3 Development of Freedom – Responsibility and Freedom

Development of Freedom

3.1. The centrality of freedom

The fact that the theoretical variations of the concept of responsibility all presume a concomitant conception of freedom is not, in my opinion, mere chance. With modernity, the concept of freedom has become the pivotal criterion to judge the level of justice in a society, and the criterion of responsibility and freedom that has been brought about implicitly by the conceptions mentioned in the previous chapter to be fertile as it enables us to reach a double objective [TAY 92, ROS 08, HON 14a, HON 14b]1. On the one hand, we can anchor our theory of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) on solid ground for legitimization. On the other hand, we can achieve the efficacy we need because the actualization of freedom is also the pragmatic objective of each individual.

Freedom has resisted all the historical vicissitudes of modernity without ever losing its force, but on the contrary, continually evolving in new and more articulated forms. We can, of course, identify several perspectives and conceptions of freedom that emphasize one aspect or another. It seems to me, however, that it should be considered as a condition of the possibility of establishing a just society. At a more abstract level, I believe freedom can be justified as fundamental criterion of a theory of democracy given its polysemy and basic value [HON 14a, DEW 54]. I also maintain that numerous other normative assumptions arise from freedom, especially individual freedom.

The criterion of freedom, moreover, can also assume a strong critical function as the degree of justice of a society can be measured according to the possibilities it offers not only to maintain freedom but also to increase its articulations. For this reason, a framework of RRI based on freedom can be embedded in a development that is at the basis of our societies.

As a result, I can see a second objective which we can achieve. In fact, the adoption of freedom as a criterion to understand responsibility is also very powerful in terms of efficacy. Freedom has had such power in motivating different social groups, claims and protests. It has represented the objective and the means by which individuals have managed to assess an improvement in their life conditions and critique the given order. For many years, freedom has been an unfeasible need, which has its roots in a sort of vital need, which is anything but abstract.

Building on from rather abstract principles, RRI can finally construct a model of R&I that is embedded in social reality, paving the way to a much higher probability of being accepted by the context in which it will be proposed. In other words, being so empirically powerful, freedom can open roads to the way to application.

It is also by means of one concept that we can strive for achieving such a twofold objective, legitimacy and efficacy, that makes freedom so important for our framework. The peculiarity of freedom is that it changes the understanding of the relation between legitimacy and efficacy.

The possibility of achieving this dual objective is embedded in the absolutely unique nature of the concept of freedom that has a formal aspect and one placing the emphasis on content. It has a conservative and innovative aspect that are inseparable and that are continually interchanged so that it is difficult to identify the characteristic features of one or the other, as they are placed in a framework, which contains them but at the same time exceeds them, i.e. the ethical framework.

According to Kant, “progress must be the act of being endowed with freedom”. Kant had already realized all the riskiness implicit in the predictive approaches contained in the dominant ideologies. A human being endowed with freedom cannot help thinking of, and implementing, innovation that determine progress. Translating this hypothesis into the language of RRI, innovation is the modality by which a society can incarnate progress. In order for innovation to not be only a technical instrument, a functional aspect detached from the context in which the production takes place, but to effectively become a vehicle or incarnation of progress, it must respond to the possibility of progress it arises from and to which it must be directed. Responsibility, therefore, becomes the answer to that imperative of freedom that must not only be preserved but that must also be increased in its quantity or articulations.

In order to understand what it means that freedom alone can generate progress, how we arrive at understanding innovation in terms of freedom and how it does not in any way contradict ethical evaluations, we must examine closely the concept of freedom. In order to do this, I intend to adopt a Hegelian perspective only recently re-elaborated by a sociological and philosophical tradition, the most recent contributions of which have been made by Axel Honneth, Frederick Neuhouser and Christian Rostboll.

The reason why, I make use of this conception is that, among the many available, I believe that Honneth’s is the most profound for its intensity and breadth. This enables it to express the more radical aspects of freedom and therefore to accept the challenges inherent in RRI.

According to this perspective, the concept of freedom has evolved to such an extent during the modern age that it has predominated over all other ethical values [HON 14a, TAY 92, ROS 08, NEH 00]. The long journey begun by Grotius, continued by Hobbes and Locke, arrived at the idea of liberty as individual freedom, that is the autonomy of the individual, only with Rousseau and Kant [HON 14a, HON 14b, SCH 98]. According to this perspective, all the principal values of modernity, whether they refer to internal reasons or naturalistic contexts, are only additional elements and are often performative to the idea of individual autonomy. According to Taylor, while discovering new depths to individual autonomy, we do not find other self-sufficient alternatives [TAY 92]. Honneth, like Hegel, believes that the enormous influence that this notion has been able to exert over the last 200 years is due to the capacity autonomy that has to unite single subjects with the social order [HON 14a]. Also from a historical point of view, beginning with the French Revolution, almost no protest movement has directed its claims against anything other than obtaining or increasing individual freedom.

This individual element has evolved according to different forms but with the same force to the extent that today the legitimacy as well as the efficacy of a normative system cannot do without a certain degree of individual determination of the norms themselves. Whether it is a legal right, a moral ability or a political possibility, no democratic social order can ignore the crucial importance of the subjective contribution to the determination of its own norms [ROS 08, LEN 10, HON 14a]. “When it comes to positing just norms, we cannot rely on forces that are not given to individual human minds” [HON 14a, p. 17].

The force of this idea has indissolubly penetrated the concept of justice itself to the point that today the presence and degree of justice is calibrated to the capacity of criticism and justification inherent in individual freedom. The same conception of progress, as Kant has shown us, is directed and materialized by the implementation and increase in individual autonomy [KAN 79, p. 147].

Modernity, therefore, is based on the development of freedom in all its diverse forms beginning with the fundamental autonomy of the individual. However, the implementations and articulations of freedom have changed and developed together with the historical context. As emphasized by Rostboll, the determination and representation of individual freedom cannot be decided exclusively by someone else, which would be a logical paradox, as it would mean the absence of freedom. “The process of determining the meaning and boundaries of freedom must itself be an expression of our freedom; otherwise, the way in which we aim at freedom would itself be a negation of freedom, which is also contradictory” [ROS 08, p. 6].

The conception of freedom proposed here is not extended to the 200 meanings suggested by Berlin [BER 02], although it must take into account the main acceptions of freedom, without being thus limited to a monolithic or partial vision of it. On the contrary, the conception I intend to suggest is articulated over three dimensions, according to a complementary relationship with one another, aimed at implementing and increasing levels of individual autonomy. Freedom cannot be fully implemented other than the actualizations of its various meanings. I will now attempt to describe their nature, their relationships and the reasons why they are part of a complementary dialectic.

3.2. Legal freedom

The most primitive and scant definition of freedom is surely that which conceives liberty as the absence of external hindrances. This acception is defined by Isaiah Berlin as negative freedom [BER 02]. Berlin highlights that the objective of this kind of freedom “consists of the negative goal of warding off interference” [BER 02, p. 174]. Negative freedom in its most simple version is based on the guarantee of a space in order to reject illegitimate interferences concerning an individual’s freedom, life and property. Such a conception of liberty has its most known definitions in the material theorizations of Thomas Hobbes who intended freedom in general as the possibility of realizing one’s desires without external hindrances [HOB 68]. Hobbes’ pessimistic anthropology maintained that a minimum space should be guaranteed so as to avoid men destroying one another and giving way to a kind of jungle. A “portion of human existence must remain independent of the sphere of social control” [BER 02, p. 173]. A conception associated with the Hobbesian perspective, though differing from it to some extent, tends to define this space in terms of preserving plurality. In particular, Stuart Mill and Locke indicated the need to preserve freedom of speech, religious freedom and freedom of opinion in the sense of legal freedom. In its various acceptions, the core of negative freedom has coincided with the right to have a guaranteed space in which otherness, within the limits of the law, is not allowed.

It is evident that there are not only strictly pessimistic and isolationist theorizations at the basis of this idea. Locke, Smith and (to some extent) Mill maintained that social harmony and the sum of individual freedoms could be compatible with a kind of general interest. For Mill, “unless the individual is left to live as he wishes in the part that merely concerns himself, civilization cannot advance; the truth will not for a lack of free market in ideas come to light; there will be no scope for spontaneity, originality, genius, for mental energy, for moral courage” [BER 02, p. 174].

