Philosophy has always had a high opinion of itself. A lot of philosophers were saying that the main reason why they studied philosophy in the first place is because they wanted to not only study how the human mind works and arrives at the truth.
They think that that’s too limited. They think that that is too shallow. Instead, they’re looking for the big fish to fry. They’re looking for the big picture items, and of course, one of the biggest issues that philosophy claims to address is the concept of meaning.
Why are we here? What are we about? What is the point of life? Why do people die? Why is there so much suffering? And so on and so forth.
And underlying all of this is the concept of human choice and human action. In other words, the human will is supposedly able to make certain choices and certain calls throughout a person’s life that can lead to certain outcomes.
On a common sense basis, this makes all the sense in the world. For example, if you chose to marry the wrong person, your life might be a living hell. You might not be enjoying life all that much right now. Similarly, if you went to the right school, you might have a better job or you might be very, very rich or very happy.
Well, at least that’s what a lot of people think. And, interestingly enough, this concept of freedom that underlies this whole discussion has been kicked around by a lot of philosophers since the time of Plato and Socrates.
For Socrates, personal freedom is really all about self awareness. In other words, there is really no right or wrong answer. As long as you went through the right process of explaining the answer to yourself, you’re good to go.
He’s kind of like the philosophical version of the geometry teacher you had in high school. Your teacher really did not care whether you had the right answer or not. It doesn’t really matter whether the right answer is 90 degrees or 45 degrees. Your teacher is more concerned with you showing your work so he or she can see whether you went through the right process to get to the answer.
Well, fast forward to today and philosophy now really is not about freedom because even the whole concept of free will, conscious thinking and human volition are up in the air, thanks to the work of philosophers like Derrida.
He was saying that since we are trapped by the powers of symbolism and, by necessity, the logic that flows from that, who’s to know what is real? Who’s to know what the difference is? And a lot of this really flows from the earlier work of Immanuel Kant.
Kant was saying that there are certain things in life that you really can’t know, and everything else is really just an educated guess. Everything else is really positioning. And, as certain as mental logical processes may appear and may seem at a certain level, if you look deep enough, nothing is really certain because everything can be repositioned a certain way. It really all boils down to your point of view.
The same confusion arose from Albert Einstein’s work on special relativity. Einstein said that there’s really no such thing as an absolute point because it is all relative. And this was proven by hardcore math.
So within that milieu or context, it’s easy to understand why people really doubt the concept of personal freedom now. It’s as if we’re trapped in this story that keeps repeating and calling itself history and it really leads to nothing much except depression, uncertainty and anxiety.
Pretty cheerful stuff, right? Well, that’s the reality we’re in.