Rudolf Steiner was born in 1861 and died in 1925. In his autobiography, The Course of My Life, he makes quite clear that the problems dealt with in The Philosophy of Freedom played a leading part in his life.
His childhood was spent in the Austrian countryside. At the age of eight Steiner was already aware of things and beings that are not seen as well as those that are. Writing about his experiences at this age, he said, “… the reality of the spiritual world was as certain to me as that of the physical. I felt the need, however, for a sort of justification for this assumption.”
Recognizing the boy’s ability, his father sent him to the Realschule at Wiener Neustadt, and later to the Technical University in Vienna. Here Steiner had to support himself, by means of scholarships and tutoring. Studying and mastering many more subjects than were in his curriculum, he always came back to the problem of knowledge itself. He was very much aware: that in the experience of oneself as an ego, one is in the world of the spirit. Although he took part in all the social activities going on around him — in the arts, the sciences, even in politics — he wrote that “much more vital at that time was the need to find an answer to the question: How far is it possible to prove that in human thinking real spirit is the agent?”
He made a deep study of philosophy, particularly the writings of Kant, but nowhere did he find a way of thinking that could be carried as far as a perception of the spiritual world. Thus Steiner was led to develop a theory of knowledge out of his own striving after truth, one which took its start from a direct experience of the spiritual nature of thinking.
In 1894 The Philosophy of Freedom was published, and the content which had formed the centre of his life’s striving was placed before the world. Steiner was deeply disappointed at the lack of understanding it received. Hartmann’s reaction was typical; instead of accepting the discovery that thinking can lead to the reality of the spirit in the world, he continued to think that “spirit” was merely a concept existing in the human mind, and freedom an illusion based on ignorance. Such was fundamentally the view of the age to which Steiner introduced his philosophy. But however it seemed to others, Steiner had in fact established a firm foundation for knowledge of the spirit, and now he felt able to pursue his researches in this field without restraint. The Philosophy of Freedom summed up the ideas he had formed to deal with the riddles of existence that had so far dominated his life. “The further way,” he wrote, “could now be nothing else but a struggle to find the right form of ideas to express the spiritual world itself.”
The rest of his life was devoted to building up a complete science of the spirit, to which he gave the name Anthroposophy. Foremost amongst his discoveries was his direct experience of the reality of the Christ, which soon took a central place in his whole teaching. The many books and lectures which he published set forth the magnificent scope of his vision. From 1911 he turned also to the arts — drama, painting, architecture, eurythmy — showing the creative forming powers that can be drawn from spiritual vision. As a response to the disaster of the 1914–18 war, he showed how the social sphere could be given new life through an insight into the nature of man, his initiative bearing practical fruit in the fields of education, agriculture, therapy and medicine. After a few more years of intense activity, now as the leader of a world-wide movement, he died, leaving behind him an achievement that must allow his recognition as the first Initiate of the age of science.
Anthroposophy is itself a science, firmly based on the results of observation, and open to investigation by anyone who is prepared to follow the path of development he pioneered — a path that takes its start from the struggle for inner freedom set forth in this book.
– Michael Wilson, 1964. From the introduction to The Philosophy of Freedom –