Friday, 5 July 2013

Are We Free?

Jean-Jacques Rosseau was a great Genevan Philosopher of the 18th Century. His famous quote, "Man is Born Free, but is Everywhere in Chains", became the subject of a great debate about freedom between Libertarians, believers in free will, and Determinists, believers of fate. The quote was part of Rosseau's Social Contract, where he asserted that modern states repress the physical freedom of our bodies by social conditioning and behavioral upbringing, while doing nothing to secure the civil freedom for which we enter into civil communities. 

In my own opinion, Rosseau was making a point about the chains that we put upon ourselves through duty, whether through work, family or social role. Perhaps he was stating that although we believe that we are born free without any inhibitions, it is just a pretense due to the constraints inflicted on us by social conditioning. 

This links with Freud's ideas about duty being produced by human nature and social engineering from a young age. Freud suggested that our ideas of morality come about through the 'super-ego', an inner parent which rewards good behavior with happiness and punishes bad behavior with feelings of guilt. The super-ego is developed from a young age as the child views when parents get angry or disapprove of the child's actions.

These feelings of conscience are difficult to get rid of in a civilised society and therefore we have to ask ourselves if we really are free. Is freedom an illusion of the mind? Or can we strip the bonds of social conditioning away easily?

Personally, I believe that I am free in basic choices such as what to wear on a given day or whether to have an ice cream at the beach. However, I believe that we are a species are not autonomous beings. There are silent rules which guide us through life, which some interpret as conscience or responsibility, and others as God's will on Earth. We are held back by conscience and laws we place on each other in society. These chains are man-made, but they are binding beyond our free will. For example, society dictates that we look after our family, that we go to work on time, that money is the most important thing that we can gain in life. Through this, we can see that we are constrained by more than simply ourselves.

Of course I am free as far as I can be, as a girl living in a first world country, protected by the Human Rights Act of the United Kingdom, which is a lot more than can be said for other people. These ideals of freedom include freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to a free trial, freedom of expression, freedom from forced labor and slavery, and freedom from discrimination of any kind. 

Generally I believe that I am free, and there is only one law which could be made to further my own freedom, that of equal rights in the workplace between men and women.This is because as long as there is such thing as a civilised society there will always be socially conditioned constraints on what we can and cannot do, both to ourselves and to other people. 

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