The land of the free

Felipe de Moraes, Staff Writer

Amid the War of Succession (1861-1865), 13th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in Baltimore about the tragedy of the conflict, pointing out that it was an example of how difficult it is to define what “freedom” is.   

“The northern colonies claim to be fighting for freedom, but the southern colonies also claim to be fighting for freedom,” Lincoln said. “After all, what is freedom? The truth is that the world has never had a good definition for the word freedom.”  

By using the same word, we do not mean the same thing.   

As the Italian philosopher and lawyer Bruno Leoni said, “Freedom is something that is simply there, and the only question is to find the right words to describe it. But it is not something simple, because freedom does not refer to an object, a concrete thing.”  

Linguistically, something tangible is easy for readers to understand. In this case, a simple solution to naming something is merely pointing to the item we are trying to define. Thus, two words that refer to the same thing would have their equivalence proven by a physical example. This form of conversation allows dialogue between people of different languages and cultures.   

This is also how European explorers were able to communicate with Native Americans when they arrived at what is now the United States, and how a child slowly learns to understand its mother. Unfortunately, it is much more difficult to define words that are not material objects and are simply ideas. In this case, we cannot rely on a tangible article to translate our thought; we must connect several ideas to form one single definition.   

You cannot point to something and say, “This is freedom.” It has many different meanings depending on the term’s usage. In just the historical context, freedom has different definitions in ordinary language and the languages of politics and economics.    

In this sense, the word freedom seems to float without an anchor, with several different people in different places introducing semantic changes at all times. Philosophers who disagree with the meanings already accepted in the common languages of the West create new definitions, and everything gets even more confusing.   

Currently, the definitions of freedom in philosophy, economics, politics, morals and so on are different, increasing the number and the severity of the possible confusion. This became a problem in the way that people are able to take the word freedom and the connotation connected with it and use it in whatever way benefits them the most. Freedom, and its many interpretations, has been used to persuade others to change their behavior to actions that no longer support their personal definition of the word, resulting in pro-freedom speeches for anti-freedom movements.   

The conclusion is that defining freedom is not easy, but it is my opinion that freedom is a basic principle of good political systems. Although it is difficult to define freedom, an effective definition might be that it is a word commonly used by individuals to mean psychological experiences with positive connotations. After all, no one uses the expression, “I am free” in the sense that they are without something they consider positive. For example, no one says, “I am free of money,” or, “I am free of health.” Just saying “freedom” may be insufficient, but I do not believe this is bad.