3.b.1 – What does freedom mean?

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March 17, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti


What does freedom mean?

The word freedom basically means having the capacity and possibility of acting without hindrance, restrictions and limitations. In this definition of freedom we see two basic aspects: the chance to do something and the possibility that something prevents it; according to the different cases, one or the other perspective is highlighted: talking about freedom of action without reference to possible obstacles, or talking about freedom from something, stressing the dangers that may threaten it. Therefore an increase in our ability to act always involves an increase in our freedom and vice versa; similarly the overcoming or the emergence of any obstacle or limit implies respectively an increase or decrease of freedom.
According to the cases, the word freedom takes many different shades of meaning; especially important is the law or legal freedom, which we have when Law acknowledges our faculty to act, expressly authorizes our behavior or at least doesn’t forbids it, as is the case of freedom of thought, of the press, expression, movement, religion etc…
To the previous one, it often opposes the actual freedom, that is when our action is practically possible and has no consequences that would discouraged us, not even if prohibited by law, either because the penalty is small or because it is certain (or almost) not to be discovered.
By combining these two types of freedom, we can obtain a number of cases to be kept in mind:
– when the freedom of law makes legal the actual freedom, there is a real freedom that is practically feasible (freedom to pursue a commercial enterprise in a economic – legal favorable context; freedom of working as an employee to ensure a dignified life)
– when the freedoms of law does not correspond to the actual freedom, due to large obstacles to overcome, making our action non convenient, there is an apparent freedom; this appearance, just led by its legality, can bring to self damaging behavior (freedom to pursue a commercial enterprise in a tangle of red tape and administrative burden, of heavy taxation and social security expenses, of difficulty to access to credit, lack of skilled workers and decrease in consumption; freedom to carry out an activity in employment endangering the personal safety, carrying out alienating tasks and suffering harassment of various kinds);
when we have only the freedom of law in the absence of any actual freedom, because our action is totally impractical (or will become so in short time), there is a false freedom (freedom to pursue a commercial activity with the license of authorization, competition from illegal operators, extortion from criminal organizations, funding at usury rates, advance taxes on hypothetical income and contributions due also in case of negative income; freedom to perform an activity as employee whose remuneration does not allow to have a house and to support ourselves, in short that does not allow to be independent).


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