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On Liberty and Freedom: A Dialogue

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Filed under Man

I travelled down to New York Harbor to meet my dear friend Franz. No sooner had I arrived at our meeting place than when the sun began to emerge from its hiding place and light up the sky above and the waters beneath. As it leapt up from its abode its warm rays stretched out and rested on the cold and fragile buildings of the city. There is something about a sunrise that gives one hope. Soon I noticed Franz approaching in the distance.

“Hello, friend!” he shouted from afar. “Good day for sailing, don’t you say?”

“It is a rather beautiful morning,” I said. “Tell me, Franz, what is liberty?”

“Oh, Arthur, we’ve barely started the day and you are already philosophizing! Let me light my pipe first and get a smoke in and then I’ll be happy to discuss this with you.”

“Very well,” I said, wearing a grin on my face. I valued my friendship with Franz dearly. We could talk about anything and everything. Nothing was off the table. And the best part is that we each valued each other no matter what, for we both knew that disagreement did not have to lead to opposition.

After Franz finished his smoke he began, “Okay. So you want to know what liberty is? Well, it is freedom, is it not? Seems rather straightforward.”

“I suppose so, yes, but are not liberty and freedom the same thing? And if they are the same thing, then have we really progressed in our understanding of liberty at all?”

“I guess they are the same thing.”

“Well, let us continue with our plans for the day, shall we? Let’s go to the dock and prepare for our sail. Once we are in the water we can resume our conversation and let it be our issue to tackle for the day.”

“That sounds like a fine plan,” said Franz.

We walked a decent ways and then finally made our way to the dock where Franz’s sailboat lay. By now the sun had risen higher and it was much warmer than when we had first met.

We set out near the upper part of the bay, and as we made our way I asked Franz, “Tell me, would you say we live in a free country?”

“Why, yes,” he said.

“What is it that makes the United States of America a free country?”

“We do not have an oppressive government.”

“I see,” I said. “So freedom from oppression is what makes us free?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“I would like to know how you define ‘oppression’,” I said. “But let us leave that aside for a moment. In this sense freedom is seen in negative terms.”

“What do you mean, Art?”

“Well, this. Can it not also be the case that freedom is for something, and not only from something? There is the sense in which we are free from a tyrannical government, but is it not also the case that we have the freedom to do things? If so, there is both a negative sense of freedom and a positive one.”

“I see what you are saying,” said Franz. “That certainly makes sense. We have the ability to make choices and choose how we live our lives. And in so doing there are various freedoms allotted to us.”

“Precisely,” I said. “But tell me, my dear Franz, is freedom then the permission to do whatever it is we want?”

“I am not sure. It appears to be that way. If someone tried to limit my autonomy I would be very skeptical. Would that not be a violation of my freedom as an individual?”

“Would it?” I asked. “Is the freedom to do whatever you want really freedom? Consider this on the larger scale. If every person in this country defined freedom as you just have, then would not we live in anarchy rather than a democratic republic? A society where anyone can do as they please seems like a dangerous society to live in indeed.”

“Now, now, Arthur, you know that I would never advocate for anarchy. Never!”

“I know, Franz, I know. But the way you described what freedom is certainly sounded like it. Which means we need to work harder at defining what freedom truly is. Now, isn’t it true that freedom consists in having certain restrictions? For example, consider our nation. We are a nation of laws. Our leaders constantly say that we are a nation of laws, and so on. And yet we still live in a free country, right?”

“Yes, that is true,” he said.

“So laws can liberate?” I asked.

“I suppose they can.”

“Consider also the sonnet. Both Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets have certain parameters that guide its composition. The use of iambic pentameter, the narrative arc, and so on are ways in which a sonnet has limitations.  The author can play around with these, of course, and so they are not rigid, but nevertheless these limits are there. But here is the fascinating thing: these limits actually allow a writer to find creative possibilities that he or she might never have considered otherwise. So, in one way the restraints open up freedoms.”

“Why, I never even thought of that,” exclaimed Franz.

“So we agree then, that freedom consists of having restraints?”

“Yes, I suppose we do. But is it not true that some restraints can be oppressive?”

“Certainly so, my dear Franz. Certainly so.”

“So then, it is not just having restraints but having the right restraints.”

“Indeed, it must be. That is a great point, Franz.”

“So how are we to find the right restraints?” asked Franz. “Is finding the right constraints even possible? Are we flirting with utopian concepts here, Art? For even in our own country it is not perfectly right. It is true that we are free, but surely there are laws that are imperfect insofar as preserving liberty in its truest form. In finding the right restraints we ought then also to seek what true goodness is, and justice, should we not?

“You’re absolutely right,” I said.

“Oh dear! That would put us on a lengthy pursuit!”

“Yes, it would,” I said. “But it is a worthy pursuit, and one we cannot afford to abandon. We must do this not just for ourselves but also for our children.”

“Oh how true!”

“I want to touch on something you just said, Franz, regarding finding proper constraints. For it seems to me that a free country can only remain free to the extent that its citizens and its leaders are virtuous. And they can only be virtuous if they possess an inner freedom.”

“I’m not sure I see where you are going with this, Art. Can you please explain?”

“Certainly. As we have been discussing, while laws prohibit certain actions we can take in society, we agree that laws are necessary for true freedom to exist; otherwise we have anarchy and not freedom. Well, then we recognized that true that freedom consists not only in having restraints but having the right restraints in order to have human flourishing and not oppression. Well, to the extent that such a proper society could be maintained rests on the leaders to create just laws and the citizens to obey those laws. So, the populace must be virtuous, willing to abide by the rule of law and to implement laws that allow for true freedom. But in order for a person to be virtuous, he or she needs to have a moral constitution, otherwise how will they be able to distinguish between that which is good and that which is bad? This is what I mean by an inner freedom: a proper morality in the individual soul.”

“I think I see what you’re saying,” said Franz. “But how does one come to a proper morality inside themselves?”

“You ask an important question. Have you ever read Plato? His masterpiece, the Republic, treats this very question. It is in Republic that Plato presents his famous tripartite structure of the human soul.”

“Well, what is it?”

“Humans have a rational part, a spirited part and an erotic part. The rational part controls thinking and, in a good human, governs. The spirited part corresponds with the higher passions, like courage. The erotic part deals with the passions of the body, such as the desire for food and sex.1. When within the soul appetites follow will and will follows reason then there is an inner harmony.”2

“I see. I need to ponder this for a moment.”

“There are some things I disagree with in Plato. For instance, I don’t think he takes enough account of the fickleness of human beings. Are we really capable of ordering our own souls? But he does make good points about how inordinate desires can lead one astray. Things like food, sex, and drink, are good; but when they become immoderate they can take over and give us inordinate desires that can force us to be slaves to them. We must practice self-mastery, and so a healthy asceticism seems requisite. However, like I was saying, we ourselves can only do so much. Our wills are insufficient. We need divine intervention.”

At this point we were making our way past the island where Lady Liberty dwells.

“Wait,” I said. “Let us behold this majestic frame! Beacon of hope! Have you ever read the poem that Lazarus wrote which is on the pedestal of the statue?”

“Why, no, I haven’t.”

“Let me recite it for you. It really is quite beautiful.”

“Oh, Art, you’ve always been an orator! Delight me with your speech.”

“The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"3

“Bravo! Bravo!” exclaimed Franz. 

“Do you know why there are seven spikes coming out of her crown?” I asked.

“No, I don’t,” said Franz.

“The seven spikes represent the seven oceans and the seven continents of the world, indicating the universal concept of liberty.4 And this is the heart of it, my friend. That this concept is universal is telling. It is why I go so far as to say that freedom cannot merely be external but internal. There is a deep yearning within each human soul for a sense of liberation: a liberation from something and for something.”

