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Freedom

Freedom is a great and paradoxical burden: it is something that can only exist incompletely, and which cannot exist without constraints.

The desire for freedom and its attainment are difficult, and come fraught with dangers: When we assert ourselves as free and sovereign persons, for example, are we causing others to give up their own freedoms and sovereignties so that we can claim ours? And do we desire to be free of coersion, or to be free to coerce?

This is true both for individuals and for groups. All we can do is strive to fight against those constraints that enslave us, and grasp for those constraints that will set us free.

Epictetus said that if you wish to be good, suppose yourself to be evil. So if we wish to imagine freedom, suppose ourselves to be enslaved. What, when you are enslaved, do you desire that is denied you? To act as you choose; to assert your judgments as you choose; to identify yourself how you choose; to live as you choose.

But if you do not know how to act, if you have no judgment, if you don’t know who you are — can it be said you are free? Therefore Epictetus also said: The masses are wrong when they say only the free can be educated. Trust the philosophers instead, who say only the educated are free.

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