Are our freedoms being restricted? This interesting essay by a philosophy professor at Northern Arizona University argues that "freedom" should be seen as not just the property of an individual but the property of a group.
"I am free, I may claim, if nothing in the external world is preventing me from doing whatever it is that I want to do. Freedom requires an “absence of restraint.” There are good reasons to care about freedom in this way. For example, there are some very obvious cases of oppression where removing restrictions would increase freedom. If one is literally in chains, enslaved, held against one’s will in a way that has nothing to do with a concern for their freedom, emancipation from these restrictions will generally result in greater freedom. ... This way of thinking about freedom affects how we think about politics. Freedom is the central concept in American political life. If freedom as absence of restraint is taken to be the aim, we can see how this idea plays out politically: we focus on removing restrictions, regulations, laws, or coercion of any sort. This, we may think, is what makes a society free. ...
"One problem with only thinking of freedom negatively is that it takes no account of how we might actually do whatever it is that we want to do with our lives. We in fact require outside help. ... Right now, it is painfully clear that this kind of conception of freedom misses the fact that true freedom cannot exist without external forces, limits, and ultimately a social foundation. We can see how much of our ability to simply go about our lives and do what we do relies on forces outside of us and a social reality of which we are only a small part: grocery stores with the labor involved in producing food, to the management of the supply.... When these parts of our lives are working for us, we have the luxury of not noticing them and thus taking them for granted. The ability not to focus on these parts of our lives is important so that we can go about our lives and pursue whatever it is that we want to do. The danger, however, is that we construct a fantasy of freedom that thinks that we are free become there are no limits placed up on us, and that the pursuing of our aims is actually something that we are doing alone. ... Let’s take as an example some very real limits that people are currently experiencing. One may be under stay-at-home or self-quarantine orders. These are very straightforward limits. We could conceive of them as limits to our freedom such that we are less free because our ability to travel, go out to bars and restaurants, and live our “normal lives” is restricted. ... [B]ut would wandering out into closed stores and restaurants [suffice?] ... [T]o say that I would like us all to go back to normal so that I can live my regular life, then I am already acknowledging the social foundation for my freedom. My activity is only possible because of the activities of others around me. The error relies on the idea that restrictions, limits, or whatever we might call them, by their nature limit our freedom. As Hegel would say, these limits, far from taking away from our freedom, are the very condition for it. Consequently, we need to think of freedom as socially embedded. To think of freedom as “social” is to think of it as the property of a group and not of an individual. ... This involves thinking of freedom as something that cannot be done alone. Certain institutions of social reality, including their restrictions, regulations, and limits, are the condition for freedom and the medium through which I can experience it."
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