Emergentism

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

One of the most fascinating topics in philosophy is the “mind-body” problem. In a material world, described by empirical sciences, mental phenomena like consciousness, subjectivity, reflection, etc. still strike quite as an oddity. It seems hard to describe first-personal mental states with the third-personal language of the physical sciences.

“Emergentism”, as I understand it here, in its mainstream version, is a unifying metaphysical theory of mental and physical phenomena. It holds that experimental sciences describe the world reliably and that nothing exists independently of its material form. However, depending on different levels of complexity, different assets of particles and contextual organizations, matter assumes different and respective properties. Aggregates present properties that their individual components lack (supervenience) and new “emergent properties” are irreducible to “more basic properties”: they can’t be explained exhaustively with them and they have a “causal force” of their own, independent of the causal force of “more basic properties”.

The ambition of emergentism is to explain consciousness and solve the mind-body problem with emergent properties. Just like the liquidity of water supervenes the properties of its single molecules, so does consciousness supervene billions of neurons. All mental phenomena are emergent properties of a particular organization of matter, they are irreducible and they participate to processes of causation “on their own”.

It is not my intention to question specific emergentist theories. However, I would like to propose a quartet of objections to its mainstream understanding, at least to open the path to different interpretations of the mind-body problem. Here they are:

  1. Underdetermination: Emergentism risks to put on the same scale completely disparate phenomena, like the liquidity of water and consciousness. Liquidity is about the states of matter and can be described as the outcome of specific interactions of particles. Consciousness, on the other hand, needs a “first personal scale” about the complexity of mental states and their degree of “unification” in a subjective point of view. I can’t imagine any explanatory chain connecting these two scales, and emergentism doesn’t provide any. If we abandon the idea of a scale, but still hold emergentism, emergent properties would be arbitrarily popping up here and there without any criterion other than weak analogies and without any actual theory. Either with or without a scale, emergentism seems to have a problem in determining the difference among emergent phenomena.
  2. Overdetermination: Emergentism gives a unified character to consciousness: consciousness is “one property”, just like liquidity. However, I wonder whether liquidity is indeed one single such property: what if we simply categorize a state of water that is much more complicated than what we perceive? We see liquid water becoming solid or a gas, and we need liquid water to drink. But don’t we see the redness of a tomato turning to brown or staying yellowish in the same way, also knowing that we need red tomatoes to eat? And isn’t the redness of a tomato the outcome of a particular reflection of light, just like the liquidity of water an outcome of a conformation of water molecules?
    What I am trying to say is that “liquidity” as “one single property” might just be an effect of how our senses developed over evolutionary time to spot drinkable water, but could indeed be much more complicated than that and far less unified. In the same way, consciousness might require an extremely complicated explanation accounting for interrelations between conscious beings, its coming in degrees and in different kinds. To say that consciousness is one single property without further elucidations, is to illicitly overdetermine it.
  3. Explanatory Powerlessness: Emergentism doesn’t give any actual explanation of how emergent properties arise, as part of the axiom of irreducibility. However, this attitude risks to “reify” labels, which might just be useful categories in reality and nothing more than that. Emergentism doesn’t really explain consciousness, it limits itself to postulate that at complexity X we obtain property Y, but it remains silent about the connection between X and Y, about what constitute the complexity of X and about what kind of property Y is. At best, emergentism tells us that the names we use for such things as liquidity or consciousness stand for concrete things, but more in the guise of a blind reassurance, rather than with explanatory power.
  4. Sidestepping: Emergentism sidesteps the big challenge of the mind-body problem: consciousness is first-personal, whereas matter and its properties can be described only third-personally. If consciousness becomes an emergent property of the brain, we should be able to describe it as a function, or one of its features, but we lose its first-personal character.

These are (roughly) the reasons why I am not yet an emergentist. As I said before, I am skeptical about the possibility of giving a unified solution to the mind-body problem. From my point of view, we have just a kaleidoscope of unified stories about the world: physics gives us one, chemistry another, and also biology, history, anthropology, sociology, etc. Sometimes, these stories are interlocking, but sometimes they just respectfully ignore each other. Most of them exclude consciousness from their explanations, usually because it is not needed. But consciousness is undoubtedly part of this world, and it is worth inquiring into its nature with appropriate tools, which are most probably not those of the empirical sciences (not even neurology).

