Posted by: gcarkner | November 4, 2013

Freedom, Identity and the Good

Freedom, Identity and the Good

The quest for freedom is central to some major expressions of modern self-consciousness. This blog series will explore a fresh paradigm for freedom in late modernity, a re-thinking of the context of the self and the rich contours of the self. Michel Foucault in particular brings the issue of freedom to the centre of the discussion of moral self-constitution. Now it is time to draw the discussion into some overall conclusions, with a hopeful trajectory of the future. It will include some reflection on a way forward for the moral self, following from the three-way engagement between Foucault, Taylor and three theologians. Three propositions will try to capture the new insights garnered, and offer projections towards future directions, under the overall theme of a quest for redeemed freedom. They cannot be fully defended here, but it is very useful for final reflection and future thought, exploration and debate within this particular moral discourse of the constitution of the moral self. C. Schwöbel (1995) articulates the trajectory of this conclusion.

The redemption of freedom is liberation from freedom for freedom, from the destructive consequences of absolute self-constituted freedom and for the exercise of redeemed and created human freedom which is called to find fulfilment in communion with God … Redeemed freedom is … essentially finite, relative freedom, freedom which is dependent on finding its orientation in the disclosure of the truth of the gospel … freedom as created, as the freedom of creatures whose freedom is not constituted by them but for them. (p. 78)

Redeemed freedom is defined by this writer as a recovery of the language and horizon of the moral good, the social horizon of the neighbour, and the theological horizon of trinitarian goodness-freedom. It requires that the self turn from flight to courageously face the moral good, the Other and God, in order to rescue freedom from some of its most negative possibilities. Here are the three important propositions.

Proposition One: Redeemed freedom means that one refuses freedom as an ontological ground of ethics, and embraces a new definition of freedom within an ontology of the moral good. Taylor’s horizon of the good, seen in previous posts, is offered as an alternative to Foucault’s horizon of aesthetic-freedom.

Proposition Two: Redeemed freedom by definition takes on a distinctively communal character; it is contextualized within a discussion and relationships between fellow interlocutors, against the backdrop of larger narrative which makes sense of self. Individual freedomt gives up ground to community and makes space for the Other in order to avoid some of the pitfalls of radical autonomy and provide for a richer moral, social and ultimately political experience.

Proposition Three: Redeemed freedom flourishes within a transcendent trinitarian horizon. Trinitarian divine goodness proves to be a fruitful plausibility structure within which to think differently about freedom and the moral self. Trinitarian goodness-freedom answers some of the concerns in the Foucauldian self and reveals new opportunities for identity, discovery, transformation and exploration. It also adds sophistication and meaning to some of Taylor’s categories without offering the final answer on the discussion. It is in the life of Jesus as a member of the Trinity that one can visualize this goodness-freedom dynamic most dramatically.

~Gordon E. Carkner, PhD Philosophical Theology

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