Wednesday, May 06, 2015
Positive and Negative Freedom
Most of the following post is written in response to Isaiah Berlin’s essay: ‘Two Concepts of Liberty.’ Those who are familiar with that essay will have a context for the sort of philosophical journey that is undertaken during the course of this posting
Some have argued that to coerce a person is to deprive the latter individual of freedom. Whether, or not, this sort of coercion or the correlative freedom are ‘bad’ or ‘good’ things tends to be a more complex issue.
To some extent, the foregoing perspective seems to assume that the natural, default condition of a human being is freedom. If so, then that sort of an assumption is, I feel, something which is very difficult to demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, in any sort of a: Non-arbitrary, non-circular, non-tautological and evidentially-based manner
Nonetheless, coercion might deprive an individual of his or her sovereignty – that is, deprive an individual from having a fair opportunity to explore the possible palimpsest character of reality. For instance, depending on circumstances, coercion could have the potential to remove the condition of fairness from one’s need to push back the horizons of ignorance, and stating things in this way, tends to leave room for the possibility that some degree of coercion might be justified in those circumstances in which a person’s exercise of sovereignty interfered with the reciprocal need of other individuals to have a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance and, thereby, exercise their own sense of sovereignty.
One can derive the foregoing sense of sovereignty from the law of ignorance that governs the starting point of our existential condition. However, one has considerably more difficulty trying to derive the notion of freedom from the default position of ignorance – both individual and collective.
The idea of freedom has been analytically broken down by some individuals to suggest that there are both “positive” and “negative” senses of freedom. Positive freedom concerns those conditions which allegedly give expression to the nature or source of authority for determining what can and can’t be done in any given set of circumstances, whereas negative freedom supposedly refers to the character or shape of the ‘space’ within which people should be permitted to pursue their interests without interference from others.
While the foregoing senses of “freedom” might lead to overlapping considerations, some have argued that ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ senses of freedom point toward very different sorts of questions and issues. That kind of an argument seems problematic.
More specifically, if one identifies the source or authority for establishing who gets to do what when (i.e., the positive sense of freedom), then one also will probably have considerable insight into the character of the ‘space’ (i.e., the negative sense of freedom) that is likely to be generated through, or permitted by, the exercise of the positive sense of freedom. Similarly, if one understands the shape of the character of the space within which people are considered to be free to pursue their interests without interference (i.e., the negative sense of freedom), then one also is probably going to have insight into the character of the source or authority (i.e., the positive sense of freedom) that is structuring the space of the negative sense of freedom in one way rather than another.
In addition, irrespective of whether one is considering the positive or negative sense of freedom, one will be engaging issues that entail questions concerning what justifies either sense of freedom in any given set of circumstances. In other words, if someone identifies a given ‘what’ (e.g., principle) or ‘who’ (e.g., ruler) as the source of authority for setting the conditions of negative freedoms, then one is justified in asking: ‘How so?’ … that is, what justifies identifying a given ‘what’ or ‘who’ as the source or authority for shaping the space of negative freedom in one way rather than another? Similarly, if someone outlines the shape of the space within which negative freedom is to be manifested, then one is justified in asking the same: ‘How so?’ … that is, what justifies structuring the shape of political/legal/ethical space (i.e., the negative sense of freedom) in one way rather than another?
The epistemological considerations that justifiably establish someone or something as being the source or authority for regulating the affairs of others are also likely to be the epistemological considerations that justifiably establish how and why the affairs of people are to be regulated in one fashion rather than another. To claim that someone could settle issues concerning the source or authority for the exercise of positive freedom without simultaneously settling what that sort of a source or authority can permit in the way of negative freedom seems to be a rather curious claim.
If one understands how and why someone or something constitutes the source or authority for regulating the affairs of others (i.e., the positive sense of freedom), then one also will have at least a general understanding concerning the shape of the political space within which people should be left alone to pursue their respective interests (i.e., the negative sense of freedom). Otherwise, everything will be completely arbitrary and, as a result, making the distinction between positive and negative freedom seems rather pointless.
If there is no justifiable reason or set of reasons that can be established beyond a reasonable doubt as to why one should identify a particular ‘what’ or ‘who as the source or authority for regulating the affairs of others, then what purpose is served by talking about those matters? If there is no justifiable reason or set of reasons that can be established beyond a reasonable doubt as to why the shape of negative space should be one thing rather than another – that is, why the source or authority for positive freedom should regulate such space in one way rather than another – then one has difficulty understanding what the point is of that discussion.
To claim that: the nature of positive and negative freedoms are separate issues, one has to be able to put forth a justifiable framework which demonstrates, in a non-arbitrary manner, how the two notions of freedom aren’t inherently connected. One has to show how the issue of identifying the ‘what’ or ‘who’ of positive freedom is independent of the shape of the space within which people will be permitted to pursue their respective interests according to the character of negative freedom.
Suppose, for example, that the principle for identifying the source or authority for regulating society is hereditary succession. One must be able to justify that principle.
Justifying the foregoing principle will necessarily involve considerations about why people should accept such a source or authority for regulating their lives. Advancing that sort of a principle will also involve considerations about whether, or not, there are any conditions or qualifiers concerning those regulations, as well as why those conditions or qualifiers are, or aren’t, necessary.
If a ruler can do whatever she or he likes, then the entire shape of the space that gives expression to negative freedoms will be settled through the likes and dislikes of the source or authority for regulating the lives of others. If a ruler cannot do whatever he or she likes with respect to the lives of others, then such a consideration is likely to be an intrinsic part of the process through which one chooses the source or authority for regulating the lives of others.
Positive and negative freedoms are not independent of one another. They have a yin/yang sort of relationship such that the manner through which one engages either sort of freedom in a non-arbitrary way has ramifications for how one engages the complementary notion of freedom.
Freedoms – whether considered in a positive or negative sense -- and rights are not necessarily coextensive terms. Rights give expression to entitlements that are capable of being justified beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas freedoms give expression to the set of choices from which a person might select a possible course of action without such a choice necessarily being capable of being justified -- either in terms of: a preponderance of the evidence (in the case of an isolated individual or an individual whose acts do not adversely affect the sovereignty of another human being), or in terms of being: beyond a reasonable doubt (in those instances where the exercise of sovereignty of one individual interferes with the like sovereignty of another person).
We are free to do as many things as our abilities and circumstances permit. That freedom lies at the very heart of what it means to be able to choose … to whatever extent we possess that kind of a capacity.
However, not all those manifestations of freedom are capable of being justified in the sense that one can be said to have a right to realize such freedoms in the realm of action. Rights are those freedoms which are capable of being justified under the appropriate circumstances … either according to the standard of constituting a preponderance of available evidence (in the case of individuals acting in ways that do not undermine the basic sovereignty of others) or according to the standard of being beyond a reasonable doubt (in the case of individuals acting in ways that do affect the basic sovereignty of others).
Sovereignty – in the sense of being entitled to a fair opportunity to explore the possible palimpsest character of reality -- is a right that can be justified in terms of what follows from our condition of existential ignorance. However, that sovereignty is not without limits since it gives expression to various degrees of freedom that must be capable of being justified in the context of a similar right of sovereignty that belongs to other people with a correlative set of degrees of freedom.
Not all degrees of freedom are necessarily capable of helping someone to realize the fullness of sovereignty or even to partially realize the potential of such sovereignty. For example, one is free to make selections from amongst the degrees of freedom which are available to one that might lead in the direction of alcoholism and/or drug addiction, but those choices and the degrees of freedom to which they correspond will not necessarily advance the moral project of sovereignty in a justifiable way – either with respect to oneself or in relation to others.
Implementing this or that degree of freedom from amongst those that might be available to one will not necessarily enhance sovereignty. Freedoms that are exercised have the capacity to adversely or constructively affect the process of sovereignty.
Consequently, one cannot address the issue of the shape of the space within which people should have the ability to pursues their interests (i.e., the negative sense of freedom) without taking into consideration the nature of sovereignty and what can, and cannot, be justified, depending on circumstances, either through a preponderance of the evidence or through being beyond a reasonable doubt. Stated in a slightly different manner, that which can be determined -- either through a preponderance of the evidence or through being demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt -- concerning the nature of sovereignty is the source and authority for determining how the space of negative freedom should be shaped or regulated.
Freedom, considered in its own terms – that is, as the capacity to choose – is not necessarily the goal or purpose of sovereignty. Freedoms – of the right kind – are the means through which the potential of sovereignty is to be explored, and one cannot speak about freedom as being a – or the -- sought for end unless one can justify, in some non-arbitrary sense, that the idea of sovereignty necessarily reduces down to nothing more, or less, than the capacity to exercise choice.
Therefore, considered from the perspective of the law of ignorance, the challenge of sovereignty is not a matter of trying to maximize freedom per se. Rather, the task with which one is confronted concerns one’s need to determine the character of the freedoms that are necessary to be able to explore the possible palimpsest character of reality in a constructive fashion – that is, in a way which does not interfere -- in an unjustifiable manner – with the process of exploring the potential of sovereignty ... either with respect to oneself or others.
