom through intellectualism, and what he thus acquires in freedom he can then carry through the gates of death.

Man may therefore think as much as he likes in a purely intellectualistic way - none of it passes through the gate of death. Only when man uses his thinking in order to live it out in free actions, does so much, as it were, of the spiritual-soul substance which makes him a being and not mere knowledge pass with him, from his experiences of freedom, through the gate of death. In thinking, our human being is taken from us through intellectualism in order to let us attain freedom. What we experience in freedom is then given to us again as human being. Intellectualism kills us, but it also revives us. It resurrects us as a completely transformed being by making us free human beings.“ (Lit.:GA 207, p. 170)

„We can clearly point to the first third of the 15th century: that is when this intellectualism first emerged with all clarity. In former times, even when people were thinking so-called scientifically, they thought much more in images which contained the growth forces of things themselves, not in abstract concepts, as we must do today as a matter of course. Now, these abstract concepts which educate us inwardly to pure thinking, about which I have spoken in my ‘Philosophy of Freedom’, these abstract concepts, they make it possible for us to become free beings. When people could not yet think in abstractions, the entire state of their souls was determined, dependent. People can only develop freely after they are inwardly determined by nothing, after the moral impulses -- you can read about this in my ‘Philosophy of Freedom’ -- can be grasped in pure thought. Pure thoughts, however, are not reality, they are images. Images cannot compel us, we ourselves must determine our actions; images have nothing compelling about them. Mankind has developed towards abstract thought on the one hand and towards freedom on the other. I have often described this from other points of view.

How was it for mankind before he had advanced to grasp abstract thought in earthly life, to come to freedom in earthly life through the same faculty with which he can grasp abstract thought? Humanity did not grasp abstract thoughts in life on earth between birth and death; even in ancient Greece this was not yet possible, let alone in earlier times. Humanity thought in images and was not equipped with the inner consciousness of freedom that has arisen with the onset of pure, that is, abstract thought. Abstract thought leaves us cold. That which abstract thought gives us in the way of moral ability, that is what warms us in the most intensive sense, for that represents in the highest sense our human dignity.

What was it like before abstract thought with its accompaniment of freedom came over humanity? Well, as you know, when man passes through the gates of death, in the first days after he has left his physical body, he still has the etheric body with him, and he has spread out before him a comprehensive review, not in detailed paintings, but in harmonising universal images, the whole course of life he has gone through, as far back as he remembers. The newly deceased has his life tableau spread out before him for several days as a life-containing image. Yes, my dear friends, that is how it is today. In those times when people had picture consciousness here on earth, they had spread out before them after death what mankind of today experiences -- the rational, the logical comprehension of the world -- that which they did not have between birth and death. This is something that leads us in the most eminent sense into the understanding of the human being. That which the human being of an older historical epoch, not only of prehistoric times, had only after death: a brief retrospect in abstract concepts and the impulse of freedom which was left for him in life between death and a new birth, that has pressed itself into earthly life during the development of humanity. It belongs to one of the mysteries of existence that the supersensible continually presses its way into the sensible. What is extended throughout earthly life today, the ability of abstraction and freedom, was something that came into human possession for an older humanity only during this retrospective view after death, whereas today man has rationality, intellectuality and freedom during his earthly life between birth and death, and therefore a mere picture retrospective after death. This is how things pass into each other. The real concrete-supersensible continually pushes itself into the sensory.“ (Lit.:GA 257, p. 43f)

Appearance and reality

We can only attain freedom because during our life on earth we live with our daytime consciousness in a world of mere appearance.

„If we direct our senses out into our world environment between birth and death, then the world presents itself to us as appearance, as semblance [...]

In the present age, however, if, between birth and death, man did not perceive the world as appearance, if he could not experience appearance, he could not be free. The development of freedom is only possible in the world of appearance. I hinted at this in my book "On the Riddle of Man" by pointing out that the world we experience can actually be compared to the images that look back at us from a mirror. These images that look at us from a mirror cannot force anything upon us; for they are only images, they are appearances. And so, that which man has as a world of perception is also appearance.

Man is by no means completely caught up in the appearance of the world. He is only spun into an illusory world with his perception, which fills his waking consciousness. But when man looks at his instincts, at his passions, at his temperaments, at all that surges up out of the human being, without being able to bring it to clear conceptions, at least to alert conceptions, then all this is not illusion. It is indeed reality, but a reality that does not tread before man's present consciousness. Man lives between birth and death in a true world which he does not know, but one which is never predisposed to give him real freedom. Instincts that make him unfree can be implanted in him, inner necessities can be brought forth, but never ever can it let man experience freedom. Freedom can only be experienced within a world of images, of appearances. And we must, by waking up, enter into a life of illusory perception, so that freedom can develop there.“ (Lit.:GA 207, p. 172f)

It is initially different in the life between death and new birth. There man encounters the reality of the spiritual world and is thereby captured by its necessity. But the freedom he has acquired in earthly life he can carry as his own being through the gate of death and assert in the world beyond.

„Life in appearance is really only granted to him between birth and death. Today, man does not come to live in appearance between death and a new birth. He is, as it were, captured by necessity when he passes through death [...].

This is the development into which man entered in the middle of the 15th century. For him, the divine-spiritual worlds have disappeared from appearance on earth. In the time between death and a new birth, however, these divine-spiritual worlds take him captive so much that he cannot preserve his independence in relation to them. Only, I said, when man really develops freedom here, that is, when he engages his whole being for the illusory life, is it possible for him to also carry his own being through the gate of death.“ (Lit.:GA 207, p. 174f)

If the experience of after-death necessity has too strong an effect on one’s next life on earth, a danger arises, one in which present humanity is actually suspended:

„It [humanity] cannot quite settle into the mere world of phenomena, into the world of appearances. Above all, it cannot settle into this world of appearances with its inner life. It wants to surrender itself to necessity, to inner necessity, to instincts, drives, passions. Today we see little realised of that which emerges from the free impulsiveness of pure thought. But as much as man lacks freedom here in life between birth and death, just as much unfreedom, necessity in perception, comes over him with hypnotising compulsion between death and new birth. So that man is threatened with the danger of not being able to take his own being with him when passing through the gates of death, but in the world of perception not living into something free, but rather into something which causes him to submerge himself in compulsory relations, which makes him as if frozen in the outer world.“ (Lit.:GA 207, p. 178)

Technology and freedom

„In the machine, man has surrounded himself with something transparent but alien to him. He has linked his life to this stranger. Cold stands the machine there and far from man, a triumph of ‘secured’ knowledge; next to it stands man himself, darkness before him, when he looks into himself with this knowledge.