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

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Biology

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

I feel pressure to justify my use of the term “biological” in my letters when talking about human behavior. Nowadays, conceptions of “the human” have become so complicated it is hard to lead human behaviors back to a unique form of explanation, expecially a biological one. Human beings are linguistic beings and highly determined by their contextual culture and customs. As many cultural anthropologists often remark, it is almost impossible to find any form of universality about “human nature”, if ever there is any such thing.

So why stick with the term “biological” and not give up it all at once? As a preliminary disclaimer for my use of the word, I must say that I am no biologist, and that I lack any education about biology higher than some widely shared notions I have learned at school and at the university, these latter focused more specifically on evolutionary biology. This doesn’t excuse me in case I abuse of my little knowledge, nor does it justify coarse mistakes, whenever I were to say bullshit. What it does, is simply to give a framework to the general content I associate to biology: broadly shared notions about how biological beings work and are constituted and how they evolved.

This said, before getting to what I mean with “biological” aspect of the human, I will point out what I do not mean at all by such an expression.

First and foremost, with “biological” I don’t mean to imply any form of “biological determinism” about human behavior. I don’t think that any biological feature of human beings is more intrinsically causal rather than less, than any cultural, linguistic or social such feature. Biology could limit itself to describe living beings without adding any deterministic framework to its explanations: certain processes and happenings take place and can be biologically explained, without including in that explanation any commitment to a necessary nexus of causes and effects stronger or weaker than any other form of nexus (economic determinism, cultural determinism, and so on).

Secondly, I give credit to the argument of the “naturalistic fallacy”: it is a categorical mistake to derive “oughts” from “to be”. If I am any such and such biological thing, this very fact has no direct normative implications for how I ought to act or behave. Biology doesn’t constrain my choices as a human being concerning how to live or behave: it is just about biological descriptions and about a normativity of natural laws, not of legal, moral or rational normativity (i.e. of “oughts”).

Thirdly, I do not think that biology implies any strong notion of “proper functioning” or the like. As I said before, biology seems to be much more about descriptions than evaluative judgments about what is good or bad, even if in terms of deviance from biological regularities. If, for instance, the sexual organs of two members of the same species, one male and one female, are such that they resemble a key and a related keyhole, that doesn’t imply that a “proper functioning” is that of putting the key into the keyhole.

Of course, there might be a complex mechanics of how any such two specimens will regularly attempt to find each other and mate, but if, by any chance (that is in virtue of a separate causal chain of events), they were not to do so, it seems hard if not impossible to say that they made a “biological mistake” or that they weren’t “biologically functioning properly”. On the contrary, the theory that predicted their behavior is imperfect if the behavior ended up in another way than expected.

If what I said so far is sound, there is a final (quite strong) worry that might be raised: how can I distinguish biological features from any other feautures of the human? Isn’t the nature/nurture debate already over? Aren’t we, human beings, everything and nothing in particular at once?

My answer is that to have criteria about how to live, we shall start from the kind of creatures that we are. And saying that we are “everything and nothing in particular at once” doesn’t give any such criterion. On the contrary, reflectivity, language, rationality, morality, social relationships, cultural backgrounds, etc. give reasonably good frameworks about what we are and what we can do. To these frameworks, I would like to add biology in terms of a “biological perspective” about what we are. I think it is quite innocuous, but of great importance: it is the aspect of ourselves that connects us to our evolutionary origins and to other living beings. It creates a realm of meaning that binds our existence together with that of sentient life, non-sentient life and the nonliving.

Biological considerations about ourselves are far from being norms about what to do: they are rather paramenters that each one of us can subjectively take into account to construct her own personal identity. They tell us that, among all the things that we are, we can also be seen as certain kinds of biological beings that developed over evolutionary time.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

Gluttony

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

In the second book of the Hunger Games saga, Suzanne Collins describes a scene in the rich Capitol, which leaves the protagonist shocked. People at a fancy party drink a particular substance that makes them vomit, so that they can enjoy the pleasure of food as much as they want without the worry of ever feeling satisfied. Katniss, the protagonist, comes from a poor district, where true hunger is a daily problem, and she can’t stand the sight of the waste and the luxury around her. The moral repugnancy of the behavior of the citizens of the Capitol is an effect of the comparison with the people of poorer districts, such as Katniss’, who have to face the actual risk of starvation.

I ask you now, for the duration of this reading, to forget about the context and complexities of the Hunger Games saga. Let’s assume, for my point’s sake, that the citizens of Capitol were to constitute the whole population of their planet. On this planet there is no starvation and no hunger, but very fancy parties where literally everyone can eat all delicacies they want and never feel satisfied.