After this, we both sat in silence for a while and thought deeply about our conversation. After some time we continued our sail, now traveling south with a nice wind at our back guiding us along.

Notes:

  1. John Mark Reynolds, When Athens Met Jerusalem: An Introduction to Classical and Christian Thought, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 161.
  2. Peter Kreeft, “Justice, Wisdom, Courage, and Moderation: The Four Cardinal Virtues”. http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/justice-wisdom-courage-and-moderation-the-four-cardinal-virtues.html From Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986).
  3. Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus” https://www.nps.gov/stli/learn/historyculture/colossus.htm
  4. Sophie Christie, “Statue of Liberty: 50 Fascinating Facts” in The Telegraph, 28 October 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/north-america/united-state/new-york/articles/Statue-of-Liberty-50-fascinating-facts/
Lucas Holt

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Lucas holds a B.S. in Public Management & Policy from the University of Arizona, a PGDip in Theology from the University of Oxford, and is currently a graduate student at Houston Baptist University, where he is pursuing a M.A. in Cultural Apologetics.

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  • Mike O’Leary

    It seems everyone is out buying 10-foot poles with which to not touch this article. I guess I'll take a stab at it. The conversation can be boiled down to two key points. One, freedom requires some measure of restraint. I would agree, as this is essentially the old "Your right to swing your fist ends before my nose." Two, the only way to be moral is via divine intervention. There is nothing in the conversation that backs this up, and I certainly would disagree with it. To test this hypothesis we would need to find moral people who have experienced divine intervention, moral people who have not, and immoral people who have and have not. That leads to a few problems as we can't say who has or has not experienced divine intervention. If we point to a person who is moral and who doesn't believe in the supernatural, another person may make the claim that the subject did experience divine intervention but was unaware of it. This kicks the can down the road where we still have claims that are so nebulous as to always be unprovable and unfalsifiable. There is nothing whatsoever to back up the narrator when he says people need divine intervention.

    As a bit of an offshoot from that, since I have the floor, believers will often tell non-believers that without a higher authority that they have no moral footing. My response to that is what does a believer do if a deity or the representatives of that deity on Earth call for the followers to do immoral acts? Catholicism is certainly not alone in this, but we can point to items in the Bible where God tells his people to act immorally. The same is true from the Church itself. The moral grounding of a non-believer certainly isn't perfect (because no one's is), but a non-believer never has to decide whether to override the call of a deity or clergy when making a decision as to the morality of an act.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      Thanks for kicking things off. I'll just take up your first point, on the interplay between freedom and restraint.

      It's true that the OP refers to the specter of anarchy and so makes a sort of "your right to swing your fist ends before my nose" argument, but there is more to it than that. It's not just that we need to balance my freedoms against your freedoms. There's the deeper point that, if freedom means "freedom to grow arbitrarily closer to one's goal", then restraint, especially self-restraint, can be ingredient in that freedom. The classic example would be Odysseus having himself tied to the mast so that he would be free from the influence of passions, free to pursue his goal of returning home.

      • Raymond

        You've totally missed the point of the Odysseus story. Odysseus wanted to exercise his passions - hear the Sirens' song - but be restrained from wrecking the ship. He wasnt free from his passions, and it really didnt have to do with his goal of returning home.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Well, it's been a long time and I should read it again, but I don't see how I've missed any of the points that you've made.

          If you want to say that merely hearing the Sirens song amounts to "exercising his passions", then fine. But even if you call it that, the point is that he wasn't able to act on his passions. He was, as I said, free from the influence of his passions.

          And, yes, I am inferring that the proximate goal of avoiding shipwreck is subservient to the ultimate goal of returning to Ithaca. Do you not see it that way?

          • Raymond

            well, no. He wanted to hear the Sirens' song as an impulsive act. He knew how to protect himself and his crew from the song (wax in the ears), but he didnt do that for himself, so he was in fact acting on his passions. The fact that the ship was safe was important, but not necessarily because of his wanted to go home. He was also concerned about the lives of his crew.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            So, do you read the story primarily as just glorifying a sort of cleverness, whereby Odysseus was able to indulge his passions and achieve his objectives at the same time?

            I get that he wanted to indulge his desires by hearing more of the Sirens' song, but do you not see anything in the story that speaks to the value of (non-impulsive) rational self-restraint? (Not a rhetorical question; I'm trying to better understand your interpretation.)

          • Raymond

            Odysseus is a type - a trope of Greek poetry of a clever impulsive hero. As such, he is shown succeeding even when he engages in impulsive behavior. I have no problem accepting the concept of the value of rational self-restraint, but you can't find it in the Odyssey.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Interesting. Well, OK, that's a bit of a downer to me, but I suspect your opinion is better informed than my own on this topic, so I'll concede the point. Thanks for the dialogue.

    • Lucas

      Mike,

      Thanks for starting the discussion! You raise some good points. However, you write, "Two, the only way to be moral is via divine intervention." I hope I can clarify a bit. I do not want to give the impression that one has to believe in God in order to be moral. Atheists, humanists, agnostics, can all be moral--and indeed Christians, Jews, Muslims, along with those of other faith traditions, can certainly act immorally. The question is not, 'Can a non-theist be moral?' Rather, the question is, 'On what basis does he or she justify their morality?' The justification of moral uprightness is what is intriguing. To what is one appealing when they say that this or that is wrong?

      Can't we say, drawing on our human experience, that we all sometimes do things that we know are wrong? Sometimes we eat too much, drink too much, let our erotic or spirited parts cloud our judgments, right? So is it fair to suggest that our own will-power is insufficient to properly order our souls (according to the ordering Plato gives)?

      You also write, "but we can point to items in the Bible where God tells his people to act immorally." Are there any specific events that trouble you?

      I really appreciate the dialogue. Looking forward to reading your response.

      • VicqRuiz

        I don't know where morality comes from. To me, it's a mystery just as Christians have their mysteries.

        I find it equally difficult to accept that: morality is the result of chance interactions between neurons; and that morality is "grounded" (love that lawyerly dance around the Euthypro dilemma) in the nature of that vindictive caudillo, Yahweh.

      • Mike O’Leary

        Hello Lucas,

        I had a post in place including a detailed answer as to your question as to which specific events trouble me. Currently Disqus has it flagged as spam, and I've submitted a request to unflag it. I hope it goes through soon so we can continue discussing the matter. Thanks again!

        • Lucas

          Mike,

          I received your response via email. I responded to it. It seems as though something has gone awry with Disqus. I will try and post it here.

        • Lucas

          Hi Mike,

          Were you able to retrieve your post?

        • Lucas

          I'll go ahead and post the response here. I apologize to those who may read it and be slightly confused, as you're only seeing one half of the conversation.

          Mike,

          Of course!

          Ah, okay. I see what you're saying. Thanks for the clarification. So you would agree, then, that there is a moral law but it's just that this doesn't mean we have to posit a law-giver, or deity/ higher power, etc.. Is this what you are saying?

          You seem well-versed in the Bible and Church history! Were you Catholic at one point?

          Yes, slavery is incredibly immoral. And no doubt the Church has acted wrongfully in the past on this issue. I think we should acknowledge this and repent of it rather than trying to explain it away. However, the truth or falsehood of something should not be judged by its abuses. Immoral behavior by certain individuals or church leaders does not meant that God does not exist, or that Catholicism is false. If a child misbehaved, would the likely conclusion be that he or she does not have parents? But your point is well taken. I think what one finds, though, when they follow the narrative of the entire Bible, and when one reads the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it becomes clear that slavery is immoral and that we are called to a higher standard. Unfortunately, we fall short of it often. But God is infinitely rich in mercy.

          I am unaware of any place in the Bible where God actually commands slavery. In fact, as you mention, one of the reasons he delivered the Israelites out of Egypt was because of the oppression they were facing. The reason he does not intervene every single time slavery takes place is because he has given us free will.

