Inicio > Economía marxista, Filosofía marxista, Teoría crítica acumulada > “Freedom Within Reason From Axioms to Marxian Praxis”: Yanis Varoufakis

“Freedom Within Reason From Axioms to Marxian Praxis”: Yanis Varoufakis

This paper examines the theoretical implications of the a priori definitions of rationality and freedom which permeate orthodox economics in particular and the liberal discourse in general. Based on a Hegelian critique of ahistorical approaches to the meaning of Liberty and Reason, it focuses on the insurmountable problems that the axiomatic approach inflicts upon game theory, contractarian theories of justice and Rational Choice Marxism. It considers the postmodern critique and the method of deconstruction but concludes that the meaning we seek is best gleaned through Marx’s conception of praxis.


Does being free mean that we are not unfree and are we rational if we are not irrational? If liberty and rationality are notions not dissimilar to those that nature throws out, then their definition is possible by means of negation provided they and their opposites are mutually exclusive. In the same way that a substance is organic if it is not inorganic, a woman will be thus declared free if she is not unfree or a deed rational if it is not irrational.
An initial criticism of this definition may throw the spotlight on its absolutism. A person can find her environment to be more or less oppressive or act in a manner that displays elements of irrationality without being downright stupid. Indeed, even economists have argued that the problem with their discipline is that it does not recognise degrees of irrationality or unfreedom. In the case of the latter, economic models have been castigated for their failure to capture the loss of autonomy due to unequal wealth or property rights, and in the case of the former they have been criticised for making unrealistic assumptions concerning the ability of agents to think clearly.

To illustrate the above and motivate the forthcoming criticism on which this paper turns, suppose we have a field encircled by a fence. Inside we have freedom or rationality and outside we have their opposites aching to get in but prevented from doing so by the fence. Orthodox economic theory in particular and liberalism in general are completely taken by this essentially Humean metaphor. The tentative criticism identified in the paragraph above suggests that the demarcation of freedom and rationality from tyranny and senselessness may not be so neat. Parts of the fence have caved in and there is a grey area in which the two concepts live in an uneasy symbiosis with their opposites. The mixing is not complete, as there are inner defences that do not allow the barbarous outsiders a complete walk-over, but it is serious enough to warrant studies of bounded rationality (in the context of limited computing ability) and of degrees of liberty (in terms of distributive justice). No doubt these amendments accommodate the initial criticism by conceding that some tension between rationality and liberty on the one hand and irrationality and unfreedom on the other must be entertained. At the outset social theories are built upon the assumption that the fence is intact and then, once the social world is better understood, the assumption is relaxed and new insights are sought as the fence begins to baulk. Nevertheless, the spatial paradigm is at the centre of such theory.

The criticism advanced in this paper goes deeper as it rejects the very possibility of properly understanding rationality and freedom in terms of geographical metaphors. By the very nature of these metaphors (eg. the fence) their portrayal of liberty and rationality implies that the social and historical milieu of the persons who will be endowed with these gifts is independent of such notions. In this way no account will be taken of the simple proposition that rationality and freedom demand not only a physical capacity to act freely and rationally but also that the agent has reached a certain level of social development and is conscious of these notions. And this is the rub. Before I can do something with my freedom of speech I must have something to say. If my faculties permit me to attain my objective, I must have an objective before my action is deemed rational. Moreover, I must be wise in the way I choose my objectives. By contrast the naturalistic perception, of which the fenced field is one example, is far less demanding. To coin another such metaphor, the main condition for a satellite to break loose from a planet’s gravity is that its vectorial speed exceeds a certain threshold – either its speed exceeds the threshold or it does not. Though we may say that the satellite has been set free if it does, we must be careful not to mistake the metaphorical resemblance between this freedom and the freedom of human agents for something more profound. Nor should we succumb to the temptation of identifying the efficiency with which targets are reached with rationality. The former is an adequate rule to use in ballistics but quite inappropriate as an inclusive guide to rational behaviour.

Unfortunately, the metaphorical definitions of Reason and Liberty that we observe as part of the liberal and neoclassical narratives seem correct because our language permits associations between notions such as ‘free fall’ and ‘free speech’. The danger comes from our tendency to accept analogous definitions for concepts whose analogy springs from the common metaphor our minds utilise in order to attain comprehension. If the analogy is epiphenomenal, it is likely to cause serious confusion. For instance, the conditions that must hold before the phenomenon of an object travelling through the ether is definable as a ‘free-fall’, can be described without reference to the object itself. In other words, ‘free-fall’ is definable a priori and by means of a natural science rule that is independent of the object. In contradistinction, the phenomenon of ‘free-speech’ is not. Any attempt to construe it without reference to the determinants of what a person has to say, is pregnant with the danger of describing an instance where a voice synthesiser recites a speech randomly selected from its memory banks as a manifestation of free speech.

Freedom Within Reason

  1. Aún no hay comentarios.
  1. No trackbacks yet.


Introduce tus datos o haz clic en un icono para iniciar sesión:

Logo de

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Salir /  Cambiar )

Google photo

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Google. Salir /  Cambiar )

Imagen de Twitter

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Twitter. Salir /  Cambiar )

Foto de Facebook

Estás comentando usando tu cuenta de Facebook. Salir /  Cambiar )

Conectando a %s

A %d blogueros les gusta esto: