So I hear the term “Freethinker” and I did so I reflected upon it in a Ghazalian manner, being what I think might be along the lines of how Imam al-Ghazali would think. Ghazali’s method of thinking was unique not only because it used reason but also because it challenged the very foundation of all thought, something that can easily throw an intellectual off their high horse.
Firstly, we should define freethinker and then consider it. The term freethinker, presumably, should mean someone who thinks freely. However, in common usage this is not the case. The term freethinker according to the American Heritage Dictionary refers to “One who has rejected authority and dogma, especially in religious thinking, in favor of rational inquiry and speculation.” The problem with this definition is that it does not mention freedom in any way. Rather, it constrains thought to rational inquiry and speculation. This is not to say that either rational inquiry and speculation are necessarily bad things. Rather, they are both beneficial when placed properly. Reason is good for discerning which silverware is best for eating cereal. The fork would clearly fail because the milk would flow through and one would spend all day attempting to eat this bowl of cereal. One would speculate that the spoon would not because it does not have gaps for the milk to flow through so then one would attempt to use the spoon and it works. Rationally, the spoon is superior to the fork in eating cereal. But which cereal do we choose? The most rational choice would be something bland that has all the vitamins and minerals necessary because it is the most healthy. Then why was my last choice of cereal Cinnamon Toast Crunch? It is sugary and has less nutrition. It is not rational but does that necessarily make it worse? Nevertheless, my emotions point me to Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Emotions are a way of knowing good and bad. Amongst other ways of knowledge that are excluded are linguistic, artistic, ethical, and empirical. Therefore to say Freethought is free thought is inaccurate because of the heavy restrictions.
The next epistemological problem with “freethought” is the very nature of the restriction of only using reason and speculation. The use of reason only is fallacious because it assumes that 1) the universe is rational and 2) the universe can be understood through reason. The universe always seems to me to be more subjective than objective. Different people come to different conclusions. For example, right now in Florida, the weather is extraordinarily hot for the season (mid-October and the highs are still reaching 90), relative to the averages. Many people here are complaining about how horrible a thing this is. Despite this, many people to the North are wishing they were here because of the cold temperatures they are experiencing. Both the Floridians and the Northerners are observing the same objective numbers but establishing subjective conclusions. The reason for this is emotion and, therefore, beyond the ability of a true freethinker to understand who would simply assume that both the Northerners and Southerners are irrational because they both live in climate ranges that humans can physically occupy.
Though considering what one believes and exercising the mind can be a positive endeavor, this is not truly achieved by freethought because, as described in the reasons above, it is a flawed epistemology because of its restraints.