Dr Jane Goodall interviewed by New Philosopher’s editor Zan Boag in the ‘Nature‘ edition. Photo by Michael Neugebauer. Zan Boag:…
THE CONCEPT OF FREEDOM IN ITS MYRIAD FORMS – BE IT FREE WILL, FREEDOM OF THOUGHT, PHYSICAL OR PERSONAL FREEDOM – HAS BEEN SUBJECT TO EARNEST ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION AMONGST PHILOSOPHERS FOR CENTURIES. WHAT IS FREEDOM? DO WE HAVE FREE WILL? AND ARE WE FREE? HERE YOU’LL FIND SOME THOUGHTS ON FREEDOM FROM SIX BIG THINKERS IN WESTERN PHILOSOPHY.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712-1778
The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.
As long as some specialised class is in a position of authority, it is going to set policy in the special interests that it serves. But the conditions of survival, let alone justice, require rational social planning in the interests of the community as a whole⎯and, by now, that means the Global Community. The question is whether privileged élites should dominate mass-communication, and should use this power as they tell us they must, namely, to impose necessary illusions, manipulate and deceive the stupid majority, and remove them from the public arena. The question, in brief, is whether Democracy and Freedom are values to be preserved or threats to be avoided. In this possibly-terminal phase of human existence, Democracy and Freedom are more than values to be treasured, they may well be essential to survival.
[People] ask themselves, what is suitable for my position? What is usually done by persons of my station and percuniary circumstances? Or (worse still) what is usually done by persons of a station and circumstances superior to mine? I do not mean that they choose what is customary in preference to what suits their own inclinations. It does not occur to them to have any inclination, except for what is customary. Thus the mind itself is bowed to the yoke: even in what people do for pleasure, conformity is the first thing thought of; they like in crowds; they exercise choice only among things that are commonly done: peculiarity of taste, eccentricity of conduct, are shunned equally with crimes: until by dint of not following their own nature they have no nature to follow: their human capacities are withered and starved: they become incapable of any strong wishes or native pleasures, and are generally without either opinions or feelings of home growth, or properly their own.
I do not know how ideas are made any more than how the world was made. All that is given to us is to grope for what passes in our incomprehensible machine. The will, therefore, is not a faculty that one can call free. A free will is an expression absolutely void of sense, and what the scholastics have called will of indifference, that is to say willing without cause, is a chimera unworthy of being combated. In what sense then must one utter the phrase-” Man is free “? in the same sense that one utters the words, health, strength, happiness. Man is not always strong, always healthy, always happy. The word “liberty,” “free-will,” is therefore an abstract word, a general word, like beauty, goodness, justice. These terms do not state that all men are always beautiful, good and just; similarly, they are not always free.
A man is not thought to be morally responsible for an action that it was not in his power to avoid. But if human behaviour is entirely governed by causal laws, it is not clear how any action that is done could ever have been avoided. It may be said of the agent that he would have acted otherwise if the causes of his action had been different, but they being what they were, it seems to follow that he was bound to act as he did. Now it is commonly assumed both that men are capable of acting freely, in the sense that is required to make them morally responsible, and that human behaviour is entirely governed by causal laws: and it is the apparent conflict between these two assumptions that gives rise to the philosophical problem of the freedom of the will.
To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorised, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolised, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonoured. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.