And yet: humanity had to educate itself to look into the transparent dead if it was to become fully awake. It needs the pictorial knowledge of that which is alien to its own being in order to be awake. For all preceding knowledge is co-determined out of the darkness of man's own nature; it only becomes clear before the soul when the human soul becomes a mere mirror which only creates images of that which is alien to man. Previously, when man spoke of knowledge, he had in his soul instinct, the contents of his own nature, which as such could not be clear. His ideas were interspersed with being; but they were not clear. - The images of lifeless being are clear. Now, however, man has in these images not only the revelation of the inanimate, but also inner experiences. Images, by their own nature, cannot cause anything. They are powerless. If man experiences his moral impulses in the realm of the pictorial in the same way he has acquired them in lifeless nature, he then rises to freedom. For images cannot determine the will as drives, passions or instincts can. Only the age that has developed mathematic-like pictorial thinking through that which is dead can guide man to freedom.

Cold technology gives human thinking a character that leads to freedom. Between levers, wheels and motors lives only a dead spirit; but in this realm of the dead the free human soul awakens. It must awaken the spirit in itself which before was, more or less, only dreaming when it solely animated nature. Dreaming becomes conscious thinking in the coldness of the machine.“ (Lit.:GA 36, p. 84f)

The experience of freedom in the context of imagination, inspiration and intuition

„In every experience of freedom three things are interwoven. They appear as a unity at the moment when the experience takes place, but the subsequent course of life makes one conscious of them separately. One experiences what one has to do as an inner image that rises before one in free moral imaginative activity. What one has decided to do appears as a true imagination for one must find it worth loving. The second element contained in the unified experience is the impulse that one is admonished by higher powers to follow what is germinating within. <Do it> say the inner voices, and the awareness of them is a true inspiration. But also a third element is interwoven into the unified experience. Through the deed, one places oneself in an external environment of destiny into which one would never have entered without the freedom experience. One now encounters different people, is led to different places, by the fact that the inner intuitively grasped now becomes the fateful environment approaching from the outside. The situation of a true intuition arises." "You see," Rudolf Steiner continued, "these three interwoven experiences have subsequently separated, --have become conscious in isolation, so that imagination and inspiration and intuition have become conscious acts of cognition.“ (Lit.: Contributions 49, p. 30)

The will to freedom

Whoever remains in recognition of his personal views and opinions only recognises the transient. But he who recognises the I in himself as the eternal core of his being also recognises the eternal in the other things that surround him.

„As long as one lives with the world personally, things reveal only that which links them to our personality, but that is their transience. If we withdraw ourselves from our transience and live with our sense of self, with our ‘I’ in its permanence, then the transitory parts of us become mediators; and what is revealed through them is an imperishable, an eternal element in all things. This relation between one’s own eternal to the eternal in things must be established in the knower.“ (Lit.:GA 9, p. 188f)

Whoever generates the impulses of his actions through this realisation of the eternal found in and through the I, acts in harmony with the eternal world order and at the same time in full freedom. Admittedly, this is an ideal which man is still far from having reached, but it is a goal towards which he can strive - and that is his will to freedom.

„Thus the possibility opens up to the knower to no longer follow the uncountable influences of the outer world of the senses alone, which direct his will sometimes here, sometimes there. Through knowledge he has seen the eternal essence of things. Through the transformation of his inner world, he has within himself the ability to perceive this eternal being. For the knower, the following thoughts take on a special importance. When he acts out of his self, he is conscious of acting out of the eternal essence of things. For things express their essence in him. He therefore acts in the sense of the eternal world order when he gives direction to his actions out of the eternal essence living within himself. Through this he knows that he is no longer merely driven by things; he knows that he acts according to the laws implanted in them, which have become the laws of his own being. - This acting from within can only be an ideal towards which one strives. The attainment of this goal lies in the far distance. But the knower must have the will to see this path clearly. This is his will to freedom. For freedom is action out of oneself. And only he who draws his motives from the eternal may act out of his self. A being that does not do so acts according to other motives than those implanted in things. Such a being is at variance with the world order. And this [the world order] must then prevail over it. That is to say: in the end, it cannot come to pass what its will sets out to do. It cannot become free. The arbitrariness of the individual destroys itself through the effect of its deeds.“ (Lit.:GA 9, p. 190f)

The roots of human Freedom

The ‘Fight in Heaven’

Main article: Fight in Heaven

In the transition period from the Old Sun to the Old Moon, the so-called ‘fight in heaven’ took place. In this process, entities from the hierarchy of the Dynameis (Spirits of Motion) were, as it were, "commanded away" to act as adversaries to inhibit progressive development, but precisely by doing so to bring about a new essential evolutionary leap. These powers were not yet evil in themselves and could not have become inhibiting forces of their own will. But by running up a storm against normal development and thereby opening up new paths for evolution, they also became producers of evil in the end, but precisely by doing so, they made freedom possible. They themselves did not yet have this freedom, but a part of the angelic beings who completed their humanity stage on the Old Moon, i.e. their I-development, could free themselves from the will of the Deity through the inhibiting influence of the Dynameis and pursue their own goals. They thus became Luciferic spirits.

„Thus we see that in a certain respect it was only through the Dynameis being ‘commanded away’ that man was given the possibility of attaining the goal out of himself, which even the highest Seraphim cannot attain out of themselves. That is the essence. They cannot act in any other way, the Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, than to follow directly the impulses which the Deity gives. The Kyriotetes, the entire Second Hierarchy, cannot act otherwise either. Of the Dynameis, a number were ‘commanded away’; so also those Dynameis, who threw themselves, so to speak, into the path of evolution, could not do otherwise than follow the orders of the Deity. Even in what one might call the origin of evil, there too they only carry out the will of the Deity; by making themselves servants of evil, they only carry out the will of the Deity, which wants to develop the strong good through the deviation of evil. And now let us descend to those entities which we call the Exusiai: Through themselves they could not have achieved this. Neither could they have become evil through themselves; nor could the Spirits of Personality, nor the Spirits of Fire. For when these were human beings on the sun, the Dynameis were not yet commanded away, there was no possibility at all of becoming evil. The first who had the possibility of becoming evil were the Angels, for this possibility only existed through the evolution of the moon. There, from the sun to the moon, the fight in the heavens took place. A part of the Angels rejected this possibility, did not allow themselves to be tempted, so to speak, by the forces that were to lead into the hindrances; they remained with the old nature. So that down to the Angels, and even in a part of the Angels, we have before us such entities of the Spiritual Hierarchies which absolutely cannot do otherwise than follow the Divine Will, for whom there is no possibility of not following the Divine Will. That is the essence.