Suppose further, that they often drink a delicious and miraculous liquor with the following characteristics: not only it lacks the downside of the unpleasant sensation of vomiting, but it keeps them in perfect shape, so that nothing in the way they eat influences their perfect physical/psychological health. It makes the food disappear in their bellies, after they have already tasted it, with a pleasant sensation, and they can start eating again.

Let me now ask a question: is there anything morally reproachable in the behavior of these citizens, given that they neither affect the environment, nor other people, things or animals, not even indirectly? They are just bottomless consumers of food: is there anything wrong with that?

If the society on this planet is advanced enough to have eliminated all the risks related to the excess of food consumption, and everyone has access to the same endless amount of food without damaging anything, not even themselves, it is hard to deduce that there is anything wrong with what is happening. Still, we get a strange feeling by hearing this story, don’t we? Something uncanny is going on, if you share my feelings.

The first thing I wonder about is if ever these people are getting bored by constantly eating. They are human beings, after all, and human beings can’t eat every second of their lives. Or maybe can they? What if the miraculous liquor eliminates completely the feeling of satisfaction and induces constant longing for food?

To think that we can criticize this behavior by appeal to a concept like gluttony is misleading. Gluttony as the excessive longing for food can’t be morally reproachable per se. For gluttony to be bad, it must come from psychological discomfort, and have bad consequences on a person’s bodily and mental life. But the gluttony I am now describing is some sort of “pure gluttony”: unapologetic gluttony without downsides.

It seems then, that the way this example is constructed exempts our bottomless consumers from moral criticism. However, I think that the reason why it does so is much more interesting than simply noting that being a glutton per se is not morally objectionable.

Think about them: people, who always feel longing for food but can never be satisfied and, at the same time, who always have food at their disposal. These people don’t know what hunger is. They experience a constantly induced desire, but hunger is something different than a simple desire for food. It is the desire for food in the absence of food for a certain amount of time. It is rooted in the biological constitution of biological beings such as human beings: it has an evolutionary pedigree.

Not only hunger, but everything in the functioning of our bodies has such a pedigree. We are highly imperfect beings: we are needy, limited in strength and cognition, often incapable to live up to our own standards of morality and rationality. On top of all, we are limited in time: we often end up dying. But we try so hard, every single day we hold on. We start something new, we train, we fail and we try again. We develop virtues and qualities and we value them precisely because of our limits.

A bottomless consumer is not a biological being. Hunger, training, sport, diet, self-control, satisfaction, dissatisfaction, even spontaneous desire are meaningless concepts to him. Typical human activities are pointless and he can dedicate his time to other things, possibly more mentally engaging than physically. His miraculous liquor doesn’t only solve the downsides of hunger, it also makes his life as a material being something to be taken for granted, something that doesn’t need to be taken care of, apart from being constantly foraged.

The reason why moral criticism doesn’t apply to the gluttony of bottomless consumers is that they have ceased, biologically, to be human beings.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

Remorse

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

I have often been puzzled by the expression “moral feeling”. What is a moral feeling supposed to be? Is it a feeling that is somehow connected with the application of moral principles? Like some sort of quietness in knowing that you did nothing particularly wrong? Or is it more like empathy? But what if you feel empathy for someone who has done something morally reproachable? Someone has been stealing out of poverty and you feel empathy for her: is the feeling moral? Or maybe moral feelings are feelings we have in particular moral situations, like anger against injustice, fear that someone might be hurt, joy for seeing other people succeed, and so on?

In all these cases, it seems that the feeling presupposes already a moral understanding of a certain situation. Its morality seems to be subordinate to what we already consider good or bad, and its presence can motivate action morally, only if we understand already what the moral course of action is. Moral feelings have hardly something inherently moral, for they are often unreflective emotional responses to things we already have a moral understanding of. Hence, anger against injustice doesn’t differ that much from anger we also feel when we are shown our unjust privileges. The same with joy, for we might feel Schadenfreude when someone fails, and the difference between that and “altruistic joy” is just one of moral understanding of a certain situation.

Pretty much the same can apply to remorse. Remorse is a particular moral feeling, which often arises upon reflection. It is part of the self-critical thinking process of a moral agent, and it is also related to inadvertent morally wrong actions. It is a sort of spontaneous self-punishment and, like many other “moral feelings”, it can motivate action in different directions, depending on the moral understanding we have of it. A moral agent with a well-developed and autonomous moral understanding of the world will seldom be enslaved by this feeling, whereas a less reflective agent, someone who is not yet very used to understanding his conduct in a morally consistent way, may fall prey of the dark side of remorse.

