Friday, October 15, 2004

More Freedom

MelbournePhilosopher

One of the readers responded via email, and challenged a few of the things I said about Freedom, so I thought I'd respond to some of their points.

Firstly, I'd like to say how central to any philosophical discussion the concept of "Ontology" is. It used to be just a meaningless buzzword, but I've come to realise that the framework for discussion an idea is vital. Use a word to which someone else gives connotations outside its meaning, and they will respond as though you had meant something different. Use emotive words and they will respond with vitriol. Use non-emotive words, some people will disconnect and stop listening. Use a word with a broad definition in a technical way, and people will misinterpret your points.

The posting on freedom is as much an ontological proposal as a look at whether people in our world are actually free. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom) is often a port of call for information - in this case it has some very inconsistent ideas about freedom. Or, rather, it describes the various uses for which we use the word freedom, which are themselves inconsistent. The fuzzy nature of language gives it descriptive power, but can also lead to inaccuracy.

The key to the reader's post was to say "You seem to imply that a constraint doesn't affect freedom, that only a restraint does that. But I remain unconvinced that there's actually any difference than a minor quibbling about semantics."

To which I would respond - "It's not just semantics! It's semantics!"

They brought in the idea that perhaps there were two kinds of freedom - such as being free to walk the streets at night, and the freedom not to be attacked. i.e. positive freedoms and negative freedoms, or possible active and passive. Clearly in common language it is possible to talk in this way - freedom from persecution vs the right to free speech (freedom of expression). Looked at coldly logically, it clearly the case that one is merely the inverse of the other. The right to free speech is equivalent to the freedom from having someone prevent you speaking. (note - rights are not the same thing as freedoms in all cases, such as in the right to education, or basic living standards)

The point is that the when arguing about how to define a word, one is really arguing about its descriptive power and accuracy. Freedom, I would argue, loses descriptive power if you use it to describe both constraints on you available option, and restraints on your choices. With this definition, it is impossible to distinguish inequity from injustice, or generosity from mercy.

When speaking casually, context allows us to recognise which use of the word freedom is relevant, but it is possible to be clearer still. I suspect that most ambiguities relating to freedom relate to the difference between restraint and constraint. The quote which the reader gave me I would regard me as showing consistent justice, but not economic equality. Is economic equality worth pursuing? Does economic inequality mean the same thing as inequalities of freedom? More on that later...

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor
to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."
- Anatole France

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inequalities of freedom such as who is rich and who is poor doesn't define the all encompassing defintion of the true meaning of freedom, and I don't understand why you would have the need to bring this up unless their is an underlying feeling of inequality in yourself to self justify your understanding of what the word implies...

The topic discussed; on bettering or worsening your own situation (for richer or poorer) doesn't equate or negate the fact that any living entity will have freedoms either restricted, contrainted, active, passive, implied or denied. Monetary and socio-economic situations are really secondary to the integral meaning of the topic at hand.

The true meaning of the word comes from the underlying understanding we have of the *known impositions* that are in place in all facets of life. i.e. Culture, religion, society, language, and even our own psyche. I understand this is the notion you have given to the understanding and breakdown of the meaning of freedom in your writings thus far.

Freedom of will and choice is the ultimate ontological experience we have. But it's our environment that will always dictate our behaviour and understanding of true freedom.

Our own beliefs contradict and try to undermine and even eliminate a lot of other peoples beliefs.

It is the uniqueness of *you* that defines your own reality and the choices you make in the belief in knowing your own freedoms.

Fear in limitations of your world is what makes people contradict their own understanding, and perhaps to know the 'why'.

"Why am I afraid of you?" you are beyond my comprehensive understanding of what 'is' ... because my past experiences predicate what I judge to be true.

People are their worst enemy. It's just in our nature to question the reasoning behind our environment, and why impositions exist. It's fear of the unknown that drives everyone back to question the whole philos about the unknownness of our own capacity and where our freedoms exist.

Tell me, if we only have 13% brain capacity that is utilised, we must eat everyday, we must drink, me must sleep...do you believe we have been constrained or restrained?

We will never truly identify or attune our experiences and living if we believe in a global synergy of freedom we understand to be correct.

We just simply don't know if we are supposed to live this way. Our very own existence implies a discourse of continuing the contiuum essentially.

