The Inherent Limitations on Human Freedom

Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, Volume 13, Number 1, pp. 107-131.

 By James M. Jacobs

That the essence of human nature is to be free is a common theme of many otherwise disparate philosophical traditions. From Augustine to Sartre, the fact of human freedom has been the point of departure for the consideration of humanity’s essence. If philosophers are correct about the centrality of freedom, then every action humans undertake ought to be characterized by freedom in some way. This fact is made intelligible in light of the Thomistic doctrine, agere sequitur esse, or action follows from being.1 Indeed, St. Thomas argues that the very purpose of a substance’s existence is the characteristic operations by which it manifests its actuality. As he puts it, “All things created would seem, in a way, to be purposeless, if they lacked an operation proper to them; since the purpose of everything is its operation. For the less perfect is always for the sake of the more perfect: and consequently as the matter is for the sake of the form, so the form which is the first act is for the sake of its operation, which is the second act; and thus operation is the end of the creature.”2 If this is true, then it follows that the very existence
of freedom in human nature is justified by the performance of free acts, since the substantial act of existence is necessarily fulfilled only  in the second act, the characteristic operations or activities that substance undertakes.


In this article, therefore, I analyze the manifestation of human freedom in terms of the various activities proper to humans. This enables us to better grasp the existential significance of human freedom, for it is in these activities that freedom is fully realized. I base my analysis on the thought of Aquinas; moreover, I use many neo-Thomistic philoso-
phers who have reflected critically on the idea of freedom in response to the Kantian notion of autonomy that has led modernity to define freedom in a radically different (and ultimately nihilistic) way. A true notion of freedom must recognize limits imposed by nature that are not acknowledged by the idea of autonomy.

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(Something interesting I found)Posted: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 by cait
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