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Ralph Barton Perry – Freedom in the face of contingency

December 30, 2014

“The extent to which a man is free, that is, exercises enlightened choice, depends in the first place upon the extent to which he is aware of the possibilities. In so far as a man is ignorant of what there is to choose, alternatives are eliminated not by rejection but by accident. Freedom is proportional to the range of options. The first condition of freedom, then, is ‘learning.’ To promote freedom it is necessary to enlarge the span of man’s consciousness by acquainting him both with the world and with ‘the best that has been known and thought in the world….

That which every man needs to possess in his own right is what will minister to his exercise of choice. I can utilize the enlightenment of others once my choice is made; but I cannot choose by light that does not shine within the chamber of my own consciousness.”

(from ‘A Definition of the Humanities,’ in The Meaning of the Humanities, ed. T. M. Greene [1938])

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