Community, or Freedom in Dialogue with Responsibility

Community, or Freedom in Dialogue with Responsibility

If we try to look at the words contained in the title of this text – freedom and responsibility – it would probably turn out that the status of these two is quite different. While freedom has been and remains a highly valued concept within culture and language, the concept of responsibility is not always well associated. When we think also about ourselves, bearing in mind our human subjectivity, we tend to distinguish this subjectivity because of its freedom rather than in the context of responsibility. The latter is usually considered burdensome and undesirable. At best it’s an admitted and tolerated „necessary evil,” for example, the price to be paid for the acquisition of some good or value. Responsibility is perceived by us as a yoke imposed on us, as something that threatens, oppresses and even degrades us, and therefore in this role it’s an opposite of freedom.

It turns out, however, that just as freedom without responsibility turns into lawlessness, also responsibility deprived of freedom is slavery. Separated from each other, they must offend human uniqueness, which they should, after all, express and affirm. And if they were to represent a person as such, they would fulfill this role in a way that falsifies their image. However, we can and should see a different, more „human” face of responsibility. After all, contrary to appearances, responsibility does not have to be imposed or treated as an element of the contract and thus function instrumentally. It doesn’t have to be a burden. Its source refers – in line with the morphological and etymological clue included in this concept – to being responsible for the reaction to somebodys „issue”, to unforced response someone’s to someone.

The Cartesian „I think, therefore I am” could and should be enriched and supplemented by „I answer, therefore I am”. So freedom and responsibility are not doomed to conflict. On the contrary, they correspond with each other, especially when we see in them not so much abstract concepts as terms relating to human existence. Within this existence, an especially important place belongs not only to experiencing oneself and the world, but also those human experiences which are born and complete each other on the religious plane. After all, the word „religion” indicates both sacredness and the relationship of human with God and human with human. It’s a bond which witness and guarantor of axiological stability and credibility is God. This bond is born and becomes real at the interpersonal level, because its participants are free people, because they are able to make conscious choices, and in particular, to „choose themselves”. Such choosing is is at the same time bearing witness to one another to oneself, in front of oneself, about oneself and for oneself, and each time also to one another, because the partners of this bond are present to one another. Being present – let us note – is somewhat different from „being” or „existence” in the general sense that these concepts are entitled to. Usually it is assumed that only a person can be present, i.e. someone who can enter into a dialogue with another person – a person „towards” another person. Things are not said to be present or absent, but only to be there or not, to exist or not to exist. Only in the realities of an interpersonal relationship – actual or potential, expected as possible or not impossible – is the term of presence allowed to be used.

Present is someone, who freely and consciously undertakes an essentially dialogical relationship. Let us add that in the case of the word „dialogical” the root of the element „dia” refers not so much to the Greek numeral (two) as to the word indicating the mediation (through), and therefore the pre-eminence of you – which directs the invitation towards „my I” to the dialogue and thus recognizes a potential partner in it, in relation to the „I” – who is the beneficiary of this invitation. Thus, as „human objects” we exist – whether we like it or not – if only by virtue of the inherited genotype and the phenotype in which our objectification occurs. Such existence does not depend on our will, even our consciousness has no major influence on it – we exist, like any other being, according to our properties and endowment. Man does not cease to be human whether he is wise or foolish, right or wrong. However, whether we are ready to fully affirm our humanity and live up to our calling, we decide ourselves. These two situations illustrate the difference indicated by Abraham J. Heschel – the difference between „human being” and „being human”, the latter having at the same time the meaning of being „humanly”1. Thus, while in the plan of logic applicable in the subject-object perspective, the You is secondary to the I – provided that it is always ascertained, recognized and diagnosed by this I – the opposite is true from the perspective of dia-logical optics. Here I appear not as an „object” standing before us (the German word Gegenstand seems very instructive here), but as a partner, summoned and „asked” by You, invited to participate in a dialogical relationship, to meet with each other, and thus to establish a bond2.

Maintaining this bond requires from its participants, apart from freedom, also responsibility. Accepting an invitation, human, but also, especially, divine – which is the source, precedent and model of all invitations of this kind – is an expression of accession to the community of dialogical entities, mutually affirming their freedom and responsibility, entities whose relationship is expressed by offering and accepting a gift, as „is from one man to another that the heavenly bread of self-being is passed”3. This community „experience” – not by accident as suggested in the word used here – is called testimony. And also the testimony cannot be something that appears in the relation of the knowing subject to the known object. It’s indispensable here to refer to the special and somehow exclusive prerogatives enjoyed by persons – free and autonomous beings, and therefore responsible, as they respond to the request of another human being. Also, only them are given the chance and the grace to take advantage of the gift of relationships. And even if this argument pointing to the unique status of man is not the only one, it clearly argues for not to ignore the eternally valid invitation to participate in interpersonal being-towards-oneself.

Freedom and responsibility are like – if to paraphrase the well-known metaphor of John Paul II –two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth, which is also a flight towards what is absolutely and timelessly important4. What popes wrote about the correlation between faith and reason – referring to St. Thomas, who distinguishes them clearly, but „while happily associating the one with the other, he both preserved the rights and had regard for the dignity of each”5 – remains valid in the case of the special distinction freedom vs. responsibility. Neither of them can function in isolation from the other, because they assume each other, complement each other and become real in the space of human life, which is invariably living „in the circles of the interpersonal community”. Those are probably terms which, due to their anthropological importance and complementarity, show the eternal truth about human – that they was chosen to bear witness to their freedom and responsibility. Those express in the deepest way the truth about their dignity, which they are personally and personally entitled to, making them unique – a person among people.

Dr hab. Witold P. Glinkowski, prof. UŁ

Uniwersytet Łódzki

1 A.J. Heschel, Kim jest człowiek?, K. Wojtkowska [trans.], Punctum–UŁ Publisher, Warszawa–Łódź 2014, p. 104–119.

2 As Heschel states, „man can be understood only in terms of his total situation, in terms of the demans he is called upon to answer”. Human must not be reduced to human nature alone, because „Human being is a fact as well as a desideratum, a given constellation as well as an opportunity”. Ibid., p. 36, 37.

3 M. Buber, Ja i Ty. Wybór pism filozoficznych, J. Doktór [trans.], PAX, Warszawa 1992, p. 137.

4 John Paul II, Encyclical Fides et ratio. O relacjach między wiarą a rozumem, Pallottinum Publisher, Poznań 1998, p. 3.

5 Leo XIII, Encyclical Aeterni Patris (August 4, 1879), ASS 11 (1878–1879), p. 109; after: John Paul II, Encyclical Fides et ratio, p. 89.

Autor: Mateusz Ruta
Date: 14 September 2021
Financed from the means of the Justice Fund, administered by the Minister of Justice.
Pro Futuro Theologiae Foundation
Gagarin 37/8 street, 87-100 Toruń
Subscribe to our newsletter
Nicolaus Copernicus University
Pro Futuro Theologiae Foundation
Gagarina 37/8 street, 87-100 Toruń
Skip to content