And now we come to two categories of entities: First, those Angels who threw themselves into what the Dynameis wreaked during the fight in the heavens. These were such entities that, because of their further deeds, we call the Luciferic entities. These entities then approached the human astral body during the evolution of the earth and gave man the possibility of evil, but with it also the possibility of developing himself out of his own free strength. So that within the entire sequence of the hierarchies we have the possibility of freedom only in a part of the Angels and in man. The possibility of freedom begins, so to speak, in the middle of the progression of Angels; but only in man is it developed in the right way. When man entered upon earth, however, he had to succumb to the great force of the Luciferic spirits. They penetrated the astral body of man with their forces, and the I was thereby included in these forces; so that during the Lemurian and Atlantean periods, and even afterwards, we have the I as in a cloud, as wrapped in a cloud, which was brought about by the influences of Lucifer. Man has only been saved from being overpowered by the forces pulling him down by the fact that earlier beings have overshadowed him, that the Angels who remained above, and the Archangels above, have embodied themselves in special individuals and guided him. And this had been taking place up to that point in time when something very exceptional occurred, when a Being, who until then had only been connected with the existence of the sun, had come so far that it could now not only, like earlier Beings of the higher worlds, enter into the physical body, etheric body and astral body of man, but that it could penetrate man into the I.“ (Lit.:GA 110, p. 166f)

Christ and the Mystery of Golgotha

The Luciferic spirits made it possible for man to attain freedom during the evolution of the earth, namely, the freedom to free himself from the will of the Deity. But this is only one, the negative side of freedom. Man would have fallen prey to the Luciferic powers that worked in his astral body. This could only be prevented by the Christ incarnating himself on earth. The Christ works directly through the I of the human being, but in doing so he divests himself of any claim to power and thereby makes it possible for the human being to rise to the spiritual by free choice. Only in this way is full freedom realised.

„... this deed is such that it has no other effect on any human being than that he himself chooses to let an effect have on him, that is, when it is compatible with the absolutely free character of his individual I. For it is not enough for the Christ to become present in the human astral body, the Christ must, if he is to be really understood, become present in the human I. And the I must freely decide to receive the Christ. That is what matters. But it is precisely through this that this human I, when it unites with the Christ, takes into itself a reality, a divine power, not merely a doctrine. Therefore it can be proved a hundred times over that all the teachings of Christianity are already to be found here or there; but that is not what matters, but rather, that which is essential in Christianity is the deed, which can only become one's own possession through a voluntary elevation into the higher worlds. Thus man receives the Christ-power in that he receives it voluntarily, and no one can receive it who does not receive it voluntarily. But this has only become possible for man because the Christ became man on earth, for he was called upon to become man on earth.“ (Lit.:GA 110, p. 170)

„This is the great difference between Christianity as compared with the old doctrines of the gods. If man wants to find the Christ, he must find him in freedom. He must freely acknowledge the Mystery of Golgotha. The content of the cosmogonies forced itself upon man. The Mystery of Golgotha does not force itself upon man. He must approach the Mystery of Golgotha in a certain resurrection of his being in freedom.“ (Lit.:GA 207, p. 180)

„If the God who is called by the name of Father-God had once not allowed the Luciferic influences to approach man, man would not have developed the free I-disposition. Through the Luciferic influence the disposition to the free I was established. This had to be permitted by the Father-God. But after the I -- for the sake of freedom -- had to be entangled in matter, the complete love of the Son had to lead to the deed of Golgotha in order to be free the I again from this entanglement in matter. This alone made human freedom and complete human dignity possible. That we can be free beings, we owe to a divine deed of love. Thus, as human beings, we may feel as free beings, but we must never forget that we owe this freedom to God's deed of love. If we think in this way, the thought will move to the centre of our feelings: You can attain human dignity; but this you must not forget, that what you are you owe to the One who restored you to your original human form through redemption on Golgotha! - The idea of freedom should

Drawing from GA 131, p. 229
Drawing from GA 131, p. 229

not be able to be grasped without the redemptive thought of Christ. Only then is the thought of freedom a justified one. If we want to be free, we must make the sacrifice of owing our freedom to Christ! Only then can we really perceive it.“ (Lit.:GA 131, p. 228f)

„Twice in the evolution of mankind the same word has been used: Once in the Paradise Temptation, when Lucifer said to man, ‘You will be like the gods, your eyes will be opened.’ This is the figurative expression for the Luciferic impulse. Lucifer thus poured spirituality into the lower nature of man and through this gave man the opportunity to come to inner freedom through moral motives. And a second time was now said by the Christ: Are you not gods? (John 10:34 LUT) - The same word! From this we see that it is not only the content of a word that is important, but also the essence which the word speaks, the manner in which a word is spoken. There we see the necessary connection between the deed of Lucifer and the deed of Christ also expressed in a figurative way, as religious documents are wont to do.

Lucifer is the bringer of the personal freedom of the individual human being, Christ is the bearer of the freedom of the whole human race, of the whole human race on earth. This is the significance of Anthroposophy, that it teaches us that the recognition of the Christ-being will take place in such a way that man is free to recognise the Christ or not, just as man is free not to be moral.

A free truth shall be the Christ for the human soul.“ (Lit.:GA 150, p. 99)

„And since this heavenly, the intellectuality and freedom have thus entered into earthly life, a different looking up to divinity has become necessary for humanity than was formerly the case. And this different way of looking up to divinity has become possible for humanity through the Mystery of Golgotha. By entering into earthly life, the Christ can sanctify that which has entered from the supersensible worlds and which would otherwise seduce man to pride and all manner of things. We live in a time when we must comprehend: That which is most sacred to us in this age must be permeated by the Christ-impulse: the ability to grasp pure concepts, and the ability of freedom.“ (Lit.:GA 257, p. 45)

Development towards freedom

Freedom is not given to man from the beginning, but rather, he must develop it on his own by rising to pure sensory-free thinking and, through this, experience moral intuition.