          I think one could also argue that at least one of the things that helped motivate people to overcome discrimination in the South in the U.S. during the Civil Rights Movement is the social justice message in the prophets of the Old Testament. Have you ever read Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail? I think you'll see what I mean there. Now, it is also the case that some people used verses from the Bible to support slavery. But I'd say that this was a distorted reading of the text and was an intentional misuse in order to preserve their situation. William Wilberforce is another name worth checking out. He led the movement to end slavery in Great Britain.

          This is an important issue. Thanks for the dialogue.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            I am unaware of any place in the Bible where God actually commands slavery.

            If you don't mind me jumping in the conversation... the following verses seem to be examples of God allowing slavery. Perhaps he is not technically "commanding slavery" but I'd say that's a distinction without much of a difference. God seems to not have any objection to slavery in these verses.

            Here God allows slavery of foreigners that can be kept for life.

            Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly. Lev 25:44-46

            Here God says that you may beat, but not kill your slaves:

            Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property. Exod 21:20-21

            Here God states that although male Hebrew servants are temporary, females are not:

            If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. Exod 21:7

            Here, Moses commands that his people take virgin Midianite girls "for themselves." This is essentially sex slavery. God does not object but instead ensures that these spoils are divided fairly.

            Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. Num 31:17-8
            The Lord said to Moses, “You and Eleazar the priest and the family heads of the community are to count all the people and animals that were captured. Divide the spoils equally between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community. Num 31:25-27

            I think these verses (and more like it) do not just show God sitting idly by and allowing people to take slaves in respect for their free will. These phrases endorse slavery.

          • Now, it is also the case that some people used verses from the Bible to support slavery. But I'd say that this was a distorted reading of the text and was an intentional misuse in order to preserve their situation.

            I suspect they would say the same about your reading of the text.

          • OverlappingMagisteria

            Hmmm... I remember reading a reply from you earlier today that I did not have time to respond to at the time,... but now its gone. Is Disqus being screwy again?

          • Lucas

            I just saw where Disqus detected my response as spam. I sent a notification for them to unflag it. Hopefully it will be up soon and we can continue the conversation. :)

          • Mike O’Leary

            Hey, Lucas. Sorry, I was out for a few days. I see Disqus hit you as well.

            No, God doesn't tell his people that they must purchase slaves; but he does give them explicit instructions on how one can do, and he outright tells them they can do all this with absolutely no punishment. If a town passed a law saying its citizens can commit rape on any day except Thursday, or allows the kidnapping of women with mild restrictions on what can be done to the captives it's endorsing the practice. When God tells his people that they can beat slaves and can manslaughter them so long as the agony takes at least a day, then God endorses slavery.

            To cite the Bible or the Catholic Church as an example of fighting against slavery is like citing Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" as an endorsement of the meatpacking industry. Legal slavery in the Western world was abolished despite what the Bible and Church said, not because of it.

          • Lucas

            Mike,

            You write, "Legal slavery in the Western world was abolished despite what the Bible and Church said, not because of it."

            I'd encourage you to read Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from Birmingham Jail if you've never read it before. On my reading of it, he seems to use biblical principles and quotes passages from scripture to support the case for fighting to abolish slavery. In any case it's a fascinating read and I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on it.

            Cheers,
            Lucas

          • Mike O’Leary

            Lucas, I hadn't read MLK's letter since I was in school. I'm glad you did as it is quite a read. That being said I don't see where in that letter that he is using biblical principles and quotes to support the fight to abolish slavery."A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God." If you take the quotes that OverlappingMagisteria quoted above it's plain to see that at times the moral law is in direct conflict with the law of God. Later Rev. King mentions how several had refused "to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake." Where does one go, someone who knows slavery is wrong, where does he go when the supposed arbiter of what is good and right -- the author of what is claimed is the highest moral law -- says slavery is moral with only the mildest of restrictions?If I may, I have a recommendation for you. There was a movie on PBS a few years back called "God On Trial". It was the likely apocraphyl story of a group of men in a concentration camp who put God on trial for breaking his covenant with them. The scene I link to here while not talking about slavery does touch on several points where God's morality, especially in areas where God commands his people to engage in cruel acts upon others, contradicts the false notion of a loving deity.

          • Mike O’Leary

            Lucas, I think Disqus ate your reply. Luckily I did get a copy of it in my email. Here's my reply -- until it too disappears! :DI agree with you that MLK's letter sees ending slavery as one goal needed for freedom. By the same token we know from people today that two people can look at the Bible and come to different conclusions. Each side will bring up certain passage and each side will claim the other is ignoring other passages. It's not so outrageous why people like Martin Luther King and Willaim Wilberforce will focus on the passages stressing love and sweeping the ones that advocate slavery under the rug.About the points you made:1. Context is very important. According to the Bible the Hebrews were enslaved by the Egyptian for 400, 430, or 450 years (depending on the verse). During that time it's safe to say that they themselves did not possess slaves. When they were given the rules by God that run from Exodus 20 to 24 (including the Ten Commandments) they were partway through their 40 year journey in the desert and still had no slaves. So we know based on context that slavery was not something practiced for several centuries when told by God how to practice it. You don't do something solely because an ancestor did it in 1587.One very important rule from God that often gets ignored by those who defend slavery because neighboring nations also practiced it is Leviticus 20:23 "You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them." So we know based on context that the actions of other nations have no bearing on what the Hebrews could and could not do according to God. Heck, God told his people to do things like rest every 7 days, what to eat, whether to let sorcers live, what fringes to wear, and so many other things; yet defenders of slavery say God simply could not tell his people to not enslave others.2. The rules regarding slaves that I and others have quoted here regarding slavery in Exodus and Leviticus are said to come directly from God. I can't imagine that God would give rules to his people that he does not condone.3. If a person kidnaps a woman, holds her captive, and then abuses her it doesn't matter if that kidnapper refers to the victim as his girlfriend. When you say we should let the text speak for itself, I agree. It shows Yahweh outlining, allowing, and condoing despicable acts.4. There are a few parts you are leaving out concerning those passages. If a Hebrew man is given a wife or has a child while he is enslaved then they are not to be released when he is. Then if that man wishes to not be separated from his family then he tells his master that he loves his family and agrees to remain with his master for life. He then gets his ear pierced to a wall with an awl. By God's own rules he sees absoltely nothing wrong with blackmailing a man by threatening to break up a family. As I mentioned before this choice (terrible as it isu) isn't offered to non-Hebrews or those born or sold into slavery.Also to say we should compare the practices for enslavement laid out by Yahweh with that of other nations is moral relativism, a practice the Church strongly discourages. More important than that is the idea of an omniscient and all loving god. If God can see every possible society past or future, real or imagined, and he chooses one that explicitly allows for cruelty despite it being completely unnecessary.I can't buy into the idea that because the Bible sometimes says to be nice to one another that this somehow supercedes all the very specific terrible acts God allows for in great detail. We all know someone who professes to be fair, to claim that they treat people equally, then when the topic of group X comes up they don't see the disconnect between what they claim and what they do. God in the Bible twice calls slaves property. It specifically says slaves can be manslaughtered (Exodus 21:20-21) specifically because they are property. The penalty for killing another person's slave is less than killing another person's family member. We have to consider all of what the Bible says regarding slaves, not ignore those passages which endorse it and the terrible acts that come with it wholeheartedly.The one mention Jesus has concerning slavery is an analogy (which he doesn't say is incorrect) where those who do wrong but aren't aware it's wrong will be beaten with "few stripes". Jesus condemned so much but said not a word against slavery.I say no when you ask, "If one claims to have a higher view of morality than God, does that then mean they are claiming to be God?" If a person says they are more moral than a president, a prime minister, a teacher, or whomever that person doesn't claim to take that same mantle. I can claim I am moral than Zeus without thinking I'm a god myself. In the same way I consider myself more moral than the god of the Bible. An all powerful and all knowing god would be able to teach his people how to act morally but giving them instruction on how to act immorally without fear of punsihment. We don't teach our children to do wrong then later to do right. I hate to say it, but I find believers are the first to limit the power of God when not doing so causes unconfortable questions to arise.Thank you again for this conversation, Lucas!

