Essay: What is Freedom?
“I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do. I will accept any rules that you feel necessary to your freedom. I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.” – Robert A. Heinlein
There are countless definitions for the word freedom. Freedom can be defined as something that is tangible, intangible, moral, emotional, and so on. However, what truly is freedom? One can say that it is indeed the complete opposite of enslavement, or one can say that it is simply being thyself. According to Robert A. Heinlein, freedom is having the ability to do as one pleases for oneself, with knowledge and acceptance that one is doing a particular act for oneself. Heinlein is an American novelist and science fiction writer. In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, Heinlein stresses the government’s power, unbeknownst to the citizens, over our freedom. He informs that one believes he or she holds a level of freedom that others seem to “lack”; without knowing that indeed the lack of freedom is present. They are indeed the government’s puppets. However, Heinlein rebelled, and informed readers that being responsible over one’s actions, ability to control the controllable, and being oneself is indeed freedom.
In order for one to be free responsibility and acknowledgment of one’s actions are deemed necessary. “I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do” (Heinlein 55). To be free means to be responsible for your own actions. Heinlein speaks volumes on the fact that freedom is something that one possesses, and claims as his or her own. One’s freedom cannot be another’s and with the acknowledgement of that individual freedom will be present. Freedom being the prime fact that one is able to commit and think by oneself shows freedom, and no individual, whether it be the government or another party, has the power to strip one of his or her ability to be free. “…the word ‘responsibility’ in its ordinary sense as ‘consciousness (of) being the incontestable author of an event or of an object” (Sartre 232). In Being and Nothingness, Jean-Paul Sartre speaks on the many aspects of freedom, including action, consciousness, cause, and more importantly in this aspect the accountability that comes with freedom. He informs his readers that with freedom should come the fact one knows what he or she is doing and accept the physical act they are committing. No one is able to take responsibility of an action that another has committed. Both authors stressed the simple fact in order to obtain freedom one must accept their actions. And, with the acceptance of one’s actions comes the consciousness of any action thereafter and that, indeed, is freedom.
Freedom is having the ability to control and hold power over situations or one’s life. Having freedom means that he or she has the capability to decide on situations, whether it affects the well-being of others or not. In Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Vonnegut speaks about how one doctor, Dr. Felix Hoenikker, had the freedom or free-will to do as he chose. In this case, his freedom gave him the ability to create a life-altering chemical with the capacity to destroy mankind. This kind of freedom gave Dr. Hoenikker the free-will to control and have power over a certain aspect of humanity and a power of the citizen’s right to death. Vonnegut spoke on the ability of having freedom and having the power to choose, similar to Sartre in Being and Nothingness. In Right over Death and Power of Life by Michel Foucault, Foucault stress the freedom to be able to give life and easily take that life away. “For a long time, one of the characteristic privileges of sovereign power was the right to decide life and death” (Foucault 135). He informs his readers that everyone has the ability to do as he or she pleases, and that no one can take accountability for what you do. Freedom is akin to war, in which one are free to do as you please, and one is given the freewill to choose to take life and give. The two authors speak on the freedom and given right to do as one pleases, even if that involves the act of controlling and affecting another life. Which relates entirely back to Heinlein, where he speaks on the free will to tolerate or break rules, for only he controls himself. Vonnegut and Foucault displayed the exact act of going against what others may be opposed to, and committing acts that they deemed best for themselves. Simply, being free.
With freedom comes the ability to control one’s own life. “I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them” (Heinlein 55). Heinlein informs the reader that no matter what tries to control him, he is his own person. Furthermore, if one wants to commit a certain act, then one has the power to do as one pleases. Freedom is being able to do and behave as one may please without the negative influences or interference of anyone or anything. It is having the mental, physical, and emotional capacity to free one’s mind from a particular lifestyle, or even the ability to remove one’s mind from a certain stage of prison confinement. In the Allegory of The Cave by Plato, the prisoners in this particular story were confined in a dark cave majority of their entire lives, with no sense or thought what freedom is exactly. The prisoners were products of the government, similar to those in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, they were stuck in a puppetlike lifestyle.
And if he once more had to compete with those perpetual prisoners in forming judgments about those shadows while his vision was still dim, before his eyes had recovered, and if the time needed for getting accustomed were not all short, wouldn’t he be the source of laughter… (Plato 2).
Shadows danced around them blocking them from obtaining their freedom: the truth, which was there is more to this dark cave in which they were trapped. Plato speaks about how the exposure to truth is really the gain of freedom. When the young man was released from his chains and brought into the sunlight, he gained a whole new insight on life. He soon realized what the truth was, and from there he was able to obtain his freedom in several ways: mentally, physically, and emotionally. It was surprising for it was multiple times where one will be exposed to a new sense of friend but coward away for fear of the unknown. But this prisoner in particular accepted his new found freedom and freed himself of the dark confinement he was kept in.
