Freedom Regained by Julian Baggini

Just when we have to put up with Lockdown 2, I wondered if this was an appropriate theme. But the subtitle – The Possibility of Free Will – really grabbed my attention. Mr Baggini is a British philosopher and writer whose lively debates for the layperson often have witty titles like Should You Judge This Book By Its Cover?

In Freedom Regained, he explores free will from eight different perspectives, starting with the Neuroscientist and the Geneticist, who give too much credit according to Mr Baggini to the laws of nature and fatalism. In contrast, both the Artist and the Dissident reclaim their personal freedom as an act of will, compelled by their deep convictions and principles. Freedom for the Psychopath and Addict is, however, relatively diminished.

The conclusions presented by the Philosopher and Waiter are persuasive in that we can earn our freedom by developing our capacity to make our own choices. In this way, free will is not a state but a process, not something we have or do not have. Rather, it’s a matter of degree, Mr Baggini reiterates, “something we have to work on, to protect and to nurture”.

He writes: “To be free is for one’s decisions, actions, beliefs and values to be one’s own. We are free to the extent that we are more self-directed, running along our own tracks rather than on those laid down by others”. Interestingly, he claims freedom to be a cluster of capacities – for originality, for spontaneity, and reflection. It involves being aware too of how our freedom might be hampered, if not be a repressive political regime, then psychologically through fear and manipulation or through conventional social structures.

One political dissident he interviewed recognised how we don’t always appreciate or take full advantage of our opportunities to exercise our free will, that we can let our “free will muscles” atrophy if things are easy. This was something I also noticed on my return to Germany after living in China.

There’s no mention at all of personal development work or coaching, yet there is a call to action – to all of us to become more conscious of our possibilities and choices and to gain an enhanced sense of agency and responsibility for being who we are. Ultimately, we might be puppets within our culture but we can still pull our own strings, claims the author. Now, that’s a curious notion worth pondering.

Maybe then it’s a truly democractic act to foster more free will in ourselves and others, as it is to manage better our minds and emotions and recognise the scope of our autonomy and freedom.

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