This is another one of those blogs I’ve been meaning to do for a while; given the circumstances, it has never felt so relevant.
What does it mean to be free? You are all (mostly) confined to your homes. Do you feel free? Do you equate freedom with free movement? In other words physical freedom?
Isaiah Berlin (20th century philosopher) believed that there were 2 types of freedom: negative and positive. Negative freedom is absent of external restriction or coercion – something you do not have as these are external restrictions. Other examples might include a lack of resources, such as money or even education and social status. One niggly example in here would be somebody playing their music loudly denies me the freedom to enjoy a quiet evening. No-one can enjoy unfettered freedom without encroaching the freedom of others.
Conversely, positive freedom needs to be present within the agent. For example, self-control , autonomy, the capacity to act in accordance with what are rationally assessed to be in one’s best interests. I certainally aspire to this in here. No, I think I attain positive freedom in the way I live my life. I certainly have more positive freedom than an alcoholic or drug addict, or any type of addict – chemical or otherwise. In fact, there are so many other people who do not attain positive freedom due to their personality quirks.
I would say positive freedom is far more important. Even when lockdown is lifted, you are never free from the external restrictions of the state or social coercion. Isaiah Berlin also believed that positive freedom would fulfil your potential, self-realisation, personal autonomy and self-mastery; and, liberate you from cultural and social pressures. He says:
“The subject – a person or group of persons – is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons.”
In other words, living your life to the ‘beat of your own drum.’
“To manipulate them, to propel them towards goals which you – the social reformer – see, but they might not, is to deny their human essence, to treat them as objects without wills of their own, and therefore to degrade them.”
See every blog I’ve written about prison psychology. I’ll leave the final word on freedom another philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau:
“Man is born free; and everwhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they.”
I’m sure you can work out who or what I’m referencing.
Be happy, be safe and be kind.
Graham Coutts, 5th May 2020.