The Logic of Freedom

    This is the follow up post to "The logic of the system."  In the first post, I wrote that there is no room for freedom in the System.  But what is this freedom?  

    There are two big ways to think about freedom: negative freedom and positive freedom.  Francis Berger has referred to these as "freedom from" and "freedom for," respectively in several posts, such as this one.  These terms are useful because they clearly express the nature of each of these freedoms.  Freedom from is an absence of restrictions.  This is the most obvious type of freedom.  Indeed, most discussions of freedom only consider freedom from, particularly from a political point of view.  On the other hand, freedom for is more subtle.  Freedom for is internal; it is acting from within, from what Bruce Charlton has called the "true self."  

    Ultimately, freedom for only makes sense from a spiritual perspective.  If there is no spiritual aspect to human beings, then any action can only come from arbitrary desires with no deeper meaning.  On the other hand, if human beings are fundamentally spiritual, then freedom for means acting (however imperfectly) from the spiritual.

    These are the background concepts, but in this post, rather than the metaphysical issues, I want to discuss at a more specific level what freedom from would look like.  

    Both types of freedom are most fundamentally concerned with consciousness.  Political descriptions of freedom are incomplete.  Frequently, freedom from is described as something that is given to people by governments.  It is envisioned as a matter of choosing a system of governance that will provide freedom.  But this kind of description is incomplete because it doesn't go deep enough.  

    An example that highlights these issues is the Constitution of the United States.  The Constitution did not gift freedom to the citizens of the United States.  Indeed, if the consciousness of Americans at the time was contrary to the principles underlying the Constitution, then the new government would have been entirely unsuccessful.  It would have had to be imposed by force and would quickly have fragmented.  The Constitution was a crystallization of the consciousness of a particular time and place.

     From about 1740, consciousness in the West changed.  Among the changes was incresed individualism which meant (among other things) the gradual weakening of cohesion within groups.  But this was meant to be transitional.  We were supposed to move towards ..., well something that we can't quite imagine becuse it is qualitatively new, which hasn't been seen before.  Since the new has not been brought forth fully and the old has weakened, we have deteriorated.    

    The good thing is that since the Constitution was framed towards the beginning of this period, the spirit in which it was written is more aligned with common sense and truth that our current consciousness.  But, because it is a snapshop of what was meant to be a transitional stage, the Constitution no longer has the force it once did: most people simply cannot properly respond to it with their current consciousness.  But the solution is not to go back because we cannot.  It just doesn't work that way.  We were supposed to move forward towards a different kind of consciousness.  That is why originalism (the doctrine of trying to understand how the framers thought of the Constitution), though well-motivated is not a long-term solution.  Even though an individual person can, through study and imaginative engagement come closer to the consciousness of the framers, as the consciousness of the general public moves farther and farther away, the originalist will be increasingly less able to explain to others what he has learned and to persuade them based on this knowledge.  

    This is a specific example, but the increased political freedom that emerged starting from the Renasisance and increasingly from the 18th century is the consequence of changes in consciousness.  That is the only way to make sense of multiple changes that all built upon each other, the only way to make sense of things that seem to "just happen."  They don't just happen, rather, a subtle change that is not directly observable (except within each individual's mind) explains them.  

    Likewise, freedom for, positive freedom also takes place in consciousness.  It is internal.  It is possessed by each person individually and is not given by governments.  To try to envision what a world with this kind of freedom might look like, we want to consider the System and then take the opposite.  

     In the System, everything is impersonal.  Each individual is assigned a role, but it is the role that is primary, not the person.  The role could, in principle, (at least according to the logic of the System) be assigned to anyone else who satisfies whatever qualities are determined to be necessary.  On the contrary, with freedom for everything is personal.  A job is based on personal knowledge and personal capabilities.  We can imagine this as similar to apprenticeship.  Apprenticeship is fundamentally personal.  The apprentice learns from an individual master.  The master will be part of a broader tradition but it is the master who personally communicates both tradition and his own knowledge to the student.   

    Also, in the System, everything is abstract.  The System is run according to abstract, bureaucratic categories.  On the other hand, in a world of freedom for, no one is "running" anything.  People interact with each other based on their concrete, individual circumstances.  Also, because the System is abstract, all qualities not recognized by the System are declared non-existent.  Not only that, the System works by means both subtle and overt to diminish and eliminate any qualities it does not recognize.  With freedom for, all real and good qualities would have room to be expressed.  There would be no abstract, overarching categories that define what qualities are real and which are not.

    In the System, the goal is for everything to be mechanized and hence predictable.  Everything must happen according to predefined rules and there can be no deviation from these rules.  A world of freedom for would be entirely unmechanical.  That doesn't mean it would be chaotic.  It is possible to predict the behaviour of someone whom one knows well.  But this is an entirely different kind of prediction than prediction by abstract modeling.  Similar to miracles.  Miracles are fundamentally personal, not mechanical and that is one reason why the modern worldview cannot accomodate them.   

    Thus, although we cannot fully imagine a world of freedom for, we can get a better idea by thinking about these issues.  This post by Amo Boden also discusses some of the same issues, considering a civilization based on individuality.  Another good reason to think about freedom for is because if it is indeed true that this is what we are supposed to move toward, then freedom for provides the long-term goal for us.  But, by the very nature of freedom for, there is no formula; it isn't another abstract program with "freedom" stamped on it, but something qualitatively different.  It can therefore be approached in different ways for different individuals.  Let us move towards this freedom, in whatever way we may.



  1. I don't disagree, and had came across a secular political version of the two freedoms in Isaiah Berlin .

    But I think that I needed something more about what freedom is, how it is even possible, where it comes from... in order to make sense of this issue.

    (I was *driven* to this in part by persistent probing questioning from WmJas in blog comments in the 2010-2012 era!)

    Most people have an idea that 'things happen' either by being determined from previous causes (like most of science), or else 'randomly' (like quantum theories). Neither of these mechanisms allows for freedom. Everything would be caused, or disconnected.

    I was convinced by Aquinas's proof of God that (to avoid an infinite regress) there must be an unmoved mover - a source of original 'action'.

    So I found that I needed to develop a metaphysical understanding of what freedom might be, how it might 'work'. My conclusion was that freedom was divine, to be free is to be a primary creator.

    ...Therefore Man - as well as God - must be an unmoved mover if Man is to be free. (This was Not where Aquinas took the argument!)

    And that led me to pluralism. It seems to me that if freedom is really real, and divine - it implies many 'gods'. *Many* gods - i.e. that this is a reality of Beings, each of which is essentially a god, in the sense of being an origin of freedom.

    Anyway - this was the way I began to feel I had an understanding of the possibility of real freedom - and until I had done the metaphysics, I was dissatisfied by more general discussions.

    1. Good, thought-provoking comment. Thanks for the link to the Isaiah Berlin article.

      I agree that neither determinism nor randomness gives space for freedom. As far as the metaphysical basis of freedom, I respect pluralist metaphysics and think that the free will argument is respectable. I'd need to think a lot more before properly writing about pluralism. Part of the issue is that I find it easier to understand and think about how freedom operates in the concrete world. But trying to imagine how pluralism works in detail in the metaphysical realm is rather difficult.

  2. I got a lot out of this post. Very clarifying. Thanks!


The real AI agenda

    On a post  by Wm Briggs, about artificial intelligence, a commenter with the monniker "ItsAllBullshit" writes:           "...