Byung Chulhan in his book psychopolitics defines freedom in two ways:

a. He defines it as an interlude which the subject feels when passing between lifestyles or ideologies. This is a somewhat cynical approach to defining liberty especially when we pay mind to the use of the term subject. Subject is often used when describing an individual or entity. That is in literal terms being subjugated or brought under control freedom in this sense is just the absence of the natural order of things of in: A rare moment not being subjected to a certain lifestyle. What if we remarketed and rebranded this word: age of neoliberalism has led to a shared belief that we are projects to be worked on rather than subjects to be dominated this process of projection however is really just a more efficient form of subjugation instead of any sort of all-powerful disciplinary instrument coercing us to be something we coerce and constrain ourselves to become what we think we want to be.

b. The second idea of freedom is a little bit more cheery. Freedom is to be among friends to have a successful relationship with others; it signifies a relationship as noted by the common root shared across indo-european languages between the words freedom and friendship.

This (b) may seem strange especially in capitalist societies where individual freedom is far more valued than this idea of self-realization through others. Psychopolitics is a thesis where Byung made sense of the word freedom.

Wittgenstien might say language is in some sense a community consensus. So can this word “freedom” be realized via consensus? If so, was freedom squandered? Chomsky successfully points out there is a human condition and biases in the very nature of language itself. Across different cultures the origins of the words friendship and freedom is striking indeed.

"Philosophers, (the later) Wittgenstein believed, had been misled into thinking that their subject was a kind of science, a search for theoretical explanations of the things that puzzled them: the nature of meaning, truth, mind, time, justice, and so on. "

While he does not explicitly mention freedom I suspect he would have easily added it to the list.

Could Wittgenstien or anyone even define freedom? I suspect the answer would at best be a private language game. But at the age of 10 the word freedom may be a different private language game than it is at the age of 25. But then I suspect we fall into the trap of the first definition (point a) and perhaps the reader should again re-read from point a.


I find myself asking is it possible to coherently hold onto a set of insights?

  1. There exists a notion of freedom
  2. Wittgenstein - Language is a community consensus
  3. Chomsky - Biases in humans and language exist
  4. Our thoughts on various matters are informed by interactions with our community
  5. (The opposite of) Byung Chulhan - Freedom and Neoliberalism are not at odds with each other
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    Neither "definition" is an honest attempt to get at what people mean by the word. Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 8:54
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    @Rusi-packing-up Yes, basically identifying oneself with anything, including oneself or any aspect of it is a problem. But due to the way almost all people routinely cognize, they can't really understand. It takes a breakthrough of experience to change the perspective. Knowledge that can't be taught but which could greatly improve humanity is kind of awkward. The movies "Arrival" and "LUCY" are good pointers.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 9:55
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    I like the following "definition" of freedom : "Freedom is being master of oneself", this directly opens up various degrees of freedom which can be linked up to existentialism and beyond.
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 8:14
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    @NikosM. For small values of 'oneself'.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 11:06
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    As one comes to grips with what one actually 'is', there is not a whole lot there. The only enduring aspects are agency and ongoing experience. So, "I am the master of my fate" seems like a tautology. Like, " you and everyone else ".
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 3, 2022 at 22:44

3 Answers 3


This is a very well thought-out question. You invoke Noam Chomsky's contributions to the philosophy of mind with his proposals regarding innate properties which he puts forward in his ideas regarding universal grammar. You also bring to the conversation an awareness of the contributions of later LW regarding his arguments about philosophy of language that contributed to the linguistic turn. Among the analytic tribes, it is now part of the philosophical method to explicitly examine language to suss out what is about reality, and what is about language. The erstwhile Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is part of such a discussion.

I find myself asking is it possible to coherently hold onto [a] set of insights?

There seems to be two questions implicit in your question. 1. Is it possible for anyone to hold on to contradictory notions? 2. Are the following notions contradictory?

The answers in short order are yes, and depends.

