The Philosophy of Freedom
Thought As The Basis For Understanding the World
Self-Observation: Reflective Thinking
|Steiner and others on "pure thinking":
The reader of The Philosophy of Freedom should be able to say to oneself: “Now I know, through this effort of my mind in thinking, what pure thinking really is.” Then what I should like to call modern clairvoyance ceases to be anything miraculous. That this clairvoyance should still appear as something particularly miraculous comes from people not wishing to develop the energy to bring activity into their thinking.
Today’s materialism seeks to reduce us to totally unfree creatures completely determined by heredity and other influences. The experience of pure thinking is the only possible way of refuting materialism and is attainable by anyone with the “goodwill” to undertake this path.
What I called pure thinking in my Philosophy of Freedom was certainly not well named when judged by outer cultural conditions. For Eduard von Hartmann said to me:
“There is no such thing, one can only think with the aid of external observation.”
And all I could say in reply was:
“It has only to be tried and people will soon learn to be able to make it a reality.”
When is an action free? Only when it has its origin in pure thinking.
The Philosophy of Freedom is a path, a method leading to the actual experience of a thinking detached from the body-soul make-up.
Out of pure thinking there can flow powerful impulses to moral action that are no longer determined by anything but pure spirit.
Rudolf Steiner declares, “The intention in my Philosophy of Freedom is that the reader must lay hold --with his own thinking activity-- page by page, that the book itself is only a sort of musical score, and that one must read this score through inner thinking activity in order to progress continually, out of his own resources, from thought to thought. Who does not sense that he was in a manner been lifted above his ordinary way of thinking into a thinking free of the sense perceptible and that he moves altogether in this, so that he feels that he has become ‘free’ in his thinking from the limitations of the corporeal nature, ---such a person has not really read in the true sense of the word this Philosophy of Freedom.
Question: How does thought, as an object of observation, differ essentially from all other things.
Thought Training Exercise:
PTIT exercise #3 Right Idea At The Right Time
Comments - Questions:
Chapter 3 Discussion Forum
|Chapter 3 Summary 1
In the search for the element within us which also belong to the world, let us examine the process of our normal striving for knowledge. All knowledge arises from the combined activities of observation and thinking; that is, from thinking about what is observed. But there is only one exceptional act of observation and thinking --in regard to which we test directly and conclusively the validity of thinking as the instrument of knowledge-- and that is, in observing a completed process of the activity of thinking itself. Here alone are the instrument of knowledge and the object to be known identical in nature; therefore, suited without doubt to each other. If we succeed in practicing this exceptional act of observation, we know with complete certitude the nature of thinking, that is, we establish beyond doubt, for ourselves that thinking, in this case, is a dependable instrument of knowledge.
Since thinking gives true knowledge of this one object of observation --the activity of thinking itself-- we may hope, at least, that it gives true knowledge also in regard to other objects of observation. But this we cannot at once assume to be true. What is true in thinking about thinking may not be true in thinking about something utterly unlike thinking. We must first consider the question of whether thinking and these other objects of observation are mutually suited to each other, or whether thinking introduces something which is alien to the object of observation and thus mislead us.
This we must now seek to determine. (next summary Chapter 4 The World as Perception)
3.0 Reflective Thinking
The purpose of my reflection is to form concepts of the event. I try to add to the occurrence that runs its course without my participation a second process which takes place in the conceptual sphere. This conceptual process depends on me.
3.1 Observation Of Thought
Thought, as an object of observation, differs essentially from all other objects. I observe the table, and I carry on my thinking about the table, but I do not at the same moment observe this thought. While the observation of things and events, and thinking about them, are everyday occurrences filling my ongoing life, observation of the thought itself is a kind of exceptional state.We must be clear that when we observe thought the same method is applied to it that we normally use for the study of all other objects in the world.
3.2 Formation Of Concept
I am definitely aware that the concept of a thing is formed by my activity, while the feeling of pleasure is produced in me by an object in the same way as, for example, a change is caused in an object by a stone that falls on it.
3.3 Contemplation Of Object
While I am reflecting on the object, I am absorbed in it; my attention is turned to it. To become absorbed in the object is to contemplate by thought.
3.4 Contemplation Of Thought
I can never observe the present thought in which I am actually engaged; only afterward can I make the past experience of my thought process into the object of my present thinking.
3.5 Know Content Of Concept
It is possible to know thought more immediately and more intimately than any other process in the world. Because we produce it ourselves we know the characteristic features of its course and the details of how the process takes place. What can be discovered only indirectly in all other fields of observation, --the relevant context and the relationships between the individual objects-- is known to us directly in the case of thought. The connection between concepts is clear to me, and is so through the concepts themselves.
3.6 Guided By Content Of Thought
What I observe in studying a thought process is not which process in my brain connects the concept lightning with the concept thunder, but my reason for bringing these two concepts into a specific relationship. Introspection shows that in linking thought with thought I am guided by the content of my thoughts; I am not guided by any physical processes in my brain.
3.7 I Exist As Content Of Thought Activity
My investigation reaches firm ground only when I find an object from that I can derive the meaning of its existence from the object itself. This I am, as a thinker; for I give to my existence the definite, self-determined content of my thought-activity. From here I can go on to ask whether other things exist in the same or in some other way.
3.8 Remain Within Thought
When I observe my own thinking what hovers in the background is nothing but thought, I can remain within the realm of thought.
3.9 Creation Before Knowing
What is impossible with Nature ---creation before knowing--- we achieve with thinking. If we refrain from thinking until we have first gained knowledge of it, then we would never think at all. We must resolutely think straight ahead and only afterward by introspective analysis gain knowledge of what we have done. We ourselves first create the object that we are to observe.
3.10 Principle Of Self-Subsistence
Thought is self-supporting, not dependent on anything else. In thought we have the principle of self-subsistence. Thought can be grasped by thought itself.
3.11 Impartial Consideration Of Thinking
We must first consider thinking in an impartial way, without reference to either a thinking subject or conceived object. Before anything else can be understood, thought must be understood.
3.12 Thought Is A Fact
Thought is a fact, and it is meaningless to speak of the correctness or falsehood of a fact. At most I can have doubts about whether thought is correctly used, just as I can doubt whether a certain tree supplies wood suitable for the making of this or that useful object. To show to what extent the application of thought to the world is right or wrong is precisely the task of this writing.
Thought As The Basis for Understanding the World
3.0 Reflective Thinking
 When I observe how a billiard ball that is struck transfers its motion to another ball, I remain entirely without influence over the course of this observed event. The direction and velocity of the motion of the second ball are determined by the direction and velocity of the first. As long as I remain a mere spectator, I cannot say anything about the motion of the second ball until after it has happened. But the situation is different when I begin to reflect on the content of my observation.
|"The purpose of my reflection is to form concepts of the event."
The purpose of my reflection is to form concepts of the event. I connect the concept of an elastic ball with certain other concepts of mechanics, and consider the special circumstances prevailing in this particular case. In other words, I try to add to the occurrence that runs its course without my participation a second process which takes place in the conceptual sphere.
This conceptual process depends on me. This is shown by the fact that I can remain satisfied with the observation alone, and do without any search for concepts if I have no need of them. But if this need is present, then I am not satisfied until I have established a definite connection among the concepts Ball, Elasticity, Motion, Impact, Velocity, etc., so that they apply to the observed event in a definite way. As certain as the observed event takes place independently of me, it is just as certain that the conceptual process is dependent on me for it to take place.
1862 - 1950
 We will discuss later whether this activity of mine is really the expression of my own independent being, or whether modern physiologists are right in saying that we cannot think as we will, but rather have to think exactly as determined by the thoughts and thought connections that happen to be present in our minds at any given moment (Theodor Ziehen, Principles of Physiological Psychology).
For the moment we wish merely to establish the fact that we constantly feel compelled to seek concepts and connections of concepts, that relate in a specific way to the objects and events given independently of us. Whether this activity is really ours, or whether we carry it out controlled by an unalterable necessity, is a question we will leave aside for the moment. That it initially appears to us to be our own activity is without question. We know for certain that we are not given the corresponding concepts together with the objects at the same time. That I am myself the doer in the conceptual process may be an illusion, but to immediate observation I appear to be the one that is active. The question then is: What do we gain by finding a conceptual counterpart to an event?