"we are here to do what we have always done"

We are essentially continuing this paradox. Do you see freedom in that?

10/15/2004 02:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Inequalities of freedom such as who is rich and who is poor doesn't define the all encompassing defintion of the true meaning of freedom, and I don't understand why you would have the need to bring this up unless their is an underlying feeling of inequality in yourself to self justify your understanding of what the word implies...

The topic discussed; on bettering or worsening your own situation (for richer or poorer) doesn't equate or negate the fact that any living entity will have freedoms either restricted, contrainted, active, passive, implied or denied. Monetary and socio-economic situations are really secondary to the integral meaning of the topic at hand.

The true meaning of the word comes from the underlying understanding we have of the *known impositions* that are in place in all facets of life. i.e. Culture, religion, society, language, and even our own psyche. I understand this is the notion you have given to the understanding and breakdown of the meaning of freedom in your writings thus far.

Freedom of will and choice is the ultimate ontological experience we have. But it's our environment that will always dictate our behaviour and understanding of true freedom.

Our own beliefs contradict and try to undermine and even eliminate a lot of other peoples beliefs.

It is the uniqueness of *you* that defines your own reality and the choices you make in the belief in knowing your own freedoms.

Fear in limitations of your world is what makes people contradict their own understanding, and perhaps to know the 'why'.

"Why am I afraid of you?" you are beyond my comprehensive understanding of what 'is' ... because my past experiences predicate what I judge to be true.

People are their worst enemy. It's just in our nature to question the reasoning behind our environment, and why impositions exist. It's fear of the unknown that drives everyone back to question the whole philos about the unknownness of our own capacity and where our freedoms exist.

Tell me, if we only have 13% brain capacity that is utilised, we must eat everyday, we must drink, me must sleep...do you believe we have been constrained or restrained?

We will never truly identify or attune our experiences and living if we believe in a global synergy of freedom we understand to be correct.

We just simply don't know if we are supposed to live this way. Our very own existence implies a discourse of continuing the contiuum essentially.

"we are here to do what we have always done"

We are essentially continuing this paradox. Do you see freedom in that?

-Rob.

10/15/2004 02:50:00 PM  
Blogger mh said...

MP,

I was going to continue a previous discussion (the one about concepts) via email, but couldn't find it on your profile. Am I to take it you are not making it public?

Marc.

10/15/2004 05:29:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

I'll make it public, I had been debating it.

10/15/2004 06:28:00 PM  
Blogger thesocialworker said...

Let's talk Ontology. Whether you're a realist, relativist or a mixture of both, I think one of the most important things is trying to understand your position. This argument is pretty pointless if one person's attempt at defining freedom is in direct conflict with the other's view of reality. Meanwhile, I tend to favour all this Historical Realism mumbojumbo. Neuman (2003, 79) states that "people are constrained by the material conditions, cultural context, and historical conditions in which they find themselves" he then goes on to say that "people do shape their destiny, but not under conditions of their own choosing". So when I think about freedom, I tend to think, how much do we really know and how much meaning can we give to our existence. We are free in the sense we have the capacity for change and to change, but we want meaningful change don't we? We want an understanding of what restrains, constrains, constricts, traps and shapes our lives in hope that someday we'll actually feel in control of our lives or have the power to shape others. I mean, sure, it's useful to clearly define the differnce between a constraint and restraint and how/if they affect ones freedom, but you can't just wonder round pretending there's a solid and unchanging defininition of the word.

10/15/2004 07:02:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

Great response, socialworker.

I guess I feel that too often other kinds of social injustice are touted as being attacks on freedom. The choice of one ontology over another is essentially arbitrary, and words don't get used in just one way or another, but it's worth highlighting that it's easy to get confused about whether someone's talking about a restraint or a constraint - as I've defined them, of course! ;). I think it's a misuse of the concept of freedom to use it as the basis for an argument about the minimum wage or something. Alain de Botton described an analogy that stuck with me. A dog is on a leash, which is tied to man riding a bicycle. If the dog accepts that he must follow the path of the bike, he can be happy in exploring to the end of his leash. If, however, the dog attempts to go in a different direction altogether, he finds himself constantly yanked around and unable to achieve anything.

10/15/2004 10:48:00 PM  

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