So far as we act on inclination, we behave as means to the realisation of ends given outside us, this makes us instruments rather than authors of the pleasures we pursue.
Freedom is usually conceptualised as the power to do what you want, when you want and with whom you want, with the act being instructed by feeling or instinct. German philosopher Immanuel Kant questions the legitimacy of this claim through the idea of freedom as autonomy. He argues that we fail to act freely when we act strictly to satisfy our instinct or to avoid discomfort, he asserts that we’re simply acting as slaves to those appetites and impulses.
If I want to act autonomously, I must act according to a law I give to myself, in this space my will stops being determined by the promptings of nature, my hunger, my appetite or my desires. When I act autonomously I cease to be an instrument to purposes given outside myself, therefore I can rightly think of myself as an end in myself. This capacity to act freely is what gives human life its special dignity.
The strength of this proposal is reinforced when united with the idea of being ‘forced to be free’ as presented by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The inspiration of Plato in the work of Rousseau is particularly useful in understanding the idea of being forced to be free, as the freedom proposed by Rousseau is one that requires a type of force in redirecting the natural desires and purposes of humankind toward higher, more satisfying pursuits.
This call to authentic freedom reduces the contingency of our existence as our habits, feelings and will stops being determined by capriciousness and is instead directed my an inner law of liberty. This charge to freedom forces a critical self-inventory in which to measure the values we hold and the relationships we keep.