 There is a far reaching difference for me between the ways in which the parts of an event are related to one another before and after the discovery of the corresponding concepts. Mere observation can follow the succession of parts as they occur in a given event, but their connection remains obscure without the help of concepts.
I observe the first billiard ball move towards the second in a certain direction and with a certain velocity. What will happen after the impact I cannot tell in advance. I must wait and then can only follow it with my eyes. Suppose that at the moment of impact someone obstructs my view of the field where the event is taking place; then, as mere observer, I remain ignorant of what happens next. The situation is very different if, before my view is obstructed, I have discovered the concepts corresponding to the constellation of relationships within the event. In that case I can say what will happen, even if I am no longer able to observe it. There is nothing in a merely observed object or event that reveals anything about its connection to other objects and events. This connection becomes evident only when the observation is combined with thought.
 Observation and thought are the two starting points for all intellectual striving of the human being, to the extent we consciously strive intellectually. What is accomplished by ordinary common sense, as well as the most complicated scientific research, rest on these two basic pillars of our minds. Philosophers have started from various ultimate polarities: Idea and Reality, Subject and Object, Appearance and Thing-in-itself, Ego and Non-Ego, Idea and Will, Concept and Matter, Force and Substance, the Conscious and the Unconscious. But it is easy to show that all these polarities must be preceded by that of Observation and Thought, this being the most important one for the human being.
 Whatever principle we wish to establish, we must either prove that we have observed it somewhere, or we must express it in the form of clear reasoning that can be re-thought by any other thinker. When philosophers set out to discuss their fundamental principles, they must express them in conceptual form and so use thought. They indirectly admit with this fact that their work requires thought. We leave open here the question whether thought or something else is the key factor in the evolution of the world. But it is clear from the start that philosophers can gain no knowledge of world evolution without thought. Thought may play a secondary role in the occurrence of world phenomena, but it certainly plays a leading role in the construction of a view about them.
 As for observation, we need it due to the way we are organized. Our thought about a horse and the object "horse" are two things that exist separately for us. The object is accessible to us only by means of observation. As little as we can construct a concept of a horse by merely staring at it, just as little can we produce a corresponding object with mere thought.
3.1 Observation Of Thought
 In sequence of time, observation actually precedes thought. For even thought we first become aware of through observation. It was more a description of an observation when, at the beginning of this chapter, we gave an account of how thought is kindled by an event and goes beyond what is given. Whatever enters the circle of our experience we first become aware of through observation. The content of our sensations, perceptions, views, our feelings, acts of will, dreams and fantasy imaginations, mental images, concepts and ideas, illusions and hallucinations, are all given to us through observation.
 But thought, as an object of observation, differs essentially from all other objects. The observation of a table, or a tree, occurs for me as soon as these objects appear on the horizon of my field of consciousness. Yet I do not, at the same time, observe my thought about these things. I observe the table, and I carry on a process of thought about the table, but I do not at the same moment observe this thought process. I must first take up a standpoint outside any activity of my own if, in addition to observing the table, I want also to observe my thought about the table.
While the observation of things and events, and thinking about them, are everyday occurrences filling my ongoing life, the observation of the thought itself is a kind of exceptional state. This fact must be properly taken into account if we are to compare thought --as an object of observation-- to all other observed things. We must be clear that when we observe thought the same method is applied to it that we normally use for the study of all other objects in the world, but that, in the ordinary course of that study, is not usually applied to thought itself.
|3.2 Formation Of Concept
 Someone could object that what I have observed here about thinking applies equally to feeling and to all other activities of the mind. When, for example, I have a feeling of pleasure, the feeling is also kindled by the object, and it is this object that I observe, not the feeling of pleasure. This objection is based on an error.
