Page 9 - The Philosophy of Freedom By Rudolf Steiner
P. 9

of philosophy.


Freedom is not an exact equivalent of the German word Freiheit, although among its wide spectrum of 

meanings there are some that do correspond. In certain circumstances, however, the differences are 

important. Steiner himself drew attention to this, for instance, in a lecture he gave at Oxford in 1922, 

where he said with reference to this book,

"Therefore today we need above all a view of the world based on Freiheit -- one can use this word in 

German, but here in England one must put it differently because the word 'freedom' has a different 

meaning -- one must say a view of the world based on spiritual activity, on action, on thinking and 

feeling that arise from the individual human spirit." (Translated from the German.)

Steiner also drew attention to the different endings of the words; Freiheit could be rendered literally as 

"freehood" if such a word existed. The German ending -heit implied an inner condition or degree, 

while -tum, corresponding to our "-dom", implied something granted or imposed from outside. This is 

only partly true in English, as a consideration of the words "manhood", "knighthood", "serfdom", 

"earldom", and "wisdom" will show. In any case, meanings change with time, and current usage rather 

than etymology is the best guide.

When describing any kind of creative activity we speak of a "freedom of style" or "freedom of 

expression" in a way that indicates an inner conquest of outer restraints. This inner conquest is the 
theme of the book, and it is in this sense that I believe the title The Philosophy of Freedom would be 

understood today.

When Steiner questioned the aptness of this title, he expressed the view that English people believed 

that they already possessed freedom, and that they needed to be shocked out of their complacency and 

made to realize that the freedom he meant had to be attained by hard work. While this may still be true 

today, the alternative he suggested is now less likely to achieve this shock than is the original. I have 

not found that the title "The Philosophy of Spiritual Activity" gives the newcomer any indication that 

the goal of the book is the attainment of inner freedom. Today it is just as likely to suggest a 

justification of religious practices.

Throughout the book it has proved quite impossible to translate Freiheit as "spiritual activity" 

wherever it occurs. The word appears in the titles of the parts of the book and of some of the chapters; 

the book opens with the question of freedom or necessity, and the final sentence (see Consequences of 

Monism) is "He is free." Undoubtedly "freedom" is the proper English word to express the main theme 

of the book, and should also appear in the book's title.

Times have changed, and what may well have been good reasons for changing the title in 1922 are not 

necessarily still valid. After much thought, and taking everything into account, I have decided that the 

content of the book is better represented today by the title The Philosophy of Freedom. Moreover, with 

this title the book may be instantly identified with Die Philosophie der Freiheit, and I have already 

remarked that this edition is intended as a close translation of the German, rather than a new book

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