Positive and Negative Liberty

From Critiques Of Libertarianism
Jump to: navigation, search

The concepts of positive and negative liberty are not generally agreed upon: major philosophers such as T. H. Green and Isaiah Berlin used different meanings, and modern libertarians have their own bastardized meaning. Many philosophers think the distinction is a word game. American legal philosopher Gerald MacCallum explains liberty as a triadic relationship, with positive and negative being a false dichotomy, different viewpoints of the same thing. The Capability Approach is much better.


Freedom as a Triadic Relation [More...] (2 links)
Gerald MacCallum's interpretation that: "x is/is not free from y to do/not to do or become/not become z". This allows you to make complete "Subject verb object." sentences out of vaguer philosophical claims. That helps eliminate concealed assumptions.
Liberty Is Liberty [More...]
Tom Palmer schools David Schmidtz and Jason Brennan for confusing several meanings of positive and negative liberty. Then he goes off the deep end, claiming "liberty as a uniquely social concept".
Positive and Negative Liberty (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) [More...]
A fairly clear comparison of many interpretations of positive and negative freedom, along with the description of several alternatives, including Freedom as a Triadic Relation.
Two Concepts of Liberty [More...]
Isaiah Berlin's famous overview of how two ideas (of the hundreds) of liberty relate to various historical philosophers' ideas. He uses a different definition of positive liberty than prior authors.
Two Notions of Liberty [More...]
"... liberty is a sliding scale concept that, crucially, is related directly to how much money (or whatever you want to use as the stand in for resources/stuff) you have. This means poor people have the least liberty and rich people have the most liberty."


Almost every moralist in human history has praised freedom. Like happiness and goodness, like nature and reality, it is a term whose meaning is so porous that there is little interpretation that it seems able to resist.
Isaiah Berlin, "Two Concepts of Liberty"
To my knowledge, all libertarian philosophers (except Conway), from Hayek to Nozick to James Buchanan to lesser-known writers such as Antony Flew and Tibor Machan, reject the positive-libertarian alternative, preferring to rely on the claim that only negative liberty is “real” liberty. It may be surprising that, 700 years after the collapse of Scholasticism, there should still be philosophers who assume that there are “correct” and “incorrect” definitions of words. But it would be a mistake to underestimate how important to libertarian philosophy is the conviction that only negative liberty captures the “essence” of the word liberty. Even if negative liberty is “true” liberty (and even if liberty is intrinsically valuable), however, this cannot constitute an argument for libertarianism without the further assumption that negative liberty is either uniquely or relatively embodied in libertarianism. The assumption that liberty is embodied in libertarianism relatively more than in other systems is necessarily false, however -- unless we are speaking of positive liberty -- since, as we have seen, there is no difference in the amount of negative liberty afforded people by libertarianism and by competing systems of property law.
Jeffrey Friedman, "What's Wrong With Libertarianism" pg. 431.