1. Some people believe that positive freedom is truly valuable. Are they right? Or have they been misled by a mistaken belief in the existence of a ‘higher’ or ‘ideal’ self?
In this essay I will argue positive freedom is valuable. This is based on the belief that it is valuable, by which I mean something worth having, to be able to control ones irrational desires in order to achieve rational goals. An end I will argue is only achievable through adopting the notion of the ‘higher-self’. Given I will be arguing the existence of the higher-self is a logical entailment of achieving positive freedom, I will therefore be denying the belief in the existence of a higher-self is mistaken. It should be noted that the higher-self I will be promoting in this essay, should not be conflated with the notion of the ideal self. Berlin argued that man is divided against himself. The higher-self is a part inherent within him that acts rationally, calculating what will satisfy in the long-run, contrasted by the lower self that is a slave to irrational impulses and unbridled passions (Berlin 1969, pp.375). This notion of the higher-self is categorically different from the notion of the ideal self which is metaphysically set apart from man (Miller 2006, pp.3). To present my argument I will begin by explaining what is meant by positive freedom and why the existence of a higher-self is a logical entailment of this, before moving on to explain why it is valuable. I will then look at two potential threats to positive freedom’s status as valuable. The first threat is that it commits one to paradoxical conclusions about the way freedom can be increased. I will resolve the paradox, with support from Christman, by clarifying what it is meant by a restraint. I will then consider the concern that the promotion of self-realisation seems to paradoxically lead to despotism. I will then refute this claim by dissociating positive freedom with monism. To reinforce my rebuttal I will show how even with the existence of monism, the prospect of a tyrannical state remains unlikely. Before concluding by reinstating that positive liberty truly is valuable.
I shall now begin by explaining what positive freedom is and how the higher-self is a logical entailment of its realization. It is important to note the idea of positive freedom has been variously conceived. The notion of positive freedom I will promote argues an agent is positively free if they are self-governing, whereby the higher-self is exercising control over the irrational desires of the lower-self. Berlin argues that true freedom occurs upon the achievement of self-realisation, whereby one have realised their own authentic desires (Berlin 1969, pp130). The true desires of an individual are the desires rationally calculated by the higher-self to satisfy in the long-run. Often the irrational desires of the lower-self prevent us from recognising our true desires. True positive freedom, therefore, involves the higher-self exercising control over the irrational desires of the lower-self in order to achieve self-realisation (Berlin 1969, pp.135). For example, Sally wants to study for her exams but is distracted by the more instantly gratifying activity of watching TV. Here we can identify her true rational desire is to study for her exam to ensure she performs well in it. However, because of her lower-self’s desire to watch TV, she finds herself seduced away from fulfilling her authentic desire. Thus, in order for Sally to study for her exam requires her to control her lower-self’s desire to watch TV. Given that in order to be positively free the higher-self must calculate the individual’s true desires, the higher-self therefore becomes a logical entailment in achieving positive freedom. One can only be positively free, if and only if, one is acting in accordance with their higher ‘true’ self.
Having explained what positive freedom is and how the higher-self is a logical entailment in its...
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Christman, J., 2005, ‘Saving Positive Freedom’, Political Theory, 33: 79–88.
Miller, D 2006 ‘The Liberty Reader’, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press
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Taylor, C., 1979, ‘What 's Wrong with Negative Liberty’, in A. Ryan (ed.), The Idea of Freedom, Oxford: Oxford University Press, reprinted in Miller 1991.
Plato, 380 bc, “The Republic”, edited by Radice.B, (2007), Penguin Classics, London.
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