Pleasure does not have at all the same relationship to its object as the concept constructed by thought. I am definitely aware that the concept of a thing is formed by my activity, while pleasure is produced in me by an object in the same way as, for example, a change is caused in an object by a stone that falls on it. For observation, a pleasure is given in exactly the same way as the event which causes it.
|"the concept of a thing is formed by my activity"
| "the rose causes a feeling of pleasure in me"
The same is not true of the concept. I can ask why a particular event arouses in me a feeling of pleasure. But I certainly cannot ask why an event causes a particular set of concepts in me. The question would simply make no sense. When I reflect on an event, I am not concerned with an effect on me. I learn nothing about myself by knowing the concepts that correspond to the observed change in a pane of glass caused by a stone thrown against it. But I definitely learn something about my personality when I know the feeling that a particular event arouses in me. When I say of an observed object: "This is a rose," I do not say the slightest thing about myself; but if I say of the same thing: "It causes a feeling of pleasure in me," I characterize not only the rose, but also myself in my relationship to the rose.
|3.3 Contemplation Of Object
 As objects of observation, then, thought and feeling are not on the same level. The same could also be easily shown for the other activities of the human mind. Unlike thought, they rank in the same category as the other observed objects or events.
It is part of the unique nature of thought that it is an activity directed solely on the observed object, and not on the thinking personality. This is apparent even in the way we express our thoughts about an object, as distinct from the way we express our feelings or acts of will. When I see an object and recognize it as a table, I do not normally say: "I am thinking of a table," but rather: "This is a table." Yet I could certainly say, "I am pleased with the table." In the first case, I am not at all interested in declaring that I have entered into a relationship with the table; but in the second case, it is just this relationship that matters. In saying, "I am thinking of a table," I have already entered into the exceptional state described above, where something that is always present in our mental activity is made into an object of observation, although normally it is not an observed object.
 The unique nature of thought is just this, the thinker forgets thinking when actually doing it. What occupies the attention is not thinking, but rather the object of thought, which is being observed.
 The first observation that we make about thought is that it is the unobserved element in our ordinary mental life.
 The reason why we do not notice the thinking that goes on in our everyday mental life is precisely because it depends on our own activity. It is what I do not produce myself that appears in my field of observation as an object. I contrast it with myself as something that comes into existence independent of me. It confronts me; I must accept it as the prerequisite of my thought process. While I am reflecting on the object, I am absorbed in it; my attention is turned to it. To become absorbed in the object is to contemplate by thought. My attention is not directed on my activity, but on the object of this activity. In other words, when I think, I do not look at my thinking which I am producing, but rather I look at the object of my thinking, which I am not producing.
|3.4 Contemplation Of Thought
 I am in exactly the same position when I enter into the exceptional state and contemplate my own thought. I can never observe the present thought in which I am actually engaged; only afterward can I make the past experience of my thought process into the object of my present thinking. If I wanted to watch my present thought, I would have to split myself into two personalities: one to think, and the other to observe this thinking. But this I cannot do. I can only accomplish it in two separate acts. The thought to be observed is never the one actually being produced, but a different one. For this purpose, it does not matter whether I observe my own earlier thoughts, or follow the thought process of another person, or, as in the above example of the movement of billiard balls, set up an imaginary thought process.
 Two things are incompatible with each other: actively producing something and simultaneously standing apart in contemplation. This is already recognized in the First Book of Moses. It represents God as creating the world in the first six days, and only after its completion is any contemplation of the world possible: "And God saw everything he had made and, behold, it was very good." The same applies to our thinking. It must first be there before we can observe it.
|3.5 Know Content Of Concept
 The reason it is impossible to observe thought as it occurs at any given moment of its present course is the same reason that makes it possible for us to know it more immediately and more intimately than any other process in the world. It is just because we produce it ourselves that we know the characteristic features of its course and the details of how the process takes place. What can be discovered only indirectly in all other fields of observation, --the relevant context and the relationships between the individual objects-- is known to us directly in the case of thought.
Without going beyond the phenomena, I cannot know why my observation of thunder follows my observation of lightning, but I know immediately from the content of the two concepts why my thought connects the concept of thunder with the concept lightning. The point being made here does not depend on whether I have the correct concepts of lightning and thunder. The connection between those concepts that I do have is clear to me, and is so through the concepts themselves.
|3.6 Guided By Content Of Thought
 This transparent clarity of the thought process is completely independent of our knowledge of the physiological basis of thought. I am speaking here of thought as it appears when we observe our own mental activity. How one physical process in my brain causes or influences another while I am carrying on a process of thought is irrelevant for this purpose. What I observe in studying a thought process is not which process in my brain connects the concept lightning with the concept thunder, but my reason for bringing these two concepts into a specific relationship. Introspection shows that in linking thought with thought I am guided by the content of my thoughts; I am not guided by any physical processes in my brain. In a less materialistic age than ours this remark would of course be entirely superfluous. But today, when there are people who believe that once we know what matter is we will also know how matter thinks, it has to be said that it is possible to talk about thought without entering the field of brain physiology.
