On Freedom and Knowledge

Dearest Father,

It would appear that free will is an immense and insurmountable quandary. If it is taken from the perspective of good and evil then you do not have it, for you can never choose evil. If we take it from the basis of constraint and power then we do not have it, for our wills are not free at all but are limited by predetermined rules we cannot change. The last point is among the reasons I am writing yet another letter on this issue, for Doubt has not allowed me to rest since I sent you my last missive. Adamant that freedom, however small, is still freedom, he has forced me to think more deeply about the wills of your children, and to consider that perhaps we still possess our wills even if they are constrained, that we still have some agency even if it is not limitless.

In some way I agree. Though tiny and feeble our freedom may be, it still feels, for lack of a better word, like it is there. As I said in my last letter, even my illustrative prisoners possess freedom in certain things. They can choose to behave properly while serving out their sentence; they can choose the friends and foes they make whilst incarcerated. They are not free, but they are not completely bound either.

There is, however, one issue with this line of thought, and as I mentioned in my last letter it is one of judgement.  You see, the biggest reason we are given for our inability to reach the Great Upstairs with you is that we are not good. Against a being as wonderful and perfect as you we are bad, fundamentally stained and unworthy. The elders of the House do not say that we are a different kind of good; they say we are not good at all. When you are the standard anything that is not you is not it. If we are not as good as you we are not good, period. If one can be so harsh, so abrupt, so binary in meting out the judgement that shall serve us for all eternity, why then can one not be equally harsh in viewing the very constructs around which this judgement is made? If you are the model of free will then anything that is not like you in that manner is not free. Your children have a saying about having cakes and eating them that expresses this succinctly. We cannot use binary means to judge our worth, and then turn around and use continuous means to judge our freedom. Where you are the standard, there can be no deviant.

Still, Doubt had a point. True, our wills are not free; they are limited. However, they have not been shown to be completely constrained. We have some leeway. We may not possess the almighty, world-creating freedom of our Father, but we have something. While a stubborn part of me was unwilling to give quarter to these thoughts, my curiosity was piqued and I decided to explore the implications of this. You, for whatever reason, decided at the moment of our creation to constrain our freedom, to (perhaps ironically) limit it to two “things”: good and evil. This compromise would mean that we have solved our problem. We have some freedom, and we have will. What your children have done with these things can now be squarely laid at our feet.

I had barely finished nodding my head at his postulations when Doubt turned around and attacked his own words. We may have some freedom, he offered, but is it freedom that matters? There are certain kinds of freedoms that are ultimately pointless and others that are infinitely more useful. The freedom, for example, that allows our aforementioned prisoners to eventually break free of the bonds keeping them in prison is a very useful freedom. The one that allows them to sleep on whatever side of their cot that tickles their fancy is, on the other hand, quite useless. Admitting that we have some kind of freedom is not enough. We must be able to see if this freedom is useful or constructive, if this freedom serves some purpose. And to that end Father, Doubt revealed one thing that rendered all the freedoms you have given us pointless: knowledge, or perhaps more accurately, ignorance.

Once again Father, I must look to you to make his point. Ignoring the immense freedom that power brings, there is still a certain advantage afforded to beings like yourself that know what their choices mean. Knowing which choices to make, knowing which choices would have certain desired consequences, these are forms of knowledge that are not just invaluable but essential if one is to consider your children truly free to choose. Knowledge is power, and power is freedom; he who knows more can choose better, and the very existence of Doubt tells you all you need to know about the state of your children’s knowledge.

We often say that the road downstairs is paved with good intentions, and this truism illustrates exactly what is wrong with the ignorance you have allowed to fester among your children. You have made a world, Father, where it is not enough for one to want so fervently to do good; one must also know how to do good. This would not be quite the issue it is if you saw fit to bestow upon your children wonderful, perfect intellects that revealed intimately both the good things and the bad, so that intent was coupled closely with knowledge, so that ignorance would be no defence for there would be no ignorant people. Instead you have made beings with minds most weak, beings that learn only through repetition, beings that forget very easily, beings that need continuous experience in order to truly know.  You have made beings with whom there exists such a disparity in beliefs they cannot agree on what good and evil are. If we do not even know what these things are, if we cannot trust our own heads, one what basis can you say we are free to choose the right things?

Now, there are those within the House that state that all these flaws of the human mind came as a result of the Fall, that the sins of the First Brother clouded our heads and hearts. And while this answers the questions surrounding our immense limitations, it also raises a very terrifying corollary. It means, Father, that Adam, of sound mind and heart, knew what he was doing when he consumed the forbidden fruit. This leaves one with the scary conclusion that he either possessed intent most evil, or he was a terribly foolish person.

Think about it Father. For one to believe that before the Fall we were perfect one has to believe that Adam knew exactly what eating that fruit meant. The deceptive words of the serpent become useless in this world, for Adam would know that he was not going to become you; he was instead going to die. And not only was he going to die; he was also going to damn his sister-wife and every last one of his offspring to death as well. This is stupidity and evil to the most extreme, for he effectively traded happiness and paradise for death and destruction. Only a being most evil would do this in full knowledge of the consequences, a being that doesn’t care much for itself or for anything really, a being we have seen personified in the history of the House as You-Know-Who… (I wonder, was he also possessing of perfect intellect before his fall from grace?)

Of course because the fruit itself was from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, this means that Adam could not have known that he was doing evil, even if he perhaps knew the dire and damning consequences of his actions. In one move we appear to have created a terribly evil being that is not even aware of his evilness.  Is it any wonder that he fell? Could he really have been called good along with the rest of your creation when such evil lurked within his soul?

Thus, our First Brother was either ignorant and good when he fell, or knowledgeable and evil. The first option means that we have never been free of ignorance; our minds have always been weak and clouded. The second contradicts the very need for the act that led to the Fall in the first place, making it a useless, if already frightening, conclusion.

And so Father, even with the assumption that we possess some freedom to power our wills we are left realising that this freedom is once again useless as it does not (and never did) contain the most necessary ingredient for free and informed choice: perfect knowledge. It seems Doubt pushed me down this path of limited freedom with the express intent of dashing my hopes, for once again I am left with the unfortunate conclusion that your children in no meaningful way possess free will. We are not as free as you, and even in our limited existence we lack the necessary tools to have prevented our Fall and to save us from ourselves.  This calls to mind once again the question of judgement, Father, for one must wonder on what standard you judge beings that have been handicapped from the very beginning.

As I sit here and ponder that even my once little friend is silent; this, it seems, is a question neither of us can answer.

With much thought,

Your Prodigal Son

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3 thoughts on “On Freedom and Knowledge

  1. […] time I have failed to find a meaning for the term consistent with the manner in which it is used. My last letter tried to reconcile our limited freedoms with their utility, reasoning that while pure freedom […]

  2. […] free, constrained and tied to consequences and occurrences we did very little to create or cause. We looked at “limited” free wills and found ourselves lacking once again. Any freedom you have given us is completely nullified by […]

  3. […] that our lack of understanding comes from the less than perfect nature of our minds, but this, much like the assertions made with regards to the First Brother’s faculties, does not vindicate the state of your world. Ignoring our apparent lack of freedom this would mean […]

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