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Freedom and Alienation

l’reecloDl and
According to Hegel

For freedom it is necessary that we should feel
no presence of something else which is not
ourselves. 1
Taken at face value, this makes little sense. For
what are we to make of the idea of ‘feeling no
presence of something else which is not ourselves’?

Hegel seems to be saying that freedom is only
realised when we cease to conceive of ourselves as
beings distinct from our environment, i.e. when the
self/other distinction is overcome. But this distinction asserts itself whenever we act, i.e. whenever we attempt to initiate some change in our
environment. My experience of acting involves my
separating myself off from that part of my environment on which I am acting. Hence, on a literal
reading, Hegel’s dictum can only have application
to beings who do not act, and the concept of freedom is irrelevant to such beings.

I will argue, however, that Hegel’s dictum embodies an important truth about freedom. What he
is claiming is that it is a necessary condition of
my being free that I live in a certain sort of
community – of a sort yet to be explained – with
the world I inhabit. For Hegel, this world includes both my physical and my social environment,
and the community which is necessary for freedom
involves my having the right sort of understanding
of the physical world, as well as my living in the
right sort of social relationships with my fellow
humans. In this paper I will only be concerned with
the second part of this, i.e. with the social and
personal aspects of Hegel’s account of freedom. 2
This account of freedom and the concept of alienation are related as opposite and exhaustive areas
on the one continuum. If freedom involves acertain sort of community in my personal and social
existence, alienation is the state in which this
community is broken and my existence involves a
rupture between me and~he other inhabitants of my
personal and social environment. Thus, this
account of freedom and the concept of alienation
will stand or fall together. I am free just to the
extent that I am not alienated; I am alienated just
to the extent that I am not free.

At an abstract level, the relationship between
the two concepts is clear enough~ but this does
little to advance our understanding of either.

[ What is at least required is (a) some understanding
of the type of community between me and my environment which is necessary for freedom and the absence of which constitutes alienation, and (b) an
account of how the existence of this community is
related to what we, and not Hegel, would understand
as freedom.

I will begin with the second question.

What do we normally understand as freedom?

The following formulation is a common attempt to
capture at least one of the important senses of
this concept:

I am free to the extent that I am not constrained
from doing what I want. 3
But this account is inadequate even to what we
ordinarily understand as freedom. For it allows
that my freedom in a given situation might be increased either by

(a) removing certain constraints to the satisfaction of my wants,
(b) bringing it about that I no longer want to do
those things for which there are constraints.

Now if we .allow that at least some ways of achieving (b) (e.g. post-hypnotic suggestion, drugs, undue
influence of one person over another, et9) are freedom diminishing and not freedom increasi:ng factors,
it follows that the above account is uns’at.isfactory.

Freedom may be diminished either by interfering with
the external conditions of action or by interfering
with the internal conditions in which wants are
fo~med and decisions are made.

The above account
does not cover the second type of factor.

The inadequacy of this account shows that our
concept of freedom embodies, not just the idea of
unconstrained action, but also some idea of the
independent formation of wants. That is to say, it
embodies an idea of autonomy as a necessary precondition of free action. 4
But this is not the only dimension in which the
notion of autonomy is involved with th~t of freedom. For the concept of freedom has its most important application to the field of interpersonal
activity, i.e. activity which involves more than
one person. And here, it is not just the autonomy
of the agent which is involved, it is also the
autonomy of those others affected by the activity.

So let us examine, for a moment, the field of
interpersonal activity.

Most of us, most of the time, have a fairly constant contact and interaction with others. In this
contact and interaction other.people may sometimes
appear as impediments to our actions, sometimes as
facilitating them.

At this level of description, our contact with
others differs in complexity, but not in kind, from
our contact with parts of our physical environment.

For a given physical object may be a barrier to
one line of activity, but the sine qua non of
1 The Logic of Hegel (The Lesser Logic), trans.

W.A. Wallace (Oxford UP, 1959) p49
2 This is not, however, a paper directed towards
Hegelian exegesis. My primary intention is to
develop a certain conception of freedom. While
I believe this conception to be Hegelian in
spirit, I will not offer more than an occasional citation in support of this.

3 For the time being I use the term ‘want’ to
stand in place of a disjunction of conative
words, e.g. ‘want’ (used strictly), ‘choose’,
‘decide’, ‘desi~e’ etc. I will make distinctions amongst these as and when necessary.

The above account of freedom is more or less
Berlin’s characterization of ‘negative liberty’.

See ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’, reprinted in
Berlin’s Four Essays on Liberty (Oxford UP,
1969). Berlin discusses the problem created
for this account by the possibility of manipulating a person’s wants, in his introduction to
this volume. He decides that freedom consists
in the absence of obstacles ‘not merely to my
actual, but to my potential choices’. (p.x.).

It is not clear how this helps. The range of
my potential choices is just what might have’

been subject to manipulation.

4 For different and fuller arguments for the view
that freedom presupposes autonomy, see S.I.

Benn and W.L. Weinstein, ‘Being Free to Act, and
Being a Free Man’, Mind 80 (1971) pp194-2l1.

However the concept of autonomy sketched by
Benn and Weinstein (that of ‘the free man as
chooser’) is somewhat narrower than that which
will be developed in this paper.


another. A wall, for example, will be in my way
if I want to reach the other side; it may be a prerequisite of my activity, if I want to paint a
mural. Whether I conceive of that wall as an
impediment or not, will depend on what I conceive
my wants, or my potential wants, to be.

My relations with other people are, or ought to
be, somewhat more complex than my relations with
my physical environment, and the ways in which other
people may impede or facilitate my actions are
correspondingly more various. Clearly, you may
hinder or assist my activities by means other than
your mere physical presence.

Now it is clear that the vast bulk of our individual activities are such as to require, in some
way or other, preceding, or ancillary, or corresponding activity by others. Most of the things
that most of us want to do most of the time, we
can only do insofar as we live in society and have
more or less close relations with other members of
that society.

(This is part of what is meant by
the claim that humans are social animals.)
But it may be that I do not see other people in
this way. I may see others primarily as obstacles
to my plans; and perhaps in so seeing others I am
right, in that most of those with whom I am in
contact do constitute obstacles to the satisfaction of my wants. Their activity is such as to
thwart and render futil~ my own activity.

. But it may also be the case that I do not see
others as obstacles to the satisfaction of my wants,
but merely as means towards that end. Their existence is, for me, constituted by their having a
certain role in the working out of my purposes;
and what they are for me may be, ,in certain circumstances, what they are in themselves, so that my
conception of these others approximates to the
truth about them. In this situation the other
person has ceased to be seen as, and perhaps has
ceased to be, an independent centre of action.

This second attitude easily slides over into the
first, and vice-versa. For if the person whom I
conceive of as a means, an instrument, does act
independently of me, he shows himself to be a recalcitrant instrument and as such an impediment to
my activity. And if the other’s independent activity constitutes a hindrance to mine, this is overcome if that activity ceases to be independent of
mind. Indeed, so closely are the two attitudes
linked that it is better to think of them as a
successful man’s and an unsuccessful man’s version
of the same attitude. What is characteristic of
it is that the independent activity of the other
appears to me as an infringement of my activity,
to be overcome by reducing or denying the other’s
independence. Thus I become free to the extent
that I render ~thers unfree.

But there is a range of activities which cannot
embody this attitude. These are activities which
are social, in the sense that they involve two or
more people, and are intersubjective in the special sense that the participants must recognize the
autonomy of the others involved. 5 If any of these
activities correspond to my wants, then I can only
satisfy these wants if I recognize others as independent contributors to that activity, i.e. as
autonomous, at least insofar as that activity is
concerned. To take a relatively trivial example:

I cannot conduct a rational discussion with someone in order better to establish the truth about
some subject, unless I recognize him as bringing
ideas and judgments which are not mine to bear on
the issue. Rational discussion is, in the sense I
require, intersubjectlve . . (Which is not to say
that people do not involve themselves in activities
under the guise of rational discussion, where the
autonomy of the other is violated or not recognized.


Such activity is not rational discussion.)
Now it is clear that there is intersubjective
activity, though its extent and perhaps its importance may be disputed. And it is also clear that to
the extent that such activity corresponds to some
of my wants, then these wants will be stultified
if I do not recognize the independence of others
in the activity. To conceive of others just as
impediments to, or just as means for, the satisfaction of my wants, is to preclude the satisfaction of those wants which require the recognition
of their independence.