          • Lucas

            Hey Mike,

            I don't know why I'm having such trouble with Disqus. Glad you were able to read it at least (thanks for taking the time to read it all!)

            A few thoughts in response to your post. It is important to remember the role of free will here also. God does not control us like robots. We have choices and can decided how to act. There is evil that existed then and there is evil that exists now. That God allows for certain things to happen does not mean he is fine with what is happening. Again, love is the supreme ethic here. And in order to have true love there needs to be the freedom to choose, and where there is the freedom to choose, unfortunately it is the case that some will choose evil over good. A constant theme in Deuteronomy is 'choose life!'

            Have you read the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said ... but I say..." ? It is clear from this passage (Matthew 5-7) that God's ideal plan is a place of true freedom and love. Which is what we see before the Fall as well. What happens in Exodus, and indeed the entire Old Testament afterward, is after the Fall, i.e., where sin exists. God does not want slavery, but it existed because humans instituted it and because of our fallen nature we take advantage of others. When the new heavens and new earth are created, there will be no such thing.

            But I also think it is important to remember again that a slave often meant a hired worker. Slavery then did not necessarily mean something oppressive. We assume it is oppressive because of our familiarity with slavery in the U.S. But we can't assume the two are the same. I'm sure some were oppressive, but I do not think God was--is--okay with it.

            I think you may have answered this in a previous post, but were you a Christian at one point? It seems like you have quite a bit of familiarity with the Bible! :)

      • Rather, the question is, 'On what basis does he or she justify their morality?'

        On the basis that we cannot survive individually without society, and a society cannot function without rules governing the behavior of its members.

      • Larry Garman

        "God acts immorally"? ? ? most ridiculous comment seen here in a
        very long, long, time. "My thoughts and My WAYS are far above your
        thoughts as the heavens are above the earth.To some stupid, liberal
        "thinking" he may seem to be immoral. YIKES the perfect being is
        now called immoral to very limited, error pron HUMAN reasoning.

        Just as in the Angelic realm there is a hierarchy, Angels, Arch angel,
        Thones, Dominions, Seraphims, on and on. "As it is in the natural,
        so it is in the Spiritual. How is it in the natural? are all things equal?

        The Creator has a right to do as He pleases, as the potter over the
        clay. HE chose to have a "chosen people above ALL people on the
        face of the earth"(Deut.7:6) As such, ALL the rest of the people on
        the face of the earth, were BENEATH those HIS chosen, and could
        consider owning, buying and selling his property. Of course our
        modern, "enlightened" liberal, socialistic frame of mind, rebells at
        this righteous concept, which in NO way is "IMMORAL" by the
        people OR the Almighty who gave them this authority. (sr)

        Where did this misguided "equality" come from? who was the first
        Equalist? "I", "I" will be LIKE (equal) the Most High" Satan is the
        author of this destructive, "immoral" concept. (sr)

        • Michael Murray

          Who are you quoting with "God acts immorally?"

          • Larry Garman

            God does NOT act immorally, as above commenter posted.
            Am "quoting" no one, but the Word of Yah. WE may, in our
            severly impaired "thinking" he does, but absolute perfection
            NEVER acts "immorally." Got any other questions, or addit
            ions to the thread, if so, Go for IT. (sr)

          • Michael Murray

            You said

            "God acts immorally"? ? ? most ridiculous comment seen here in a very long, long, time

            I am asking whose comment it was. I did a search and couldn't find the phrase "God acts immorally" on the page. Maybe it is a Disqus problem and the comment you are saying is ridiculous was not showing when I looked. Can you give a link to it?

          • Larry Garman

            Michael, you have go back UP and find the one who made
            that comment. His reason was "he allows Slavery", and my
            resonse was he can do as he wishes with his creation. etc.

            This is what happens when ppl come into a Thread at the end
            and not seen the early comments. That is all I can tell you.

            Bye the way aplolgize for unkind comments previously.

            Anyway didn't get a response from my post, so we will see
            how it all comes out. Have a good night and nice holiday w
            ahead.

          • Michael Murray

            Thanks. I did search the whole page so I guess it's a Disqus problem. I've noticed before some comments I know are there one day don't seem to be there the next.

          • Larry Garman

            YOU are very right about that my comments at times are
            very controversial and they will be gone in a few minutes
            sometimes. Anyway you take care going forward.

          • Mike O’Leary

            You were probably referring to my post, which Disqus first labelled as spam then later deleted outright.

            What's important is that when God allows slavery it's not even a matter of God doing as he wishes. Instead, it's God instructing his people that they can perform evil acts without punishment. It's not the Problem of Evil, it's a problem of what is supposed to be a moral beacon telling the Israelites that immoral acts are moral. He's not silent on the matter of slavery, he's laying the groundwork for a people who hadn't owned slaves for 400 to 450 years (depending on the Bible passage cited) and who were in the desert without slaves of how to acquire and brutalize them. All of this was in the same speech from God on all sorts of tort law, so this isn't something a believer can fall back to a retreat position to say that it's figurative. As I think I noted in my post that got deleted, God supposedly came thisclose to killing Moses for not circumcising his kid in a timely matter, but looked down at all of the slavery and decided teaching his people that it was ok to do it would let them figure out it was wrong millennia later.

          • Larry Garman

            Most of all you mistkenly THINK god makes Mistakes, HE
            does not. As HE said "I know the end from the beginning"
            and everything in between. And is NEVER immoral as HE
            can do as HE wishes in His Creation, "power of potter over
            clay, so to speak."

            For the Almighty to act, as you say, "immorally" would mean
            He has Flaws, an impossibility of the first magnitude, and
            would be just as culpable as human beings, "sinners". HE
            is PERFECT and cannot SIN or act IMMORAL.

            Of course His "thoughts and ways" are far above our meger
            intellectual capacity to evaluate, no doubt about that, as
            these post verify. (sr)

          • Mike O’Leary

            If you're saying God doesn't make mistakes, then you are also saying that God -- who you say knows everything past, present, and future -- specifically chose to give his people a set of instructions on how to purchase and inflict pain upon slaves instead of giving a set of laws to not do evil. God specifically says in Leviticus 20:23, "Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them.". That means God told his people they could do these acts because he felt they were moral and not due to any outside influences.

            The idea that God is so far above us that we can't understand his ways withers under the mildest of scrutiny, since an infinite God has more than a few societal models to copy that don't allow for such terrible acts.

          • Larry Garman

            See, YOU don't differentiate from His Chosen People and
            the pagans and heathens who as he let do as they would.
            As he had not subjected them to his LAWS of righteous
            living ie=Ten Commandments or the First covenant. Anyway
            they were more or less alowed to DO as they pleased as
            they were never going be with his chosen people in this life,
            OR the next. As HE has PREdestined His chosen, like it or
            not. But this whole existence past and present has been all
            preplanned as HE wills down to the last second.

            As your above said, he didn't want His people to DO as
            the other nations were ALLOWED to do, and to be sure
            they made little or no contact, he had them destroyed.

            HE does not operate on the way WE think HE should, got
            it? and HE doesn't care what YOU or I think about it, one
            way or the other.

