Two concepts of freedom
Two concepts of freedom

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Two concepts of freedom

3 Isaiah Berlin's ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ (1958)

3.1 Preamble

In a ground-breaking lecture, the philosopher and historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin (1909–97) argued that there are two basic types of freedom which have been defended by philosophers and political theorists: negative freedom and positive freedom. Within each category there is scope for quite a wide range of positions; but most theories of freedom fit quite comfortably into one category or the other.

Berlin's article is important for three reasons. First, it provides a useful distinction between these two types of freedom. Secondly, it makes a case for the view that theories of positive freedom have often been used as instruments of oppression. Thirdly, by describing the incompatibility of various fundamental human aims in life, it suggests a reason why we put such a high value on freedom. For our purposes, the most important feature is the first, the distinction between the two types of freedom: negative and positive.

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