Freedom is a natural principle, not one that we are born with, but something that we can all find a little in the next person besides us. Freedom gives the opportunity to rid oneself of self misery through love and beauty. In Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke, he speaks about innate principles, and how they are principles that one cannot lose, such as freedom:
It is an established opinion among some men, that there are in the understanding certain innate principles; some primary notions… characters, as it were stamped upon the mind of man, which the soil receives in its very first being; and brings into the world with it. (Locke 27-28)
There are many aspects of freedom that we cannot lose or remove one of which is death. In Antigone by Sophocles, he speaks about how one has the ability to choose and pick how his or her life goes, but one thing one cannot control is death. “He can always help himself. He faces no future helpless. There’s only death that he cannot find an escape from” (Sophocles). In a sense, death is freedom.. With death, one is able to free oneself from any negative harm, or any particular situation. Man is free to do everything that he pleases and can do anything that he puts his mind to, except escape death. In a sense, Sophocles is stating that freedom is something natural that comes to us, something that powers us to overcome anything thrown our way, and we can escape anything except death. Death is inevitable, freeing, and beautiful. In Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare, the speaker expresses his adoration for his lover while stating that he or she is more beautiful than an summer’s day: “Nor lose possession of that thou ow’st, nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade when eternal lines to time thou grow’st.” He goes on to say that he hopes that his lover’s memory will forever be in memory. The meaning of what beauty remains an unanswered question. However, one can say that one has the freedom to perceive beauty as one wants. That similar to freedom, beauty is also an innate principle.
Freedom proves to be quite difficult to obtain. Freedom is is easily defined as countless things, but the act of being free is quite a hassle. In Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr., he speaks on the sensitive subject of discrimination and racism. He stresses to the white oppressors that African Americans have the right and are entitled to be free. That freedom is their natural and just right.
An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law… Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.
He talks about how they deserve to be able to control their actions without punishments, to be themselves without life-altering judgment. The act of segregating dehumanizes them. In Meditation I. Of Things Which Maybe Brought Within the Sphere of the Doubtful by Rene Descartes, he talks about the senses and insanity. How we dream of intangible and tangible items as if they real, when in reality they are can be things that we can not touch.
At the same time we must at least confess that the things which are represented to us in sleep are like painted representations which can only have been formed as the counterparts of something real and true, and that in this way those general things at least… (Descartes 2).
Such as freedom, a sometime intangible object, which proves it to be very hard to grasp. We dream of it being an physical act, when in reality there is so much more to what freedom truly is. Which in turn, makes it so much harder to grasp and obtain. Such as Dr. King and Descartes insinuated, freedom is not only something that we are obligated to have, it is also very hard just to grasp what freedom is exactly.
What is freedom? Freedom is the ability to do as one chooses and that one commits an act with self consciousness and responsibility. Also with recognition of the many aspects of freedom being: the control of certain aspects of life and the acceptance that no matter how free death is unescapable. Through the works of the authors, it has been proven and displayed that there many qualities of freedom. As Heinlein states “I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do”, to be free means being morally responsible for oneself, the ability to have control of oneself, and being true to oneself is indeed freedom. So, we can conclude that freedom indeed is tangible, intangible, moral, emotional, mental, and even physical.
Descartes, Rene.“Meditation I”. Philosophical Skepticism (2003): 46-50. Web.
Foucault, Michel. “The Right of Death and Power of Life.” The History of Sexuality. New York: Pantheon, 1978. 135. Print.
Heinlein, Robert A. “6.” The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. New York: Putnam, 1966. 55. Print.
King, Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail—April 16, 1963.” A Documentary Witness African American Religious History (2012): 519-35. Web.
Locke, John. Essay Concerning Human Understanding, from western Philosophy: An Anthology, edited by John Cottingham (Blackwell 1996) pg. 28-29
Plato, and Francis Macdonald Cornford. “The Allegory of the Cave.” The Republic of Plato. London: Oxford UP, 1945. N. pag. Print.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. “9.” Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology. New York: Philosophical Library, 1956. N. pag. Print.
Sophocles, and Hugh Lloyd-Jones. Sophocles: Antigone, the Women of Trachis, Philoctetes, Oedipus at Colonus. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1994. Print.
Shakespeare, William. Sonnet 18. In R. G. White (Ed.), The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. New York: Sully and Kleinteich.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Cat’s Cradle / by Kurt Vonnegut. New York, NY: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1990. Print.