            IF he were an immoral sinner, he could not be just Judge
            or all the living or the dead. That idea is dead in the water.
            (sr)

          • Mike O’Leary

            So in the same speech in Exodus where God gives great detail on how slavery is to be practiced, he also demanded that people don't murder, that they honor the Sabbath, pay someone you've wronged by negligence, not to engage in bestiality, not to eat meat torn by wild beasts, not accept bribes, and dozens of other things. There's no "allowing" by God to not do as he commands. Yet, slavery seems to be the exception. It makes far more sense to say that the character of God saw no issue whatsoever with slavery.

            IF he were an immoral sinner, he could not be just Judge or all the living or the dead. That idea is dead in the water.

            If you say A can't be true because B is true, you have to show that B is true. What you're essentially saying is that the character of God can't be besmirched because doing so would besmirch the character of God.

          • Larry Garman

            NO our original query was Yah cannot act immorally HIM
            self, HE can be besmirched (blasphemed) by others, and
            is most likely a many daily occurrance.

            Well he does "command" to do what we consider immoral
            such as to Kill all by the Israelites, when they didn't, and
            kept some of the good stuff, & "Samuel heard the bleeting
            of the Sheep, against Yah's command to kill all", they were
            in trouble and Samuel who spoke for Yah, passed severe
            judgement on Israel.

            Anyway you may believe as you wish, will do likewise.

            Over and out. (sr)

          • God does NOT act immorally,

            Can he, consistently with morality, command behaviors that would have been immoral if he had not commanded them?

          • Larry Garman

            Immoral, by WHOSE standards, human or Divine? See we
            cannot judge by our very limited "IDEA" of what is Moral, &
            what is not. HIS idea and REactions are FAR above our very
            limited ability to even "THINK" about judging HIM. (sr)
            Example: When He commanded Moses and Joshua to "Kill
            man, woman, child, suckling, ass and sheep." HE had a very
            good reason for that extreme command. These were nations
            of incredible depravity, disease, and filth. Not wanting His
            chosen people to be contaminated by this filth, he command
            ed death to all and to be set afire.as (Sodom/Comorrah etc.)

            So WE here and now, cannot JUDGE as to Why He chose
            to do as HE Commanded, He is free to do as He wishes.(sr)

          • I'll take that as a yes.

          • Larry Garman

            "god does not act immorally" Yes, you can take that as a YES, from here. Ha, needed that one. Appreciate you very, very, dry Humor. Great for sure.Have a great rest of your week Doug, you are a very wise man. Take care.

  • If we stipulate that anarchy is undesirable, the logical conclusion is not that "freedom consists in having certain restrictions." The logical conclusion is that our freedom must be restricted.

    • You've omitted freedom-to. Restrictions placed on me—by myself or others—can actually enable me to become more excellent in some area. Freedom-from decreases, while freedom-to increases. Has freedom simpliciter increased, or decreased?

      • Has freedom simpliciter increased, or decreased?

        By insisting in a distinction between "freedom from" and "freedom to," you deny the existence of freedom simpliciter. As far as I'm concerned, whenever my options are curtailed, my freedom is reduced.

        Granted that in a well governed society, I might be able to do things I could not do if I were living in an anarchy, that just means that it would not be a good thing for everybody to be totally free.

        • This seems problematic; on this reasoning, I'm inclined to say that Jesus' "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free" is nonsensical. After all, to know truths means one is unfree to know the contradictory falsehoods. Knowing truth is constricting. Or have I missed something?

          • You're missing the difference between civil freedom and intellectual freedom. Society can compel my behavior but not my thinking.

          • That's not my point. You wanted to deny a difference between "freedom from" and "freedom to". I gave an example where they seem required to avoid a ridiculous conclusion—that knowing the truth could be unfreeing. Unless you want to say that the dichotomy of "freedom from"/​"freedom to" only makes sense in the intellectual domain?

          • You wanted to deny a difference between "freedom from" and "freedom to".

            I wanted to deny that they are different kinds of freedom in such a sense that you could get more freedom if you reduced either of them.

            Unless you want to say that the dichotomy of "freedom from"/​"freedom to" only makes sense in the intellectual domain?

            I don't think it makes sense in any domain to suggest that you increase a person's freedom by restricting their range of options.

          • To know that something is true restricts your options, does it not?

          • To know that something is true restricts your options, does it not?

            I don't believe that.

          • Please explain; it seems to me that if I really believe X is true, I greatly restrict my ability to think of things which contradict X. Believing true things prevents me from the opportunity to believe all the false things which would contradict them.

            Now, where I'm obviously pushing is that the option to believe false things is not a type of freedom that is worth calling "freedom". But it seems like you don't want to go there.

          • Caravelle

            Isn't that true of any belief? As in, if I believe X, I've restricted my ability to believe anything that's incompatible with X. Regardless of whether X or anything else are true or false.

          • Of course. What is obvious is that belief in truth cannot be reasonably said to impinge on freedom. If anything, it increases freedom.

          • Believing true things prevents me from the opportunity to believe all the false things which would contradict them.

            In the first place, I'm not a doxastic voluntarist. In the second place, even if I were one, the opportunity to believe falsehoods is not one I'm interested in having.

          • None of what you've said here seems relevant to what makes a good definition of 'freedom'. If you do not want to allow 'freedom' to include "freedom to believe in falsehoods", then certain kinds of restrictions do not restrict 'freedom'.

            The obvious next step is to move from the Cartesian understanding of 'truth'—"Truth is a property of our thoughts."—to one which involves goodness. Instead of saying, "You should think this way or that", we say "You should act this way or that". And yet, surely you see this as restricting freedom?

          • None of what you've said here seems relevant to what makes a good definition of 'freedom'.

            Previously in another thread, we established that you and I do not mean the same thing when we use the word "fact." It is now apparent that when we talk about freedom, we're not talking the same thing.

          • That's fine; this doesn't protect your definition of "freedom" from examination for coherence and sense—unless you'd rather it not be examined.

          • Examine all you wish. But if you examine it for anything other than consistency with common usage, anything you discover will be irrelevant.

          • Are you under the impression that common usage is itself consistent?

          • If it were entirely consistent, there would be a lot less political debate. I believe a common core underlies most of the disputation, though, and I suspect that my usage reflects that common core.

          • Yes, the common core is almost certainly freedom from constraint, not freedom to do the kind of excellent things which require exceedingly much constraint. (For example: to get a human on the moon required ridiculous amounts of many kinds of rigorous discipline.) Noam Chomsky nicely illustrates the situation:

            younger Chomsky: While it's true that our genetic program rigidly constrains us, I think the more important point is the existence of that rich, rigid constraint is what provides the basis for our freedom and creativity.Q: But you mean it's only because we're pre-programmed that we can do all that we can do.A: Well, exactly; the point is, if we really were plastic organisms without an extensive pre-programming, then the state that our mind achieves would in fact be a reflection of the environment, which means it would be extraordinarily impoverished. Fortunately for us we are rigidly pre-programmed, with extremely rich systems that are part of our biological endowment.(Noam Chomsky on "Education and Creativity", 15:56)

          • Yes, the common core is almost certainly freedom from constraint, not freedom to do the kind of excellent things which require exceedingly much constraint.

            Maybe that's because most people don't like the quintessentially Orwellian implications of the notion that we can enhance our freedom by curtailing it.

          • Sharp knives are sharp.

          • Sharp knives are sharp.

            Following your example, I could claim that the best way to sharpen a knife is to make it duller.

          • Interesting, so the intense regimen that Olympic athletes endure—curtailing their freedom to do many other things they could do with their time—constitutes dulling a knife?

          • curtailing their freedom

            No. Making choices. Their freedom is to use their available time as they choose. Time spent developing their athletic skills is time they cannot spend doing whatever else they might also enjoy doing. Again: No free lunch -- not for Olympic athletes any more than for anybody else.

