In the contemporary society, people consider freedom a basic need in that person who is not free must be in a rough co-existence with him and others. It is therefore very important to exalt freedom, which begins with personal liberty to the sovereignty of nations. The extent to which a person can be free as well as the exact definition of freedom has been subjected to philosophical discourses from time immemorial with renowned philosophers such as Karl Marx, Michael Foucault and Jean Paul Sartre having differing arguments in the matter. According to the school of thought that each one of them represented, the idea of freedom to them bears differing definitions and extends.
In order to come up with an agreeable and logical definition of freedom as it is in the contemporary society, people have critically analyzed the input of these philosophers and their definition of freedom in this paper with the intention of clearly understanding what freedom is according to the schools of thought they represent today. As I reveal, the exact meaning of freedom must comprise of the different aspects such as personal liberty, the right to life, equality and independence from coercion and repressive conditions such as poverty, ignorance and diseases. Any meaning of freedom is wanting if it does not address the issue of personal liberty.
Freedom starts with a sense of self-control or rather self-ownership. In this case, reason influences the person’s sense of freedom. In a free state, every person receives an equal chance of exercising freedom at personal level.
In this case, no other person influences another’s decisions and the extent to which he/she makes decisions remains strictly limited by him/her. This is in other words to say that in a free state a person’s freedom is not limited as long as it does not impact negatively or limit the freedom of the other people. For instance, a person’s freedom cannot include enslaving other people. As a slave, a person is not free to make certain decisions, movements and interactions with other people in the society. In a free state therefore, a person is not entitle to take the freedom of another person for personal interests since it is against their wish to be treated so. My fellow panelist Sartre concurs with my view of freedom despite his limited definition of the freedom.
Sartre’s existentialist definition of freedom
According to Jean Paul Sartre, man is condemned to be free. This is without regard to whether he acts from external constraints to repress it or just follows his pragmatic decisions.
A person is free when s/he refuses to act in bad faith and instead follow what he is. For instance, when the waiter who knows really well that he is impersonating a waiter stops that and instead does what his freedom grants, he is at that particular moment embracing freedom. By being a waiter, the person is only denying his or her own freedom.
According to existentialism, one cannot claim that external forces shape his/her deeds or actions. For instance, the profession of a person cannot shape the person’s identity considering that the roles played in that profession are only as a matter of bad faith and will eventually cease. Being aware of one’s significance in the process of doing the roles in the profession inform the choices that a person makes and that seem directed to the person’s sense of freedom.
However, I stand to criticize his definition based on how limited it appears. Sartre, as well as other existentialists, concentrates more on the intrinsic definition of self-freedom rather than giving a definition and an extent to freedom that one can put into practice in the contemporary society. He does not clarify whether a person is free or not clearly defined in that existentialists hold that in every situation a person has still the freedom of choice.
Having the freedom of choice is not that important and does not qualify as being the absolute meaning of being free. This is basically for the simple reason that even a person who is enslaved by another has the freedom to choose either to rebel or to show complicity but that does not mean that they are free. In the contemporary society, a person is only free if any other person or condition can implement his /her thoughts and choices without any repression.
The issue of equality of freedom constitutes the meaning of freedom.
Equality and independence
Equality is very essential in any situation for a person to be free in the contemporary society. This ranges from political, sexual, racial as well as religious equality. For people to consider another as free in a free state, he/she must go through an equal treatment with others regardless of their gender or any other affiliations. When a person is marginalized on the any of the above areas, their freedom is interfered with and eventually the person is deprived the necessity of being free. With equality comes independence in making decisions as well as living without any coercion from anyone. This implies that the different types of independence that Karl Marx and others who embrace the Marxist school of thought argued mostly about.
Karl Marx on freedom
Karl Marx in his Manifesto of the communist party conceptualizes freedom from an economic point of view. Marx conceptualizes freedom from an individualistic point of view whereby he argues that freedom is an individual’s collective use of reason to create a reconciled definition of personal and public freedom. From this, Marx argues that a person who exercises freedom at the expense of the masses abuses it since the freedom of the majority is the one that matters. For instance, a person who owns means of production and abuses his employees for the sake of enriching himself and expanding his financial freedom by enriching himself is infringing the freedom of the others. It is therefore clear from his arguments that Marx’s view of freedom is more informed by the social relations of people in the society. He argues that for a state to be termed as free there has to be a revolution whereby the proletariat overpower the bourgeoisie and own the means of production.
In that case, the majority would be free in that they will be in a position to cope with life without the fear of being oppressed by a powerful ruling class. However, I stand to criticize the view based on its one-sidedness. Marx’s idea of the masses overpowering the ruling class, as a necessary precondition for their freedom, is one sided and has failed to hold on for a long time. This stands out because he fails to address other important aspects such as equality, the addressing of human rights and the dealing with other factors that lead to the oppression of people. His address however on the issue of economic oppression holds until today as evidenced by workers rising up against their oppressive employers in the contemporary society and demanding for a fair exchange for their labor. This is because a person’s freedom seems abused if he/she faces oppression in any given situation.
The practice of freedom
The fact that in order to be completely free one must keenly be aware of the limits of his/her freedom is a very important factor to consider when defining freedom in the society today.
This is in the sense that other people’s freedom is as important as your freedom. A question arises as to whether a person has or should have the right to defend him/herself against coercion. This brings forth a quite interesting aspect of freedom regarded as the freedom of defense. In most Free states where freedom of people seems held with dignity, always a system acts to differentiate acts of coercion as either offensive or defensive. In this case, whether a person acted in an effort to defend him/herself or was interfering with another’s rights is established. Foucault’s meaning today’s of freedom is wanting based on its failure to explain how one can free him/herself.
Michael Foucault on freedom
According to Michael Foucault, being free is a practice of the different practices of freedom. To him it is therefore a continuous process.
Foucault emphasizes more on the practices of freedom over the process of liberation. He argues that it the practices of freedom that eventually upholds freedom rather than the process of liberation. For instance, he uses the example of a colonized nation, which liberates itself from the colonizers. The society would still be in need of practices of freedom as they engage in building their own government. One can clearly notice that Foucault’s works are in a way, skeptical about the extent to which people can free themselves. If people cannot stand out of the constraints of relations of power, knowledge and subjectivity, then to him their practices of freedom are simply on a small notion of resistance from within.
In order to answer the question of what one exactly means by ‘being free’ in the contemporary society, it is of great essence to be all-round while addressing the aspects of freedom. The problem with the definitions and the answers that philosophers Karl Marx, Michael Foucault and Jean Paul Sartre presents is that they are in most cases one sided whereby they all aimed at addressing a single aspect within the complex issue of freedom. Therefore, it is arguable that one can summon their arguments to contribute to the broad definition of today’s freedom.