Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Two Kinds Of Freedom

Nick made a comment on my post about Leibniz. I was saying that Leibniz' universal language would make humans less free. He envisioned many of the matters of faith and morals could one day be resolved by calculating. We are not free to reject the results of calculating the way we are free to reject the preaching of the gospel. Nick's objection was interesting:
You seem to be saying that if person is unable to go against what they know to be true, then they're not truly free. Pope Leo XIII quoted St Augustine on this very point, who said that argument cannot be right, because God is supremely free and is unable to go against what He knows to be true. So being free does not depend on being able to choose the wrong, it means being able to choose between different goods. The fact we can choose the wrong is a limitation/defect due to the fact we are finite: which is why even when we choose what we know is wrong, we do so seeing some apparent good in the choice.
I find this distinction to be useful. The freedom to choose between different goods on the one hand and the freedom to choose between good and evil on the other. The first kind of freedom is what Christians talk about when they say they are free. It is only really experienced when we choose good over evil. Sin enslaves us. So the more we sin the less free we are. So we must first choose to turn from sin to experience this freedom.

The second freedom, the freedom to choose good or evil, is the one modern society is obsessed with. When people talk about protecting a woman's right to choose they mean this freedom. When people talk about the freedom to marry who you want they mean this freedom. But this kind of freedom is not there so that you can do anything you want with it. It is more like the freedom you give someone when you know they won't do anything stupid.

Like when you give a child the freedom to cross the road by himself. There is a dignity there. But his freedom does not depend on him potentially running in front of a car. Quite the opposite. It depends on him understanding that he never wants to do that. The true freedom of crossing the road comes when you get that. Then you can safely walk anywhere you want in the city. That is a much greater freedom than the freedom to run in front of a moving car.

So focusing on our freedom to choose evil if we want deprives us of the greater freedom that comes from choosing the good consistently. We can go out into the world of dangerous ideas and dangerous temptations and fear no evil because we have learned to trust God. We are free to be sources of truth and beauty and goodness.


  1. I'm way behind on my Google Reader reading list, but this was a good post. Once people recognize that sin enslaves, they realize the Enlightenment version of "freedom" is self-refuting. Even those who deny there is such a thing as "sin" know that the body can be enslaved to alcohol, sex, etc.

  2. No problem Nick. Glad someone is reading. The enslavement of sin is always seen by modern man as a mental illness. Addiction tries to describe it all without making any reference to morality. The trouble is that the best recovery programs are based on the 12 steps of AA. Guess what they talk about? God, moral inventories, confession, etc.