Spontaneous Freedom



Spontaneous freedom, the sort of freedom evoked by phrases like “freedom of the open road,” “free as a bird,” and “free spirits,” is central to ordinary talk about “freedom.” However, spontaneous freedom is absent from many contemporary moral philosophers’ accounts of freedom, which are concerned primarily to identify the sort of freedom that is prerequisite for full-fledged moral responsibility or autonomy. Drawing from a range of literary cases, I undertake a phenomenological study of spontaneous freedom. I argue that to experience of spontaneous freedom is to experience one’s action as not settled in advance by anyone else’s conscious, reflective decisions or even by one’s own conscious, reflective decisions. This sort of freedom is denigrated or ignored by commonly held theories of freedom of the sort required for moral agency. Such theories should be revised to better acknowledge the value of experiencing spontaneous freedom and the costs of precluding it. [Draft of June 10, 2018]

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