Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Freedom to Lie

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Freedom to Lie

Article excerpt

1. The Ideal of Freedom and the Soclal Contract

The principle of the modern world is freedom of subjectivity.-Hegel'

Hegel's assertion that freedom is the principle that determines subjectivity resonates with the feelings of every protester against dictatorial regimes or with everyone indignant about the abuses of the 1 percent of the population controlling the flow of capital. The inference is dear: the desire for freedom is an overwhelming, unquestionable characteristic of modernity. Such a desire is, according to Lord Acton, not simply private because "liberty is not a means to a higher end, it is itself the highest political end."2 This desire for freedom is shared by the political community. As such, freedom is not understood merely as a legally sanctioned condition, but moreover as a right. Indeed, according to Kant, "Freedom ... is the only original right belonging to every man by virtue of his humanity."3 Freedom is an ideal that is shared by everyone-no one in their right mind would like to be unfree, imprisoned. Thus, freedom functions as an ideal that determines the human as an individual and as a member of a community.

I note here-in order to return to it later-a double exclusion that the presupposition of freedom as such an ideal institutes. First, there are those who are legally excluded from freedom because they are not in a position to rationally conduct themselves. For instance, it can be legally posited that civil liberties are not extended to beasts or those who are not in their "right mind." There is an exclusion from the law. Second, there are those who are placed in a position of unfreedom through the exercise of government. They could be criminals incarcerated following due judicial process, or citizens deprived of their freedom by a tyrannical regime. In any case, the second kind of exclusion points to a sphere of illegality, either on the part of those who are deprived of their freedom, or on the part of those who deprive others of their freedom. There is an exclusion by the law. The question then arises whether freedom can exist without such a double exclusion from and by the law. Could it be that such exclusions are not just an undesired effect of freedom in modernity, but actually produce modern freedom? The figure of lying, as I will argue, is uniquely suited to interrogate modern freedom because it is positioned at the threshold of its two exclusions. As a consequence, lying makes it possible to think of freedom in another way-not as an ideal instituted by a double exclusion but as power.4

For the double exclusion of modern freedom to come to the fore, a presentation of the historical context of freedom as an ideal is necessary. The position held by Hegel-as well as Idealism in its entirety-that subjectivity characterizes only the modern man raises the question whether freedom was a desire of the pre-modern subject. Even more emphatically, did freedom exist before modernity? The historical grounding then leads to ontological considerations. In addition, placing liberty alongside freedom is, significantly, characteristic only of modernity. The ancient Greeks did not know of this distinction, just as they as they had not arrived at the distinction between subject and subjectivity. Thus, the ontological question of freedom is, at the same time and ineluctably, a political issue. The freedom of the individual is linked to the liberty of the citizens. Finally, linking freedom to right points of necessity to the fissure between right and law, which defines the modern conception of the state. Right is separated from law in the natural law tradition that finds in turn its political articulation in the social contract. The historical context, then, leads to the ontological and the political. This interweaving can be understood as the trajectory leading to the modern conception of politics, especially as it is articulated in the dominant modern paradigm of the social contract, which is crucial to understanding freedom as an ideal. …

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