This is the type of situation exemplified in
Hegel’s account of the dialectic of master and
slave, and in Sartre’s application of this to the
relationship of lover and mistress. 6 In both
cases, we have someone going into a relationship
with incompatible aims, one of which is to be recognized and loved, the other to conquer and be
served. But the recognition and love which is
wanted is that which is freely given by an autonomous being, since only this will provide the
necessary independent validation of one’s own selfrecognition and self-love. The love and recognition which is gained is that of an instrument, an
extension of the master/lover’s will, and such
love and recognition is not what was wanted. To
the extent that· love and recognition of this kind
are important human wants, to the extent it is a
necessary condition of the free exercise and satisfaction of these wants that we recognise some
others as autonomous. Where we do not, and in
particular where the very activity aimed at satisfying these wants contains a component which is
directed towards the reduction of the other to a
non-autonomous status, then frustration and selfstultification are inevitable.

Where others are concevied of as impediments to
my wants, my being free requires that I reduce
others to an unfree status. Where the autonomy of
the others is a component of my wants, i.e. where
my wants can only be satisfied by intersubjective
activity, then my being free involves the recognition of the. freedom of some others. Freedom for a
being with wants of this sort can only be realised
in a community of autonomous beings, each of whom
~ecogniZed the autonomy of the other members.

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Bu~ this community might extend only as far as
of the person concerned.

The existence of this regress should not surprise
my intersubjective activity. Why should I extend
recognition outside the sphere of those actually
us. Whether I am autonomous now is not just a
involved in my intersubjective activity? Why should “question of what I am like now, but also of the
part I have played in getting to be like I am now.

I not conceive of those outside that sphere merely
I am autonomous just to the extent that I have
as means for or impediments to the satisfaction of
played a part (one must add: been allowed to play
my other wants? That I recognize some as free is,
a part) in the development of my present conative,
it seems, compatible with my denying that all are

cognitive, and emotional structure. Where aspects
If I have this attitude I must divide society
of this, and as a result, patterns of my present
behaviour, were fixed in some very early experiinto two: those Whom I do not recognize are excluences (say, early socialisation) in which I had no
ded from the now privileged field of my inter subpower of participation or intervention, then to
jective activity; but so too is my intersubjective
that extent I am not my own person, i.e. I am not
activity now restricted. I have erected my own
barriers to what I can do. Probably I will not
autonomous. Under these circumstances I can work
think of them as barriers I have erected, but as
towards autonomy and, through a process of selfbarriers that nature has erected. Those others whom examination, perhaps discover the extent to which
I do not recognize are not fit, or not able, or do
what I now am merely expresses what has been external to me. In order to do this, I must be able
not want, to take part in my intersubjective actito distance myself from some aspect of myself, and
vity. And perhaps I may bring it about that they
are not fit, or not able, or do not want to do so.

treat it as if it were external. Only by thus
identifying myself independently of that aspect
By holding that they are different to those whom
which is under examination will I be able to
I do not recognize, I deceive myself and perhaps
assess it as answering or not answering to my
them too. By excluding them, I impose restrictions
on the ways in which ~ can satisfy those wants which present wants, beliefs, principles, and so on.

That the I who undertakes such an examination is,
I am aware of myself as having; I also prohibit mypro tem, an unexamined I is inevitable, but it need
self from forming any wants which would require me
not remain unexamined. That we must, to adapt
to recognize those others. Thus, the state of diNeurath’s metaphor, reconstruct our personal boat
vision turns out to be incompatible with the unwhile sailing on it, does not mean that there is
impeded activity to satisfy those wants I have and
the unimpeded development of new wants. To overcome some part which must remain for ever unreconstructed.

On this view, autonomy has to do with the primacy
this I must move from the thought that only some
of the person over what is externally given. This
are free to the recognition that all are free. 7
should not be” confused with the primacy of some aspect”of the person over all others. While my ability rationally to assess available courses of acAutonomy, and mutual recognition of autonomy, is
then a necessary condition for the unimpeded exertion in the light of a rational assessment of
various competing wants, emotions, and beliefs, is
cise of that activity designed to satisfy intera useful, perhaps even an essential component of
subjective wants. But what is autonomy? and what
does the recognition of autonomy involve?

autonomy, it is certainly not the whole of it. For
there is a question of whether these various wants
A person is autonomous When his actions, and the
principles, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions, on
and emotions are themselves autonomous, and this
which he acts are properly ascribable to him and
is not a question of whether they were preceded by
not through him to one or other of the many exsome rational assessment or even whether they are
ternal influences to ~ich he is and has been subnow susceptible to alteration by rational scrutiny.8
jected. For this condition to be satisfied there
must exist some explanatory gap between the ex5 By ‘recognize’ I mean, here and elsewhere in
ternal facto~s (e.g. social pressures, environthis paper, something akin to ‘recognize the
mental factors, influence of friends, etc) and the
existence of, respect, and value’.

