Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Freedom Paradox, by Clive Hamilton

This is a difficult and dense book as it goes into the philosophies of Kant and Schopenahauer, amongst many others. The core of the book is a discussion of the concepts of ‘phenomenon’ and ‘noumenon’ – you could perhaps simplify these two ideas as the former being the image of the world as we come to perceive it, and the later as the world as it really is, or its very essence.

Kant had the idea that the world of objects was only real to us as a perception, or a ‘phenomenon’ of the mind. Two people might see a chair. One might say it was green, while the other person who was colour blind might not see that colour at all. Their perception makes reality.

The chair, however, is definitely a thing in itself.

Kant’s description for objects in themselves (the thing-in-itself) was called the noumenon. Or again, the essence.

He said the noumenon could not be understood because it ‘ lies absolutely beyond what we could know’.

Schopenhauer claimed we could get in touch with the noumenon, what he called ‘the will’, because it’s a part of our actual being. The noumenon lives in us.

Clive Hamilton, to cut a long story short, says if we can get in touch with this essence of the world, stripped away from the phenomena of the world, then we could access a deep, profound happiness and freedom.

As you can tell by the brevity of this post, the book did not powerfully affect me. The title of the book suggests some thoroughgoing critique of our modern culture, but The Freedom Paradox ends up spending most of its time discussing complex philosophical arguments. I couldn’t figure out how Hamilton wanted the philosophical narrative of his book to inform the implied subject of his book: the paradox of freedom in our modern culture.

In the end I found the book interesting, but not earth shattering. The book makes you labour intensely to follow the philosophical concepts discussed, yet there’s no intellectual pay-off at the end. The title of the book all sounds very impressive, but I thought its contents were really just a dry, plodding digest of many great thinkers.

No comments: