The Virgin and The Dynamo – freedom as consciousness of necessity

In the context of our discussion of The Virgin and The Dynamo there emerged the question of the meaning of Auden’s statement that freedom would be the consciousness of necessity. When I was reading his essay Morality in an Age of Change (1938) I found a more satisfying answer to this question.

As such Auden discusses the topic of ‘goodness’ whereas he distinguishes between two kinds of goodness, namely ‘natural’ and ‘moral’. In this sense “[a]n organism is naturally good when it has reached a state of equilibrium with its environment. All healthy animals and plants are naturally good in this sense. But any change toward a greater freedom of action is morally good change. I think it permissible, for example, to speak of a favourable mutation as a morally good act” (pp. 477-478). In this connection Auden emphasizes that moral good then passes into natural good, a change is made and in that sense a new equilibrium is stabilised and evolution can be continued (p. 478).

As Auden states below the human level progress of life has taken place through biological changes depending on ‘luck’ of mutation or the chances of natural selection. However, “[o]nly man, with his conscious intelligence, has been able to continue his evolution after the biological development has finished” (p. 478). Thus by studying the laws of physical nature he could manage to control them; thus, in so far he can understand the laws of his own nature he approaches a state where what he wills may be done. In this sense freedom is consciousness of necessity.

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