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Positive Vs Negative Liberty: A Detailed Comparison


Task: Provide a detailed report which highlights the differences between positive vs negative liberty.


The ideology of liberty could be defined both on positive and negative aspects by considering the parameter of sensitivity. If any coercion in doing something or disturbance is present in the existing freedom, it would be labelled as negative liberty (Heyman,1992). Contrary to it, if there is voluntary decision-making freedom for the person, it would be termed as positive liberty (Skinner, 1984). The topic of positive vs negative liberty is repeatedly debated in the academic community.

Positive vs Negative liberty

Positive vs negative liberty
The aspect of self-determination is very crucial to be maintained as per the ideologies of positive liberty. The concept of freedom should not be defined in a pessimistic way, and only its constructive aspects should be considered in this context. The scenario will be classified as negative liberty if the allowed freedom is being misused for malicious activities by the person (Skinner, 1984). In the context, the limitation from the external body is completely absent; moral obligations are absent, poor ethical backgrounds, etc. The occurrence of negative liberty is majorly observed (Pettit, 1993). Let us take an instance when a citizen tries to drive a vehicle without wearing a seatbelt which is already prohibited under the law; then such instance could be defined as the instance of negative liberty.

Writers are exploring the concept of liberty from even the medieval age, and most of them have argued it to be the innate right offered by nature. The free-thinking of a person without any external or internal barrier is termed to be natural liberty. The particular person has all the ability and freedom to roam the mind through any context that is labelled as taboo by society. The impact of positive liberty is entirely different on an individual and plays a crucial part in building up the personality, thought process, and self-determination level. In a detailed study, the negative aspects of natural liberty could be identified (Levin, 1984). The concept of liberty is very limited in society's context, and its implications have greater scope outside the general society. The elements, like the presence of external and internal restricting factors, determine the nature of natural liberty.

It is the negative and pessimistic way of thinking which acts as the sources of negative liberty. The presence of such type of freedom would turn out destructive and radically defective for the human mind (Davis, 2007). It is to get the acceptance, recognition, and certain perks from the society that the individuals start to accept and obey the restrictions laid down by them.

Positive vs Negative liberty

The context of general liberty majorly pertains to an individual who acts as a member of society. The individual would have to sacrifice natural liberty when he or she would agree to obey a certain set of laws or restrictions laid down by society. The person would have to behave with the community by implying the self-controlled set of rights which are deemed to be fit by the governing and controlling authorities. The concept of liberty is entirely based on the availability of some specific set of rights. The definition and concept of civil liberty defy the practice of natural liberty. The parameters like personal property, individual security, and the uncontrolled practice of liberty are closely associated with the existence of the natural right. Though the individual should be aware of the personal right and no other person or the legal restriction should be breached while exercising natural liberty. The practice of such liberty could not be either classified under the positive vs negative liberty. These rights should be secured for every individual by securing the aspect that other people's rights are not breached (Alstott, 2014).
The manual interference posed by the government authorities, which affects the normal life of an individual could be classified as a very good example of negative liberty. The laws are majorly legislated to avoid the individual from doing any harm or damage to fellow citizens. Though natural liberty is restricted at the individual level, the existence of a particular set of laws encourages the general liberty of mankind. It is the concept of civil liberty that is widely explored and understood by the mass population since it is majorly implied at the societal level. The idea of liberty is being defined and conserved in two different ways. As per the primary way, the existence of liberty could not be sustained in the society if it abjectly lacks any proper set of laws, since the limitations and ethical background of natural liberty are not clearly defined. The concept of liberty is much defined, and complex in the laws lay down by the societies' governing units. The secondary aspects reveal that the individual would have higher security and protection from the breach of individual rights by staying close to the community. If viewed from such perspectives, this context could be labelled as a positive right.

Let us take an instance of a female individual living in the community. It is as per her personal definition that she deems her body to be fit. She could consider the same parameter to decide whether to get pregnant or not. It relies truly on her personal liberty. As per the concept of natural liberty and personal right, no external body has a right to interfere in her rights or harass her on any ground. Though there are some societal grounds, on which the activities and liberty of her could be limited that could be labelled under the category of negative liberty. In other words, negative liberty could be held as another version of political liberty. Natural liberty is considered one where the individual can act without any external interference from society (Dimova-Cookson, 2019).

As mentioned in the previous section of this article on positive vs negative liberty, the concepts are very similar to each other, and neither could be stated as the ideal one for political harmony. The major faction of political scholars is against the way in which the concept of liberty is explained. The approach of conserving civil liberty is considered to be appropriate by the group which entertains the progress, implementation, and reforms in the political philosophy. It is dependent on the approach and style towards freedom which determines the existence of positive vs negative liberty. Though there is some evidence in between the positive vs negative liberty, the academic scholars have failed to explore it (Harbour, 2012).
The normal perception of liberty that persists in the general society is the uncontrolled exercise of freedom. This fact is the major reason why it is labelled as a negative factor generally. It is considered to be taboo if a particular person is behaving without a particular behaviour. The definition of freedom is exceptionally taken as granted under the context of negative liberty. Modern societies have still not considered self-controlled behaviour as part of liberty. It is a near impossibility that the real concept of positive vs negative liberty would be accepted by society in the near future (Berlin, 1959).

