FREEDOM VERSUS OTHER VALUES
normative doctrine in which
freedom is the sole value cannot be a
ground-world doctrine; at most
it is a sort of
metadoctrinal normative theory
dealing with the relationship between a person and
'er ideals or
lack thereof. A normative doctrine in which freedom is the sole value
just knows no ground-world ideals. But what if freedom is not the only
value and the system of
Traditional ideologies or doctrines teach that in such a case
freedom has to be balanced against the other values recognized.
However, those doctrines never managed to differentiate
doctrinal and metadoctrinal (or
even metaphysical) considerations, and often not normative and social or
legal, nonnormative considerations either.
From the metadoctrinal perspective of
the idea of balancing freedom against other values is definitely
fallacious. It is only on the doctrinal level that it makes
sense to let freedom be part of the evaluative calculus. In
extrinsic freedom with its purely
basis cannot be weighed against anything;
on the other hand, whether ultimate or not, can indeed be made
part of any
consequentialist or other
Traditional pluralists who do not distinguish between the
doctrinal and the metadoctrinal, like to construe a conflict
between freedom and two other values in particular — or rather,
one value and one disvalue. Firstly, there is the so-called
'conflict between freedom and the prevention of harm', and
secondly, there is the so-called 'conflict between freedom and
equality'. By construing these conflicts as purely doctrinal
ones, pluralist ideologues or theorists give themselves the
greatest freedom possible to choose what suits them best.
When they prefer the totalitarianism of the sexual-monotheist brand, they
will argue that more individual freedom does too much harm to
society as a whole; when they prefer totalitarianism of the
socioeconomic brand, they will argue that more individual
freedom is detrimental to equality in the material sense.
And, of course, when they prefer liberty above all, they will argue
that both the increase of harm and the decrease of equality are
negligible compared with the benefits which come with liberty.
The criterion of harm was originally introduced to confine
the power and influence of the state to the area of public
interest, that is, to keep it out of the sphere of the purely
Against this view that individual freedom in the private domain is not
harmful to anybody, it has later been objected that also purely private
be 'harmful' to society as a whole.
The purported 'harm' concerned would then not be direct, bodily harm like
murder or injury but some kind of 'indirect' or 'spiritual harm'.
(This concept of harm stands to bodily harm as structural
violence stands to bodily violence.)
Deviation from the established, 'moral' conceptions of a society would
endanger that society and be a potential harm to it.
On this construction any kind of individual freedom could be 'injurious'
(just as any kind of communal or collective system could be blamed
for its 'structural violence').
When an ideologue of the above persuasion speaks of "fundamental values
which all people in a society have to share", one would expect that
'e wants to get rid of all
religious and other ideological minorities in the first place —a
would be courageous in a society that demands respect for religious
minorities—, but somehow 'er most beloved victims are minorities and
ex-minorities in matters of sexuality and family-planning instead.
'E will not point out that certain religious and political ideologies are
harmful to society, or that a cinema, television and computer game cult of
violence and disrespectfulness is, even when the harm concerned in these
instances might be truly indirect in that it does contribute to murder,
rape and other forms of bodily harm in stages.
In those cases in which the phrase indirect harm is not in any way
related to bodily harm, but is used to denote spiritual or societal 'harm',
it evidently serves as a most welcome deus ex machina.
It then merely provides a contrived solution to the problem of how to
associate everything that is believed to be bad in terms of some
doxastic value with bodily
harm, such as killing and injuring.
This is done according to an age-old recipe: take a word which has a
negative evaluative meaning for everyone (such as harm or
violence) and 'mix' this word with something that has completely
different conceptual contents, while exploiting the negative connotation
of the word to the utmost.
To top it all, add an extra adjective (such as spiritual or
structural) now and then to make clear what the actual denotation
of the phrase thus concocted is supposed to be.
Now, freedom from harm, that is bodily harm, may indeed be a
fundamental value shared by almost everyone. To the extent that
it is, people may not even recognize it as a value. But other
values, or doxastic values, are controversial, for example,
because they are blatantly exclusivistic. To call such values
"fundamental", and to say that doing something that does not
agree with those doxastic values does 'harm' to society, is a
question of ideological strategy, not of morality.
Fundamental in this interideological context is solely
And no-one's doxastic values, even not those of a majority of
people, can interfere with an individual's liberty in the sense of
the right to personhood.
While harm is the disvalue with which freedom has been
confronted, equality is the value. As the argument runs, the
ideal of freedom would always disagree with the ideal of
equality in some way. If one allowed people freely to choose
what they wanted, their free choices would upset any ideal,
egalitarian pattern for society as a whole — it has been said.
But the opposition construed between freedom and equality is largely based
on a confusion, firstly, of the different kinds of freedom, and secondly,
of the different ontological spheres, namely the normative sphere and the
factual-modal sphere to which social
rules and laws belong.
When speaking of "extrinsic" and
"intrinsic freedom", we
associate these concepts with normative principles, while already having
presupposed 'freedom' in some metaphysical, modal sense.
That is, we take it that the people we are talking about can
choose to act morally or immorally. This is the sort of freedom
people have, because they are not mere bodies of which the
behavior is wholly predetermined. (It only makes sense to assume
that their behavior is partially free and partially predetermined.)
denominational and other
normative doctrines are to be of any significance at all to people,
then people must be free in this sense.
To say that they should be free in this sense is superfluous, if
Should equality conflict with freedom, it is therefore not this
metaphysical freedom it conflicts with.
In a social or legal sense freedom is the absence of a
(mandatory) social rule or law forbidding certain actions, or
even the presence of a permissive social rule or law explicitly
allowing certain actions. But the principle of freedom in a
social or legal sense is a factual-modal principle, not a
normative one; or if so, then contingently so. An act may be
right but illegal (when one does not have the legal freedom to
do it); and it may be wrong but legal (when one has the legal
freedom, or even duty, to do it). (And whether or not something
is forbidden by the state or community, people normally still
have the 'metaphysical freedom' to do what they want to do.) The
question of whether acts which are (morally) wrong should always
be forbidden we will not deal with here, but this question can
be asked precisely because of the distinct character of the
normative, doctrinal sphere on the one hand and the social or
legal sphere on the other.
Equality with respect to societal patterns or the distribution
of goods is something to strive for on the basis of the
prescriptive reading of
the norm of interpersonal equality.
There can be no direct conflict between this normative ideal and
the ideal of social and legal freedom. It is one's metaphysical
freedom and this very social and legal freedom which one should
employ to further the ideal of equality. Every act which leads
to an inequality or greater inequality of distribution is, then,
prima facie wrong and ought to be abstained from. Also in the
event that it is legal to act wrongly in this respect, this
still does not take away one's moral responsibility to act
rightly in this respect. The conflict construed by some between
equality and freedom is therefore primarily due to mixing up
normative, doctrinal considerations with social or legal,
nonnormative and with metadoctrinal considerations.
This does not mean that the intrinsic ideal of personal freedom could not
clash with the intrinsic ideal of interpersonal equality, but if so, the
conflict is one between well-being or minimization of unhappiness and
This conflict is one between derivative,
neutral-inclusive doctrinal values.
It does not serve clarity to label it a conflict between (a
principle of) equality and (a principle of) freedom, because such a
rendering is both too restrictive and too lenient.
It is too restrictive in that well-being and the absence of suffering
are much more than a question of being free to choose; and it is too
lenient in that the concept of freedom is also used in metadoctrinal,
metaphysical, social and legal thought.