Assessment of The Idea of Liberty as Illustrated by Hannah Arendt In, What is Freedom
The concept of freedom is an abstract one that is only realized when a person sets it into motion. In What is Freedom, Hannah Arendt challenges the widespread belief that liberty extends from the freedom of thought and will. Arendt emphasizes that actions performed unhinged from consequences are true bouts of freedom. What is Freedom dispels the accustomed definition found in government, textbooks, and marketplace and replaces it with freedom as a gateway of creativity and boundlessness.
The common sense notion of freedom has been etched into the framework of our society. The “Land of the Free” otherwise known as the United States of America, etches the entitlement to our life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as the focal point of its’ Constitution. Similarly, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines freedom as “the state of being free” and “a political right” (Merriam-Webster.com). In economics, the term laissez-faire, the abstention by governments from interfering in the workings of the free market” is the quintessential cornerstone of one of our most defining national traits, capitalism (OxfordDictionaries.com). All three of these definitions stress, in one form or another, that freedom is possessive. We possess rights that protect us from an oppressive government, slavery, or even the businessincentive crushing Communism. The most general of these meanings “the state of being free” only serves to add intangibility and uncertainty to an already scantly defined concept. This common sense notion of freedom umbrellas the different ways a person can make decisions. These can be the rationality of a person to select a choice, to want/need to have ownership of property, or incentive work towards a cause of interest. Despite this general understanding, Arendt argues against these concepts. While “we hold human freedom to be a self-evident truth” Arendt defines the common sense notion just as the inward space into which men may escape from external coercion and feel free” .
Freedom in its pure form is an abstract concept. Since we cannot empirically measure freedom by the number of people emancipated from slavery, nor can we quantify its’ workings through calculating marginal utility, the crux comes from establishing an encompassing operational definition. Arendt developed a solution stating that for an “Action to be free, it must be free from motive on one side, from its intended goal as a predictable effect on the other” (Arendt 653). Thus for the infinite number of possibilities that can result from making a choice or an action, as long as the person makes a choice unbeknownst of any external influence, they are free. For example choosing between multiple choice options on an AP exam does not entail freedom if the test taker reads the question and selects the answer that best fits, even if there exist a potential margin of error. Contrariwise, if the student spontaneously selects a choice based on intrinsic preferences for an answer letter, ignoring the terms of the question and the answers, he has attained freedom. In this way the answer “as it is free is neither under the guidance of the intellect nor under the dictate of the will”. If will and intellect are engaged, however, the person is guided towards a solution logically and thus freedom is not present. The student is using goal setting, or aim. Since “Aim is not a matter of freedom, but of right or wrong judgment” if the student answers option C because the question leads them to the logical conclusion that the text in C is correct they practiced aim not freedom.
Arendt’s conception of freedom is based on the concept of principles. These principles “such as honor or glory, or love of equality . . . inspire. . . [and become] fully manifest only in the performing act itself”. This inspiration is the reason for freedom’s volatility. When a person exerts an action in a free state the person is guided by this burst of inspiration from the principle to select one out of an unlimited number of outcomes. Inspiration differs from that of an aim because is not fully realized until the action is completed. Additionally principles lose “nothing in strength or validity through execution” unlike goals which vanish once they are completed. Since principles are everlasting sources of inspiration, they outline the creative freedom that exists within man.
Arendt arrived at the conclusion that the ability to act freely, guided only by principles, is the reason that art exists. Humans exercise unrestricted talents with unlimited outcomes guided by undefined inspiration when creating art. This is why “the element of freedom, certainly present in the creative arts, remains hidden”. Although the end result of art is often guided by a motive such as recognition or money, the artist that created it was guided freely without any bounds. The effect of inspiration on a person becomes the axiom that “freedom is a worldly reality, tangible in words that can be heard, in deeds which can be seen, and in events which are . . . incorporated into the great storybook of human history”.
Arendt imposes a new meaning on the liberty of humans. Unlike the common sense notion where freedom exists in the forms of; ownership of property, the right to unalienable rights, and options to choose, a person practicing Arendt’s notion of freedom is not restricted by the choices in front of them. By letting go of your ephemeral motives, by replacing it with inexhaustible principles you unlock a freedom that has no bounds. Instead of having a choice from options, you can pick an undefined number of other options that are not listed. Conclusively Arendt believes that, freedom is not the right to choose your own adventure. Freedom is the ability to create it.
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