In my opinion, this latter case is that of children who aren’t educated to enhance their critical capacity, but are rather educated to feel remorse when they do something wrong. Little children have not yet developed a strong moral worldview, but can somehow feel remorse already. Accusing a child of being morally culpable is much easier than explaining a child why, from one’s perspective, the child’s action was reproachable. However, by accusing a child who lacks the instruments to analyze the rightfulness of the reproach, the self-punishing feeling will be experienced as arbitrary and pointless. It will be experienced as arbitrary and pointless pain.

Many parents are worried of not being authoritative enough or that their children won’t understand the motives of their moral teachings. Causing remorse in children is a perfect means to obtain their obedience without many talks, but at a great cost: that of endangering their growth as autonomous agents. The more arbitrary remorse a child feels, the less he will be able to discriminate between useful remorse, which can motivate moral action, and pointless remorse. The child will develop some sort of antipathy toward the feeling, and hyper-sensitivity to the risk of feeling remorse. The more responsibility an agent is required to have, the higher the remorse if he fails, hence someone who is used to avoid remorse will be more inclined to avoid being responsible, at the expense of his autonomy in life.

The job of parents, I guess, is also that of bringing up future autonomous agents, that is future adults. If they fail in the task of enhancing the autonomy of their children, it’s harder to see the success of their parenting. Thus, I think that basing the education of one’s children on causing remorse is highly irresponsible of a parent. The bigger problem is that it seems that most parents follow this route, instead of being patient and self-critical themselves. Indeed, a parent who fears the lack of authority shall work more on her self-confidence rather than on the obedience of the child, whereas a parent who worries that the child won’t understand the motives of her moral teachings shall improve her skills in communication – and perhaps step down from her ivory tower.

I can always be objected that I am not a parent, after all. What do I understand of the hardest job in the world, if I have no experience whatsoever? I agree, but if being a parent means behaving as if one’s behavior were always excusable and out of the reach of moral criticism, than I am happy of not having been one yet.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

Rainbow(ish)

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Pride season is not only set on fire by the summery sun, but also by the heated debates about the significance of pride. The excesses are criticized, but also the capitalist exploitation of the event, the culture of showing off perfectly sculpted bodies or the hypersexualized atmosphere, till the monopoly of the event exerted by gay white men, overshadowing the opposition to racism, lesbophobia and transphobia within the lgbt community.

Overall, I am still strongly in favor of pride as a political/social/cultural event of affirmation of the lgbt community in the wider society, inclusive of all the identities that still suffer from lack of visibility. But I can’t be a supporter of a pride that doesn’t evolve over the years: we need to cope with the criticisms, distinguish between the cheap and the constructive ones, and strive for a better pride for the years to come.

This is why I hardly tolerate pride supporters showing very little critical thinking in making their point when asked for. It seems that many pride supporters believe in some sort of “mantra of inclusion” of all non-heteronormative gender identities, which arbitrarily excludes straight people from the “pride spectrum”. Why arbitrarily? Because most of these pride supporters, anchor their conception of pride on a private understanding of their own sexuality: if they find out that they are not heterosexual, they already have a reason to be “proud”. But why? Why straight people shouldn’t be proud of their sexuality as well? Why is sexuality anything to be proud of in the first place?

There must be better reasons than a private understanding of one’s own sexuality. In a previous letter of mine, I pointed out the difference between two dimensions of gender: one is intimate, hardly definable and private; the other one is political and subject to public assessment.

The first dimension can be the basis for a positive self-identification, which has not yet political meaning and can’t be criticized in the first place. If I come to believe that I am sexually attracted to people I only feel a deep emotional bonding to, independently of their gender, then I might very well be a demisexual and identify as such. But this identification can’t be the basis for pride yet! There is nothing to be proud of about being of a certain sexual orientation/gender identity per se.

At this point, the political dimension of gender comes into play. For political affirmation, we need much better defined labels: labels and categories that potentially everyone can find intelligible, and not only our inner self. How do we find these categories? Well, they are already there, because the heteronormative society has done a wonderful job in discriminating and creating them in our place: gayphobia giving us gays, lesbophobia giving us lesbians, transphobia giving transsexuals/transgenders, to the more general misogyny giving us women, and racism Blacks, Asians, and so on and so forth.

