• Freedom = Liberty (the terms are interchangeable)
• Generally understood as “good”
• May be legitimate to constrain freedom in order to obtain other “goods” or values within the
Constraints on Freedom
• Freedom as absence of constraint (What counts as constraint?) ex: being taken to jail for
something you have done to protect the interests of society
• Is a non-democratic government a constraint?
- No necessary relationship between freedom and the absence of democracy
- Is it possible to imagine a benign dictatorship that allows considerable freedom
Physical Coercion as Constraint
Others physically prevent us from doing what we want to do
• Imprisonment or slavery as extreme examples
• Unfair or discriminatory laws may also count
Physical Incapacity as Constraint
• May or may not qualify as politically relevant
• Relevance is decided by the limits of human agency (ex: inability to fly)
• Language of freedom is appropriate if human agency can correct the impediment
- E.g., wheelchair accessibility for public buildings can reduce the constraint of being
• Some argue that freedom can be constrained based on how rational we are
• Only the truly rational can be free
- Children, senile adults can be subject to supervision, often with regard to their own
• Controversial since the parameters of rationality are so contested
• This kind of constraint comes from something within us whereas physical constraint is external
• Which of the following is not an external constraint? (WILL BE ON TEST**)
• We can be constrained by the way we think
- Marketing and advertising (ex: need for iPad)
- Government anti-advertising campaigns (cigarettes ads etc)
Freedom is not possible without access to the basic needs of human survival
• Some argue that the state can increase freedom by providing those basic material conditions
• Foundation for the modern welfare state
• You have the right to seek justice, but you may not have the money to hire a lawyer, then you
are disadvantaged. So we offer things like legal aid. Chapter 4
• Since freedom is defined as the absence of constraints, the identification of constraints on our
freedom is a useful starting point
• Possible constraints can be divided into those that are external to us, and those that are internal
to us, the latter including characteristics such as rationality.
Two Types of Freedom
• Distinction between “positive” and “negative” freedom dates back to ancient Greece
• Locke argues for negative freedoms, or the right to non-interference. Deciding what you want
to do without any interference from the state, other people etc.
• Rousseau argues for positive freedoms, or the duty of the state to provide a decent standard of
Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997)
• Distinction between area of control (negative freedom)
1. Negative liberty or “freedom from”
• “What is the area within which the subject is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do
or be without interference by other persons?” However this can leave to disparity
2. Positive liberty or “freedom to”
• “What, or who, is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do, or be,
this rather than that?”. This is seen as a threat to capitalism because it means it’ll usually use
U.S.A Soviet Union / Socialist
- The tendency is to favor - The tendency is to favor
negative liberties; positive positive liberties based on a
liberties are seen as potential perceived responsibility to the
threats or overly burdensome citizenry.
- Free assembly - Government funding for
higher education, health
- Free speech - Focus is on achieving an
- Freedom of religion
- Free press Chapter 4
U.S.A Soviet Union / Socialist
- Freedom of movement
Both negative and positive freedoms are protected in international law
• In Canada, there has been a balance between them
- E.g., Pierre Trudeau promoted state-run health care (positive freedom) and removed
criminal prohibition of same-sex acts (negative freedom).
Is Freedom Special?
• Why should freedom be valued?
• Is it a basic human right?
- Dworkin: freedoms necessary to ensure individuals are treated with equal concern and
respect (so called ‘strong liberties’) should be inviolable. He takes it for granted that
equality is a good thing.
• Does it conflict with cultural pluralism, which sees competing norms of behavior as
Mill, Utilitarianism, and Freedom
• J.S. Mill in On Liberty (1859) argues that greater freedom leads to greater happiness
• Maximum possible freedom for the expression of ideas, thought, and discussion (even
obviously false ones)
• Only those actions harming others should be prevented by public opinion or the state
• Having the freedom to express yourself is important, and this should be valued in society
• Freedom of actions should be limited to only one limitation which is the ‘harm principal’
• Self-regarding action (affect only oneself)
• Other-regarding action (harm others)
• Only those actions that harm others (“other regarding actions”) should be prevented by public
opinion or the state
• But how easy is it in practice to distinguish between the two? (eg. smoking)
• Are self-regarding actions always to be left unregulated?
• This principal has influenced lots of thinking in western liberal societies - major advantage of
the harm principal
If your action does not harm another person then you should not be prevented from following
• Prince Edward Island: First province to pass the law that smoking should not be done in public
- You can smoke in private because it affects you alone: but in public it affects others (it
becomes an other-regarding action). Mills would say yes to passing this law.
• What happens when that person gets lung cancer? His treatment is putting a strain on tax
• This brings in the fact that the U.S has privatized health care so people basically pay their own
consequences, however in Canada universal health care and extensive freedom of choice may Chapter 4
not be the best two things to pair together. It’s related to the discussion of universal health care
vs. privatized: which is better?
• Refers to situations in which different cultures follow different norms of behavior within a
Mill, Marx and Socialism
• Mill put forward a liberal theory of freedom:
- Justifies limited state intervention
- Justifies maximizing personal autonomy
- Helped shape the modern liberal theory of the state
- Emphasizes neutrality and moral pluralism
- Mill can be located on the cusp between the old classical liberalism and new liberalism
• Why do we value freedom? Various reasons have been proposed: because it is a basic human
right, a means to happiness, a means to self-development, and so on.
• J.S. Mill argues for maximizing freedom; only “other-regarding” actions should be subject to
state or societal intervention.
• Basic formulation: giving others what they are entitled to
• Different from charity: because although it may be morally good to give to the poor, we are
under no obligation to do so. There is an obligation to provide justice. Justice is dispensed
based on who is entitled to it, it doesn’t favor anyone.
• In modern world, Justice is concerned with how resources should be distributed
- Wealth, income, educational opportunities etc.
- Presupposes scarcity
Types of Justice
• Procedural justice: fairness of the process through which an outcome is reached
• Social or distributive justice: fairness of the outcome itself