"The view that man is destined to become
a complete, self-contained, free individuality seems to be contested by
the fact that he makes his appearance as a member of a naturally given
totality (race, people, nation, family, male or female sex) and also works
within a totality (state, church, and so on). He bears the general characteristics
of the group to which he belongs, and he gives to his actions a content
that is determined by the position he occupies among many others.
"This being so, is individuality possible at all?
Can we regard man as a totality in himself, seeing that he grows out of
one totality and integrates himself into another?
"Each member of a totality is determined, as regards
its characteristics and functions, by the whole totality. A racial group
is a totality and all the people belonging to it bear the characteristic
features that are inherent in the nature of the group. How the single member
is constituted, and how he will behave, are determined by the character
of the racial group. Therefore the physiognomy and conduct of the individual
have something generic about them. If we ask why some particular thing
about a man is like this or like that, we are referred back from the individual
to the genus. The genus explains why something in the individual appears
in the form we observe.
"Man, however, makes himself free from what is
generic. For the generic features of the human race, when rightly understood,
do not restrict man's freedom, and should not artificially be made to do
so. A man develops qualities and activities of his own, and the basis for
these we can seek only in the man himself. What is generic in him serves
only as a medium in which to express his own individual being. He uses
as a foundation the characteristics that nature has given him, and to these
he gives a form appropriate to his own being.
"If we seek in the generic laws the reasons for
an expression of this being, we seek in vain. We are concerned with something
purely individual which can be explained only in terms of itself. If a
man has achieved this emancipation from all that is generic, and we are
nevertheless determined to explain everything about him in generic terms,
then we have no sense for what is individual.
"It is impossible to understand a human being completely
if one takes the concept of genus as the basis of one's judgment.
"The tendency to judge according to the genus is
at its most stubborn where we are concerned with differences of sex. Almost
invariably man 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
to women. The social position of women is for the most part such an unworthy
one because in so many respects it is determined not as it should be by
the particular characteristics of the individual woman, but by the general
picture one has of woman's natural tasks and needs.
"A man's activity in life is governed by his individual
capacities and inclinations, whereas a woman's is supposed to be determined
solely by the mere fact that she is a woman. She is supposed to be a slave
to what is generic, to womanhood in general. As long as men continue to
debate whether a woman is suited to this or that profession "according
to her natural disposition", the so-called woman's question cannot advance
beyond its most elementary stage. What a woman, within her natural limitations,
wants to become had better be left to the woman herself to decide.
"If it is true that women are suited only to that
profession which is theirs at present, then they will hardly have it in
them to attain any other. But they must be allowed to decide for themselves
what is in accordance with their nature. To all who fear an upheaval of
our social structure through accepting women as individuals and not as
females, we must reply that a social structure in which the status of one
half of humanity is unworthy of a human being is itself in great need of
"Anyone who judges people according to generic
characters gets only as far as the frontier where people begin to be beings
whose activity is based on free self-determination.
"Whatever lies short of this frontier may naturally
become matter for academic study. The characteristics of race, people,
nation and sex are the subject matter of special branches of study.
"Only men who wish to live as nothing more than
examples of the genus could possibly conform to a general picture such
as arises from academic study of this kind. But none of these branches
of study are able to advance as far as the unique content of the single
"Determining the individual according to the laws
of his genus ceases where the sphere of freedom (in thinking and acting)
begins. The conceptual content which man has to connect with the percept
by an act of thinking in order to have the full reality (see Chapter 5
ff.) cannot be fixed once and for all and bequeathed ready-made to mankind.
The individual must get his concepts through his own intuition. How the
individual has to think cannot possibly be deduced from any kind of generic
concept. It depends simply and solely on the individual.
"Just as little is it possible to determine from
the general characteristics of man what concrete aims the individual may
choose to set himself. If we would understand the single individual we
must find our way into his own particular being and not stop short at those
characteristics that are typical. In this sense every single human being
is a separate problem. And every kind of study that deals with
abstract thoughts and generic concepts is but a preparation for the knowledge
we get when a human individuality tells us his way of viewing the world,
and on the other hand for the knowledge we get from the content of his
acts of will.
"Whenever we feel that we are dealing with that
element in a man which is free from stereotyped thinking and instinctive
willing, then, if we would understand him in his essence, we must cease
to call to our aid any concepts at all of our own making.
"The act of knowing consists in combining the concept
with the percept by means of thinking. With all other objects the observer
must get his concepts through his intuition; but if we are to understand
a free individuality we must take over into our own spirit those concepts
by which he determines himself, in their pure form (without mixing our
own conceptual content with them).
"Those who immediately mix their own concepts into
every judgment about another person, can never arrive at the understanding
of an individuality. Just as the free individuality emancipates himself
from the characteristics of the genus, so must the act of knowing emancipate
itself from the way in which we understand what is generic.
"Only to the extent that a man has emancipated
himself in this way from all that is generic, does he count as a free spirit
within a human community. No man is all genus, none is all individuality.
But every man gradually emancipates a greater or lesser sphere of his being,
both from the generic characteristics of animal life and from domination
by the decrees of human authorities.
"As regards that part of his nature where a man
is not able to achieve this freedom for himself, he constitutes a part
of the whole organism of nature and spirit. In this respect he lives by
copying others or by obeying their commands. But only that part of his
conduct that springs from his intuitions can have ethical value in the
true sense. And those moral instincts that he possesses through the inheritance
of social instincts acquire ethical value through being taken up into his
"It is from individual ethical intuitions and their
acceptance by human communities that all moral activity of mankind originates.
In other words, the moral life of mankind is the sum total of the products
of the moral imagination of free human individuals. This is the conclusion
reached by monism."
Philosophy of Freedom, chapter
Steiner Press. Republished here with the kind permission of the copyright