A Philosopher's Blog

Feeling Free

Posted in Metaphysics, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on February 4, 2011
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

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As I do every spring, I am teaching Modern Philosophy. As always, this gets me thinking about the matter of freedom. Interestingly, many of the thinkers of this time period accepted a deterministic view of reality and thus rejected the idea that we have freedom. Or at least the idea that we have a certain sort of freedom.

One argument that I often hear in favor of our freedom is that people feel free. To be specific, it certainly seems to feel as if we deliberate and make choices, at least in certain matters. For example, a person might be in a situation where she has to chose between advancing her career and staying in a relationship. To her it would certainly feel as if she is deliberating between the choices and that she ultimately makes a choice between them. She feels, as we all surely do, that she has made a choice and thus showed that she is free. After all, she could have chosen otherwise.

Of course, this argument does have some obvious problems. The first is that it is not exactly clear that what people are feeling is metaphysical freedom. After all, feelings generally do not seem to be very precise¬†epistemic instruments. As an example, people often confuse feelings of lust with feeling of love. As another example, I have lost track of the times students have said that a non-A paper “felt like an A” or that an answer “felt right.” As such, an argument that uses evidence of the heart as its foundation would be on rather shaky ground.

Second,  such feelings would seem to be consistent with a lack of freedom. Thomas Hobbes presented such a view. For Hobbes, such feelings arise when people experience alternating feelings of desire and aversion or there is competition between competing desires or between competing aversions. While it might feel as if the person is deliberating and then choosing, it is merely a deterministic competition between forces in which the strongest force wins. To use an analogy, it is like an object caught between two gravitation pulls: the object is not free, even though it might waver between the forces. In the end, the stronger pull wins-as it must.

So much for feeling free.


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3 Responses

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  1. A J MacDonald Jr said, on February 4, 2011 at 6:31 am

    I think we’re as much “feeling” as we are “thinking” beings and that it would be wrong to emphasize one aspect of our being at the expense of the other. I think more than any other thought or feeling we have is that we believe our actions to be ours; that our actions are free. I will say this as well: Our justice system depends upon the concept of personal freedom.

    • Asur said, on February 4, 2011 at 12:02 pm

      Two points:

      1) Just because we are a certain way does not mean we should remain so; if it did, we ought never have become “feeling” beings in the first place since ‘becoming’ means that at some point we were not. As it stands, feelings do nothing that thinking cannot do better.

      2) While it is true that “[o]ur justice system depends upon the concept of personal freedom”, what it does not depend on is the actuality of personal freedom; notice that its criteria for determining whether a given action is free or forced is not the action itself but rather the external situation in which it occurs. Hence, even our actions were discovered to be completely determined, our justice system would continue to mete out justice and injustice just as it does now, using the same criteria it does now.

  2. healmysoul said, on February 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Emotional Freedom
    My soul is wounded, I need to write in order to clear my mind. One of the people that I love most has attacked me with vice and hate words, uncomprehensible for me. I just want peace of mind, enjoy life and share it.
    Time has passed, almost 2 years.
    Now I’m stuck with high fever. Perhaps a somatic reaction. Medications are just to reduce my symptoms, but now I feel I had buried a problem for a long time. With my experience, I wonder how bad I had to go before realizing what was really happening.
    I stopping seeing the person, but the emotional damage is there and needs to be flushed, move on.
    I can just pretend nothing happened, which still ignores the emotional issue.
    Yes, speaking would be the most reasonable exit… but when other party agrees. Until now, it has been denial. The other person being a controller, I would have to reduce myself to serfdom, as previous arrangements have been.
    I would like to un-obsess with this… my mind has an imprinted image and sound… I just want it to go away and enjoy life. There is a sunny, clear day outside I want to get out of bed and enjoy it. I want my health back. I want my peace of mind back.

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