How we conceive of: ‘justice,’ ‘duty,’ ‘obligation,’ ‘right,’ ‘purpose,’ ‘equality,’ ‘governance,’ and ‘reason’ are all a function of the process of moral epistemology which is set in motion through the sovereignty project that arises out of the law of ignorance … the most basic modality of our existential condition – both individually and collectively. Freedom per se – that is, the capacity to choose – doesn’t necessarily inform the sovereignty project except as the experience generated through the exercise of that freedom leads to a ‘better’ (whatever this might mean) understanding of what is entailed by the notion of sovereignty.
The process of leading to a “better understanding” is an exercise in learning how to choose wisely (that is, constructively in relation to realizing the full potential of sovereignty … or as much of this as we are able to realize) rather than merely being able to choose irrespective of the consequences of those choices. Therefore, while freedom, of a sort, might be a necessary condition, nonetheless, freedom, per se, is not a sufficient condition for realizing the potential of sovereignty since not any and all choices will help that potential to unfold in a viable and constructive fashion.
Sovereignty stands at the cross road between, on the one hand, identifying those freedoms which are conducive to the process of sovereignty -- along with its concomitant project of moral epistemology -- and, on the other hand, identifying those freedoms which have problematic ramifications for realizing the potential of sovereignty. This is not a matter of differentiating between positive and negative freedoms but, rather, it is a matter of being able to justify – on both an individual and collective level – the sorts of freedoms that will assist the process of unfolding the potential of sovereignty in relation to the task of determining the possible palimpsest character of reality.
If one is incapable, for whatever reason, of doing justice – that is, of exhibiting fairness – with respect to engaging one’s essential rootedness in the phenomenology of sovereignty, then one is unlikely to be capable of doing justice to anything else in the universe … or beyond. Justice begins with the issue of sovereignty, and our understanding of justice is shaped according to the manner in which we proceed from our existential default mode of ignorance in conjunction with the project of moral epistemology that is inherent in the challenge which is posed by sovereignty.
The basic freedom is a “freedom to”, not a “freedom from”. The basic freedom – which is rooted in the sovereignty that is justified through the law of ignorance -- involves the right to push back the horizons of ignorance as long as the act of ‘pushing’ does not adversely affect the like sovereignty of others.
Reciprocity is a duty of care which is entailed by the basic existential condition of sovereignty. Reciprocity is what permits a person to continue– within limits -- the project of moral epistemology that is inherent in the process of sovereignty.
Reciprocity is rooted in an understanding that develops as an individual probes the character of experience and acquires a sense of that which is, and is not, capable of being justified with respect to giving expression to the process of sovereignty. Therefore, reciprocity also primarily involves a “freedom to”, not a “freedom from,” since reciprocity marks the boundaries of the former in a justifiable manner … it is affirmative rather than restrictive.
Interference arises as an issue only when previously justified boundaries concerning sovereignty are transgressed from within (i.e., the individual) or from without (i.e., the collective). Until that kind of a breach point is reached, everything is a matter of the ‘freedom to’ act in accordance with the basic sovereignty that gives expression to one’s existential condition.
Reciprocity is a matter of extending to others the sort of non-interfering assistance that one has come to understand might enhance another person’s attempt to push back the horizons of ignorance just as similar sorts of support have played a constructive role in one’s own struggle with engaging sovereignty. As such, reciprocity constitutes an appreciation of the difficulties that surround the problem of trying to establish a balance between those acts that would adversely affect another person’s basic sovereignty and those acts that might constructively enhance another person’s process of exercising sovereignty.
We are “free – within limits – to” help others with their process of sovereignty. The aforementioned “limits” concern those acts which would undermine another person’s sovereignty in a way that could not be justified beyond a reasonable doubt.
People do have a right to be ‘free from’ the latter sort of acts. However, this ‘freedom from’ is measured against, and derived from, a person’s basic ‘freedom to’ -- or right to -- pursue sovereignty.
Given the foregoing considerations, there seems to be an inversion of priorities in the positive/negative freedom distinction. Apparently, the idea of being “free from” tends to imply that the ‘what’ (e.g., principle, constitution, or legal system) or ‘who’ (e.g., ruler or leader) which are said to possess positive freedom – that is, the ‘what’ or ‘who’ that has been identified, for whatever reasons (arbitrary or otherwise), as being the source and authority for regulating the lives of others -- needs to be restrained from interfering with or restricting, the ‘space’ within which people should be free from interference (i.e., negative freedom) by the former form of positive freedom.
As such, positive freedom seems to be given a certain priority over negative freedom. More specifically, from the perspective of the positive/negative sense of freedom perspective, only positive freedom entitles a ‘what’ (e.g., constitutional system) or ‘who’ (ruler) to be free to act, whereas those who operate within the space defined by ‘negative freedom’ should be free from certain kinds of interference from the means through which positive freedom is exercised.
However, from the perspective being given expression in this book, the sovereignty of the individual is more basic than any other kind of freedom. To whatever extent some ‘what’ (e.g., legal system) or ‘who’ (ruler) can be justified, that kind of a justification must start from the realization that only individuals are entitled to the basic sovereignty that arises in the context of the law of ignorance that prevails over our individual and collective existential condition.
The belief that ‘all power of governance derives from the consent of the people’ gives expression to the inherent priority that is entailed by the basic sovereignty to which everyone is entitled. The ‘what’ or ‘who’ which is the source of, or authority for, the power (freedom to) regulate the lives of others must be justified beyond a reasonable doubt in the context of the sovereignty of individuals that is capable of being justified beyond any reason in relation to the law of ignorance that prevails at the most basic level of existential conditions – both individually and collectively.
John Stuart Mill, among others, claims that unless individuals are free from interference, then truth will not be established and, therefore, society will not progress. ‘Freedom from interference’ is the ‘space’ through which individual genius, creativity, and inventiveness will be enabled.
What the ‘truth’ of any matter is, Mill doesn’t say. Consequently, Mill is merely assuming that there is a necessary link between, on the one hand, ‘freedom from interference’ and, on the other hand, ‘establishing the truth’.
Irrespective of what the truth of things might be and irrespective of whether, or not, anyone will come to understand the nature of that truth, everyone is entitled to the opportunity to try to push back the horizons of ignorance that envelop him or her. That kind of an opportunity is not necessarily the royal road to the land of truth, nor is that sort of an opportunity required so that creativity, genius, and inventiveness will be manifested.
Sovereignty is not a means to an end. Sovereignty is merely a starting point that permits one to have an opportunity – within limits -- to explore one’s existential condition … there are no guarantees concerning where the process of engaging such an opportunity might take one.
Mill maintains that from the perspective of ‘liberty’, “pagan self-assertion is as worthy as Christian self-denial.” Without knowing the truth of things, one really is not in any position to evaluate the worthiness of either ‘pagan self-assertion’ or ‘Christian self-denial.’ Moreover, without knowing, or being able to justify, the criteria for determining the worthiness of any given activity, one cannot defensibly equate ‘pagan self-assertion’ with ‘Christian self-denial’.
Ignorance does not make activities equally worthy. Ignorance cloaks the possible worthiness of those activities in the darkness of the unknown.
‘Pagan self-assertion’ and ‘Christian self-denial’ certainly are two of the many directions in which one might choose to journey with respect to trying to push back the horizons of ignorance. Whether: either of those two possibilities, or neither of them, or both of them, are, in some sense, worthy will depend on the truth of things … for there can be no non-arbitrary sense of worthiness apart from the truth.
A ‘what’ (e.g., constitutional system) or ‘who’ (e.g., ruler) interfering with the sovereignty of others is as much in need of being justified beyond a reasonable doubt as is the case when an individual that is exercising sovereignty interferes with the sovereignty of other individuals. The existential problem with which we are confronted is not a matter of positive and negative freedoms, but, rather, the aforementioned problem is a function of individual sovereignty and whether, or not, in any given instance, departures from that basic, existential standard can be justified.
Mill also argues that whatever errors an individual might commit despite the best efforts of others to persuade such a person that she or he is making a mistake are trivial compared to the evils of trying to restrain that individual from committing those sorts of errors. Whether, or not, one would agree with Mill with respect to the foregoing contention might depend on the nature of the mistake being made by some given individual, as well as on the nature of the means of constraining an individual from committing such an error, as well as the nature of the method of evaluation used to make such judgments.
Apparently, Mill believes there is a moral calculus that has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt which is capable of demonstrating, to one and all, where the greater evil lies with respect to individual freedoms and collective constraints. Unfortunately, there are many such systems of moral calculus, and the problem confronting individual sovereignty is to determine which, if any, of them are true.
Individual sovereignty – at least in the sense being employed in this book – only entitles a person to have a fair opportunity to try to push back the horizons of ignorance. The degrees of freedom associated with the exercise of that sovereignty are subject to considerations involving, among other things, issues of justification either with respect to ‘a preponderance of evidence’ or ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ … depending on the nature of one’s mode of exercising one’s basic sovereignty (that is, by oneself or in conjunction with others).
