Monday, February 14, 2011

Buttiglione Responds to David Hume

The following is a Part II of a series from Rocco Buttiglione's book Exiting a Dead End Road: a GPS for Christians in Public Discourse, published by Kairos Publications in Vienna, and edited by Gudrun and Martin Kugler. Order the book here. Part I is here and Part III is here.

Rocco Buttiglione
Obeying reason

Now a paradox arises. Whilst for all (other) animals to be free means to act according to instinct, for man to be free means to be able to act according to reason. The instinctual side of man must be convinced to obey to reason.

Animal freedom can be defined against external pressure. If I am left to my instincts I am free. For man it is more complicated. Human freedom is defined in opposition to two different kinds of pressure: external pressure but also the internal pressure of the instinctual drives trying to avoid the control and disavow the primacy of reason.

Human freedom, therefore, demands the self control of the person, who can do what he or she sees to control his or her own passions. Immanuel Kant stresses the social relevance of his specific human freedom in his concept of the transcendental I. The transcendental I is the subjectivity in which man acts without the conditioning of passions only guided by the idea of the good (actually for Kant it is rather the idea of duty, but now we cannot deal with the difference between these two ideas). This subjectivity is easily directed towards the common good. Man cannot see anything as good if it is only his own individual selfish good opposed to the good of others. The so called Kantian imperative always tries to preserve the social character of the good.

The experience of the value of the person, and in particular the experience of the value of the other person, induces me to recognize that I cannot define my individual good in opposition to the good of the other. Hence the rule: consider always the person, in yourself and in others, always also as an end and never only as a means. A society in which this rule is not acknowledged cannot be a truly human society.

The drama of two freedoms

If we consider the complexity of human freedom we are forced to see that there are two ways in which we speak of human freedom. We could call the first the lesser freedom and the second the greater freedom. Luther differentiates in his theological language between the freedom of the flesh and Christian freedom.

In one sense we can speak of the freedom of man in the same way in which we speak of the freedom of animals, meaning the absence of external interferences. If we are slaves of our passions, however, this freedom will not be real human freedom. If we are manipulated by others through the offer of different kinds of pleasure so that we renounce the use of reason and behave as if we did not possess an autonomous capacity for the knowledge and the recognition of good and evil, then we are not free.

Aristotle goes as far as to say that for such men it is better to be slaves of other human beings than of their own passions, since they are unable to be free. The specific human freedom arises out of the human capacity to recognize values and to know truth. We could also see that in human beings freedom is ordered to love. When we recognize the value of another person and choose to belong to this person in love than we make the proper use of our freedom and become truly free.

A man who never makes the experience of love leaves this world as void as he was when he first entered into it. His freedom becomes slavery.

A necessary consequence of the nature of human freedom seems to be that our freedom needs to be educated. We are born free, but at the same time we must become free through the control of our passions and the search for truth.

Again, I like what Buttiglione has to say.  Relativists will argue that since the search for truth leads people in different directions, the search creates greater divisions and potentially less tolerance.

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