Many people today find it difficult to grasp the concept of pure thinking. Anyone who immediately counters the description of thought which I have given here with the assertion of Cabanis' that "the brain secretes thoughts as the liver does gall or the salivary ducts saliva . . .", simply does not know what I am talking about.
Such a person tries to find thought with only the ordinary observation process in the same way we proceed with the other objects that make up the world. But, as I have shown, thought cannot be found in this way because it eludes normal observation. Those who cannot transcend Materialism lack the ability to bring about the exceptional state I have described where we become conscious of what in all other mental activity remains unconscious. Just as one cannot discuss color with the blind, so it is useless to discuss thought with those who lack the good will to view thought from this position. But at least they should not imagine that we regard physiological processes to be thoughts. Materialists fail to explain thought because they simply do not see it.
|"Most people today find it difficult to grasp the concept of pure thinking."
Those who cannot overcome Materialism lack the ability to bring about the exceptional state I have described, in which we become conscious of what in all other mental activity remains unconscious. Just as one cannot discuss color with the blind, in the same way one cannot discuss thinking with those who lack the goodwill to shift to this viewpoint. But in any case they should not imagine that we take physiological processes to be thoughts. Materialists fail to explain thinking because they simply do not see it.
|3.7 I Exist As Content Of Thought Activity
 For everyone who has the ability to observe thought --and with good will every normally constituted person has this ability -- the observation of thought is the most important observation that can be made. For in thought we observe something which we ourselves produce. We do not find ourselves confronted by something that is at first unfamiliar to us, but instead we face our own activity. We know how the thing we are observing comes about. We clearly see its connections and relationships. A firm point has been reached where with well founded hope we can seek an explanation of all other world phenomena.
 The feeling of having found such a firm point caused the founder of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes, to base the whole of human knowledge on the principle: I think, therefore I am. All other things, all other events, are there independent of me. I do not know whether they are there as truth, or illusion, or dream. There is only one thing I know with absolute certainty, for I myself bring it to its certain existence: my thought.
Whatever other ultimate source it may have in addition, whether it comes from God or from somewhere else, I cannot be sure. I am only certain that it exists in the sense that I myself produce it. Descartes initially had no justification for giving his principle any other meaning than this. He could only maintain that of all the world's content it is only in my thinking that I apprehend myself in an activity most uniquely characteristic of me.
What the attached "therefore I am" is intended to mean has been often debated. It can be meaningful only on one condition. The simplest statement I can make about a thing is that it is, that it exists. How this existence can be further defined in more detail cannot be determined in the first moment that anything enters within the range of my experience. Each object must first be studied in its relationship to others before we can determine in what way it can be said to exist. An experienced event may be a series of perceptions, but it could also be a dream, a hallucination, and so on. In short, I am unable to say in what way it exists. I cannot derive the kind of existence from the event itself, but I can discover it when I consider the event in relation to other things. But here, again, I learn no more than how it is related to these other things.
My investigation reaches firm ground only when I find an object from which I can derive the meaning of its existence from the object itself. This I am, as a thinker; for I give to my existence the definite, self-determined content of my thought-activity. From here I can go on to ask whether other things exist in the same or in some other way.
|3.8 Remain Within Thought
 When thought is made an object of observation, we add something to the rest of the observed content of the world that usually escapes our attention, but we do not change our manner of approach to it, which is the same as we do to other things. We add to the number of observed objects, but not to our method of observing. While we are observing the other things, a process that is overlooked intermixes with world events (among events I now include observation). Something is present that is different from all other processes that is not taken into account. But when I observe my own thinking there is no such neglected element present. For what now hovers in the background is itself, nothing but thought. The observed object is qualitatively identical as the activity directed upon it. This is another unique characteristic of thought. When we observe our thoughts we are not compelled to do so with the help of something qualitatively different, but can remain within the realm of thought.
 When I weave a web of thoughts around an object that is given independently of me, I go beyond my observation, and the question becomes: What right do I have to do this? Why don’t I just passively let the object affect me? In what way is it possible for my thought to be related to the object? These are questions that anyone who reflects on their own thought processes must ask themselves. All these questions vanish when we reflect upon thought itself. We then add nothing unfamiliar to our thought and so there is no need to justify any such addition.
|3.9 Creation Before Knowing
 Schelling says: "To know Nature is to create Nature." If we take these words of the bold Nature philosopher literally, we will have to renounce forever all hope of gaining knowledge of Nature. For after all, Nature already exists, so to create it a second time one would have to know the principles according to which it has originated. From the Nature that already exists one would have to duplicate the conditions of its existence for the Nature we are about to create. But this copying, which would have to precede the creating, would be knowing Nature, and would remain this even if after the copying no creation were attempted. The only kind of Nature that one could create without previously knowing it would be a Nature that did not exist yet.
 What is impossible with Nature ---creation before knowing--- we achieve with thinking. If we refrain from thinking until we have first gained knowledge of it, then we would never think at all. We must resolutely think straight ahead and only afterward by introspective analysis gain knowledge of what we have done. We ourselves first create the object when we observe thinking. The existence of all other objects is provided without our participation.
 Someone could easily counter my contention that we must think before we can contemplate thought with the contention that we also have to digest before we can observe the process of digestion. This objection is similar to the one Pascal made to Descartes, declaring that one could just as well say, "I walk, therefore I am." Certainly I must also go straight into digesting and not wait until I have studied the physiological process of digestion. But this could only be compared with the analysis of thought if, after digesting, I did not analyze it by thought, but were to eat and digest it. It is not without reason that digestion cannot become the object of digestion, but thought can very well become the object of thought.
 It is then beyond doubt that in thinking we grasp world events at a point which requires our presence if anything is to be accomplished. And that is the important point. The reason things seem so puzzling is because I am not involved in their production. I simply find them before me, but with thought I know how it is done. This is why there is no more basic starting point for the contemplation of all events in the world than thought itself.
|3.10 Principle Of Self-Subsistence
 Here I will mention a widespread error concerning thought. It is said that we never experience thought as it truly is, in itself. The thought processes that connect the observations of our experience and weaves them together with a network of concepts is said to be not at all the same as that which our analysis later extracts from the objects we observe in order to make them the object of study. What we first unconsciously weave into the things is said to be something completely different from what we consciously extract from them.
 Those who hold this view do not understand that it is not possible to escape from thought. I cannot come out of thought when I want to observe thought. We should not forget that the distinction between thought that goes on unconsciously and thought that is consciously analyzed is a purely external one and irrelevant to our discussion. I do not in any way alter something by contemplating it in thought.
I can imagine that a being with different quality sense organs and with a differently functioning intelligence would have a very different mental image of a horse than I, but I cannot imagine that my own thought becomes something different because I observe it. I myself observe what I myself produce. We are not discussing how my thought appears to an intelligence different than mine, but how it appears to me. In any case, the image another mind forms of my thought cannot be truer than the one I form myself. Only if I were not myself the thinking being, but the thinking was the activity of a being unfamiliar to me, could I say that although my image of its thought may occur in a certain way, I cannot not know in what way that beings thinking is in itself.
 So far there is not the slightest reason why I should consider my own thought from a different point of view than my own. I contemplate the rest of the world by means of thought. Why should I make my own thought an exception?
 I think I have given sufficient reasons for making thought the starting point for my view of the world. When Archimedes had discovered the lever he thought he could use it to lift the whole cosmos from its hinges, if only he could find a point that would support his instrument. He needed a point that was self-supporting, not dependent on anything else. In thought we have the principle of self-subsistence. Starting with thought as our basis let us attempt to understand the world. Thought can be grasped by thought itself. The only question is whether we can understand anything else by means of thought.
|3.11 Impartial Consideration Of Thinking
 I have so far spoken of thought without taking into consideration its bearer, human consciousness. Most contemporary philosophers will object that before there can be thought, there must be consciousness. According to them, we should start from consciousness rather than thought, since there is no thought without consciousness. To this I would reply that in order to clear up the relationship between thought and consciousness, I must think about it. This requires thought to come first. In response they can certainly say that although it is true a philosopher who wishes to understand consciousness makes use of thought and to that extent thought comes first, yet in the ordinary course of life thought does arise within consciousness and consequently consciousness must be there before thought. If this answer were given to the world-creator who was about to create thought, then it would no doubt be to the point. Naturally it is not possible to create thought before consciousness. Philosophers, however, are not concerned with creating the world, but with understanding it. They are in search of the starting point, not for creating, but for understanding the world.
