You just chose to start reading this post. You were physically able to do so, or else you wouldn’t have reached this point. You knew that you could click on the link in order to start reading it. You weren’t held back by these potential limitations; it was possible to make your decision.
But there are other things that could limit your ability to make that decision or any other decision. A simple example can demonstrate this point. For this example, I introduce you to Jack.
Jack lives in the Town of Motzy. He always has an abundance of ice cream and carrots in his fridge. When Jack is home, it is always possible for Jack to eat either ice cream or carrots. He has freedom in his eating decision if the story ends there.
But the story continues. One day, the Motzy Town Board decides that all of its citizens will eat healthy foods at all times. The board members want to strongly enforce this idea, so they decide to publicly execute any Motzy citizen who eats ice cream. They even install cameras in Jack’s house to make sure no ice cream enters his mouth.
In a sense, Jack still has the freedom to eat ice cream. However, since the consequence for making that decision is severe, it is unlikely that Jack will make that decision. He is essentially forced to choose carrots over ice cream.
In this example, the outside influence (the town board) enforces a negative consequence (the death penalty) that restricts Jack’s ability to choose an option (eating ice cream). This example demonstrates one major thing that limits the ability to make a decision – people.
People can restrict this ability in several ways. They can enforce a punishment for making a particular choice, like in the ice cream example. Or they can make that choice impossible, like a policeman who disables a prisoner’s choice to run away by locking him in handcuffs.
People can cause these restrictions either personally, or by creating and enforcing rules. In the examples above, the policeman personally put the prisoner in handcuffs, and the town board created and enforced the rule that prohibited its citizens from eating ice cream.
Whether the restrictions occur through personal actions or through rules, those restrictions cause some loss of freedom. In order to explain this point, I need to introduce a specific definition of freedom. This definition is as follows:
Freedom – “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.”
This definition starts with doing “as one wants”, like the starting point described in my last post (all possible options can be chosen from). The definition then adds the phrase “without hindrance or restraint”.
This phrase relates to the examples of restrictions I’ve given in this post. Without restrictions, all possible options can be chosen. With restrictions, some of those possible options can no longer be chosen, and there is a restraint in the ability to do as one wants. Since the given definition of freedom does not allow for restraint, freedom is lost when a choice has restrictions. If these restrictions went away, freedom would increase.
If having absolute freedom means that you can choose between everything that you want to do, then this freedom is nearly unacheivable. Some things that you want to do may be impossible, and some things you want to do may be unable to be chosen because of a restriction.
This idea leads to an important point about freedom. I will get to this point as the series continues.