„One asks: is man free or is he not free? Is man a free being who can make decisions out of his soul with real responsibility, or is he harnessed to a natural or spiritual necessity like a natural being? This question has been asked, I would like to say, for thousands of years, and this question is still being asked. This very question is the great error.

One cannot ask in this way, but the question of freedom is a question of human development, such a human development that in the course of his youthful life, or perhaps of his later life, man develops forces within himself which he does not simply have from nature. One cannot even ask: Is man free? He is not free by nature, but he can make himself more and more free by awakening forces that lie dormant in him and that nature does not awaken. Man can become freer and freer. One cannot ask: Is man free or unfree, but only: Is there a way for man to attain freedom? And this path does exist. As I said, thirty years ago I tried to show: When man advances to develop an inner life within himself, so that he grasps the moral impulses for his actions in pure thought, he can really base his actions on thought impulses, not merely on instinctive emotions, - thoughts which submerge themselves in outer reality as the lover does in the beloved being. Then man approaches his freedom. Freedom is just as much a child of thought grasped in spiritual clairvoyance - not under an external compulsion - as it is a child of true devoted love, the love for the object of his action. What German spiritual life was striving for in Schiller, when he confronted Kant and suspected something of such a concept of freedom, behoves us to develop it further in the present. But then it became clear to me that one can only speak of that which underlies moral actions - even if it remains unconscious in human beings, it is nevertheless present - and that one must call this intuition. Therefore, in my ‘Philosophy of Freedom’ I spoke of a moral intuition.

But this was also the starting point for everything I later tried to achieve in the field of spiritual science. Do not believe that I think about these things today in an immodest way. I know very well that this ‘Philosophy of Freedom’, which I conceived more than thirty years ago as a young man, has, as it were, all the teething troubles of that life of thought which emerged in the course of the 19th century. But I also know that out of this cerebral life has sprouted that which has lifted the life of thought into the truly spiritual. So that I can say to myself: When man rises to the moral impulses in moral intuition and represents a truly free being, then he is already, if I may use the frowned-upon word, ‘clairvoyant’ with reference to his moral intuitions. In that which lies beyond all that is sensory lie the incentives of all that is moral. Basically, the truly moral precepts are results of human clairvoyance. Therefore, there was a straight path from that ‘Philosophy of Freedom’ to what I mean today as spiritual science. Freedom germinates in man only when man develops himself. But he can develop further, so that which already underlies freedom also drives him to become independent of all sensuality and to rise freely into the realms of the spirit.

Thus freedom is connected with the development of human thought. Freedom is basically always freedom of thought ...“ (Lit.:GA 333, p. 107ff)

Freedom and karma

In the life between death and a new birth, man places the seed of his destiny, his karma, in the lunar sphere, beyond which he passes through the after-effect of the Christ-impulse and obtains the necessary forces from the stellar sphere, so that when he descends to a new life on earth he can, through a free act of the spirit, reincorporate this karma in such a way that he thereby independently brings his destiny into connection with his spiritually progressing being. This possibility, however, has only existed since the Mystery of Golgotha. The earthly after-image of this free deed accomplished in cosmic existence is the feeling of freedom during earthly life.

„The initiates who were contemporaries of the Mystery of Golgotha, or those who lived in the following centuries up to the 3rd and 4th century, could say to their followers: 'The form which the human physical organism takes on in earthly life, forms the I more and more. But man loses the power to enter that region where the high sun being above could be his guide in the spiritual stellar spheres. Therefore Christ descended to earth, accomplished the Mystery of Golgotha. And the power which the human soul becomes through its emotional connection with the Mystery of Golgotha, this power works on after death and tears the soul from the seed of destiny and the lunar sphere, and under the after-effect of the Christ, the soul forms its future physical organism with the other beings of the stellar sphere and then again finds the seed of destiny into which is placed the tendency for the formation of the destiny of the coming earthly life. What the human soul has received as power from the Christ Impulse enables it in turn to pass through the spirit-land in the right way and to receive the seed of destiny in the right way.

He who speaks from the science of initiation today must also say the following: Yes, it is the Christ-impulse which continues to work beyond death, under whose influence man escapes from the lunar sphere, penetrates into the stellar-solar sphere and there, from the impulses which the beings of the stellar world give him, can work on the formation of the physical organism of his next life on earth. But he breaks free from the lunar sphere through the forces which he has accumulated in his I through his bowing towards the Christ Being and the Mystery of Golgotha. He breaks free from the lunar sphere in such a way that he can now also work in the stellar sphere in such a way that, when he returns to the lunar sphere and encounters the seed of his destiny, he incorporates this seed of destiny in a free way as a free spiritual act, because he has to say to himself: The evolution of the world can only proceed in the right way if man integrates this seed of his destiny and that, which he has prepared as his destiny, he properly brings into balance in future lives on earth.

That is what is essential in the new experience of the after-death lunar sphere experience, that there is a moment in cosmic existence when man independently brings his destiny, his karma, into connection with his progressing beingness. And the earthly reflection of this deed accomplished in the supernatural is, in the subsequent earthly life, human freedom, the feeling of freedom during earthly existence. The correct understanding of the idea of destiny and its pursuit up into the spiritual worlds does not establish a philosophy of determination, but a real philosophy of freedom, as I had set forth in the nineties of the last century in my book ‘Philosophy of Freedom’.“ (Lit.:GA 215, p. 177f)

„In receiving the power which arises for the soul out of the contemplative and active emotional experience of the earthly life of Christ and the Mystery of Golgotha, man on earth, -- and not only through the Solar Being after death -- already acquires the ability to withdraw from the influence of the moon at a certain point in the post-earthly existence and to enter the pure sphere of the stars. This ability is the spiritual counter-image, experienced after death, of the freedom brought about by the I-consciousness in earthly life. In the time between death and a new birth, man then takes over his moral-spiritual value-being left behind in the lunar sphere as the maker of his destiny, which he can thereby experience in freedom during the following earthly existence." (Lit.: GA 25, p. 87)

Deeds that are set out of man's full freedom are not conditioned by karma:

"Only such acts are free in which man would not work at all on the basis of the past, but in which he confronts those acts which can come into the world through the combining and productive activity of his reason. Such actions are called in occultism: creating out of nothing. All other actions are created out of karma.“ (Lit.:GA 93a, p. 123)

What man does in full freedom does not create new karma either. In occultism this is also called acting out of Nirvana. However, as long as man has not completely balanced out the karma from his previous incarnations, he cannot live in complete freedom - part of his deeds will necessarily be determined by the past (conditions as well as side effects) -- creating new karma, i.e. gradually realising free action is today and in the future a great, ideal goal of human evolution.

