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MAN’S QUEST FOR FREEDOM

by Rainer R.A. Ibana

“Do not worry about the butterflies that escaped, there are more caterpillars in my tree.”
-my cousin Marcelina, age 5

Prologue:
The thesis of this paper is very simple. It is an attempt to say that freedom is
important. For the sake of freedom whole nations are conquered. For the sake of
freedom, whole nations unite and defend their land. Saints pray for freedom. Poets
sing songs for freedom. Heroes and martyrs live and die for freedom. And
philosophers ask:

What is freedom?
Why is freedom important?
How id freedom possible?

This paper hopes to address these questions.

What is Freedom?

The definition of freedom has traditionally been delimited by proponents of


determinism. Hard determinists even contend that there is no freedom. They claim that
human behavior can be programmed and manipulated as if man is only one of the
objects around the environment. Event as far back as the time of Anaxagoras (500-428
B.C.), Socrates and Plato already complained of such delimitation to freedom. Plato tells
us the Socrates’ choice to accept the death penalty would have been interpreted by
Anaxagoras as determined by the finitube of Socrates’ skin, flesh and bones rather than
as the latter’s choice to do what is right and honorable. 1 Socrates refuted Anaxagoras
by distinguishing “the cause of a thing and the condition without which led him to feed
on the “husks of being”. 2 These “husks” belong to the exterior parts of man: Socrates’
skin, flesh and bones which are obviously just the condition of his being in prison. But
the primary cause of Socrates’ condition is be-cause of the more spiritual principle in
man, which Max Scheler aptly described as:

….its existential liberation from the organic world-its freedom and detach-ability from the
belongs and pressure of life.

Man is therefore not determined by the physical world. He can control his bodily
movements. Tan through his body, man controls the physical the world. And since man
is the one in charge of physical world through his body, then, man, must be freeform the
physical world itself. As in the case of Socrates, he has chosen to be in prison because
of spiritual principles, he was not pre-determined to be there just because of the
limitations imposed by his body.
However, the platonic refutation of determination may not be enough. Determinists
could soften their stance and claim that “even if man is free to choose, he is not free to
choose what he wants to choose. This position has traditionally been called “soft
determinism”. Unlike hard determinists who appear to merely physiological factors to
refute the existence of freedom.

The most contemporary representative of soft determinism is B.F Skinner’s Beyond


Freedom and Dignity and Walden Two. Basically, Skinner claims that human freedom
is irrelevant to the development of the human person because human behavior can
ultimately be conditioned by means of rewards and punishments. Like pigeons and
monkeys which can be trained to choose levers and buttons in response to rewards and
punishments, Skinnerian’s claim that hey can produce saints, wise men and heroes
instead of sinners, fools and tyrants.

Skinner’s ideal could become a very important method to understand the animal
aspects of human behavior. Fortunately, man is not an animal. If Skinner was correct, a
lot of social problems could have been easily solved. The poor could improve their plight
by merely relocating them to better environment, while the rich could become charitable
by merely exposing them to the plight of the poor. But since even if the poor were
relocated, their conditions were not improved and even when the rich were already
over-exposed to poverty, they did not become charitable, and then there must be
something wrong with Skinner’s assumptions.

The first problem with Skinnerian determinism is whether an enlightened Skinnerian can
indeed be found. If this is possible at all, then life itself would have been easier. All that
can be required for man is to join the “cultural engineer’s” community. But Skinner
himself disclosed that Frazier, the founder of the Skinnerian community could not even
organize his own private room. And even if Frazier could organize other people (while
unable to organize himself), Walden Two would have become a totalitarian community
whose policies were all pre-determined by its planners. An even if the members of such
a community were brain-washed in such a way that they can become fully satisfied with
life in Walden Two, such a situation could only be a life a life worthy of a herd of sheep,
but not a community of human beings.

The more philosophical refutation of soft-determinism could be accomplished by


introducing the Kantian distinction between determination by natural necessity and the
freedom attributed to man. Animal conditioning could never be fully applied to man
precisely because Skinnerian conditioning can only work in the determinate world of
nature. As human being, man can only refuse to follow the stimulus-response
mechanism which Skinner assumed. This refusal to be determined by stimulus-
response mechanisms can only be understood under the postulate of the existence of
freedom.

