Freedom Of Spirit

The consciousness of the ego leads us naturally to the consciousness of

freedom. Freedom of the mind is no simple idea; it embraces various

contents which bear the relation of stages to one another, and each higher

stage presupposes the one below it. Freedom is, first of all, the word

which expresses that we are really agents, not mere points of transit for

phenomena foreign to ourselves, but starting-points of phenomena peculiar
to us, actual causes, beings who are able to initiate activity, to control

things and set them in motion. Here the whole question of freedom becomes

simply the question of the reality and causality of the will. Is the will

something really factual, or is it only the strange illusion to which

Spinoza, for instance, referred in his illustration of the flying stone?

It would be purely an illusion of that kind if materialism were the true

interpretation of things, and the psychical were nothing more than an

accompaniment of other "true" realities, and even if the doctrine of

psychical atoms we have already mentioned were correct.

This idea of freedom speedily rises to a higher plane. Freedom is always

freedom from something, in this case from a compulsion coming from

outside, and from things and circumstances foreign to us. In maintaining

freedom of the mind it is asserted that it can preserve its own nature and

laws in face of external compulsion or laws, and in face of the merely

psychological compulsion of the "lower courses of thought," even from the

"half-natural" laws of the association of ideas. Thus "freedom" is

pre-eminently freedom of thought. And in speaking thus we are presupposing

that the mind has a nature of its own, distinguished even from the purely

psychological nature, and has a code of laws of its own, lying beyond the

scope of all natural laws, which psychical motives and physical conditions

may prevent it following, but which they can never suspend or pull down to

their own level.

"Der Mensch ist frei, und waer' er in Ketten geboren."

Here at last we arrive at what is so often exclusively, but erroneously,

included under the name of freedom, or "freedom of the will," that is

practical freedom, the freedom to recognise moral laws and ideals, and to

form moral judgments against all psychological compulsion, and to will to

allow ourselves to be determined by these. From this question of moral

freedom we might finally pass to that with which it is usual over-hastily

to begin: the problem of so-called freedom of choice, of the "equilibrium"

of the will, a problem in which are centred all the purely theoretical

interests of the doctrine of the will in general, and ethical interests in

particular. The whole domain is so enormous that we cannot even attempt to

sketch it here. The general bearing of the whole can be made clearest at

the second stage, but we cannot entirely pass over the first.

In this inquiry into the problem of the will it is not necessary to

discuss whether we are able by it to bring about external effects,

movements, and changes in our bodies. We may postpone this question once

more. The most important part of the problem lies in the domain of the

psychical. To move an arm or a leg is a relatively unimportant function of

the will as compared with the deliberate adoption of a rule of conduct,

with inward self-discipline, self-culture, and the development of


That we "will," and what it is to will, cannot really be demonstrated at

all, or defended against attacks. It simply is so. It is a fundamental

psychical fact which can only be proved by being experienced. If there

were anywhere a will-less being, I could not prove to him that there is

such a thing as will, because I could never make clear to him what will

is. And the theories opposed to freedom of the will cannot be refuted in

any way except by simply saying that they are false. They do not describe

what really takes place in us. We do not find within ourselves either the

cloud-shadows or the play of psychical, minima already referred to, with

their crowding up of images, bringing some into prominence and displacing

them again while we remain passive--we find ourselves willing. These

theories should at least be able to explain whence came this marvellous

hallucination, this appearance of will in us, which must have its cause,

and they should also be able to say whence came the idea of the will.

Spinoza's example of the stone, which seemed to itself to fly when it was

simply thrown, does not meet the facts of the case. If the thrown stone

had self-consciousness, it would certainly not say, "I am flying," but

would merely wonder, "What has happened to me suddenly?"

We cannot demonstrate what will is, we can only make it clear to ourselves

by performing an act of will and observing ourselves in the doing of it.

Let us compare, for instance, a psychical state which we call "attention"

with another which we call "distraction." In this last there is a stage

where the will rests. There is actually an uninhibited activity of "the

lower course of thought," a disconnected "dreaming," a confused automatic

movement of thoughts and feelings according to purely associative laws.

Then suddenly we pull ourselves together, rouse ourselves out of this

state of distraction. Something new comes into the course of our thoughts.

It is the will. Now there is control and definite guidance of our thoughts

and rejection of subsidiary association--ideas that thrust themselves upon

us. Particular thoughts can be selected, particular feelings or mental

contents kept in focus as long as we desire. In thus selecting and guiding

ideas, in keeping them in mind or letting them go, we see the will in


This brings us to freedom of thought. This lies in the fact, not merely

that we can think, but that we can and desire to think rightly, and that

we are able to measure our thoughts by the standard of "true" or "false."

