Quora answer: Are the ideas of responsibility/duty and freedom of an individual at loggerheads?

Apr 08 2013

In Kant Freedom and Responsibility are two sides of the same coin. We can only have freedom when we take responsibility and fulfill our duty. Doing what ever we want and not fulfilling our obligations is only illusory freedom, it is in fact the worst form of slavery, slavery to our desires. A good example of this is in Bernstein’s lectures on Kant at BernsteinTapes.com where he pushes the foot of a student. When ever we push someone else, we say sorry because we have taken away from their freedom of action. We are responsible not to push others around causally and we want the same respect from others who we want to not push us around as if we are an object. Heidegger has this also in Being and Time where he talks about how our touching a wall is not the same as contact between two objects. We can only be free ourselves if others do not push us around, i.e. render us to be mere objects, and thus respect our freedom to move ourselves. Our freedom to move is precisely given by the respect that others give us by giving us freedom to move, and that only happens if each of us responsibly gives others the freedom to move themselves. The interplay of responsibility and freedom can be seen in this very basic form of dignity and respect that we must give others in order to get it back ourselves. It is precisely this that is taken away from us in war, crime and in accidents where harm is caused. So the same principle applies on the large scale as the micro scale from the view of Kant and that is the categorical imperative in action. Only do what you can generalize to a law without creating chaos and violating the freedom of others and yourself. This is what you are responsible for doing yourself. And it is your duty to preserve this for others against those that would violate this principle, and so it is an active responsibility to preserve freedom, and dignity, and the rights of others, not just a passive assertion of self-control in a world where no one else is exerting self-control. It only works if it is mutual and where the free commons is preserved.

It is significant that the occupy movement used this term “occupy” which implicitly accepted their role as objects that “occupy” space and thus implicitly accepted their role of being pushed around by the Financial institutions. Human beings dwell, and it is significant that via foreclosure this dwelling is being threatened by Banks. Being pushed out of  their homes people felt that their most effective protest was to become the objects that the banks had made them out to be. See Building, Dwelling, Thinking by Heidegger.



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