This basic idea, simple but effective, has been subsequently developed following different assumptions and with different consequences.

This type of freedom has, in fact, been presented throughout modernity and has come down to us, though in different forms, with the same force and fascination. Honneth suggests that the fact that it “survived at all and resisted all normative attacks even today must be due to a kernel of intuitive truth that virtually transcends all of its strategic usefulness” [HON 14a, p. 22].

The proof is the fact that various different articulations of the same premise have evolved in the 20th Century and that freedom is “the pursue of personal interests unhindered by external obstacles” [HON 14a, p. 22].

The esthetic and post-modern traditions have not done other than develop, in different forms, the presupposition that there must be a guaranteed space in which to develop one’s interests, tastes, ideas and beliefs regardless of any external condition [TAY 84, ADO 98]. It is not difficult to observe that this total absence of interference has led to articulations that are either extreme or unsustainable from different points of view. Among these, the two most emblematic versions of this conception are certainly those of Jean Paul Sartre and Robert Nozick. It can appear bizarre that the reactionary idea of freedom put forward by Hobbes can match the idea elaborated by Sartre. If we take a closer look, however, we can notice the identical nature of the two conceptions. Both Sartre and Hobbes do not consider factors internal to the agent as obstacles to freedom as they are “expression of choices that have already been made about the possibility of existence they choose” [HON 14a, p. 23]. Our determination occurs spontaneously drawing on one of the many possibilities without possessing any criteria that can be used to justify it. The connection, therefore, lies in the fact that neither in Sartre nor in Hobbes is there any reference to the determination of freedom as the result of reflection or a moral belief. For both of them, the rational and justifying aspect does not play any role in the definition of the criterion of freedom. This type of freedom is “negative” because a person’s aims are not judged according to whether they themselves meet the conditions of freedom. Regardless of which existential choice one makes, and regardless of which desires are fulfilled, the pure, unhindered act of choice suffices for the resulting action to qualify as being “free” [HON 14a, p. 24].

Striving for individuality, we can highlight how this understanding of freedom could have reached its height in the conception promoted by Robert Nozick. Nozick’s idea is based on the conception of freedom used by Hobbes and Locke. The conception of these two philosophers is not sufficient according to Nozick, to define the necessary individual freedom. Nozick wants to attempt to represent an ultra-minimal State. The difference, however, lies in the fact that for Nozick “freedom means being able to achieve as many egocentric entirely selfish life aims as reconcilable with the freedom of one’s fellow citizens” [HON 14a, p. 25]. Assuming such a perspective even the idea that indications of a rational nature can or must be followed would be illogical, as they would become impositions on individual freedom [NOZ 13, p. 49]. The individualism and the pluralism that accompanies it in societies of the second half of the 20th Century is the context that Nozick uses to reject Hobbesian negative freedom according to “anarchic” canons. If, for Hobbes, rationality, though strategic, still played a decisive role in the fulfillment of personal interest, Nozick abandons even this minimal reference. The complexity of human existence means that, according to Nozick, it is not possible to determine anything, any pattern, from outside, other than that it must not harm others [NOZ 13, p. 313].

What determines the movement that individuals make in that space of freedom varies, therefore, according to the conception that is examined. For Hobbes it is personal interest, for Sartre it is a prereflexive spontaneity, while for Nozick it is the contingent apparition of various volitions. In none of these conceptions, however, do we find any reference to freedom as self-determination, but only as the absence of obstacles. Subjects that adopt a legal stance cannot aim at finding an acceptance of their motivations by others. On the contrary, individuals acting according to juridical reasons “are encouraged and even obligated to retreat behind a protective barrier and decide for themselves what is good and right for their own life” [HON 14a, p. 84].

To restrict our actions to a legal dimension would not make possible any access to the intersubjective side, to the point that an individual would not even be able to formulate new needs, desires or values and, in a sense, he should suspend every intention of self–realization [HON 14a, ROS 08, DWO 78, DOW 85, DOW 88]. As suggested by Rostboll, also from a logical point of view, negative freedom could lead to paradoxical outcomes if taken alone. It is in fact “a tradition that neglects to theorize how to determine the meaning and the boundaries of negative freedom in a non-coercive manner. As a theory that focuses on non-coercion, this latter omission makes it incomplete and unstable” [ROS 08, pp. 32–33].

Taken to an ethical extreme, however, this model cannot even predict a stable correlation between juridical subjects or moral agents, which makes it impossible to imagine a correlation with responsibility that goes beyond merely not harming. Sartre’s acception of freedom is so broad as to have little meaning for us. Not only is the dimension of freedom “from something” lost, but it is difficult to understand what effect one action rather than another can have. In other words, what is the difference if I make one decision or another one. It is not by chance then that in Sartre, where freedom is understood as we have said as spontaneity and therefore, in a certain sense, total, there is such a broad idea of freedom. As observed by Spämann, and taken up by Ricoeur, this means turning responsibility into fatalism: “Taking into consideration every consequence, including those contrary to the original intention, ends up rendering the agent responsible for everything in an indiscriminate way, which comes down to saying responsible for nothing for which he cannot take charge” [RIC 00, p. 32]. If man is responsible at all times, there is the risk that this term no longer has any meaning.

I argue that this is a tradition that has results in a combination of an understanding of democracy as a procedure for protecting and aggregating self-interested or private preferences, and a conception of negative freedom or freedom as non-interference with private interests as understood in some sense subjectively and prepolitically.

According to Hegel, the negative freedom supported by law presupposes “a special class of social practices brought forth by the common acceptance of the norm that each subject should be a persona and respect others as persons” [HON 14a, p. 81]. This implies a sort of anonymity in relation to the subject and among subjects. This dimension also presupposes a kind of personal respect for each other in the sense that no one is entitled to assert any kind of moral judgment and pretends a respect in the way the other decides to act as long as it does not harm another. The establishment of this kind of relations forms the legal personality that arises from abstraction from one’s own personal and moral beliefs. At the same time, legal personality, given the opaqueness attached to such an abstract relation, requires a high level of trust in and tolerance of other people’s actions and intentions. In short, the formation of a legal personality is already based, according to Hegel, on reciprocal and intersubjective forms of recognition at a legal level [HON 14a, HEG 91 (sections 36–71), SCH 11]. For Hegel, this kind of freedom presupposes certain structures that are to be found outside the legal level. “Freedom cannot be protected before it has been defined, interpreted and justified. Hence negative freedom cannot stand alone but presupposes the more social freedoms involved in the deliberative process” [ROS 08]. What Hegel describes as forms of reciprocal recognition are today necessary practices for justifying our actions in order to realize our aims. Although it is true that these aims often rise at a prepolitical level, it is also true that in order to realize them we must often be able to justify them or at least to enter in a relation with someone else. The rights themselves are derived, according to Raz, from values that cannot be brought about by the practices and attitudes confined to legal freedom [RAZ 86, HON 14a].

To recap, we could say with Honneth that: “The law produces a form of individual freedom whose conditions of existence it can neither create nor maintain. It depends on a merely negative, interruptive relation to an ethical context of praxis that in turn relies on the social interactions of non-legally cooperating subjects” [HON 14a, p. 86].

Accordingly, we need to move to a different level in order to find how the conditions for freedom are brought about by extra-legal articulations of freedom.

3.3. Moral freedom

The dimension of negative freedom is, as we have already said, centered on the absence of external obstacles. The idea, however, considers as such only obstacles of an external nature, excluding from this acception any inner quality. A conception that, as we have said, was developed by thinkers like Hobbes, who were looking for a solution to “moral wars” and who therefore identified morality with religion, and religion with transcendence and, at the same time, political means of legitimization. The reflective or moral aspect could not, for obvious reasons, play any role in the realization of freedom.

Another historical parallel conception, on the other hand, emphasizes the domain of freedom as a reflective relationship between agent and action. More precisely, the hindrances are no longer identified with exterior obstacles of a material nature, but are internal to the subject as agents to exercise an autonomous reflective will. The aspect that stands out is that in order to be considered free, an agent must be able to act according to a will that is not hampered or manipulated externally, i.e. self-determined. That which defines the field of this reflective freedom therefore is no longer the absence of actions against the agent but the possibility of actions for and by the subject. The active side is the reason why Berlin demarcates this type of freedom as positive vis-à-vis the previous concept of negative freedom [BER 02].