formation of the relevant principles, beliefs,’

6 See Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind,
attitudes and emotions, and the action consequent
trans. J.B. Baillie (London, George Allen &
upon these. This gap must be filled by the person
Unwin, 1966) pp229-40; and Sartre Being and
himself bringing his own prior set of principles,
Nothingness, trans. Hazel Barnes (London,
beliefs, attitudes and emotions to bear on what is
Methuen, 1969) pp364-72
externally provided. Questions as to the extent of
7 Cp. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of
the explanatory gap and the nat~re of the interHistory, trans. J. Sibree (NY, Dover, 1965),
vention are difficult but not impossible to answer.

Introduction, plS. Here Hegel attributes the
Clearly, here as elsewhere, .there will be room
view that only one is free to the Oriental
for judgments of degree of autonomy. But that the
World, the view that some are free to the
person make some intervention in the process is
Ancient World, and the view that ‘man as such’

necessary if the outcome of the process is properly
is free to the Germanic World.

S For an example of the type of view criticised,
ascribable to him.

This account of autonomy is regressive and insee R.F. Dearden, ‘Autonomy and Education’ in
R.F. Dearden, P.R. Hirst and R.S. Peters (eds)
tentionally so. For the person who intervenes in
Education and the Development of Reason
this process is not some featureless metaphysical
(London & Boston, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972)
self, endowed with a power of intervention and
Dearden suggests that ‘a person is ‘aqtonomous’

nothing else. 14 is the person himself with an
to the degree ·that what he thinks and does
already existing structure of principles, attitudes,
cannot be explained without reference to his
and so on. The question must arise whether this
own activity of mind’, where the phrase ‘actiperson is autonomous, for if he is not, then his
vity of mind’ is glossed as ‘choices, deliberaintervention in the process will hardly suffice for
tions, decisions; reflections, judgments, planthe autonomy of its outcome. So we must ask
nings, or reasonings’ (p453), i.e. activities
questions concerning the formation of a prior set
of attitudes and principles, which will be answered
which ‘are all essentially linked to the idea
of reason’ (p456). But my emotions and wants
in the same way, and so on for further questions
do not have to be preceded by acts of reasonand further answers’For ever? No, just until the coming into being
ing in order to be properly ascribed to me.



For example, whether my liking for a certain brand
of beer over its competitors is autonomous is not
to be settled by the presence or absence of a decision in the process of forming that preference, nor
by whether I can now take thought and change that
preference. Rather it is a question of whether my
coming to like that beer was a development from or
an imposition on some pre-existing preference structure. That this type of question will, in some
cases, be a very difficult one to answer should not
mislead us into trying to answer some other questions

Nor should we overestimate the difficulty in
making judgments of autonomy. For’ we are quite
often able to make these judgments with a considerable degree of confidence. The situation is rather
like our estimation of the extent to which an essay
on some well trodden topic is the author’s own work.

We may hope for originality, but do not necessarily
expect it. What we do look for, and often find,
are signs of the writer’s having mastered and imposed his own structure on the material presented.

This might show itself in a certain flexibility of
approach, a readiness to consider unfamiliar examples, and a confidence in judgments on areas
where there is some unexpected overlap between this
topic and some other. Where signs such as these
are lacking, we are likely to decide that the
material has imposed itself on the writer, rather
than vice-versa, and judge the work accordingly.

Judgments of autonomy are somewhat analogous to
this. Here too a certain rigidity of approach, a
tension or dogmatism when presented with unfamiliar
situations, arid an unreadiness to trust one’s own
intellectual or emotional responses to something
new, are all often signs of a lack of autonomy.

Of course, even here there is a gap between the
available evidence and the conclusion, but this is
true of all interesting judgments. And sometimes
at least, we can reduce that gap to vanishing
point. This is when, in our own case, we become
aware of something operating as a constraint upon
our feelings and thoughts of which we had previously been unaware. It is when we are able to
subject something to the light of feeling and
thought to which our feeling and thought had
hitherto been subject.

To recognize the autonomy of another is to allow
him the right to form his own principles, beliefs,
wants, and emotions, to make his own decisions,
and to put these into practice. It is to refrain
from exercising that type of influence which bypasses or closes the gap which is essential for
autonomy. It is to provide what is necessary for
him to make his own response to a situation, and
not to load his perspective with false, incomplete,
or otherwise misleading information. Finally, it
is not to impede the courses of actions he undertakes. We deny the freedom of another when we
arrogate to ourselves the responsibility for making
his decisions, forming his wants and beliefs, and
making his emotional responses. More subtly, we
deny the freedom of another when we simply treat
him as having his decision, wants, beliefs, and
emotional responses determined by someone or something else. We deny our own autonomy when we allow
any of this to happen to us.

