Merleau-Ponty claims that freedom only exists in a field. That is absolute freedom does not exist, because if there are no limits or parameters to a freedom, then it according to Merleau-Ponty, it doesn’t exist. However, this logic assumes that in order for something to exist, we must understand it and compare it to something else. While using this logic cannot prove that something we don’t understand must exist or even has a chance of existing, it does put some doubt on Merleau-Ponty’s claims. Why do we need to compare freedom to a limit to legitimize it?
Let’s look at a scenario where a human can do anything he or she wants, because there are no limits. Can we say this person is not a freedom or not even acknowledge the freedom he/she experiences? The person may not understand the freedom since there is nothing to compare it to, there is no limit, nothing that he or she can’t do, so there is just existence. However, given our perspective, where we experience self imposed limits on our freedom, as Sartre suggests, we recognize the person’s absolute freedom.
In a more relatable example, we experience freedom and its limits throughout our lives. However once we become aware of this freedom by experiencing limits, it doesn’t mean that in the past when those limits were recognized and we could in fact do what we actually wanted, freedom didn’t exist or it wasn’t relevant. We just didn’t understand as we do know, nor placed enough emphasis on it to understand how to make choices in a given field with parameters. Now that we do, we can look back at our experiences where freedom may have truly not been limited and understand why and how that happened. We can also look at scenarios where freedom was in fact limited, but we didn’t understand or weren’t aware of the limits, so we ignored them, thus not having something to contrast our freedom to.
Merleau-Ponty’s claim is more based on our conscious understanding of freedom itself. However, we don’t need to acknowledge the existence of freedom for it to exist in the world. Even if freedom doesn’t mean anything for an individual or that individual has never grasped the concept, it doesn’t mean that it is irrelevant for that individual and that he or she doesn’t experience it. After all, do we understand everything we experience?