Freedom and Culture

Main Idea of Chapter 1
In his book, Freedom and Culture, John Dewey opens the first chapter with several questions regarding freedom, beginning with What is freedom and why is it prizedand ending with Will men surrender their liberties if they believe that by so doing they will obtain the satisfaction that comes from a sense of fusion with others and that respect by others which is the product of the strength furnished by solidarity (Dewey, 11)

According to Dewey, human nature is the product of manifold forces and this in turn is influenced by culture.  By spelling out these questions, there have been many attempts to try and explain how freedom, self-interest, desire for power or economic conditions, can influence human behavior.  Dewey pointed out that none of them are absolute as these are dependent on the times (Dewey, 19, 22).

Freedom is inherent in the individual. Any action is considered free in so as long as it emanates from ones being, every other part of an action, whether coming out of compulsion of nature or under the obligation of an external moral standard, is not true freedom. What this means is that an individual is considered free so as long as he or she is in control of every moment of his or her life.  An individual who acts on his or her own accord without the burden of external influence is truly free. It goes to say that no one controls the individual but himself or herself. A moral deed is a deed per se if it regard a free one in this sense where the act is committed wholeheartedly without any compulsion (Dewey, 12).

Freedom is the opportunity to control ones own destiny but within the limits of reason and morality. One has the power to make their own priorities and to act upon them accordingly. However, freedom has to be tempered with order and harmony with ones surroundings. When ones freedom constricts or tries to impose on another individuals freedom it would lead to chaos.  Therefore this freedom, while inherent in the individual entails responsibility and can be capably exercised by mature individuals.  Freedom may be a beautiful thing but since we live in a society, these freedoms need to be tempered but not necessarily forbidden to ensure that it would not encroach the freedoms of others.  This what democratic societies recognize and even though laws are enacted to regulate individual freedoms, the most essential ones are preserved.  This was the case when the Founding Fathers gathered in 1776 to sign what would become the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in 1787  (Dewey, 12).

Main Idea of Chapter 2
In the second chapter, Dewey states that freedom and individuality go hand in hand and given basis by people rationally and logically.  It has also been associated with the farming class by some people and with capitalists by others. Individualism and social control have been proposed as two extremes between which freedom has to go through. Realistically, the individual and the social forces interact in many ways, to the point they are interdependent of one another rather than being two distinct extremes that are totally autonomous.

Essentially, individuals desire to be free but in order to make that happen, the right social conditions need to exist.  Democratic conditions do not automatically sustain themselves and they cannot be automatically prescribed in any constitution or law (Dewey, 37).  Dictatorships exist not only through force or repression but also by appealing to certain passions in people, such as unity or the appeal of sharing in the creation of a new system. The likes of Hitler and Mussolini had proven that when they were able to stir up the passions of the people and they took advantage of the prevailing socio-economic conditions to gain the upper hand and eventually come to power.  The next thing that happened, the people ended up losing their freedoms for the promise of security and stability and in this case, sugar-coated with nationalism, depending on the local context.  This was how democracy was killed in these societies (Dewey, 65, 89-90).
The cultural traits relating to a single activity of conditions is summarized in the word culture. The attainment of individual effort to the promotion of these social ends constitutes, for Dewey, the central issue of ethical concern of the individual, the collective means for their realization is the paramount question of political policy especially in United States itself in this instance. In addition to his ideas, art is a product of culture and it is through art that the people of a given culture express the significance of their lives. Art has its roots in the values experienced in the course of human life. Proof is a decisive that economic factors are an intrinsic part of the culture that determines the actual turn taken by political measures and rules, no matter what verbal beliefs are held.  Individuals require to be united by a communally fixed moral order to understand the unity of the world ideas. The ability to get along with one another is not a basic part of human nature and such a thing cannot be legislated, only because individuals are one in spirit that they can live out their lives side by side. A free man lives in a freedom of uncertainty and ones power without any suggestion of conceit or arrogance that he and any other free man belong to one spiritual world and their intentions will be harmonized.    It is a matter of realigning it.  However, in this realignment, the individual need not be concerned of losing his or her individuality.  It is this individuality that makes us unique and in a community, we contribute our individuality for its benefit.

Kierkegaards Notion of Individuality
According to Kierkegaard, selfhood is the genuine individuality.  It is considered a moral imperative for the individual to be aware of this self as it forms the basis of religious understanding.  He went on to elaborate that there is another level to this in addition to true selfhood which is the live in accordance to our pleasures and desires.  So as long as one indulges here there is no direction or purpose. In order to have direction, one must cultivate a sense of purpose that would make life very meaningful and worth living.  This is what Kierkegaard called the Sickness of the Spirit (Kierkegaard, Kierkegaards Writings Volume 6, 13).  In this regard, Kierkegaard saw the self as the byproduct of relationships.  This is the relationship between what he called the infinite which borders on the spiritual realm and the finite which covers the physical realm.  These relationships will not necessarily create a true self but rather the self can only be realized through a relationship with a supreme being or in this case, God. When this occurs, this relation is positive.  So as long as the individual will not let go of his desires and tries to reconnect with God, he will continue to suffer and live in despair. A person, according to Kierkegaards notion, is entitled to his individuality, to his special talents and interests. Yet, the relationship with God disappears when an individual focuses only too much to himself and never believes on the existence of spirituality, relying solely on what the material world has to offer (Kierkegaard, Kierkegaards Writings Volume 6, 77). To establish a relationship with God entails sacrifice, in this case, letting go of our desires in order to have a much more meaningful life or realigning our interests with Gods plan for us.
This notion of the mutually constitutive character of the individual and the community could provide some insights into Kierkegaards claim about how ones individuality can be considered important without adversely affecting ones relationship with others. If a persons individuality is inherently relational, then there is no conflict between the individual and the community. The relational self is not predicted on the account of a unique one-to-one relationship between an individual and God.  In this interpretation, the main relationship would only serve to reinforce ones duties and obligations to the community and does not undermine ones relationship with the community (Kierkegaard, Kierkegaards Writings Volume 6, 65-67).

Kierkegaards Meaning of the Teleological Suspension of the Ethical
Kierkegaard believed that there is such a thing as a teleological suspension of the ethical wherein there is a law that is much higher than the existing laws made by man.  To make it understandable, he used the story of Abraham and Isaac in the book of Genesis to explain this notion.  God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  He did it without hesitation and it was only at the last minute that an angel from God commanded Abraham to stop and was complimented for his unyielding and unwavering devotion to Him.  As a result of passing this test of faith, God blessed Abraham by saying I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore....all this because you obeyed my command (Genesis 221-18 New American Bible).

Kierkegaard had wrestled with this notion and had come to a conclusion that there must have been a suspension of the ethical law in order to fulfill the divine purpose in way in which Abraham was not aware.  As soon as the individual would assert himself in his particularity over against the universal, he sins, and only by recognizing this can he reconcile himself with the universal. What Kierkegaard meant by this was that man would commit an act that would violate the ethical or anything defined by his fellow man to be right to carry out something that would be considered a much higher good than the ethical  (Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling Repetition, 57-59).  What this means is the individual surrenders everything to his faith.  This is not done out of blindness or reckless abandon but rather, he places his trust that he will get it all back in due course rather than dwell on the loss and hoping he would get it back in the next life.  In order to do this, one has to subscribe to the strength of the absurd or something that is unseen yet felt.  To a Christian, this can only mean God.  Christians are always taught to trust in God even though there will be times what God would command us to do would defy the norms of society set by man and still receive the graces we deserve to get (Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling Repetition, 78-80).

Another good example in this case would be to lie in order to save lives.  There are several stories in World War II where well-meaning folks in occupied Europe would hide Jews from Nazi death squads who would ferret them out and send them to concentration camps and to their deaths.  These guardians would always lie to keep their wards safe.  Ethically, lying is wrong as we are all taught.  But in this particular case, if God were to see it, He would take exception to the act of lying because it served a much higher purpose and in this case, it is to save lives from a fate they do not deserve.  By doing so, those who lied did not lose anything at all from it by feeling guilty.  They would have felt guilty if they told the truth and sent the Jews to their deaths.  The same result would be felt if one were to kill a bunch of robbers who broke into ones house and attempted to kill everybody there.  Though killing is a sin, it is not so when it is done to protect ones self and loved ones.  This is also adhering to a higher form of good as well.  That is why Kierkegaard believes that this teleological suspension of the ethical is possible.  Laws are not perfect because they are made by man and ethics is not absolute as (local) culture defines it.  What may be ethical in one society may not be so in the other.  It is at this point that we are taught to make that leap of faith like Abraham and believe that something good will still come out of it though it may not be exactly the way we wish it to be.


Post a Comment