Essay goes through the stages and problems of the human personality development from the ancient Greeks to our modern times. It explains why the phrase “no one owes nothing” reveals out a slave in the man.


This article is translated from Russian. If you do speak Russian, I offer you to read its original version “ТЕОРИЯ СВОБОДЫ“. Otherwise I’d appreciate your comment if you think the meaning is not clear somewhere.


The ability to feel and control your emotions allows human to understand others and interact with them. These skills people have been developing throughout their history. “Correct behavior” in the group is fundamental for the family and partnership formation needed to stabilize any social system.

Constitutions of countries describe rights and freedoms of citizens. Human rights are usually clearly explained, but the description of freedom is shown through rights and does not reveal the very meaning of this term. Nevertheless, according to constitution all of us should not “violate the freedom of others.” I tried to figure out what is human freedom and how to deal with it.

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The concept of freedom as the right choice, originated in ancient Greece, has played a fundamental role in the development of people over the past several thousand years, turning every person from a passive object of biological evolution into an active participant of society.

An idea of “freedom from fate” is one of the most important philosophical concepts. Some philosophers believe that modern society is based on it.

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates changed the course of history. Two and a half thousand years ago he turned his thoughts towards man, while thinkers before him were more interested in nature.

Socrates stated that human fate is not predetermined and person determines his or her own future independently but does not follow the preordained. This was a bold thought for the “mortal human” since the Greeks of that time believed in fated destinies even for their gods.

A man with his eternal fear of the future was trying to penetrate the dark veil of the predestined. Ancient people developed the art of predictions. They addressed almost every life decision to the oracle. Greeks saw the key to the interpretation of the mysterious will of fate in dreams, in the flight of birds, and even in the arrangement of the entrails of sacrificial animals. Predictions became particularly relevant thing during periods of wars and cataclysms.

Internal fears and uncertainty about their capabilities often push people to believe in the supernatural. Socrates’ idea of “freedom from fate” is important for two reasons. Firstly, he had the courage to speak against traditional views, religion, and society. Secondly, it was made special by the comprehension and acceptance by man of full responsibility for his life. Was it a feat?

A few thousand years later, we behave just like ancient Greeks. We are trying to shift responsibility for our future to someone who is (in our opinion) more powerful. Why do we do this?

Do we believe that our efforts are insufficient to solve difficulties? Do we need a miracle created not with our own hands but by somebody else?

Understanding past as a result of your own behavior is difficult. Surviving your mistakes is even more difficult. People usually do not like to go the hard way, but at least each of us has the right to choose it. Socrates gave us this opportunity to choose freedom over animal instincts and fears.

Chaos and complete freedom to follow your feelings, i.e. destructive social behavior, was strongly condemned by ancient Greek philosophers. The idea of Socrates’ self-development was later developed by Aristotle. He was reflecting about three types of man.

Aristotle divided people singling out “plant people” (who only needs primitive resources and growth), “People-animals” (which are guided only by emotions), and “people-reasonable” (who are guided by reason and virtue in decision-making).

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Modern people talk about levels of brain structure that correspond to different reactions. The first layer is the “reptilian brain”. It is about instincts with reaction as “hit/run”. Primitive animals have it. The second level of the brain is the limbic system which controls emotions and reactions like “want/do not want”. All mammals have it.  Therefore, the dog can sincerely love the owner and protect him or her without fear of death, but the snake will never answer the owner with any tenderness. The third level is neocortex (convolutions). It’s the upper layer of the brain. Within an animal world, only a few species of higher primates have neocortex in primitive form and man enjoys its full capacity.

Neocortex can be taught to control the signals of the two bottom brain layers. Therefore, any animal will be always afraid of the doctor, but human is able to endure the pain from a prick or swallow bitter medicine, blocking both reactions “to run” and “of displeasure”. A child is not capable of such mental efforts, but an adult can learn to control himself or herself.

Being born as a half-animal we are learning to become a human  over the course of our life.