It is rarely, if ever, easy to recognize and
accept autonomy either in oneself or another. For
me to recognize and accept my freedom means that I
must bear the responsibility for my emotions, my
beliefs, and my actio~s, and for whatever is consequent upon these. This may seem too great a burden. When challenged to justify and explain why I
feel a certain way, or why I have done a certain


thing, the temptation is sometimes overwhelming to
pass the load of responsibility on to someone or
sometl1ing else, to my superior, to the institution
to which I belong, to my early environment, to the
force of reason, or to the dictates of morality.

In so doing I conceive of myself as merely the penultimate stage in a process which has its source
in some power beyond me, and Which has c~lminated
in the particular emotion or action which I am

To recognize the freedom of another involves
slightly different fears. For if I allow someone
the right to his own wants and his own actions to
satisfy those wants, what guarantee have I that he
will not use this freedom to act against me? If
there is ~omeone whose love and support I need, can
I allow that person freedom, if it means that he
may choose to withdraw that love or support? When
I confront others in the competition for scarce
resources, can I afford the risk that they will be
able to monopolise these resources and exclude me
from them? Better, we might think, to circumscribe
their options: to bring it about that they will not
want to act against me, or if they want to, they
are not able to.

When, as is likely, these two attitudes coalesce,
I will fail to recognize either my freedom or the
freedom of others. In this situation, I will conceive of us all as non-autonomous subjects of some
third party: of a person of whose benevolence I
feel assured, or more likely of a variety of impersonal entities (the family, the church, the
state, the university) to which I can ascribe the
responsibility for my actions and which, in return,
will protect me from the actions of others.

It is normally the case that recognition of my
autonomy will go along with my recognition of the
autonomy of others. For I lose my fear of my own
freedom to think, act, and respond as I develop
trust in my thinking, acting, and responding. This
trust may to some extent be developed through my
own individual interaction with what is external
to me, but normally will also require independent
validation in the experience of others. But if
this validation is to be independent, it must be
given by those whose autonomy I recognize. Self
doubt is thus a characteristic accompaniment of
situations in which the independent judgment of
others is not recognized.

Further, where I treat others as lacking in autonomy, I do not conceive of them as independent
sources of action. They become merely stages in
processes begun by others. If I then treat myself




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as a ~ree agent I become responsible, not just for
what I do, but for what I do thrQugh others. The
burden of what we may be responsible for is enormous.

Hence, wbere we deny the freedom of others, the
pressure to deny our own becomes overwhelming.

But even if it is the case that acceptance of my
own freedom is likely to involve my recognition of
the freedom of others, it is still not clear how
this recognition is likely to be achieved. Clearly,
a component in this recognition will be trust; that
just as recognition of my freedom involves trust in
myself, recognition of the freedom of others will
involve trust in them. Unless we happen to be
saints or martyrs (normally paradigms of non-autonomy), we will not be able to recognize the freedom of others, unless we trust them not to use
it against us.

It is not easy to formulate, let alone bring
about, conditions for mutual trust. But two conditions which are important are the existence of a
community of feeling and of a community of action.

Normally they will require each other.

Community of feeling involves reciprocity of
personal affection. If, for example, I love a
person and am sure’of that person’s love for me,
then I will know that my satisfaction is for that
person a want, just as the satisfaction of that
person is for me a want. We will know that our
activities as individuals will not be directed
against the other. But this requires certainty
of love, and this is not easily ‘obtained or given.

And unless we have this certainty, we are likely
to destroy the independence of the other in an
attempt to ensure it.

Developing from or developing into community of
feeling should be a community of enterprise. This
arises with the mutual realisation that underlying
our individual activity is some common intersubjective enterprise, and that it is this enterprise which
expresses our more important wants. We will become
aware that our individual activity has significance
for us insofar as it is a part of this common enterprise in which the other’s activity is equally
a part. Where this situation does not obtain, for
example, where the divergent activity has more significance for the participants than any alleged
common enterprise, and in particular, where the
divergent activity is directed against the autonomy
of the other participants, then it is futile to expect the mutual recognItion of autonomy. Others
may be seen as independent sources of activity, but
this independence will be at best an impediment to
be removed and at worst a threat to be overcome.

