Isaiah Berlin’s View Poin On Liberty (Two Concepts of Liberty) 1
Isaiah Berlin identifies the two different concepts of freedom (negative and
positive). Negative freedom is involved in the answer to the question “What is the
area within which the subject – a person or group of persons – is or should be left to
do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons?” By being
free in this sense, not being interfered with by others. The wider the area of non
interference is, the wider the freedom is. On the other hand the positive freedom is
involved in the answer to the question “What, or who, is the source of control or
interference, that can determine someone to do, or be, one thing rather than
another?” The two questions are clearly different, even though the answers to them
may overlap.

According to Locke and Mill in England, and Constant and Tocqueville in
France, there ought to exist a certain minimum area of personal freedom which must
on no account be violated (negative freedom). A frontier must be drawn between the
area of private life and that of public authority.( A distinction between the positive and
negative freedom). Social harmony and progress are compatible with reserving a
large area for private life over which neither the state nor any other authority must be
allowed to trespass. According to Jefferson, Burke, Paine, Mill, “We must preserve a
minimum area of personal freedom if we are not to degrade or deny our nature. We
cannot remain absolutely free, and must give up some of our liberty to preserve the
rest. But total self-surrender is self-defeating.Then What must the minimum be?”
whatever the principle which defines the area of non-interference is, whether it is that
of natural law or natural rights, or of utility or the pronouncements of a categorical
imperative, or the sanctity of the social contract, or any other concept with which men
have sought to clarify and justify their convictions, in this sense means absence of
interference beyond the shifting, The positive sense of the word liberty derives from
the wish on the part of the individual to be his own master. He wishs his life and
decisions to depend on herself not on external forces of whatever kind.

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1-Isaiah Berlin, “TWO CONCEPTS OF LIBERTY,” Four Essays On Liberty, (Oxford,
England: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 118-172.

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