Libertarians such as C.A Campbell and C.D. Broad are then quick to utilize this
Kantian distinction to claim that in order to account for any kind of responsible human
behavior, freedom must be a necessary presupposition. Skinner’s use of rewards and
punishments will not become possible if in the first place, what is to be rewarded and
what is to be punished were not chosen by the cultural engineer. In the second place,
the degree of rewards and punishments must also correspond to the degree of
responsibility. Hence, in making a judgment on a crime, judges first try to determine the
degree of responsibility contributed by criminal to the accomplishment of the crime. But
this degree of responsibility entails, that the human agent could have done otherwise or
have done more or less towards the accomplishment of the crime. To choose whether
to participate or not participate, how much or how little to participate in a crime, would
then presuppose that the human agent was free to do so.

And finally, freedom must be presupposed by determinists. In the first place, to argue
for determinism presupposes that the determinist is free to argue for determinism.
Otherwise, it will be absurd to argue for determinism if in the first place man is also
determined to be determined. To argue for determinism presupposes that the
determinists could have been libertarians, but have to be chosen to be otherwise.
Freedom is therefore the cause that determines human behavior. Otherwise, the
argument falls under the trap of self-refutation.

Why is freedom important?

While it is essential to define the scope of freedom in contradistinction with determinism,


the more interesting question to ask is the concrete direction on which this power to
choose is aimed. Without the concrete embodiment of an actual choice, freedoms will
only remain as a potential power. Like water-filled dam that could generate energy if it
remains enclosed in it self. Potential freedom would never become actualized if its
powers were not released.

The tendency of classical philosophers in their discussions of the proper direction of


freedom is to first ascertain the essential nature of man. From this pre-conceived
essence, freedom must then be directed to conform to it. The best choice for them is
that choice which promotes the essence of man. And the worst choice is that choice
which contradicts the pre-conceived essence. Some natural law philosophers even
claim that if a choice is made in contradiction with the natural essence of man, then this
choice is not free at all.

Unfortunately, the history of philosophy has exhibited too many different ways of
conceiving the essence of man: man as homo-sapiens, homo-theos, homo-faber,
homo-ludens are only some examples of them. Consequently, philosophers today are
in an embarrassing situation because they could not seem to agree on the best course
of action for man. The plague of relativism lurks behind anyone who takes history of
philosophy seriously since the many ways of conceiving the essence of man ultimately
lead to different and seemingly incommensurable norms that determine man’s choice.
What is good or true for homo-sapiens may be denied by homo-faber. Yet the homo-
faber and the homo-sapiens are both human being.

In order to resolve these conflicts, the more modern philosophers attempted to start all
over again and postponed their prejudgment on the essence of man. Thus, Husserl
decried that:
Blinded by naturalism (no matter how verbally oppose it), the practitioners of
humanistic science have completely neglected even to pose the problems of a
universal and pure science of the spirit and to seek a theory of the essence of the
spirit as spirit.

Dewey echoed a similar sentiment when he wrote:

The fundamental postulate of the discussion (of freedom) is that isolation of any one
factor, no matter how strong its working at a given time, is fatal to understanding and to
intelligent action.

Existentialists also resonates this claim whenever they emphasizing that:


…freedom, when properly used, refers to the condition of human existence, rather that
to a characteristic of human nature.

This radical turn in the history of philosophy could no longer be dismissed as faddish by
anyone who would like to come to grips with the problem of freedom. At least, in the
history of the Western world, this radical cry for freedom can even be traced back to the
“absolute Freedom”-and the Terror of the Enlightenment, when the struggle to be free
was unleashed with impunity. After that historical period, the history of the West was
never the same. Western man became more conscious of his own freedom from many
kinds of superstitions and magic. From that time on, western man will seek to be free
from nature, fellowman, society and God.

It is perhaps the legacy of Karl Marx to have announced as early as his works of 1844-
46, that human liberation could not be expected to merely descend from the sky, but
must be achieved by transforming the alienating conditions of human life by means of
human labor. The starting point for the attainment of freedom is therefore not to be
found by contemplating abstract essences, but fulfilled by means of praxis.
Unfortunately, Marx himself fell under the trap of essentialist thinking when he reduced
his idea of man to the essence of homo-faber. Thus, even if he did try to make
distinctions between the different levels of alienation (alienation of man from himself,
from labor, from the product of his labor and from man’s fellowman), the whole problem
was narrowed down “in conceptual terms as alienated labor”. Because of this essential
preconception, the determinant of Marxist kind of social transformation could only be the
laboring class. And those who did not belong nor sympathize with this class must be
“swept out of the way and made impossible”.