„The human being becomes free in the one physical life on earth where he develops the thought as such, where the thought loses its plasticising power which it still has in the etheric body, and where it is developed as a pure thought in the consciousness which is in life. I was therefore compelled to present something very daring in this ‘Philosophy of Freedom’ back in the early nineties. I had to present the moral impulses as moral ideals and had to say: they do not come to man from the physical world, they do not come to man from nature, they come to man through an intuition. And at that time I spoke of "moral imagination". And why is that? I said then in my ‘Philosophy of Freedom’: These moral motives flow into man from the spiritual world, but at first only as images. He receives them as intuition from the spiritual world.

But in this way one reaches, I would like to say, the other pole of what one experiences here in the physical world. If one looks out into the natural world of existence with common sense and scientific training, then one discovers necessity everywhere. If one looks into the world of moral impulses, then one discovers freedom, but freedom first in mere thought, in pure thinking, in intellectual intuition. And one does not know at first how forces enter into the will, for one sees these moral intuitions unconsciously. One has on the one hand, nature, to which one belongs by acting, and on the other hand one has one's moral experience, and for these moral intuitions, if one has nothing else initially but natural science, the possibility of ascribing reality to these moral intuitions, of ascribing world-creating forces, vanishes. One experiences, as it were, nature in all its coarse density, in its necessity. One experiences freedom, but one experiences it in the finely woven thought impulses, driven down to images, of which one knows, because they cannot belong to nature, because they experience themselves in free activity, and this I have indicated this in my ‘Philosophy of Freedom’, that they come from the spiritual world.

But something must now intervene between these intuitions, which are quite pictorial, unreal, which only become real through moral life, and that which one has as objective cognition for the natural order. And then imagination and inspiration intervene, which arise in the way I have described. And then intuition also becomes something else. Then, to a certain extent, that which at first only confronted us in pure thought condenses into a spiritual reality. In this intuition, newly acquired after imagination and inspiration, one now learns to recognise not one's present ‘I’, but the ‘I’ which passes through repeated earthly lives, and which carries our destiny through these repeated earth-lives in the way I have described. We are unfree in that we live through repeated earth-lives and have formed a fate through them. But we can always weave free actions into this fabric of destiny in the individual earth-lives. Precisely by experiencing the moral impulses in pictorial intuitions -- not as realities, but as something to which we can freely avow -- can we weave freedom into the fabric of destiny in the individual earth-life. And so, by being carried from earth-life to earth-life by destiny, we do not become any more unfree than we become, for instance, when we allow ourselves to be carried by a ship from Europe to America. However, we are determined in our future by the decision we make here in Europe. But we are always free beings within certain limits, and as long as we are over there in America, we can move freely. Thus we carry our destiny from earth-life to earth-life. But into the factual world which we experience in repeated earth-lives can be placed what springs from freedom in individual earth-lives.

And so one sees precisely that he who wrestles with the problem of freedom, who sees the problem of freedom solved by looking at the moral ideas which can at first only be grasped in moral fantasy, but which strive out of the spiritual world into the physical world of man, that he who acquires an understanding of freedom in this way has just thereby prepared himself for an understanding of that which is according to destiny, which intervenes like a kind of necessity in human life.“ (Lit.:GA 79, p. 129ff)

Freedom and determinism

The relationship of man in his freedom to karma is governed by the consideration of the two double currents of time[1]. Life situations are then determined either by old karma, by freedom, or by new (future) karma. With regard to scientific determinism, clear positions have been taken by dominant science: This alleged freedom of man would only be an illusion, it would not really exist (prevailing view, there are also contrary views).

The counter current of time in evolution should also be noted.[2]

In the argumentation which falls under the philosophy of mind, an important role is played by the fact that a physiological volitional excitation can be measured earlier than it becomes relevant in consciousness as an "I will". This quite plausible reasoning does not, of course, consider that the human will is something quite different than the consciousness of a human will, especially free will.

Albeit this will, if it is to be considered a free will, can only be a conscious free will. Consciousness which, according to physiological brain research, comes later than the motorial intention to act.

Only the questioning of the temporal character of the will and the physiological manifestation of the will can point to a solution.

„Look through the textbooks in use, and you will find: These people come to point out the thinking apparatus and to connect all thinking and imagining with the mechanical processes in the brain and nervous system; but they must deny feeling and will. Feeling and will cannot be explained by physical processes. Therefore, this is simply eliminated. And today you can find, when you open the books, everywhere: People have indeed, out of their prejudices, also taken on a will and have taken on a feeling, but that is actually nothing, that is not there at all. So the natural researcher stops just short of feeling and will. Now that we know that thoughts separate themselves from us with our etheric body, explains to us that this separate thing, which goes out of us with our etheric body, also works on our outer being here on earth, and first prepares the thinking apparatus, and when the thinking apparatus is formed, then comes thinking with the help of the thinking apparatus formed by thinking itself. Feeling and will remain in the astral body and in the I. We carry these into the spiritual world. Not a science compels materialism; on the contrary, the real science of today everywhere justifies our spiritual science. Today's materialism is entirely dependent on the fact that people have no drive for spiritual life, that they do not want to have any sense for spiritual life. Nor is there a need for comprehension. For really, if one accepts what the spiritual researcher is able to make known concerning the spiritual world, even for such chapters as we have had placed before our souls today about life between death and a new birth: it can already be understood, one only needs a finer, more subtle understanding than the coarse understanding which the man of today often wants to apply to the outer world. But we also live in a time in which materialism has reached its high tide.“ (Lit.:GA 168, p. 56)

The immortal part of man is his will-feeling being; hence, all non-determined freedom is derived from the Higher I, in so far as it can realise itself through will and feeling in the form of decision and thought.[3]

Freedom requires the balance of spirit and nature

Of decisive importance for free will is the right balance between spirit and nature:

„You know, my dear friends, how sour it becomes a man to grasp an idea which is actually self-evident to the unprejudiced man, and which is denied because the intellect of the philosophers cannot embrace it: the idea of free will. I said about the sensations: the things that are written in the physiologies and psychologies seem childish to those who see through things. But what is said about the idea of free will, even more so. For you must bear in mind that the free decision of will is at every moment an effect of the whole human being; of the whole human being, as it presents itself healthy or ill or half-sick or over-healthy, in the free impulse of will. In the free impulse of will lies the whole human being, but with all that can be seen in the whole human being, with all its complications. One only gets to know human nature when one learns to recognise it in this complication. And you see, that which in abnormal personalities assumes an abnormal shade towards one side or the other is abolished, united in harmony in every human being. It is a trivial saying, but it is true: just as man is accessible to the Cherubim, so is he accessible to the devil. And also these processes where man is accessible to the devil - we will study them yet. But all this also exists in the ordinary human being, only that the opposite activities cancel each other out, because they develop equally strongly in the most different directions. If there is an Angel in everyone, there is also a devil in everyone. But if the Angel and the devil are equally strong for something, then they cancel each other out.

