Free like a Tiger


Freedom is a very popular concept in philosophy, and the question about the essence of freedom has divided philosophers in many camps while the variety of different answers has been at the heart of different views of science, religion, ethics, and nature itself. The question is still pondered in faculties (and canteens) around the world, with brain researchers, having made mindboggling progress, asserting they have already found the ultimate answer.

I have written a dissertation about freedom and responsibility, yet I have no clue about freedom. I simply fail to grasp the philosophical concept of a generic definition of freedom. What do we have? Imagine a large sociological research project with abundant result in the form of recounts of actual, lived “freedom” – well, what the interviewed people think they think it’s freedom. All the data in the world won’t be enough to formulate a generic definition of freedom. The famous absence of a private language in philosophy implies that the private language of our mind is not translatable into the public language of words, precisely because it doesn’t exist.

So what if we take a modest position, looking at natural objects and considering their freedom? A tree is freer than a rock because it interacts with it surroundings; a fish is freer than a tree because it also has locomotion; and so forth. Why don’t we understand freedom simply as the ability to move within certain “rooms” (space, sensomotorical experience, time, monetary possibilities, the internet, minds, the scale of power). Locomotive freedom is the main metaphor for this, and the main flaw as any philosopher would immediately attest.

A little complication comes to mind. How can we decide if someone is free to locomote, when that person doesn’t locomote but merely understands her own potential movement? A neurochemical test of that understanding seems a bit far-fetched and doesn’t improve our understanding of freedom. Sidetrack: What have we got so far? Is a helicopter freer than an airplane? But they don’t have minds. So it’s all in our heads, and the locomotion metaphor is dead. You can be free with Sartre in a prison cell. Or is it about a balance of potential and actual, enacted freedom? But can such a balance be expressed in language? What is the language of freedom?

And what about the freedom of the tiger? What is his take on freedom?