It seems that the more we advance as a society, the more we feel the need to legislate. Set limits. Build fences. Emphasize the rules. And, if possible, make the punishment for those who dare to violate them even clearer. The Spanish Civil Code, for example, contains 1976 articles and the criminal code over 600.
The problem is that the more you adjust from the outside, the less you adjust from the inside. The more we have to look to society to know what we can and cannot do, the less we develop our own morals that start from common sense and empathy.
As Albert Camus warned, “I have seen people make mistakes with a lot of morals, but honesty does not need rules […] Where clarity reigns, the scale of values becomes useless”. Camus does not accept the existence of absolute values that can govern his life, but neither does he deny the scale of social values nor does he intend to destroy it on the altar of nihilism. It proposes a "philosophy of the limit" that is worth investigating.
Absolute freedom leads to repression
“We are free at the expense of someone else,” Caligula said. Sometimes, as we exercise our freedom, we cross personal boundaries to interfere with and limit the freedom of others. This is why Camus does not propose the search for absolute freedom that can degenerate into debauchery and chaos, but supports a sense of justice and order based on individual conscience.
"The rebellion is in no way a demand for total freedom [...] It questions precisely the unlimited power that authorizes a superior to violate the forbidden border."
“Absolute freedom is the right of the strongest to dominate. Therefore, it keeps conflicts for the benefit of injustice. Absolute justice passes through the suppression of all contradictions: it destroys freedom. The revolution for justice, for freedom ends up opposing each other ”.
Camus was convinced that adopting the “everything is worth it” mentality and desiring absolute freedom would have the opposite effect, because the stronger would end up overwhelming and dominating the weaker. The absolute freedom of some would severely limit the freedom of others. Therefore, the pursuit of unlimited freedom would soon turn into the repression of freedom.
What to do then?
Measure, conscience and empathy
“A man is prey to his truths. Once he recognizes them, he cannot get away from them ”, wrote Camus. When we become aware of something, when we make it our own, we bond with it.
This is why Camus suggested an exercise in introspection. He believed that values cannot be imposed, but are a personal decision that passes through an act of conscience through which we really identify with them, so that they govern our behavior independently of any external norm or law. Then, and only then, do we become self-determined people.
Measure and empathy would be, on the other hand, the balances of the scale of individual freedoms. They are the essential counterweight that assures us that, in exercising our freedom, we will not exceed the limits of the other.
Freedom would therefore be obtained by applying common sense and putting oneself in the shoes of the other. “Measure is not the opposite of rebellion. It is the rebellion that is the measure, that which orders it, defends it and creates it anew through history and its disorders.
“It can be said, therefore, that rebellion, when it leads to destruction, is illogical. Affirming the unity of the human condition, it is the force of life, not of death. Its deep logic is not that of destruction; it is that of creation ”.
Freedom, therefore, is not simply asking what we want and pursuing it, at any cost. Freedom is asking ourselves what we want and how we can achieve it by respecting others. When every person acts with common sense and empathy, rules are unnecessary.
A rule-filled society is a society of childlike people who are not responsible for their behaviors and lack self-determination, so they need external norms to regulate relationships.
Instead, we could create a real system of coexistence and freedom for all. But to achieve this goal it is necessary that each person is fully aware of his own scale of values, of the chosen values that not only guarantee him to live as he wants, but also guarantee respect for the freedom of others.
It would be enough to follow the golden rule of ethics: "do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you".