Drawing from GA 318, p. 46 (plate 4)
Drawing from GA 318, p. 46 (plate 4)

Now look at this scale (see drawing). There is one point, it is this one. You can put weights here; it can all start moving. This always remains at rest, the hypomochlion, it is not touched by what you put on the left, by what you put on the right. But the arrangement must be made that it need not be touched. A similar spiritual hypomochlion is brought about in man by the opposite forces. You can therefore study the nature of man. Nowhere will you have cause to cite man as a free being, for in man's nature everything is causally conditioned. Study the nature of man with a materialistic mind: you will not arrive at the idea of freedom; you will arrive at the causal condition. But you can also study man spiritually. You come to the determination of will by the Deity or the spiritual entities, but you do not come to freedom of the will. You can be a crude materialist and deny freedom and study the natural causality of the will, you can be a sensitive mind like Leibniz and look at the spiritual: You come to determinism. Of course, as long as you study the scale with the balance beam here, you only come to movement; as long as you study the scale with the balance beam here, you also only come to movement. That is how it is when you study man according to nature, that is how it is when you study man according to the spirit. You do not come to freedom. It lies in the centre of the point of equilibrium between the two.

That is the theory. But in practice it such that you must decide whether you can hold a person responsible for his deed when he stands before you in a difficult situation in life. This is where the question becomes practical, whether he can wield his free will or not. How can you determine that? By being able to judge whether his mental and physical constitution are in balance. The doctor as well as the priest can come into both cases. Therefore, the training of the doctor as well as of the priest must include an understanding of that state in which man is either in balance between spirit and nature, or in which this balance is askew.

The sense of responsibility of a human personality can never be decided other than according to a profound knowledge of the human being. The question of freedom in connection with the question of responsibility is precisely one of the deepest imaginable.“ (Lit.:GA 318, p. 45ff)

Freedom and love

The fact that freedom and love are inseparably connected to each other was already emphasised quite decisively by Rudolf Steiner in his introductions to Goethe's Natural Scientific Writings (GA 1, 1884-1897):

„We know that the world of ideas is infinite perfection itself; we know that with it the impulses of our action lie within us; and consequently we must acknowledge as ethical only such action in which the deed flows solely from the idea of itself, which lies within us. From this perspective, man performs an action only because its reality is a need for him. He acts because an inner (own) urge, not an external power, drives him. The object of his action, as soon as he forms a concept of it, fulfils him in such a way that he strives to realise it. In the need for realisation of an idea, in the urge to form an intention, should also be the only impulse of our action. Everything that urges us to act should live itself out in the idea. We do not act out of duty, we do not act according to an instinct, we act out of love for the object to which our action is to extend. The object, in that we conceive it, evokes in us the urge for an appropriate action towards it. Such an action is solely a free one. For if, in addition to the interest we take in the object, there were a second, a different reason, then we would not want this object for its own sake, we would want another and realise that which we do not want; we would perform an action against our will. This would be the case, for example, when acting out of egoism. Here we take no interest in the action itself; it is not a need for us, but rather the benefit it brings us. But then, at the same time, we also feel it as compulsion, having to perform that action only for the sake of this end. It is not a need in itself; for we would refrain from it if it did not entail the benefit. But an act which we do not perform out of its own sake is an unfree act. Egoism acts unfree. Indeed, every person who performs an action for a reason that does not follow from the objective content of the action itself acts unfree. To perform an action out of its own sake is to act out of love. Only he who is guided by love of action, by devotion to objectivity, acts truly free. He who is incapable of this selfless devotion will never be able to regard his act as a free one.“ (Lit.:GA 1, p. 202f)

As long as we are committed to the outer world with our thinking, we must follow its laws and are therefore, insofar as we allow ourselves to be guided by it in our actions, unfree. We become free when, completely detached from the outer world, we grasp thoughts in pure inner spiritual experience and radiate them with our will. Pure, i.e. sensory-free thinking is at the same time active as pure creative will.

„If we take up thoughts from the outer physical-sensory world -- and we can only take up such thoughts between birth and death -- then, as you can easily see, we thereby become unfree, for we are given to the interrelationships of the outer world; we must then think as the outer world prescribes, in so far as we only take in the thought-content; only in the inner processing do we become free.

Now a possibility does exist of becoming entirely free, of becoming free in one's inner life, if one excludes the thought-content, in so far as it comes from without, more and more, and vigorously activates the will-element which in judging, in drawing conclusions, shines through our thoughts. This, however, puts our thinking into that state which I have called pure thinking in my ‘Philosophy of Freedom’. We think, but only will lives in thinking. I emphasised this particularly sharply in the new edition of the ‘Philosophy of Freedom’ in 1918. That which lives within us, lives in the sphere of thinking. But once it has become pure thinking, it can just as well be spoken of as pure will. So that we rise from thinking to the will, when we become inwardly free, that our thinking becomes so mature, so to speak, that it is completely permeated by the will, no longer absorbs the external, but lives in the will. But it is precisely by strengthening the will in our thinking, more and more, that we prepare ourselves for what I have called in the ‘Philosophy of Freedom’ the moral imagination, but which rises to the moral intuitions that then radiate through and pervade our will that has become thought or our thought that has become will. In this way we lift ourselves out of physical-sensual necessity, radiate through ourselves that which is our own and prepare ourselves for moral intuition. And through such moral intuitions all that can fulfil man from the spiritual world is based. It comes alive then, that what freedom is, when in our very thinking we let the will become more and more powerful.“ (Lit.:GA 202, p. 201f)

But with this, the will is also illuminated with the thoughts consciously created in full freedom from the spirit. What is thus drawn from the spirit flows in full surrender through our actions into the outer world, for it is necessarily in the nature of the spirit to give itself away -- but this is nothing other than pure love. Spirit is love in its most perfect form.