First, obviously the psychology of dealing with logic and contradiction is addressed by Festinger's cognitive dissonance, and it's a matter of psychological fact that the brain is capable of not seeing logical contradictions. In extreme pathologies of the mind, the philosopher of the mind of a naturalized epistemology must accept that the rules of logic are subject to psychological truths. To buttress this fact, the current state of logics is one of metaphysical pluralism. Dialetheia, to which contradiction inheres and is accepted, is a perfectly legitimate metaphysical position. So, I push back and ask, is logical coherence and the coherent theory of truth really so weighty matter that it can be applied in such a wide-ranging examination of propositions? Worldviews, to be succinct, are not mathematical theorems.

Second, if you do attempt to play the philosophical game of trying to get the truth-conditions of claims to align like a mathematical model to show that you can refute any claims of contradiction, are you cognizant of the fact that both ambiguity and vagueness may inhere so much in natural language, that absent experience, you may not be able to pin down definitions, which are notoriously complicated affairs, to do so? LW's family resemblances, which has laid the ground work in linguistics for prototype theory, challenges us to accept that natural language definitions for words like 'freedom' and 'neoliberalism' are tricky affairs. In fact, such efforts beg the question if it's possible to even pin down a concept? Definitions are without a doubt (and not to sound like a critical theorist), political matters. What does freedom mean after all? On the gates of Auschwitz was placed for all to see "Arbeit macht frei". Work is freedom. Words are susceptible to abuse by propaganda in the extreme, but even every day, the meaning of words are contested. Enter Gallie's thesis: some words are essentially contested concepts.

Can you make those 5 claims cohere? Absolutely. Terms like 'freedom' are so flexible that anyone can use them to mean just about anything they'd like. Many a sophist has made a buck waxing philosophical on semantic nuance.

Could Wittgenstien or anyone even define freedom?

Who doesn't have a definition of freedom? Definitions are like anuses. Everyone has one. The actual challenge is shopping for the definition that suits you and your experience. For some, there's freedom in bondage. For others, it's a religious devotion to libertarianism even if it enslaves them financially. Suicide is arguably finding freedom from life. The real error here may be in presuming that definitions have some objective reality and correctness as opposed to understanding them as acts of social construction. After all, LW's private language argument highlights the highly normative grounding of definitions to begin with.

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    Not ironically. The freedom that inheres in the relativism of my response is part and parcel of the freedom we are all afforded by pursuing our Authentic self, to borrow from the Existentialists. In fact, I'm arguably an absurdist, in that I divest myself of grand, sweeping normative claims. We are born, we live, and we die. You can construct a catgorical imperative, like Kant, to attempt to subsume the minutiae of your day-to-day, but simply embrace a situational ethics, and recognize the inherent normativity of the human condition and your embodiment...
    – J D
    Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 16:56
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    and that is freedom from the tyranny of analysis. Follow the Golden rule, but adhere to the observation that we have a moral imperative to be imperative. Accept that we are biological computers whose worldview is a fallibilistic model of the physical... observe that people play language games, and that politics is inevitable....
    – J D
    Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 16:58
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    figure out who you are, and be your best self. Live, labor, laugh, and love. Why make it more complicated? Do what you have to do, and accept your limits, not the least of which is that you only have so much control. What more is there?
    – J D
    Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 16:59
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    If you are interested in philosophy, just remember that all linguistic categories begin with dichotomy, and that all dichotomy is nothing more than the imposition of linguistic category on physical experience. The rest follows.
    – J D
    Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 17:00
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    And there's nothing wrong with questions about eudaimonia!
    – J D
    Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 17:01

From Wikipedia - Neoliberalism, or neo-liberalism, "is a term used to describe the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with free-market capitalism."

