Negative and positive freedom


  • INDIVIDUALISM= Belief that that there is a supreme importance of individual over any collective group
  • This is why there is a commitment to freedom
      • The ability to act or think as one wish
      • Pursue own interests by making their own choices
  • Considered to be the only condition- to develop skills, talents and fulfil their potential
  • However don’t believe in unlimited freedom- Mill argued minimal restrictions on individual freedom only to restrict them causing ‘harm to others’- but not harm to themselves
  • John Rawls argued= widest possible liberty for everyone


  • Locke= Protect natural rights
  • Social contract- government is there to protect natural rights according to Locke- protect: ‘life, liberty and property’ – therefore ‘minimal function’- preserve public order
  • Thomas Jefferson- government is best which governs least

Negative and positive freedom

  • Isaiah Berlin distinguished between negative freedom and positive freedom
  • Modern and classical
  • ML revised their view of freedom. Cl endorse NF, whilst ML supports PF

Define freedom:

    • They both priorities freedom - both wish that individuals enjoys maximum liberty similar to everyone else
    • ML don’t reject negative freedom altogether
    • Long-term goal of both CL and ML is to promote individual autonomy (negative freedom)
    • Don’t believe in unlimited freedom as it may abuse other peoples liberties
  • ‘help people find themselves’- meaning positive freedom conditional:-
  • Only support it when social disadvantage prevents people from making their own moral choices
  • Enabling state- not ‘nanny state’
  • Not control everything, but just manage it to ensure individuals become autonomous

Define negative freedom:

  • Should be free from:
    • Absence of external constraints on individual- people act in the way they want e.g. freedom of speech

Define positive freedom:

  • Should be free to:
    • Ability to grow (human flourishing), personal development and self-mastery= become autonomous and realise individual potential (self-realisation and self-fulfilment)

Due to this reason they hold different views on the link between the individual and the state.

Implication:- How are ML checks limited? What is the implication of believing in this?

What is the implication of believing in this?


Implication in believing in negative freedom

  • Primary checks on negative freedom- is laws and physical constraint
  • No intervention from government or restrictions to allow privacy and choice
  • Why? restricts freedom if get involved
  • Only allowed: State intervention to prevent harm to others
  • State= ‘rolling back of the state’
  • Why? Coercive on individuals and threat to personal/individual freedom.
  • Therefore overall:-
    • Negative freedom is therefore upheld primarily through checks on government power, such a codified constitutions and bills of rights.
    • Examples of negative freedom include: civil liberties, such as freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of movement and freedom of religious worship. It is also evident in freedom from (excessive) taxation.

Implication in believing in positive freedom

  • Checks on positive freedom- society in terms of its nature= poverty and homelessness, unemployment
  • New laws and increased policing to ensure laws being followed through.
  • Some state intervention – to protect citizens from harm (to stop individuals’ freedoms from being impeded)
  • Minimal restraints should be placed upon them to allow self- mastery
  • Ensure that people have= resources to flourish and to guide people to realise their potential. Instead of being 'left alone', the individual is able to develop skills and talents, broaden his or her understanding, and gain fulfilment.
  • In this view, the principal constraints on freedom:
    • Social evils:- Poverty and social disadvantage are seen as constraints on freedom, as they impair the individual’s ability to flourish and achieve his or her potential.
  • Expressions of positive freedom can be found in freedom from ignorance (the right to education), disease (the right to health care) and want (the right to a social minimum
  • Equality of opportunity - creating social conditions in which all individuals have the capacity to realize their potential- MAKES A LEVEL PLAYING GROUND- Welfare and state intervention