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Quid Est Libertas?

8 comments | 1:49 am | top |
What is freedom? Earlier today, Rick and I were discussing this question.  As it became clear, we have different understandings of what it means to be free, or to be more specific, what it means to be truly free to make a choice.  First I'll explain what I believe freedom of choice means, following this with my understanding of Rick's position.  Then a brief example to clear things up a bit, because it may be a bit confusing.


Andy.  Freedom can be most simply expressed as a person's inherent free will.  It is the ability to choose between right and wrong, or between life and death.  Noone can ultimately take away our freedom. Of course, we speak of such things as the Anti-Smacking Law, or the late Electoral Finance Act as taking away our freedom, however it would be more correct to say that such unjust laws give our freedom new parameters.  In Mel Gibson's timeless epic, Braveheart, William Wallace famously says "they'll never take our freedom".  Towards the end of the movie when Wallace is on the rack being tortured to death, he is given the chance to ask for mercy.  Instead he lets forth the haunting but rallying cry, "FREEDOM!!!" before the executioner's axe swings down.  To William Wallace - at least in this film, freedom was the ability to choose between right and wrong, duty or compromise - whatever the circumstances or consequences might be.

Rick.  Freedom is the ability to be able to make a choice without threat of adverse consequences.  I'm not sure if it would matter whether or not the choice was either logically sound or morally good.  Also, I'm not sure whether the adverse consequences would necessarily have to be initiated by another person or group of people.  Otherwise you could say that because walking off a 20-storey building would bring about adverse consequences, your freedom was therefore impeded.  As you can see, I am not arguing for this position very well, firstly because I don't believe it, and secondly because I don't yet fully understand it.  Rick will no doubt clear up any confusion in his response on his own blog.

Example.  "The soliders" bust into your place and tell you that they're there to enforce a new law.  The new law states that no citizen may hold a religious belief, and further, must officially declare their refutation of any previously held religious convictions - on pain of death.  I think Rick would say that in this situation, you don't have any freedom.  On the other hand, I think that you absolutely do have freedom - even if your choice results in your death.

It may be that we're actually talking about different things but using the same word - I'm not sure.  What do you think?

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Blogger Rick said...

I'll blog about this more fully, sure.

I'm proud of the way I emphasised it at uni with the following..

A gunman initiates force on you by issuing you the ultimatum to either smile or be shot dead. Question: Is this your conception of freedom?

If it is then you believe that force and freedom are the same thing. That, to my way of thinking, can only be irrational and therefore the explaination for why you hold to it is to be found in your psychological conditioning.

If it is not, if he is not a free man who has his liberty taken away from him, then and only then do we have a libertarian philosophy we can work with in the real world. Freedom becomes a real state of being and not just the abstract one of believing your liberty starts and ends with your ability to direct your consciousness.

Let's talk about that while I get the dust covers off Silent Running.

10:20 pm, March 08, 2009 
Anonymous peteremcc said...

Perhaps Andy could explain under what circumstances someone wouldn't be free by his understanding?

11:50 pm, March 08, 2009 
Blogger Andy Moore said...

good idea Peter.

Hey Rick, you could do a guest post for my blog if you like. could be good. let me know.

12:30 am, March 09, 2009 
Anonymous Rick Giles said...

I'd like that. Let's do some two-way between our blogs on this one though. Need some traffic!

8:58 am, March 09, 2009 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think in Rick's example you still have free will, but you do not have the freedom to exercise that free will.

You always have free will, but will never have complete freedom. You can use your free will and choose to murder someone, but under any legal system your freedom to do so will be curtailed through efforts to prevent you doing it, and severe consequences if you actually do it.

Even in a libertarian system you do not have complete freedom - just greater scope to exercise your free will where doing so does not harm others.

Interesting discussion, it does get you thinking!

11:37 am, March 09, 2009 
Anonymous Rick said...

How is it you don't think a libertarian system is a system of complete freedom, Sam?

7:21 pm, March 11, 2009 
Blogger Felicity said...

Me thinks you are talking about two different types of freedom. There is freedom inside of you that no-one else can take away. (ie. Christ freed us from sin and the law.) However there is something called people encroaching on your freedom/rights. That seems to be what Rick is talking about.

11:09 pm, June 17, 2009 
Blogger Andy Moore said...

that's right... it's the distinction between rights and freedom.

3:09 am, June 18, 2009 

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