            It's like when I go to the hardware store to buy tools or materials use in my workshop. My freedom to buy anything I want to buy is limited by what I can afford to spend. If I have less money this month than I had last month, then I have less freedom this month. I can do what I want with what I have, and can do nothing with what I don't have.

          • Ok, now how about compulsory education? Is that a violation of freedom? Most people would consider that a sharpening of knives, but possibly you are treating it as a dulling.

          • Ok, now how about compulsory education?

            It is a major curtailment of the freedom of children. Most people seem to think it necessary to limit children's freedom in order to enhance the likelihood of their surviving to adulthood.

          • So the purpose of education is to lead to survival, not something stronger, like thriving? I realize that the latter makes it rather difficult to see compulsory education as a dulling of knives. And we could of course bring in Ken Robinson and say that a lot of current primary and secondary education dulls knives. But not all does (my public education was fantastic). That fact leads back to my comment: "Sharp knives are sharp."

          • So the purpose of education is to lead to survival

            I didn't say that. I said that was the purpose of restricting children's freedom.

            not something stronger, like thriving?

            I think making them go to school is more beneficial to them than making them work in factories, at least in this country.

          • DS: Following your example, I could claim that the best way to sharpen a knife is to make it duller.

            LB: Ok, now how about compulsory education? Is that a violation of freedom? Most people would consider that a sharpening of knives, but possibly you are treating it as a dulling.

            DS: It is a major curtailment of the freedom of children. Most people seem to think it necessary to limit children's freedom in order to enhance the likelihood of their surviving to adulthood.

            LB: [1] So the purpose of education is to lead to survival, [2] not something stronger, like thriving?

            DS: [1] I didn't say that. I said that was the purpose of restricting children's freedom. [2] I think making them go to school is more beneficial to them than making them work in factories, at least in this country.

            In that case, I'm afraid I don't understand the first quote block I've included.

          • In that case, I'm afraid I don't understand the first quote block I've included.

            If it is logical to say that we can increase freedom by decreasing it, then I don't see how it could be illogical to say that we can sharpen a knife by dulling it.

          • This is all predicated upon compulsory education having the net effect of decreasing freedom. That is, the person who comes out of compulsory education is a less free being than the one who went into it. Necessarily.

          • A restriction of freedom can have good consequences, bad consequences, or indifferent consequences. In any case, during the time it is imposed, it is still a restriction of freedom.

            I served in the military for six years, and the consequences of that service have been of immense benefit to me. I was enabled to do countless things that I could not otherwise have done. Even so, while I served, I was not a free man.

          • So were you a sharper knife or a duller knife when you came out of service?

          • That depends on what the knife is a metaphor for. I was a little more mature when I came out, and I had some skills I that didn't have when I went in.

          • My apologies; I keep forgetting that DS-freedom appears to be like oxygen: sustained 100% exposure is lethal. When I wrote "Sharp knives are sharp.", I meant to respond to the full notion of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the restriction of freedom led to very bad things. My point was that the restriction of freedom does not necessarily tend in that direction. But I inevitably added some freedom-to, to DS-freedom. Yes, diluting 100% oxygen does dilute 100% oxygen. It just happens that diluting it is required for life.

          • I meant to respond to the full notion of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the restriction of freedom led to very bad things.

            And the restriction was justified with semantic shenanigans such as "freedom is slavery."

          • Did you mean to connect Orwell's "freedom is slavery" to my "Sharp knives are sharp."? Because if you didn't, I don't see the relevance.

          • Did you mean to connect Orwell's "freedom is slavery" to my "Sharp knives are sharp."?

            No. I meant to connect it your apparent claim that we can augment our freedom by diminishing it.

          • (For example: to get a human on the moon required ridiculous amounts of many kinds of rigorous discipline.)

            We're a social species. We've always understood that a number of people acting cooperatively can do lots of things that none of them could do acting alone. That is not an illustration of enhancing freedom by curtailing it. It is an illustration of there being no such thing as a free lunch.

          • As an aside, if anything in my philosophy is inconsistent with what you read in scripture, I don't ever regard that as a problem for my philosophy.

          • Caltech's motto is "The truth shall make you free". Do you think they're dumbasses [edit: for having it as their motto]?

          • I think they're mistaken. I don't think that only dumbasses make mistakes.

          • Ok; why do you think they are mistaken? For example: Does truth make you unfree? Is truth orthogonal to freedom?

          • For example: Does truth make you unfree? Is truth orthogonal to freedom?

            Truth is a property of our thoughts. Freedom is a property of our environment. We are made unfree by environmental circumstances, which include the social and political circumstances in which we live. To increase our freedom, we must change those circumstances, and we must know the truth about them in order to discern the course of action most likely to effect the appropriate changes.

          • When a pedophile desperately wants to be free of his/her desires, what is the nature of his/her unfreedom? Is the environment that which is imposing unfreedom?

          • Is the environment that which is imposing unfreedom?

            Pedophilia is an area I've had no interest in studying. My guess is that a neurochemical condition, probably of genetic origin, would be the source of the difficulty.

          • Pedophilia is an area I've had no interest in studying. My guess is that a neurochemical condition, probably of genetic origin, would be the source of the difficulty.

            You can pick something other than pedophilia if you want. But now I'm going to ask you to tell me which parts of the brain constitute the person's identity and which parts constitute the environment. After all, in order to speak of "environment", you need a hard boundary between self and world. Otherwise, your definition of "freedom" becomes fuzzy and, I claim, problematic.

          • But now I'm going to ask you to tell me which parts of the brain constitute the person's identity and which parts constitute the environment.

            You caught me being sloppy. I failed to distinguish, as I should have, between environment and heredity.

            That noted, the brain is a product of both heredity and environment.

          • Ok, but if "who I am" is in part a result of my environment, then the following seems to need qualification:

            DS: We are made unfree by environmental circumstances, which include the social and political circumstances in which we live.

            Which environmental circumstances restrict freedom? After all, if the environment formed in me desires we generally want to call "bad"—such as pedophilia—then for the [later] environment to prevent us from acting out those desires does not seem to be an instance of unfreedom. In fact, the pedophile who knows that his/her environment will be exceedingly likely to prevent him/her from acting on his/her impulses would probably feel more free than one who doesn't have those protections.

          • Which environmental circumstances restrict freedom?

            Whichever circumstances prevent your doing something that you (a) want to do and (b) would do absent those circumstances.

          • Ahh, so if I can somehow manipulate you into wanting things, I am not impinging on your freedom? All I would have to do is be sure that you are never conscious of this manipulation.

          • We probably disagree about what constitutes manipulation. I believe you are curtailing my freedom if you influence my thinking without my consent, and I cannot consent to that of which I am unaware.

          • No, that's fine. My next question is at what point you're able to be the gatekeeper of all possible influences (excepting nefarious persons). After all, babies are influenced aplenty in ways to which they are not yet able to consent or dissent.

          • My next question is at what point you're able to be the gatekeeper of all possible influences (excepting nefarious persons).

            It doesn't occur at a particular point in time. That is why there has never been a unanimous consensus on where to set the age of consent.

          • Ok, but at something like the age of consent—which won't always be the same age—you can transition to being a gatekeeper for any and every influence, barring nefarious persons? What I'm looking for here is to see whether the idea of being vigilant about every single influence is a sensible idea.

          • What I'm looking for here is to see whether the idea of being vigilant about every single influence is a sensible idea.

            Probably not. Each of us just has to do the best they can. And many people, it seems to me, don't try very hard at all. They're OK letting other people do their thinking for them.

          • Caravelle

            We could maybe separate out influences that are done in the interest of the influence and those that aren't (and those that are done in the interest of the influencee).

