Moral Intuitions in the Modern World

Anthroposophy as a concept has nothing to do with the anthroposophical movement as such. It has to do with a methodology that anyone can develop, and as such we don’t really need to stick to authorities on anthroposophy to understand it. As a matter of fact, there can be no such thing as an authority on anthroposophy. Or said differently, an authority on anthroposophy is a free individual, someone adhering to that individual is not.

Anthroposophy is an answer to the most fundamental anthropological question: What is man? To answer this question, we must both understand what we can know, and what kind of being we are. Yet, any answer to this question depends on a kind of self-reflection, a kind of knowing oneself that can’t be passed on to anyone else. We start out by looking for a universal and general answer to the question of what humanity is, and come to the conclusion that the answer is an individual one.

Yet, at the same time, this is the fundamentally universal answer to the question! There is no other way to be a human being, than to be an individual, expressing this in our conscious human actions.

Photo by Jade Stephens on Unsplash

This is a big challenge because it asks us to define who we are by our deeds, and it points out to us that any understanding of ourselves, that says that our actions are materially motivated, or biologically caused, impinges a view of ourselves, that springs from a narrow concept of what it is to be a human. Because it essentially claims that there is no such thing as an individual approach to life.

It also means that we need to dare to think for ourselves and to make our understanding of the world a matter of our own conscience.

If we apply this logic to social threefolding, we don’t get a recipe for action, but we do get a diagnosis of the situation we are in currently. For a free human individual, the way we treat our planet is going to be based on individual intuitions, and not on risk calculation or governmental commands. This goes for pandemics as well as global warming.

Acting out of freedom means to act in a way that makes sense regardless of the outcome. But it also means that we act in a way that is in tune with our self-understanding. This makes it intuitively obvious that no person on this earth freely wants large masses of trash to float around in the oceans, children to mine cobalt for our batteries, pandemics to spread globally, or global warming to displace millions of people from their homes.

These intuitive ideas are what Steiner would call moral imagination (moralische Phantasie), but the capacity to actually turn them into reality is called moral technique (moralische Technik). It could be, that on the technical level, a workable plan to realize these goals must set priorities. It could be that preventing the displacement of those people would lead us to more dependence on cobalt mining. But it must be shown that plans are not workable because of some more important goal, and this goal must be ideal not material.

This brings us to the technical aspects of the issue, and the distinction between purpose and responsibility. This distinction is what leads to the difference between unpremeditated wrongs (doing the wrong thing out of ignorance) and deceit (knowingly doing the wrong thing), for which we can be held responsible.

We would be deceiving ourselves if we said that there wasn’t a way to get around the issue of cobalt mining. We do, for instance, have the choice to buy used phones. We do have the choice to focus on technologies that maximize battery lifespan. And we do have the choice to put it to the manufacturers to ensure that the supply chain is transparent.

Cobalt mining in Kailo, Congo.
Cobalt Mining in Kailo, Congo.

To say that we can’t make a difference is to base our actions on consequences instead of intuitions, by which we’re either ignorant of a true understanding of human action, or deceiving ourselves with regards to what it means to act out of freedom. And to take the first step, by acting on our moral intuitions, and representing moral intuitions is actually the first AND final step of moral technique.

Whether that actually leads to a difference in the world is another matter, but by acting out of our moral intuitions we first become free individuals. By not acting, by saying we can’t make a difference, we are making ourselves unfree, as well as knowingly or unknowingly propagating an understanding of the human being that is not based on individual intuitions, but general rules that limit what we can know, and what we can act on as free human beings. This is against every fiber of the anthroposophical outlook on the world and the individual.

Said in a more overly anthroposophical way, one could say that even though my actions made no difference in the sensible world, they could move mountains in the supersensible world. As William Blake says: „the body is a portion of a soul discerned by the five senses“ – and so the spiritual scientist understands that the inner transformation of soul through eternal spiritual truths also means a transformation of body through soul. Our inner life is not dependent on the body, but the body is dependent on the inner life.

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