I find it very strange when someone criticizes philosophers for being concerned first and foremost about the correctness of their principles, rather than turning immediately to the objects they want to understand. The world-creator had above all to know how to find a bearer for thought, but the philosopher has to seek a firm base from which to understand what already exists. How does it help us to start with consciousness and subject it to our thinking contemplation, if we have not first inquired into how far it is possible to gain an explanation of things by means of thinking contemplation?
 We must first consider thought in an impartial way, without reference to either a thinking subject or conceived object. For in subject and object we already have concepts that are constructed by thought. There is no denying that before anything else can be understood, thought must be understood. Whoever denies this fails to realize that human beings are not the first link in the chain of creation but the last. In order to explain the world by means of concepts we cannot start from the earliest elements of existence, but we must begin with the element that is given as the nearest and most intimately connected with us. We cannot in a single leap transport ourselves back to the beginning of the world in order to begin our analysis there, instead, we must start from the present moment and see whether we can advance from the later to the earlier. As long as Geology fabled imaginary upheavals to explain the present condition of the earth, it groped in darkness. It was only when it began to study the processes that are presently still at work on the earth and reasoned backward from these to the past, did it gain a firm base. As long as Philosophy goes on assuming all sorts of basic principles, such as atoms, motion, matter, will, or the unconscious, it will hang in the air. Only when the philosopher regards the absolute last thing in time as the first in theory can the goal be reached. This absolutely last thing achieved in world evolution is thinking.
|"Before anything else can be understood, thought must be understood."
|3.12 Application Of Thought
 There are people who say we cannot determine with certainty whether our thought is in itself right or wrong, so our starting point remains a doubtful one. It would be just as intelligent to raise doubts about whether a tree is in itself right or wrong. Thought is a fact, and it is meaningless to speak of the correctness or falsehood of a fact. At most I can have doubts about whether thought is correctly used, just as I can doubt whether a certain tree supplies wood suitable for the making of this or that useful object. To show to what extent the application of thought to the world is right or wrong is precisely the task of this writing. I can understand someone doubting whether we can gain any knowledge of the world by means of thought, but I find it unintelligible that anyone can doubt the rightness of thought in itself.
|Chapter 3 author's 1918 addition
 In the preceding discussion I have pointed out the significant difference between thinking and all other activities of the soul, as a fact that reveals itself to a truly unbiased observation. Anyone who does not strive for this impartial observation will be tempted to raise objections against this discussion such as: “When I think about a rose, this thought, after all, still only expresses a relationship of my “I” to the rose, just as it does when I feel the beauty of the rose. A relationship exists between “I” and object in the case of thinking precisely as it does, for example, in the case of feeling or perceiving.” Those who make this objection fail to take into consideration the fact that it is only in the activity of thinking that the “I” or Ego knows itself to be completely at one with what is active, right into all the branching out of this thinking activity. With no other soul activity is this so completely the case. For example, when pleasure is felt, a careful observer can very likely distinguish to what extent the Ego knows itself to be one with something active and to what extent something passive is present in such a way that the pleasure merely happens to the Ego. The same is true for all other soul activities.
But we should not confuse “having thought-pictures” with working out thoughts by means of thinking. Thought-pictures can appear in the mind in a dream-like way, as vague promptings. But this is not thinking. --To be sure, someone could point out: If this is what you mean by “thinking”, then your thinking contains willing, and we are dealing not only with thinking, but also with the willing of thinking. But this would only justify us in saying: Real thinking must always be willed. Yet this has nothing to do with the characterization of thinking given here. It may be that the nature of thinking requires that it always be willed, but the point that matters is that everything that is willed --while being willed--appears to the Ego as completely its own activity and under its own supervision. We would have to say that, just because the nature of thinking is as it has been described here, it must appear to the observer as willed through and through. Anyone who makes a genuine effort to understand all the facts relevant to an evaluation of thinking cannot fail to notice that this activity has the unique character we have described here.