Although we cannot consider reflective freedom as simply a development of negative freedom, a precise articulation can only be traced if we begin with the work of Rousseau and his theorization of self-determination in his books, Social Contract and Emile [ROU 68, ROU 79]. In the former, he suggests the identification of freedom with self-imposed laws while in the latter he explains how materiality alone cannot represent an external impediment if detached from the rational filter of will. In other words, we can find in Rousseau two equally valid alternatives of what freedom means. If a first one defines autonomy as the self-determination of an individual based on rational insights, a second one rather focuses on the role that reason assumes in the expression of passions intended as self-realization. We find then an ambiguous understanding of the role that reason should assume to determine the articulation of freedom [NEU 00, ROU 68, HON 14a]. Rousseau’s theorization was not that linear and paved the way to different interpretations of autonomy. In fact, to state that there is free will by which we can determine our actions, and at the same time that a subject has the power to choose either passions or reason, creates an ambiguous dichotomy that is not easy to solve [HON 14a]. The broad concept of reflective freedom, in fact, lends itself to a twofold interpretation that sees in self-determination and self-realization the two horns of the thorny question.

Beginning with Rousseau, a double current will develop the contents of freedom as reflective autonomy based on the role of desires and passions, or on that of a pure rationality.

In the work of Kant, we can see a development of Rousseau’s ideas in the latter sense [SHE 15]. Kant describes in detail the relationship between reason and will as the exercise of freedom. This well-known relationship, however, is complex and has been changing throughout Kant’s writings.

According to Ricoeur, Kant developed the concept of freedom in three specific phases. Beginning with a static conception of freedom as an epistemic–ontological capacity as described in the first Critique [KAN 98], he develops the assumptions in dynamic and moral laws in the second Critique [KAN 97 RIC 00, KAN 98]. In a third phase, particularly in his political writings [KAN 79, KAN 09], he places the latter understanding of freedom within an institutional and juridical framework based on reciprocal recognition.

In Critique of Pure Reason [KAN 98], Kant had defined freedom in relation to the antinomy between free act and causal chain, which has always characterized human beings. Having inherited the twofold ethical–cosmological root of freedom [RIC 00], Kant has maintained and declined it in a combination between free spontaneity and necessary causality. For Kant, however, the necessary causality is situated only on the empirical front, while the presence of freedom must be found at the level of reason. The German philosopher had to come to the conclusion that freedom was above all a transcendental condition embodied by reason.

In other words, freedom was an ontological–epistemological pre-condition identified with reason. “Reason […] is the permanent condition of all voluntary actions in which man manifests himself (erscheint)” [KAN 98, p. 358]. Kant made a point of emphasizing how the effect of a human action can be traced back to the freedom that its author must have had in order to exercise reason. “Reason, despite all the empirical conditions of the fact, was completely free and the fact is entirely due to its omission” [KAN 98, p. 359]. At the same time, it does not lose the close connection with the necessary causality. The operation of resolution of the first dynamic antinomy is that of keeping the two aspects together on different plans. On the one hand, the beginning of time and the causal chain, and on the other hand the inclusion of free actions in this chain. The beauty and radicalism of Kant in the first Critique is evident in the force, practical and not only conceptual, that this relationship offers. Freedom is inserted into a context of sense that transcends it but on which it can act, therefore modifying the framework in which it is embedded. The radical and transcendental aspect is that human beings are identified with the freedom embedded in their reason, but at the same time the beauty is that they can modify the course of things, the content of their beings in spontaneous ways because of this radical freedom. Thus, freedom here assumes this double layer of transcendental framework by which freedom itself acts in immanent ways.

The depth of Kant’s conceptualization in the first Critique represents a grounding point on which we need to rely for understanding the complexity of freedom.

However, although we must not miss these indications, Kant’s freedom in the first Critique is still affected by a static formalism. It is important to emphasize that, in spite of everything, the fundamental base is the static aspect for which freedom is already implicit in the possession that will then be exercised in a second moment. It is not clear, at this stage, what will be the conditions for the application of free acts. According to which objective can we define an action as free? In short, in this text, freedom is defined without the normative stance necessary to its articulation as something more than a mere causality. We can foresee a necessity in the actualization of freedom that is still not clearly explained.

One of the key interpretations here is, as brilliantly highlighted by Arthur Ripstein, that the ability to plan presupposes both as status and as exercise, the freedom: “the core idea of independence is an articulation of the distinction between persons and things. A person is a being capable of setting his or her own purposes, while a thing is something that can be used in pursuit of purposes. Kant follows Aristotle in distinguishing choice from mere wish on the grounds that to choose something, a person must take himself to have means available to achieve it. You can wish that you could fly, but you cannot choose to fly unless you have or acquire means that enable you to do so. In this sense, having means with which to pursue purposes is conceptually prior to setting those purposes. In the first instance, your capacity to set your own purposes just is your own person: your ability to conceive of ends, and whatever bodily abilities you have with which to pursue them” [RIP 10, p. 14]. However, the connections between the planning and the reasons that make an agent do so are still not altogether clear at this stage. A substantive reference to the contents of freedom and the substantive modality of exercising it are still lacking. As pointed out by Ricoeur, the freedom on which Kant writes in his first Critique is an empty transcendental freedom “awaiting its connection with the moral idea of law” [RIC 00, p. 18]. His freedom is, at the moment, “an unintelligible freedom” [RIC 00].

Nevertheless, the importance of the fundamental intuition proposed in the first Critique is that freedom can be considered above all an original condition implicit in the use of reason. The double track followed by Kant represents at the same time the possibility of distinguishing necessary natural processes from practical events in which freedom represents the condition of possibility itself of the human. At the same time, the distinction does not imply a breakdown but rather a complementary relationship, the continuous connection represented in the universal condition of possibility implicit in the natural necessity of freedom. This freedom is in fact offered by and embodied in reason, the indissoluble link and vanishing point between the natural and human dimension. As noted by Ricoeur, “the ‘dynamic’ antinomy of free and natural causality authorizes a conciliation consisting in conserving the thesis and the antithesis on two distinct planes, that of the finite regression of the chain of conditions leading to the unconditioned and that of the endless regression of conditions” [RIC 00 p. 18].

This passage is the one I believe we will have to follow for the development of a complementary conception of freedom that does not imply a dilution or incommunicability among different dimensions.

The dialectic between these two moments was, however, broken by Kant by means of the inclusion of freedom in a structure of moral and juridical necessity.

In the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant developed the idea of freedom as a response to the moral law, a freedom to which no longer corresponds the attribution of an action to its agent, but rather the imputability of blame to its author. In the second Critique, Kant defined his well-known correspondence between reason, will and freedom. In its essence, freedom must be the capacity to determine by oneself the reasons for action, and the justification must be founded according to universal reasons. This implies that our actions are also performed according to respect for other individuals, as they are also self-determined beings. In this way, Kant could affirm the concurrence of freedom and moral law. “Any subject that does not examine whether its own actions could be accepted by all others and thus be a ‘universal law’ is not free because it does not let itself be guided by rationally examined motives, but by natural laws (naturgesetzlich)” [HON 14a, p. 97]. In this determination, we can then understand the reasons by which Hegel identified reflective freedom with moral freedom.

It is by means of this development that Kant will later define progress as act of freedom, with the logical consequence that all irrational acts are not free and, therefore, not producing progress.

The separation of science and the moral world, inside which Kant will insert both law and ethics, represents a development of Critique of Practical Reason and will have a decisive impact on the continuation of the relationship between the two spheres. We then have to pass to its later writings, in order to highlight the strong demarcation that Kant made between science and morality, initiating a twofold conception of society that still drives our common understanding of it.

