Negative and Positive Liberty

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The distinction between negative senses of social and political freedom is a standard feature of modern political thought. It provides a useful means of imposing some degree of order on the bewildering variety of ideas summoned up by the word freedom The terminology was first used by Bentham, for whom the idea of Liberty, imported nothing in it that was positive: ... it was a merely negative one ... ’the absence of restraint’ The label was applied by Bentham’s followers to Richard Price’s idea of freedom as self determination. This broad distinction, between negative absence of restraint and positive self-determination, may be said to be the classic form of the negative-positive distinction. Whether or not taken directly from Bentham, it is essentially this distinction that is found in the work of Hegel and the British neo-Hegelians, descending from them to its well-known modern restatement in Sir Isaiah Berlin’s Two Concepts of Liberty
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-73
Number of pages17
JournalPolitical Science
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1988
Externally publishedYes


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