Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path
The original title of this book was a more accurate depiction of its content: The Philosophy of Freedom. This is a hard slog for the modern reader. In this day and age, we want our spiritual insights to be given to us in bite-sized morsels. This book is a banquet that goes on too long, and before the end is reached, the reader is satiated.
But all is not lost. There are a couple of interesting things to digest.
Life as a Balanced Book
Here we touch the point where reason by itself is not in a position to determine the surplus of pleasure or pain, but must rather demonstrate that surplus as a percept in life. For human beings cannot attain reality solely through concepts, but only through the interpenetration, mediated by thinking, of concepts and percepts (and feelings are percepts). A merchant, likewise, will close his business only if the loss calculated by his accountant is confirmed by the facts. If that does not happen, he will have the accountant calculate again. We conduct the business of life in just the same way. If a philosopher wants to prove that pain is much more common than pleasure, and yet we do not feel this to be so, then we say: you have made a mistake in your brooding; think it through again! But, if, at a given moment, a business really suffers such losses that its credit can no longer satisfy the creditors, then bankruptcy results even if the merchant’s bookkeeping obscures the state of his affairs. In the same way, if, at a certain moment, the quantity of a person’s pain is so great that no hope (credit) of future pleasure can offer solace, then this must lead to bankruptcy in the business of life.
Yet the number of suicides is still relatively small in proportion to the multitude of those who live bravely on. Only very few people give up the business of life because of the presence of pain. What follows from this? Either it is incorrect to say that the quantity of pain is greater than the quantity of pleasure, or else we simply do not make continuation of life dependent on the quantity of pleasure or pain that we feel.
Women Should be Free to be Themselves
It is impossible to understand a human being fully if one bases one’s judgment on a generic concept. We are most obstinate in judging according to type when it is a question of a person’s sex. Man almost always sees in woman, and woman in man, too much of the general character of the other sex and too little of what is individual. In practical life, this does less harm to men than it does to women. The social position of women is unworthy, for the most part, because it is at many points determined not, as it should be, by the individual characteristics of an individual woman, but by the general mental picture that others form of the natural duties and needs of the female. The activity of a man in life is determined by his individual capacities and inclinations; that of a woman is supposed to be determined exclusively by the fact that she is, precisely, a woman. Woman is supposed to be a slave of the generic, of what is universally womanish. As long as men debate whether women are suited to this or that profession “according to their natural disposition,” the so-called woman question cannot evolve beyond its most elementary stage. What women are capable of according to their nature should be left for women to decide. If it is true that women are suited only to the profession that is currently allotted to them, then they will hardly be able to attain any other on their own. But they must be allowed to decide for themselves what is appropriate to their nature. Anyone who fears a cataclysm in our social conditions if women are accepted not as genetic entitles but as individuals should be told that social conditions in which one half of humanity leads an existence unworthy of human beings are conditions that stand in great need of improvement.
(Footnote:) As soon as this book appeared (1894), the objection was raised against these comments that, within what is appropriate to their sex, women can already live as individually as they like and much more freely than men, who become de-individualized through school, war and profession. I know that this objection will be raised today (1918) perhaps even more strongly than ever. Still, I must let these sentences stand, and hope that there are readers who understand how completely such an objection runs counter to the concept of freedom developed in this book, and who judge the above sentences of mine by standards other than the de-individualization of men through school and profession.
We ourselves must give our actions their content. We seek in vain if we seek directives for our will outside the world in which we live. If we go beyond the satisfaction of natural drives for which Mother Nature has provided, we must seek such directives in our own moral imaginations, unless we find it easier to let ourselves be directed by the moral imagination of others. That is, we must either forego all action or act according to reasons that either we give ourselves from the world of our ideas or others give us from the same source. If we move beyond our sense-bound life of instinct and execution of the commands of human beings, then we are determined by nothing other than ourselves. We must act out of an impulse that we set ourselves, and that is determined by nothing else. To be sure, this impulse is conceptually determined in the one world of ideas. But, in fact, it can be drawn down from this world and translated into reality only through a human being. It is only within human beings themselves that monism can find a basis for the human translation of ideas into reality. Before an idea can become an action, a human being must first want it. Therefore, such wanting has its source in human beings themselves. Human being are thus the ultimate determinants of their actions. They are free.
An Afterthought (my own)
No thoughts had I of anything
Or at least that’s what I thought;
I even thought I couldn’t think
But now I think I never thought.