Wednesday, April 05, 2006

on freedom

My view is this: take a living organism, it will have the capacity of feeling and so it will both affect and be affected by its environment. Endow it with memory and imagination and then you get the capacity of recognizing itself and its own feelings. It will be able to remember and in so doing to have impressions of past experiences. Not only, it will also have the capacity to conceive impressions of experiences that are not strictly remembered. For all I have said, we still have not assumed freedom.

Consider now other equally natural endowments: having drives, instincts, and impulses. That all these are natural, I take it, is proven by the existence of these elements within other living species. The talk about impulse and instincts has always been granted for animals and it might as well be kept for good, since it seems to be a biological primitive: a living organism without a natural impulse that animates it sounds pretty much like a non-living entity. But still, no Freedom around.

There is a good evolutionary reason explaining the presence of all these natural givens: it helps the species in keeping their character in the evolutionary story. A population that is unable to gather information about the environment is a population that is doom to disappear from the story. Giving and receiving information must be part of the natural biological process. The way living organisms do it is by means of impulses, drives and feelings. All these, of course, will have causal power; there is no way around this. Otherwise no communication will be achieved, and no relevance will there be for the information.

But now take all these natural endowments and put them together. In particular, consider an organism that is constantly longing, constantly having impulses towards something; such an individual has also feelings and memory and imagination. This individual will inevitably end up remembering and feeling. It will end up distinguishing past from present experiences and in so doing it will end up making distinctions and, thus, using concepts. For this, of course, there will be another biological account: language and though are biological categories after all. If we can get one more element, freedom will inevitable appear: this element is simple: a natural pull towards preservation. The organism will naturally avoid everything it takes to be dangerous or life threatening, and avoid it. Same thing will happen with the so-called free organisms. They will feel, and remember and imagine, some of this feelings will be taken as life threatening some will not, some will be taken as advantageous, some will not. The important thing is that the organism is naturally able to locate itself in one or the other situation. In a sense, thanks to the capacity of conceiving situations, the organisms in question will be able to locate or re-locate themselves. This is the rough and brute beginning of a very long and complex history of freedom. The more ingredients one gives to the organism (e.g. beliefs, desires, feelings of certainty and doubt, moral emotions and feelings, goals for coordination and needs for satisfaction, preconceptions, taste, prejudices, theories, predictions and more) the more fine-grained the notion of freedom will be.

Freedom might have to be reduced, or extended, to the capacity of determining what to do with your feelings, beliefs, desires, and else. That is, the capacity of picking up feelings, beliefs and desires.