Freedom and Ethics (Q&A)

(Excerpt from "Cult of Freedom & Ethics of Public Sphere", vol III)



  • What is freedom?

  • We may talk about freedom endlessly, because freedom has no boundaries and can't be comprehended by reasoning alone. Every free man is free to give his definition of freedom and this is freedom. The precise definition of freedom is impossible. It can be defined only by contradiction, for example, as an opposition to violence, or as an opposition to determinism. In any case, we can definitely say that freedom is the property of the universe and what's more, all the movement which is going in the universe is ultimately directed to freedom. This direction is manifested in the emergence and accumulation of the unpredictable, new - that we call the "evolution" of matter. By this fact, freedom differs from randomness.

  • Definition by contradiction is incomplete. What is determinism then?

  • This is the opposite property of the universe - regularity, repeatability, interdependence. It manifests itself in the fact that the same process under the same conditions always produces the same result. Thus, even a random result actually obeys the laws of probability. When a man is a part of a process, he feels it as coercive force, impact, compulsion, influence, violence. Man feels freedom, on the other hand, as his own will which is able to overcome determinism and create something that has not existed before.

  • Nevertheless, science has shown that freedom is a fiction because everything in the world obeys the laws. Feeling of a free will is simply a tricky illusion. In reality, there is no will at all and any action has its direct cause. Is this true?

  • Of course not. Free will is real just like the existence of self is real. One without the other is not possible. As for laws, science is limited by determinism, because everything else could not be analyzed. It is not difficult to guess that the "everything else" is exactly what "freedom" actually is, and all that comes along, such as ethics for example.

  • And what is ethics?

  • Ethics helps generate the rules of our activity. Man, as a particle of reality, is drawn to freedom but this is not enough for ethics to emerge. Ethics requires mind which can cognize causation. Knowledge of the consequences allows man to set goals and act intelligently. The right actions make the world freer. We can say that ethics are manifestations of freedom in society or that ethics is freedom augmented by mind.

  • Some scientists insist that the rules of ethics, as they obviously exist, are derived from the objective laws, such as the laws of evolution, survival, competition/cooperation, etc. Are the scientists wrong again?

  • Yes. Neither freedom nor ethics can follow from the laws. Only false ethics, which justifies violence in the name of survival, well-being, etc, can follow. Such ethics can't be objective because it always serves the subject - a person or a group. Objective ethics can only be based on freedom.

  • Why do we call this ethic "objective"?

  • Because freedom is objective just like determinism is. They are two sides of the objective reality.

  • But if that's so, then ethics should naturally follow from reality. Isn't that a contradiction?

  • Yes, ethics follows from the objective reality, but at the same time it does not. This is one of the many paradoxes of freedom, thanks to which it could not be studied. Ethics requires us to improve reality, to perfect it, to make the world more free. Obviously, such a goal is both related and not related to reality.

  • But how can moral duty arise from the facts of reality? How should we deal with the problem of "is / ought" over which philosophers have been struggling for centuries?

  • There are some facts of reality from which moral duty could arise. These facts are consequences of freedom itself. However, since we canít analyze freedom, no ethical norms could be deductively derived from these facts. As a result, we have moral duty but no indication about what this duty is.

  • What are examples of these facts of reality?

  • For example, the existence of will, the ability to cognize the world and the capacity to act in humans.

  • How does moral duty arise from them?

  • Directly. Man must initiate his will, explore the world and change it by his actions. Afterward he should take responsibility for those conscious, free actions. And that means changing the world must be for the best. Thus the existence of freedom implies the existence of good. In other words, freedom is the basis of all goods / values.

  • Can we choose not to follow this moral duty?

  • We can't. Man is an active subject, he cannot but act. And by acting, he follows either the laws of determinism or freedom. We can't choose determinism because it's not a choice - we would follow coercion and forces. Accordingly, we have only one "choice" - to follow freedom.

