Roland Dürre
Wednesday April 9th, 2008

Freedom – Your opinion?

Dear friends,

I always stumble over the notion of freedom. Many people think freedom is something like:

  • wear what you want
  • smoke anywhere
  • drive as fast as you can
  • keep your driver’s licence indefinitely

In other words, do as you please, with no restrictions. This is a very superficial but widespread notion of freedom.

In Wikipedia I find the following definition of freedom


with the following

Definition of Freedom

I want to supplement this through the brief definition of my mentor and friend Rupert Lay: “People are free when they are willing and able to take their lives into their own hands”

In a representative survey of students at the Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, in the 80’s this understanding of freedom was chosen by a large majority. I would be happy to start a “TED” in the network to learn today’s view on this subject. I shall be grateful for feedback!

Incidentally, I remember a Janis Joplin song. There is a line saying:

“Freedom is just another word for nothing left to loose.”
(From “Me and Bobby McGee”)

And maybe freedom is just another word for wisdom.


I have written this post because the concept of “freedom” plays a central role in many current issues within social, political, ethical and moral contexts.

5 Kommentare zu “Freedom – Your opinion?”

  1. Wolfgang Stief (Wednesday April 9th, 2008)

    Zunächst mal großes Kompliment zu dem Blog und dazu, wie er zustande kam. Freut mich persönlich sehr, dass da das FFG der GUUG in München eine zentrale Rolle spielt.

    Zur Freiheit: Passend zum Zitat von Janis Joplin gibt es da noch eine Textstelle von Konstantin Wecker, die ich immer gerne zitiere, wenn ich nach meinem Verständnis für Freiheit gefragt werden: “Freiheit hoasst, koa Angst hom, vor nix und neamands.”

    Wer das selber nachhören will: Das Stück heißt “Willy” und ist zu finden auf der Platte “Genug ist nicht genug”, erschienen 1977.

  2. Alexander Maisch (Wednesday April 9th, 2008)

    Ein sehr interessanter Beitrag zum Thema Freiheit im Sinne von möglichst vielen Wahlmöglichkeiten gibt es von Barry Schwartz u.a. auf youtube (The paradox of choice)

  3. Chris Wood (Friday April 11th, 2008)

    So, freedom is having no fear?
    This reminds me of a repeated line from (I think) my favorite poem, “The City of Dreadful Night”. The line is “No hope can have no fear”. Using simple logic, one arrives at “Freedom is lack of hope”. I seem to have come across this somewhere in oriental Philosophy.
    I take this moderately seriously, so I find the Lay definition very dubious and superficial. “willens” implies hope, or at least intention and so is in conflict with freedom. On a less philosophical level, any fool can see that “Verantwortung” conflicts with freedom. Anyway, this definition could only fit people whose lives are folded. I am too uncreative to imagine a worse definition.

  4. Chris Wood (Monday April 14th, 2008)

    Here are some thoughts on “freedom”, firstly “freedom of choice”.
    Before the advent of quantum theory, the laws of physics seemed to be deterministic.
    So no physical being could make free choices.
    Quantum theory has established that random events happen constantly in nature.
    (The word “theory” is not very appropriate, as the essentials of this “theory” have been established almost beyond doubt. The best scientists have failed to find evidence that “God does not play dice with us”).
    But if our thoughts produce random events, this is not what people mean by “freedom of choice”. People have a concept of a human spirit, existing outside deterministic or random physical laws, which can choose between different physical actions. I guess that most people would think that warm furry animals also have such a spirit, but at a reduced level.

    I consider this concept an illusion, because it is not as potty as the various “God Delusions”, but it seems highly unlikely that such an ability would arise after thousands of millions of years of natural selection. On the other hand such an illusion presumably gives a selective advantage, once brains reach a certain complexity. Without it conscience can hardly exist, and conscience must be good for complex social animals.
    Our brains have evidently made some big advances, which we do not yet understand, in the last 5 million years. It would be interesting to know whether they manage to exploit quantum effects to produce more random behaviour than would otherwise occur. I can imagine that giving a selective advantage.
    Incidentally, quantum theory recently came close to disproving freedom of choice! A thought experiment where a scientist chooses which of two measurements to make seemed to give results in conflict with the real world. This would have proved that his free choice was not possible. I do not know the details, but I believe that this argument has since been shown to have a flaw.

    So freedom of choice is an illusion. This illusion seems to be a useful internal mechanism, as well as being used pragmatically when choosing friends or punishing criminals. Recent experiments undermine the natural (illusory) view of freedom of choice. People were asked to choose a random moment to decide to move a finger. But brain wave detectors showed that the brain started working to move the finger before the people thought they had decided! It seems as if the finger moves, and then the brain deludes itself regarding making this decision.

    What part of the concept of freedom can we usefully rescue? People do not have a strong illusion of freedom when in jail or being tortured. Freedom seems to relate to a feeling. Surely we feel free when experiencing or expecting what we want to experience. Perhaps we feel even more free, when our own actions cause these nice experiences.
    All I can rescue of the concept of freedom, is much nearer to ideas like “smoke wherever I want to”, than to the Lay definition. But this only works for people who believe they like smoking. A person who constantly smokes, but “would like to stop” does not feel free. Freedom of A to do B, reduces the freedom of others who want A not to do B.

    Chris Wood

  5. Chris Wood (Saturday April 26th, 2008)

    My harsh criticism of Rupert Lay’s definition of freedom was written after seeing the German version. The English version is much better, (“ability” rather than “responsibility”), but still bad. Has his definition improved in the translation, or does he keep producing different ones, perhaps suited to his different audiences?

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