But even if Marx may have been correct in identifying the human problem as a problem
alienation, alienation itself need not be reduced to only one essential determination.
Karol Wojtyla, in his essay on “the individual and Common Good: Toward a theory of
Participation”, restated the problem in terms of a broader dimension. He said that:

The root alienation of human beings by human beings is contained in the neglect
of the depth of participation contained in the subject, CLOSENESS, and the
relevant assimilation of people in humanity as the basic community.
Instead of analyzing human beings by conflict, Wojtla’s synthetic mind attempts to
solidify the inherent CLOSENESS between human beings. ( it is interesting to note at
this point of the discussion that the Filipino conceptual registers of bayanihan,
pakikipag-kapwa tao and pakikisama do harmonize with Wojtyla’s frame of mind.)
Instead of class struggle, a Wojtylan vehicle for social transformation would then be
mediated by “Solidarity Movements” and “Participatory Democracies”. And instead of
the consumption of morality to the interest of the revolution, the aim of Wojtylan political
program is to simultaneously transform its individual members and social structures
from “objective totalisms” toward what he called “participatory and communal
membership”.

From a Wojtylan perspective, it is clear that while it is quite possible to borrow Marx’s
concept of alienation as a starting point in understanding the importance of freedom,
Marx’s essentialist thinking (and other forms of essentialist thinking) need not be taken
as the second premise. It therefore does not necessarily follow that the one and only
way to attain liberation is by means of a revolutionary overthrow of those who do not
share in the essence of man as homo-faber. Instead of this narrow conception of man
form the point of view of an essence, it is perhaps more desirable to treat the human
being from the more synoptic vision of his being as Being. A more inclusive kind of
liberation can therefore be brought about not only by emancipating the conditions of
those who belong to only one class as determined by an essence, but by and of the
whole human community. The wholeness of this humanity does not only include the
broader membership of all human beings, but also in accordance with the innermiost
depths of man’s being as being. The broader vision of all men can be directed to
transforming social structures, while the consideration of the depths of man’s being can
be aimed at the renewal of the human soul.

Instead of negating alienation by means of a revolutionary struggle waged by a most


essential class, a Wojtylan political methodology would propose the more positive
affirmation of the human being qua Being in terms of solidarity and participation. This
shift of emphasis does not mean that everyone will be nice to everyone else. Opposition
is a very valuable part of solidarity. In fact, opposition can become a very authentic form
of participation. Thus Wojtyla wrote that:

Experience with diverse forms of opposition…teaches that people who oppose


do not wish to leave the community because of their opposition. They searching
for participation and such a definition of the common good that would permit
them to participate more fully and effectively in the community.

Variation of perspectives and stand points can even be encouraged in order to attain
more inclusive aims and better methods to attain truth and goodness. No one essential
class can monopolize truth and goodness. Rather, each individual and class must
contribute towards the attainment of the whole. Like Hegelian Aufhebung that hopes to
preserve previously help perspectives under a higher syntheis, Wojtyla’s theory of
solidarity and participation is an attempt to grasp a more wholistic conception and richer
experience of humanity.
The consequence of this theory form the perspective of freedom is indeed tremendous.
Instead of just one essential class, every human being is called upon to participate in
the process of liberation. Each individual person has his own unique contribution to the
common good of man, while not necessarily becoming individualistic. An each individual
contribution to the common good can be received without necessarily becoming
totalitarian. The dignity of the individual person is consequently protected while at the
same time, the source of this dignity could be located from the individual’s participation
with the common good. Freedom is therefore intimately connected with man’s being. In
treating man as a human being, his freedom is preserve because he is allowed to exist
as he is, and not predetermined by any essentialist doctrine. By the same token, man’s
free affirmation of his fellowman as another free human being is made possible because
the affirmation is not made from a preconceived essentialist standpoint.

Before this more experiential approach to being can occur, man must be willing to be
with his being; to be and to know himself. Even Diotima, that priestess who taught
Socrates about the ultimate mysteries first asked Socrates to “strain every nerve” to
follow what she was about to reveal.

At first, it will be difficult for an ordinary man to be with his own innermost being. He will
be distracted by his thoughts, emotions, feelings, sensations, and whatever intentional
content that may be present in his being. But these intentionalities must recognized and
accepted as a legitimate part of man’s being. Each individual’s intentionality is definitely
not the whole of his being. But the whole personality structure of a human being can be
constituted by the combination of intentionality in his being. An intensive awareness of
an intentional content within man’s personality structure even sharpens man’s self-
knowledge. For example, saints and sinners intend the values of the holy and unholy.
Wise men and fools intend the values of rightness and wrongness. Heroes and tyrants
intend the values of the noble and the vulgar.