 A person highly regarded as a thinker by the author of this book has objected that one cannot speak of thinking as I have done here, because what we believe we observe as active thinking is only an illusion. What one is actually observing is the result of an unconscious activity that underlies thinking. Only because this unconscious activity is not observed does the illusion arise that the observed thinking exists in its own right, in itself, in the same way that the light from a rapid succession of electric sparks deceives us into believing that we are seeing a continuous movement. This objection is also based on an inexact view of the facts. Whoever makes this objection fails to take into account that it is the Ego itself that --standing within thinking-- observes its own activity. The Ego would have to stand outside thinking in order to be misled by the sort of deception caused by the rapidly consecutive lighting of electric sparks. One could go still further and say: To make such a comparison is to forcibly deceive oneself, like someone who claims that a moving light is newly lit by an unknown hand at every point it appears. --No, whoever wants to see in thinking anything other than an activity that is brought forth and supervised by the Ego must first become blind to the plain facts that are there for the seeing, in order then to invent a hypothetical activity as the basis for thinking. Those who do not blind themselves will have to recognize that whatever they “think onto” thinking in this way only leads away from its real nature. Unprejudiced observation shows that nothing should be counted as belonging to the nature of thinking except what is found in thinking itself. One cannot come to something that is the cause of thinking if one steps outside the realm of thinking itself.
|Chapter 3 Summary 2
Thinking in the Service of Apprehending the World
Steiner opens this chapter with an illustration: billiard balls in collision on a table. In pointing out the difference between observing the balls as they collide and then thinking about the collision one has just observed, he notes that "(a)s certain as it is...that the occurrence takes place independently of me, it is just as certain that the conceptual process cannot occur without my participation (25)."
Steiner asserts that "observation and thinking are the two starting points for all the spiritual striving of man (26)." All concepts must have at their core 1) an observed phenomenon, and 2)the thinking about that phenomenon that turns the observation into a mental image. He argues that thinking is unique among human activities, because we are able to think about thinking itself, creating additional concepts for ourselves. Feeling, for example, is not the same--we get feelings of pleasure from the way something affects us--not from any active "feeling" we apply to that thing. Thinking about the way an event happens is not the same as receiving pleasure or pain from its happening.
The activity of thinking is directed at the object of thinking, not at the personality doing the thinking, nor at the activity of thinking itself. Thus, Steiner argues, "(t)he first observation that we can make about thinking is...that it is the unobserved element of our ordinary spiritual life (30)."
But, we can direct our thinking at the activity of thinking, taking it as the object of our thought, although we can't simultaneously think and think abouth what we're thinking--we can only do the latter after the fact.
The ability to think about our thinking is, for Steiner, vitally important, and what matters in this ability is not how one concept leads to another (in a neurobiological sense), but how the larger content of our thoughts creates the conditions that motivate us to bring certain concepts into meaningful relationship with one another. Thinking then, is not a materialistic (chemical) process, but a spiritual activity.
When we observe our own thinking as an object of perception, we are "confronting our own activity," and we can explore the deeper inter-relationships of our own thinking. When we practice this, it empowers us to explore more deeply our relationships with purely external objects that enter our perception, and use this to acquire a greater knowledge of the object world. Because our thinking is something that we ourselves create, by thinking about our own thoughts, we gain a greater knowledge of the creative process in the larger world. As Steiner asserts, "...there is no starting point for looking at all world happening more primal than thinking (38)."
Steiner takes issue with the idea (popular among many philosophers of his day, including Nishida) that the starting point of his philosophy should be consciousness rather than thinking. "I must reply to this that if I want to clarify what the relationship is between thinking and consciousness, I must think about it (40)." Since thinking arises from within consciousness, it certainly presupposes the existence of consciousness--but the task for the philosopher is not to create a world beginning with "first things," but to understand it using the "last things," of which thinking is the most directly and immediately given.
Ultimately then, for Steiner, thinking is the fundamental spiritual activity; one whose practice and perfection optimizes our ability to understand the world in which we live. (next summary Chapter 4 The World as Perception)