freedom, philosophy, religion, Uncategorized

Four Sons: Four Responses to Problems

Tonight Jews celebrate the Passover holiday by having an ancient Greek drinking party.  The ancient Greek drinking party, as we know from Plato’s “Symposium” (from the ancient Greek word “symposium” which means drinking party from drink plus together)  required a topic of conversation that each participant would address in turn.  In Plato’s symposium the topic was “What is love?” which is an excellent topic if you are drinking with your friends and some of you are in love with others of you.  For the seder the topic is “What is freedom?” which is an excellent topic for a party with parents and children, since children are unfree in relation to their parents but we are all hoping are on a journey to freedom.

The children are more-or-less unfree and their parents are asking them to discuss freedom.  This will naturally result in a mixed range of reactions — ambivalence and sarcasm (are you kidding me?) spring to mind.  The Haggadah (the guidebook to the seder) singles out four, assigning each one to a “son” — although today it would include daughters (pictured above).

The four responses enumerated in the hagadah are:

1)Asking for an explanation

2)Asking “What does this have to do with you?”

3)Asking “What is this?”

4)Silence.

The author of the haggadah has (or claims to have in order to be provoking) strong feelings about these responses, labeling the first “wise” and the second “wicked” and saying the older generation should be happy about response (1) and hurt and angry about response (2).  But if we think a little more deeply we can think about situations in which each of the four responses is appropriate.

A water crisis in Syria leads to a civil war and we are having a feast while the refugees from the crisis starve.

THE “WISE” SON

Why did this happen?  A water crisis.  Why are there water crises?  How can they be prevented?

THE “WICKED” SON

What does this have to do with you?  How can you sit there and lecture me on freedom when people are not free?  Are you doing all that you can?  If you’re not doing all that you can, how can you expect me to do so?

THE “SIMPLE” SON

What is this?  People are killing each other in a civil war.  What is a war?  What is a “civil war”?  What is a nation anyway?  What is this life of ours where this happens?

THE SON WHO IS “UNABLE TO ASK”

Silence.

Maybe freedom means the freedom to ask the hard, intellectually challenging questions, to ask the questions that challenge the authority and integrity of those in charge, to ask questions which are so hard because they seem so easy, and to be silent — with shock or awe or joy, or wonder.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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freedom, guilt, philosophy

Kierkegaard on How We Are Responsible for the Whole World

Kierkegaard writes freedom “always has to do only with itself”.  

 “[T]he opposite of freedom is guilt, and it is the greatness of freedom that it always has to do only with itself, that in its possibility it projects guilt and accordingly posits it by itself. And if guilt is posited actually, freedom posits it by itself. If this is not kept in mind, freedom is confused in a clever way with something entirely different, with force.” [Concept of Anxiety, Kindle 1978]

At first glance this seems an unlikely result.   Why doesn’t freedom have to do with numerous factors other than itself: with constraints for example?  Why doesn’t the freedom of the alcoholic have to do with his disease for example, or the freedom of someone who is the victim of propaganda have to do with the government that deludes him?   Kierkegaard however does not pull his punches.  If freedom does not have to do with anything other than itself, then it follows everything we have to do with in our attempt to be free, is nothing other than a fall-out of our freedom.  Kierkegaard embraces this view and says, counter-intuitively that the free individual feels responsible for the whole world.  

“Guilt is a more concrete conception, which becomes more and more possible in the relation of possibility to freedom. At last it is as if the guilt of the whole world united to make him guilty, and, what is the same, as if in becoming guilty he became guilty of the guilt of the whole world. Guilt has the dialectical character that it does not allow itself to be transferred, but whoever becomes guilty also becomes guilty of that which occasioned the guilt. For guilt never has an external occasion, and whoever yields to temptation is himself guilty of the temptation.” (Concept of Anxiety, Kindle Locations 2002-2006). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

The two views — that freedom only has to do with itself and that whoever is tempted is guilty of his own temptation — are two instances of the same thesis, one put positively, the other put negatively.    To see how this works, supposing I am tempted to gossip about my friend, in order to keep the conversation at a party lively.  I could give into the temptation and do it, or realize I care about him enough, and endure being thought a boring conversationalist.   The thesis that freedom really only has to do with itself means that if I gossip about my friend the real explanation is that I am trying to avoid the vulnerability and pain of the situation.  I am not dealing with an external force or inner fact — a stressful day, a callous office environment, or my gossipy character — but with my own freedom which by its nature includes the possibility of evasion and self-deception.   If I give in to the temptation and gossip what I have given into is a temptation to avoid risk and vulnerability that I could have stood up to.    Freedom and sin expand backwards in time and outwards in my social world, so that the more I think about my life, the more I see facing vulnerability or evading vulnerability everywhere I look.  Although there may be facts about me that are not relevant to my freedom they cease to be irrelevant once I know about them.  Therefore I am responsible for my whole world and never face an opponent other than me.

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