In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Shorter Reviews On Being Free, by Frithjof Bergmann; pp. xi & 238. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977, $10.00. Short of Big Brother's mind-crushing slogan, "freedom is slavery," there is little that intelligent men have not asserted about freedom or advanced in its name. A modicum of order amidst this welter of claims is maintained by appeals to familiar distinctions: "positive vs. negative freedom," "categorical vs. hypothetical freedom," "liberty vs. license." Yet these distinctions are often as questionable as the claims they serve to separate. In On Being Free Frithjof Bergmann undertakes the important task of deflating our bloated idea of freedom and puncturing some of the misconceptions to which it has given rise. He attacks the common view that freedom is a function of noninterference as well as the obverse assumption that freedom increases with increasing choices. He challenges the belief that governments have at their disposal the power to augment, diminish, or even eliminate personal freedom. He argues persuasively that the blessings of freedom, though great, are generally overrated. The miseries of slavery or of life under a brutal totalitarian regime are produced by a combination of unpleasant conditions—of which restricted freedom is only one part. In place of more traditional contenders, Bergmann offers his own, quite modest, theory of freedom. "Freedom ... is the expression of what we are, of the qualities and characteristics we possess, but in an unpretentious sense; it is the expression of qualities with which we identify" (p. 91). As Bergmann describes it, the phenomenon of self-identification is individual, selective, and largely a matter of personal discovery. We discover our "selves" through action, but what we discover is neither a universal essence, nor a fixed inner core, nor the totality of our beliefs and dispositions. Rather, we discover modes of conduct which have become for us gratifying, natural, and spontaneous. Bergmann uses this theory both to reinforce his critique of common misconceptions and also to advance positive recommendations. The second half of On Being Free consists of two provocative essays: "Freedom and Education" and "Freedom and Society." Although On Being Free is not about literature or literary criticism, it is nevertheless a conspicuously literary work of philosophy. Throughout the book, but especially in the first half, Bergmann appeals to exemplars drawn from the writings of Kafka, Orwell, Camus, and—above all—Dostoyevsky. His penetrating analysis of Dostoyevsky's Underground Man as an individual who 266 Shorter Reviews267 refuses to identify with his own motives, reasons, and non-capricious actions provides not only an effective introduction to Bergmann's theoretical stance, but, incidentally, a new perspective for interpreting Dostoyevsky's novella. Aside from such references, On Being Free has a literary life of its own. Without sacrificing either clarity or precision, Bergmann incorporates within his argument a remarkable number of bright metaphors, similes, analogies, and parables. The result is more than entertaining, for Bergmann's aim is to displace the metaphorical imagery bequeathed to us by older theories of freedom. Like most philosophy worth reading, On Being Free leaves ample room for significant debate. The problem of determinism, for example, is consigned to an appendix where a briefcritique of indeterminacy (similar toJohn Hospers's) is followed by a declaration that Bergmann's idea of freedom is compatible with causality. But something is missing. The inadequacy of mere indeterminism does not clear the way for understanding how a causally inevitable process of identification with a causally inevitable set of personal qualities can constitute "real" freedom. The standard complaint that original philosophy is becoming increasingly inaccessible to readers outside the discipline has elicited some very cogent explanations from professional philosophers. But Bergmann's response is better. The accessibility of his text never falters. On Being Free should be read by everyone interested in freedom. Susquehanna UniversityRichard Kamber Tolstoy's Major Fiction, by Edward Wasiolek; pp. 255. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978, $12.00. In steering a path between the deconstructive ecstasies of Derridian criticism and the humanist lights of traditional scholarship, Wasiolek's fine new study of Tolstoy makes an interesting case for critical theory as something more than a spinning-out of abstract ingenuities. One is struck by the amount...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 266-267
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.