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NOTION OF FREEDOM AND LAW IN ST. THOMAS AQUINAS



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NOTION OF FREEDOM AND LAW IN ST. THOMAS AQUINAS



CHAPTER ONE

1.0            THE GENERAL NOTION OF FREEDOM

The concept of freedom is an analogous one, predicated in different ways to beings of very different types. The various forms of attribution depend, to a certain extent, not by defining the same specific content, but by indicating formal relation, which remains the same. This relation can be put negatively or positively.

Negatively, freedom means being free from the relation of not being bound to a given being or law, of being independent from something and of not being determined by a given principle of determination. This negative concept is also a relative one because every finite being belongs to a world and is related to the other being in the world. It may be free from this direct relationship to this or that, but only because their place are taken by others.

A being fully free in the negative sense could not be a being in the world, without relationship fully isolated, it would be based on nothing and be nothing.1

Thus in contrast to the negative, relative concept, there is a positive absolute concept of freedom. A being is positively free in so far as it is in possession of itself and possesses in this relationship the sufficient condition for all its being and relations. Here, freedom means self-possession being completely present to oneself, completely self-sufficient.

According to Maslaw

Freedom is the basic acknowledgment

that the individual is more important

than his society.2 

However, human freedom is clearly neither merely negative and relative nor fully positive and absolute. Man has dominion over himself and so also over parts of the world. But he is non-the-less inserted into the world and dependent on the beings he finds himself. The basic mode of human freedom may be called transcendental freedom, which is the fundamental propriety of man by which he alone can say he is.

It follows that man can never be deprived of this transcendental freedom, which is part and parcel of his existence. But its emptiness and importance point on to another mode of freedom. Man is not simply there, he does not simply grow, he has to be, he is a task absolutely imposed on himself he has to decide to be himself or what he will be and there is no way in which he can evade this decision.

This mode is called the freedom of decision or existential freedom. This directly implies freedom of choice since an arbitrary freedom would be no freedom, a man free in this sense, will leave his actions at the mercy of mood whim or chance.

                   Freedom in general may be defined as

                   the absence of obstacles to the realization

of desires.3

 

 

 

1.1     THE MEANING OF FREEDOM  

Freedom! Everybody wants it, it makes a man a human being, poets praise it, and politicians promise or proclaim it. Some people have given their lives to win it for themselves or for others, but what actually is it? St Thomas Aquinas sees it as absence of coercion. Coercion or compulsion bears on the external action and corresponds to the absence of external coercion. This is variously named according to the kind of activity involved.

Thus we have physical freedom, civil freedom, political freedom, freedom of self-realization, freedom of choice, and freedom for self-perfection. Psychological freedom or freedom of choice corresponds to absence of internal coercion, that is the power of the will to will something or not. External is contingent on internal freedom, since the former has no meaning without the latter, but the converse is not necessarily true.                                      

A Survey of Yves R. Simons book ‘Freedom of Choice,’ contrasts to some extent the St Thomas Aquinas notion of freedom. For example he investigated on freedom and voluntariness, and said that  “there is unqualified voluntariness without freedom”4

                                                     

1.2       KINDS OF FREEDOM

Man is full of dynamism, and his activities are equally the same. Hence his conception of freedom differs according to their different activities. Man’s activities are not just determined by external factors like a piece of stone that is moved or a computer game that is moved by the pads. It sometimes comes from his awareness of his own freedom and ability to decide for himself. Among all these, freedom still remain verse to comprehend at each moment, but for better apprehension, I will examine briefly the kinds of freedom in the following sequence.

Human Freedom

This is simply a matter of accepting the Universe because you understand its mathematical necessity. This done, you will gain peace of mind, be free from passions and be able to return good for evil. This human freedom implies that man has the natural ability to act at length without being injurious to others.

Freedom Of Religion

Freedom of religion could be identified as the right of a person to have free exercise of religion without compulsion or coercion. He is allowed to worship anything, anywhere, anytime according to the dictates of his conscience. Murray said on his own part that religious freedom is ‘…an immunity from Coercion in what concerns personal relation with God’5   

For the authenticity of religion to be realized, many societies adopt freedom of religion.

