For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The Experience of Freedom

by Nancy, Jean-Luc (1993)


This is the most systematic, the most radical, and the most lucid treatise on freedom that has been written in contemporary Continental philosophy. Finding its guiding motives in Kant's second Critique and working its way up to and beyond Heidegger and Adorno, this book marks the most advanced position in the thinking of freedom that has been proposed after Sartre and Levinas. One could call it a fundamental ontology of freedom if freedom, according to the author, did not entail liberation from foundational acts and the overcoming of any logic that determines the way ontology does, by positing being either as self-sufficient position or as subjected to strictly immanent laws. Once existence no longer offers itself as an empiricity that must be related to its conditions of possibility or sublated in a transcendence beyond itself, but instead as sheer factuality, we must think this fact, the fact of existence as the essence of itself, as freedom. The question is no longer "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Instead, it becomes "Why these very questions by which existence affirms itself and abandons itself in a single gesture?" If we do not think being itself as a freedom, we are condemned to think of freedom as pure "Idea" or "right," and being-in-the-world, in turn, as a blind and obtuse necessity. Since Kant, philosophy and our world have relentlessly confronted this scission.

Key Passage

I have tried to say that "we are the freedom of all things-and perhaps this expression should not be kept. At least its intention is in no way subjectivist. It docs not mean that we represent the entire world in our freedom. but rather that the freedom of being puts itself at stake as the free existence of the world and as our existence to this freedom - which also means that we are responsible for me freedom of the world. And this could not be without consequences for the question of technology (and on the at once open and aporetic position of this question in Heidegger). Not that we have to protect nature against technical exploitation (when something of this sort has to be done, it is always once again a matter of technology); but in technology we liberate. and we liberate ourselves to the freedom of the world. It is no surprise that this can cause anguish and pro-found ambivalence. But we do not have: free access to what happens here. as long as we think only of freely exploiting the unfree remainder of beings. This is also what makes us accommodate ourselves to entering into this class of beings as workers. The thought of a proletariat. like the thought of existence in which a reciprocal liberation of "nature" and "history" would be played out. could find something here to reconsider-mediated. it is true. by many kind~ of displacements and transformations.  (p.160)


Freedom, Continental Philosophy, Heidegger, Kant, Nancy, Philosophy, Twentieth Century


The Experience of Freedom, Nancy Citations

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