The ancient Greeks did not know as much about the structure of the brain as modern people do. But the Greeks also believed that a person can develop into a “thinking human” by self-reflection, by the hard work of pacifying his or her ego and passions. We cannot find a way to control our reflexes but can learn through mental efforts and self-control.

Does this mean that the highest development and supreme freedom corresponds to the highest responsibility? Is it the main characteristic of freedom? Is it possible to judge the freedom of man by the level of his responsibility?

Aristotle in his work “Politics” wrote that “a slave by nature will not be completely human,” because “he is attached to the mind only insofar as he feels, and not in what he owns.” Aristotle says that “by nature a slave is hunchbacked, and a free man walks with a straight back” (“Politics”), that “in conjunction with the mind brings people close to the gods” (“On the parts of animals”). So we understand that freedom for Aristotle means the full development of the person himself and all his internal qualities. The more a person is developed, the stronger and closer to the gods he is, so he can take on more responsibility.

There is an inscription of the unknown philosopher “know thyself” in the Delphi temple of Apollo, which Socrates chose as his motto and another ancient Greek philosopher
Chilon of Sparta developed this same thought: “know thyself, and you will know the gods and the universe.” According to Socrates, a man takes the leading role in determining the future of the world, but humans must not forget about virtues. The main virtue of Socrates considered morality and the way to achieve it is about a conscious desire to improve life for oneself and others.

According to Aristotle, a non-free man (a slave) is not able to make decisions independently, does not possess “reason and action on his own preference” (“Politics”), is incapable of contemplating, which is “the activity of a noble person.

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Is a person born free, or is he or she getting freedom while growing up?

Plato was a disciple of Socrates and the teacher of Aristotle. He wrote in the treatise “The State” that the quality of a person’s choice (the degree of his freedom) depends on the knowledge and wisdom that he finds on the path of life.

Let’s assume that humans are originally born free. Then he or she would act inefficiently  based on a small amount of information without any understanding of this world. Therefore, a person is born completely helpless and dependent on parents. A baby acquires different levels of freedom through the gradual development. At first, he is fed only with milk, then he gains the freedom to choose food. Then he learns to walk and getting the freedom to move. This way parents are gradually teaching him or her to make decisions.

Freedom is similar to love, will, faith, and other multifaceted complex abstract concepts, which are revealed to a person in a new light during every stage of human development.

Day after day we understand them in different ways, again and again discovering the depths of their meaning.

There are many people, who acquired the external attributes of freedom but do not want to develop further to gain it within, while some other humans are finding each time a “new self” through trials of getting to the point and reflection on abstract concepts.

Therefore, each person has its own comprehension of freedom. It depends on his or her education, mentality, culture, internal values, and social environment. Also, people think differently about love, will, faith, creativity, and so on. May it be the reason for misunderstanding?

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Let’s try to define the term “freedom”.

Many people consider themselves free, while they are dependent on narcotic substances, food, relationships, pleasures, emotions, social connections, certain circumstances, and conditions.

Is the girl doing a free choice to suffer the pain and further complications of plastic surgery, or she is trying to suit the social patterns and requirements of her ego?

We see more and more by climbing uphill with each new stage of ascent. Same happends as we grow up, we acquire new knowledge and come to new values and goals for ourselves. Then let’s assume that with each level the human development understanding of life becomes wider and deeper.

People who are forced to work hard all day for a penny would call their freedom a life without such work, and those suffering from a serious illness would consider freedom as a recovery. Prisoners would speak about freedom as an opportunity to go where you want.

Thus, freedom is a release from suffering and external circumstances. Let’s take internal values as one of the main measures of motivation. Does it mean that the concept of freedom for each individual will be colored by these values because a person understands and accepts the new through a prism of himself?

At first glance, the inner motive of noble deeds may be exalted virtuous thoughts or turn out to be evil (for example, pride, greed, and lust). Can we consider a person as free if some inner conviction is pushing him to certain actions?

