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What is Freedom Really?

March 24, 2011

Rousseau states that we only obtain civil freedom once we enter the social contract. Society will enforce that we obey by the social contract because that is the only way we can be free.  So in a sense, we are forced to be free as he says in the following quote ” Thus, in order for the social compact to avoid being an empty formula, it tacitly entails commitment-which alone can give force to the others–that whoever refuses to obey the general will will be forced to do so by the entire body. This means merely he will forced to be free.”(Rousseau, 434).  Doesn’t really sound like true freedom to me? However, what is freedom really? Is it simply non-interference from a higher power such as the government or is it freedom to protect an individual from arbitrary domination by another person or people . This freedom from domination or republican freedom is championed by the late philospher JS Mill.

http://savannahnow.com/west-chatham/2011-03-01/south-carolina-prostitute-arrested-gas-station(Link won’t embed)

This article somehow appeared in my yahoo news and I felt I could relate it to Rousseau and his theory.

For instance, Rousseau would probably argue that selling yourself into prostitution is immoral and would violate the social contract because “one cannot harm one of the members without attacking the whole body.” (Rousseau, 433) However, this isn’t true freedom is it? If someone wants to be a prostitute, why shouldnt they be allowed to? Who are they harming? Possibly themselves but why should it be government’s role to aggressively protect the lives of every individual. Rousseau will frankly tell the aspiring prostitute, tough luck. This is because his theory cares less about how much he intervenes within one’s life or suppresses one freedom to do as they please and more about the protection of one’s freedom on a larger scale. The act of selling oneself into prostitution rids that person of their personal freedom and gives another control over their being, thus violating their own right to liberty that they acquire once in the civil society. Rousseau does not entertain that one would even want to do such thing and believes that one who would “enjoy the rights of a citizen without wanting to fulfill the duties of a subject” (Rousseau, 432) would be a great injustice and would cripple the society. Thus the woman enjoying her freedom as a citizen is abusing that freedom that government gives her by using it in a way that causes her to no longer be free. Yes this is wordy but basically in the case of prostitution I believe Rousseau would argue one should not have the freedom to choose not to be free.

Thus Rousseau does not preach absolute freedom and instead believes the government should force their own version of freedom on the people for their own protection. It may seem like he treats the citizens as incompetent children but I think hes right in not granting true freedom because even acts that are harmless can be counterproductive to the operation of a just civil society. In addition some people may not know what is best for themselves but the government they signed a social contract with may be the best entity to control their freedom.

Obviously the woman in South Carolina, does not have the freedom to and breaks the law by prostituting herself at a gas station but in an idealistic world where freedom is paramount, should we permit such acts. Should Rousseau? Is Rousseau’s interference in individual freedom moral?

What are your thoughts?

What is freedom really?

One Comment
  1. cfrankel permalink
    March 24, 2011 1:07 PM

    I agree with your criticism of Rousseau. Forcing to someone into freedom doesn’t really make any sense to me. In my opinion, freedom is the ability to make your own choices, while abiding by the laws of course. Also, having the same opportunity as everyone else in life.

    The article about the prostitute makes me really think about whether or not prostitution should or should not be legal. I mean in one sense, it is the woman’s own body and she’s not harming anyone by soliciting her body for money. However, it does present a bad moral image on not only herself, but our country and culture as a whole. How would people view our society if we allowed women to freely walk down the street in the middle of the night offering sexual favors for money? It doesn’t seem like an image we want to portray to the rest of the world. I would have to agree with Rousseau on this issue. It is more important to think about the grand scheme of things than one’s individual desire to sell themselves.

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