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The will, the willing' (Middle High German: wille; Old High German: willo; Latinvoluntas; Greekθέλημα thelema, related to τέλος telos "goal, purpose") is one of the three soul forces of man. The will is most directly impulsed by the spirit, i.e. by our real I, albeit unconsciously, in that the I acts directly on the metabolic-limb system, which in the threefold human organism is the main bodily tool of volition. However, we normally have no direct consciousness of our metabolic processes. We are only conscious of the idea of wanting something in particular; the idea of will, however, is not the will itself (→ see below).

What constitutes our actual wanting has no brighter level of consciousness than our deep sleep consciousness. Our karma, which we bring with us from past incarnations or prepare for the future, works in this initially completely unconscious willing. Our conscious life of ideas has no part in this. This becomes directly apparent in our life-will, in our will to live, through which we overcome a serious illness or a stroke of fate without knowing how. Or also when we lay down our lives for another person without hesitation. This human will extends beyond the drive-like will to survive that animals also have.

Even in dreaming, the I largely loses conscious dominion over the life of the soul, and the actual freedom of the human will is only very slightly developed today - contrary to widespread opinion. In fact, the human will today is only free to the extent that it can be determined by conscious thought. The conscious realisation of goals and motives through the purposeful control of thoughts, emotions, motives and actions into corresponding results is also called volition in psychology. However, insofar as we predominantly make use of our intellect, we only utilise the very smallest part of our will potential. We are only truly free when we ascend to moral intuition in pure thought and thus consciously carry out our destiny from the will of the higher self.

Will is the idea that acts as a force

Will is, one can also say, the idea that becomes really active, i.e. that acts as a force, as Rudolf Steiner already expressed it in his "Introductions to Goethe's Natural Scientific Writings". In this sense it is not a blind, i.e. lawlessly chaotically active, but spirit-filled will:

„Will is therefore the idea itself conceived as force. To speak of an independent will is completely inadmissible. When man accomplishes something, one cannot say that the will is added to the idea. If one speaks in this way, one has not grasped the concepts clearly, for what is the human personality, if one disregards the world of ideas that fills it? But an active existence. Whoever conceived it otherwise, as a dead, inactive product of nature, equated it with the stone in the street. But this active existence is an abstraction, it is nothing real. It cannot be grasped, it is without content. If one wants to grasp it, if one wants a content, then one obtains the world of ideas conceived in action. E. v. Hartmann makes this abstract a second world-constituting principle alongside the idea. But it is nothing other than the idea itself, only in a form of appearance. Will without idea would be nothing. The same cannot be said of the Idea, for activity is an element of it, while it is the self-supporting entity.“ (Lit.:GA 1, p. 197f)

Educating the live-will

In intellectual thinking, as we know it from everyday life, we have only a powerless mental reflection of real thinking. Real thinking is completely permeated by the will, it is a thoroughly willed thinking, as Rudolf Steiner has already discussed in detail in his "Philosophy of Freedom" (GA 4) and forms the basis of anthroposophy.