Let’s imagine a volunteer who risks his life in the flames of a burning house to save a child. Does he do this according to his free choice, or does he owe this decision to the internal concept of honor and duty and can not do otherwise? Does the sense of duty relate to the concept of freedom?

Will we consider heroic actions as a free decision? How do we remember a person who decided to sacrifice himself for the sake of others? Probably, we respect him and feel pride. Do we continue to respect him, if we found out that his decision was based on internal childish protest and desire to prove to everyone that “I can do at least something”?

Emotional impulse (complete freedom of action) is a weak-willed without analysis, internal solution, and participation of the will.

In that situation, a person is the unconscious slave of his ego and passions, so the choice is made by circumstances (reflexes), not by him. Then the value for the person and those around him or her is important for every action. We conclude the importance of motives based on this value.

“A vacation” might be an answer for the meaning of freedom for schoolchildren. While education (rather than a rest from it) is a greater freedom. Education allows any person to chose the future for himself and his family. Then is it necessary to connect the concept of time and freedom?

Let’s conclude all of the above and assume that FREEDOM is an opportunity to choose and make a decision logically, proceeding from person’s internal values, needs, and current situation, guided by the notion of virtues for oneself and others, focusing on the long-term perspective.

photo by Andrei Lazarev на Unsplash, processing by Kasya Shahovskaya

Responsibility is the second half of the freedom. The more freedom, the more responsibility. This its price and its reward. The more someone deserves freedom, the more responsibility he or she gets. Freedom is the power and the right to create at will, but by understanding and accepting the full responsibility for actions and all the consequences of choice.

Julius Caesar said “… the least freedom is associated with the highest fate. Such people can neither show their disposition nor hate, but most of all – indulge in anger.” (“The War of Catiline”).

How to understand that the choice is made by the person himself, and not by his complexes, passions, ego, feelings of love or duty, bursts of hormones, beliefs, society-bound or fictitious illusions?

There is the concept of “actions committed in a state of affect“, when an individual, at the mercy of emotions or reflexes, does not reason logically. The modern law treats such as he or she is not actually a “sane” person and therefore can not be held responsible for his or her crimes.

Aristotle was ahead of his time for two thousand years in the definition of ethics and freedom of choice, which thinkers and lawmakers t cannot agree with to this day. He introduces the concept of “responsibility” in his Nicomachean ethic, saying that it is “happiness” inherent in a developed person and requiring effort: “the best person is not the one who acts in accordance with virtue in relation to himself, but the one who does so according to relation to others, and this is a difficult matter. “

Aristotle believed that a person committing an act is free at the time of the accomplishment, he chooses his own behavior and forms his own character himself: “virtue, as well as depravity, depends on us; … and if not acting beautifully depends on us, then acting shamefully depends too.”

Aristotle wrote on the man development that in all actions “pleasure and suffering serve us as a yardstick,” and therefore “from the very childhood we must lead to the fact that pleasure and suffering bring what it follows; this is the right education.

It is natural for us to acquire virtues, and through cultivation, we are improving in them,” says the philosopher in the second book of his Ethics, adding that “a virtue arises and grows mainly through learning and that’s why it needs a long exercise.” Thus, the punishment for misconduct in Aristotle’s opinion is “a kind of medicine” from an unrestrained mind, and “those who commit acts must always bear in mind their relevance and timeliness” – and this is human freedom.

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Full freedom was also condemned by Plato, who believed that the acquisition of freedom as the goal of life to some extent interferes with the formation of society. In his treatise “The State” he says that the main goal of a person’s life is not the achievement of freedom, but to serve society. In his view, the country even needs to drive out the poets, because they are weakening the devotion of the people with their “plaintive cries“. Plato is the first of the philosophers to speak of the dangers of permissiveness for fragile minds, for man is weak, is a “captive of the sensible world” and “is inclined to overuse freedom.”