Of course, in this situation some of the participants in the activity may be persuaded that there
is some underlying enterprise wh,ich does correspond
to their wants – and that the divergence and competition is a mere appearance of some underlying
community of endeavour. In this case, they may
submit to the free enterprise of the others, and
the loss,of their own freedom which is consequent
upon this. 9
Community of feeling and community of activity
are then two of the factors which facilitate the
~ecognition of others and of ourselves as autonomous
and free beings. There may be others, but this is
not the place to investigate them. The main point
is that it is through recognition of community that
independence is achieved. It is not that we achieve
community through the union of autonomous beings,
each of whom gives up some of his autonomy in
return for the benefits of union; rather we learn
to recognize freedom, both in ourselves and in
others, via the coming into existence and the recognition of community. It is only recognition of
the we that an autonomy respecting I-you relationship is possible.


Personal relations are, however, also social relationships. Which is to say that the form in which
they occur is not just a matter of the wishes of
the individual participants. Whether community,
either of feeling or of activity, can be achieved
in a relationship will in almost all cases depend
upon questions of overarching social structure,
rather than the particular wants and purposes of
the individuals concerned.

By ‘social structure’ I do not mean anything
over and above the significant patterns of behaviour which display themselves in a given society.

But many of these patterns emerge, not just as
gross regularities which occur in the behaviour of
the population at large, but also as aspects of
general attitudes and expectations about behaviour.

It is in this form that social structure imposes
itself on the individual. Where there is a divergence between the desires of the individual and
the wider pattern of expectations and attitudes,
social structure appears as external constraint.

Where there is no such divergence, the social
determinant appears as subjective want. ID
Now it is clear that many of the relations which
we enter into are prestructured in the above way,
and that we do not normally choose the form they
will take, but unconsciously accept one or other
of the forms which are SOCially available to us.

Where these external forms have become part of our
cognitive, conative, and emotional make up, we
identify with the roles socially provided for us.

Where these structures remain external, they will
limit the avenues in which we are able to satisfy
our wants. There will amost always be some interaction between the individual and his social
persona. To some extent we all accept certain
social norms as given. They define for us what is
naturally possible or what is naturally proper, and
thus set the limits within which we think and act.

9 The two types of condition for mutual recognition of autonomy correspond roughly to the
first and third moments in Hegel’s account of
‘ethical life’: the level of feeling, which
Hegel identifies with the family, and the level
of reason which Hegel identifies with the State.

See Philosophy of Right, trans. T.M. Knox
(Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1965), Third Part
10 The above sketch derives from Durkheim (see
for example, The Rules of Sociological Method,
NY, The Free Press of Glencoe, 1964, esp. Ch.l)
and more immediately from Peter Berger and
Thomas Luckman’s The Social Construction of
Reality (Penguin, 1971)
As presented here, the sketch is incomplete and
oversimple in many respects. It overemphasises
the stability and homogeneity of social structure; it does not differentiate between aspects
of social structure which are basic and those
which are derivative; between those which permeate the whole of our existence, and those
which are only relevant to some part of it;
por between those which are supported by overwhelming sanctions and those supported by
nothing more than mild social disapproval.

More importantly (and these seem to me to be
defects of the model rather than of my hasty
presentation of it) it invites but suggests no
obvious answers bO’ questions concerning the
origins of a particular social structure, the
specific interests it serves and the conditions
under which one social structure gives way to
another. Despite its defects the above sketch
raises the right questions for the theme of
this paper.


But where certain wants which are socially denied
make themselves felt, or where various social
demands are incompatible, we are forced to become
aware of ourselves as existing independently of the
roles socially allotted to us. This awareness may
be furtive and guilty, or it may be openly nonconformist; but in some form or other it is an
essential moment in the path towards autonomy. It
is the moment at which the individual becomes aware
of himself as an individual with wants, beliefs and
feelings, which need not be defined in terms of the
particular social framework within which he has
been operating. Only then is the individual able
to assess that framework as answering or not answering to his own wants, beliefs, and feelings.

This account of the interaction between the individual and society is a highly abstract one, and
the way in which an individual lacks autonomy
through his identification with a social role is
similarly abstract. It holds in virtue of the
general theses that a social role, that is, a specific pattern of expectations and attitudes about
how an individual should act in a given situation,
delineates a framework which structures a person’s
choices and thus his behaviour. To the extent that
it asserts itself as given on the individual, what
he does is an expression of that structure; rather
than it being the case of his conceiving that structure as delineating one of the range of activities
which are open to him.

