we really free to do everything we want?
is a good which all humans possess. To reduce it is considered
as an attack on human dignity and on the Rights of Man.
But is it true that we can do everything that we want to do?
On this basic question depends all our thinking and our actions.
are we free to do everything that we want to do?
It is undeniably, unless ill or paralysed, that
we enjoy a certain liberty, freedom of movement, we are able
to move our heads, to raise fingers, to run, etc. But
this physical freedom is not unlimited, we can frantically wave
our arms but we cannot manage to fly. Our freedom of movement
is governed by rules which we are unable to transgress, we cannot
live without eating, we cannot eat any thing whatsoever, etc.
To rebel against the limits of our physical liberty is useless.
On the other hand, if we accept to submit ourselves to the laws
of the nature of things, like that of gravity for example we
can succeed in flying but by going up in an aeroplane.
are we free to do everything we wish to do?
Our thought and our will possess a certain freedom.
To deny it would be to reject the testimony of our conscience.
Even the man who is chained down keeps it. One can beat
him, torture him, but one cannot prevent him from thinking of
his wife or of wanting to escape; his jailer can apply the whip
as much as he likes but he can never constrain him by force
to like him. The latter remains free to think or to like
whatever he wants; one can by force prevent him from expressing
his thoughts or of realising his desires but one cannot force
him to change his opinion; he keeps his free will, a freedom
which he calls free judgement. To reject it would amount
to putting in doubt the very purpose of counsels, exhortations,
teaching, prohibitations, rewards and punishments; the Penal
codes of every country would lose, e.g., their reason for existing.
are we free to do everything we want?
Imagine that I have the choice between two paths
to arrive at an appointment, one is long but nicer than the
other. Before making my decision, I use my intelligence
to find out which is the better way for me. I ask myself
which is the best for me, the less tiring or the contemplation
of a lovely scenery? The solution could vary, according
to circumstance but I wall always seek to take the best
route. My free-will permits me, in fact, to choose a way
to reach what is good. That which I always seek is what
is best for me.
can be mistaken. I could just as well follow the impulses of
my disordered sensibility rather than the judgement of my intelligence;
e.g. starving, I could take a balanced meal or swallow many
bars of chocolate. If I suffer a liver attack, it is not
less true that it was to my benefit which I believed to find
in swallowing the chocolates; I sought to be satisfied by enjoying
the taste of the chocolates, but not to suffer a liver attack!
thing is important because it proves that liberty is not an
end in itself but a means to achieve an end. That which
makes the importance and the value of liberty is the importance
and the value of that which it allows to be achieved.
In itself, liberty is only a potentiality, e.g., I am free to
go and see a film at a cinema. I have the possibility.
It is evident that this possibility has value only by relation
to the film in question; it relates to a good film I will be
delighted by the possibility which is given to me; if I know,
on the contrary, that the film is long, sad and tiresome, I
have no reason to be particularly delighted. One sees
by this that liberty is not a goal or end in itself as one hears
it today. Liberty is only valuable because of the
good it permits us to achieve. It has no value except
in as far as the thing which one achieves is good in itself.
man always seeks his good, he can be mistaken in his search:
e.g. he could take a poisoned fruit. whether he wants it or
not, that fruit could cause him harm. If the human being
has therefore the power of freely directing itself towards its
good, it has not, however, the power to choose that which is
good for him. He could never arrange it so that a deadly
poison, taken in a big dose, would give him health. Things
are good or bad independently of his will. This is what
one wants to express when speaking of moral liberty.
By moral liberty one means the right man has to do that which
is good for him, whether he wills it or not. Man is free
and can be mistaken; so a moral law exists to indicate that
which is good. The moral law shows that a hierarchy exists
amongst the good things, e.g. my life has more value than the
pleasure obtained through a poisoned sweet, even if it is delicious.
One has not the right, therefore, to sacrifice a higher good
for an inferior good. Evidently the moral law which man
should follow to attain and achieve his good flows from human
objection: To be free is to be able to do whatever I want.
To allow oneself to live by following all the
nervous or glandular reactions is, on the contrary, to be the
slave of a material determination. Glands and nerves are
in fact, material or corporal, and all that is material is determined,
follows automatically very precise laws.
To be free is to be able to control that by an act of spiritual
will power. It is to control one's appetites, it is to
choose that which appears good to us according to our intelligent
objection: My liberty stops where that of my neighbour
And if your neighbour and you are not in agreement
on the limits, who will decide? The State? And in
the name of what? of the people's will? The Rights
of Man?(1) But they assert that public authority
is founded on the people's will. One ends up, therefore,
in a vicious circle. Consequently, my liberty must inevitably
be limited by some objective thing. That objective good
will be as independent of my will as that of my neighbour's
because, otherwise, what now could compel me to respect the
liberty of the said neighbour?
(1) Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Dec. 10,
1948, art. 21, §3
objection: I am free as long as I do not harm others.
In any case, everyone of our actions, even the
most private, has an influence on society: to keep in good health,
to enrich one's mind or to practise one's profession cannot
but have good results; while laziness, deceit or theft cannot
but have harmful results for our entourage. Whether we
want it or not, we are not autonomous individuals placed one
beside another; we are members of the same society.
objection: I am the sole judge of what is good or bad
That is exactly what was said to the chemist
by the man who poisoned himself three days later for not having
listened to his advice...
objection: If I must submit myself to a law, I am not
If laws did not exist in nature, man could construct
nothing solid, everything would fall down. It is by relying
on the laws of gravity, or physics, etc. that man succeeds in
constructing what he wants. It is in so far as he submits
to them that he makes use of his liberty. It is through
them that he is free to act. The law is therefore
the means of our liberty. Without them - no liberty.
objection: I find my happiness where I wish to.
The drug addict believes he find his happiness
in drugs. He actually finds a certain pleasure in them
but he always finishes by finding unhappiness in them.
The happiness of man is in fact determined by his nature.
Man has the possibility of seeking happiness where
he wants to but he has not that of finding it
there because he cannot change his nature: drugs finally can
only harm his physical constitution.
Freedom is then only a means to
reach a good. It is not an end in itself. To confound
physical liberty (liberty of movement), psychological liberty
(free-will) and moral liberty is a mistake. Many distinctions
must be made! Liberty establishes Man's dignity when it
is a question of moral liberty. To be able to adhere to what
is good without being conditioned is indeed what differentiates
man from the animal. Freedom of movement and free-will
alone - without moral liberty - give man the possibility
to adhere to what is good as well as to what is bad. Human
liberty does not have the power to render good by the simple
fact that it desires it. If we submit ourselves daily
to the laws of gravity, of nutrition, of electricity, etc. why
not submit ourselves too to the objective moral law?