There is a phrase in the third Plato’s book staying that “excessive freedom … for the state … turns into excessive slavery“. In the “Laws” Plato wrote: “I see the fast end of that state where the law has no power and is under someone’s power. In the same place where the law is the ruler over the rulers, and they are his slaves, I see the salvation of the state and all the blessings that gods can bestow on states.”Therefore, it is precisely the fundamental and inviolability of the law that Plato has” the only true exponent of freedom.”

And if you still consider complete freedom from everything? The followers of Socrates, the Cynics, were the first to unite the idea of self-denial. The Cynics believed that all people are inherently vicious and not free, subject to their passions. For cynics, freedom is more a “destructive element”, which borders on arbitrariness and implies the absence of a measure in manifesting one’s desires. Freedom in their opinion cannot be limited to the state, marriage, decorum, social norms and laws.

They introduced the concept of “asceticism“, which is a freedom from passions through the capacity for self-denial and the transfer of difficulties and the rejection of everything that is not absolutely necessary for survival. They also brought the term “apedewsia” which is less known in the modern world. It means freedom through detachment from culture and society, renunciation of writing, “making knowledge dead“. Finally, they proposed the term “autarky“, which is the acquisition of freedom through the rejection of the family and the state. The internal freedom of the Cynics was not brought up in man by logic and reflection, as for other schools, but it was extracted through a painful struggle with oneself.

The Cynics goal of combating their passions in all manifestations of humanity was raised to a degree of excellence. It met with the strongest resistance in society and revolts people to this day. Such a theory deserves attention because like every extreme it is pointing to the truth somewhere in the middle. It means that gaining freedom should go not through a constant struggle with oneself, but with a logical dialogue, through the ability to negotiate and make a compromise with deep loving and respecting oneself.

What is the freedom for a reasonable developed person?

The measure of freedom is responsibility according to greeks. It is the responsibility for their actions that are described in detail in the constitution and the penal code of any country.

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Does the person behave reasonably in accordance with social norms and laws because of the fear of punishment, or is there another characteristic of freedom that we did not mention?

A free man according to the Greeks philosophy is calm, balanced and relaxed. The fear is not a basic emotion of a free man, but rather inherent in a slave. Does it mean that a reasonable person follows social laws not out of fear, and not for the sake of his own benefit, but from some other spiritual quality?

One thing is going through all of the ancient Greek and modern philosophy. It is the concept of the liability for a developed person. A free person deliberately chooses onus and what he ought to do, this is the essence of freedom.

A man who owes nothing to anyone is not a man at all, but a slave.

Because the level of freedom and the degree of responsibility is expressed by a duty, which he or she voluntarily and consciously takes himself or herself. Duty is what determines a man’s freedom, not in words, but in deeds. Liability is a material measure of a person’s freedom and the more a person takes on himself, the more he is developed.

Perhaps Socrates introduced the concept of duty into ancient philosophy. He demonstrated his civic duty by obeying the court’s decision (which he disagreed with) and taking death.

The Greeks reflected on the theory of duty. Aristotle wrote about “equanimity” (Greek ἀ τάραχος – “atracos”) in his “Ethics” to determine such virtues as restraint and courage.

The Greek school of Stoicism was focused on freedom most closely from all in ancient philosophy. They considered the concept of duty as an ethical concept.

Philosopher Democritus created the term “ataraxia” (Greek αταραξία) from the definition of Aristotle. It is characterized by peace of mind, equanimity, serenity, according to some ancient Greek philosophers (especially Stoics), achieved by the sapient man. They believed that only the inner world of each of us has moral significance, determines its happiness and is entirely in the power of human and depends on him or on her.

The philosopher Epiket said: “The only good is in ourselves, as well as the evil is in our unreasonable concepts and maleficent desires.”

Stoics distinguished four types of pernicious passions: pleasure, aversion, lust, and fear. They must be avoided “using the right judgment.” Man in the opinion of the Stoics is a free being and by this, he is different from all other animals in nature, but very few people realize this.

Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca writes “… show me who is slaving in this or that sense,” meaning slaves of human vices of greed, lust, and envy.

