Updated August 2019
Freedom! What is it good for? by Douglas R McGaughey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Freedom! What’s it good for?
In his 1979 essay “What’s wrong with Negative Liberty,” Charles Taylor identifies Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts of Liberty” as the archaeological heritage to which he appeals in order to engage a discussion of freedom. However, Taylor employs Berlin’s concept of negative freedom (freedom from external interference) as the straw man for formulating an alternative notion of positive freedom to Berlin’s positive freedom. Berlin’s positive freedom is “coercive freedom” in the sense of Rousseau’s Social Contract through which the individual subordinates her-/himself to a “higher authority” such as parents or the state in order to increase one’s, or to achieve a greater, freedom. In contrast, Taylor’s positive freedom is not “coercive” but “purposive.” In other words, Taylor wants to acknowledge that freedom involves not merely an alternative between radical independence and external coercion, but positive freedom is concerned with “internal” elements (the individual’s desires) that lead to our pursuing purposive ends. For Taylor, then, Berlin’s notions of negative and positive freedom are inadequate to grasp the true character of positive freedom: the pursuit of ends governed by our internal desires. Because not all desires are moral, though, the desires that govern Taylor’s notion of positive freedom as “purposive” require a “second-order” reflection that invokes moral principles to govern our desires. For Taylor, the source of these moral principles is religion.