In Weigel’s essay, ‘Two Ideas of Freedom’, he first mentions freedom of excellence while referring to Servais Pinckaers’ opinion that St. Thomas Aquinas’ thinking about freedom is best captured in the phrase freedom for excellence. He goes on to identify freedom as St. Thomas saw it, a means to human excellence, happiness and fulfillment of destiny. Weigel further expounds freedom as the capacity to choose wisely and act well as a matter of habit, the organizing principle of a moral life – and since this possibility of a moral life (the capacity to think and chose) is what distinguishes the human person from the rest of the natural world, freedom is therefore the organizing principle of a life lived in a truly human way; The capacity that unifies all other capacities into an orderly whole, and directs our actions toward the pursuit of happiness and goodness.
In identifying freedom of excellence he refers to Aquinas’ awareness of our ability to do evil and yet in face of manifest evil he still insisted that we have within us, a freedom through which we can do things well, rightly, excellently, a philosophical anthropology with moral convictions about the inalienable dignity and value of every human life. We are made for excellence; and freedom developed through prudence, justice, courage and temperance is the method by which we achieve ‘human excellence’.
Freedom of excellence relates to our human dignity in having an objective value, as explained above, and can therefore be described as the inherently human ability to constantly achieve - to achieve human excellence, to achieve human happiness, to achieve fulfillment of destiny, to achieve growth in virtue (and thus growth in freedom), achieve free societies – and to create inexhaustible possibilities for the development of human development, through freedom, by living virtuously.
Everything we interact with as human beings has an ‘ordinate’ and intrinsic value. A worth beyond all predicates. This fact, that objects do not merely receive, but also merit our approval or disapproval, our reverence or contempt, clearly indicates a doctrine the Chinese refer to as Tao; ‘the greatest thing, reality, nature and the way the universe goes on and things everlastingly emerge’, the doctrine of objective value. This appreciation of objective value as a reality, and not just an idea, has been echoed throughout history by different schools of thought, cultures and even religions. Shelly described it by comparing the sensibility of man to a lyre with the power of ‘internal adjustment’ that ‘accommodates its chords to the motions of whatever strikes them’ as he described how we interact with objects. Trahene further emphasized that every object has its ‘due esteem’ and Aristotle went on to tell us that education’s main aim is to teach us what, already, ought to be liked and disliked, a sentiment shared by Plato, long before him, in nearly the same exact words. By this reality, certain attitudes are true or false according to how the universe works, and our approvals and disapprovals are recognitions of a quality which demands a certain response from us, recognitions of objective value. In line with this, our emotional states are therefore alogical and cannot be judgements in themselves; they are all viewed as either reasonable or unreasonable in their conformity to reason and objective value. In Lewis’ lecture on ‘Men without chests’ he gives the example that we call children delightful and old men venerable as recognition of their objective value and not simply a record of our emotional perception. He further tells us how he does not enjoy the company of children. However, regardless of his own preferences he acknowledges, just as a man may recognize that he is colour blind or mute, that this is not caused by a defect in children but rather himself. An individual’s refusal to acknowledge objective value is absolutely non-rational as it therefore forces that individual to hold the stance that nothing has any value. When one tourist, in the story of Coleridge at the waterfall, called the cataract ‘sublime’, he was not only talking of how his emotion of humility was ordinate to the reality, just as to say that ‘a shoe fits’ is to speak also of the feet. The emotion considered by itself is thus neither reasonable or unreasonable but rather does not even rise to the dignity of error. In this view, also the world of facts, without a trace of value is non-rational. Therefore when an individual cannot provide grounds for identification of objective value he lacks the rationality of thought necessary to acknowledge the dignity of the person, and by extension his own. Just as no amount of justification of virtue will make a man virtuous, virtues of human dignity cannot be coherently justified without any appeal to objective value.
My definition of human dignity is that every human being is valuable. In the words of the UDHR, human dignity is defined as the idea that every human has inherent worth.
I believe the foundation of dignity lies truly only in our ability to recognize and truly appreciate others’ worth. That worth being infinitesimally small, apparently non-existent or even grossly exaggerated is not up to anybody or even quantifiable. It isn’t based on opinion or value-assessment but rather by recognition of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of humanity. With that in mind, my perspective on the topic of the foundation of the dignity of the human person is that human dignity cannot be shared by a group of people or even religion but rather is a personal characteristic whose appreciation and sharing can only be achieved by accepting no human being has greater or less value than we do. In my opinion, this acceptance is the only foundation of human dignity.
The nature of human freedom refers to a culture of life that upholds everyone’s dignity and emphasizes the inherent right to life, a right that should not be denied or infringed in any way. Every human being has rights that should not be violated in whichever way whatsoever. Rights that consequently come with responsibilities requiring every individual to practice his or her rights cautiously and responsibly so as not to interfere with others’ rights. The nature of human freedom should therefore entirely subscribe to the philosophy of the culture of life – that advocates for and promotes human dignity, the core to every individual. A culture that’s devoid of any social, political or even economic interference. A culture that nurtures and protects the dignity of every human being from conception to natural death. That should be the real description of life.
Society must therefore rise to the occasion by protecting and defending the dignity and value of human life because that’s what describes the nature of human freedom.
It’s the obligation of everyone to build a culture that favors the development of a society that’s mindful of the dignity of its members. Human freedom should accommodate everyone in all respects. It should campaign for the need to respect everyone regardless of his or her cultural background, social status, age, race, political affiliation or gender. That respect to everyone forms the pillar to which dignity is built which is the foundation of every human right. Both men and women should be treated without bias or any form of discrimination to either party. Equality in matters of gender must be emphasized and practiced to the highest standards possible. The essence of human freedom should be that no one is denied his or her fundamental rights and especially the right to life. It should see that society abjures its allegiance to acts that demean the dignity of any person and articulate measures that protect the right to life of every human being. That’s the nature of human freedom.