Freedom Of Choice

 This is the principle of action by which man judges freely. Apart from this, Aquinas maintained that freedom of choice is not a habit but a power since it proceeds from man. He called it an election. He compared ‘man’ and ‘animal’ and stated that man acts out of comparism in the reason, while animals acts from natural instinct. Since man acts out of comparism, he acts by free Judgment and equally retains the power of being inclined to many things. Thus man has free choice.

Freedom of choice refers either to the act of the will, or to the object of the will. In the first instance, there is freedom of exercise, in the second, freedom of specification. Freedom of exercise means that the will is at liberty to choose or not to choose, to operate or not to operate. The point to emphasize here is that one is not compelled to act.

Freedom Of Self-Perfection

Here St. Thomas believed and taught that man ought to tamper and train his Soul, and the dignity of man lies in self-mastery. Now, man’s nature is constituted in such a way that reason and will must always guide and direct his actions. In so doing man has self-control, since that makes him a person. Any man who allows passion, money, power etc to overtake him, is not free, since he feels free outwardly, but inwardly remain enslaved to vice, greed, power, pride, and ambition.

Fulton Sheen in his book ‘On Being Human’ maintained that freedom is not gained at once, but a gradual process, which continues until one reaches the peak. Man is not expected to become an angel, but man, which is his ontological vocation, man cannot be perfect in an imperfect world.

 

Freedom of Self Realization

Each man is a microcosm, in other words, said to be represented in a small scale. He occupies an important and irreplaceable position in the entire universe. He is a being who has a mission in the world. And the achievement of this mission is the realization of himself. Each man is a bundle of potentialities. These potentialities when realized or actualized become the individual’s contribution to development of the entire human family.

Self-realization, according to Anthony Storr is said to be:

The fullest possible expression in

life of the innate potentialities of

the individual, the realization of

this uniqueness as a personality.6

It consists in productiveness, spontaneous activity as opposed to compulsion, love and active solidarity with human beings. It consists in accepting oneself as the bearer of human potentialities and being ready to grow through creative activity. It is the man who uses his powers that answers the fundamental question of his individual existence. Freedom of self-realization is only possible in and through the facticity, which surround each person, it cannot be more than this. They include, height, colour, strength, intelligence, sex, race etc.

Karl Rahner held that:

                   Freedom is only freedom in the

                   concrete sense, when all those

                   freedoms are combined.7

Aquinas on his own part noted that,

Freedom is seen not as independence

from an absolute but as independence

From the relatives.8

In the history of philosophy and social thought, freedom has a specific use as a moral and social concept to refer either to circumstance which arise in the relations of man to man to specific conditions of social life. Philosophical argument about the meaning or the nature of freedom is concerned with the legitimacy or convenience of particular application of the term. Bertrand Russels often held that freedom in general is that absence of obstacles to the realization of one’s desires.

1.3     AQUINAS NOTION OF FREEDOM

  This medieval theologian understood freedom to be the harmony of the will and the act. And the consideration is the divine influence and the will. Implicitly, the relation of harmony, the divine influence and the will is freedom. Hence, a free act is constituted by the assent of the will rather than by the decision of the will. It implies then that this cannot be freedom as self-determination.

The term in Aquinas closest in meaning and usage to the contemporary term freedom, is perhaps liberty9

But for John Locke;

It is to be free from constraint and violence from others, which cannot be, where there are no law10

Freedom may mean absence of constraint and this is what is proper to man. There is no right minded individual who would applaud constraints. Being free from constraint means being free from choice imprisonment.

 

1.4     LIMITS OF FREEDOM

While we reject the view that man is not free, or that freedom is an illusion, we must not accept the Sartrean exaggerated notion of freedom. According to Sartre in his book ‘Being and Nothingness’, man is absolutely free. Man he said, is condemned to be free and man’s authentic existence is realized to the extent that he makes use of his freedom.

 Man is free, yes, but his freedom has to be limited by certain things such as his body, will, environment, desires and passion, pressures from heredity, society etc.

