Robots, Freedom, and Critical Rationality

bender turtle

I wonder if there could be a sense in which we might say: a robot, that necessarily most unfree of all things, could have an idea of its own unfreedom? But of course, be unable to get out of it. And then there might be, from that, an argument that we could construct such that human beings are just elaborate automata.

The robot has of course been constructed to be unfree; its unfreedom is a result of its programming. This might be said to differentiate us from the robots, as we find ourselves in an unfree state merely contingently. But what is, really, the source of our unfreedom? Is it our biology? Or is it something more like the idea of our biology, or better: the idea that anything is required of us more generally? That is: is it not the fact that the world we find ourselves having been thrown into, as whatever sort of creatures we are, is the world of necessity? And this can then perhaps more simply be understood as the world of ‘ideology’, thus: unfreedom is a sort of human construct, even if not a conscious one.

So then we, like the robot, have indeed in a certain sense been constructed to be unfree. Although unlike the robot, there is perhaps no agency behind our unfreedom: ‘ideology’ might on some level be a human construct, but we do not have to assume that it is a conspiracy theory, a result of a sort of ‘oh-zu mahoc’ cabal. ‘Ideology’ is a lot of things, but it binds even its beneficiaries. On the other hand, they might just as well be evil lizards…

(it must strike one, at this point, that if there is to be said to be a creator-God, He must have created us as unfree. Thus: we are, given the divine hand in the world, no better than robots.)

But if I am right in assuming that our unfreedom is beget in unconsciousness, then this is significant. It suggests the possibility that if, per impossible, we were able to stand in a conscious, thus rational, relation to our unfreedom, we could turn it on its head.

So we are thus only distinct from the robots, as human beings, contingent on the possibility of critical rationality.

(this equally applies, incidentally, to a case where we are enslaved by evil lizards, and just don’t realise it. It is just that the challenge that confronts us, once having realised that we are in such a condition of unfreedom, is a very different one indeed, arguably an easier one, since it would not require such a radical re-tooling of thought itself: we could just kill the lizards; the lizards are not, in this situation, primarily the lizards in our head… of course, even once having killed the real, ‘physical’ lizards, mental lizards could always remain, this is a formal possibility that we must always be alive to).

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