The Idea of Liberty – Summer 2011
Dr Martin O’Neill
Lecture 2: Positive and Negative Liberty
1. William E. Connolly: Liberty as an ‘Essentially-Contested Concept’ • See Connolly, The Terms of Political Discourse (1983), and the relevant excerpt in CKS (i.e. Freedom: A Philosophical Anthology, ed. Ian Carter, Matthew Kramer and Hillel Steiner (Blackwell, 2007).) • The idea of an “essentially contested concept” – a concept that cannot be specified in detail in advance of normative debates. • The meanings of terms like liberty, equality and democracy cannot be given a neutral specification in advance of settling disagreements about the use and significance of these concepts, and an account of how they fit within a broader political view. (This would undermine a putative neat conceptual/normative distinction.) • “Debates about the criteria properly governing the concept of freedom are in part debates about the extent to which the proposed criteria fulfil the normative point of the concept and in part about exactly what the point is. To refuse to bring these considerations into one’s deliberations about ‘freedom’ is either to deny oneself access to the very considerations that can inform judgement about the concept or to delude oneself by tacitly invoking the very considerations formally eschewed.” (CKS, 200) • “… ‘Freedom’ is contested partly because of the way it bridges a positivist dichotomy between “descriptive” and “normative” concepts.” (CKS, 200) • Connolly’s thesis explains why liberty is (i) so slippery and controversial [lack of univocality] (ii) so universally popular [polemical role]
• MacCallum’s conceptual analysis (as we’ll see below can be used to show the ways in which liberty is contested. The political contestation of the idea of liberty can be seen as involving different conceptions of what can count as an agent, (MacCallum’s x) a barrier or obstacle to agency (MacCallum’s y), and a (worthwhile) goal or aim of agency (MacCallum’s z). 2. Gerald C. MacCallum: Liberty as a Triadic Relation “THIS PAPER challenges the view that we may usefully distinguish between two kinds or concepts of political and social freedom-negative and positive. The argument is not that one of these is the only, the "truest," or the "most worthwhile" freedom, but rather that the distinction between them has never been made sufficiently clear, is based in part upon a serious confusion, and has drawn attention away from precisely what needs examining if the differences separating philosophers, ideologies, and social movements concerned with freedom are to be understood. The corrective advised is to regard freedom as always one and the same triadic relation, but recognize that various contending parties disagree with each other in what they understand to be the ranges of the term variables. To view the matter in this way is to release oneself from a prevalent but unrewarding concentration on "kinds" of freedom, and to turn attention toward the truly important issues in this area of social and political philosophy.” (M100) • • • MacCallum’s triadic formula: x is (is not) free from y to do (not do, become, not become) z Concept vs. conception. Not two concepts of liberty; but one, with many possible conceptions. Disagreements then exist with regard to what can count as an x, y or z.
• Possible x’s: the ‘natural’ self; the ‘rational’ or ‘fully human’ self; the polity as a whole; the tribe or class, etc. • Possible y’s: coercion by or interference from others; physical constraints; internal obstacles (desires, etc.) • Possible z’s: whatever the agent happens to want; what the agent really wants; what it would be morally or rationally obligatory for the agent to do; what the General Will or Categorical Imperative demands, etc.
“That the intelligibility of talk concerned with the freedom of agents rests in the end upon an understanding of freedom as a triadic relation is what many persons distinguishing...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document