„You see, we become more and more inward when we send our own strength as will into thinking, by letting thinking, as it were, be completely irradiated by the will. We bring the will into thinking and thereby attain freedom. We attain this by developing our actions more and more, by carrying thoughts into these actions. We irradiate our actions, which come from our will, with our thoughts. On the one hand, inwardly, we live a life of thought: we radiate this with the will and thus find freedom. On the other hand, outwardly, our actions flow from us out of the will; we pervade them with our thoughts.

Freedom and Love, Plate 19 (GA 202, S 204)
Freedom and Love, Plate 19 (GA 202, S 204)

But how do our actions become more and more developed? By what means, if we want to use the disputable expression, do we arrive at ever more perfect action? - We actually achieve ever more perfect action by developing that power within ourselves which cannot be called anything else than devotion to the outer world. The more our devotion to the outer world grows, the more this outer world stimulates us to action. Thus by finding our way towards devotion to the outer world, we come to penetrate with thought that which lies in our action. What is devotion to the outer world? Devotion to the outer world, which permeates us, which permeates our actions with thoughts, is nothing other than love.

Just as we come to freedom through the irradiation of the thought-life with the will, so we come to love through permeating the will-life with thoughts. We develop love in our actions by letting thoughts radiate into what is according to the will; we develop freedom in our thinking by letting what is according to the will radiate into the thoughts. And since we as human beings are a wholeness, a totality, when we come to find freedom in the life of thought and love in the life of will, freedom will co-operate in our actions and love in our thinking. They radiate through each other, and we carry out an action, a thoughtful action in love, a willful thinking, out of which in turn arises the action in freedom.“ (Lit.:GA 202, p. 203ff)

Schiller says on the subject: "To love is to set free."

„In the field of tension between spirit and matter and in the awareness of the limits of his existence, man is the embodied capacity for freedom. The life current from the past is transformed in him into the light of knowledge, the creative current from the future into the love of devoted action. -- Love conceived in this sense can only arise from freedom.“ (Lit.: Christoph J. Hueck, p. 211)

True love is only possible out of freedom. Christ's command to love one another is a commandment, but it is a commandment to the "free man", which general humanity has yet to develop. This interrelationship of freedom and love has been thematised in the context of the discussion on the doctrine of predestination, etc.

What Schiller said must surely apply the other way round: to be free is to love.

Freedom and Love as the path to Michael and Christ

„By feeling himself as a free being in Michael’s proximity, man is on his way to carrying the strength of intellectuality into his ‘whole person’; he thinks, albeit, with his head, but the heart feels the light or darkness of thought; the will radiates the being of man by having thoughts flowing into it as intentions. The human being becomes evermore human by becoming an expression of the world; he finds himself by not searching for himself, but by benignly uniting himself with the world in love.

Through unfolding his freedom by falling into Ahriman’s temptations, man is drawn into intellectuality, like into a spiritual automatism in which he is a member, no longer himself. All his thinking becomes an experience of the head; the head alone separates it from his own heart life and will life and extinguishes his own being. Man loses more and more of his inner, essential human expression when becoming the expression of his selfhood; he loses himself by seeking himself; he withdraws from the world which he refuses love; but man only experiences himself true when he loves the world.

From what has been described, it is clear how Michael is the guide to Christ. Michael goes through the world with all the seriousness of his being, his attitude, his actions in love. Whoever adheres to him cultivates love in relation to the outer world. And love in relation to the outer world must first develop, otherwise it becomes self-love.

Once this love in the Michael ethos is present, then love for the other will also be able to radiate back into one’s own self. This will be able to love without loving itself. And on the paths of such love, Christ is to be found through the human soul.“ (Lit.:GA 26, p. 117f)

Freedom and choice

From certain points of view, freedom of choice also needs to be discussed. Is this only a special aspect of freedom, or would freedom essentially be freedom of choice?

When man is faced with the alternative: "Eat or die bird", as the saying goes: Where is the freedom in that? Those who do not conform to God's will are threatened with destruction, and even eternal hellfire. Where is there freedom?

A person who does not submit to God's will shall be destroyed in the future (or roasted for eternity in hell fire), so the saying goes, the truth of which may well be open to doubt, for the statement contradicts both freedom as well love - from God's will.

„The 'Catechism of the Catholic Church' states that mortal sin applies to certain offences, while atonement through confession is possible for other sins. Let us assume, then, that a mortal sin exists, that someone has become guilty of it and that his path must now lead inevitably to eternal hell and damnation. Let us assume that this is a murderer who now sits in prison. For him divine mercy has been forfeited, it is therefore no longer within his reach. But with what prospects should this person approach his release? Should he say to himself, it's no use anyway, so I don't want to improve and go on killing as soon as I am given the opportunity again? This approach is also completely wrong from the perspective of prison pastoral care: mortal sins cannot and must not exist as long as a person is still capable of learning and improving. The declaration of an act as a mortal sin constitutes a deterministic prognosis. A deterministic prognosis is nothing more than a belief in the future appropriacy to reality of the hypothesis that precedes it. Through a strictly deterministic prognosis, however, any freedom for all future is taken, a principle of constancy of human action is established, which, however, in the end means no longer being able to learn (anew). Future learning ability, however, cannot be ruled out for any human being. ‘This proves by way of an argumentum a contrario that the principle of constancy cannot apply in the context of human action: If it were valid, this would mean that one cannot learn - but that one can learn that one cannot learn cannot be asserted without having already contradicted oneself.’[4] Did not Faust also become guilty through unfortunate circumstances, and is he not nevertheless forgiven all guilt on his deathbed, because Faust repents? One can also clearly see Goethe's attack on overly simplistic ecclesiastical moral concepts: ‘Whoever seeks to strive, we can save’. In this way, Goethe underlines the all-important moment of freedom of the human being even in the last moment before death. Analogous passages are found in the New Testament: Luke 23:43 and John 8:11.