The public/political dimension of gender is grounded mostly on negative phenomena of systematic discrimination and oppression of behaviors, allusive to non-heteronormative sexualities. In short, when asked why isn’t there any straight pride, one shouldn’t answer by appeal to private reasons, but rather keep in mind an entire history of discrimination and political fights, which contributes to give meaning to categories like “gay” and “lesbian”.

This doesn’t yet mean that if you are pansexual, demisexual, asexual, etc. or simply “privately gay” or “privately lesbian” you don’t belong in pride. In that case, rather than direct opposition to homophobia or transphobia, the motivation for pride can very well be public visibility and representation.

You might now protest: there is more to being lesbian or trans than mere resistance to homophobia and transphobia! There is more to being a woman than mere fighting misogyny and patriarchy! After all, no one ever chose to be non-heteronormative, we ended up being such, who-knows-how. Furthermore, there is beauty and positive value in enjoying one’s “spontaneous” non-heterosexuality without necessarily thinking about political visibility! We have a right to “thoughtlessness”!

I agree. But I also think that this spontaneity of behavior can’t be arbitrarily held as evidence for a public category or a public vindication: one needs good arguments in support of her positions and be open to the possibility of being shown wrong. As I’ve been arguing elsewhere, I think that the correct route to follow is anchoring basic forms of non-heteronormative behavior in our biological makeup.

Demisexuals pose a challenge to my view: they neither are direct objects of homophobia insofar as they identify as demisexuals, nor can they credibly ground their identification in their biological makeup, for it is based for the most on culturally shaped emotions. What right do they have to vindicate their “public dimension of gender”?

I don’t know but, most probably, human beings are much more complicated than what we will ever be able to find out, and a little theoretical charity with respect to demisexuals sounds very much in conformity with pride values.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

Foundation

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Mass migrations are a current focus of political campaigns in many western countries (European countries and US in particular). They are easy targets for political instrumentalization on all sides of the political spectrum, used to support xenophobic as well as globalist arguments.

The topic is extremely complicated and we all shall distrust easy solutions or simplistic slogans to deal with it. Many of the issues related to mass migration are of practical nature: to what extent is it possible to regulate international movements of people? How can we grant social assistance and economic support to newcomers, given their different cultural, educational and economic backgrounds? When distributing the resources within a country, how shall this distribution work with respect to immigrants? Is it always possible to differentiate between asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants with totally different histories and the same aspiration to live (however temporarily) in your/our country?

I could go on endlessly in posing questions I have no clue how to answer. Still, I think that in the current political climate, many seem to have forgotten the compelling nature of these specific phenomena. We need to go back to the rights of the individual and to what we owe to someone risking her/his life for a better future in our country.

The argument I propose is trivial, but I think that some version of it shall always be at the foundation of any political debate/deliberation on how to treat foreigners willing to risk their lives for a better future.

I start with a general assumption: adult human beings dispose quite generally of instrumental rationality. Instrumental rationality, in a very broad sense, means that each one of us learns that to achieve one’s ends, one has to take appropriate means to those ends. Generally, people know that to drink wine it is not enough just to desire drinking wine: one ought to reach out for a bottle of wine, open it, and drink.

Moreover, instrumental rationality comes with some form of cost/benefit reasoning. If the means to achieve an end of mine implies costs that outweigh my desire of the end, I will often be rational in giving up my end. If I desire to drink champagne but I am too poor to buy a bottle of champagne, I better be happy with more affordable wine. However, if the desire to drink champagne is so strong that I might give up the dessert rather than not drinking champagne, I could give up the dessert and drink champagne.

To my understanding, it is beyond reasonable doubt that most adult human beings, independently of their cultural background, dispose of this basic form of instrumental rationality.

A second assumption of mine is that some conception of the good life, independently of what that means for each specific case, is the focal point of every activity of reflective living beings such as human beings. A requirement for the good life is the desire to live in terms of “carrying on”, not necessarily based on one’s whole life, but also on single enduring activities or single relationships. The desire to carry on is something which we could be ready to pay very high prices to see fulfilled, if ever it is put at stake.

Taken together, my two assumptions have the following consequence: most adult human beings will ordinarily avoid to make choices which could be incompatible with their achievement of the good life or even hinder the more basic need to carry on. If a person undertakes a deadly voyage, putting at stake her/his own aspirations for a good life, but also the simple, fundamental desire to carry on, there must be something serious going on.

People attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea on inflatable rafts or the deserts at the US/Mexico border, are instrumentally rational beings risking their lives. This compels us to take their situation very seriously: we need to give credit to those fellow human beings leaving everything behind, in the uncertainty of survival, whose greatest hope is just to “get on the other side”.

No conspiracy theory can spread mistrust about the terrible travelling conditions most of these instrumentally rational human beings accept to cross a border, a desert or a sea. And if these individuals are disposed to incur such danger, their demand for a life in your/our country can’t be answered with a slogan. It requires hospitality, and a plan for their individual existence to find again the proper conditions to carry on.

A sketch for a general solution is beyond my knowledge, competence and intellectual capacity. Most importantly, this general solution will have to deal with the historic construction of the current inequality and of the relationships of economic dependence between countries. From this perspective, most of western countries share a deeply rooted historic blame, and the historical responsibility to fight much harder than anyone else for a more equal world.

Still, individual lives are worlds of their own and general plans and strategies for regulating migratory fluxes can’t negate the compelling nature of their rational choice. Their rational choice compels us in the most radical way: it is a call for respecting life.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

Skydiving

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Years ago, toward the end of high school, I wrote a poem that I don’t have now at hand. I just remember few lines about the similarity between our lives and the jump of a skydiver, and the ending line sounded like “we are abandoned to the conditioned freedom of the fall”.

At the end of high school, I was used to write pretty depressive poems, but I admit that not all of them were complete garbage. The similarity of the skydiver sounds accurate, especially to try to understand what I currently think about freedom.

Two years ago, when I went to visit F in Berlin, I was asked by her French flat mate A about what I thought about freedom. “I think that the question of freedom is a pretty tricky one” I answered “and one I personally don’t care enough about to start a discussion upon”. After having excused myself, I left A expose her ideas and the discussion went on without further mention to freedom.

Now, it’s time for me to attempt to clarify my thoughts around freedom and the role it plays in human life from my own point of view. Many philosophers have tried to define freedom and I think they have overall succeeded in showing what is relevant to it, its compatibility with determinism and science and its significance for morality.

The two particular philosophers that I have in mind are Spinoza and Kant. Spinoza thought that, even if the world is just an infinite chain of causes and effects, the objective knowledge of its natural processes makes you free in a meaningful sense. Kant, on the other hand, thought that acting upon norms that could be universalized was the condition for freedom, whereas random behavior and inconsistent following of desires was the opposite of freedom.

I do not try to comment on these views, nor do I try to give a new account of freedom in general. As I said before, I think that most philosophers are right about freedom – especially Spinoza and Kant. What I would like to do, instead, is to see if an intuition of mine withstands scrutiny: not everyone centers her life on freedom, and those who do shall pay a price for it.

My concept of freedom presupposes a choice between living a life centered on freedom and a life giving priority to other things: family, friends, working life, university, pleasure, art, politics, money, nature, solidarity, and so on. The two life choices are gradual among individuals not mutually exclusive: they are just a matter of giving a certain degree of priority to one thing over the other(s) or vice versa.

Freedom has a peculiar value, because it comes with the force of necessary changing. In Spinozian terms, once the evidence changes, you are free if you adapt your beliefs to the new evidence. In Kantian terms, once the norm of behavior changes, you are free if you start acting upon the new norm. If you give priority to these changings, rather than to preserving a certain status quo or identity in your life, I think you give priority to freedom rather than to anything else.

The freedom-centered life is the life probably shared by people who were confronted with great (social) obstacles for their flourishing, and had to go back to the foundations of their existence, put them into question and “construct themselves again”, because survival wasn’t granted. However, they pay the price of feeling eradicated, being egocentric and having a highly individualistic conception of themselves.

On the contrary, a life that values many other things could be more “(socially) pleasant”. Leaving excessive (self)criticism aside for a while, enjoying one’s unreflective passions, and letting the world determine oneself without noticing too much, brings happiness to one’s existence.

I think that the difference between giving priority to freedom over else is in how we understand the “conditioned freedom of the fall”. We all fall in the same way, under the same conditions of the laws of gravity. We could all enjoy the trip and be amused by the landscapes. Revolting is stupid and counterproductive. But we still are falling, and there is some interest in understanding how this fall works, how its conditions and laws could be formulated.

It is a pain to see the finitude of our existence, and pathetic our attempt to inquire into things that are simply bigger than our most imaginary aspirations. But in the simple activity of thinking, by chance, not because you wanted or was looking for them, you discover wonderful details in the landscape that are just as worth contemplating as a thoughtless dive.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha