Two Conceptions Of Freedom Or Two Appearances Of A Single Conception?

564 words - 2 pages

In his essay "Two Concepts of Liberty," Isaiah Berlin distinguishes between two conceptions of freedom, namely negative and positive conception of freedom. Basically he defines negative liberty as the absence of coercion. He states: "To coerce a man is to deprive him of freedom" (121). According to him, coercion is the intention to interfere in the freedom of an individual. Thus, absence of coercion is absence of deliberate, intentional coercion. For him, negative liberty requires an immune area, away from the obtrusive action of other people. For the accomplishment of freedom "[s]ome portion of human existence must remain independent of the sphere of social control" (126) However, achievement of negative liberty, creation of the immune area from coercion, is contingent upon the authority to be kept at bay. Therefore, the position of authority, which entails coercive powers, should be controlled in order to make them accountable to the people, whose freedom, immunity from coercion depends on.
Positive liberty, on the other hand, is, not freedom from coercion, but freedom to determine one's own destiny: it is self-determination. In this sense positive liberty is a necessary condition of human being, right to choose, right to determine ones behavior. Berlin maintains that the negative and positive concepts of liberty are "at no great logical distance from each other," but in reality they are profoundly divergent, in fact irreconcilable, so much so that positive liberty threatens negative liberty, leading to the possibility of despotism in the name of freedom (131-132) The threat of despotism lies in the reductionist and ultra-rationalistic accounts of human nature, which turns the concept of positive liberty into a tyranny of alleged “rational” over...

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