In The Conflict of Faculties [KAN 79], Kant identified a dichotomy between scientific methodology and normative dimension precisely for the lack of freedom that the former implies. The kind of freedom that Kant has in mind at this point is no longer the one proposed in the first Critique, but the one developed in accordance with moral law in the second Critique. For Kant, scientific knowledge is not the domain of freedom because it cannot be determined by moral reason. Progress, instead, is generated only by freedom because it arises from normative features. Accordingly, progress for Kant cannot be seen as belonging to science, but to the moral dimension, because events in the former cannot be predicted, not being in our power. It is only in the latter, in moral history, that individuals can increase their liberty and produce progress. Progress in its neutral sense is, Kant explains, a “historical narrative of things imminent in future time, consequently as a possible representation a priori of events which are supposed to happen then” [KAN 79, p. 141]. This foresight, however, cannot in any case concern the natural course of humanity but rather the development of its moral history. Kant justifies this assumption on the basis of a concept of freedom that coincides with the obligation to respect the moral law. It follows that successive events of moral history can be depicted, though not confined, owing to the fact that moral agents must follow specific assumptions of a universal nature and therefore decipherable in order to be free. In fact, the progress of humanity, which Kant exemplifies in the impact of French Revolution on European populations, “ must be the act (or series of acts) of a human being endowed with freedom”. Progress cannot be left to a series of causal natural events because those events do not arise from free, and therefore just, actions. Often throughout his text, Kant warns us about the pretention of predicting events, which, according to him, usually hides a strategic plan actualized by “performing precisely what is requisite to call him up” [KAN 79, p. 143]. Those who want to predict the future usually prepare events in the way that most suits them, already aware of the instrumental use of epistemological absolutism [KAN 79, p. 143, VON 93].

What Kant is telling us here is that progress is the exclusive result of actions of someone who can be identified as the author and for which a certain degree of freedom must be presupposed. This cannot happen within the scientific dimension in which events are not only in the hands of causal chains but also of chance.

Only in the moral sphere can we honestly try to predict the future. If progress is the result of free actions and if freedom coincides with the use of universalizable reasons, it must be followed, then, that the course of this “history” can be imagined. This implies that certain actions that are not free, that is not made according to reason, will not be able to create progress. These considerations are decisive for the development of progress as reflective and therefore moral freedom. On the one hand, attributing an action to someone identifies the necessity of humanity, that is the fact that it is only possible to attribute an action to someone endowed with reason (and not to an object). On the other hand, this attribution of reason is closely connected (because implicit) to the innate freedom appertaining to reason itself. In this sense, it seems clear that innovation and the progress it should be connected to it can only be considered as such, provided that it is based on the reason and freedom it implies.

What is interesting here is that Kant places freedom in juxtaposition to science and nature itself. This domain cannot in fact be considered free, as it is not based on normative assumptions. Freedom now is rather the development of reason in a normative sense.

This last period in Kant’s production emphasizes different aspects that we can summarize. On the one hand, it tells us that the determination of good development, i.e. progress, can be made only according to normative reasons. Any modification of the given order that is not the result of a normative action cannot be defined as an improvement. With this statement, Kant wants to achieve a twofold indication. Firstly, he needs to provide a criterion in order to judge a modification as an improvement. How can we distinguish an otherwise good modification from a bad one? Kant is aware that not all changes can be judged as symbols of progress. The criterion he then detects is the normativity arising from reason as described in the second Critique. Secondly, Kant is surely pointing out that, in general, innovations have to be set and depart from normative stances. Planning something for the sake of objectives that fall out from this correspondence to rational normativity must not be seen as progress. This twofold indication, however, shares the same objective and spirit because it is based on one main presupposition, explicitly stated by Kant, that progress is based on free acts, on the exercise of freedom. In this way, Kant is telling us that the reason and the objective for innovating is an exercise of freedom that must be done for the sake of freedom itself.

On the other hand, however, Kant draws a strong demarcation between science and normativity that will sediment in the development of European thought up until the present day.

There is no need to pinpoint all the different authors who base their theorizations on this dichotomy developed in a similar way by Max Weber. It is just sufficient to recall how most of the main difficulties arising from the relation between science and society are due to this dualistic understanding where two spheres of society are supposed to not be able to understand each other. How deep this conception has gone is shown by the complexity that everyone had to face in trying to merge the two domains.

The epochal identification of freedom as reflective self-determination has represented a primary model of reference for social relationships as based on freedom. This extraordinary conception, however, has brought with it a dichotomization between two presumed rationalities and two worlds that today appear hard to reconcile, causing several problems.

There is no doubt that it was Kant who developed the idea of freedom in the most radical manner, conceiving it as formed of a double nature. On the one hand, freedom as status, a freedom as an epistemic-ontological principle possessed by any being endowed with reason. This freedom implies the capacity to understand and therefore to respond by means of a free, spontaneous choice [RIC 00]. On the other hand, the same freedom is subsequently enclosed within its epistemic rational dimension and transported toward a dynamic form of moral character. Freedom as a status, initially empty [RIC 00], is then filled with the moral law, which exhausts all its senses. In spite of this, there are flashes of implementations of freedom in Kant, who could not but be aware of the need of intersubjective structures based on recognition in order to be able to explain the reality of freedom.

The role of the applicability of freedom is a reference that Kant is aware of and which he tries to develop, although his conception of freedom in respect to law obliges him not to think of any other applications apart from the juridical, moral one. In fact, also for Kant, in spite of his emphasis on the role of law, this freedom, apart from representing an original epistemological condition (I am rational, therefore ascribable), also occupies a practical role (imputable), which must be guaranteed by institutions, which alone connect individual’s freedom to that of all the others. The concern that this actualization would not manifest itself in forms other than the moral–juridical was already arising with the second Critique. If in Critique of Pure Reason the antinomy expresses the apparent contradiction and dialectic between causality and freedom [KAN 98], Critique of Practical Reason makes clear that moral law is the historical and universal content of freedom for Kant [KAN 97, RIC 00]. Critique of Judgment also revolves around the phronetic freedom of taste [ARE 82]2, but it is above all in Metaphysics of Moral that Kant makes use of his intuitions in a political sense to move forward toward the impervious and obscure boundaries between ethics and law. It is in this work that Kant finalizes the passage between epistemology and politics, emphasizing the distance that exists between thought and reality.

Freedom, which represents above all an innate condition, must be able to materialize in a political dimension in which the possibilities of this same freedom can be verified. If it is true that freedom is a principle of reason and an innate right of every human being, it is also true that this freedom must have practical conditions that allow its actualization and implementation. Following on from what Joseph Raz affirmed, freedom cannot only be identified with reason in the singular, but must be translated in the plural discourse aimed at investing the fields of application that are situated in the boundaries between reason and reasons [RAZ 14].

Accordingly, the role of institutions cannot in any way be conceived as instrumental, as a remedy for an imperfect world [RIP 10, pp. 8–9], but must be presupposed as a condition of the possibility of freedom. That this institutional role is limited to the juridical–moral horizon in Kant is quite evident and also necessary for the coherence of his system, but this confines freedom in an abstract, and in the end procedural, perspective.

The Kantian conception is that which first, and with the greatest force, showed us freedom as rational self-determination, as reflective freedom. For Kant, negative freedom cannot suffice, as it does not require self-determination to respond to the conditions of freedom themselves. “Subjects are truly free only if they restrict their actions to intentions or aims that are free of any trace of compulsion” [HON 14a, p. 34]. In other words, negative freedom must be subject to and identify itself with a type of freedom that is based on will as self-determination. It is not by chance then that law is simply identified by Kant as a section of morality [KER 15]. At the same time, Kantian morality is also the strongest in this sense, bringing reflexivity to its extreme, and showing us all the related limits; a procedural freedom that leads to processes, which are blind to social reality. These are procedures that can respect the assumption of these rules but cannot apply their conclusions [FER 02]. As highlighted by Gunther, Ferry and Williams, the rules by which we accept an argument are not always the same rules that move us to act [GUN 98, FER 02, WIL 84]. Kantian freedom in this sense proves to prescind from all these empirical and social conditions that allow an intersubjective and immanent development of freedom.

Moreover, the dichotomy between natural sciences and the normative dimension exemplifies the impossibility of understanding and developing a complementary approach to the various aspects of social relations. This dichotomy, which will be taken up in other terms during the course of the 20th Century, points to the impossibility of understanding the dynamics of each social sphere as interrelated. Preventing us from comprehending the different relationship and interlaces, this fracture hinders us from developing an inclusive and complementary perspective.

