Spontaneous Freedom



Spontaneous freedom, the sort of freedom that people experience when they feel themselves to be “free spirits,” is central to ordinary talk about “freedom.” However, spontaneity is absent from most contemporary moral philosophers’ accounts of freedom, which are concerned primarily to identify the sort of freedom that is a prerequisite for full-fledged moral agency. Spontaneous freedom is not just overlooked but precluded by theories that view freedom as consisting in deliberate, reflective choice. I undertake a phenomenological study of spontaneous freedom. Drawing from a range of literary cases, I argue that spontaneous freedom is the experience of acting in a manner that is not fully fixed by other agents or one’s own preexisting plans but at the same time in a manner that arises out of oneself. This sort of freedom, while intuitively attractive and valuable, conflicts with commonly held theories of freedom of the sort required for agency. Ethical theory should acknowledge the value of spontaneous freedom and the costs of precluding it. [Draft of October 30, 2017]

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