  • But how should we find the correct behavior if freedom cannot be analyzed?

  • Just like the definition of freedom - by contradiction! It is easier to see the old than the new, the bad than the good and the ugly then the beautiful. It is easier to understand what is evil than what is good, the suffering than the happiness, violence than freedom. We all feel our freedom, but we feel it particularly well when we are deprived of it!

  • And how do ethical norms follow from this?

  • Violence is always a consequence of determinism, the laws of nature. Therefore, in order to find the norms of objective ethics we must learn how to abandon violence, how to overcome it. Complete rejection of violence is a universal requirement of objective ethics.

  • Why does violence arise from the laws of nature? Isn't it possible to commit violence by own evil intent?

  • It is not. Man has mind, and mind chooses freedom. Only when a man follows instincts or obeys to external forces, he does evil.

  • But does mind really want to be free? Many minds, for example, are looking for new ways to do evil!

  • We should not confuse mind with reason. Reason is evolutionary machine aimed at survival. Mind is an instrument of collective cognition and search for a new. By cognizing the world around us, mind overcomes its determinism, using knowledge as a tool to establish freedom. If a man lives as his instincts tell him, or obeys to his whims, or follows the orders of others, he is nothing more, but a developed, rational and deterministic animal. Only someone who consciously strives to be free is a man.

  • But how can man abandon violence? He has to live!

  • Overcoming determinism, including death, is an endless task. The efforts of the whole society are aimed at solving it.

  • Still, how is it possible to abandon violence now? How to behave? How to do good?

  • The only way is to follow moral norms worked out by the general agreement, the consent of all members of the society. People reject violence only when they choose to agree with something voluntarily.

  • But can people agree to do evil? Or be wrong? Or cheat?

  • They can if they will not follow objective ethics. Ethics is the only guarantee of the contract. According to objective ethics, the contracting parties must follow their "sense of freedom", seek absolute justice, strive to eliminate violence and try to get to a situation where everyone - and all together - is completely independent from each other, where everyone is free to be oneself. This situation reflects the objective state of society, in which all of its members are at the highest possible "social distance" from each other - they do not affect each other and they are maximally free from each other. In other words, they turn into "perfect strangers" - each depends on all the others, and no one in particular.

  • This is an abstraction! How can such situation really exist and be objective?

  • This situation depicts an ďabsolute" freedom, which is the ultimate goal. Although this goal is unachievable, freedom in practice is achieved by movement towards this goal. Along the way, people improve reality and make the world freer - freedom gives us direction. With respect to abstractions and objectivity, all concepts are abstractions but they can be objective if they relate to what is actually there independently of the subject.

  • And what? Does the described above social freedom also exist independently of us?

  • No matter how paradoxical it sounds, our own existence is objective. Similarly, the existence of other people is objective, and so is the existence of a border / distances between people.

  • But relationships between people, and thus freedom and violence, always depend on a subjective opinion! What does it have to do with objectivity?

  • Everything that we see in this world is a consequence of our subjective opinion. We are not given anything else. However, it does not mean that there is no objectivity. Objectivity is just a consequence of the general agreement, in fact, it is a contract. For only what objectively exists may be a basis for consensus. Does time exist? Dimension of the space? The laws of nature? Yes - if different intelligent beings are able to come to these ideas independently of one another. One person can make a mistake, all - never. This is the only absolute criterion of truth, which verifies everything around, including the laws discovered by science.

  • All that is the laws of reality, and we are talking about relationship between people!

  • So, if we all agree that the objective reality and its laws exist independently of us, there is no reason to stop at freedom. Objectivity of ethics is exactly the same consequence of general consensus. If true ethics was not objective, it could not be normative and people would not obey its norms. Contract, and voluntary consent, makes norms of ethics not only true but also compulsory. Otherwise, they become moral violence.

  • But how can all of us agree if everyone is free to be themselves? Doesn't freedom mean that everyone chooses what is good and what is bad?

