Freedom (philosophy)

Freedom (philosophy)

Freedom, or the idea of being free, is a broad concept that has been given numerous interpretations by philosophies and schools of thought. The protection of interpersonal freedom can be the object of a social and political investigation, while the metaphysical foundation of inner freedom is a philosophical and psychological question.


The "ama-gi", a Sumerian cuneiform word, is the earliest known written symbol representing the idea of freedom. The English word "freedom" comes from an Indo-European root that means "to love." Cognates of the English word "freedom" include the Old High German word for "peace" and the English word "afraid" from a Vulgar Latin word for breaking the peace.


* Outer or political freedom, or personal liberty, is the absence of outward restraints, for example with respect to speech, freedom of thought, religious practice, and the press; freedom to modify one's outward circumstances. (See Freedom (political))

* Inner freedom, i.e. the state of being an inwardly autonomous individual capable of exerting free will or freedom of choice within a given set of outward circumstances.


Innate state

In philosophy, freedom often ties in with the question of free will. The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau asserted that the condition of freedom was inherent to humanity, an inevitable facet of the possession of a soul and sapience, with the implication that all social interactions subsequent to birth imply a loss of freedom, voluntarily or involuntarily. He made the famous quote "Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains". Libertarian philosophers have argued that all human beings are always free — Jean-Paul Sartre, for instance, famously claimed that humans are "condemned to be free" — because they always have a choice. Even an external authority can only threaten punishment after an action, not physically prevent a person from carrying out an action. At the other end of the spectrum, determinism claims that the future is inevitably determined by prior causes and freedom is an illusion.

Positive and negative freedom

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin drew an important distinction between "freedom "from" (negative freedom) and "freedom "to" (positive freedom). For example, freedom "from" oppression and freedom "to" develop one's potential. Both these types of freedom are in fact reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Freedom as the absence of restraint means unwilling to subjugate, lacking submission, or without forceful inequality.Fact|date=July 2008 The achievement of this form of freedom depends upon a combination of the resistance of the individual (or group) and one's (their) environment; if one is in jail or even limited by a lack of resources, this person is free within their power and environment, but not free to defy reality. Natural laws restrict this form of freedom; for instance, no one is free to fly (though we may or may not be free to attempt to do so). Isaiah Berlin appears to call this kind of freedom "negative freedom" — an absence of obstacles put in the way of action (especially by other people). He distinguishes this from "positive freedom", which refers to one's power to make choices leading to action.

Inner autonomy

Freedom can also signify inner autonomy, or mastery over one's inner condition. This has several possible significances: [Wolf, Susan, "Freedom Within Reason"]
* the ability to act in accordance with the dictates of reason;
* the ability to act in accordance with one's own true self or values;
* the ability to act in accordance with universal values (such as the True and the Good); and
* the ability to act independently of both the dictates of reason and the urges of desires, i.e. arbitrarily (autonomously).

Especially spiritually-oriented philosophers have considered freedom to be a positive achievement of human will rather than an inherent state granted at birth. Rudolf Steiner developed a philosophy of freedom based upon the development of situationally-sensitive ethical intuitions: "acting in freedom is acting out of a pure love of the deed as one intuits the moral concept implicit in the deed". [Robert McDermott, "The Essential Steiner", ISBN 00606553450, p. 43] Similarly, E. F. Schumacher held that freedom is an inner condition, and that a human being cannot "have" freedom, but "can make it his aim to become free". [E. F. Schumacher, "Guide for the Perplexed", ISBN 0060906111, pp. 29f] In this sense, freedom may also encompass the peaceful acceptance of reality. The theological question of freedom generally focuses on reconciling the experience or reality of inner freedom with the omnipotence of the divine. Freedom has also been used a rallying cry for revolution or rebellion.

In Hans Sachs' play " Diogenes", the Greek philosopher says to Alexander the Great, whom he believes to be unfree: "You are my servants' servant". The philosopher states that he has conquered fear, lust, and anger - and is thus inwardly free - while Alexander still serves these masters - and despite his outward power has failed to achieve freedom; having conquered the world without, he has not mastered the world within. The self-mastery Sachs refers to here is dependent upon no one and nothing other than ourselves.

Notable 20th century individuals who have exemplified this form of freedom include Nelson Mandela, Rabbi Leo Baeck, Gandhi, Lech Wałęsa and Václav Havel.



*Aristotle, "The Nicomachean Ethics", Book III.
*Augustine (Saint), "On Free Will".
*Hobbes, Thomas, "Of Liberty and Necessity".
*Hume, David, "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding".
*Mill, John Stuart, "On Liberty".
*Plato, "The Republic".
*Schiller, Friedrich, "Letters upon the Aesthetic Education of Man". ISBN 1-4191-3003-X
*Wolf, Susan, "Freedom Within Reason", Oxford: 1990.
*Berlin, Isaiah, "Four Essays on Liberty". London: Oxford University Press, 1969.

ee also

* Freedom (political)
* Anarchism
* Golden Freedom
* Liberty
* Anarchy
* Christian libertarianism
* Parametric determinism
* List of indices of freedom
* Leo Strauss
* Inner peace
* Self-ownership
* Philosophy of Freedom

External links

* [ Freedom Fries Media]
* [ Sovereignty and Freedom]
* [ Psychological Freedom] - Freedom from the inner shackles
* [ Freedom of Will] — an article by Rav Michael Laitman.
* [ Non-Freedom - an article about the concept of non-freedom (in german), "Ich denke,dass ich frei bin", in Sic et Non]
* [ Freedom Theory]
* [ Free Will] article from Catholic Encyclopedia

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