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SVS: Freedom (What It Means To Value It)
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Freedom: What It Means to Value It

A basic level of freedom is foundational if one is to act on one's values. Not having the freedom to pursue truth means one is hampered or restricted from positing alternative explanations and rigorously testing and debating them. Lack of freedom means being unable to create or build or otherwise express oneself. Values are ultimately defined through actions, and if one is not free to act, one's entire value system is effectively crippled. Thus, freedom is means to expressing all other values.

A basic level of freedom means being able to think and act in a way according to one's will that does not cause harm, i.e., reduce the net structure in the world, and does not reduce anyone else's freedom. An integral part of carrying out one's will is not only not being restrained, physically or psychologically, but by having access to resources. If one steals from another, they are reducing the capacity of another agent to act according to their will. Thus, theft is wrong in that it violates the value of freedom. But the distinction is graded, not absolute. For example, if a child steals a loaf of bread to keep from starving from a house where there is plenty, the net loss on the part of the victim is negligible to the net gain to the thief. Groups or collectives may decide to limit the freedoms of those that have a great deal in order to ensure that other members of the group meet a basic criteria.

One should be free in speech, though that right is neither absolute nor irrefutable. Yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theatre violates the principle that free speech not potentially cause harm. And speech that is demonstrably false or ungrounded is fair game for attack from others. Freedom of belief, assembly, privacy, and protection against unjust incarceration are all codified to some degree in the U.S. Constitution, and they are foundational in allowing an agent to act according to their will.

Again, the valuation of agents is a function of their capacity to acquire, use, and transmit knowledge, and by the range of goals brought about by their will. Thus, all humans are initially deserving of a basic level of freedom, and the degree of freedom an agent should have is linked directly to the range and complexity of their goals. This formulation of the valuation of freedom means recognizing its inherent worth for all agents, not just particular groups.

One who values freedom should seek to maximize, within reasonable limits, not only their own freedoms, but the freedoms of others. One should work to ensure a basic level of freedom for everyone, from those in one's immediate circle of influence to those living under totalitarian rule. Freedom for everyone should be an ideal to strive toward.

Personal steps for valuing freedom:

  • Constantly try to maximize the freedoms of everyone: If in a democratic society, support representatives and laws that favor freedom, but balance with other core values. No matter what the form of governance, work to increase freedoms within your society. If you are able, advocate and actively work to increase the freedoms of everyone, especially those under the most oppressive conditions.
  • Take advantage of your freedoms: To be free and not actively pursue worthwhile goals is no better than sitting in a locked cell. There are those who have little or no freedom. If you are fortunate enough to have it, use it.

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