Andrius Kulikauskas

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Abstract submitted to the Conference on Freedom and Autonomy. June 15-16, London.

Understanding Freedom Within a Hierarchy of Needs

Do we need to be free? Do all living beings need to be free? In what sense, if any, is freedom necessary?

A fruitful way to study freedom is to appreciate it as one need among many. Psychologist Abraham Maslow described a hierarchy of needs which we satisfy in order to fully function. We can think of needs as expressing a living being's self-interest, as it unfolds, and we can think of life as whatever can be taken to have self-interest.

If we add freedom to Maslow's hierarchy, and if we consider operating principles by which we satisfy our needs, then we can structure a system of six needs, three for our literal self, and three for our self-understanding.

  • 1) Our need for survival has us cling to what we have.
  • 2) We are interested to survive in the future as well. Our need for security has us get more than what we need, so that even if we suffer losses, we can still cling to what we have.
  • 3) We are interested that others survive as well, so our social need has us avoid extremes, be normal, not rock the boat, so that others can cling to what they have.

These are our literal needs. But we also identify with our own self-understanding, our psyche.

  • 4) Our need for self-esteem is our psyche's need for survival, for which we choose the good over the bad, which ever boosts our self-esteem.
  • 5) We are interested to have self-esteem in the future as well, so our need for freedom has us choose the better over the worse.
  • 6) We are interested that other psyches survive, so our need for self-fulfillment has us choose the best over the rest. In being extreme, we help others choose the good over the bad.

In this framework, freedom is the fifth of six needs, and is satisfied by a utilitarian mindset, which is ready to choose the better over the worse, even when both options are bad, and thus accept compromise, a middle point between sooner or later, a higher price or lower price. We can think of modern democracy as obsessed with satisfying our need for freedom. If we ever felt we had enough freedom, then we might consider why we have it, which is self-fulfillment.

We can infer a person's need based on their operating principle. A person may help another because, by tradition or inertia, that's what they've always done (they exhibit a need for survival), or to accumulate points for going to heaven (they need security), or to be normal (social need), or to do the right thing (for self-esteem), or to maximize their utility (for freedom), or to be perfect (for self-fulfillment). But as Jesus makes evident in the Beatitudes, and in his statements "I am...", there are two additional operating principles. We can be perfect and have no needs. Or we can ignore our needs by taking up the needs of another.

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