Unless one can show that a given departure from the basic standard of sovereignty (which is a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance and nothing more) can be justified beyond a reasonable doubt, then individual departures from the basic standard are as problematic as are collective departures from that standard. Individuals do not have priority over the collective with respect to the issue of sovereignty, and the collective does not have priority over the individual in that regard … instead, everything depends on how one chooses to exercise sovereignty and whether, or not, departures from the basic standard of sovereignty can be justified beyond a reasonable doubt in any given case.
Mill maintained that only individuals with certain qualities were capable of realizing the potential of freedom. In other words, individuals who manifested qualities of being: independent, critically inclined, non-conforming, creative, and original were, according to Mill, best situated to reap the fruits of freedom.
The foregoing qualities were either never defined by Mill or, where defined, not justified. Moreover, despite Mill’s belief that those qualities could only thrive in the condition of being free from interference, there is considerable historical evidence to suggest that individuals (e.g., Socrates, Jesus, Spartacus, William Wallace, Tom Paine, Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela) were often at their individualistic, non-conforming, critically inclined, creative, morally courageous best when those people were opposing authoritarian challenges to the sovereignty of the individual ... which is not a justification for the existence of those sorts of authoritarian challenges.
Indeed, Mill’s perspective concerning liberty makes no sense unless it emerges out of the sort of context in which Mill believes that individuals have not been free from the sorts of interference about which he is concerned in his essay on liberty. If tyranny and authoritarianism of various kinds did not exist, Mill likely would have had no reason to say what he did … he would have had nothing against which to push.
Furthermore, someone could exercise the foregoing qualities (i.e., being non-conforming, critical, and so on) in relation to a given authoritarian attempt to constrain individual sovereignty or one could exercise such qualities in relation to Mill’s perspective itself. However, neither case necessarily guarantees that one will be any nearer to the truth at the end of the day.
The fact of the matter is that we are not quite certain how to go about establishing the truth of things concerning the nature of the universe … even though we might have an idea concerning how to go about establishing the likely truth of this or that limited fact. The process through which anyone comes to the realization of the truth of something is, more often than not, clouded in mystery.
Qualities of independence, critical thought, originality, creativity, and non-conformity – even if we were able to define them in some non-arbitrary manner – might assist one in the search for truth. Yet, there are a lot of people who exhibit those qualities but who don’t necessarily make the critical breakthroughs to important ‘truths’ of one kind or another.
Furthermore, there are a variety of historical instances involving conditions of apparent serendipity that have led to the discovery of important insights. This tends to suggest that factors other than the sort of personal qualities which Mill considered to be critical to civilization might play a role in the search for the truth of things.
Some have argued that Mill’s notion of liberty is not inconsistent with some forms of tyranny or autocracy. In other words, one need not argue that such a notion of liberty can only be realized in the context of some form of democracy or self-governance.
According to that kind of a perspective, one could conceive of a ruler who simultaneously permitted his or her subjects freedom from interference in some areas while limiting freedom from interference in other areas. Some people have concluded from the foregoing possibility that this kind of a state of affairs indicates that the issue of who governs a person is distinct from the issue of the character of the degrees of freedom that are granted to individuals through the source of authority regulating the structural character of the space through which ‘negative freedoms’ – freedom from – are exercised.
While it might be true that Mill’s conception of liberty is such that it permits one to differentiate between positive and negative senses of freedom, acknowledging this does not prevent one from asking: Why should one accept Mill’s way of looking at things as the standard process for filtering those matters? Having a point of view and having a justifiable point of view are not necessarily the same things?
Why should one adopt a Mill-like framework concerning the issue of freedoms? For instance, historically speaking one might be able to point to this or that instance in which distinguishing between positive and negative senses of freedom helped to make sense of those sorts of historical circumstances, and, yet, one might still ask: Why should one accept that way of doing things – either historically or methodologically?
The fact something can be done in a certain way does not necessarily mean that things should be done in that manner. Mill is certainly free to look at history and his experience in the way he does, but why should I – or anyone -- do so as well?
Historically speaking, there might have been any number of rulers or systems of government that arranged things so that some areas of the activities of subjects/citizens were free from interference while other areas of activities were not free from that kind of interference. What gives that ruler or system of government the right to arrange things in one way or another? Such a ‘right’ stands in need of being justified … not just in terms of a preponderance of evidence but beyond a reasonable doubt with respect to that evidence.
The fact Mill’s approach to the idea of liberty permits a certain kind of “freedom from interference’ (the negative sense of freedom) to peacefully coexist with an otherwise authoritarian regulation of life (the positive sense of freedom) does not necessarily justify either the positive or negative facet of that kind of an arrangement. In fact, one might argue that under the foregoing set of circumstances, individuals who enjoy the fruits of being free from certain kinds of interference have been ‘brought off’ at the expense of those who will not be free from certain kinds of interference … for example, scientists who are given freedom from interference – a freedom that is leveraged for purposes of exploring the physical and material universe -- could be subsidized by those who will not have freedom from being interfered with and who will be forced to help certain ‘elites’ to benefit economically from the discoveries made by those same scientists.
Freedom from interference of a certain kind does not exist in isolation. The foregoing sort of freedom is part of a social system, and that system, considered as a whole, stands in need of being justified.
Mill’s perspective concerning liberty provides one with a hermeneutical way of interpreting different contexts. Nonetheless, one legitimately can still ask: How does such a perspective enhance one’s understanding of sovereignty understood as constituting the right to have a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance?
Any constraint on sovereignty that cannot be justified beyond a reasonable doubt is likely to lead to an unfair system of opportunity in relation to the project of moral epistemology that is entailed by the basic condition of sovereignty … a condition that can be justified beyond a reasonable doubt in a way that Mill’s approach to liberty cannot be so justified. Permitting some degrees of freedom from interference (the negative sense of freedom), while not permitting other sorts of freedom from interference (which has to do with the positive sense of freedom) is not self-justifying … even thought this sort of arrangement might be convenient for those who find those spaces -- being free from interference -- enjoyable or valuable.
To argue – as some have – that there is no necessary logical connection between Mill’s notion of freedom and the nature of self-governance or democracy indicates that Mill’s perspective is, at best, problematic. In other words, if one is seeking some form of political/legal arrangement that is, broadly construed, democratic in the sense that it permits individuals to govern themselves (i.e., to be their own source or authority for regulating the public space) then, presumably, one should be looking for a notion of freedom that does have a necessary logical connection to that form of self-governance.
The most basic form of freedom is the “freedom to” have an opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance – within the limits of a reciprocity that establishes fairness with respect to such an opportunity. This freedom is a right because it can be justified beyond any reasonable doubt in the context of the existential conditions we find ourselves … conditions that give expression to the law of ignorance.
The foregoing “freedom to” is at the heart of the basic sovereignty to which every individual has a right. This sort of sovereignty, freedom, or right is logically linked to the issue of self-governance since the latter is not possible without, at a minimum, possessing the basic sovereignty that is being delineated here.
What does it mean to be master of oneself? Does it necessarily mean that all one’s decisions are based on one’s own ideas, thoughts, inclinations, purposes, reasoning processes, and will?
If so, then every ‘junky’ is a master of himself or herself. Obviously, there appears to be a fly in the foregoing brand of logical ointment concerning what is meant by the idea of mastery.
How does one distinguish between, on the one hand, delusional: ideas, thoughts, inclinations, purposes, or reasoning processes, and, on the other hand, those ideas, thoughts, purposes, and so on that give expression to the truth of a matter (or a greater degree of the truth of a matter)? Isn’t it possible that, on occasion, the ideas, thoughts, inclinations, purposes, reasoning processes, and behaviors of others (which might give expression to their wills) might be able to assist one to struggle toward the truth of a situation?
Certainly, we wish to be free from the ideas, purposes, and so on of others which are imposed on us independent of our concerns with respect to those issues. However, the dialectic between oneself and others can be both beneficial as well as problematic.
Being able to choose as one likes might, or might not, advance the cause of sovereignty. Being free from the interference of others, might, or might not, advance the search for truth.
To have responsibility for the choices one makes is a good thing … unless, of course, this sort of responsibility carries injurious ramifications with respect to one’s capacity for making further choices. Every choice we make leads to an unknown future … a future for which one might wish not to be held responsible.
Everyone wants to have control over their decisions. Often times, however, when problems arise in conjunction with those choices, the first thing many people do is disavow responsibility for the decisions that have been made.
To be master of oneself requires a person to push back the horizons of ignorance concerning the nature of self and mastery. As long as one remains in ignorance, one is no position to know what will enhance one’s mastery of oneself.
Some individuals have argued that “rationality” is what sets human beings apart from the rest of the universe. Even if, for the moment, one were to leave aside those questions that revolved about the issue of just what was meant by “rationality”, one still would be left with questions about the possibility that other dimensions of being human might also might distinguish between human beings and the rest of the universe – for example, dimensions which involve to varying degrees: creativity, moral character, self-awareness, language, spirituality, and so on that are not necessarily reducible down to only considerations of “rationality’ … however this latter term might be defined.
