Dooyeweerd and Freedom
Dooyeweerd does not much discuss freedom as a topic in itself, nor does he assume it is to be something to which we aspire. However, he does give us substantial material with which we can understand it - but in a new way since he fundamentally questions many of the presuppositions underlying Western thought. Here I merely note briefly some of these.
- Freedom is not contrary to 'control'. That freedom is contrary to control is not a Truth but is a presupposition made under the Nature-Freedom ground motive. The very notion of freedom has been defined, under that ground motive, as the opposite of control or determinism. But Dooyeweerd does not accept this presupposition and understands freedom in a different way ...
- 'Freedom' refers to meaningful freedom. If it is not meaningful then it cannot be truly called freedom. For example, as someone once pointed out, we are free to design a car with square wheels but it makes little sense to do so. In this way, Dooyeweerd would see freedom as a positive thing, and not just an absence of positive control or determinism. Remember that, to Dooyeweerd, Meaning rather than existence is primary.
- Freedom - meaningful freedom - is constituted of response to aspectual norms. The aspects are (or provide us with) law-frameworks that define what functioning is meaningful. For most of the aspects, the laws are not determinative but normative. This allows us latitude in our response.
- Freedom is diverse. The aspects are irreducibly distinct in terms of the meaning they support. This means that freedom is of diverse kinds - for example, lingual freedom (given something we want to say, we can say it in many ways), economic freedom (given that we want to act frugally, there are many ways in which we can do so), juridical freedom (given that we want to give something its due, there are many ways to do that), and so on.
- Enabling 'Freedom to'. Thus we see this kind of freedom speaks of freedom 'to' do something. The aspectual law-promises enable or empower us to do things meaningful. This enabling may be seen as 'freedom to'. If we were not enabled, for example, to communicate in symbols, we would have no freedom in that area. (This helps us see how Dooyeweerdian thought might engage with power-oriented thought inspired by, for example, Nietzsche or Foucault).
- 'Freedom from'. But most liberalist thinking presupposes that freedom is 'freedom from' something. The something may be constraints (libertarianism), religious oppression (Renaissance) or 'unwarranted constraints' (Habermas' notion of emancipation) and so on. The strong implication is that such 'constraints' are normatively negative, in other words 'evil', to be avoided. Dooyeweerd would account for this by reference to negative (anti-normative) functioning in the aspects. For example, religious oppression is anti-normative functioning in the pistic and juridical aspects.
- Aspectual laws do not reduce freedom. But do not aspectual laws act as constraints? If we understand freedom, under the Nature-Freedom ground motive, as the opposite of any control or constraint, then perhaps aspectual law might be seen as reducing that kind of freedom. But to Dooyeweerd, who understands freedom differently, they aspectual laws enable rather than reduce freedom. Without aspectual law there would be no freedom because there would be no enabling to do or be anything, no potential. As we indicate above.
- Freedom and Potential. Meaningful freedom is closely tied up with potential. It is precisely the aspectual law-promises that provide potential.
- Freedom and Time. Dooyeweerd's theory of Time is not easy to understand. But we can say that he did not see time as a framework within which we function (in the way Kant did); to Dooyeweerd, law is the framework within which we function. The presupposition that freedom and determinism are mutually exclusive seems to come from seeing time as an inescapable framework.
- Freedom and Determinism. In, for example, brain sciences (guided as they are by the NFGM), there has been much discussion about how to escape the implications of determinative physical brain processes, and account for our experiencing freedom to choose. Recently, there has been a flurry of interest in quantum theory, and the possibility that the brain operates with a measure of quantum indeterminacy. While this might escape full determinism, does it truly account for our experience of choosing? Our choices do not seem to me, at least, random, which qnantum indeterminacy might suggest. See below for more discussion of this.
I find affinity between Dooyeweerd's view and that of C.S. Lewis, where, at the end of The Great Divorce, he has the Heavenly Being telling him:
"No. Because all answers deceive. If ye put the question [of who will be saved at the end] from within Time and are asking about possibilities, the answer is certain. The choice of ways is before you. Neither is closed. Any man may choose eternal death. These who choose it will have it. But if ye are trying to leap on into eternity, if ye are trying to see the final state of all things as it will be (for so ye must speak) when there are no more possibilities left but only the Real, then ye ask what cannot be answered to mortal ears. Time is the very lens through which ye see - small and clear, as men see through the wrong end of a telescope - something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all. That thing is Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality. But ye can see it only through the lens of Time, in a little clear picture, through the inverted telescope. It is a picture of moments following one another and yourself in each moment making some choice that might have been otherwise. Neither the temporal succession nor the phantom of what ye might have chosen and didn't is itself Freedom. They are a lens. The picture is a symbol: but it's truer than any philosophical theorem (or, perhaps, than any mystic's vision) that claims to go behind it. For every attempt to see the shape of eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom. Witness the doctrine of Predestination [a theological position that says that only certain God-chosen ones will be saved] which shows (truly enough) that eternal reality is not waiting for a future in which to be real; but at the price of removing Freedom which is the deeper truth of the two. And wouldn't Universalism [the theological position that all will be saved] do the same? Ye cannot know eternal reality by a definition. Time itself, and all acts and events that fill Time, are the definition, and it must be lived. The Lord said we were gods. How long could ye bear to look (without Time's lens) on the greatness of your own soul and the eternal reality of her choice?"
Ponder that, and all its various pieces that wrap together Time, Freedom choice, self, and the lens through which we see it.
The conventional NFGM views of freedom seem to be related to the temporal succession or the phantom of what might have been otherwise, that they think the lens is itself the freedom. But I think that, despite Lewis' remarks about 'philosophical theorem', Dooyeweerd might be able to provide the philosophical account for what Lewis is saying.
Freewill, Choice and Brain Functioning
Quantum theory's notion of indeterminacy has been appealed to as a way of accounting for our experience of freedom e.g. to make choices in a cosmos governed by otherwise determinative physical laws. Specifically, because every sub-atomic particle is a wave, where it actually is at any time is not clear. So it could have influence away from its centre. What influence it has is not determined. This happens at tiny distances, and it has been suggested that something in the operation of brain synapses operates at sufficiently tiny distances so that this non-determinate effect is manifested in the functioning of the brain.
Could this account for our experience of 'freewill', our freedom to, for example, make choices? It could account for why a person's behaviour or thoughts (which depend on brain functioning) seem to be not determined. But it would suggest that brain functioning is random, rather than free. So it does not really account for our experience of freedom, of being able to choose between two options. Our choosing is not random but free. So quantum theory does not seem to be the answer.
Robert Kane and Nancey Murphy make some useful points, however [Metanexus Conference, 2008, Madrid].
- Random non-determinacy, taken as the only material factor, is actually a hindrance to realizing our free purposes or choices, not an account of them.
- What we can say, however, is that non-determinacy at a lower (physical) level is necessary condition for freedom at higher level. Quantum random non-determinacy makes N possible future states possible, but does not determine which actually occurs.
- Our higher-level functionings have a 'downward causative' effect on lower-level, not by direct causative force but by constraining the options at the lower level. It selects which actually occurs.
This fits nicely with Dooyeweerd's notion of aspects, in that our physical functioning might involve quantum non-determinacy to provide many possible physical future states in our brains, but our formative function of will actually exerts downward causative influence to constrain these.
However, this idea has, as far as I know, not yet been explored.
This is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Questions or comments would be welcome.
Copyright (c) 2004 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.
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Created: 19 October 2004.
Last updated: 21 July 2008 freewill, quantum theory, etc.