What Is Freedom, What Does It Mean?

What Is Freedom, What Does It Mean?

June 28, 2021 Off By Felso

It can be said that the English concept of liberty, which derives from the Latin word liber meaning free, is handled in two ways in political theory.

The first is negative freedom, which means being free from any undesirable negativity such as arbitrary treatment, violence and interference. The second is positive freedom, in the sense of having enough and necessary means to realize one’s own purpose, to realize one’s own self-realization. The first is about ensuring the immunity of the person, and the second is about increasing the capacity of the person.

The freedom of the individual, which liberal ideology regards as the highest political value, also ensures the “terrifying success” of liberalism starting from the 19th century (Viroli 2002, p. 57).

As a matter of fact, John Stuart Mill, who laid the foundations of liberalism by transforming the utilitarian moral understanding into a political theory, states in the second sentence of his famous work On Freedom, in which he states that each individual is sovereign over their own body and mind, “(…) it is about the ‘quality and limits’ of the power that can be used” and explains that it aims to investigate the limits of the area where the individual can act without interference, not the freedom of the society or the state (Mill 2004, p. 29).

Thus, Mill gives the definition of liberal freedom with his work focusing on the freedom of the individual. The freedom of the individual is the area in which he acts without interference from society or the state. According to Mill, there is only one area where limitations can be placed on the actions of individuals. This area, as expressed by both Hobbes and Locke, is the area of ​​intervention in someone else’s freedom area. In this case, in terms of liberal theory, the freedom of one individual ends where the freedom of another individual begins.

Thomas Hobbes provides the first clear definition of liberal freedom, although in his famous work Leviathan he showed the paths to the absolute state. Hobbes’s determinations on freedom are a source of inspiration for liberal theorists. Hobbes defines freedom in Leviathan as follows:

“What is freedom? FREEDOM or LIBERTY exactly means no inhibitions; by inhibition I mean external barriers to movement; (…).

What is it to be free? According to this true and fully accepted meaning of the word, a FREE man is one who is not prevented from doing what he wants, in what he is able to do with his strength and intelligence” (Hobbes 2004, p. 155).

This conceptualization of Hobbes, who defines freedom as the individual by distinguishing it from the freedom of the state, was later called the “freedom of the moderns” by Benjamin Constant. While Constant consciously calls the understanding that subordinates the freedom of the individual to the freedom of the state, the freedom of the ancients, he also puts forward the claim that the only possible freedom in the modern world is the freedom of the individual.

According to the existentialists, freedom means the individual’s separation from society and its objective laws. However, freedom is not a dream of independence from the laws of nature and society. On the contrary, it means learning these mournings and using them for certain purposes. This is true for the laws of external nature as well as for the laws governing the body and spirit (psychological) existence of man. Freedom is to dominate the objective laws of nature and society and act of one’s own will.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, “He who deprives another of his freedom cannot be free himself. Because the one who wants to enslave must take what he wants to enslave and keep it like that all the time. This destroys the freedom of those who want to enslave rather than those who want to be enslaved. A man who cannot make himself absolutely necessary for the other can never enslave him.

According to the dialectical materialist doctrine, the freedom of a person means that he has the opportunity to freely develop his talents, inclinations and tastes. This can only happen in a free society where people can use the objective laws of nature and society to their advantage and create all the preconditions for development. Freedom requires mastery of necessity, not opposition to necessity. This sovereignty, on the other hand, means to be conscious of the objective laws of nature and society, to recognize and control them properly, and thus to be able to benefit from them. So, what is called ‘freedom of will’ is nothing but the ability to reach a decision knowing the reason. Freedom is to have a say both over ourselves and outside nature (and society), recognizing and knowing the imperatives of nature. Contrary to the metaphysical understanding, the concepts of Free and Liberty are not opposed to the concepts necessary and accidental, but are closely related to them. Freedom and necessity, on the one hand, and necessity and chance, on the other, are objective and co-exist in a dialectical dependence on each other.


Freedom and equality, people since the beginning of life in society