It becomes clear: without complete freedom of action for good and evil (see also the paradise myth), there would be no real freedom of choice between good and evil. This, then, is the good of evil, that it makes human freedom of choice possible in the first place through its (negative) offer.“ (Lit.: Michael Heinen-Anders, Dem Teufel auf der Spur, p. 12 - 13)

Different conceptual distinctions

Freedom of choice and freedom of design

Freedom of choice can be distinguished from freedom of design. Freedom of design goes beyond choosing (Judgement of Paris) between alternatives, insofar as there are no specific, predetermined alternatives, but rather that these emerge from the will. When the artist applies the chisel to the block of plaster, each stroke is indeed chosen, but from an infinity of alternatives determined only by the idea of what is to be created, and by the peculiarities of the material. The normal human being differs from the artist only through less perfection of the clarity of the idea to be executed and of knowledge of the material, of mastery of the tools, and so on.


In contrast to freedom of choice, there is the freedom to be oneself (autonomy). This is already inherent in animals. An animal is free if it can live out its nature freely, as it is, in an appropriate environment. This can be seen today in the rich variety of possible forms in flora and fauna. (This is taken into consideration in animal welfare, for example.) In humans, there is additionally the freedom to determine their own nature, the freedom to shape themselves. This is analogous to artistic creation.[5] The world dichotomies such as those between concept and perception, spirit and matter, as well as between good and evil (to the extent that man is a moral being), are insofar only prerequisites for this human freedom to determine himself in his form, which integrates itself harmoniously into the whole in an individual way in an ongoing process and thereby enrichening it.

Processes of decomposition and free action

Rudolf Steiner has repeatedly shown that we only become aware of thoughts that are tied to the senses by the fact that thought is reflected in the nervous system. Sensual thoughts are therefore pure mirror images without independent reality and consequently also without causal impact. Because, as mere mirror images, they are not subject to the necessity of nature, they form the precondition of freedom. On the other hand, there are thoughts of action that are conceived out of moral imagination in pure thought, free from the senses. They have no imaginative character, but are of a volitional nature. They are not reflected in the nervous system, and therefore do not cause any processes of decomposition and do not fade into mirror images, but rather act as real living constructive processes. By these acting on the processes of decomposition, free action comes into being.

„Keep in mind that in public lectures as well as here I have, in the most varied contexts, emphasised again and again with a certain intensity that we can only understand correctly what we call ideas if we relate them to our bodily organism in such a way that, underlying the ideas, we do not see something growing and flourishing in the body, but just the opposite, something dying, something partially dying in the body. I expressed this in a public lecture in such a way that I said: Man is actually always dying into his nervous system. The nervous process is such that it must confine itself to the nervous system. For if it were to extend over the whole organism, if the same thing were to happen in the whole organism as happens in the nerves, this would mean man’s death at every moment. One can say: ideas arise where the organism breaks itself down, we are continually dying into our nervous system. This makes it necessary for spiritual science to pursue not only those processes which today's natural science regards as the only authoritative ones: the ascending processes. These ascending processes -- they are growth processes -- still culminate in the unconscious. Only when the organism begins with descending processes does that activity of the soul occur within the organism which can be described as the activity of imagination, even as the activity of sensory perception. This process of decomposition, this process of dying, must be present if there is to be any imagining at all.

Now I have shown that the free action of man is based precisely on the fact that man is in the position to seek the impulses for his action out of pure thoughts. These pure thoughts will have the greatest influence on the processes of decomposition in the human organism. What actually happens when a human being carries out a free action? Let us make it clear to ourselves what happens in the ordinary physical human being when he acts out of moral imagination -- you now know what I mean by this -- out of moral imagination, that is, out of a thinking which is not dominated by sensory impulses, sensory urges and affects, what actually happens to the human being? What then happens is that he gives himself over to pure thoughts; these form his impulses. They cannot impel him through themselves; he must impel himself, for they are mere mirror images, as we have emphasised. They belong to Maja. Mirror images cannot compel, man must compel himself under the influence of pure ideas.

What is the effect of pure ideas? They have the strongest effect on the process of decomposition in the human organism. On the one hand, the process of decomposition comes out of the organism; on the other hand, to counteract this process of decomposition, pure deed-thought comes out of the spiritual life. By this I mean the thought which underlies the deed. Through the union of the two, through the interaction of the process of decomposition and the deed-thought, free action comes into being.

I said that the process of decomposition is not brought about by pure thinking; it is there anyway, it is actually always there. If, through pure thinking, man does not oppose this process of decomposition, especially the most important processes of decomposition in him, it remains a process of decomposition, then the process of decomposition is not transformed into a process of construction, then a dying part remains in man. If you think this through, you will see that there is the possibility that man, precisely by refraining from free actions, does not abolish a death process within himself. Therein lies one of the most subtle thoughts that man needs to absorb. Whoever understands this thought can no longer doubt the existence of human freedom in life. For an action that happens out of freedom does not happen through something that is caused in the organism, but where the causes stop, namely out of a process of decomposition. Something must underlie the organism where the causes cease, only then can the pure idea intervene as a motive for action. But such processes of decomposition are always there; they only remain, as it were, unused when man does not carry out free actions.

What lies at the bottom of this, however, bears witness to the characteristics of an age which is not willed to understand the idea of freedom in its fullest extent. The second half of the nineteenth century, the twentieth century up to our own time, this epoch has virtually set itself the task of increasingly clouding the idea of freedom for knowledge in all areas of life, of actually eliminating it for practical life. Freedom was not to be understood, freedom was not to be had. Philosophers have endeavoured to prove that everything arises with a certain necessity out of human nature. Certainly, necessity underlies human nature, but this necessity ceases when processes of decomposition begin, in which causal relationships come to their end. When freedom has intervened where necessity ceases in the organism, then one cannot say that human actions arise from inner necessity; they emerge from him only then when this necessity ceases. The entire error consisted in the fact that one was not willing to understand not only the constructive processes in the human organism, but also the processes of decomposition.“ (Lit.:GA 179, p. 122ff)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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  1. If an explanation by alleged old karma is not coherent, the explanation of anticipated "new" karma: "The cause lies in the future" (Joseph Beuys) offers itself. See also:
  2. Christoph J. Hueck: "Evolution im Doppelstrom der Zeit", Vlg. am Goetheanum, Dornach 2012
  3. Cf. GA 25 and GA 168
  4. H.-H. Hoppe, "Kritik der kausalwissenschaftlichen Sozialforschung", Opladen 1983, p. 10ff
  5. Cf. Herbert Witzenmann: Die Philosophie der Freiheit als Grundlage künstlerischen Schaffens