Kants view of freedom Essay

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Category: Immanuel Kant

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According to The Philosophers lighthouse, Immanuel Kant challenges the idea of freedom generally, saying that it cannot be proven that freedom is inherent in human nature. According to him freedom is a basic concept that must be presupposed for a being to be thought of as rational. He also says that there is a close knit relationship between our thinking on freedom and morality, he says that freedom is present because we have placed upon ourselves moral laws and are confident in their compliance, and that moral laws are present because we have placed upon ourselves the privilege of free will. Therefore, one exists precisely because of the other.  Kant also questions the extent of individual freedom in the presence of a superior power.

He was alluding to the argument that complete freedom is to be found within the mental faculty, as one cannot be stopped from thinking within his mind. However Kant challenges this perceived ability of man think for himself, questioning how much and how well man would think, without communicating their thoughts with others. Am much as one might hold an opinion about something, the state might restrict him from expressing this opinion which will negate the purpose of having the opinion in the first place. Therefore as one might argue that their freedom to think cannot be curtailed by a superior power, Kant draws to attention the possibility of the power restricting the individuals freedom to communicate, which he portrays as having central influence on their thinking. (Cline, 2006)

Kant seems to stress here that complete autonomy or freedom is to an extent unattainable, as the one form of personal will that is clearly out of reach of which ever power there might be, freedom of thought, is still under the influence of the same state, albeit indirectly, and concludes with the remark, Freedom is, therefore, only an idea of reason whose objective reality is in itself questionable.

 Hegels view on freedom

Hegels take on freedom is that it is the destination of historical human progression, starting with bondage and which is based on rational consciousness. It is where the individuals subjective desires are integrated with the desires of the state, where individual will is inferior to that of the state.

Hegel demonstrated this theory of freedom by dividing history into three phases, starting with the orient phase wherein only the ruler was free and all other subjects were inferior to him. The people in this period according to him are not aware of the freedom of their spirit, and because of this ignorance, they are not free. Hegel might have been alluding to the emperors of ancient China The second stage, an example of the Greek and Roman civilizations, is where some members of the community, besides the ruler, were free. However in this phase there are certain exceptions to this freedom, citizens are free, slaves are not.

The slaves understood this accepted it, as did the Romans. Thus, as in the orient phase, freedom was limited for these people not only because of not having information, but also having the wrong information. The third phase started with the early Christians, who recognized that all humans are free by virtue of being simply human, and through their evangelism spread the knowledge of this freedom for all concept. This is stage is evident today in contemporary societies, especially democracies which have fundamental freedoms within their constitutions. (Urmson and Jonathan Rƒe, 1991)

Marxs view on freedom

Marxs thoughts are predominantly in an economic context, wherein he examines social systems that curtail or encourage personal freedoms. Marx laid out his thoughts in two scenarios.  First, he examines the capitalist society, and its effect on the freedom of the people. According to him, capitalism is a social system that involves workers who ca supply labour and capital owners who employ the workers.

These capital owners, due to their economic status also influence the power structure of the state, ensuring that they get the best labour at the cheapest cost from the workers, which in turn means that the workers are completely dependent on the capital owners, as they cannot raise enough to obtain capital of their own. This position taken by Marx portrays capitalism as a social system that is counterproductive as far as propagating human freedom is concerned. He stresses that the workers cannot enjoy any freedom as long as their economic well being is not within their control.

The worst evil according to Marx is the illusion that one is actually benefiting oneself when working whereas in reality he is just enriching his employer. Marx then contrasts capitalism with communism, in which the people collectively own the means of production and resources required. He pointed that in this setting one could go about work without the fear of being exploited. Communism, also overcame the problem of monotony characteristic of the capitalist system. (Hallas, 2002)

Obstacles to be overcomeKant

As mentioned earlier, Kant placed significant importance in the relationship between morality and freedom.

Therefore to ensure freedom for all, emphasis is should be placed on the content of our moral codes, its uniformity and objectivity. This is best illustrated when the morals of one community differ significantly with that of another in which there might arise conflict when the more powerful community, either economically or otherwise tries to impose it morals on the other. This would be an infringement of the latters freedom. Checks also have to put on the state to guard against its involvement in the private freedoms of its citizens, as Kant acknowledged that the state is in a position of absolute power and can deny its subjects their freedoms.


Hegels biggest obstacle to freedom as can be seen in his theory of history is information. True freedom keightwill always prove to be elusive for as long as the person concerned does not understand and appreciate his right to freedom. In most cases that individuals freedom is being abused there is a lot of ignorance on the part of the abused. This ignorance may be voluntary or induced, is which the superior power will deliberately keep the subjects in the dark to ensure that they never harbor any thoughts of autonomy. Any effort to liberate those suffering oppression should specifically target their education on their right to freedom, as this will ensure that they have the capacity to demand for their freedom.


Kamala Sarup in her article Capitalism Vs Communism: Lessons From History, expresses Marxs case as more complicated as both of his insights have negative and positive elements. On the one hand, capitalism is known to increase the entire communitys wellbeing through the incentive of competition, and one receives benefits proportional to their contribution. When one is working exclusively for ones sake, he is bound to work harder. To remove the risk of contradiction, even when employed one still enjoys the his entire effort by himself however meager the pay may be.

This is in contrast to communism, wherein the production is shared equally among all the people irrespective of their contribution to production, a situation which might lead to some people living off the effort of others. On the other hand capitalism often results in the majority of the resources being distributed amongst a few individuals, a situation that is effectively taken care of in a communist arrangement. The best policy is therefore a mixed society, where all or most of the advantages of both systems can be inculcated.


The best strategy according to me appears to be Hegels approach. This is because Kants method appears to be too vague and technical for common people to grasp whereas Marxs is filled with contradictions that could potentially complicate efforts to establish freedom for all. In addition, Hegels solution seems to answer the questions raised about by the other two theorists or example, informed communities are better placed to evaluate reform and formulate their moral codes, which according to Kant are interdependent with freedom. Informed people can also identify instances when the state infringes in their right to freedom and take the necessary steps to rectify the situation. An informed society will also be able to decide on relative benefits and costs of each of the systems discussed by Marx to come up with one that is comprehensive and takes into consideration the needs of all parties concerned.


Cline, Austin. Your Guide to Agnosticism/Atheism.   http://atheism.about.com/od/weeklyquotes/a/kant01.htm

Hallas, Duncan. The legacy of Karl Marx Viewed on 15th March, 2008 http://www.socialistworker.org/2002-2/423/423_08_HallasOnMarx.shtm The philosophers lighthouse. Hegels thoughts on freedom. Viewed on 15th March, 2008 : http://library.thinkquest.org/18775/hegel/freeh.htm

The philosophers lighthouse. Kants thoughts on freedom. Viewed on 15th March, 2008 : http://library.thinkquest.org/18775/kant/freek.htm

Urmson, J. O. and Jonathan Rƒe, (1991) ed. The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy and Philosophers.

 London: Unman Hyman.

Capitalism Vs Communism: Lessons From History. Viewed on 15th March, 2008  http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0504/S00007.htm

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