Most people are of the opinion that individual freedom is a good thing, and must be defended at all costs. For many, however, this is an assumption. This is my attempt at providing reasoning for why I believe that individual freedom is good for human functioning:
Liberty is the right of an individual to think, act and live, in whatever way one chooses. Liberty is therefore freedom of choice. The ability to choose, however, requires cognition. Cognition is a characteristic that sets human beings apart from all other creatures. In a free society, cognition is enhanced due to the need of individuals to make good decisions. People make choices based on assumptions about how the world works. This decision making process is determined by many factors such as different starting points, goals, education, beliefs, personalities, and outlooks etc. Therefore one’s assumptions about reality can often include errors. This means people make mistakes. Mistakes, however, provide the impetus for better decision making. Liberty is thus good in that it leads to more-rapid development of knowledge, personal responsibility and to the setting and attaining of higher goals for the improving of one’s life. Converse to individual liberty is prescription or coercion. This is when people are forced to think and live according to an imposed set of values or practices. In this case, people are reduced to functioning as puppets, robots or animals. Therefore it is logical to conclude that individual liberty is the more humanizing option. The right of every individual, however, requires reciprocity. For one person’s expression of liberty should not infringe upon the same rights of others. Dialogue is thus required to establish which individual rights require protection, and which require restraint, for the greater good of society. As Immanuel Kant put it: “Freedom is the alone unoriginated birthright of man, and belongs to him by force of his humanity; and is in dependence on the will and co-action of every other in so far as this consists with every other person’s freedom” (The Metaphysics of Ethics. 1886, trans. J.W. Semple. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark).
Image: The Statue of Liberty at the 1878 Paris Worlds Fair.