Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shaping the Freedom of Thought

Thinking back to Merleau- Ponty’s thoughts about freedom in relation to that of Marquez’s, I began to wonder about the limitations that can be placed on our freedom to think or whether such restrictions are possible.
During class discussion we said that Merleau- Ponty’s concept of “ lived experience” leads to explain that freedom has to be in a “field” and there have to be limitations and restrictions for freedom in order to be applicable and exist. Also, according to Merleau- Ponty, freedom is limited in a number of particular possibilities or boundaries. A person is able to only thinking of choices within this so called field of freedom and is not able to think outside of these restrictions; this is in fact the limits of freedom.
In the love story presented by Marquez, a woman’s, Fermina Daza, husband passes away suddenly. Fermina is not seen to follow societal norms; she does not have a typical funeral as Fermina does not have a “ traditional nine- night wake“ for her late husband . At this unorthodox funeral, a past lover of Fermina’s, Florentino Ariza, comes and stays the whole time. At the end, Florentino confesses that he loves her. Femina is offended at the moment but later, when she is alone, is caught thinking about her Florentino and not her recently dead husband.
Therefore, I did not understand if thoughts could ever be limited through any kind of restrictions. Our thoughts are a product of experiences that we have along the way. We know what love is by seeing our family or , on a superficial level, watching movies. We understand pain or suffering through our own experiences in relation to hardships in life. Hence, though other people can not limit what we think, I think that our thoughts are limited only by our sphere of experience.
So in relation to Merleau- Ponty, I wonder if our freedom of thought is limited by a field of experience. The limits and restrictions of experience are what restrict our thoughts. The woman in Marquez’s story can not be physically restrained by society to think a certain way but through her past experiences with her former lover, Florentino, can have thoughts about him rather than of her late husband because of experience not society.

So my main question is can thoughts ever be limited? If so would society be considered “ the field” that restricts and helps to form other people’s thoughts or is "the field" the person’s experience regardless of society through which these thoughts are limited and shaped?


  1. Really good question, Manali. I haven't put much thought into this, but does seem to me that thoughts can be limited, since it seems we can only think of things that we can either possibly conceive of or imagine. Though, I'm not quite sure how to exactly answer the second question you posed. To add on to your discussion: I think another important question in line with this topic is what's the relationship between thought and action?

  2. Manli, nice post. I really like your combined analysis of the philosophy and writing. Plus, its a great question to ask if your thoughts are limited by experience whether it is personal experience or through some other medium. After I thought about this for a little bit, I came to the conclusion that thought is not limited and I think Marquez's widow is the perfect example. The end of the story shows the widow thinking about this former lover just days after her husband died. According to society or the social norm, this is unexceptable. She probably does not want to be having those thoughts in the first place, yet she can't help herself. She weeps for her husband, but thinks of another man. She cannot control this form of emotion.

  3. Courtney, I'm not sure Marquez story of the widow shows that thoughts are not limited. As you stated it, it seems like the widow can't fully control her thoughts b/c of her emotions. On the surface at least, that doesn't appear to have much to do with whether her thoughts are limited or not (in fact if anything it suggests that they are). Additionally, if we accept that assertion she doesn't have control (or at least determining control) over what she thinks, I think that has to call into question the degree to which she is responsible. for what she does b/c in some sense it almost seems like, you said, "she can't help herself." However, I don't think that is going to completely make her unresponsible for her actions, because people can reflect on the meaning of their emotions and desires and thereby evaluate them and consequently at least have the possibility of trying to act differently. In other words, we might not be able to completely control what specific thoughts pop into our head, but we can still largely control how those thoughts affect our actions, and so we shouldn't just automatically flee our from freedom and absolve ourselves from responsibility for our actions.

    Additionally, as we discussed in class, society, or das Man, doesn't really tell us a heck of a whole lot about what exactly to think or do when someone significant to us dies. Generally speaking, society seems to want to avoid discussion of death. And I think a lot of the philosophers we've read would say that because death is our own most unique possibility and that arguably the most important element of our existence is our being-toward-death that issues dealing with death are much more resistant to the sort of average everydayness-ing, so to speak, of individual freedoms that typically results from the They and what they say. It seems like we even see evidence of that in what the They/society actually says about death. Society has come very broad outlines about what is morally acceptable and isn't when a loved one dies. But, as we said in class, there don't seem to be a lot of firm prescriptions about how to deal with the absence of a loved one, especially about what to think or feel--both of which seem necessary for meaning-making. Most of the prescriptions actually offered by societal norms are about performing certain rituals like eulogies or funerals.

  4. Whoops, didn't finish my thought in the last paragraph, which basically was that social norms about death don't seem like the sort of things that limit our freedom in such a way so as to cut off our ability to try and pursue alternative possible actions (such as the widow's refusal to hold a traditional funeral). At least in part, that's due to the fact that social norms about death seem to have such a level of ambiguity that it almost seems inevitably natural to ask oneself "what should I really do here, and what meaning should I make of it?" Thus, Marquez's widow doesn't seem to show that the thoughts we can have for any given experience are unlimited.


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