In synthesis, Kant offers us perhaps the very first approach to the freedom– responsibility relationship, but ends by limiting it to moral and juridical aspects without being able to express the connection between different dimensions. In this way, freedom can surely gain in terms of legitimization but loses almost everything in terms of efficacy.

Another tradition that arises from Rousseau’s idea of freedom, but which concentrates on the passionate aspects of subjectivity, is that which finds in Herder its principal exponent [HER 02]. Herder’s understanding of freedom is related to self-realization rather than self-determination, and focuses on the unique souls that each agent possesses, and that need to be taken care of in order to unfold and grow through a reflective process. For Herder, subjects are gifted by nature with a unique soul that needs to be unveiled through reflexivity. Only by achieving such an objective can subjects be truly free.

It is not difficult to see the similarity between the Kantian approach and that of Herder in the decisive role that reflection must play in determining freedom. An agent is free when his actions are the consequences of a will that is the result of a reflective process.

At the same time, the differences between two authors are equally clear. If for Kant free will is the result of an autonomous and universal rationality that limits an agent’s actions, for Herder it is the result of a diachronic process of discovering an agent’s desires. In Herder’s writings, the affective or passionate dimension assumes a crucial role in the definition of an identity already given but which seeks its implementation through reflection [HER 02, MEN 12, HON 14a]. Both authors take Rousseau’s conception and decline it in two different ways that will have great repercussions on more recent developments of the idea of reflective freedom [HON 14a].

The Kantian model of reflective freedom has been taken and modified by various authors over the course of the 20th Century. One of the most important examples the juridical positivism already addressed, by Kelsen and Hart and by neo-Kantianism, that in some way took up and radicalized the idea Kant proposed in his second Critique and developed in Metaphysics of Morals.

However, we find other reformulations of reflexive freedom, different from the previous ones, both in authors such as Piaget and in the writings of Habermas and his “communicative action”. If the former reduces “the rational capacity of noumenal subjects to a bundle of empirical skills”, the intersubjective turn operated by Habermas, on the wake of American Pragmatism, “locates the moral subject within a communicative community” [HON 14a, pp. 34–35].

Habermas’ attempt to use Kantian freedom aims at promoting a moral community where subjects recognize themselves as members of that community and where “they learn to regard themselves as addressees of the universal norms they bring about in cooperation with others” [HON 14a, p. 35]. In this proposition, we find a very similar perspective to Kant’s one in assigning the decisive role to reason. The intersubjective freedom that Habermas yearns for does not take into account the institutional dimension as grounding these kinds of relations, but relegates the community into an intellectual dimension. If the potential outcomes of not promoting an increase in the freedom of individuals are well known, given the domination embedded in rational linguistic discourse [HON 90], the risks arising from an absence of institutional dimensions for freedom are not as evident. Here the problem lies in the fact that in order for certain kind of communities to be effective, and in the end even possible, their status and practices need to be recognized and thus embedded in institutional mechanisms. Otherwise, it is not clear how their contribution will be able to impact social reality [HON 90, RIP 10, RAZ 14]. We will return to this aspect later on.

In any case, not only Kant’s has been taken up. Herder’s example as well has been followed and developed, this time according to a constructivist and narrative perspective. It is indisputable that we can no longer rely on a metaphysical understanding of the subject. Thus, self-realization became the process of construction, not of discovery, of an identity, following a biographical path. We find several variations of this approach, but a more precise theorization has been proposed by Harry Frankfurt [FRA 88] and Alasdair McIntyre [MCI 84].

By radicalizing our perspective, we can emphasize that the two principles at the basis of reflective freedom, self-determination and self-realization, differ for the stress they place either on the substantive side or on the procedural one of how to gain freedom.

If we follow the Kantian model of freedom, then the outcome is a conception that sees the cooperation of all individuals through universal principles determined by reason. In this sense, the substance of our freedom and its empirical implementation are external factors ending in a procedural framework. Such a perspective on moral autonomy cannot determine the substance of this system, “because, for conceptual reasons, the theory cannot anticipate decisions that autonomous subjects must make on their own” [HON 14a, p. 37].

On the other hand, conceptions of reflexive freedom as self-realization can be seen as providing substantive content to determining what this means. According to Honneth, we find two subgroups here depending on whether the realization is conceived as an individualistic or collective operation. The former is exemplified by some of the writings of John Stuart Mill, where he advocates for governmental intervention in order to create and maintain those conditions enabling individual self-realization. Although mostly focused on education, this is nevertheless a first attempt to promote an institutional approach to reflexive freedom.

Another perspective, similar in the aims but different as regard the means it employs, is centered on the presupposition for which individuals’ self-realization is always “the expression of a social community that it can only be unfolded in collective action” [HON 14a, p. 39]. Thus, a desirable social order is one where the conditions for shared objectives are settled. Accordingly, members of society come together to discuss and publicly negotiate their common affairs. For this reason, intersubjective debate in the public sphere must be grasped as a “collective form of self-realization”. Institutional arrangements are judged here according to the capacity of maintaining a sufficient level of solidarity and integration and are usually conceived as contingent tools for achieving specific objectives. Notably, we can detect variations of this main objective in the production of Arendt, Sandel and to a certain extent of the late Habermas [ARE 91, SAN 82, HAB 12].

The interesting aspect of this dimension of freedom lies in its dynamic nature. Contrary to the negative dimension, reflexive freedom has almost always been described as a process rather than as a status. Although Kant, in his early works, identified freedom with a condition rather than a process, reflective freedom has always been understood as a dynamic development, as an action. Accordingly, the task embedded in this conception is to determine, increment and implement freedom through reflexivity. Whether it leads to its contingent, though justified, articulation according to individual desires, passions and beliefs, or it develops through rationalistic procedures, freedom is conceived as a task and not as given. The level of cooperation and social attitudes is much higher than that of negative freedom.

Nevertheless, none of the authors promoting such a conception are against the negative and crucial idea of freedom. All they tried to suggest is that such a model does not fulfill the concept of freedom, but rather represents a preliminary condition for its activation.

However, even a model of reflexive freedom, although it represents the core of what freedom should really mean, does not suffice to determine and complete the concept of freedom [ROS 08, HON 14a, HON14b]. Especially if we consider the relation between science and society that lies at the heart of RRI, it is difficult to overcome the demarcation between the two if we do not develop a model of freedom that it is rooted in institutions. The problem with reflective approaches to freedom is that they do not “interpret the social conditions that enable the exercise of freedom as elements of freedom itself. Instead, these conditions do not come into view until the issue of a just order is raised, and thus the social chances for realizing these prerequisites” [HON 14a, p. 40]. In doing so, these perspectives do not take sufficiently into account the key-role played by institutions as (a) the “institutional availability of moral aims”, or (b) the availability of the goods needed for “realizing our desires” [HON 14a]. All these conditions only come into play once the definition of liberty is already settled, as if they were external bodies added on the social order.

3.4. Ethical freedom

According to Honneth, the only example that resembles a model of reflective freedom embedded in a social dimension, to say, actualized in institutions, is the discourse theory delineated by Habermas. I am not sure, however, I could agree with this opinion and find it in fact quite surprising considering the same critique Honneth made in earlier works [HON 91].

According to that analysis, Habermas’ conception conceived society to be divided in two parts, where only one was considered to be normative, seeking shared social interests, and the others were seen as ruled by instrumental models of reason [HAB 84, HON 91]. Honneth’s criticism at that time was exactly based on the fact that in so doing, Habermas was not able to offer those institutional conditions necessary for the formation of communicative communities. He noticed that the absence of an institutional dimension not only would have suffered from the legitimacy of including or excluding participants, but it would have had no concrete effect in the social reality.

Communicative action (and I think what was true then must be agreed as well today) ends by expressing a procedural perspective of freedom, a freedom that does not solve the empirical questions arising from epistemic or moral conflicts. I do not identify any complementary perspective of society in Habermas like the one proposed by Honneth in the wake of Hegel.

The dimension of freedom that manages to overcome the limits pointed out above is one that is based and represented by institutions aiming to facilitate relationships of reciprocal recognition among individuals. This freedom has been defined as social freedom [NEU 00, HON 14a, HON 14b].

