Freedom is an Illusion

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Freedom is an Illusion

Post by Freudiger » 05 Sep 2011 17:38

Are we really free? Can humans, either with or without a system of government, ever be free?

I guess it depends on your definition of freedom. I read somewhere that freedom is a right to do what you choose to do and it's the right to not interfere with others' freedom (along those lines, I'll correct it when I find out for sure).

According to that, however, it's a paradox. With that defnition then you are not free if you can not commit murder. And, if you are allowed to do so, you are violating the victim's rights of freedom.

Or if you are a smoker. You have the right to smoke. But you don't have the right to pollute the air that a non-smoker breathes.

What are your thoughts?

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Post by Jeremy » 05 Sep 2011 19:11

There's a really interesting book on this topic you might enjoy by an Australian intellectual Clive Hamilton called The Freedom Paradox: Towards a post-secular ethics.

I have a couple of quick points. I think one of the things I took from that book is the difference between freedom and compulsion. Smoking is a good example - if a person is addicted to smoking, and can't stop, is that an example of freedom, or of, in a sense, being forced to do something against their will?

I think the other important point is to distinguish between freedom and consequences of actions. If you start looking at environmental interactions - for example I'm free to drink bleach, but I suffer serious negative consequence, you can apply this to social interactions too. I might be free to insult my girlfriend, but the consequences are negative. Or I might be free to try and punch my fist through a tree, but the tree won't let me, and likewise I might be free to try and murder a person, but they'll try and stop me and then I'll face serious consequences.

I guess I think the notion of "freedom" is probably much less important than some people (especially in the US) treat it. There's also that whole debate, which I guess you're alluding to, regarding personal vs social freedom.

I think you can look at from two perspectives - either from a personal view, where all our actions have consequences - positive, negative and neutral, and we really should aim to have the post positive consequences. Or you can look at it from a social management/government view where you want to bring in the regulation and policy that leads to the best/most stable/prosperous society. So for example a society where people steal is obviously not as good on any of those criteria as one where people don't, so you need to come up with ways (such as crime and punishment, as well as, probably, social welfare) that encourage not stealing. I don't think from either of these perspectives, "freedom" should really be too much of a consideration. At the same time, in constructing government policy, you should start with the null hypothesis that an activity isn't negative, and then find convincing evidence that it is negative before you try to get rid of it.

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