  • This is another paradox of freedom. Yes, everyone is free to have his dissenting opinion and this is the common opinion which everyone must accept. Individual freedom is the only possible basis for the universal consensus, but at the same time, individual freedom is possible only when everyone agrees.

  • So, is objective ethics the same social contract?

  • It is a different approach to the social contract. It not only explains the past moral evolution of the society, but also indicates a direction to the future. It makes the behavior, which the best representatives of humanity have been practicing implicitly and unconsciously, explicit and conscious. The correct social contract is the real basis of a free society, not a hypothetical model, designed to justify the violence of power.

  • Social contract assumes that people are conscientious and waive part of their interests. Why would they agree?

  • Because the alternative is violence. Objective ethics requires general consensus and, for the sake of it, waiving the part of interest that infringe on the freedom of others. This way the practical ethical norms, including the norms of the contract itself (ie its procedure) will be found. Contract is infinite, just like the movement towards freedom is.

  • But what is the problem if the alternative to agreement is violence? Some people like violence!

  • Here we go again! Participation in the contract is the only way to find freedom and, therefore, to become a man. An animal may be animal, but man searches for the meaning of life and the only way it can be found is in freedom. By expressing oneself, creating something new, overcoming determinism, man creates freedom for himself and for others, and realizes his purpose on earth. His assessment as a person is only possible through others, by agreement with them.

  • And what measures must be implemented to those who do not want to agree?

  • Again, practical norms will be found by the contract. Those who prefer to be unethical, immoral and evil, those who commit violence will be subjected to the measures agreed upon and found by free people. We can't say what those measures could be however, because the social contract does not yet explicitly exist. It is likely that these norms will change over time. At the initial stage, while objective ethics has not spread widely enough, they will likely resemble the compulsory education.

  • But how freedom is possible by coercion?

  • Another paradox. Education is not coercion, coercion is a consequence of the rejection of freedom.

  • But will people ever agree?

  • People will certainly be able to overcome paradoxes of freedom. They have already built a society where "freedom" is one of the most popular words. And although the majority of them still depict freedom as a huge green statue, this fact itself tells us that people learn.

  • But people will never accept the fact that others may behave immorally! Consensus is likely to be based not on freedom, but rather on love / kindness / morality / order / god's will!

  • That's what we are talking about. Everyone has their own opinion and that is the only thing common to all. As for love, it belongs to personal relationships and is inappropriate in the public sphere because it infringes on the freedom of strangers. As with all of the above, it is subjective, because everyone understands it differently.

  • How to convince people that everything that has been said is truth? May be it's all a mistake?

  • Trying to convince in freedom has no meaning whatsoever. Those who have mind want freedom without any convictions.

  • But there are people who do not believe in freedom. For example, there is such a doctrine as hard incompatibilism!

  • Doubts is a characteristic of mind. An obligatory doubt in freedom is also a paradox of freedom.

  • Yes, all of this is doubtful... As long as there is no contract, not only objective ethics and freedom do not exist, but the truth itself. So, all that had been said above is just a lie?

  • Yet another paradox. If the criterion of truth is consensus, then by agreeing with this proposition we certify the validity of the idea of consensus. "Nonexistent" ethics requires us to agree with what was said!

  • What if I do not agree?

  • You cannot.

  • Why?

  • The truth of what was said and, of course, of the objective ethics stems from the simple fact that one can endlessly doubt his freedom but cannot abandon it. Without his freedom, the interlocutor, that is a free subject, turns into an object to talk to whom is meaningless. Accordingly, we both agree with the idea of our own freedom and with the idea of consensus by the very fact of this dialogue. At least one of us. And by the way, the fact of the publication of articles, essays and books is exactly the same proof - all this are the elements of our common, quite objective ethics. It is a search for truth and the proof of it at the same time! So, whether we like it or not, it is necessary to agree - freedom, as usual, does not leave us a choice!

  • And do you agree?

  • And you?


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