-Nevertheless, it is not the abstract notion of
role-rdentification which is most destructive of
autonomy; rather, it is the particular types of
role provided by particular societies. Wherever
there is social structure, that is wherever there
is society, there will be loss of autonomy consequent upon. this being taken as given. But this
should not be allowed to obscure what is much more
important: the way in whi::h the particular social
structures constitutive of particular types of society militate against what is required for intersubjective community. 11 For there is a range of
cases where the social relationship as defined by
ove’rarching social structure is incompatible with
satisfaction of the intersubjective wants which
find expression within the relationship. Consider,
for example, the social relationships of man to
woman and of teacher to student. These relationships are the avenues within which some of our most
fundamental wants find expression and satisfaction.

We avoid entering such relationships only at the
cost of the distortion of frustration of these
wants. Yet, as they are at present socially defined, to enter into these relationships is also to
experience the distortion or frustration of those

All of us, for example, want to be given love and
emotional support by our long term sexual partners.

So it might seem apt, though perhaps unfair” that
in our society the role of one sexual partner is
defined a~ that of providing love and support. But
to the extent that her existence is defined by this
social role, the woman is unable to carry out the
function associated with it. For to give love and
support one must have an independent existence and
this is just what the social role denies.

(To expect to be given love and support from a dependent
being is like expecting support from one’s shadow).

So even the wants of the dominant partner remain
unsatisfied within the relationship. To say nothing
of the wants of the woman.

The teacher/student relationship is one which is
directed towards the.development of knowledge and
the ability to acquire knowledge. The concept of
knowledge (as opposed to that of belief) is one
which presupposes autonomy of judgment. Yet the

content of this relationship is typically prestructured by syllabus and discipline boundaries
and in all the most important questions concerning
progress towards the goal of the relationship, the
student has to submit his judgment to that of the
other. The educational process is one which systematically violates the intellectual autonomy of
the student; and this violation is one which the
student is encouraged to accept as a necessary and
inevitable part of the process. 12
Both these relationships involve dominance and
submission. The role of one participant (the man,
the teacher) is defined in terms of independent
activity; the role of the others is that of support
to (the woman) or recipient of (the student) that
activity. Where the dominant participant stands in
need of recognition by other independent beings,
this must take place outside that relationship;
where the other participant desires independent
activity, this must either be directed against the
dominant participant or again take place outside
that relationship.

The personal relations which are embodied in
these social relationships require intersubjective
community. To the extent that we identify with the
roles socially provided for us, we make impossible
the achievement of that community. If we refuse to
accept these roles we run up against social and institutional constraints, as well as against misunderstandings by those Who confuse the personal
with the social relationship. And even with the
best will in the world, it is difficult to reject
the role in toto. We find ourselves rejecting one
aspect while assuming another. We expect the other
person both to submit and be independent; or we
want both the comfort of an authority and recognition as an equal. But this schizophrenia is already inherent in the contradiction between the
social relationship and the individual wants which
find expression in it. Ultimately, it can only be
overcome when the social attitudes and expectations which define the social relationship are

How is this to be achieved? This is a question
which cannot be answered without much more discussion of social structure than I have provided or
can provide here. We must know, for example, to
what extent these relationshi~s~fitin with or are
required by some larger social context, and to what
extent they are susceptible of independent change.

We must find out what function the relationships
serve, and what type of situation gives rise to and
sustains them. Only when informed by this and other
information can discussion of social change be worth
while. My purpose is not to provide a substitute
for this discussion. This brief excursion into the
relationship between the individual and society was
intended to indicate where the problems lay,
rather than to indicate so~utions to them.

One component of meaningful action towards social
change should, however, be mentioned. This is the
realisation that certain patterns of social life,
hitherto taken as natural or inevitable concomitants of social existence, are susceptibl~ of change;
it is the realisation that certain patterns of
feeling and thinking do not d~fine the limits of our
choosing and acting, but are themselves matters of
choice, to be accepted or rejected according to
wants and standards which transcend them. This is
the moment at which a person defines himself independently of so~e aspect of his social existence.

It is our sometime ability to achieve such moments
of realisation and redefinition that is perhaps
the most significant expression of our capacity for
freedom. 13


In this paper I have argued t~t freedom for a
being with inter subjective wants requires existenc~
in a community with other intersubjective beings,
each of whom recognizes the autonomy of the others.

