Saturday, 30 June 2018

Three Ways to Hinder Freedom

Like Schopenhauer, I tend to think of freedom as an essentially negative concept. Freedom is a sort of absence of hindrance. Most obvious in the physical sense - freedom is not being constrained in any way. In case you haven't got round to reading Schopenhauer's The Two Fundamental Problems of Ethics, I won't reveal how he goes on to demonstrate that the freedoms of morality and intellect are similarly negative concepts deriving ultimately from self-consciousness. We'll just take it as an assumption.

I've been thinking about freedom quite a bit recently because my son Finn Jr has just turned one year old and is demonstrating considerably more will than in the early months.

Happy Birthday, Finn Jr!  

Like most humans, Finn Jr just wants to be free. He doesn't want to be constrained by encumbrances such as clothing, bathtime, naptime, cupboard door locks and stairgates.

My job as parent is basically to be the hindrance to his freedom. At this age - mobile but pre-linguistic - this essentially means turning myself into a literal physical barrier between my son and the various dangers of the house. My reasoning often runs thusly: if I lie down and let him poke me in the face, at least he won't be swinging on the door of washing machine and ramming drawers closed on his tiny fingers. This activity (along with following him around the garden steering him away from the nettles, foxgloves, rhubarb leaves and rose briars) now takes up most of my own 'free' time.

I think of this as 'Stage One' hindrance of freedom.

Stage Two will consist of purely vocal control. It's marvellous to see parents of older children who have instilled a modicum of obedience in their offspring. Enough to make them safely follow instructions to 'Stay in the Park'. I also see plenty of counterexamples: children who wilfully ignore their parents' sage advice. I strongly suspect wilfulness is an innate quality and the amount a child has is down to a genetic lottery.

Once a child is significantly older and off enjoying life out of earshot of the parent, I guess both parties start to experience freedom. In this third stage, the only way a parent can hinder that free activity is by whatever ethical system they have managed to impart to the child. 

Not being of a religious bent, I don't get an ethical system off the shelf. Which is good news in terms of eating pork and avoiding casual misogyny, but rather labour intensive as I have to research and devise one from scratch.

The second of Schopenhauer's two fundamental problems of ethics is concerned with the basis of morality and this seemed like a good starting point.