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The Need for Freedom


Explanations > Needs > The Need for Freedom

Economic | Action | Informational | Ideological | Worth fighting for |  So what?


Freedom is an ideal and a fundamental need. It is embodied in many statements of rights. It has, paradoxically, been worth dying for, and many have either been 'freedom fighters' or otherwise gone to war against oppressive regimes or enemies who would institute such a state.

Economic freedom

Economic freedom is the ability to earn what money you can, to spend it as you choose and to own what you buy. It allows you to earn more than the next person.

In the perfect capitalistic state, there is no taxation as everyone works hard and gets back what they deserve from their efforts.

In economic repression, the ideal of equality is used to prevent one person from owning anything, although true communism is very rare and those who make the rules tend to have more advantages than those who are equal to them in lesser ways.

Freedom to act

When people are free to act, they can do things that otherwise might be repressed, including speaking about their beliefs and even taking their own lives.

Action freedom also includes freedom to engage in whatever sexual activity you choose as well as performing religious rites and attempting to persuade others for whatever purpose.

Where there is freedom to act, there also needs to be constraints that give reasonable protection from those whose actions would harm others. The most difficult question here is what constitutes 'reasonable', and laws can range from lax to tight.

Informational freedom

Where there is informational freedom, people are allowed to know anything and everything they desire. All information is freely available, governments and companies are transparent and secrecy does not exist.

Information includes both the know-what of basic knowledge and the know-how of skills, and freedom of information includes freedom to learn.

When information is free, there are no barriers to communication between people and there is no penalty for sharing.

Information is power only when it is unequally held and although informational imbalance may still exist, it is only the desire of the individual that leads to this inequality. 

Ideological freedom

In an environment of ideological freedom, individuals are allowed to believe whatever they wish. This includes adherence to political, religious and scientific beliefs.

Whilst the ideological context permits seeking after truth, it does not require it and people are free to believe things that others hold strongly as untrue or wrong.

Significant tolerance is needed to make ideological freedom work and a common (and hence non-free) belief must be that others have a right to believe things that you do not believe.

So what?

Know what freedoms you value and fight for them as needed. In persuading others, remind them of this need and threaten it as appropriate (though beware of stimulating an over-reaction).

See also

The Need for Fairness, Yalom's ultimate concerns


Veenhoven, R. (2000). Freedom and happiness: A comparative study in forty-four nations in the early 1990s. In E. Diener and E. M. Suh (Eds.), Culture and subjective well-being (pp. 257-288). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press



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