What is Positive Freedom?June 28, 2021
Positive freedom is the freedom you have to control your own life. In the context of positive freedom, free when you can truly control your own life; but even if you are not actually constrained in any way, otherwise you are not free.
Many advocates of the positive idea of freedom believe that true freedom lies in a kind of self-actualization by individuals or perhaps states making their own life choices.
For example, if someone is an alcoholic and is acting against his judgment, can it be considered freedom for this person to spend all his money on drinking orgies like crazy? This does not seem intuitively plausible, especially since the alcoholic regrets what he has done when sober. Rather, we tend to think that the alcoholic is controlled by the drink and is a slave to his impulses.
According to positive freedom, although the alcoholic person is not subject to limitations, he is not truly free. As a matter of fact, even for someone who advocates negative freedom, he thinks that his actions should be interfered with, just as children are, since an alcoholic cannot be held fully responsible for his actions.
Related topic: What is negative freedom?
However, if someone is constantly making stupid decisions about his life and wasting all his talents, then we feel obliged to persuade him; but we never have the right to force him into a better life.
Such behavior is a form of unjustifiable fathering to someone who is old enough to make their own decisions and make mistakes, by acting like a controlling parent.
For Mill, interfering in the lives of other adults is unacceptable for their “own well-being” unless they harm another or have the mental capacity to act on their own. This kind of coercion means limiting their negative freedom.
John Stuart Mill is the founder of Utilitarism.
Advocates of a positive principle of freedom may argue that such a person whose negative freedom is restricted is not truly free until he realizes his potential and overcomes his aversions. There is a fine line not to slip from this view to one that favors coercion in order to achieve true freedom.
Isaiah Berlin points out that the concept of positive freedom can be used to allow for unjust coercion of any kind: State authorities can justify compelling you to act in certain ways on the basis that they help increase your freedom.
Undoubtedly, what is meant to be said here is that the concept of positive freedom has been abused frequently in history. In this respect, there is nothing wrong with the positive conception of freedom itself. But as history has shown us, this understanding can become a dangerous weapon when misused.
On the other hand, the understanding of positive freedom, in the sense of increasing one’s capacity to achieve one’s goals, is based on establishing the necessary conditions for the individual to become his own master. The important thing here is no longer non-intervention, but to develop the individual’s potential to be his own master through various mechanisms, including intervention when necessary.
From this point on, freedom gains a material and economic ground and puts individual freedom on a social ground. According to this, the well-being of the individual is a predictable state, and not a matter that can be asserted solely based on the will, reason and choices of the individual, as the advocates of negative freedom claim. For individuals to be their own masters, they need to be brought to a certain level. In this sense, freedom cannot be defined solely on an individual basis, it is determined within the social relations that the individual is in.
Practically, the understanding of positive freedom developed in parallel with the emergence of mass democracies, the foundations of which were laid with the generalization of the right to vote, especially since the end of the nineteenth century. In particular, this understanding of freedom is the basis of the development of the social state understanding.
Accordingly, the individual is a being with potentials and as a being living in the society, opening the way for his own self-development, that is, realizing his potentials, is related to providing him with the necessary social opportunities, and the social state is the state equipped with the mechanisms that will reveal these possibilities.
It is not enough for the state to stay away from the autonomous sphere of the individual, who is assumed to be a rational being, as advocated by the negative freedom understanding. It is necessary to provide a social environment in which the potentials of the individual will be revealed. The freedom of the individual is directly related to the granting of these opportunities. Therefore, the state should be a regulator as an active subject in this field.
This practical expansion of positive freedom