Walter Farrel in his book ‘A Companion to Summa’ vol.iii supported this when he used the analogy of a wild bird beating out its life against the windows of a desolate house into which it has wondered, to awaken pity on us. Also in man, who is confined to a space and who is imperfect and limited, struggling day in and out to be unlimited and free. We find such a situation in the incessant discoveries by science to know if it can give meaning to human life, but what happens, we still experience some sort of imperfection in all these.

Also as a social being, man is limited by his very nature of being forced to be social by nature, he is compulsorily limited to stay where his body permits him to be. The existentialists emphasized this when they said that man as a social being in the world is subjected to the laws of nature.

We should not say that limitation is the essence of human freedom because man’s insatiable tension towards the absolute and good is limitless, rather as an incarnate being, a being in the world, his body which situates him in the world limits his freedom. It then follows that man is not absolutely free, since there are some limitations.

1.5            SOCIAL STRUCTURE OF FREEDOM.

Since freedom is transcendental distance and transcendental spontaneity, it is essentially part of man. But this primordial freedom is still only the basis for existential freedom, the realization of man as person, it is not yet this personal being in actual reality, transcendental and transcendental freedom are actuated only in the decision of the existential freedom for its own essence – as basic form. But R.S. Peters held that:

                   Freedom means not doing what one wills

without restraints but accepting

the law or the real will of the community.11

It follows that human freedom can never be a simple state of man or a specialized propriety, but neither is it simply the actuation of selfhood, nor pure act without the history like the divine freedom. But on the contrary, human freedom is history by its very nature. Man is wholly claimed by the works to be done and the states to be achieved. He becomes truly a person by going freely out of himself- to throw himself into the work to be done.

Thus human freedom is not a state, as it is in things, freedom from this or that compulsion nor is it as in God a pure act of self-consciousness. Freedom is the history of a person’s coming to himself, which culminates in fully conscious self-possession. In the strict sense, only the individual is with himself, self-possession can be predicted only analogously of a community or a people.

All these principles recur in the principle which regulates the mode of realization of freedom, the freedom of subsidiary. Freedom in act is identical with the personality of the person. It is the person’s mode of being. This mode of being is at once individual and supra individual condition and uncondition. Conscious selfhood, as an act  feasible only to the self, makes the individual unique as a person.

These common works are modes of self-realization, of the reality of freedom and the person. But as such modes, there are forms taken by freedom and they retain their meaning and purpose only by being referred back to the person and its reality.


1 K. Rahner, ed., Encyclopedia of Theology. Vol. II  (New York: Macmillan Pub. Co. Inc. 1965) P. 

   534.

2 Maslaw, A.H. New Knowledge in Human Values. (New York: Harper and Row. 1959), P. 60

3 P. Edward, (ed) Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Vols 3 & 4 (New York: Macmillan Publishers Company. 1967), P. 222.

4 Yves, R.S, Freedom of Choice (New York; Ford ham University press 1969} pp 12-13

5 Murray J.C, Religious liberty an end & beginning {New York; Macmillan Company, 1996} P.17

6 Storr., A. The Integrity of Personality. (USA Penguin Books. 1960)., P. 27.

7 K. Rahner, op. cit, P. 537.

8 Locke., J. Treatise on Civil Government. Gough, J. (ed) (New York: Oxford Black Wall. 1948). P.  523.

9 Mary T. C., [ed] An Aquinas Reader {New York; Doubleday and company., 1972}  P. 207

10 ibid, P. 126

11 R.S. Peters, Ethics and Education. (London, 1966), P. 187.

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The concept of freedom is an analogous one, predicated in different ways to beings of very different types. The various forms of attribution depend, to a certain extent, not by defining the same specific content, but by indicating formal relation, which remains the same. This relation can be put negatively or positively. Negatively, freedom means being free from the relation of not being bound to a given being or law, of being independent from something and of not being determined by a given principle of determination. This negative concept is also a relative one because every finite being belongs to a world and is related to the other being in the world. It may be free from this direct relationship to this or that, but only because their place are taken by others... Click here for more

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