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The Freedom Paradox is an ambitious book by Clive Hamilton, who is deeply engaged in the social and moral problems of an era he calls programmatically "post-secular". The book is ambitious, firstly because it aims to solve, or better to take advantage of what is presented as paradoxical structure of freedom, expressed by Kant with this sentence: "a free will and a will under moral law are one and the same". Hamilton defines this aspect "the antinomian quality of freedom: to be free we must submit". There is but another paradoxical character of freedom Hamilton aims to solve: Western society has created the widest freedom possibilities ever experienced by humanity but their Western citizens are more and more depressed, discontented and scared of future. The author proposes his philosophically "strong" answer to these hard questions through a metaphysical approach that seemed precluded in modern and post-modern times, but which gains now new consistency in the post-secular society. So the highest ambition of the book has to be found where its philosophical relevance is at stake.
The first part of the book, Freedom reconsidered, is a very interesting critical discussion of the main liberal theories on freedom centered on Hayek's classic The Constitution of Liberty, used as reference point to criticize his most brilliant and influential scholar, Milton Friedman, and neoliberalism with him. Hayek himself, distinguishing different types of freedom, indicated not only the individual and the political one, as Mill already showed, but also the inner freedom, or metaphysical liberty, which is the center of interest for Hamilton in our capitalistic society: he assumes, with Hayek, that inner freedom "refers to the extent to which a person is guided in his actions by his own considered will" and that its opposite "is not coercion by others but the influence of temporary emotions, or moral or intellectual weakness". He analyzes how the capitalistic exercise of external freedoms has eroded our inner freedom, menaced by self-deception, akrasia and subtle coercion, being all more and more enhanced by the mass market. "It is a great irony that in a society created to give us more "choice" the most important choices are forbidden". After such a terrible diagnosis, what is left to Western society and to globalized humanity?
The strong answer developed by Hamilton in the four other parts of the book has its philosophical roots in the thought of Schopenhauer and consists of an ethical model neither relativist nor rationalist, but metaphysical: human beings are capable of understanding themselves as both an appearance and a thing-in-itself -- as phenomenon and noumenon, according to Kant's and Schopenahuer's language -- and this is the source of their moral sense. Considered metaphysically, according Hamilton all individuals have at their core the same inner nature, the noumenic one: the "subtle essence", the "universal Self", whose most immediate expression in the phenomenal world is the moral self. The moral self, core assumption of the entire book and of Hamilton's ethic, "is the innermost voice of conscience, where all personal interests, social conventions, duties and obligation are left behind". The moral self is to be intended more as a moral adviser than as a moral judge, as we can read in the fourth part, where Hamilton takes moral stance in a series of relevant topics such as suicide, sex and nature.
So in the last part, Freedom rediscovered, we can read what is a free moral life in a post-secular ethic: a life of detachment, but not of disengagement; it is a path involving intentional participation in the world, marked by "purity of passion and moderation of desire". Inner freedom is then the freedom to transcend one's own phenomenal self, one's own egoism and interest in a universal perspective, the one of the Universal Self. "Such a view gives value to the phenomenon: it is not merely a pale and otiose shadow of the noumenon; it is a partner in its own being, and this lend intrinsic value to the phenomenal existence of each human". Two aspects are in my opinion unsatisfying in this otherwise very interesting book: on one hand, the philosophical discussion of what noumenon is remains quite traditional in its final results, as noumenon is considered as the domain of first causes common to every human being, even if never totally knowable in a phenomenal life; on the other, the targeted public of the book is not so well identified: sometimes the essay has a popular style, sometimes an academic one, and in general some core concepts are presented too many times in both ways. The philosophical choice, to start from Schopenhauer's theory, notoriously a pessimistic one, to build up a strongly optimistic ethics, open to a daily possibility of attaining inner freedom and of finding one's own purpose, is a notably original one.
© 2012 Daria Dibitonto
Daria Dibitonto, Ph.D. in Philosophy, Post-Doc in Moral Philosophy at the Humanities Department of Avogadro University of East-Piedmont (Italy). Her books and main papers are about the theology of hope of Jürgen Moltmann and the theory of desire in the philosophy of Ernst Bloch. From 2006 she researches also in the mental health field from a phenomenological perspective and carries out a philosophical practice in the Mental Health Department of ASL Turin 5 (Public Medical Service of the Turin Province, Italy
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