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Freedom of Excellence vs Freedom of Indifference

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There are a colossal of definitions that can be borne from the word freedom. To our forefathers, freedom meant disentangling themselves from colonial reign. To women in Arabic countries, freedom meant being able to perch themselves behind the wheel of a car. To South Africans, freedom meant being able to sit next to a white person during a church sermon. To black people in Texas, freedom meant being able to secure loans and properties despite the color of their skin. To a millennial, freedom means being able to attend raves while at their parent’s home without worrying whether they would be attending their funeral next.
All these perceptions towards the term freedom can be narrowed down to two philosophical referrals; freedom of excellence and freedom of indifference. There have been different people overtime who have come up with diverse thoughts on what freedom really entails.

Did you know that there is a group of people who believe that explaining our actions through the term “human nature” is complete rubbish? They even have a brand, the “nominalists”. Apparently they believe that human nature is simply a name we give to our common day to day experiences. According to them, the only thing that exists are particulars, our choices.
What exactly is freedom of excellence and freedom of indifference and how do we coexist within these two concepts of freedom?

Freedom of Excellence

This thought on freedom was adapted from St. Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican known as the “Angelic Doctor”. His concept of the term freedom is that humans should strive to capture human excellence in that our choices should lead to the happiness and destiny fulfilment of fellow humans. To him, real freedom meant upholding virtues.

This means that our will is tied to our reasoning. For example, when you are in a matatu and you slide the window open to discard an empty bottle. Most of us don’t even think twice on the deed. The truth in the matter is that that mundane bottle can lead to a gory accident, something that would have been avoided if perhaps you took time to reason before exercising your will.

But this is not exactly as simple as it sounds. People are more inclined to execute actions that bring them fulfilment. It is easier to stick a piece of grinded gum under a seat than to properly wrap it and locating a disposal bin. This does not mean we cannot work towards adapting this concept of freedom.

Freedom of Indifference

William Ockham is sort of a celebrity in the philosophical realm. The monk spearheaded the school of thought surrounding nominalism. He believed that universal concepts and principles/virtues only existed in our minds. That they did not exist in reality. This idea set the ball rolling for immense trouble centuries after the death of William. In fact, one Catholic analyst of moral history describes William’s concept of freedom as, “the first atomic explosion of the modern era.” He goes on to say that this was not a physical explosion but a psychic one.

To William and the supporters of his theory, freedom lies in choice. Will is everything, it is what asserts who you are, it is the well from which you draw power from. Thus the term freedom of indifference. You see with this concept, one does not take time to think through their choices, one simply makes a decision and follows through with it. The ripples of your choice don’t bother you as long as you have met your own needs. In the words of Hasley, freedom of indifference surrounds; me, myself and I.

Freedom of excellence vs freedom of indifference

As much as we would like to associate ourselves with freedom of excellence rather than indifference, we mostly find ourselves serving under the latter. That is why it is easy to cut a long line or take a bribe on account of “I need the money ”. All in all Aquinas believed in human growth, the ability of humans to perceive freedom as a means of ensuring other people’s bliss.

Are you willing to shift your actions at the expense of your own comfort? Take it one day at a time, the ripple effect is worth it.


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