What is freedom? We clamor for its protection at the drop of a hat, but what is it for which we are fighting? Drawing a nice distinction between heteronomy and autonomy, Kant gives us a way to define freedom. Heteronomy is man “as he belongs to the world of sense, subject to the laws of nature” and autonomy is man “as he belongs to the intelligible world subject to laws which, independent of nature, are not empirical but are founded only on reason.” Freedom, then, being ultimate autonomy and separation from determining causes of the world of sense, is man’s creation of a law for and from himself through the ultimate autonomy of the will. This is opposed to an “alien-law” (heteronomy), or a law from without, to which man is subjected, rendering him not free, but determined by outside forces. This dichotomy lends itself to a radical individualism, a trait that is very prevalent in the American mind. But is this trait good? Is this idea of freedom correct? Or even better said, is this dichotomy the only option before us?
Often described parochially in terms of positive and negative freedom, that is, freedom from and freedom too—freedom from this effect, and freedom to do this act—might I suggest another preposition to follow the word freedom: “in”—freedom in something. What is that something? Simply put, the truth, God and his infinite wisdom. Pope John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor describes this idea in terms of participated theonomy: the participation of man in God’s divine wisdom to which he is fitted as a rational creature and the receiver of divine revelation. In some ways, this idea subsumes into itself the dichotomy Kant draws, for theonomy is both a law from without, and a law from within, dwelling in and spring up from man as received and gifted.It is not clear that this can be easily demonstrated, but some have claimed freedom to be a self-evident truth and man to be endowed with such truths by his creator. Could this be freedom as gift, as inherent in nature, as participation in truth?