The philosopher Socrates about to take poison hemlock as ordered by the court...
Please post any questions or comments you have about the pages or topics on this website in our Philosophy Forums.
The following is a philosophy article by Scott Hughes.
In the philosophy of politics, the idea of freedom comes up often. Most people say they support most types of freedom. Of course, the word freedom has little meaning if we do not have a common definition. In this article, I will explain my definition of freedom.
Freedom starts with a principle of self-control, also known as self-ownership. In a free society, each and every person has legal control (or "ownership") of their own body and mind. As such, the concept of freedom refers to a certain type of political empowerment. It refers specifically to equal empowerment. In other words, a free society is one with an equal distribution of legal rights and in which each and every person has as much legal rights as possible.
Because freedom entails political equality, freedom can only logically entail as much legal rights as compatible with the same legal rights in others. In a free society, any one person cannot have so many legal rights that all other people could not logically have the same amount of legal rights.
For example, freedom does not include the legal right to enslave someone else because freedom includes the legal right to not be enslaved. In another example, freedom does not include the legal right to non-defensively punch other people in the face against their will because freedom includes the legal right to not be offensively punched.
Basically, a free person has the legal allowance to do whatever he or she wants insofar as he or she does not offensively harm or coerce other people against those other people's wills. Remember, the limitation is a logical requirement. Freedom obviously can not include the legal right to limit other people's freedom because that would be illogical.
Freedom does include the legal right to defend oneself from others who attempt to offensively harm or coerce the free person.
There is an important reason to remember that freedom starts with a principle of self-control (or "self-ownership"). In a way, it would be politically equal--though socially absurd--for a person to have the legal right to inflict offensive harm on others if nobody had the legal right to not be offensively harmed. For example, in such an absurd society, people might all have the legal right to stab other people, but nobody could have the legal right to not be stabbed and thus would not have the legal right to defend themselves from it. To distinguish such an absurd but equal society from a free society, we must remember the principle of self-control (or "self-ownership").
The principle of self-control also lets us more easily realize why freedom includes the legal right to self-defense. Freedom includes self-defense because empowering people with so much control over themselves that they have the legal right to self-defense is still logically compatible with the same empowerment of everyone else.
Making note of the right to self-defense also brings up the importance of distinguishing acts of coercion as either defensive or offensive. Defensive acts include any actions only involving the use of coercive force to fend off and/or restrain an offensive attacker. Offensive attacks include the initiation of force, violence or coercion against someone who is not attacking nor trying to attack the initiator. Of course, most people already clearly understand the difference between an offensive instance of force, coercion, or violence and a defensive instance of force, coercion or violence. For example, consider the difference between murder and defensive homicide, or consider the difference between forcible rape and forcibly stopping a rapist.
To remain logically coherent, we must make note of that distinction between defense and offense in our definition of freedom, which I have done by defining freedom as the legal allowance of all people in a society to do whatever they want insofar as they do not offensively harm or coerce other people against those other people's wills.
Also, most people agree that the legal right to self-defense also extends to include defensive incarceration and rectification. Defensive incarceration means the long-term detainment of people who have infringed or had intended to infringe on the freedom of others, which can last until, if ever, the person has been rehabilitated or otherwise deemed safe for release. Rectification includes the process of one person recovering damages from a second person who has offensively harmed the first person against the first person's will. Of course, to prevent abuse, most freedom-supporting people only support defensive incarceration or rectification after a standard burden of proof has been publicly met according to mutually agreed upon standards and policies setup beforehand at a very local level.
Theoretically, freedom is not that complex of an ideal. But putting theoretical ideals into practice becomes much more difficult; the black-and-whiteness of ideals becomes muddled with the various gray hues of practice's complexity. I still love freedom, and I adamantly support full-fledged freedom. No matter how you feel about freedom now, I recommend you consider supporting freedom even more. And I beg you to stubbornly resist those who suggest placing limitations on freedom.
Post your responses to the above article in this thread at the philosophy forums.