The execution of the self-controlled behaviour as the connotation of positive liberty could be justified on reasonable ground. Society delineates it as the practice of liberty on the self-controlled and reasonable ground. The proper abidance by these parameters ensures liberty for every person. The people could only enjoy the right to positive freedom under these circumstances. The facility for the individuals to enjoy the fundamental rights without any particular hindrances is termed to be absolute liberty. The personality of the individual should not face the external obstacle while utilizing liberty in society. The readers should not develop the misconception that the concept of freedom is closely related to that of the absence of self-control. It is the ability to choose any irrational and reasonable alternative which could be related to that of freedom.

It is impossible for a person to live in a society in the absence of liberty. The presence of liberty helps the person in maintaining a suitable environment to bring out the best performance. The liberty could only be enjoyed to its best when the person is living in a suitable and appropriate environment. A positive environment in society could only be developed by practising self-controlled behaviour.

The individual's ability to select the opportunities to earn money so that the future could be secured is termed to be economic liberty. Every individual could only practise freedom in society if the eradication of unemployment, starvation, and hunger is done. Economic liberty plays a large role in the attainment of political liberty. The concept of freedom is a far point of concern for the individuals if issues like homelessness, hunger, diseases, etc. prevail in society (Nelson, 2005).

The nation could not be stated as a completely independent one if the local governments in each state cannot draft and execute their own policies. This parameter is considered on a global platform to decide whether the particular nation is independent or not. It should be though understood that the concept of religious freedom has no connection with that of religion. The context is totally reliant on the right to faith and worship. Each and every religion should be treated the same, and the individual should have the freedom to practice their own rituals and faiths. It would ensure more support and ethical values for each person in the community.

The rights should not be endorsed to a particular section of the society, and everyone should be entitled to it. It is the existence of equal rights for everyone, which is strongly argued under the concept of liberty. It is contrary to the concept of liberty that some special concessions and rights are given to society's specific section. Liberty could be safeguarded for every person only by the implication of a proper legal system. The legal system and liberty are closely related to each other. The efficient legal system could not be practised in a country in the absence of economic, civil, and political liberty. Nowhere in the world, liberty has been practised in the absence of real democracy. The practice of freedom should not be practised by considering the parameter of the happiness of others. It is the duty of the government to ensure impartiality among society. The total accountability and responsibility lie with the government in this context. The further protection of liberty could be ensured further by the active participation of the judicial units. The unified effort should be to safeguard both the positive vs negative liberty of the individuals. However, the presence of both in society would turn out to be detrimental and disastrous.

Any sort of centralization of power should be avoided to restrict the possibility of the emergence of dictatorship. No agency could be considered above the law, and there should be strict penalties against its breach. From the instances of democratic governments in the world, it should be understood that resources like wealth and income should be properly distributed among the people. The impartial distribution of the resources could only be conducted if the organized groups are established within the communities. The various non-profit organizations could also contribute towards the preservation of liberty in human society.

Though it has been observed that several restrictions and limitations are there in the use of the word liberty. It has been argued widely that the concept of liberty signifies the negative aspect of freedom. Academic scholars have further argued that the topic of liberty is not worth exploring or being researched. They have completely ignored the presence of such an ideology. Although it is the reality that positive liberty is a potent factor in human society and at any cost could not be ignored.

In this report, we have clearly observed that both the concepts of positive vs negative liberty are closely associated with each other. It is the pure growth of the individual, which is signified by positive liberty. In this context, the interest and desire of the individual are constructively considered. The self-realization should be taken at the individual level by a person and at the community's collective level to effectively practice liberty (Christman, 1991). It is the exact mental process that the desires are formed in the human mind, and the positive liberty follows. The concept is a bit complex, and it gets tough to correctly apply it in the practical world. It is the way a person should pursue his or her life so that any sort of disturbance or breach of the laws laid down by society is not caused.

The report has explored the concept of positive vs negative liberty in a very deep and thorough manner. The significance of sustaining the balance regarding liberty awareness is highlighted in this report on positive vs negative liberty. The conducted discussion has provided clarity on what sort of people should be entitled to positive vs negative liberty. The significance of boundaries in the pleasant sustenance of liberty is included in the above discussion. It could be only after implying some restrictions in the execution of liberty that a peaceful environment could be created.

Alstott, A. L. (2014). Neoliberalism in US Family Law: Positive vs Negative Liberty and Laissez-Faire Markets in the Minimal State. Law & Contemp. Probs., 77, 25.

Berlin, I. (1959). Two concepts of positive vs negative liberty: An inaugural lecture delivered before the University of Oxford on 31 October 1958 (Vol. 31). Oxford: clarendon.

Christman, J. (1991). Liberalism and individual positive freedom. Ethics, 101(2), 343-359.

Davis, D. W. (2007).Positive vs Negative liberty: Public opinion and the terrorist attacks on America. Russell Sage Foundation.

Dimova-Cookson, M. (2019). Rethinking Positive vs Negative Liberty. Routledge.

Harbour, M. D. (2012). Non-domination and pure positive vs negative liberty. Politics, Philosophy & Economics, 11(2), 186-205.

Heyman, S. J. (1992). Positive vs negative liberty. Chi.-Kent L. Rev., 68, 81.

Levin, M. (1984). Positive vs Negative Liberty. Social Philosophy and Policy, 2(1), 84-100.

Nelson, E. (2005).Positive vs Liberty: One or Two Concepts Liberty: One Concept Too Many?. Political theory, 33(1), 58-78.

Pettit, P. (1993). Positive vs Negative Liberty, Liberal and Republican 1. European Journal of Philosophy, 1(1), 15-38.

Skinner, Q. (1984). The idea of negative liberty: philosophical and historical perspectives. Philosophy in history, 193-221.


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