The Metaphysics Of Freedom

Tuesday, December 14, 2010
By Paul Martin

by Free Radical

Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better.
– Albert Camus

What individuals fundamentally seek is order, by which we do not mean regimentation but harmony, i.e., “a pleasing combination of the elements in a whole,” wherein the whole is the wholeness of one’s life. And because such order is virtually impossible to attain in isolation (even hermetic monks live in a society of shared belief, without which their mode of existence would be devoid of meaning), individuals socialize for this reason, and naturally so. For insofar as there is order in nature (and of course there is astounding order), freedom – which is inherent, for instance, in the random variation that is integral to the evolutionary process – is the cause, not the effect, of it. So too, then, is freedom in the human realm “the Mother, not the Daughter, of order,” it being but the conscious application of its counterpart in the natural realm. And thus is freedom the sine qua non of human civilization – the foundation upon which its twin pillars stand – without which the order that its individual members yearn for cannot be generally attained or continually increased.

But not just any freedom. For while freedom is indispensable to the social enterprise, complete freedom is destructive of it, resulting not in order but in chaos, as each does whatever he wants, regardless of what others may or may not want. “Anything goes,” in other words, and thus does libertinism render civil society null and void amid a literal free-for-all of untempered action.

Moreover, while we accept the determinism whereby “man is free as long as his own will is one of the steps in the causal chain,” we reject the determinism whereby “every event in the future is fated to happen,” as this too results in chaos. For if our actions are purely a matter of fate – if we have no choice in what we do – then we have no responsi-bility for what we do. And if we have no responsibility for what we do, then there can be no moral content in our actions. As with libertinism, then, so with fatalism, as there is again no right or wrong. Once again, “anything goes” for the simple reason that everything was already going to be. And thus does “the chance to be better” have literally no chance, there being no standard by which to gauge it. Better than what, after all? Better than bad? But there is no bad, just as there is no good.

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