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Two kinds of freedom

I wonder if it would be fair to divide all concepts of freedom into two basic kinds—call them, to use Hegel’s terms, abstract freedom and determinate freedom. The former defines freedom over against all conceivable restraints, while the latter defines freedom within those constraints taken as essential to the being whose freedom is at issue.

On Hegel’s estimation, Kant advocated an abstract idea of freedom: human freedom was understood as precisely the discontinuity between human choice and natural causality, as arbitrariness. Hegel granted that this was true abstractly, but insisted that freedom couldn’t be identified with its abstract side alone because as such it never exists—human freedom needed to be identified, instead, with concrete self-determination in given circumstances. This meant that human freedom included contingency and dependence as part of its own definition. This is determinate freedom.

I’ve been reading Shawn Copeland’s Enfleshing Freedom lately (which I promise to review soon), which argues among other things that determinate bodies—and particularly bodies of enslaved black women—need to be taken as a condition for the thought of freedom. The effect of this condition is that freedom is seen as the historical realization of bodily, psychic, and social integrity among human beings, a decidedly determinate form of freedom, rather than the position of someone like Karl Rahner who identifies human freedom as our transcendental openness to being as such. Bodiliness and all the limitations that it entails are worked into the definition of freedom itself, without the sense that freedom is somehow “less free” on account of that determination. Or take as another example the difference between Hobbes and Rousseau. For Hobbes, freedom exists where law is absent, and so human beings are only truly free before they establish the social contract. For Rousseau, on the other hand, the law is conceptually included in a definition of human freedom, such that the achievement of real freedom necessarily involves the existence of a certain kind of law.

Is it true that this constitutes a kind of fundamental option in one’s thinking about freedom?

Things to consider in Rousseau

December 11, 2009 Leave a comment

In no particular order, and with no particular theme:

  • Humanity defined as pure potentiality, ateleological perfectibilité.
  • The absolute interdependence of morality and immorality, freedom and slavery, etc.
  • Psychology replaces history—genealogy of morals performed psychologically.
  • Accumulation is self-inflicted suffering, self-inflicted bondage.
  • “Locke’s was the individualism of the strong, Rousseau’s the individualism of the weak” (Judith Shklar, Men and Citizens, p. 41).
  • Real equality never exists, since as soon as people stand in relation to each other, there is already inequality.

Posted by Brian Hamilton

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