            It's a fuzzy thing because intentions are fuzzy, and it's very easy to convince yourself you're doing somebody good while actually doing them harm, or that you're acting for their sake when you're actually acting in yours, and I expect that's why consent is important: the only person who can be presumed to always desire your own best interest is you. But I expect these concepts cover our intuitive distinction between "manipulation" and "influence":

            1) Manipulation involves major effort and techniques to influence someone in one specific direction, where "ordinary" influence involves more people living their own lives and taking actions for complex, personal reasons where "changing the influencee's opinions/behavior to X" isn't the primary motive

            2) Insofar as someone does take action primarily to change someone's opinions/behavior, "ordinary" influence involves that action being direct and transparent, with motives and objectives that are apparent to all including the influencees. Manipulation does the opposite, hence the major effort and specific techniques.

            3) Because of the effort and lack of transparency, manipulation typically involves changing the influencees in a way they currently don't want to be changed, and this is usually because the change isn't in the influencee's best interest but in the influencer's.

          • it's very easy to convince yourself you're doing somebody good while actually doing them harm

            It is equally easy to convince yourself that someone is doing you harm while they're actually doing you good.

  • I'll take a stab at this as well. People who talk about the limits of freedom are usually responding to arguments that assert a basic, absolute right to choice and self-determination that social liberals often use to justify their attempts to reduce the scope of government and/or church regulation. In the context of this article specifically, we're getting

    1) A society with absolute, unlimited, "anything goes" freedom would obviously by an unpleasant place to live
    2) To create a society that is not ultimately reducible to "anything goes" freedom, you need most people to have a true moral constitution within the soul
    3) The only way to accomplish #2 is through divine intervention.

    I think there are plenty of responses to this. Most everyone will agree that 1) is true, but the fact that 1) is so obviously true means that 2) is probably false. If anarchy is obviously undesirable to everybody, then you can found a non-anarchic society on something like rational self-interest (which is basically how social contract theorists think about these this). There wasn't, as far as I could tell, any treatment of the alternative perspectives in this article.

    Moreover, framing here suggests that there isn't a middle ground between anarchy on one hand and a society so perfect that divinely-ordered souls are a prerequisite for its existence on the other. This seems to be false, as we currently live in a society that, while clearly not the product of a divine architect or souls guided by divine inspiration, nevertheless manages to not be all that bad.

    • Lucas

      Narrative Leaps,

      Thanks for the post.

      You write, "If anarchy is obviously undesirable to everybody, then you can found a non-anarchic society on something like rational self-interest (which is basically how social contract theorists think about these this)." That is an interesting point. I hadn't thought of social contract theory. But is rational self-interest a good philosophy to have if one wants to create a society that seeks the common good? I guess 'goodness' is what I find missing here. Couldn't it be the case that someone could act rationally out of self-interest and yet do something that is bad, harmful for society? Don't we also need a sense of rightness and wrongness in order to make rational judgments?

      As for point number 3, I think I see what you're saying. The point about divine intervention that Arthur makes in the dialogue has to do with the individual soul, not government or society, necessarily. Perhaps I've misunderstood your points, though?

      • "But is rational self-interest a good philosophy to have if one wants to create a society that seeks the common good?"

        For certain conceptions of the common good, sure.

        Imagine that a rationally self-interested person has a sick mother who lives one village over, and like most people in this situation, he don't want to have to worry about being robbed or killed by bandits on the road when he goes to visit her. He'd probably be willing to collaborate with his likeminded neighbors in the village to fund a service that protects travelers from bandits, even if the existence of this service would limit his freedom to take up banditry in the future if he ever desired to do so.

        What this story illustrates is how a society populated by rationally self-interested actors would create laws and institutions that limit individual freedom, despite the fact that rational actors would, as a matter of principle, want to maximize their own freedom. I'm not really trying to equate "rational self-interest" with "goodness". After all, there are laws that you or I might view to be essential for a just society that a society populated by rationally self-interested actors might not create. There are also laws that such a society would create that you and I would not consider just. But my point is that this society would create laws that successfully find the golden mean between anarchy and tyranny, at least in some areas.

        For the rest of your points, upon re-reading, it looks like your trying to draw an analogy between the way laws increase freedom in society and moral discipline increases "internal freedom". Not sure exactly what to make of it, and it seems like it only makes sense if you imagine the soul the way Plato does, divided into three parts with one part attempting to master the others.

        • Lucas

          Ah, okay. Thanks for the clarification. I would agree with your illustration; and I think finding the "golden mean" between anarchy and tyranny is a good goal indeed!

          "For the rest of your points, upon re-reading, it looks like your trying to draw an analogy between the way laws increase freedom in society and moral discipline increases "internal freedom"." >> Yes, you've got it. :)

          • … I think finding the "golden mean" between anarchy and tyranny is a good goal indeed!

            Have you read any Alasdair MacIntyre? He might take issue with the implicit tradeoff, here. In particular, in After Virtue he argues very strongly against the idea that my private good has to conflict with your private good, such that we have to settle for a kind of permanent [tug-of-?]war. John Milbank argues strongly against what he calls an "ontology of violence" in the "Preface to the Second Edition" of Theology and Social Theory.

            Taking a cue from Dale Carnegie that people want to be important, we could consider that everyone living out his/her poiēma is exactly how one would maximize importance. An immediate problem is that of "not rising above your station", but that is clearly theōsis and hopefully we can therefore dispose of it instead of drop a nominalistic bomb on society. Mt 20:20–28 and Jn 13:1–20 can be of help, here.

          • Lucas

            Luke, thanks for this. I have not read any MacIntyre. I've seen his name pop up quite a bit recently, though, so I'm going to have to check him out!

          • After Virtue would be well-worth your time.

    • If anarchy is obviously undesirable to everybody, then you can found a non-anarchic society on something like rational self-interest (which is basically how social contract theorists think about these this). There wasn't, as far as I could tell, any treatment of the alternative perspectives in this article.

      In your thinking about "rational self-interest", is it possible that it could not possibly work in our world? That is, could reality be set up in such a way to thwart any attempt to set up a system where rational self-interest is the rule? Some would say that the 21st century modern world shows that rational self-interest alone is woefully insufficient. But then what does the other part look like?

      One person who thinks that rational self-interest has been played out is Pankaj Mishra; see his 2016-12-08 article in The Guardian, Welcome to the age of anger. He does something interesting with the rationality/​irrationality dichotomy in the article, playing with what happens if your only way to render the world intelligible is via rational self-interest. The result is that there is a lot of unintelligibility! But I'm pretty sure he is secretly suggesting that there are other kinds of rationality and that we ought to go looking for them and characterizing them.

      A book-length treatment of some of these issues is provocatively titled Rational Choice Theory: Resisting Colonisation; Margaret S. Archer and Jonathan Q. Tritter are the editors. One can also see Michael Taylor's Rationality and the Ideology of Disconnection.

  • This has nothing to do with deity or atheism or Catholicism as far as I can tell.

    It just seems to be a very smug and surface dialogue on some aspects of some political theory. Full of equivocation on the term freedom.

    • Rob Abney

      I'm glad that you are back Brian!

    • Trying to figure out what an oft-used term means will sometimes involve equivocation, but not necessarily in a bad sense. Are you saying that the dialogue necessarily does it in a bad sense? If so, I'd be curious to see how you might tease apart the different senses in which "freedom" is used, that doesn't fall prey to that badness. There's no need for an extended essay; some prototype of a superior dialogue would be sufficient, I suspect.

  • “There are some things I disagree with in Plato. For instance, I don’t think he takes enough account of the fickleness of human beings. Are we really capable of ordering our own souls? But he does make good points about how inordinate desires can lead one astray. Things like food, sex, and drink, are good; but when they become immoderate they can take over and give us inordinate desires that can force us to be slaves to them. We must practice self-mastery, and so a healthy asceticism seems requisite. However, like I was saying, we ourselves can only do so much. Our wills are insufficient. We need divine intervention.