The main enemy of freedom in the Stoics is the human body, its impulses, emotions. The mainstay of freedom is his or her soul. A wise human is able to overcome sensual and material desires in contrast to a crowd that is not free in their desires and slavishly follows the dictates of their passions.

The inner calmness of the soul does not depend on the state of the external world and material joys but on the mastery of time management. The Stoics believed that a person should calmly treat his present, past and future and all his life, having the ability to look at it “from the point of view of eternity“.

Today after more than two thousand years modern people still call “stoic” a person who knows how to face with dignity his or her fate and unabashedly fulfilling his or her duty. According to the Stoics, one must obey what does not depend on them (the external world) and improve what depends on them (the inner world).

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The highest degree of development in the Stoics was the human personality with a rich inner world, open to a new knowledge and perceiving the whole world around as a single whole. “In fulfilling the duties of a person, we do not lock ourselves in the walls of one city or state, but we go out into the open space of the world,” wrote Seneca.

Does this mean that the most developed person feels the responsibility not only for himself and his family but also for the society in which he is and for the whole world?

What is the meaning of the human dignity in stoicism? In understanding the need and submission to it, respecting oneself and others through controlling your emotions and passions, developing your will and creating a stable inner peace. Through the control of their animal impulses, the Stoics reached a special calm, even, a mental state of inner freedom, and the main art was to maintain this state of the “free man” in any life situation.

Freedom of the person is an opportunity to independently supervise his or her behavior, to choose the liability and its volumes not depending on external influence but himself or herself.

What is not-freedom then?

What do people feel when they know they can not control themselves and the situation on their own? If the responsibility is imposed on them? If they are forced to obey the decisions of other people? Isn’t it a real slavery?

The more free and developed a person is, the more responsibility and duty he or she takes upon himself or herself. Voluntarily.

When is the person still released from the greater part of responsibility and duty? In young years, children are forgiven not only for mistakes and even for certain crimes. Nothing is lost anywhere in our world, so the duty does not disappear either. The parents are taking their children duty upon themselves. But what happens to responsibility when a person grows up?

Denial of duty in adulthood is a clear sign of the infantile personality, who is stuck with its thinking in diapers. Being an irresponsible child is convenient and simple, and the desire to stay in childhood arises in many adults, but while the ostrich digs its head into the sand from fear, its bony tail is actively plucked by more courageous and arrogant competitors.

Banal infantile human fear of responsibility as a part of growing up is often used by impure humans who release a typical adult baby from moral debts, promising them “happiness” without any effort. Such villains make a person seemingly free from his or her duties first of all before himself. A person gets a short-term joy of getting rid of the need to develop, and manipulators are getting a “tamed sheep” without any critical thinking abilities. The villain can do anything with that kind of “animal” (and they do), shearing them according to preferable schedule..

Unfortunately, free cheese is only in a mousetrap, and a greedy silly mouse pays too much for it: thinking that it is freed from debt, a person falls into unconscious slavery from manipulators.

The one who follows the destiny, she leads, and the one who rests, she drags” – so Stoic wisdom says. Freedom is the cognized necessity of change and adaptation. So a person is not free in a world where chaos reigns, but he is free in the knowledge of life and in adaptation to new conditions. A person is endowed with a “soul and mind“, through which he can always find freedom, even when the body is in chains.

Assuming responsibility for the fate and future of himself and the whole world, the ancient Greeks gave people freedom and inspiration to improve and develop intellectually, which served as an impetus for the development of modern science. Philosophers reflected on responsibility and will, on duty, courage, and endurance, on the danger of complete freedom, helping to form a stable modern society.

Stoics introduced the concept of duty as a measure of human freedom and the level of its development. Aristotle created the canonical “Ethics”, where he described in detail the concepts of happiness, virtue, freedom, and responsibility of man, necessary for the prosperity of himself and the society in which he works. Beauty and humaneness are in labor and in creation. According to Aristotle’s labor is “the best and the one true teacher,” and “it is more difficult to fight the temptation of pleasure than the furiousness, but art and virtue are always born from difficulties.