In any event, if one were to define self-mastery as the ability to use reason to explain one’s decisions to others in terms of one’s own thoughts and purposes, this assumes that this sort of explication can be justified. Using reason might not, in and of itself, guarantee that one’s explanation concerning the relationship among thoughts, intentions and behaviors will give expression to a relationship that can be justified – either with respect to considerations involving the preponderance of evidence or in relation to considerations that carry one to a point of being beyond a reasonable doubt.
For example, while an individual might use ‘reason’ -- in some sense of the word -- to connect one’s thoughts, intentions and behavior in a manner that seems to embrace a preponderance of the available evidence, that kind of an argument might not convince others of its truth, or likely truth, beyond a reasonable doubt. If one is merely providing an account of one’s reasoning concerning some issue, the foregoing sort of an ‘explanation’ might be satisfactory, but if one is trying to justify the manner in which one’s behavior interfered with the sovereignty of another individual, such an explanation -- while reasonable in some sense -- would not necessarily be fully satisfactory.
The notions of ‘reason’, ‘reasonable’, and ‘reasoning’ are very contentious issues. Some explications of ‘reason’, ‘reasonable’, and ‘reasoning’ might satisfy some standards of acceptability, and, yet, fail to meet other, more rigorous standards of critical exploration.
Does the expectation that someone’s reasoning process should be capable of meeting a certain, rigorous standard of critical acceptance enslave that individual? If the latter standard is not justifiable, then one might be inclined to say that the foregoing sort of expectation is enslaving. However, if that standard is justifiable, then any failure to meet it carries the possible implication that the thinking of the person being examined does not necessarily give expression to ‘rational’ thought.
If standards of reasoning are arbitrary (that is, they cannot be shown as being likely to be true beyond a reasonable doubt), then to whatever extent those standards or conventions are imposed on others, then to that extent those standards have a potential for enslaving people. If, on the other hand, one can show beyond a reasonable doubt that a given set of standards is not arbitrary, then that set of standards is not necessarily enslaving but, instead, constitutes one of the conditions that need to be met in order for someone to be considered as being rational.
The law of ignorance that justifies the basic sovereignty to which each individual is entitled (that is, a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance) entails a high standard with respect to transgressing against another individual’s sovereignty. One must be able to show beyond a reasonable doubt that such a transgression is justified.
If one cannot meet the aforementioned standard, then although a person’s argument might employ reasoning of one kind or another, nevertheless, that argument is not necessarily rational. In other words, this sort of an argument has failed to satisfy the standard which justifies someone’s departing from the basic process of sovereignty to which ignorance concerning the truth of our existential conditions gives expression.
People are free to believe whatever they like about the nature of ‘the self’, ‘reality’, ‘truth’, ‘mastery’ and so on. However, not all of those beliefs are capable of being justified beyond a reasonable doubt – in fact, most of those beliefs cannot be so justified -- and, therefore, the right to invoke those beliefs as reasons for departing from the basic sovereignty to which we are all entitled has not been justified in a rational fashion.
Moreover, even when considering things in relation to those aspects of a person’s life which do not spill over in a problematic way with respect to the basic sovereignty to which others are entitled, nevertheless, although people are free to believe whatever they like in such circumstances, not all such beliefs are capable of being justified in terms of even the lesser rational standard of a preponderance of the available evidence.
The basic sovereignty to which we each are entitled as a result of the law of ignorance permits an array of degrees of freedom for proceeding in this or that direction. However, not all of those choices are necessarily rational ones despite the fact that a reasoning process might have preceded the exercise of any given choice … that is, not all those choices will necessarily be able to help push back the horizons of ignorance in a justifiable fashion even though those choices might arise in a context of reasoned meaningfulness.
We are all entitled to have a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance. Not all of us take constructive advantage of that kind of opportunity in a way which can be justified – depending on circumstances -- according to the rational standard of a preponderance of the available evidence or according to the rational standard of being beyond a reasonable doubt.
Desiring something is not the same thing as being able to justify -- according to some rational standard in the foregoing senses – that which is desired. Self-mastery is not necessarily what one supposes it to be.
Mastery is as an expression of the actual way of the universe. Mastery is something which having a fair opportunity to push back the horizons permits one to pursue, but having that kind of an opportunity doesn’t guarantee anyone that the truth of things will be realized through the pursuit of that sort of opportunity … even when everything is done fairly or in a reciprocally appropriate fashion.
Some individuals (e.g., Kant) have argued that values are values only to the extent that they have been generated through the free choices of human beings. If so, then truth is not a value since the truth of something is not what one freely chooses it to be but is, instead, what reality requires it to be.
We grasp truth to the extent that our understanding reflects the character of the way things are. Values which do not conform to the truth of things have questionable value even though we may choose them.
Man is not the measure of all things. Truth is the measure of all things, and men adopt this or that metric as ways of attempting to plot the nature of that truth according to the capacity of chosen metric to do so.
Contrary to what Kant and others tend to maintain, self-mastery might not be a matter of resisting one’s desires and emotional impulses. This is so for several reasons.
First, not all desires and emotions are necessarily injurious to the existential project of pushing back the horizons of ignorance. For example, sincerely yearning for the truth or sincerely desiring to do justice to the truth might be allies in the cause of enhancing sovereignty.
Emotions and desires are not inherently at odds with the issue of sovereignty. Much depends on whether, or not, those forces are capable of being harmonized with the task of trying to push back the horizons of ignorance.
Secondly, the belief that emotions and desires must be controlled by reason ignores the possibility that reason might be as much in need of being informed and shaped by certain emotions and desires, as certain emotions and desires are in need of being shaped by reason.
Having empathy for another human being -- or for life in general -- might be an important and appropriate way of orienting reason with respect to reality. A process of reasoning which sought to control empathy might not be an effective form of reasoning … although some sort of an ‘appropriate’ balance between reason and empathy might be considered prudent.
Love can both blind and cripple reason as well as set reason free. The dialectic between love and reason is not something that should always be settled in reason’s favor and, therefore, this sort of dialectic is not something which should necessarily be controlled solely through considerations of reason.
Reason might argue that discretion is the better part of valor, but courage might counter with the possibility that discretion is reason’s way of avoiding responsibility with respect to taking necessary action. Should reason control emotion, or should emotion inform reason?
Empathy, love, and courage – along with a number of other emotions – have as much right to shape the choices human beings make as reason does. A person must learn to distinguish among her or his emotions and desires with respect to those which are able to constructively enhance one’s basic sovereignty with respect to pushing back the horizons of ignorance (including those horizons which surround one’s attempt to understand the nature of emotions and desires).
Not all reasons are good ones. Not all emotions should necessarily be controlled or discarded.
One does not comply with reasons because they are inherently ‘reasonable’. Rather, reasons are reasonable to the extent that they help one push back the horizons of ignorance.
Similarly, an individual does not admit emotions only to the extent that they are controlled by reason. Instead, emotions might have a constructive role to play to the extent that they assist reason to push back the horizons of ignorance.
One’s ability to search for the truth can be hindered both by problematic reasons as well as problematic emotions. Alternatively, one’s ability to search for the truth can be enhanced both by justifiable reasons and constructive emotions … that is, emotions which do not undermine a person’s search for truth but, instead, assist that search in various ways.
The truth is not a law to be obeyed but, rather, truth is a reality to be recognized and used to further the project of moral epistemology that is entailed by the basic sovereignty which follows from the nature of our relationship to existence. We are not autonomous because we follow the rational laws that we impose upon ourselves but, rather, we are truly autonomous only when our choices are informed by the truth – to whatever extent this is possible – and, therefore, our behavior gives expression to the only form of autonomy that is defensible both rationally and emotionally … namely, to choose the way of truth since all other choices will lead to error and delusion.
The closer one is to the truth, the closer one is to having an opportunity to maximize one’s autonomy. Autonomy means being free from all considerations other than the truth.
One does not become enslaved to the truth thereby. Rather, the truth actually does set one free to engage the universe or reality in the least problematic, most effectively functional manner possible.
The truth does not cause our choices. Rather, the truth is either accepted or rejected by our willingness to proceed in one direction rather than another.
The truth might not be recognized as such – that is, beyond a reasonable doubt and with something akin to certainty -- when it is rejected. Similarly, the truth might not be recognized as such – that is, beyond a reasonable doubt and with something akin to certainty -- when it is accepted.
Many factors and forces might shape and color the circumstances of choice. However, no matter what those factors and forces might be, choice gives expression to the manner in which a person’s will engages understanding such that some portion of the array of possibilities which are entailed by the foregoing sort of an understanding are selected by that within one which does the selecting from amongst those possibilities.
Circumstances and understanding propose possibilities. Will disposes – via choice – those proposed possibilities, and, therefore, the direction of causality extends from will to the indicated possibilities.
In other words, we cede authority to some aspect of those hermeneutical circumstances. Irrespective of the hermeneutical and behavioral direction in which one goes, the act of willing is the process of ceding authority, for good reasons or bad, to some aspect of reality that will shape and color the character of one’s behavior. The ramifications of those choices will always come home to roost and help shape, color and orient the nature of one’s sense of self through which choice is filtered.
