Hello everyone, I am pleased to present this article on the issue of freedom. This is the English translation of one of my old articles, precisely this one, hoping to efficiently reach an international audience!
Freedom: a complex issue!
In everyday life, we often hear this word. It is typical to talk about freedom of expression, choice, religion, and political freedom. However, the focus of my speech will not be political or ethical but rather theoretical! This short article aims to answer the following question: Does freedom truly exist? Is it demonstrably undeniable? Are our actions contingent or necessary? In this article, I will present my theory, which views freedom as an interpretation, meaning it cannot be refuted or proven according to my reflections.
There would be many other hot issues to analyze in this regard, such as the condemnation of slavery. Or the question concerning censorship and whether there should be limits on what can be said in the name of respecting others.
I’ll only say a few words here.
In my opinion, yes, there should be limits, but this is not the text to discuss that. It’s enough for me to point out that, for example, telling a person who exceeds a certain weight that they are a whale should not be considered part of freedom of expression, in my view. Certain words carry a significant weight. The ability to express oneself should, as much as possible, take into account the feelings of others. I will gladly write an article on these issues someday. However, for now, let’s get back to the specific topic.
“The breaking of the chains.”
Doing a quick search on Google Images for the word ‘freedom,’ the most common image is the following:
I think the image is symbolically very powerful. How would we describe it?
We are inclined to describe this image as a triumph of freedom, symbolized by the breaking of chains that leaves the hands free to move.
Okay, that can be acceptable.
What do the chains symbolize, though? In our daily lives, we are used to discussing this matter in an ethical and political context, so we tend to interpret the chains as a symbol of slavery or imprisonment. The process of liberation is thus associated with being freed from a state of subordination to other human beings.
However, we need to have a theoretical discussion; we must go deeper.
Mind you, the juxtaposition between freedom and slavery/imprisonment is not incorrect; it’s just an inadequate language for a theoretical matter, in my opinion.
What word do we associate with the chains, if the previous two words are correct but don’t delve deep enough? The answer is as follows: Necessity.
The breaking of the chains is the denial of Necessity; freedom consists in the negation of necessity.
On Necessity in brief.
It is undoubtedly a cornerstone word in philosophy. I didn’t capitalize the “N” by mistake or distraction, but because I want to highlight the fact that we are talking about Necessity in a strong sense, not in the perhaps more common everyday sense.
In philosophy, “necessary” refers to what is and is undeniable to be (a statement with a strong Parmenidean flavor). An event is necessary when it occurs and could not have not occurred. However, we are accustomed to using it in a weak, conditional sense. For example, the phrase “it is necessary for you to go to work if you want to earn your salary” does not indicate an absolute necessity; it does not imply that it is undeniable that you will perform such an action.
The first to use this term in philosophy was Anaximander, who used the famous expression “Kata to kreon,” or “Destiny of necessity.”
More than two thousand years later, Emanuele Severino titled one of his famous essays with the same expression, namely “Destiny of Necessity.”
In this work, the author aims to refute the existence of contingency and freedom and the predominance of necessity.
My position supports some of his considerations but rejects others, as we will see shortly.
The question of freedom.
Once the terms of the issue are clarified, we can now reflect on this theme. Does freedom exist? Do we truly have the possibility of choice, or does what happens consist merely of a succession of necessary and inevitable actions?
We are convinced that freedom exists, and we tend to take for granted that an individual’s actions presuppose freedom and the act of deliberation.
In this sense, freedom is often taken for granted, considered a fundamental assumption for individual and social life.
However, from a theoretical perspective, it seems interesting to ponder: can we undeniably prove freedom’s existence, or could it be merely our conviction?
This is the fundamental question to which my article attempts to provide an answer.
I intend to demonstrate through this thought experiment how our presumed freedom is, in fact, unprovable. However, I do not want to affirm its opposite, necessity, through this refutation. I am not denying freedom, but rather the provability of it. Hence, this discourse also challenges its counterpart: if freedom is unprovable, so is its opposite. The reason I conduct this experiment to challenge the possibility of proving our freedom is simply that this thought is more prevalent in our beliefs, not because necessity is provable.
Having said that, let’s proceed. We have a ball in hand, so we throw it. After performing this action, we are convinced that it is entirely contingent: we could have chosen not to throw it if we had decided otherwise.
This consideration seems quite reasonable to me: I see no compelling reasons to say it is not true. However, please note that this does not make it a true and provable statement! It may only be plausible!
Here, we are not talking about plausibility, but provability. The only way to UNDENIABLY PROVE this would be to go back in time to the moment of the choice and not throw the ball, clearly demonstrating our freedom at that moment. As of today, it seems impossible to do, right?
So, does freedom not exist? We cannot certainly say that. We can only say that we cannot indisputably declare it to be true. We can merely state that it is something sensible and reasonable, but it cannot be considered undeniably true if we define Truth with a capital “T.”
As previously mentioned, necessity is, in my opinion, the other side of the coin in this case: if freedom is unprovable, so is its absence, and therefore, necessity!
Since it is true that I cannot go back to that moment, I cannot prove either that I could have chosen not to throw the ball or that even with the will, things would have remained unchanged!
So, if these are not truths, what are they? At this point, asserting whether the world is governed by freedom or not becomes a matter of interpretation because we are not in the realm of provability. We can only speculate!
Yet we are convinced: freedom must exist!
We cannot say with certainty that free will exists. However, one thing I can be certain of is that we are certain it does exist. Our lives and any society are based on this assumption that free will exists. We have seen that we cannot prove it, and yet we are so convinced of it.
Now, the next step is to question why we hold this conviction. I dare to say that unconsciously, we believe in it not because we know it to be ultimately true (which, as seen, is unprovable), but because we WANT it to be so, that there is freedom!
In my theory, both positions are unprovable interpretations, yet we are convinced that one of them, if not true, is very plausible, while the other is entirely groundless.
So, why are we convinced of one and reject the other, even though both positions share these characteristics?
In my opinion, this conviction arises from the unconscious fact that we have an absolute need to believe in it; it is the fundamental assumption for our lives. Let me provide two examples: one concerning individual life and the other regarding social discourse.
The meaning of life.
We need two things: bread and freedom! What sense could we give to our lives if we were not convinced that what happens to us depends on the choices we make? How would we live if we were convinced that everything that happens is inevitable and that in the end, what you do has no value because it was destined to happen, and you are not truly the architect of your life and actions?
I think such a way of life would be inscrutable; I am not certain how one would feel. It does not seem to be the easiest thing in the world. How to bear such a conviction, how to live knowing that you are a puppet of something alien?
Morality and law.
Law and morality are based on the principle of responsibility, which presupposes freedom of choice: without it, no action would truly be punishable. If I commit a crime not by choice but by necessity, I am ultimately guilty. Without freedom, there is no law or morality.
Small appendix: comparison with Severino on the theme of freedom.
My position and Severino’s share the assertion that there is no evidence of the contingency of actions and, therefore, the true nature of our free agency is neither evident nor demonstrable.
The similarity ends here: I arrive at a suspension of the issue and at the unprovability of necessity as well.
Severino, on the other hand, intends to deny freedom while simultaneously affirming necessity, a position I do not agree with. However, this article is not the appropriate space to discuss that. If you want to know more about the topic, I leave you with another article!
What do you think about this issue? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section! Goodbye, and see you in the next article!