Wandering Thoughts

June 3, 2009

The Freedom Paradox by Clive Hamilton – a short review

Filed under: Ramblings and Musings — terence @ 8:18 pm
Tags: , ,

The argument runs something like this:

From Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose to Australia’s Work Choices Legislation, much of moderfreedom-paradoxn politics and economics is sold to us in the name of choice. After all, what can be better than letting people choose for themselves? If they’re rational and operating within rules of a game that’s fair, even if they choose in their own self interest, their decisions will still be for the common good.

And yet, choice really isn’t that simple. Often our choices are constrained by interactions with the choices of others. Other times we’re forced to choose without complete information. Sometimes – as Kant pointed out – sating our short term desires may not be in our long term interest. And yet we still give in to our desires. Sometimes we’re just plain irrational. Nowadays marketing is all around us, coaxing us, working on our sub-conscious. Choice is not all it seems.

Reason is not all it seems either; true it can help us unravel the deceptions of supposed free choice, but it what it can’t do is provide us with a compelling case for altruism or a basis for a truly moral code of ethics. Recourse to reason and rationality is where Kant went wrong. Instead we should merely borrow from Kant when he talked about the phenomenon and noumenon – the world as we encounter it and the world as it really is – and follow Schopenhaur in rejecting reason and waving our hands quite a lot and appealing to something else. Namely – wave wave – our sense of the noumenon. Our sense of what is true to the real nature  of existence. How do I know this? Well I just do. And you just should just to. And how should you know what the real nature of existence requires of you? Well I can’t really explain that because explanations tend to hinge on reason and I’ve already eschewed that. You could try Eastern thought. Moving along, let me offer a few digressions about sex, suicide and nature.

Do I sound exasperated? I hate writing negative reviews. Especially as Clive Hamilton is an interesting thinker and has written some good  stuff. But this book frustrated me. Not because I disagreed with it: actually I’m pretty much in accordance with everything up to the discarding of reason. And even then, I’m open to the idea. I see reason’s limits. It’s just that, to me, Hamilton’s attempt to move beyond reason is under-argued; it doesn’t convince at all. To be fair to Hamilton that may well be because making that case for post-rational ethics is incredibly hard, while still being necessary. But even allowing for this, the book is too loose. More time should have been spent on the tricky stuff and much less time on the diversions (and while we’re at it much better evidence could have been mustered on the deceptive nature of ‘choice’ – see Tom Slee’s “No One makes you shop at Wall Mart”, for example).

The Freedom Paradox probably won’t put me off trying Hamilton’s next offer. He certainly seems to be asking the right questions. It’s just a pity that in this book he doesn’t get very far towards answering them.

[In the interests of fairness, here’s a much kinder review, from someone much better qualified than me to comment.]

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1 Comment »

  1. Thanks Terence. You make the book seem well worth a read. And yep, the Tim Dean(?) review was well worth a look -even if just to mull over the hindsights of evolutionary theory.

    Comment by Tom — June 28, 2009 @ 2:06 pm


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