Freedom (archaic)


Free will in the modern sense is a transparent contradiction, a sop to the vanity of the stupid. There exists an older concept of freedom, however, which will seem at first perverse.

As C. S. Lewis points out in "Studies in Words", the dangerous modern sense of a word can confuse our reading of older texts. (I highly recommend this book, it is sometimes wrong but always interesting.)

Freedom in this old sense is defined in opposition to servility. A servile person does things in order to profit in some way, or out of duty to other people such as their family or nation. A servile person isn't someone who's been whipped into unprotesting obediance, it's someone who's always scheming to get ahead. A lover of life and pleasure and status, a coward, a self-interested free economic agent.

On the other hand, when a person is free their actions are entirely generated from within. A philosopher pursuing the life of the mind, to no profit, is an excellent example of this. So is a Christian who is possessed by the Holy Spirit, who obeys God's laws not in fear of hell but because they believe in their rightness. So is a Buddhist devoted to seeking the nirvana state. So is an amateur mathematician or scientist.

Since Christians and Buddhists can be free in this sense, freedom is programmable, but it's not programmable in the same way. It's a question of cultural norms. The reward is for the belief rather than the action, for being rather than doing (and I will bet there's a further twist I've not yet comprehended).

Servility also is programmable, it's called advertising.

It's all arbitrary. It's all modifiable. There's nothing carved in stone.

The distinction is amoral, total freedom is as monstrous as total servility. It is however a useful diagnostic tool. If we seek to promote some activity, is it a servile activity that needs to be rewarded, or would it be better to set up conditions in which people are free to undertake it and a culture that believes this is something that people will do? Would rewarding it just promote a hideous mockery of the original that draws from the same resource pool?