Freedom is generally described as a state absent of coercion, interference or determination by any internal or external force or authority. The concept of freedom can be applied to many (or most) spheres of human activity, including political, economic, relational and metaphysical realms.
The most popular ideas of freedom are perhaps best explicated by British philosopher Isaiah Berlin; he distinguished between two fundamental types: negative and positive. Negative freedom is typically most associated with political freedom, that is, freedom from coercion, interference, or determination by other agents or institutions. Positive freedom, however, is described as the freedom to “be [one’s] own master” in a psychological, cultural, or metaphysical sense.
Negative freedom may be understood as the absence of external barriers to action, while positive freedom is measured by the presence of internal facilitators of self-determination (such as reason, wisdom, free will, etc.). For example, one who is free to smoke cigarettes but does so against his or her highest will would be considered free in the negative sense but not free in the positive.
Virtually every political philosopher, from Plato to Locke, Mill to Marx, produced their own variations on what actualization of these two types of freedom would look like and how to achieve the freedoms.« Back to Glossary Index