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Intercultural
Lexicon

Constitution

Constitution is a key category, one of the most important, of modern political and legal theory.

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The Honor Code

Appeals to personal honor often seem to belong to the past, conjuring images of gentlemen in wigs dueling at dawn; or worse, of blood-soaked Achaeans storming the walls of Troy.

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Modernity

The concept of modernity can be analysed from various points of view. A sociological perspective sees modernity as the historical era arising from feudal society’s profound transformation processes and that, starting with the Protestant Reformation, sees the emergence of the new bourgeoisie..

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Islamism

Islamism is a highly militant mobilizing ideology selectively developed out of Islam’s scriptures, texts, legends, historical precedents, organizational experiences and present-day grievances, all as a defensive reaction against the long-term erosion of Islam’s primacy over the public...

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Refugees

Transnational migrations and global interdependence challenge the liberalism of western countries, which is becoming increasingly national and less universal.

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Reset
A month of ideas.
Giancarlo Bosetti Editor-in-chief
Association for dialogue and intercultural understanding
Intercultural Lexicon
IT Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Freedom

Enzo Di Nuoscio

The philosophical justification of the idea of freedom is one of those enigmas all great philosophers have addressed, often concluding their imposing attempts by acknowledging the impossibility to access a firm Archimedean point placing freedom on a incontrovertible theoretical pedestal.


All this to the extent that not only an empiricist philosopher such as Hume defined it “the most difficult metaphysical question”, but also a systematic thinker such as Leibniz did not hesitate to define the philosophical problem of conciliation between freedom and necessity as a “labyrinth” in which “our reason often gets lost”. And Voltaire simply ridiculed the search for all attempts to find a solution, allowing Pangloss, in Candide, to say that the dichotomy freedom/necessity is a false problem, since “it is necessary to be free”.

Rather than a false problem, it is a rationally indecidible problem, as Kant proves in the third of his antinomies of reason. If it is impossible to ‘found’ reason, one can certainly indicate reasons for defending it from its enemies. The history of philosophical thought provides us with a vast catalogue of reasons, starting with the theological ones (freedom is a gift of God that human beings cannot tamper with) to those of the doctrine of natural law (freedom is congenital in “human nature”, and therefore it is not alienable).

Among the various theses presented, the attempt to justify the evolution of freedom, based on a fallible concept of human knowledge and on an individualistic and evolutionistic interpretation of social order, was perhaps the most convincing and most functional reasoning for the politics of dialogue. If individuals are fallible and “ignorant” (in the sense that they ignore an enormous quantity of knowledge necessarily dispersed among all individuals) and if it is only thanks to spontaneous social order that it develops while respecting the rules of the State of Law, and they manage to achieve projects for which they do not individually possess the necessary knowledge, then freedom becomes the best habitat for solving the broadest possible variety of problems.

In allowing the realization of the highest possible number of compatible interactions, freedom allows not only the most effective distribution but also the most effective production of knowledge. The more individuals are free and the more situations will arise resulting from their interactions, consequently increasing dispersed knowledge; this will result in accentuating cognitive asymmetries, creating new opportunities for inter-individual exchanges and so on. Free behaviour will therefore result in a particular evolutionary effectiveness: there will be increased possibilities for spontaneous cooperation and also lead to a group’s increased problem solving capabilities. Therefore, we must be free because we are “ignorant” and fallible and we will be “rich” precisely because we are free. It is in fact certainly not a coincidence that those enjoying greater well-being are the peoples who historically have enjoyed greater freedom.

A similar epistemological and evolutionist perspective does not found freedom – which in the end always remains an ethical option, hence a choice of the conscience – but it makes us aware of its presuppositions (fallibility and “ignorance”) and its consequences (economic: the market; political: an “open society”), so that such a choice may be made with “open eyes”, so that in other terms, accepting or rejecting freedom becomes an informed decision. It also allows us to understand what a great resource lies in diversity (of ideas, cultures, situations, environment) also within the world of culture, as well as that of biology; when it is present respecting the principle of tolerance, it is the best resource for confronting uncertainty and for exploring the unknown. Diversity, obviously, that can be affirmed only where there is freedom.

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