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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Teaching Philosophy in SHS: What is Freedom? A Phenomonological Reflection on Freedom of the Human Person

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Emil Samaniego
Emil Samaniego is Chief Content Officer and one of the founders of Politixxx Today.

In this series of articles, I will share my experience as teacher of Introduction to Philosophy of the Human Person. Philosophy is a fun and challenging subject especially to teenagers who will be exposed for the first time to the rigors of philosophizing as required under the K-12 curriculum.

I understand that teaching philosophy at the Senior High School level is challenging not only to students but also to some teachers. Students may either find the subject interesting or boring depending on the teaching-learning strategy of the teacher.  

Here, I present my own phenomenological reflection on freedom of the human person using Gabriel Marcel’s phenomenological approach. Based on my students’ feedback, they actually found this discussion particularly fruitful perhaps owing to its simplicity and practicality. I know that philosophical jargons are intimidating, and it is always a challenge to us, philosophy teachers at the Senior High School, to teach philosophy in a simple manner without forsaking academic rigor.

Who is Gabriel Marcel?

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21768234

Gabriel Marcel was a French philosopher whose philosophy was described as “Christian Existentialism.” I particularly like Gabriel Marcel because of the sheer simplicity and beauty of his phenomenological approach in contrast to more complex Husserlian or Heideggerian phenomenology. This is why I believe that Marcel is a good way to introduce phenomenology to Senior High School students.  

Primary Reflection on Freedom: I have freedom because I am self-aware

In Gabriel Marcel’s phenomenological framework, the first level of analysis is called the Primary Reflection which breaks the unity of experience and analyzes the parts of it individually; it also understands the phenomenon by breaking it apart; it is interested with the technical and methodological solutions to problems. It is the reflection commonly used in empirical sciences (Calano, 2016).

In applying Marcel’s framework in our phenomenological reflection of freedom, the primary reflection is best embodied by the phrase I have freedom (here the subject I is separated from the object Freedom). When we say that a human person has freedom, does it mean that freedom is something that is acquired? And if so, where does he get it? Who or what gives freedom to the human person? Why does he have freedom in the first place? What is the source of that freedom?

The answer to these questions is that a human person has freedom because he is self-aware (Calano, 2016). Thus, I have freedom because I am self-aware or have conscious self-awareness.This means that freedom is something not given to an individual, his/her freedom flows from his/her very self as a conscious and self-aware being. In other words, freedom of the human person is neither given by the government nor any laws or constitution. And just like human rights, the fundamental human freedoms are inalienable or innate to his/her very being, without them s/he ceases to become a person.  Although the government through laws and due process can regulate or deprive freedom and human rights, it cannot be its source. 

But why is self-awareness crucial in understanding human freedom? The answer to this question is because self-awareness provides us the ability of self-introspection. It is due to self-awareness that we are able to judge our decisions and our actions as good or bad, advantageous or disadvantageous. This is the reason why it is crucial to presuppose the existence of self-awareness in discussing freedom. Since we are self-aware, we have the capacity to imagine possibilities or alternatives to the present state of affairs. It is only by being self-aware of possibilities that human beings may be deemed free precisely because these possibilities are the very conditions of the existence of the choices that we have in any give situations. In this sense, the crucial relationship between freedom and imagination becomes apparent. Freedom is the human person’s capacity to imagine possibilities in his/her life. And our imagination is the product of our self-awareness and freedom.

Secondary Reflection: I am free because I choose to be free

The second level of analysis of Gabriel Marcel’s phenomenological method is called Secondary Reflection. This reflection is synthetic; it unifies rather than divides; it sees the phenomena subjectively, in particular, on how it relates to the self. It gives us a sense of how the phenomenon can be applied and has applied itself into our consciousness (Calano, 2016).

The application of the Marcelian Secondary Reflection on our phenomenological reading of the freedom of the human person is encapsulated by the phrase I am free. Here, there is unity between the subject “I” and the object “free”. When can we say that freedom has applied itself to the consciousness of the human person?  The answer is through the operation of conscious and voluntary choice. Thus, I am free because I choose to be free. This means that a person, in order to become truly free, must not only recognize that he has freedom (Primary Reflection- I have freedom) but he must also accept and embrace this as part of his being and conscious reality (Secondary Reflection- I am free). In other words, being free does not stop at being aware that I have freedom, but I also have to will it by setting myself free. Here we see the performative and emancipatory dimensions of freedom. To be free is to act.

In fact there are individuals who may be aware that they have freedom but they actively choose not to exercise it. Foremost to these are those individuals who choose to stay in a relationship with their abusive partners or those who refuse to let go or move on from their past romance.

Point of reflection for students: Can you give example of people who merely recognize that they have freedom but do not act it out? Can we consider them as truly free?

Slavery as derogation of the human freedom

Since there is unity between the self and his/her freedom, the secondary reflection opens an ethical dimension on our understanding of freedom. This is the realization that freedom is not a mere object or commodity to be traded off. And that slavery which is a derogation of the freedom of the human person is inherently illegal and iimmoral— an act mala in se. 

Point of reflection for students: Is slavery still present in our time? What are the modern day forms of slavery?

Transcendental Reflection: I am not just free because I am also responsible and accountable over the consequences of the exercise of my freedom

Although Marcel’s reflections are only primary and secondary, here, I add a transcendental reflection which sees freedom as something beyond the subject or the person. This means that freedom as Soren Kierkegaard puts it must always be exercised in context– not only in the context of the self but of others, community, and if you are religious, God as well.

Thus, in order to be truly free, we must not only recognize that we have freedom (Primary Reflection) but we must actively choose to be free (Secondary Reflection), and most importantly, we must exercise freedom with responsibility, accountability and prudence (Transcendental Reflection). 


This reflection on freedom is just part of my Introduction to Philosophy of the Human Person modules which I am willing to share to teachers and others who might be interested. Just email me at emilsamaniego@gmail.com to ask for copy. For the next article, I am going to discuss Intersubjectivity.

Emil L. Samaniego is the Chief Content Officer of Politixxx, Inc. He receives his Juris Doctor degree from San Beda College of Law in Mendiola. He formerly taught Introduction to Philosophy of the Human Person, Contemporary Arts from the Region and World Religion in San Beda University Rizal.  

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