In contrast, how about liberalism? and individual freedom of thought in relation to the group, from a review of Group Psychology and Political Theory:

[Alford calls] for a much closer and sympathetic look not only at leadership but at the group foundations of political life. The group, in his view, precedes the individual; and it makes no sense to speak of social or political experience unless it is understood in the context of groups. The greatest efforts in establishing individuality lie in the often tragic process of freeing oneself from group domination and control; his political argument here clearly comes down on the side of liberal individualism and against the constraining, often authoritarian, demands of "community."

We literally, Alford argues, are at war with our own "groupishness"; and this is what gets us into personal and political trouble. He calls this process the "schizoid compromise ... the fundamental psychological event in the groups . . . the member tries to have his cake and eat it too: to give himself over to the group, while being separate and independent of it" (p. 52).

Chulhan's suggestion "that we are projects to be worked on” would seems quite enlightened, except for then saying this "is really just a more efficient form of subjugation". I don't think individuation can be passed off as a synthetic trend.

  • Hey. Please think of my questions as a means for me to understand. If I understand you argue Byung Chulhan's critique holds for liberalism as well? I suspect, you deny point 5: "I don't think individuation can be passed off as a synthetic trend" (it would be helpful if you told why?) Also "individual freedom of thought in relation to the group" seems like "idea of self-realization through others." no? Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 9:07
  • Re. point 5, I would say freedom and liberalism are not at odds. (Without meaning American political liberalism.) Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 9:23
  • I don't see "The greatest efforts in establishing individuality lie in the often tragic process of freeing oneself from group domination and control; his political argument here clearly comes down on the side of liberal individualism and against the constraining" and "idea of self-realization through others" necessarily at odds with each other. What am I missing? Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 9:28
  • For example, you can learn and discuss philosophy with others, but when you arrive at certain ideas you may find (parts of) the group might not agree with them. Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 9:39
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    We have to individuate from ourselves too. George Bush said, "I have opinions, strong opinions, but I don't always agree with them."
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 18:21

Wittgenstein does not address the issue of freedom specifically, but if we turn to his "Philosophical Investigations" it isn't too difficult to suss out where he'd go with it. First off, while Wittgenstein's later work is often viewed as a theory of language — especially by later philosophers from Russell's school of thought — it was actually a reflection on the nature of rules-following and 'games', with language as a primary example. For Wittgenstein, the human mind is predisposed to assume that events follow rules, and predisposed to dig those rules out and apply them. Language acquisition is precisely that: a 'game' in which people negotiate rules of interaction for some pragmatic use (note the similarities and differences with Chomsky's Universal Grammar).

  • If I give you the numbers "1, 3, 5, 7…", you quickly infer it's a sequence (not a group of random numbers, or some meaningless utterance), generate a rule, and pull out '9' as the next number
  • If I show you a chessboard you assume that the board and pieces have some purpose, learn the rules, then begin to infer strategies for playing and winning
  • If I bring you into a room with tools and machines you assume that they are meant to do something. As I move around the room telling you I need the 'schnorleps' first and then a couple of 'glipstangs', and then you have to 'muglate the waddlestomp', you quickly infer (first) what needs to be done and (second) what each of those words refer to

So, this urge towards rule-making is fundamental, and language is a by-product. This is also (incidentally) why Wittgenstein thinks there's no such thing as a private language. In our private heads, we could put any number we liked (or no number at all) after "1, 3, 5, 7…". We need the implication of social use to invoke the assumptions of rule-following.

So to return to the topic of freedom, Wittgenstein would likely say that:

  1. Freedom implies an understanding that rule-sets belong to specific social contexts or 'games' (as opposed to being absolute universals)
  2. Freedom implies an ability to negotiate and alter rule sets, or to change 'games' entirely (invoking new rule-sets)

Byung's definitions are limited (and to my mind unsatisfying) implementations of these more general principles. Acknowledging that we can be psychologically 'caught' in a particular social 'game' and its rule-sets, we must have freedom before (and after) any 'passing interludes', otherwise we could never have the insight to 'pass' between lifestyles or ideologies.

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