Social freedom, according to Honneth, can only be found in Hegel and the Hegelian tradition. It is only through Hegel that we can conceive of the social conditions for freedom as expressions of freedom themselves.

Hegel’s Philosophy of Right [HEG 91] builds on the criticism of those models of freedom that we know as negative and reflexive freedom. If the limit of the former is, for Hegel, the lack of subjectivity, the absence of objectivity is the problem with the latter. Negative freedom, which Hegel identified with legal freedom, must be abstracted from the individual owing to its nature and purpose. Accordingly, any recognition can be appointed to a single subject according to its specificity but only by legal status. The uniqueness of a person cannot come into the settlement of negative freedom, as the main basis of it is equality. Thus, the content of freedom cannot be seen as free, and objective reality “must continue to be regarded as completely heteronymous”. This kind of freedom thus does not extend (in)to the inner relation with oneself and cannot complete the concept of freedom.

On the contrary, reflective freedom, which Hegel, after Kant, conceived as moral freedom, has the opposite difficulty, that is to say a lack of objectivity. The idea of reflective freedom somehow presupposes the capacity of an agent to determine his own actions according to free will. Whether aiming at realizing oneself, or striving for autonomy, freedom can be recognized only to the extent that we are in the position to self-determine our actions.

When Hegel criticizes the Kantian approach, it is precisely the circularity that does not take into account the efficacy, the application of a norm that he refers to. According to Hegel, Kant does not consider as necessary the substantive and institutional aspects. The necessity lies only at the level of the procedures through which we achieve the legitimacy of those aspects. “Kant’s proceduralist approach can suppose all imaginable aims and intentions as long as they meet the conditions of (moral) reflexivity” [HON 14a, p. 56]. This proves to be a paradox because these issues, that Kant maintains are reachable through procedural processes, must be presupposed in order to obtain those very same procedures. Hegel identifies the reflective conception of freedom with the proceduralist theories as the Kantian model because the absence of external structures is essential for that type of freedom. However, this creates a distance, at times unbridgeable, between’s legitimization and application that causes several problems3. According to Hegel, we cannot limit our comprehension to one type of freedom that is exclusively epistemic, reflective or moral, because otherwise there would not be the conditions of possibility of that freedom. “If we only interpret freedom as a ‘capacity’, as the ability to pursue purely self-defined aims, then we will see the relationship of freedom to what it wills, or in general to its reality, merely as its application to a given material, an application which does not belong to the essence of freedom itself” [HON 14a, p. 47]. Translating this for our understanding, proceduralist approaches that ignore the substantive side of freedom will end up applying a predetermined norm or value to society, imposing a perspective that will not necessarily be embraced by it. Thus, if we want to pursue the double objective of legitimacy and efficacy we need to overcome mere proceduralists approaches and embed them in a thicker understanding of society.

Hegel tackles the problem through a shift of the perspective, that it is not a simple inversion, but rather what we, after him, might call a “sublation”.

What Hegel emphasizes is that the conditions of realization of the same aims we develop reflexively are not guaranteed. This means that the very possibility of realizing those desires or of expressing one’s will is not, in reality, taken into account. As we saw for the RRI discourse, one of the main problems regarding innovation is the moment of its application. What was true for Hegel and is still true today is the fact that moral freedom cannot alone guarantee the realization of those aims set reflexively. The legitimation appointed or reached at a moral level does not automatically imply the condition of application [VON 93, FER 02, LEN 03].

Hegel, therefore, needs to look for another model of freedom that manages to overcome the limits of negative and reflexive freedom. As we have shown, the main limits are lack of subjectivity for the former, and a lack of objectivity for the latter.

What Hegel then wants to achieve in its dialectical process is a freedom that entails the two dimensions and at the same time goes beyond them. A form of freedom “that expands the criteria underlying the notion of reflexive freedom to include the sphere that is traditionally set in opposition to the subject as an external reality” [HON 14a, p. 44]. This kind of freedom is detected in a multi-layered understanding of intersubjective institutional arrangements.

Hegel’s conceptualization, which detects this kind of freedom in social reality, starts from two basic forms of freedom in external space, namely friendship and love. For Hegel “here, we are not one-sidedly within ourselves, but willingly limit ourselves with reference to an other, even while knowing ourselves in this limitation as ourselves. In this determinacy, the human being should not feel determined; on the contrary, he attains his self-awareness only by regarding the other as other” [HEG 91, p. 42]. The logic underlying this understanding is that the individual, in recognizing the other as separate from him, initiates or increases self-consciousness [HON 95, HAB 03, Chapter 4].

Translated into an ethical point of view, friendship and love teach us to express ourselves in the other and vice versa. The type of bond, therefore, succeeds in embodying an external function that requires a conscious presupposition of the individual and, at the same time, allows him or her to develop. “Mutual recognition merely refers to the reciprocal experience of seeing ourselves confirmed in the desires and aims of the other, because the other’s existence represents a condition for fulfilling our own desires and aims” [HON 14a, p. 44]. The institution of the family, for example, allows us to maintain our own individuality though in a more articulated dimension, thinking to the possibility that this “conscience” is realized in the external world. The limitation that is generated by this type of relationship does not by any means result in a diminishing of freedom but, on the contrary, in its increase. Due to the concept of recognition, the role of externality to express one’s own individuality passes from an instrumental function, accorded by strictly reflective theories of freedom, to a condition of possibility of freedom itself.

That of love and friendship is obviously only a basic level of intersubjective recognition. In order to be able to also cover the many other aspects of the expression of individual freedoms, Hegel, and we too, must know how to widen perspectives to embrace other spheres belonging to the social dimension. This means justifying this idea through institutions that play the same role at a different level. What remains, however, is the fact that, by means of two spheres that are so simple and, at the same time, so fundamental, Hegel can legitimately develop a conception that is based on freedom as an intersubjective development of individuality.

The developments of economic theories of the time enabled Hegel to adapt his theory of freedom and recognition to the economic sphere as well. Although the cameralistic movement, which looked at the management of the economy from a social and ethical point of view is never mentioned in his Philosophy of Right, the theories of Adam Smith enabled Hegel to read the market as an institution based on the recognition of reciprocal needs4.

Hegel’s conception can also be read as the development of the theories just mentioned, together with the model, more static, delineated some years earlier by Fichte5. Fichte had tried to respond to the problems emerging from an increasing division of labor and increment of financial aspects, through a model of social cooperation aiming for the satisfaction of needs. Against the justification of inequalities on natural basis, Fichte did not privilege equality over autonomy. On the contrary, a system of normative regulation would have had enabled the possibility of preserving individual freedom from abuses of power justified according to a presumed natural law. Fichte’s right to work is generated exactly as an answer to the political instability of his epoch. Clearly remodeled, Hegel’s basic idea, which will be taken up in terms that are not too different by Durkheim and Parsons, is that “in the sphere of the market subjects must recognize each other reciprocally, viewing each other as subjects whose economic offers guarantee the satisfaction of their own, purely egocentric needs” [HON 14a, p. 46]. In other words, egoistic needs and therefore the actualization of a certain kind of freedom can be achieved only through reciprocal recognition. Thus, the market cannot be reducible to an instrumental or blind dimension for the satisfaction of vital needs. Apart from the functional value of mere subsistence, the market, for Hegel, possessed a key role for one’s desires, interests and values to be realized. As Fichte had already understood, the economy could and should determine the capacity of an individual to have access to the conditions of possibility of freedom.

The material aspect of existence as a necessary parameter for the actualization of individual freedom is an intuition of Hegel that would not be unheard after him.

Parsons’ development, for example, inserts the market in relation to the other social dimensions sharing its dependence on rationalities other than profit [PAR 91]. In the “Marshall Lectures” [PAR 91], Parsons tries to highlight how the logic of economy cannot be conceived independently of society, in which it is embedded. Starting from its general understanding of social systems and subsystems, Parsons shows how the most inclusive one, of which all the others represent subspheres, is society. According to Parsons, a society “is not only itself a social system, but even more important it is a complex network of subsystems, not only on many different levels of inclusiveness from its total economy to a single family, but also crosscutting each other. Thus the ‘engineering profession’ as subsystem of a modern society cross-cuts the differentiation between economy and ‘polity’; it participates in both” [PAR 91, p. 13]. Within society then, we find structural differentiations, which he calls subsystems, and actual differentiations, that he defines not through ontological categories but through the sociological label of roles. Without needing to go in depth into the preconditions for a system to work, it is important to highlight how Parsons stresses the necessity for subsystems “to maintain their boundaries, but at the same time to adapt to the situation outside the boundaries” [PAR 91, p. 15], and the fact that “the value-system of a subsystem of a society is a differentiated variant of the general value-system of the society” [PAR 91, p. 25].

Following this framework, Parsons proposes to treat the economy, as well as the other fields, thus to consider it, as one subsystem of a more inclusive system (society) that follows certain specific “variables” but relies on the same general parameters. In his understanding, economy, as every other subsystem, would not survive if it was not for its relational nature (based on action and sanction both internally and see [PAR 91, p. 31] among other subsystems) and if it would not follow also external extra-economic criteria (input). Parsons, explanation tends to stress the functional role of subsystems, showing, for instance, how economy has to rely on both internal and external relational criteria. Thus, following Pareto’s assumptions, Parsons believes that economic efficiency, for instance, is a general parameter common to many subsystems. Economic efficiency “must be regarded as a function of all of the basic social system variables […] A relational quantity must be treated as a function of all the terms of the relation, not just one or two of them” [PAR 91, p. 19]. Also, non-economic factors “are not the resultants of the operation of one or more sets of ‘non-economic’ variables whereas the economic aspect is the resultant of a different and independent sets of variables” [PAR 91, p. 16].

Instead, Parsons shows how economy as a subsystem always has to rely on factors that are non-economic.

Of course, this understanding is not meant to underplay the crucial role that economy performs in society. Parsons is quite clear when he confers economy a special character due to the importance that it assumes in highly differentiated societies, such as in Western democratic ones. Parsons, justifying this perspective by means of his functionalistic frame, emphasizes how this interconnection is not at all unbalanced on one side, but also how other subsystems are partially built on some sort of economic logic. In short, what Parsons helps us to understand, even if in a functionalistic way, is the fact that different fields can survive and evolve only due to their interdependence in a societal system, and that is the only reason for which they were created and for which they make sense. In Parsons’ perspective, all these subsystems are institutionalized with specific goals and relying on a distinctive logic. Thus, an economic institution will have to follow some profit-oriented goals in order to fulfill its very nature. At the same time, however, this same institution must not disregard its interdependent nature, which is one of the two functions an institution needs to exert.

As an example of this theorization of institutions, we can recall Parsons when he identifies in moral components of labor contracts and in occupational roles, two of these institutional complexes, aimed at closing the gap between the market and society by means of shared values [PAR 12, HON 14a, p. 188].

Parsons’ description is only one of many others that tried to unveil this close and interdependent relation of different social spheres. What these conceptions were trying to show us is the fact that different social spheres, although speaking different languages, share the same roots and most of all the same objective, i.e. the actualization of freedom.

However, the decisive affirmation of the Kantian tradition, which, as we have seen, limited his conception of freedom to an epistemic and reflective aspect, has deprived criticism of useful instruments to comprehend its diverse articulations [HON 90, HON 10]. Besides, it has also generated an instrumental understanding of some social dimensions as, for example, the market and therefore innovation itself, which has led to all the problems we mentioned at the beginning.

Hegel, on the other hand, and with him a long tradition of scholars, maintains that the economy is founded on a series of institutions aimed at reciprocal recognition that drive individual articulations of freedom.

The introduction of the economy opens up for thinking not only the market itself as a dimension of freedom, but also the deeper idea of society and freedom composed of various complementary levels. This enables Hegel to justify, on more solid bases, his idea according to which recognition is the vehicle and procedural grounding for the articulation of freedoms. As we have said, Hegel always maintains the unchanged supposition that individual freedom can only be implemented by means of institutions that ensure and support practices of intersubjective recognition. According to Ricoeur, Kant himself affirmed the necessity of the intersubjective confirmation that derives from the fulfillment of one’s own capacities. It is in recognition that the role and connection between attestation and sanction comes into play [RIC 07, pp. 75–76]. The Kantian perspective, however, was limited to expressing this relationship in linguistic and epistemic terms of a universal nature, formalized through law, without going as far as the concrete practices of a social dimension of interaction.

Now, the integration of these three kinds of freedom is what forms the ethical realm, according to Hegel. By recapturing the significance of ancient ethics and completing it with subjective freedom, Hegel manages to bring ethics back into the political realm from where it had been expelled. Hegel also pointed out the crucial role of autonomy and individual freedom, which showed how this should be integrated in an objective structure in order to be actualized and implemented. Again, Hegel saw, not only the shortcomings of atomistic (legal and moral) and naturalistic (economic) conceptions, but he also understood all the risks connected to a partisan or biased perspective. Thus, ethics is the conjuncture of subjectivity and objectivity throughout all the different dimensions of society. This means that each dimension needs to embed subjective claims in an objective form so that individuals can recognize them together with those of others as related. This ethical realm is accordingly necessary because it provides the very chance of freedom. For Hegel, it is in individuals that these ethical powers are represented, have the shape of appearance, and become actualized as an objective circle of necessity” [RIT 82, p. 169]. The apparent dilemma that Kant wanted to solve by means of law is not solved by exacerbating the differences, but by dialectic of reciprocity that manages to go beyond the mere juridical order. A dialectic between subjective perspectives and an objective reality of intersubjective nature. The crucial role of institutions as devices of actualization of self-hood and freedom comes into play here. Institutions are the embodiment of individual peculiarity through means of objective language that connects subjects in order to actualize and therefore implement their freedoms.

Hegel politically asserts this against the position according to which the individual seeks his freedom in distinction and separation from the universal, and opposes the existing institutions and the “completed fabric” of the state an ought-to-be which subjectivity permits to arise from the “heart, emotion, and inspiration” and the “subjective accident of opinion and caprice” [RIT 82, p. 172].

“Hegel asserts that man has to decide and act not in the inwardness of disposition alone, but rather in the relations in which he stands, works, lives, has interests, and takes on responsibilities and duties. In the ‘sublation’ of morality into the objective ethical being, he thus sets up the conformity of the individual to the duties of the relationships to which he belongs, his rectitude, as the universal determination of ethical reality” [RIT 82, p. 174]. As brilliantly resumed by Pierre, “institutions are overarching systems of beliefs, values, traditions, norms, rules and practices that shape or constrain social behavior” [PIE 99].

For Parsons, institutions are “the ways in which value-patterns of the common culture of a social system come to be integrated in the concrete action of its units through the definition of role-expectations and the organization of motivation to their fulfillment” [PAR 91 p. 39]. The objective reality, in other words the institutions, retain and convey those behavioral norms necessary for the recognition of complementarity among different individuals as well as social spheres. The institutions must represent the third (party) that arranges for the two parties to communicate with each other and at the same time makes the parties aware of the necessity of this complementary perspective. In fact, on a more radical plane, the institutions are themselves expressions of freedom. Thus, they must place themselves in a complementary relationship between them, respecting their objective and increasing their function of freedom through reciprocity6.

From a practical point of view, the institutions need to facilitate a comprehension of their rules and roles in stimulating intersubjective and complementary practices. Individuals will need to learn that institutions are the means by which they can actualize their freedom. The implication is that such institutions must assume and be based on rational assumptions that can be understood, agreed and therefore justified.

“Ethical life is the institutional reality of human selfhood”, concluded Hegel in Philosophy of Right.

The relation between subjective will and institutions must be conceived as interwoven, as the recognition of both with each other. “This entails that just as these are reality for individual action, so they consist in and only have reality in the life and action of individuals. Virtue as deportment in individual life and action therefore has at the same time objective significance: only where it is given, do institutions also exist in a good manner” [RIT 82].

