Positive And Negative Liberty

Decent Essays
3. What is the difference between negative and positive liberty? Explain the difference using examples. What is Isaiah Berlin’s criticism of positive liberty? Give one possible response that a proponent of positive liberty might give to Berlin.
The ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ by Isaiah Berlin distinguishes negative liberty from positive liberty. Negative liberty emphasizes on freedom from outside interference whereas positive liberty emphasizes on freedom to act upon one’s will, to take control of one’s life and have the ability to achieve one’s goals. While negative liberty requires absence of external hindrances which act as impediments to the freedom of individuals, positive liberty requires presence of self-control, self-mastery, self-determination
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One could become free simply by contenting oneself with one's situation. Some theorists of positive freedom bite the bullet and say that the contented slave is indeed free — that in order to be free the individual must learn, not so much to dominate certain merely empirical desires, but to rid herself of them. She must, in other words, remove as many of her desires as possible. As Berlin puts it, if I have a wounded leg ‘there are two methods of freeing myself from pain. One is to heal the wound. But if the cure is too difficult or uncertain, there is another method. I can get rid of the wound by cutting off my leg’. But this state, even if it can be achieved, is not one that liberals would want to call one of freedom, for it again risks masking important forms of oppression. It is, after all, often in coming to terms with excessive external limitations in society that individuals retreat into themselves, pretending to themselves that they do not really desire the worldly goods or pleasures they have been denied. Moreover, the removal of desires may also be an effect of outside forces, such as brainwashing, which we should hardly want to call a realization of freedom. Because the concept of negative freedom concentrates on the external sphere in which individuals interact, it seems to provide a better guarantee against the dangers of paternalism and authoritarianism perceived by
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