    In “The Fall of ‘Augustinian Adam’: Original Fragility and Supralapsarian Purpose”, John Schneider contrasts two understandings of Adam and Eve and original sin. I'm going to mix what I recall from that and my own thoughts (because I'll only revisit the paper if this part gets traction):

    Augustine: Adam and Eve were fully-developed moral adults and knew exactly what they were doing. As a result of their sin, they have a fully developed but corrupted nature.

    Irenaeus: Adam and Eve were moral infants or perhaps adolescents. They weren't ready to understand much about good and evil. They got suckered into taking a shortcut to an end God wanted (theōsis), and then denied moral responsibility for it after the fact, making the serpent their "father" in the John 8:41–45 sense.

    I claim the meaning of the quoted paragraph changes drastically based on whether one views things from an Augustinian viewpoint or an Irenaean viewpoint. I think it fits best to an Augustinian viewpoint: there is just so much corruption to be fixed that we constantly need divine aid. That aid always seems to leave a tremendous amount more to fix. Maybe it's just that bad, such that in this life, only a small amount of progress can possibly be made.

    However, on an Irenaean viewpoint, we can still need divine intervention, but for an entirely different (or additional) purpose. Perhaps the true structure of morality—or better, of love—is infinite. That is, human beings can become more and more ad infinitum, and as they become more, the nature of proper relationship becomes more sophisticated and how one further builds up one's brother and sister in Christ becomes more sophisticated. Being finite beings, we don't have the full structure of love inside us in the anamnesis sense. We have to get it from God—whether directly, or via intermediaries. To anyone inclined to argue overmuch on this point, I will want to discuss Fitch's Paradox of Knowability.

     
    It seems to me that there are inchoate objections/​rebuttals to both views which can be articulated. On the Augustinian view, one can retort that we are simply evolved primates, and cannot expect to be fantastically awesome. But we seem to muddle on just fine as-is, and it's not clear that monotheism is helping that overmuch these days. On the Irenaean view, we are permanently limited beings and we have seen what a life of rigid discipline does to people—it doesn't seem to lead anywhere valuable. So let's settle on political liberalism as the be-all and end-all political system (The End of History and the Last Man), optimize it, and be careful not to aim for anything utopia-like—that way lies bloodshed. (Events such as Brexit and Trump have caused some to question whether political liberalism is the final social system, but I'm not sure how much.)

    It seems to me that the only live response the Christian can realistically provide is that God desires fantastically more than our current state. Perhaps taking scripture more seriously would lead to overcoming currently insoluble problems, such as overcoming various cognitive biases[1]. But this will have to look different from the discipline high-points[2] in our past. C.S. Lewis' formulation[3] (awfully close to theōsis, it seems to me) is certainly still relevant, but it seems to need some 21st century-specific renderings. Alasdair MacIntyre famously ended After Virtue with the line, "We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict." I suspect that person will have to solve Modernity's mediocrity[4].

    I have been querying people regularly on this mediocrity, often asking the question, "Do you think we Western Moderns have a rather pathetic imagination for what we could do in reality?" Among those who have even a bit of name recognition, I have managed to ask Os Guinness, Bill Burnett, and Robert Reich. To a person, they have agreed. Guinness was a bit tired (it was after a lecture and he flew to the West Coast from the East Coast) and so had no answer to "why?"; Burnett suggested that it is because humans have always been wary of the creative ones; Reich was most specific, and suggested that while we might have a decent technological imagination, we have a pretty poor social/​sociological imagination.

    To finish up, I think the Catholics (I'm a nondenom Protestant) have something figured out when they put emphasis on the "common good"—it seems to me that we need some sort of innovation in this realm, and one which does not repeat old mistakes of crushing "deviants". The stranglehold that atomistic[5] political liberalism has on our thinking must be broken, but very, very carefully. We will have to realize that people depend heavily on mediating structures/​mediating institutions for their understanding of reality and decisions to act, and stop pretending that it can be approximated away. I suspect that anything remotely successful in this domain will have to deeply engage with the empirical human sciences—after all, surely God wants us to understand that stuff well, even if he wants to transform it so that all of reality can be reconciled to him. Before changing reality, it is important to understand reality as it currently is.

     
    [1] An example from Jonathan Haidt:

    And when we add that work to the mountain of research on motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, and the fact that nobody's been able to teach critical thinking. … You know, if you take a statistics class, you'll change your thinking a little bit. But if you try to train people to look for evidence on the other side, it can't be done. It shouldn't be hard, but nobody can do it, and they've been working on this for decades now. At a certain point, you have to just say, 'Might you just be searching for Atlantis, and Atlantis doesn't exist?' (The Rationalist Delusion in Moral Psychology, 16:47)

     
    [2] I'm relying in part on Charles Taylor's notes on discipline (e.g. disciplined armies which were much more effective than what came before) in Sources of the Self and A Secular Age. This focus on discipline waned and turned into a desire to be comfortable, as Philip Rieff describes in The Triumph of the Therapeutic. I don't recall Rieff suggesting that perhaps the order/​discipline which was being triumphed over might have had some serious problems. Colin E. Gunton does deal with this in The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity.

     
    [3] C.S. Lewis:

    Book IV Chapter 9: Counting the Cost
    I find a good many people have been bothered by what I said in the previous chapter about Our Lord’s words, ‘Be ye perfect’. Some people seem to think this means ‘Unless you are perfect, I will not help you’; and as we cannot be perfect, then, if He meant that, our position is hopeless. But I do not think He did mean that. I think He meant ‘The only help I will give is help to become perfect. You may want something less: but I will give you nothing less.’ (Mere Christianity)

     
    [4] I'm not particularly interested in laying specific blame for the mediocrity on anything or anyone; those prone to say "The Enlightenment!" must grapple with the fact that the Enlightenment did some good and bad things, and thus show me that they can discern between what is kalos and what is kakos (Heb 5:14). But that there is rampant mediocrity is clear to anyone with eyes to see. Here is a summary from Charles Taylor:

        The worry has been repeatedly expressed that the individual lost something important along with the larger social and cosmic horizons of action. Some have written of this as the loss of a heroic dimension to life. People no longer have a sense of a higher purpose, of something worth dying for. Alexis de Tocqueville sometimes talked like this in the last century, referring to the "petits et vulgaires plaisirs" that people tend to seek in the democratic age.[1] In another articulation, we suffer from a lack of passion. Kierkegaard saw "the present age" in these terms. And Nietzsche's "last men" are at the final nadir of this decline; they have no aspiration left in life but to a "pitiable comfort."[2]    This loss of purpose was linked to a narrowing. People lost the broader vision because they focussed on their individual lives. Democratic equality, says Tocqueville, draws the individual towards himself, "et menace de la renfermer enfin tout entier dans la solitude de son propre coeur."[3] In other words, the dark side of individualism is a centring on the self, which both flattens and narrows our lives, makes them poorer in meaning, and less concerned with others or society. (The Malaise of Modernity, 3–4)

     
    [5] For a critique of atomism—social atomism (radical individualism) as well as the correlates in psychology and linguistics, see Charles Taylor's Philosophical Arguments.

  • neil_pogi

    freedom is the ultimate gift God has given to mankind. other living forms have some restrictions of freedom. for example, preys can't protest on why they are frequented and eaten by predators, they are constantly being watched and monitored.

    atheists restrict their freedom, and say that life is just an accident when the fact that he would know that life is designed. why? it's just because atheists restrict their idea, belief that God really exists?

    • Mike

      atheists don't even have the freedom to say 'please pass the salt' if their dominant theories of causation are true!

  • Well, there isn't much for me to say on this one. I completely agree. That has to be a first so far. As a minor critique, however, the dialogue came off a little stilted to me.