This would not be an existence in which the self/
other distinction would be overcome; on the contrary, only in such a community would the distinction between self and others be properly recognized.

Nevertheless, the basis of such a community would
not be – that myth of liberal political theory – a
collection of autonomous selves; rather it would be
a collective in which autonomy of the self was
recognized. In other words, the we not the I would
be fundamental.

There is one clear and one more extended sense in
which the members of such a community would ‘feel
no presence of something else which was not themselves’. The clear sense is that the existence of
others Who were not conceived of as at least potential members of that community, i.e. whose autonomy
was not recognized, would constitute a barrier to
the free development and expression of inter sub-

status, and if we see these as important then our
conception of freedom for all (if we have such a
conception) will be that of a ‘free for all’, i.e.

of an arena where interpersonal activity will take
the form of interpersonal struggle, nediated by
more or less transient alliances, and where the
worst excesses are subject to internal or external
constraints of various sorts (like the market of
classical or neo-classical political economy).

We will perhaps hope that some community will
exist in the calmer moments of this interpersonal

There is no simple way of choosing between the
various alternative conceptions of our wants which
suggest themselves. While many of the important
wants we experience are intersubjective, or presuppose the existence of intersubjective relations,
it is clear that we also experience wants whose
satisfaction requires the reduction of others to
a non-autonomous status. Ultimately, if we are to
comprehend the conflicting, mutually inconsistent
wants which display themselves in our decisions
and our behaviour, we need to go beyond what is
given in our experience and produce an account
which explains that experience.

That we sometimes become aware of the extent to
which social structure comes to be felt as internal
want renders it certain that much of what we now
want is an expression of a larger social context,
something which might or might not correspond to
what we would want if able to choose. But what
would such autonomous wants be? To this question
there can be no definitive answer. To be sure,
historical, sociological, and anthropological evidence – when property interpreted – will provide
some of the information necessary for us to go
beyond that account of human wants provided for us
by the society in which we live. But the only way
in which we can discover what our human and personal wants are is through the movement towards autonomy: through the personal experience of selfexamination, through the experience of action
directed towards changing those social relationships
which militate against the autonomy of the participants, and through the interaction of these two

Only in the attempt to become free will we come
to understand what freedom consists in.14

jective wants. Hence the members of the community
11 Failure to draw this distinction leads some to
are free only to the eitent that the community is
provide an account of Marx’s concepts of ‘aliconceived of as implicitly universal; i.e. that they
enation’, ‘reification’, etc which ignores the
are only confronted with others who are identified
historically specific and critical nature of
these concepts. See, e.g. Peter Berger and
and identify themselves as potential members of that

Stanley Pullberg: ‘Reification and the Sociological Critique of Consciousness’, History
The more extended sense is this: each member of
and Theory 4 (1965) pp196-2ll.

the community will recongize himself as an autono12 See Paulo Freire, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed
mous agent. He will also recognize others as other
(Penguin, 1972), particularly ch.2. Freire’s
autonomous agents. In a quite literal sense, he
concept of ‘dialogical’ activity is much the
will be aware of these others as other ‘selves’.

That which constitutes his uniqueness – his indesame as my ‘intersubjective’ activity.

pendent power to form wants, judgments, and emotions 13 The idea that this capacity constitutes us as
and to act upon these – is also present in and confree and historical beings is one of the most
stitutes the uniqueness of the other. The other is
important aspects of the Hegelian legacy to the
thus a second self (which is not to be confused with
Marxist and the existentialist traditions.

an ‘alter ego’). Hence, in confrontation with the
For a brief discussion of such moments of redefinition from a historical and sociological
other, the person is not confronted with some alien
existence, but with some one whom he recognizes as
perspective, see Berger _and Pullberg, op. ci t,.

being essentially what he is himself.

The extent to which such a community will corres14 I would like to thank Michael Stocker and,
particularly, Gillian Burnett for help in writpond to our conception of freedom will be the extent to which we hold our important wants to be
ing this paper. Earlier versions were read at
a seminar at Macquarie University and at the
intersubjective. This is a matter I have done no
1973 Conference of the Australasian Association
more than touch on. It is clear that we do have
of Philosophy at the University of Tasmania.

intersubjective wants, so that some aspect of comI thank the participants in those discussions
munity will be necessary for the free expression
for their criticisms which have resulted in
of these. But we also have wants which manifest
some improvements.

themselves in the reduction of others to an unfree


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