How should we understand the distinction between ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ liberty, and which of the two concepts of liberty should we look to advance in a political context?
The nature of the topics discussed in this essay seem to indicate that any conclusion made must necessarily be put in no absolute terms, and ought to be arrived upon through cautious pragmatic reasoning. However, for the sake of providing a somewhat tangible, binary answer to the question, I will be arguing in favour of advancing positive, rather than negative freedom in a political context. While my position is not inexorably in favour of positive liberty in its most extreme form, I do believe that there are several reasons to conclude that in order to advance the principle of equality in society, positive freedom is by far the most favorable option.
In order to understand the notion of positive freedom, we must explore the distinction that it presupposes between the two conflicting facets of human beings. These dichotomous internal forces are described as the ‘higher’ and the ‘lower’ self. The ‘higher’ self is essentially understood as the rational, introspective force within humans, it is an amalgamation of all of the characteristics, which makes us distinct from lesser animals, and allows us to understand and reflect upon our actions. Conversely, the ‘lower’ self refers to our basic instincts, our primitive, empirical urges, fears and desires. According to Isaiah Berlin, positive freedom enforces laws that would correspond to what we ought to do if we listen to the rational ‘higher’ facets of our human condition. Therefore we are free insofar as we are allowed to realize our full potential as humans, through the restrictions imposed upon us by the government. Negative freedom is understood in this essay as the freedom of an individual not to be influenced by other persons. As Berlin outlines in his essay, this does not mean the freedom to do...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document