The paradox of freedom – a response

Freedom response

The paradox of freedom – a response

The paradox of freedom article has generated an interesting debate on the possibility of a solution. Where it was initially claimed that the paradox of freedom does not have a solution, the contention now is that there is more to the paradox than said initially. As Joe Weinstein promptly observes, the connection between freedom and chaos is arbitrarily made and follows my presuppositions of a Hobbesian (and to an extent Arendtian) view – however, this presupposition is not necessary and remains within theorising. You can find the mostly unedited responses below.

Joe Weinstein Hi. I just read this one entry, and I think the problem is solved by the observation and admittance that we are not free over any appreciable time period, because we are not solitary self-sufficient creatures. We depend on cooperation for our sustenance, so to posit freedom as a starting point is willful ignorance or game-playing. We feel the most free when our addictions are in good supply and/or we ignore time. And freedom is certainly individually variable by strength and circumstance. The king is certainly, if temporarily, freer than the serf.
The relationship of freedom to morality is that morality is the voluntary self-limitation, the cashing in of freedom for social reasons. In all such choices, there is a specific tradeoff, the anticipation of/trade for another preferable benefit. We may eschew theft with the reasoning that the personal gain is not worth the loss of trust we may suffer later, both in others’ eyes and in our losing our own trust in humanity when/as we see them as like ourselves, potential thieves.
However, these sorts of moral choices have been made somewhat venal by the exposure of their calculable self-interest. We can hone the definition of morality even finer, to those choices that impose self-limits, where the resulting personal benefit is purely aesthetic, those choices that are made simply because the person feels it is the beautiful/righteous to do so. Not stealing in a case where there is no chance of being caught is more moral than a case where not stealing is also a personally safer path. Giving without expectation of requital, leaving ones estate to charity etc. These redole of morality.
And this leads to law and enforcement. We could even say that law and enforcement lessens the need/opportunity for morality, because it imposes ‘artificial’, socially constructed machinery to impose force as an added risk for what is being legally banned. Law cannot enforce morality, only compliance.

Ippolit Belinski Thank you for the comment! Though I am in general agreement with your view, I don’t think we can say that this solves the paradox. In fact, I think it only reiterates it in a different way (or as Wittgenstein would have it, in a different language game). There is certainly one point of interest I may explore for a future paradox – namely the freedom of the serf as compared to the king. I am not sure that is the case within Hegelian dialectic. But I will have to have another look at that. 

Joe Weinstein OK, on rereading, I think the term ‘paradox’ is misapplied. The contention that having total freedom leads to chaos is arguable, but not a paradox. Chaos is not inconsistent with freedom. Depending on how other people act, ones social options may change, certainly, but the relationship between one person’s freedom and the options available for the expression of that freedom is not a mechanical tie, nor can we even claim that a chaotic environment provides less freedom than an ordered one, it will just be a different slate of options.
And I would argue that having total freedom does not inevitably lead to chaos. If the population of the free have inherent preferences and freely chosen mutual interests, the freedom they have may have little visible effect on the congruity and harmony of their choices. If the ice cream store increases my options by adding anchovy, onion, and gravel chunk ice creams, it will have no practical effect on my traditional choice of chocolate.

Ippolit Belinski You are right on the point that there is no necessary relation between chaos as opposed to freedom. I concede on that point, though paradox should not be understood solely in terms of logical paradoxes, but equally as dilemma’s, problems, etc. That’s at least the way I use it.
And I have to also admit my love/hate relation with Hobbes, I am not sure what to think on the point exactly, but I will not rule out chaos as the ‘traditional’ opposite of freedom – in the sense that without order, the possibility of freedom diminishes (to say the least).
On a different point: I tend to disagree with your conclusion that more choice will not affect your traditional choice of chocolate – I think it will to a degree; but here we will probably have a different view on what choice is. If you are interested I have also some articles on that on the website (paradox of choice + part 2). If you can’t find it through search, let me know and I will post the link.

Joe Weinstein I will stick with the scientific definition of chaos/order/entropy etc, that disorder/entropy is defined as an increase in possibilities. Order limits possibilities.
I will mentally translate when you use the term paradox, to mean problem.
If you can show me where order permits more freedom, instead of *different* freedom, that would be good. But socially beneficial opportunities do increase with the order that we impose in such things as traffic laws, and in financial contracts etc.


As it happens, I cannot show where order would permit more freedom, except within the psychological understand of freedom already presented in the article itself. Perhaps it is best to reiterate my agreement with Joe Weinstein that opportunities – and not freedom, though that impression may have been given – do increase within an ‘ordered state’.

My thanks to Joe for permitting me to post his response from Facebook group Political Philosophies.

The original article: The paradox of freedom.

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