"Free v. Not free" is overly simplistic.

From an article in the Times Literary Supplement about a new book on German Idealism:

The idea that freedom requires submission to law may sound no better than the masochistic slogan (“Freedom is slavery”) written on the wall of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. Yet, in fact, there is a deep philosophical thought behind it: true freedom is incompatible with arbitrariness.

Take the conventional contrast between determinism and libertarianism. If some radical version of determinism were true, our every action would be the inevitable consequence of a set of laws and initial conditions almost inconceivably distant from ourselves – circumstances which, if they had only been the tiniest bit different, would have led to different outcomes. If, on the other hand, each action is an isolated, undetermined event, our choices become unintelligible.

The surprising German idealist insight is that there is something very similar about these two otherwise opposed possibilities. Whether by placing the origin of determination in the remote past or by removing it altogether, each case evokes a sense of arbitrariness which conflicts with the idea that we have – or would like to have – of ourselves as agents who are, at the same time, properly responsible for our actions. It is this, the idealists believed, that is incompatible with freedom.

But is there any alternative? The idealists thought that there was. If we separate the ideas of necessity and external determination, then perhaps we can think of human action as being rationally determined without that determination having to be felt as an alien constraint.

The whole thing is worth a read.

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