Naturalism is proud of the fact that it desires nothing more than to

search after truth. To this it is ready to sacrifice all expressions of

feeling or sentiment, and all prejudices. The truth, the whole truth, and

nothing but the truth is its ideal, even if all pet ideas have to give way

before it. It usually saddles itself with the idea of the good and the

beautiful along with this "idea of truth," but is resolved, since it must

soon see for itself that it is able to secure only a very doubtful basis

for these, to sacrifice them to truth if need be. This is worthy of

honour,(107) but it implies a curious self-deception. For if naturalism be

in the right, thought is not free, and if thought be not free there can be

no such thing as truth, for there can be no establishing of what truth is.

Let us attempt to make this plain in the following manner: According to

the naturalistic-psychological theory, the play of our thoughts, our

impressions of things and properties, their combination in judgments or in

"perceptions," are dependent on physiological processes of the brain, and

therefore upon natural laws, or, according to some, on peculiar

attractions and repulsions among the impressions themselves, regulated by

the laws of association. If that and that only were the case, I should be

able to say that such a conception was present in my mind, or that this or

that thought had arisen in me, and I might perhaps be able to trace the

connection which made it necessary that it should arise at that particular

time. But every thought would be equally right. Or rather there could be

no question of right or wrong in the matter at all. I could not forbid any

thought to be there, could not compel it to make way for another, perhaps

exactly its opposite. Yet I do this continually. I never merely observe

what thoughts are in my own mind or in another's. For I have a constant

ideal, a plumb-line according to which I measure, or can measure, every

train of thought. And I can compel others to apply this same plumb-line to

their thoughts. This plumb-line is logic. It is the unique law of the mind

itself which concerns itself about no law of nature or of association

whatsoever. And however mighty a flood of conceptions and associations may

at times pour through me in consequence of various confused physiological

states of excitement affecting the brain, or in consequence of the

fantastic dance of the associations of ideas, the ego is always able in

free thought to intervene in its own psychical experiences, and to test

which combinations of ideas have been logically thought out and are

therefore right, and which are wrong. It often enough refrains from

exercising this control, leaving the lower courses of thought free play.

Hence the mistakes in our thinking, the errors in judgment, the thousand

inconsistencies and self-deceptions. But the mind can do otherwise, can

defend itself from interruptions and extraneous influences by making use

of its freedom and of its power to follow its own laws and no others. It

is thus possible for us to have not only psychical experiences but

knowledge; only in this way can truth be reached, and error rejected. Thus

science can follow a sure course. Thus alone, for instance, could the

great edifice of geometry and arithmetic have been built up in its

indestructible certainty. The progress from axiom to theorem and to all

that follows is due to free thought, obeying the laws of inference and

demonstration, and entirely unconcerned about the laws of association or

the natural laws of the nervous agitations, the electric currents, and

other plays of energy which may go on in the brain at the same time. What

have the laws of the syllogism to do with the temporary states of tension

in the brain, which, if they had free course, would probably follow lines

very different from those of Euclid, and if they chanced once in a way to

follow the right lines from among the millions of possibilities, would

certainly soon turn to different ones, and could never examine them to see

whether they were right or not. Thus it is not any highly aspiring

emotional desire or any premature prejudice, but the solid old science of

logic that first and most determinedly shuts the door in face of the

claims of naturalism. If we combine this with what has already been said

on page 154, we shall see how dangerous it would be for naturalism to be

proved right in the dispute; for then it would be wholly wrong.

For, as it is only through the free, thinking mind that true and false can

be distinguished and brought into relation with things, so only through it

can we have an ideal of truth to be recognised and striven after, and that

spontaneous, pertinacious, searching, following, and discovering which

constitutes science as a whole and in detail. And in so far as naturalism

itself claims to be nothing more than an attempt towards this goal, it is

itself only possible on the basis of something which it denies.

Freedom of thought is also the most obvious example of that freedom of the

spirit in morally "willing," which it is the business of ethical science

to teach and defend. As in the one case thought shows itself superior to

the physiologically or psychologically conditioned sequence of its

concepts, so the free spirit, in the uniqueness of its moral laws, reveals

itself as lord over all the motives, the lower feelings of pleasure and

pain that have their play within us. As in the one case it is free to

measure according to the criteria of true or false, and thus is able to

intervene in the sequence of its own conceptions, correcting and

confirming, so in the other it is able to estimate by the criteria of good

or bad. As in the one case it carries within it its own fundamental laws

as logic, so in the other the moral ideals and fundamental judgments which

arise out of its own being. And in both cases it is free from nature and

natural law, and capable of subordinating nature to its own rules, in so

far as it "wills," and of becoming subordinate to nature--in erroneous

thinking and non-moral acting--in so far as it does not will.