As American citizens, and in many other countries, we are told that we are free. In fact, we have laws that guarantee our freedoms. At the very same time, we are told what we can and cannot do. We are told what we can and cannot eat or drink. We are told what we are allowed to buy or sell. Are we truly free? Please consider the following thought experiment from Robert Nozick.
In the first phase, you have been taken as a slave against your will. Your master is a brutal, vicious person who beats you and forces you to work until your body cannot take any more. You work where you are told and when you are told. You have no autonomy.
Here you are sold to a new master. This master is a little more kind and only punishes you for disobeying his rules. If you are especially well behaved, you can even enjoy some time off.
Once again you are sold to a new master. This master has already owns a group of slaves and has a system in place were he allocates food, water, clothing, and additional goods to his slaves based on behavior and experience. You are again only punished for breaking the rules and are occasionally granted time off.
Your master now owns enough slaves that he is able to grant you consistent time off. You are told that you will only have to work for 3 out of 7 days each week.
You are yet again sold to a new master. This master allows his slaves to work anywhere that they choose, they simply have to pay him 3/7th of their wages. This is the equivalent of working 3 out of 7 days, but at least you get to choose your vocation. This master retains the right to recall you in an emergency to work wherever he needs you. He also retains the right to increase his share of your wages as he sees fit.
You are purchased by a group of 100 people. They utilize a democratic system to determine the rules by which you will live. You are granted the same freedoms as before, you can choose where to work and only have to submit a fraction of your wages to you new owners. They are free to vote to change the rules as they see fit and can recall you or take more of your wages if needed.
You feel that you have gained enough rapport with the group that you begin to attempt to persuade them when debating decisions. You find that occasionally you are able to make a small difference. It is unclear if you have actually impacted any of the groups final decisions.
The group decides to allow you to submit a ballot when they take a vote on something. Your ballot will only be opened in case of a tie. There has never been a tie.
A group of people purchase your freedom from your previous owners. You are free to leave whenever you want so long as you pay the fee to renounce your membership within the group. You are free to work wherever you want, so long as the work is legal. The group decides what is legal through a democratic method. You are allowed to vote on the rules and your ballot will actually be read. Essentially this means that in the case of a tie, your vote will carry the issue. It is important to note that there has never been a tie.
At which phase were you no longer a slave?
In the end, the rules which you are forced to follow are not created, or necessarily even agreed to, by you. Your wages are still garnished against your will and used for any purpose the majority agrees upon, regardless of your opinion on the matter. You can still be recalled to serve your leadership in an emergency. You can be punished for violating rules you disagree with even if your violation of those rule pose no threat to your fellow man.
Does freedom simply mean that we are not beaten by our masters unless there is a majority in favor of it? Does it mean that we can work where we choose so long as we purchase our right to do so in the form of a license?
Society has a long way to go in terms of granting freedom to humanity. Some will argue that freedom cannot be allowed for the sake of security. I will agree that this is a valid concern but it does not negate the point. Accepting your current conditions in any of the phases listed above does not equal freedom and unless you are granted the autonomy to choose the rules by which you will live, at any time you could be forced back to a previous phase.
Just something to think about.
Hi, I’m James Dusenbery, the Founder/Lead Editor at CanonOfReason.com. I have a deep passion for the Bible and am constantly studying one part or another. In addition to an interest in theology and Christian apologetics, I also love philosophy. My podcast and website merge these interests together to create a unique experience that you will not find anywhere else.