Habit gives expression to one of the inertial forces of mental space. Life trends – such as attitudes, coping strategies, and motivational patterns -- are very difficult to alter once they have acquired inertial properties of their own.
Contrary to what Kant claims, human beings are not necessarily ends in themselves. The nature of human beings is a function of what the truth is concerning that nature.
The reason why we do not have a right to interfere with the basic sovereignty of another human being is not because of what we know – beyond a reasonable doubt -- about the nature of being human and how (as Kant believed) human beings are ends in themselves. Rather, we do not have a right to interfere with the basic sovereignty of another human being because of what we don’t know – beyond a reasonable doubt -- about the nature of being human.
Contrary to what Kant claims, human beings are not necessarily transcendental beings who are beyond the realm of natural causality. Human beings are thoroughly entangled in natural causality, but we are ignorant about the precise character of that entanglement and concomitant causality.
To claim with some degree of justification that humans are transcendent beings, one must be able to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt what the nature of that transcendence is and how it is independent of considerations of causality on every level of nature. Kant didn’t demonstrate the foregoing … merely assumed it.
Are human beings capable of making choices that are uncaused in some sense? We don’t know, and what follows from this is that until one can demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that nothing within human beings is capable of such uncaused choices, the law of ignorance requires one to treat human beings – within certain limits -- as if they were so capable … that is, we have no compelling reason that can be substantiated beyond a reasonable doubt for doing otherwise.
Degrees of freedom are granted to the exercise of basic sovereignty by each individual in accordance with whatever does not interfere with the right of others (via the principle of reciprocity) to purse a similar set of degrees of freedom in accordance with their own decision processes, opinions, inclinations, choices, or the like. The more the degrees of freedom of basic sovereignty are shaped and informed by truth, then the more autonomous a person becomes in the sense of not having ‘choices’, decisions, and so on filtered through delusional systems of thinking and understanding … that is, human beings are free to be whatever it is they are rather than being something else (i.e., the product of delusional systems of thought).
Irrespective of whether, or not, there is some dimension of human beings that is entirely uncaused, nevertheless, to whatever extent falsehood directs the understanding through which: decisions, judgments, selections, and ‘choices’ are filtered, then human autonomy is compromised. We are only truly free to be human when one’s sovereignty has embraced the truth of what it is to be human … everything else is slavery to falsehood.
Given the foregoing, Rousseau is wrong when he argues that a person is only free when she or he can actually realize that which is desired. Desiring this or that, and acting on such desires, might, or might not, push back the horizons of ignorance. Freedom or autonomy is not about the desires – taken as a whole – which one can, or cannot, act upon.
Real freedom is to disentangle ourselves from everything within and without that distorts the truth about what it is to be human. Only when our desires reflect the essential potential of what it is to be a human being as a function of reality and only when we are able to realize those desires can a human being be said to be free.
Do we know what it means to be human? To whatever extent there are some people who might have correctly grasped what being human means, most of us – collectively speaking -- have no knowledge -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- concerning the nature of being human. Moreover, even if one assumes that there are some people who do grasp what being human means in the full context of the nature of things, nonetheless, unless those individuals can induce the rest of us to understand, beyond a reasonable doubt, how things are in that respect, then being correct doesn’t entitle those individuals to impose their ideas on other human beings.
Two dimensions of the degrees of freedom that are inherent in the basic sovereignty of human beings concern the possibility of being right or wrong with respect to understanding human nature, in particular, and/or reality in general. No one should be deprived of those degrees of freedom unless one can demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt why departures from that kind of a standard are justified.
Within limits, arguments that are capable of satisfying a standard which transcend reasonable doubt can be constructed for certain classes of individuals – for example, children – with respect to how far those degrees of freedom should be granted without various safeguards (which constitute forms of interference) being established to protect the continued viability of an individual. The nature of those limits can be quite complicated especially in view of the fact that one of the ways through which human beings learn some of the realities about being human is by means of exercising the degrees of freedom inherent in our basic sovereignty that have a potential to lead to either that which is false or that which is true.
To whatever extent it is possible – and I’m not sure what the precise character of that extent is – attempts should be made to minimize the manner in which the basic sovereignty of individuals (that is, having a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance) is constrained. Simultaneously, however, such minimal interference should not compromise the physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual health of those individuals since the latter sort of problems will eventually be able to adversely affect an individual’s ability to have a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance, and, consequently, the dynamic between the ‘mini’ and the ‘maxi’ sides of things can become quite complex.
The problems which political systems face in the foregoing respect are but family life writ large. The same sort of mini-maxi puzzle (i.e., the minimum levels of interference that can be justified beyond a reasonable doubt and which are compatible with a maximum set of degrees of freedom of basic sovereignty of individuals that is reciprocal in nature) awaits human beings at every level of social interaction.
Most people might agree that falsehood tends to enslave human beings, whereas truth tends to free human beings. The problem is that we are not necessarily always able to distinguish the two.
We continually commit what are referred to as Type I and Type II errors. In other words, we often accept as true that which has not been proven to be so beyond a reasonable doubt, or we reject something as being false when considerable evidence suggests that it might be true.
Delusions and illusions should be rejected. Reason and rationality should be accepted.
Sometimes, however, what we consider to be reasonable is delusional in character. At other times what we consider to be delusional in character might reflect more of the truth than what we believe is the case.
Hobbes, Rousseau, Kant, Marx, Hegel, and many others all advanced theories that purported to offer a means of permitting individuals to be able to distinguish the true from the false when it came to understanding the ‘proper’ relationship between individual and society. Whatever insights the foregoing individuals might have had to offer concerning this or that aspect of our existential condition, none of them was able to establish a system that could be shown to be true beyond a reasonable doubt … or which was even capable of being shown to be true in terms of a preponderance of the available evidence – then or now.
In short, each of the foregoing individuals advanced ideas that were meaningfully reasoned without necessarily being rational. In other words, one often could make sense of what they were trying to say concerning the nature of the individual’s relationship with society because each of the aforementioned theorists offered reasons, arguments, and a certain amount of experiential data to support their positions, and, yet, those reasoned positions were not capable of meeting the conditions of rationality in a way that showed how they were true beyond a reasonable doubt or even true with respect to a preponderance of the evidence.
Many people accept the ideas of one, or another, of the foregoing individuals (i.e., Kant and others) because those ideas are considered to have meaning and can be put to this or that purpose. However, demonstrating that those ideas are actually capable of reflecting the truth of things beyond a reasonable doubt is an entirely different matter.
Everything that is reasonable is not necessarily rational in the sense that the former can be shown to be likely to be true beyond a reasonable doubt or shown to be true even in accordance with a preponderance of the evidence. Everything that is rational in the foregoing sense will not necessarily reflect what one or another us considers as being reasonable.
We often make conventions out of what we consider to be reasonable or reasoned meaningfulness. However, those conventions might reflect only the logical nature of their own structural character and reflect little of the actual nature of reality.
The law of ignorance governs much of our relationship with reality. Being able to establish a viable path for departing from that ignorance is a very difficult epistemological problem to solve in any way that is capable of satisfying standards that require claims to be true beyond a reasonable doubt or to be true in accordance with ‘a preponderance of the evidence’ … and, here one might note that the term “preponderance” in the foregoing phrase is problematically ambiguous.
The forces that lead to error and delusion might come from within or from without an individual … or from both. The means that lead to truth might come from within or from without … or from both.
Having reasons for proceeding in one direction rather than another is not enough to make an understanding true. To qualify as constituting more than just a reason or set of reasons, a given understanding must be capable of being shown as being likely to be true beyond a reasonable doubt.
We ‘choose’, but our choices often are not rational even as they seem reasonable. We choose from within the cloud of unknowing ignorance.
The law of ignorance lends credence to our right to choose as an expression of the basic sovereignty to which we are entitled – that is, having a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance – even as that same law points in the direction of a need for reciprocity when it comes to honoring the same right to others because of our inability to depart from ignorance in any fashion that can be shown to be true beyond a reasonable doubt.
In order to proceed individually and collectively, one doesn’t have to know what it means to be a human being; one doesn’t have to know what the nature of reality is; one doesn’t have to know what the purpose of life is. The law of ignorance lays out the path that should be pursued with respect to the possible palimpsest nature of reality since such a path can be shown to be methodologically defensible beyond a reasonable doubt under the circumstances of the existential condition in which we find ourselves.
What is it to have a reasonable doubt about the truth of something? If one’s doubt cannot be shown to be false, then that doubt is reasonable to the extent that it does not interfere with the basic sovereignty of other human beings.
Reasonable doubts are those that can be entertained as being possible without being self-contradictory. Reasonable doubts are those that can be entertained without being shown to be inconsistent with experiential data considered as a whole … rather than considered from the perspective of this or that belief system.
Do reasonable doubts necessarily point in the direction of truth in some ultimate sense? No, they do not, but until proven otherwise, those doubts might be of value to the process of trying to push back the horizons of ignorance.
Reasonable doubts give expression to an informed understanding concerning the limits of knowledge in a given context. When ignorance prevails, it is reasonable to understand that ignorance is what it is and not something else.
Furthermore, in the ‘light’ of that ignorance, the path forward should be guided through a certain amount of prudent caution with respect to various proposals concerning what the character of that proposed path should be. In addition, reasonable doubt means that questions concerning the possible nature of the path forward should be engaged from the perspective of considering how those proposals affect the basic sovereignty of individuals and whether, or not, those proposals are likely to lead to unjustified departures with respect to all individuals continuing to have a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance.
In many respects, most of us do not really know what it means to be a rational human being. This is because most of us are not in a position to demonstrate that a variety of possibilities are likely to be true beyond a reasonable doubt and, thereby, satisfy a basic standard of rationality.
Instead, oftentimes, we tend to be rational only to the extent that our doubts are reasonable. If we engage our ignorance through reasonable doubts, we might come to understand that some conceptual possibilities are more tenable (e.g., they lead to fewer conceptual problems and/or leave fewer critical questions unanswered) than are others … although being more tenable doesn’t necessarily make something true beyond a reasonable doubt.
If we choose wisely with respect to those possibilities, we might be able to push back the horizons of ignorance in limited ways. Reasonable doubt is a method through which to engage experience and try to determine whether, or not, some forms of doubt are more reasonable than others … more reasonable in the sense that the doubts one has about how to proceed might push one more tenably in the direction of exploring ignorance from certain perspectives that may turn out to be more heuristically valuable than are other possible directions.
What is heuristically valuable is not necessarily what is true. Rather, something is heuristically valuable to the extent that it (whether this is in the form of a given: assumption, idea, way, method, or whatever) permits one to generate a variety of questions that lead in constructive – although not necessarily ultimately true – directions.
The experiences one gains from pursuing those heuristic possibilities might induce an individual to rule out some possibilities, while engaging others. Whether one is committing either a Type I or Type error during the process of pursuing those heuristic options is a separate matter.
There are many possibilities which can be shown to be reasonable in the foregoing sense. Each person must choose from among those sorts of possibilities with respect to which of them she or he will commit his moral and epistemological agency (i.e., will).
All of the considerations that are being alluded to above are among the degrees of freedom that might shape or orient the process through which an individual might orient his or her sovereignty – that is, having a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance. However, few, if any, of the foregoing possibilities are necessarily capable of being demonstrated as giving expression to what the truth is likely to be beyond a reasonable doubt when it comes to the collectivity of humanity.
As long as pursuing those possibilities does not interfere with the capacity of another person to exercise his or her basic sovereignty, then they are permissible degrees of freedom with respect to seeking to realize such sovereignty. Once the boundary to another individual’s basic sovereignty is transgressed or violated, then it is reasonable to have doubts about the wisdom or propriety of pursuing the possibilities associated with that kind of a problematic degree of freedom.
Northing in the foregoing indicates that there is only one way to truth or that there can only be one understanding of truth. Nothing in the foregoing suggests that the understanding of everyone concerning the issue of truth must be the same or that everyone will understand truth to the same depth … to whatever extent such truth can be understood.
On the one hand, there is the truth of reality … whatever that might be. On the other hand, there is our relationship to that reality … a relationship which is frequently, if not largely, obscured by ignorance.
Reality will hold us responsible for the choices we make with respect to the foregoing relationship. In other words, there tend to be experiential ramifications, of one sort or another, associated with those choices … ramifications that frustrate, complicate, support, discourage, confirm, undermine, and/or bring those choices into question.
Other individuals will hold one responsible for the choices that impinge on or violate the basic sovereignty of those individuals. Social problems are resolved, to whatever extent they can be, by providing viable, constructive means for negotiating the dynamics of the boundary conditions with respect to the exercise of the basic sovereignty of different individuals.
A minimal sense of justice is linked to circumstances in which people’s basic sovereignty is reciprocated in relation to one another. Departures from that kind of a standard indicate the degree to which injustice is present in a given society.
A maximal sense of justice is linked to a condition in which individuals become autonomous and, therefore, are free from all biases that distort the true nature of what it is to be a human being and prevent a person from acting in accordance with such a nature. Departures from that standard – to the extent that this can be known in a manner that is beyond all reasonable doubt – indicate a further degree to which injustice is likely to be present in a given society.
The latter maximal notion of justice and injustice is unknown and, possibly, unknowable and unrealizable -- except by, perhaps, a very few – although we all feel the presence of, as well as suffer from, the extent to which we collectively give expression to falsehoods rather than truth. The former, minimal sense of justice and injustice seems to be – at least potentially -- both knowable and realizable.
According to Locke, true freedom does not exist without rational law. Rational law is that which assists human beings to work toward some sort of generalized good or toward their own best interests.
Furthermore, Kant maintains that authentic political freedom is a matter of willing what one ought to under certain conditions of rationality. In other words, by submitting to rational laws, we become as free as is possible in such a political/legal context.
As reasonable as the foregoing ideas sound, one really doesn’t know what significance to assign to those ideas because they are devoid of important details. For instance, to say that rational law is that which leads humans to realize the general good or what is in their best interests doesn’t say anything about what the nature of such a ‘general good,’ or one’s ‘best interests,’ is.
If one knew what the ‘general good’ or one’s ‘best interests’ were, then one might have some insight into what kinds of laws might help people realize those things and, thereby, qualify as being rational. However, as long as one doesn’t know what the ‘general good’ or one’s ‘best interests’ entail, then one has absolutely no idea what kind of a law would qualify as being rational.
Similarly, claiming that one becomes free by willing what one ought to, reveals absolutely nothing about what one ought to be willing. Moreover, one might also question the nature of the relationship, if any, between what a given law requires and that which one ought to be doing.
A commonality that is present in the perspectives of Locke and Kant, along with many others, concerning the relationship between individuals and society is that those laws are considered rational which enable people to do what they ought, and/or do that which is in their best interests, and/or do that which contributes to the general good. Therefore, claiming that a given law will assist people to do what they ought to do, or assist them to realize their best interests, or help them to contribute to the general good automatically renders that kind of a law to be a rational one … or so such thinking goes.
If someone needs a law or legal pronouncement to induce individual to do that which they ought to, then this is because those people have not, yet, found their way to understanding what they ought to do and, as a result, have not, yet, become willing to do what they ought to do on their own, quite independently of laws. Even if someone were right about what people ought to do, the step from that kind of an understanding to requiring people to comply with that sort of an understanding is not necessarily an exercise in political freedom or rationality.
To claim that: Someone ought to do something or that such a something is in a person’s best interests or that this sort of something contributes to the common good, stands in need of justification beyond a reasonable doubt. Laws that are not rooted in that kind of a justification are not ‘rational’ in any sense but an arbitrarily constructed one.
From the perspective of Locke and Kant, rationality is a matter of understanding what the nature of truth is in relation to what people ought to do or what constitutes the general good or what involves someone’s best interests. One implication of the foregoing perspective is that as long as one does not have that kind of an understanding, then what one thinks or does is not rational.
However, another implication of the foregoing perspective is that when one understands how one does not possess such an understanding, then whatever one proposes in the way of law cannot be rational in the sense that it is known – beyond a reasonable doubt -- to give expression: to that which one ought to do, or to that which is in one’s best interests, or to that which contributes to the common good. In other words, if the relevant knowledge or understanding is not present, then no law can be considered rational in the sense alluded to by Locke and Kant … and we’ll leave aside, for the moment, the issue of whether, or not, one has the right to legally or forcibly require people to do what someone believes – no matter how rationally – might be in the best interests of others or might be something that they ought to do.
According to Locke, rational laws – i.e., good laws – are what prevent people from wandering into problematic social landscapes. Consequently, those laws do not place human beings under confinement since those sorts of laws only protect people from that which will lead to difficulty.
Nonetheless, one might well ask someone like Locke to not only explain, but justify, how restraining people’s behavior is not an exercise in confinement in those instances where one cannot demonstrate that such an arrangement is the only way to avoid the pitfalls of social life. Locke’s understanding of what he believes to be a rational way to avoid social problems might not be only way to engage those issues, and, therefore, one would like to know how restraining people in a possibly arbitrary manner is not an exercise in confinement.
In addition, one might wish to critically probe what Locke considers to be the sort of social pitfalls and hazards that people need to avoid. One person’s judgment of a social hazard that should be avoided at all costs might well be another person’s notion of what constitutes the best interests of people.
Locke believed in the almost sacred-like character of private property. Thomas Paine thought otherwise and felt that such an approach to the idea of property was one of the underlying causes of many of society’s problems.
Why should one assume Locke necessarily got things right in the matter of property? Why shouldn’t one consider the possibility that laws which prevent people from questioning the legitimacy of ownership and property rights are not justifiably restraining people from wandering into hazardous territory but are, instead, unjustly preventing issues of social justice from being addressed?
Kant argued that a person would only become truly free when that individual had abandoned her or his unjustifiable pursuit of wild, unrestrained freedom and come to understand that submitting to, or becoming dependent on, rational law was the essence of freedom. As indicated previously, Kant considered rationality to be equivalent to that which one ought to be willing.
According to Kant, wild, lawless expressions of freedom are not rational. Rationality is a matter of willing one’s behavior to conform to, or comply with, that which one ought to will.
Given the foregoing, then, presumably, refraining from willing one’s behavior to conform to what one does not recognize as being necessarily rational is also a rational act. Consequently, in the ‘light’ of our ignorance about so many things, one might be exercising reasonable – and, possibly, rational – doubt by distancing oneself from laws which claim, without rational justification, that one ought to be attempting to will behavior in one direction rather than another.
Recommending that people be dependent on laws that stipulate what one ought to be willing only makes sense if those individuals recognize that those laws give expression to that which has been shown to be true and , therefore, something which ought to be willed. Without the requisite recognition or understanding, then the aforementioned sense of dependency is unwarranted, and, consequently, the associated laws are not necessarily rational.
Kant is seeking to establish an equivalency of sorts between rationality and the authority of law. According to him, we should obey laws that are rational because those laws reflect the authority of our understanding concerning the requirements inherent in rationality (i.e., that one ought to will such things).
Under the foregoing circumstances, to obey law is to be rational. To be rational is to obey certain kinds of law.
However, if laws cannot be shown to be rational in the sense that we ought to be willing them, then there is no reason to obey them. If laws cannot be shown to be rational, then one really has a sort of obligation not to comply with those laws … seeking to will that which ought not to be willed does not seem to be a very rational thing to do.
What happens if someone recognizes a legal/social/political prescription to be rational because it gives expression to something that one believes ought to be willed, and, yet, the person disobeys that kind of a law? What if an individual chooses to do that which is not rational?
What is a rational response to the foregoing situation? Should a person be forced to comply with that sort of a law, and what would be the justification for the exercise of that kind of force or coercion?
Knowing what a person ought to do, does not necessarily determine what should be done when a person does not behave as he or she ought to behave according to the requirements of rationality. This set of circumstances opens up a separate set of questions – namely, those concerned with determining what the rational thing to do in such a situation would be.
Even if one were to agree with Kant that one ought to will that which is rational, this does not necessarily settle the problem of what to do when a person is not rational and, therefore, does not conform his or her behavior to that which ought to be done. Presumably, there will have to be other laws governing that sort of situation which can be shown to be rational in the sense that one ought to comply with those kinds of laws.
Unfortunately, unless one has a complete understanding of the truth concerning the nature of reality and what such reality entails with respect to being human, then one would be at a loss to propose laws that reflect what should be done when human beings don’t will what they ought to according to the requirements of rationality. More importantly, if one lacks the requisite understanding of reality to determine what ought to be done with those who don’t do what they ought to do as required by rationality, then one wonders what the point is of having any laws in the first place.
In other words there are two problems here. One difficulty concerns the issue of what ought to be done – that is, what sorts of laws should there be which reflect the requirements of rationality, while the other difficulty involves the issue of what ought to be done if what ‘ought’ to be done (??) is not done.
Kant doesn’t really adequately address either of the foregoing issues. He doesn’t demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt – except, perhaps, in a sort of tautological manner -- what ought to be done, and he fails to persuasively demonstrate what should be done if what he claims ought to be done is not done.
Kant wishes to argue that any restraint on my behavior which involves something that I might desire and, yet, which could not be shown to be rational, does not constitute a deprivation of freedom. Freedom only involves doing that which can be shown to give expression to what one ought to do – i.e., that which is rational.
While one might agree that real freedom is a function of doing only what – according to the nature of truth – one ought to do, I believe Kant is quite wrong to suppose that no deprivation of freedom is involved when one is required to do only that which the law says one ought to do in order to qualify as rational behavior. Freedom is a matter of having choice and, therefore, not necessarily a function of the kinds of choices – rational or irrational – one makes.
Certain kinds of choices – i.e., those that are rational – may lead to real freedom in the sense that one attains a station in which everything that one ought to do is rational and everything that is rational is done. Autonomy in this sense frees one from everything other than the rational.
Other kinds of choices – i.e., those that are irrational – may lead away from real freedom in the foregoing sense. Nonetheless, taking away someone’s ability to pursue these latter sorts of choices still constitutes a deprivation of certain degrees of freedom even though the ‘best’ sense of freedom – i.e., that which is rational and, therefore, ought to be willed -- is not so restrained.
Whether, or not, someone should be deprived of those degrees of freedoms is a separate issue. Even if one were to know what ought to be done, it does not necessarily follow that people should be deprived of all those degrees of freedom that did not lead in the desired direction of that which was considered to be rational … a lot might depend on what ramifications, if any, those ‘irrational’ choices had on the ability of people (whether this refers to the one doing the choosing or it refers to other individuals who might be affected by such choices) to continue having a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance.
The problem with Kant – and Locke -- is that as soon as one raises questions concerning what actually can be demonstrated, beyond a reasonable doubt, with respect to the nature of the dynamic between reality and human beings – rather than assuming as Kant (and Locke) appears to do that he knows the nature of what is rational concerning that kind of a dynamic – one faces a rather sizable problem. If one doesn’t know the degree to which any given law participates in the rational, then one is left in the dark concerning what one ought to do and whether, or not, one ought to will what such a law requires and whether, or not, anyone should be deprived of the opportunity to exercise those choices.
It has been argued by some (e.g., Fichte) that the process of education should be pursued in such a fashion that the object of the exercise – i.e., the pupil – comes to understand why things were done in one way rather than another during that process. However, if the nature of the educational process were largely a matter of propaganda, then the person who went through such a process might very well come to understand why things were done in one way rather than another, but this sort of understanding would not necessarily justify that kind of a process … except, perhaps, in the minds of those who sought to propagandize their students and did so successfully.
One cannot automatically assume that the purpose of the State/Nation is to ensure that its citizens will come to know the truth of things. Therefore, one cannot suppose that by coming to understand the ‘educational’ system that has been set in place by the State/Nation from the perspective of those who have organized such a process that one will, thereby, necessarily arrive at the truth about how the notions of: justice, rights, fairness, justice, duty, obligation, governance, and knowledge are to be tied together in a fashion that is justifiable beyond a reasonable doubt.
Even if one were to assume that the State/Nation knew the truth about such matters – an assumption that stands in need of being justified beyond a reasonable doubt -- it doesn’t necessarily follow that the State/Nation has the right to compel citizens to be educated in accordance with those truths. As important as having the opportunity to acquire truth might be, it is possible that what is equally as important is how a person comes to those truths and the quality of the struggle to which such a journey gives expression.
Being able to make a given truth one’s own in the sense of being able to integrate that knowledge into one’s life in a way that permits one to have mastery over that truth as it is applied to the problems of one’s life is quite important. Compelling people to acquire truth in one way rather than another might interfere with, or undermine, a person’s ability to develop and utilize that kind of mastery in a way that was maximally effective for any given individual in relation to their life circumstances.
Alternatively, what if one goes through an educational process and one doesn’t agree with why things were done in one way rather than another? It seems rather arrogant, narrow, and rigid to suppose that anyone who undergoes an educational process should come to understand and agree with that process in precisely the way in which it was intended by those who implemented that sort of program.
Moreover, the foregoing sort of approach tends to imply that there could be – or should be -- no improvements concerning a given educational system since under those circumstances the only perspective that would be recognized as being ‘rational’ would be one that understood the educational process as its designers originally intended. This seems a very arbitrary position to take … and, therefore, unjustifiable beyond a reasonable doubt or, perhaps, even with respect to a preponderance of the evidence.
If one assumes that the ‘teachers’ in a given educational system are all rational people, then one might maintain that by submitting to the teachings of those sorts of individuals, students are only being asked to recognize and submit to the rational authority within themselves. However, what justifies that sort of an assumption … even if one could specify what is meant by the idea that someone – i.e., a teacher – is considered to be a rational person.
If a given State/Nation is governed by rational laws, and if one of the purposes of the educational process is to induce students to come to understand the manner in which those laws are rational in the same way that the State/Nation understands those laws to be rational, and if teachers are rational agents who transmit principles of rational understanding to students, then one might come to understand how a person ought to will that which is rational and, as well, one might come to understand how that kind of compliance is nothing other than the process of a student coming to recognize and realize the presence of rational authority within themselves, and, therefore, how submitting to that rational authority constitutes a perfect expression of true freedom. However, one cannot merely assume one’s way to the conclusions that one might like to achieve.
One must be able to justify, beyond a reasonable doubt, each and every step in the foregoing perspective. Otherwise that scenario is entirely arbitrary in the way it links what appear to be reasonable ideas together without having demonstrated how those links are capable of being justified.
Fichte argued that no one has rights against reason. In other words, once one understands the nature of the rational, then the issue of rights becomes a function of that which is rational.
Reason has priority over rights. For Fichte, discussion of rights only makes sense in the context of that which is rational.
In terms of the foregoing perspective, rights which cannot be reconciled with the rational can be stripped from people. People have no right to that which is not rational.
On the other hand, if one does not know the nature of the rational beyond a reasonable doubt, then what is the status of rights? Presumably, the law of ignorance establishes the way forward under those circumstances in the sense that people have a right to sovereignty … that is, a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance according to one’s capacity to do so as long as the exercise of that sort of an opportunity does not interfere with a similar exercise of sovereignty by other people.
For Fichte – or anyone -- to be able to argue persuasively that the foregoing sort of right can be trumped by reason, he would have to be able to show, at a minimum, that his conception of reason or the rational was defensible beyond a reasonable doubt. If this cannot be done, then the foregoing right of sovereignty trumps what might be ‘reasonable’ (i.e., reason is present in some form) and meaningful (an understanding with a logical structure that doesn’t necessarily reflect the truth) but which cannot be demonstrated to be rational in the sense of likely being true beyond a reasonable doubt.
What is it to be a sovereign individual? The idea of sovereignty suggests a right – that is, a justifiable entitlement that is more than merely a capacity to choose among degrees of freedom – to help determine the boundaries through which other people might engage one. Sovereignty suggests a right to help shape the limits within which interpersonal transactions take place. Sovereignty suggests a right to pursue interests, purposes, goals, and inclinations that are not necessarily a function of the likes, dislikes, or wishes of others as long as those interests, purposes, and so on do not interfere with the similar rights of other individuals. Sovereignty suggests a right to help negotiate behavioral boundary conditions that are capable of preserving everyone’s sovereignty in a reciprocally agreed upon fashion.
We might not be able to avoid the fact that as social creatures we tend to rub up against one another in a variety of ways. Nonetheless, the idea of sovereignty indicates that the structural character of that ‘rubbing’ process cannot be arbitrarily delineated … that the way in which such interaction takes place should be capable of meeting standards of fairness construed, at a minimum, through a sense of reciprocity in which everyone has the same kind of opportunity to proceed forward in life.
No one can realize the sovereignty of another. Sovereignty necessarily gives expression to the process through which an individual explores the potential of his or her own existential circumstances.
Each individual has duty of care with respect to realizing her or his own sovereignty. Each person has a duty of care to acknowledge, if not assist, the right of others to work toward realizing their own sense of sovereignty.
Sovereignty is not a matter of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, talent, beauty/handsomeness, sexual orientation, education, wealth, occupation, or social position. Sovereignty is that which lies beneath the surface of those considerations … sovereignty is what remains of an individual after all those peripheral factors have been discounted.
People have a tendency to confuse the peripheral with the essential. Sovereignty is essential and gives expression to the most basic of rights – the right to have a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance concerning the nature of sovereignty and its role, if any, in reality.
None of the aforementioned peripheral characteristics or qualities can be shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, to entitle people to rights. On the other hand, via the law of ignorance, sovereignty can be shown to confer a basic right that can be demonstrated as being justifiable beyond a reasonable doubt in the context of our current existential condition.
Sovereignty is not a matter of freedoms and liberties per se. Sovereignty, however, is rooted in having a fair opportunity with respect to trying to push back the horizons of ignorance.
Liberty gives expression to the degrees of freedom that are engaged by choice for the purposes of exercising sovereignty. Not all those choices will necessarily lead to pushing back the horizons of ignorance, and, moreover, some of those choices might undermine one’s ability to be able to continue on effectively with respect to the project of moral epistemology that is entailed by one’s sovereignty.
The truth of our ignorance concerning the significance of those choices can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. However, the truth of our knowledge claims concerning the same issues cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Consequently, one does not necessarily have a right to freedom per se for the truth of that kind of a right cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. One, instead, has a right to a fair opportunity with respect to pushing back the horizons of ignorance.
Ignorance is what prevents one from knowing the nature and purpose of one’s sovereignty or individuality with respect to the rest of reality. Therefore, there is no more compelling problem confronting human beings – both individually and collectively – than the issue of sovereignty and its relationship with the rest of reality since coming to understand the nature of the truth of such things – to whatever extent this is possible -- is likely to depend on how one proceeds with respect to the foregoing problem.
No family, group, class, nation, state, institution, organization, corporation, community, or society is entitled to any kind of sovereignty that is not limited to, and proscribed by, the right of basic sovereignty to which any given individual is entitled. An alternative way of saying the same thing is that, in accordance with the law of ignorance which currently governs our understanding of things, there is no argument that is capable of demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that groups, classes, institutions, and so on are entitled to any right that is not a function of the basic sovereignty of an individual in the sense of having a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance concerning the possible palimpsest nature of reality.
To return to an issue explored earlier in this posting – namely, the matter of negative and positive freedom – the minimum and maximum space within which human beings should be free from interference (i.e., negative freedom) is a function of the basic sovereignty to which every individual is entitled with respect to having a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance. Furthermore, the answer to the question of what source or authority should be entitled to determine the manner in which public space is to be regulated (i.e., positive freedom) is also a function of sovereignty … in other words, no source or authority is entitled to regulate the lives of people (i.e., control their exercise of sovereignty) without being able to demonstrate, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this sort of entitlement gives expression to an accurate or true understanding concerning the nature of reality and what it is to be a human being in the context of that reality.
The essence of negative freedom is a reflection of the basic sovereignty to which all individuals are entitled as a right and not as a mere freedom. One might refer to such negative freedom as ‘the way of sovereignty’.
The essence of positive freedom (in its sense as a process through which to identify the source or authority that allegedly entitles one to ‘order’ public space) is a reflection of the desire to regulate, control, or direct the way of sovereignty. One might refer to that kind of positive freedom as ‘the way of power’.
The way of sovereignty can be demonstrated, beyond a reasonable doubt, to be a viable way of approaching our existential condition of ignorance. The way of power cannot be demonstrated, beyond a reasonable doubt – and, perhaps, not even in relation to a preponderance of the evidence – to be a defensible way of engaging our existential condition of ignorance.
The way of sovereignty and the way of power tend to be inherently opposed to one another. To the extent that sovereignty exists, power is likely to be attenuated, and to the extent that power exists, sovereignty is likely to be attenuated.
Many revolutions – but not all -- have been about attempts to either re-assert the way of sovereignty and/or to curb the way of power so that pathways might be opened up to establish the way of sovereignty. Most revolutions have failed to the extent that they either confused the way of power with the way of sovereignty or to the extent those ways have been conflated with one another.
The revolution that began in America in the late 1760s and continued throughout the 1770s (which increasingly gave expression to the longing for the way of sovereignty) was co-opted by the way of power that was instituted through the Philadelphia Constitution and the ratification process. In addition, the aforementioned revolution also was undermined by the manner in which the radical ideas of the Atlantic world that fueled the fight for independence were discredited in the 1790s by representatives of the way of power (whether in the form of state authorities, legislators, the judicial system, religious leaders, or newspapers) by tying – rather unfairly and untruthfully in many respects -- the albatross of ‘The Terror’ of the French Revolution around the neck of Atlantic radicalism with the latter’s emphasis on the importance of the way of sovereignty to human beings considered both individually and collectively.
Revolution is a process not a destination. When one considers revolution to be a destination, revolution tends to slide into a way of power in which some particular purpose, goal, person, institution, and/or idea comes to be recognized as the ‘legitimate’ source or authority for regulating the public space in one way rather than another.
Sovereignty is also a process and not a destination. The task of pushing back the horizons of ignorance is unlikely to ever be fully realized.
A yearning for the way of sovereignty – which is currently frustrated by the current way of power – has the potential for leading to revolution in a constructive sense. In order for that sort of a revolution to be realized, the way of sovereignty needs to be made available to everyone – amongst both present and future generations -- and not just to the few.
Assisting individuals to engage the process of sovereignty is a revolutionary project because it constitutes a threat to the way of power being able to continue on as it is inclined to do … and revolutions, of whatever character, have always been about disempowering a prevailing framework of control and oppression. This is why the way of power is dedicated to interfering with, suppressing, and/or undermining the revolutionary project of sovereignty.
My way of engaging sovereignty might not be your way of engaging sovereignty. My way of engaging sovereignty might not lead to pushing back the horizons of ignorance in the same way or to the same extent as your way of engaging sovereignty does. My way of engaging sovereignty might not lead to the same sort of understanding concerning the nature of being human or the nature of truth as your way of engaging sovereignty does.
Our respective purposes, interests, inclinations, commitments, and understanding do not have to be harmonious in any manner except to the extent that those purposes, interests, and so on should be capable of coexisting in such a way that our respective ways of engaging sovereignty do not undermine, interfere with, exploit, obstruct, or oppress one another with respect to having a fair opportunity to push back the horizons of ignorance. Generating the foregoing sort of compatibility in the midst of the complex dynamics of sovereignty is truly revolutionary in character because it enables all of us to continue on with the project of moral epistemology that is inherent in the exercise of sovereignty by limiting the extent to which the way of power intrudes into our lives and threatens to thwart such a project of reciprocity.