Freedom: Its History, Nature, and Varieties

Freedom: Its History, Nature, and Varieties

Freedom: Its History, Nature, and Varieties

Freedom: Its History, Nature, and Varieties

Excerpt

The subject of human freedom is one which raises fundamental issues about the nature of man and his goals. Do men really wish to have a wide measure of freedom to choose and to determine their own lives? Would they not be happier without the burdens of such freedom? Can they be trusted to use such freedom wisely?

In the literature of Western civilization, Fyodor Dostoevsky has provided one of the most famous discussions of these basic questions. In a chapter of his novel The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky narrates a conversation between two of the central characters, Ivan Karamazov and his younger brother, Alyosha. For the novel as a whole, Ivan and Alyosha represent contrasting types. Ivan is primarily an intellectual who portrays the problems of one who has become sceptical of traditional beliefs and faiths, whereas Alyosha is primarily a man of faith, training for a future career as a Christian priest. At the point in the novel from which the reading selection is taken, Ivan has written a story about the Grand Inquisitor and he proceeds to tell it to Alyosha.

Ivan sets the scene of his tale in Spain of the sixteenth century. He imagines Christ returning to earth and meeting a cardinal of the church, the Grand Inquisitor, who has been responsible for burning a hundred heretics on the day before. The Grand Inquisitor recognizes Christ, imprisons him, and then explains why Christ must also be sentenced to death by fire.

In the eyes of the Grand Inquisitor, Christ's heresy consists in the value which he placed upon man's freedom of choice and conscience. The Grand Inquisitor reviews Christ's three temptations and notes that in each case Christ could have chosen to enslave men and thereby make them happy but did not do so for the sake of leaving them free. When Christ, in the first temptation, would not turn stones into bread, he thwarted the desire of men to have some one to worship. When Christ next refused to prove he was the son of God by flinging himself from the top of a temple and being saved by angels, he rejected the needs of men for "miracle, mystery, and authority." Finally, when Christ would not take the kingdoms of the world, he turned down the opportunity to give men unity and peace on earth. For the Grand Inquisitor, men are weak by nature and the true lover of humanity must correct Christ's work by removing their freedom and giving them "all that man seeks on earth--that is, some one to worship, some one to keep his conscience, and some means of uniting all in one unanimous and harmonious ant-heap. . . ."

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