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  • Created on: 02-04-13 09:41

Postive & Negative Freedom

Isaiah Berlin introduces a distinction between 'negative' and 'positive' freedom.

Negative Liberty is about freedom from interference
what is the area within the or should Be left to do so or be what he is able to or be, without any interference by other persons

Positive Liberty is about being in control or able to do something
What or who is the source of control of interference that can determine someone to do OR be this rather than that

aren't these ideas close ? - if other people aren't interfering with what i do then I am in control of what i do!

NOT TRUE-Autonomy requires that we are able to make and act on decisions that we endorse.But people can suffer from internal conflict -higher vs lower self 

Berlin says this causes a paradox, if we can force people to act rationally, then we can actually force them to be free. Restricting negative freedom, increases their positive freedom.

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Negative Freedom

Free from interference from others including the state, you are free- whether pt not they have the ability or resources to do what you want to do.

Negative freedom only acts on wants, negative liberty is just a matter of being able to do what you want to do, everyone who is not coerced is equally free.

The extent of our freedom is the extent to which opportunities re available to us.

Berlin argues this not a matter just of how MANY options there are but also WHICH options there are, how IMPORTANT they are, how easy or difficult it is to take ADVANTAGE of them.
adding traffic-lights restricts movement but is unimportant- denying freedom of religion removes very important options

The fullest extent of negative liberty is secured by a state that adopts Mill's 'Harm Principle'

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Postive Freedom

Adam Swift argues that there are 3 ideas of positive freedom, each rejecting a different aspect of negative freedom

1) Formal v.effective freedom
formal freedom is the absence of interference; effective freedom involves the power to act

2) Doing what one wants v. Autonomy

3) Freedom as freedom from political interference v. Freedom as political participation

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Effective Freedom

To be free to do something you must be able to do it. The absence of interference is not enough.
i'm not free to go swimming, if I can't swim

You can increase someones freedom by enabling them to do something they couldn't otherwise do, for instance, through education or giving them money,

Berlin Objects that this confuses freedom with the conditions necessary for people to exercise their freedom
someone is not less free by lacking money or skills, they are just less able to make the most of their freedom

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Autonomy is NOT effective freedom- you can enable someone to do what they want to by providing them with money, without increasing their autonomy.

Autonomy requires; self-control, self awareness, self understanding and moral discrimination

The most basic way to enhance autonomy is by enabling people to think for themselves, understand information that relates to their choices, consider the consequences, and evaluate their priorities and actions

why accept that other people are better judges of when someone is acting autonomously that the person themselves

Autonomy can be defined in terms of living according to ones values, which may not be the same as acting rationally

Even if autonomy is rational choice, we do not have to accept that just one way of livings rational for everyone

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Liberalism- The Values of Negative LIberty

Mill 'the only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing out own good in our own way'

The state is responsible for educating children, that there are opportunities for people to exercise their autonomy and that there is a culture of respect for individuality.Berlin comments that without a certain area of freedom, individuals will not be able to develop or pursue an idea of the good. But securing such an area of negative liberty is as far as the sate should go.

Mill argues that liberty is necessary for people to discover truth and better ways of living.

John Rawls argues that justice requires very excessive negative liberty. As long as we have enough to eat, clothes, a place to stay, we will value basic liberties above anything else, justice recognises this

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Response from Postive Liberty

Is constraining negative liberty more important or worse than constraints on positive liberty that arise from lack of mental capacities necessary for autonomy or from lack of resources ?could autonomy justify redistributing resources to those whose poverty restricts them from taking advantage of significant opportunities


Positive liberty as effective liberty or autonomy is a better interpretation of what liberty i because it expresses the value of liberty better. If this is right then we can defend the view that the state may do more to promote autonomy than simply secure the freedom of it citizens from interference by each other and by the state itself.

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The best way to understand liberty i sin terms of inherited liberties- the rights and duties developed over time and within a  society. We should be concerned with the power that the state has over individual lives, but our main concern should be that there is political and social harmony

We should not make to much of pursuing our own good in our own way, our ideas of what is good an d how to live we have inherited from traditions that have been proven over time. We may develop them, but the best developments of them will be organic, integral to society, rather than some statement of radical individuality

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Marx defends a form of positive liberty and attacks liberalism negative liberty!

Achieving liberty means an end to alienation. Liberty is not a sphere of non-interference, but something we find in our connection to other people

However this theory depends on the idea of a 'true' human nature that everyone shares. Also Marx suggest that some people can know what this is and cat to help realise it for everyone! Berlin objects that the assumptions lead to totalitarianism. Interpretation of Marx's views has led to the imposition of forms of government, eg soviet union, China, that have limited negative liberty on the grounds that the state knows what is best for its citizens

Both Marx And Mill share a concern for instance, that certain forms of work can interfere with the full development of a persons nature.Marx makes the end of alienating work central to his account of liberty, Mill does not

Marx and Mill understand that people are naturally sociable but Marx emphasises this much more that mill, who equally emphasises their differences. But then Marx is not suggesting that everyone should live the same way

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Anarchism criticises the state for limiting liberty unnecessarily, but different forms beging from different premises and find a different value in liberty.

Communist anarchists endorse Marx's view on positive liberty. We find our freedom in solidarity with other people, which the state undermines.

Individual anarchists argue that negative liberty is required by the respect that we owe each person as a sovereign over their mind and property

Godwin is closest to Mill. The ultimate value is utility, but the means to it is through autonomy, which in Godwin takes the form of the 'principle of private judgement'  

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