Tuesday, June 8, 2010
What would life be like if there was no higher authority than ourselves; if we were totally free to do whatever we liked, whenever we wanted? How could we control ourselves?
If there was no limit on what we could do: what we could eat, drink, desire, then we would be at the mercy of our senses. Hedonism - Pursuit of or devotion to pleasure, especially to the pleasures of the senses – would dictate the tenor of our lives.
It is difficult to know which way that would take each individual, however. Supposing man to be devoid of previous longings, we might say that he would desire anything or nothing. Supposing man to be the product of the age through which he lived, his desires would surely be determined by shortfalls in the fulfillment of them – he would desire that which he had previously been denied. A poor man would desire wealth, a hungry man - food, and so on. Epictetus said, “Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling desire.” This surely resonates with any answer to the question concerned, since some limit on ‘freedom’ is clearly necessary. Without any form of limit or constraint, man is left with senses as the final arbiter.
Hobbes held that such a state, in which everyone was free to do as he or she liked, would become akin to living in what he called, ‘a state of nature’ – a state in which no higher authority could be called upon to put a break on human desire. Men would compete with each other for resources, the strong being victorious, the weak being vanquished or having to go without.
One’s freedom, then, would be determined by a sort of ‘pecking order’ of the strong; at the expense of weaker individuals. Life would be precarious at best, in such a state, unbearable at worst. Still, in the absence of upper limits to desires, something would have to be found in order to protect the weak from the strong, and the strong from themselves.
Robert F. Bennett said, “Life is the sum result of all the choices you make, both consciously and unconsciously. If you can control the process of choosing, you can take control of all aspects of your life. You can find the freedom that comes from being in charge of yourself.” Wouldn’t our propensity to control our choices serve us in two ways: it would replace that upper limit of desire, while at the same time forming an impersonal arbiter to replace a higher authority. Everyone would find their own level, as it were, and conflict would be reduced, though admittedly, not removed absolutely.
Hobbes’ ‘state of nature’ would be tempered by self-restraint, which would reduce conflict and hence the great need for a higher authority to instill such control – our ‘freedom’ would know its own bounds, so to speak, if our desires could be limited by ourselves. We would be the authors of the limitations upon our own freedom, and we would be as free as it is possible to be whilst living with others desiring their own freedom.
Robert L. Fielding
This essay could be used as the start of a debate, since some important assumptions are made within it. Such a debate might first deal with these assumptions and whether or not contradictions to them invalidate the main argument
Posted by Justice at 3:30 AM