Monday, June 24, 2013

Chairs and Freedom

What is the difference between a chair and justice? Why is it that the range of disagreement when defining justice is so much broader than when defining a chair? What is freedom? 

These are only a few of the questions that racked my brain this first day of class. Professor Kramnick delivered an interesting introduction to the course before sending the students to their discussion sessions. The discussion sessions are held every day and are facilitated by three teacher assistants who manage groups of approximately twenty students. 
Professor Kramnick reviewing the main topics
to be covered.

Kevin, an undergraduate studying French political thought, was my teacher assistant and led the group to a separate building, which was assigned to us after a mistake in the paperwork. There was no air conditioning, although there was a large square fan to relieve some of the blistering heat. The students introduced themselves, and I was surprised to see two non-high school students in the crowd. One of them is an undergraduate, and the other a teacher from Belgium working toward a PhD.

The first half of the session was a general summary of the course and how it will be organized. After lunch, we began our first discussion: what is the difference when defining a chair, as opposed to defining justice? A common answer would be that the first defines a physical object, whereas the latter refers to an abstract concept which enables more room for deviation of thought. When thinking of a chair, people will often think of the physical and functional qualities of the object; some may describe a chair as a piece of furniture or a tool for sitting and few would define a chair in a more conceptual context as a symbol of power and superiority (ex. a chairman). Justice, however, is often thought of as a concept and therefore people may view it as the police, the act of righteous judgment, or in Plato’s preliminary words, the “advantage of the stronger.” The ambiguity of justice allows for 360 degree analysis from various standpoints, and such a range of variation of thought only expands when defining freedom.

The discussion room for my group, last names G-P.
The meaning of freedom has long been the subject of debate throughout centuries of human history. Freedom may be defined as the lack of restraint, lack of restriction, lack of being influenced by fear of judgment or negative sanctions. On the other hand, justice may be defined as having choice- being able to choose which job to take or what action to take. However, the issue of internal freedom arises, for if your thoughts are influenced by others, is that a free choice you are making?

While on the topic, Kevin brought up another curious paradox as “food for thought” since we ran out of time. He is exceptionally intelligent and speaks “a mile a minute” as he described, and the discussion ran eight minutes over time. We turned in our essays on our definition of freedom, but before he let us leave he described the following situation: during the time of slavery in America, many slaves were so affected by the community opinions that they embraced slavery and willingly chose to be enslaved because they believed it was their natural place in society. They willingly chose to be enslaved, but their opinions were the product of society’s negative influence; does this fall under freedom?

The gorge from the left side of the bridge on the way to Bailey Hall
from North Balch and Risley Hall.
The two hours spent in the discussion session today really opened my eyes. I was shocked by the depth of insight and complexity of thought that engulfed me on the first day of class, because I had heard Freedom and Justice was an easy course. I am glad the rumors were wrong and I cannot wait to learn more tomorrow. Sitting in the discussion room, I felt as though I was surrounded by real intellectuals- students who really cared about education and being successful. The discussions were open and peers freely debated while maintaining a positive atmosphere. My knowledge and awareness has increased, as well as my capacity to learn. 

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