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Compare and Contrast Positive and Negative Conceptions of Liberty.

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Compare and Contrast Positive and Negative Conceptions of Liberty Although it is one of the most used words in political vocabulary, there is no fully satisfying definition of liberty. This has led to philosophers and politicians defining freedom as that of which they approve1. Rousseau proclaimed the 'the mere impulse of appetite is slavery, whilst obedience to the law which we prescribe ourselves is liberty'2, whereas Locke describes it simply as 'the power a man has to do or forbear any particular action'3. Liberty is also often interchangeable with the word 'freedom' - although efforts have been made to differentiate between the two ideals, no convincing separation has been made. Distinguishing between positive and negative liberty can be dated back to at least Kant, but Isaiah Berlin was first to examine the idea in depth. The most popular definition of liberty is that of Isaiah Berlin, whose essay 'Two Concepts of Liberty' (1969) gave rise to the ideas of 'positive' and 'negative' liberty. Put simply, negative liberty is freedom 'from' whilst positive liberty is freedom 'to'. ...read more.


Negative freedom is interested in interference from external forces such as the state, whereas positive liberty concerns itself with factors that are internal. This gives rise to the question of whether positive freedom is in fact a political issue or one that is more concerned with psychology, and in turn the question of whether it is possible for positive freedom to be thought of in political terms. Those who answer 'no' obviously advocate negative liberty, but those who answer 'yes' believe that it is possible for positive liberty to be promoted through political action. Theorists who defend the political idea of positive liberty include Rousseau, Hegel, Marx and T.H. Green. Positive liberty in its political form is general though of to be a collective idea. Rousseau's theory of freedom states that individual freedom can only be achieved through participation. By each person participating, the community as a whole is self controlled in accordance with a 'general will'. He argues that a democratic society is essentially free as it is self determined. ...read more.


Advocators of negative liberty are able to avoid this line of reason by denying any kind of relationship between one''s freedom and desires. . Berlin once stated: "Total liberty can be dreadful, total equality can be equally frightful." All those doctrines which define liberty as self-realization and then prescribe what this is, end up by defending liberty's opposite. To the perennial human problems there are no final answers. "Liberty is liberty, not equality or fairness or justice or human happiness or a quiet conscience." Liberal governments should recognize that all political values must end up in conflict, and all conflicts require negotiation. Liberalism has contained thinkers from both camps - those who advocate the concept of negative liberty e.g. Oppenheim (1981), Miller (1983) and Steiner (1994) , and those who support the negative concept e.g. Milne (1968), Gibbs (1976) and Christman (1991)8. 1 'Politics, The Basics' Second Edition, Stephen D Tansey, 2000, p 65 - 66 2 'The Social Contract', Rousseau, p16 3 'Essay', Locke, Book II, Ch.xxi, p15 4 'Two Concepts of Liberty', Isaiah Berlin, [1958] 1969 5 'Two Concepts of Liberty', Isaiah Berlin, [1958]1969 6 'Two Concepts of Liberty', Isaiah Berlin, 1969, 132-133 7 'Two Concepts of Liberty', Isaiah Berlin, 1969, p132 - 133 8 http://www.seop.leeds.ac.uk/archives/spr2003/entries/liberties-positive-negative ...read more.

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