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Freedom

Page history last edited by Alex 15 years, 6 months ago

Freedom has been conceptualized very differently throughout the history of sociology.  Different authors have place varying emphasis on such issues as autonomy, reason, market relations, and suffrage.  Here is a comparason of several different author's theories of freedom.

 

Hobbes and Locke’s concepts of freedom both focus on the right of the individual to alienate his labor and his property.  Both believed that individuals have the most freedom in free market societies, where they can exchange their labor and goods however they would like.  Hobbes takes this individuality even further and states that individuals only interact for purposes of exchange, with little or no sense of community.  Each individual has the freedom to act in accordance with his own desires and aversions, often at the expense of others, so long as he lives within the laws of the sovereign.  This can also be seen as freedom from dependence on others. In addition, Hobbes believed that man in the state of nature was disruptive as result of his innate desire to attain "more and more." Therefore, he felt the need to enforce and maintain a notion of terror amongst mankind, in order to keep others from suppressing one another's freedoms offered by the state. In other words, he was a conservative when it came down to the concept of "freedom."

 

Conversely, Locke believed that although relationships between individuals are largely governed by market exchanges, there is also an imagined ‘moral community’ and moral obligation to others. He firmly believed that individual possessions was closely tied to freedom, implying that one's ability to possess was ultimately, what made mankind "free." Locke believed some limits are placed on individual freedom by natural law (e.g. that you can only accumulate as much as you can use without allowing any to spoil).  These limitations contrast with Hobbes’ seemingly unrestricted concept of freedom.

 

Both Kant and Hegel emphasize the importance of the use of reason in obtaining freedom, although each theorist sees its function differently. Kant argues that man is not free until he is no longer immature and can make decisions that are against his self-interest.  True freedom is when you are no longer bound by your own desires and aversions, but rather lead your life according to rational decisions and a constant questioning of your perceptions.

 

Kant also makes an important distinction between freedom in the ‘public’ and ‘private’ spheres.  He argues that in private, one must obey and fulfill all expectations.  Conversely, in the public sphere, Kant asserts that one should be free to express opinions and question societal structures.  From this, it is clear that Kant’s conception of freedom is very different from that of Locke and Hobbes: it is not about the literal physical and social freedoms that man has.  Rather, Kant focuses on freedom of the mind and man’s ability to reason freely.

 

Hegel also believes that reason is integral for man’s realization of freedom.  He argues that freedom is not something one is born with, but rather, one must work towards it throughout history.  A personal sense of freedom is gained when individuals first become conscious of themselves through the master/slave dialectic; the "slave" starts to develop/learn new skills in his/her given area of labor as time progresses. As a result, the slave begins to see him/herself in the act/object of labor and sees that he/she has a mind of her own, ultimately pertaining to his/her very own self-recognition/freedom. As relationships in society are sublated and progress towards reason, mankind as a whole becomes more free.  Hegel asserts that it is only when mankind is fully self-conscious and their concept of reason is equivalent with reality that that they are completely free.

 

Marx and Rousseau saw freedom as inextricably tied to the individual in society.  Rousseau believed that mankind was most free when he was in a state of nature.  He argued that due to a lack of self-knowledge, man creates societies that are contrary to the laws of nature, and thus limiting his freedoms.  Because of this, Rousseau argued that a new type of society must be created where each individual gives up some of his natural rights to the general will.  He believed that submitting yourself to society as a whole allowed you to keep more freedom than if you gave up power to a single entity.  In this new society each individual would essentially co-author all laws, giving individuals more control over the freedoms they possess. Although Rousseau's ideas somewhat resemble a Hobbesian approach at first, although under Rousseau's model no individual in society was bound to lose his/her unique identity and/or personal freedoms to the central authority figure of a society, as this authority would distribute protection in return; it is clear that Rousseau drew an attempt here to maximize individual liberty, while preserving social order in society.

 

    Marx also studied the contemporary society and concluded that the way production is organized in capitalist society prevents workers from being free.  Marx ultimately believed that one's liberty was the right for him/her to take part in anything/everything which does not pontentially harm others in the process. As a result, Marx claims that liberty which does not get in the way of another is regarded as isolated, and withdrawn to an individual. He believed that man creates himself through labor and because the proletariat was alienated from his labor, he was oppressed.  He argued that the only way freedom could be achieved was by changing the relationships of production and the ownership of the forces of production.  This would essentially create a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and un-alienating the laborer, allowing the masses to create themselves through their labor and become free; in other words, under communism, commodities ultimately lead to private property and human self-estrangement, therefore marks the complete return of man to himself as a "social being."  Marx’s conception of freedom is directly opposed to that of Hobbes and Locke, who emphasized the importance of individual’s right to alienate their labor.

 

Comments (1)

Laurel said

at 5:04 pm on Dec 13, 2008

Please add more comparisons/authors if you guys think of any...this was obviously just the start...

I am going to think about it a little more and then add some myself.

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