Accordingly, the importance of institutions does not mean they are exempt from criticism. Institutions are and should be the objectification of individual freedom, the space where subjective characters are realized. Accordingly, “they become dead enclosures when the life of the individual can no longer find itself and realize itself within them” [RIT 82, p. 172]. Thus, in order to respond to this aim, institutions need to prefigure structure and processes that could facilitate changes and modifications according to societal and historical developments [LEN 10]. Hegel’s construction does not stand in the realm of a reactionary model of society. The argument does not uphold the infallibility of the institutions or maintain that they cannot be criticized. On the contrary, it determines their perennial instability by immobilizing the reflective manifestations that in their turn imply juridical possibilities. These two entail, in fact, the manifestation of criticism and reflections on the same institutional conditions, so as to align the historically determined practices with their criteria of rationality. The reflective freedom and the proceduralism they enact are, for Hegel, the instruments to legitimately manage intersubjective relation but not their foundation. The latter is grounded on the subjective aspects given in a society to which institutions give reality. But if institutions do not represent those subjective features, then it will be necessary to modify them. Furthermore, given that freedom is also based on reflective freedom, the screening of institutions is a continuous dialectic between individuals and the institutions themselves.

In other words, institutions can and must be changed according to the articulations that freedom gradually assumes in a historical progress determined by needs that are also immanent. It is evident that today we can no longer find in Hegelian societal depiction most of the institutional conditions that are suitable for describing our societies. It is evident that the corporation, for example, is not a proposable model, but it is also true that other similar forms (professional associations) nowadays perform a similar function modeled on historical progress. The detection of which values, and the circumscription of the institutions that can guarantee and promote freedoms on the basis of intersubjective recognition, must be handed over to an ongoing sociological investigation [BOL 11, CRO 13, FER 02].

A series of permanent characteristics, which will have to be preserved in order not to fall into a historical and logical contradiction will, however, be kept. First and foremost the fact that the conditions through which our freedoms are actualized and implemented are not lessened. The transcendental need for freedom as a reference condition and value cannot be undermined. Also from a logical point of view, it is surely a basic condition to guarantee the conditions of reproducibility and survival of freedom itself. Without the conditions that enable and preserve the very possibility of criticizing the critique would not be logically possible. For this reason, Hegel, who makes a point of implementing moral and juridical freedoms, also affirms that these two freedoms must not, however, go so far as to destroy the institutions that make them possible.

Herein lies the core power of institutions as expressions of freedom. Freedom, as seen in its different declinations, can be considered as a static and dynamic condition. Freedom can be a status ascribed to us, or a practice expressed by certain capacities. Depending on whether the emphasis is placed on the conservation of a space, the criteria according to which one is in possession of the status are defined, or which capacities are needed is explained, freedom will appear as embedding one of the two significances. But none of the two would be possible without the other. Freedom always entails this double nature. For Hegel, each of the two significances cannot be understood without the other, and to cope with the lack of both we need to put them in connection and then overcome them. This double nature of freedom, as static and as dynamic, is actualized in institutions where this union generates a third kind of freedom that integrates the other two, freedom as exercise.

In my opinion, I would say we can identify not only two, but three necessary modalities as fully expressing the concept of freedom. To the two modalities expressed by their belonging to freedom, as status or as capacity, we can add a third, which is the equivalent of the exercise. This third one is the actualization of the potential embedded in the first two and at the same time the one that makes the other two possible. These three modalities clearly coincide with the juridical, moral and social dimension identified by Hegel. These three typologies thus, according to Hegel’s perspective, only have a sense if they are embedded in institutions that actualize them.

Freedom as status can be institutionally embedded by those juridical subjects that, for instance, must guarantee the possibilities of respect of the limits each one has the right to have.

Freedom as capacity, for instance, following Dewey’s suggestions, can be found in the institutions concerned with education and educational development due to which the individual is provided with the instruments with which to refine and increase his capacity of freedom as self-determination. In this system are also included institutional subjects aimed at the subsistence and the increase in material capacities.

Freedom as exercise, on the other hand, finds its reality in political figures aiming at the identification of progress as a dialectic among single freedoms.

Such a conceptual scheme entails, however, that, in order for the institutions to perform their function of freedom, they themselves are expressions of this double nature, static and dynamic. Therefore, in the Hegelian idea, institutions are definitely not solid and incontrovertible monsters, but linking vehicles that provide the conditions of possibility of freedom, in the double guise of status and of affirming the capacities. Institutions must be able to exercise freedom themselves, increasing it, and therefore to shape themselves according to historical developments.

Institutions must, therefore, be the concrete expression of the possibility of freedom of individuals.

Thus, these two sides together, objectivity and subjectivity, rationality and social correspondence, form a new extension of individual freedom that can solve the dilemma of a justified and efficacious perspective. To put it in abstract terms, what we emphasize here is that the legitimacy of a process does not guarantee the efficacy, unless the criterion of efficacy is not considered as a precondition for the legitimacy itself.

We have seen briefly how Hegel considers institutions aimed at maintaining and promoting relations of reciprocal recognition, the conditions by means of which to implement individual freedoms. At the same time, the nature of these institutions is not by any means irrational, obscure or partial, and must be founded on complementary perspectives expressed in a rational form and therefore also able to implement freedom according to reflective and juridical freedom. Bearing this structure in mind, we can detect the contest that Hegel could not logically presuppose. We can do this if, according to Honneth, we search for an equilibrium among different dimensions which are rational (universal) and historical (contingent). It is the equilibrium (reflective) between these two sides that will enable us to detect the contents that the institutions must embody, according to the social sphere in which they are inserted and the role for which they exist. An operation that passes between a reflective side and a sociological side. The capacity to trace these contents and their institutionalization, the “normative reconstruction”, will lead us to the diagnostic possibility of practices that, in our language, we would define responsible or otherwise.

This dialectical perspective has the merit of laying the basis of an efficacious system that due to its efficacy can aspire to legitimacy through the other two dimensions of freedom, moral freedom and legal freedom. And it is in this sense that Hegel can speak of a social acception of freedom, as the conceptual framework can only be extended according to vectors that are able to recognize and reconcile different social claims in a concrete way. Society, and the freedom it offers, is no longer either an objective to achieve or a possibility, but rather the necessity for the implementation of freedom itself. In this sense, institutions must strive to obtain and preserve that “reflective equilibrium”.

For Hegel then, we find two typologies of freedom that must interact in an explicit and balanced way among different social spheres so as to give birth to an active third acception, that at the same time represents the condition of possibility of the other two, namely social freedom. It is important to draw attention to the two sides of a unique coin of freedom. While there is a growing tendency to analyze the various subcategories previously isolated, the Hegelian afflatus is to recall us to think the overall and describe the categories by means of the relation.

Thus, Hegel on the one hand preserves the dignity of autonomy in the categories but on the other hand offers a depiction that is able to explain their function in the interaction. The relationship between “otherness” that does not cancel singularity, but on the contrary enables the singularity itself to be extended beyond the limit that its nature imposes on it.

Also from a historical point of view, this relation must be balanced, so that neither juridical nor moral freedom predominate over each other. These dimensions are complementary and therefore closely connected. As stated by Rostboll, “they are needed to balance each other. Too much concern for one dimension of freedom can undermine the prospects for freedom along another axis” [ROS 08]. “Interestingly, even if the different dimensions of freedom sometimes compete and are in tension with each other, they also presuppose each other. No dimension of freedom is complete in itself” [ROS 08, p. 6]. With this multi-layered conception of freedom we are able not only to understand the importance of their relation but also to express the spirit of freedom itself. As stated by Rostboll, “the simultaneous concern for and systematic inclusion of several dimensions of freedom, first, make clearer the normative basis and importance of these tensions; second, they give us a unique way of analyzing them; and, third, they open up avenues of sometimes overcoming them and at other times negotiating the appropriate balance between the different freedom interests that they express” [ROS 08, p. 6].

It is in this frame of sense that the development of the Hegelian system should be understood, as the attempt to propound a theory of freedom able to assume a transcendental role of immanent contents.

I believe that this understanding, where different typologies of freedom are necessarily interacting in their different articulations, can also help us in understanding the relation among different acceptions of responsibility. Furthermore, a connection between all these aspects will provide us with normative and empirical criteria for identifying, and above all, assessing responsible approaches to research and innovation.

We will first have to briefly outline the relationship between freedom and the responsibilities that ensue from it, in order to understand their relationship within an ethical framework. Due to this specular connection, we will be able to propose an assessment of RRI as an ethical realm of social pathologies.