„Look at the way Hamerling relates to Descartes' “I think, therefore I am.” Fichte's way of picturing things (of which we have spoken in our considerations of Fichte in this book) works along like a softly sounding, consonant, basic tone in the beautiful words on page 223 of the first volume of The Atomism of Will: “In spite of all the conceptual hairsplitting that carps at it, Descartes' Cogito ergo sum remains the igniting flash of lightning for all modern speculation. But, strictly speaking, this ‘I think, therefore I am’ is not made certain through the fact that I think, but rather through the fact that I say that I think. My conclusion would have the same certainty even if I changed the premise into its reverse and said ‘I do not think, therefore I am.’ In order to be able to say this, I must exist.” In discussing Fichte's world view, we have said in this book that the statement “I think, therefore I am” cannot maintain itself in the face of man's sleeping state. One must grasp the certainty of the “I” in such a way that this certainty cannot appear to be exhausted in the inner perception “I think.” Hamerling feels this; therefore he says that “I do not think, therefore I am” is also valid. He says this because he feels: Within the human “I” something is experienced that does not receive the certainty of its existence from thinking, but on the contrary gives to thinking its certainty. Thinking is unfolded by the true “I” in certain states; the experiencing of the “I,” however, is of such a kind that through this experience the soul can feel itself immersed into a spiritual reality in which it knows its existence to be anchored even during other states than those for which Descartes' “I think, therefore I am” applies. But all this is based on the fact that Hamerling knows: When the “I” thinks, life-will is living in its thinking. Thinking is by no means mere thinking; it is willed thinking. As a thought, “I think” is a mere fantasy that is never and nowhere present. It is always the case that only the “I think, willing” is present. Whoever believes in the fantasy of “I think” can isolate himself thereby from the whole spiritual world; and then become either an adherent of materialism or a doubter in the reality of the outer world. He becomes a materialist if he lets himself be snared by the thought — fully justified within its own limits — that for the thinking Descartes had in mind the instruments of the nerves are necessary. He becomes a doubter in the reality of the outer world if he becomes entangled in the thought — again justified within certain limits — that all thinking about things is in fact experienced within the soul and that with his thinking, therefore, he can in fact never arrive at an outer world existing in and of itself, even if such an outer world existed. To be sure, whoever sees the will in all thinking can, if he inclines to abstraction, now isolate the will conceptually from thinking and speak in Schopenhauer's style of a will that supposedly holds sway in all world existence and that drives thinking like whitecaps to the surface of life's phenomena. But someone who sees that only the “I think, willing” has reality would no more picture will and thinking as separated in the human soul than he would picture a man's head and body as separated if he wished his thought to portray something real. But such a person also knows that, with his experience of a thinking that is carried by will and experienced, he goes outside the boundaries of his soul and enters into the experience of a world process (Weltgeschehen) that is also pulsing through his soul. And Hamerling is headed in the direction of just such a world view, in the direction of a world view whose adherent knows that with a real thought he has within himself an experience of world-will, not merely an experience of his own “I.”“ (Lit.:GA 20, p. 139ff)

In order to train real pure thinking, corresponding exercises of the will are needed.

„Whoever wants to become an anthroposophical spiritual researcher in the serious sense must also do exercises of the will. The ordinary will to live has a meaning when it goes to outer actions. The anthroposophical spiritual researcher must apply the impulses of the will to his own development, to his own life. He must be able to resolve: with regard to this or that characteristic, with regard to this or that expression of life, you must become different from what you are now.

Paradoxical as it may sound, something which one has a strong habit of doing, even if it is only a trifle, it helps one if, out of one's own initiative, out of one's very own impulse, one resolves to become different with regard to some thing. A little thing, I say, it need only be the little thing of handwriting. If someone really resolves with iron energy to write a different handwriting from that which he has hitherto written, the application of this power through the modification of a habit - here again with reference to the habit - is to be compared with the strengthening of a muscular power, because the will is strengthened. And in that the will is inwardly strengthened, not applied to external things, but inwardly, it thereby develops its effects in the human being. And what I otherwise change in the outer world through my effects of will, I now change in relation to my own human being. And when one goes through such exercises of the will, as they are again given in detail in anthroposophical writings, then one comes to transform the life of desire in such a way that it now becomes free from the human organisation, just as through meditation thinking becomes free from the body, from the corpse. Then that is over - for those moments in which one dwells in anthroposophical research - of which one can still say: The wish is the father of the thought. - When such self-education, such self-application of the educational impulses is practised at the most mature age, then the wish becomes an inner force which unites with the thinking which has become free. And through this one comes to really see what the will impulses of ordinary life are, what the thoughts of ordinary life are. Just as before one learned to perceive red and blue or C-sharp or C, so now one learns to perceive thoughts as realities, so now one learns to know the impulses of will apart from oneself.“ (Lit.:GA 79, p. 94f)


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Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English (by Steiner Online Library).
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