However, these above –stated values could not just be arbitrarily chosen. There are
objective standards which make the holy man preferable over the genius, the genius
over the hero and the hero over the bon vivant. These standards were enumerated by
MAX SCHELER in his monumental work on Formalism in Ethics and Non-Formal
Ethics of values as depth, endurance, divisibility and extension. Thus, the well
integrated human being prefers the value which could lead to deeper fulfillment, longer
endurance, extensive scope, more individuality and broader extension. On the other
hand, to violate this objective order will turn “sour” if indeed the higher values were
sacrificed at the expense of the higher values. The psychological example called “sour
grapes” is grounded on this metaphysical principle. Instead of accepting the holiness of
the holy, the righteousness of the righteous, the beauty of the beautiful, the nobility of
the noble, the agreeable of the agreeable, the man who is afflicted with resentment
perverts his conception of these values and consequently, mislabels these
corresponding values as unholy, wrong, ugly, vulgar, and uncouth. He thereby commits
an injustice to himself, his fellowmen and the world of nature whenever he refuses to
acknowledge their real values.

On the other hand, the human being who conforms to the objectivity of these values
benefits from the liberation offered by being able to attain higher and higher levels of
actualization. .He finds his real self within the matrix of possibilities of this order of
values. Moreover, he orders the intentional life of his being in such a way that his
choices are harmonious with objective order of values not only himself, but of his
fellowmen and the worlds of nature. Plato pointedly described this insight in the
republic:

The just man does not allow the several elements of his soul to usurp one
another’s function; he is indeed one who sets his house in order, by self-master
and discipline, coming to be at peace with himself, and bringing into tune those
three parts, like the terms in the proportion of a musical scale, the highest and
lowest note and the mean between them, with all the intermediate intervals. Only
when he has linked these parts together in well tempered harmony and has mad
himself one man instead of many, will be ready to go about whatever he may do,
whether it be making money and satisfying bodily wants, or business
transactions, or the affairs of the state.

Being a good Platonist, Scheler’s notion of justice also takes the lower values into
account. But they must be in their proper place. Otherwise, they will usurp the energies
of the higher levels of intentionality. Not only does it allow human being to focus his
energies toward the one highest value attainable by the matrix of his personality
structure, it will also make him more effective in the accomplishment of his well-focused
goals. Instead of being dispersed by a disorderly competition of values inside and
outside of his being, the choices he makes will all be geared toward the integration of
his most supreme value.

The bridge that connects the objective order of values and matrix of personality
structures of human beings is the act of willing. In classical terms, this is known as the
radical will for the good. And human freedom is oriented precisely by this will for the
good. And human freedom is oriented is oriented precisely by this will for the good.
Freedom is therefore always intentional because it is always intending, reaching out,
striving for the good. Unfortunately, the contemporary scene depicts the good in terms
of the more pedestrian “goods” being advertised in billboards and walls as economic
merchandise or political propaganda. By manipulating man’s sense faculties, these
“goods” lure human freedom to create these goods within his personality structure.

The power of freedom can be demonstrated by showing its effects on human


behavior. G.W.F. Hegel, in his Reason and History incisively remarked that:

World history represents the development of the Spirit’s consciousness of


freedom and the consequent realization of that freedom.

Once man becomes conscious of the objective goods desired by his will, he is driven to
realize the freedom to will the good in his concrete acts of choosing. Thus, saints prefer
to worship God, wisemen prefer to spend long hours in the pursuit of wisdom, heroes
dies for their cause, bon vivants spend their money to taste the pleasures of the world.
Unfortunately, to absolutely love finite goods can lead to”corruption”. In its first and
primary meaning, corruption could refer to the changeableness and destructibility of
these objects of desire. In the more secondary and ordinary meaning, “corruption” could
refer to man’s moral degeneration along with his apparently undying desire for the finite
good.

It is important to emphasize that in this classic “order of values”, freedom need not be
in contraindication with justice and vice-versa. Freedom conditions justice and a justice
in the condition of freedom

If the human being is to keep his freedom, then he must assess his real needs with
respect to the available goods around his world and equally real needs of his fellow-
man. In short, he would need an objective sense of justice. At this point, it is interesting
to note that the words deliberate and equilibrate stem from the same root word: libra the
balancing instrument held up by the muse of justice.

The social structures of such a society will thereby be directed in such a way that the
exchange of economic goods and the distribution of the foci of political power is geared
towards the enhancement of the human being. And the practical norm for such an ideal,
can be found in the Act of the Apostles:

…to each according to his needs (Acts 2:45)


…from each according to his means ( Acts 11: 29))

Freedom conditions justice and justice in the condition of freedom