Introduction-15

15. At this stage, the freedom of the will is arbitrariness (Willkür) and this involves two factors: (a) free reflection, abstracting from everything, and (b) dependence on a content and material given either from within or from without. Because this content, implicitly necessary as purpose, is at the same time qualified in the face of free reflection as possible, it follows that arbitrariness is contingency manifesting itself as will.

The idea which people most commonly have of freedom is that it is arbitrariness—the mean, chosen by abstract reflection, between the will wholly determined by natural impulses, and the will free absolutely. If we hear it said that the definition of freedom is ability to do what we please, such an idea can only be taken to reveal an utter immaturity of thought, for it contains not even an inkling of the absolutely free will, of right, ethical life, and so forth. Reflection, the formal universality and unity of self-consciousness, is the will’s abstract certainty of its freedom, but it is not yet the truth of freedom, because it has not yet got itself as its content and aim, and consequently the subjective side is still other than the objective; the content of this self-determination, therefore, also remains purely and simply finite. Instead of being the will in its truth, arbitrariness is more like the will as contradiction.

In the controversy carried on especially at the time of Wolff’s metaphysic as to whether the will were really free or whether the conviction of its freedom were only a delusion, it was arbitrariness which was in view. In opposition to the certitude of this abstract self-determination, determinism has rightly pointed to the content which, as something met with, is not contained in that certitude and so comes to it from outside, although ‘outside’ in this case means impulses, ideas, or, in general, consciousness so filled in one way or another that its content is not intrinsic to its self-determining activity as such. Since, then, arbitrariness has immanent in it only the formal element in willing, i.e. free self-determination, while the other element is something given to it, we may readily allow that, if it is arbitrariness which is supposed to be freedom, it may indeed be called an illusion. In every philosophy of reflection, like Kant’s, and Kant’s deprived of all its depth by Fries, freedom is nothing else but this empty self-activity.

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7 Responses to “Introduction-15”

  1. arybudhi Says:

    Indeed, the freedom of the will is arbitrariness (Willkür) or contingency and arbitrariness is more like the will as contradiction. Therefore, it is not a real meaning of freedom of will, i.e. an illusion. In this state, “(human) freedom is nothing else but this empty self-activity”.
    For instance, we can and may willing of anything freely as what our desires, impulse, or inclination want to be, but this freedom is just in willing activity, thus an empty self-activity. The fundamentalist will say that kind of empty self-activity is suspicious since it leads our crafting mind wild and make easy for evil interference. So better in this state we occupied our self-willing with willing to God presence (dzikir qalb, i.e. God’s presence in our heart-mind).

  2. P Says:

    What is the nature of freedom of will? The conceptualization of the freedom of will was a necessity for Hegel, as indeed without it, his critique of liberalism would not have been complete. “The liberals adopted a negative concept of liberty, according to which freedom consists in the absence of coercion and constraint; the communitarians had a positive concept of liberty, according to which freedom consists in performing definite actions, such as participating in public life”. (Beiser 2008, 226). Hegel’s Philosophy of Rights is an attempt to resolve these traditions into a single coherent philosophy of state. Hegel did not accept the liberal’s strictly negative conception of freedom for he thinks that it does not provide an exhaustive account. He identifies freedom with self determination or autonomy, the power to act on rational laws imposed on oneself as a rational being. Reflection, formal universality and unity of self consciousness is the will’s abstraction of freedom.
    Marx breaks from Hegel at this point. For him “freedom” is a meaningless word unless conceived in an altogether new sense, in his classless society.

  3. Anu Says:

    Hegel, in describing the finite will, is arguing against Kant, and the conception of freedom as an arbitrary exercise of self-determination. Hegel says that this is not freedom but unfreedom, because in the free reflection of the will, it is still dependent on and determined by content that it has no control over or understanding of. Thus, though reflection is the abstract certainty of the will of its freedom, it is not yet the truth of its freedom, because it does not have itself as its content in this scheme of things. Hegel’s conception of absolute freedom is absolute comprehension. Thus, the will needs to return to itself not only in the self-reflecting form but also with regard to grasping itself as its content. It is only when this is done that it becomes truly universal and attains freedom.

  4. avishek Says:

    One who is self-determined yet the only content of will/ determinations are his/ her impulses, appetites and desires, is whom Hegel would say to be possessing an ‘immediate or natural’ will (PR#11). Such a will does not act according to its rational nature, albeit it is capable of utilitarian rationality; Hegel admits that impulses can be compared and evaluated in the light of experience and selected on grounds of satisfaction or happiness (PR#20). The indeterminacy of the will in the absence of a truly rational criterion of choice constitutes ‘arbitrariness’ (Willkur). Such indeterminate, arbitrary will has sometimes been considered a paradigm of free will, but this is a serious mistake in Hegel’s view: ‘Arbitrariness implies that the content is made mine not by the nature of my will but by chance. Thus I am dependent on this content, and this is the contradiction lying in arbitrariness. The man in the street thinks he is free if it is open to him to act as he pleases, but his very arbitrariness implies that he is not free.’ (PR#15A)
    In other words, true freedom is ought to be ethical freedom and can only be achieved in an ethical community. The arbitrary will(s) of men do not coincide when they act capriciously, but are rather favourable to a Hobbesian state of ‘war of all against all’. So an orderly, structured society of natural men is in that sense impossible. Hegel regards ‘natural freedom’ as the freedom peculiar to such a state of nature; it is the only freedom which independent, egocentric and impulse-driven individuals can possibly have when they find themselves in a shared physical space. However, arbitrary choice has a place in a rational normative order, as Hegel admits in his account of civil society; in fact it is one of its fundamental constituents.

  5. Nalini Says:

    Freedom is not something that can be achieved in the present society today-only in a utopian society can something like this be even thought of. The common definition of freedom is superficial, I agree. ‘Empty self cavity’ can be looked at as something positive. In fact, a vaccuum is required to calm the mind and bring it to a state of stability.

  6. zubin Says:

    Hegel now begins to think about the nature of freedom of the will. For him, at this stage in his argument, the freedom that the will enjoys is merely one of arbitrariness. By this he means that it is decided by the finite individual/subjective impulses that are always contingent on the individual. Hence, this “arbitrariness is contingency manifesting itself as will.” Hegel is at pains here to delineate his notion of the will–and its freedom–from commonsensical notions of freedom as being “the ability to do what we please”. This latter conception could not be further from what Hegel claims he is trying to get at. Hegel wishes to tie his conception of reason to something larger than this that can account for his notion of right, of will and of “ethical life”.

  7. Udayakumar Says:

    This is a key moment in Hegel’s philosophy. He strongly holds that freedom is not simply choosing what we please to do or an empty self activity. Rather the truth of freedom essentially lies in moving out of the formal act of willing and thereby coming to terms with the possibility of making the freedom actual.

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