Positive Liberty

Just came across this concept in a book by a woman who escaped her fundamentalist upbringing and went to Cambridge.


It’s about freeing yourself from the constraints you have put on yourself.

1 Like


That was a little confusing, so Berlin’s concept of liberty was featured in her book.

Your link goes to:

In Two Concepts of Liberty Berlin sought to explain the difference between two (out of more than two hundred, he said) different ways of thinking about political liberty. These, he said, had run through modern thought, and were central to the ideological struggles of his day. Berlin called these two conceptions of liberty negative and positive.[23]

Berlin’s treatment of these concepts was less than fully even-handed from the start: while he defined negative liberty fairly clearly and simply, he gave positive liberty two different basic definitions, from which still more distinct conceptions would branch out. Negative liberty Berlin initially defined as freedom from, that is, the absence of constraints on the agent imposed by other people. Positive liberty he defined both as freedom to, that is, the ability (not just the opportunity) to pursue and achieve willed goals; and also as autonomy or self-rule, as opposed to dependence on others. These are not the same.

Berlin’s account was further complicated by combining conceptual analysis with history. He associated negative liberty with the liberal tradition as it had emerged and developed in Britain and France from the seventeenth century to the early nineteenth. He later regretted that he had not made more of the evils that negative liberty had been used to justify, such as exploitation under laissez-faire capitalism; in Two Concepts, however, negative liberty is portrayed favourably, and briefly.

It is on positive liberty that Berlin focused, since it was, he claimed, both a more ambiguous concept, and one which had been subject to greater and more sinister transformation, and ultimately perversion. …

Earlier there’s this tidbit:

The best-known and most controversial facet of his writings on the relationship of history to the sciences was his discussion of the problem of free will and determinism, which in his hands took on a distinctly moral cast.[7]

In Historical Inevitability Berlin radically questioned determinism (the view that human beings do not possess free will, that their actions and indeed thoughts are predetermined by impersonal forces beyond their control) and historical inevitability (the view that all that occurs in the course of history does so because it must, that history pursues a particular course which cannot be altered, and which can be discovered, understood and described through laws of historical development).

Where? In her(?) book(?) ?

But ‘pluralism’, as explicitly defined by Berlin and others, does not cover Berlin’s empiricism, or his historicism, or his awareness of the fallibility of human knowledge, or his belief in the primary importance of individuals as opposed to generalisations and abstractions, or his emphasis on the importance of free choice (which, while he sought to found it on pluralism, in fact appears to be partly independent of it).

I’m curious out of those 16K plus words, where is


I had some extra time this morning so danced up and down the many sections in that article, could not find what you were implying, or how the notion of Positive Liberty ties into 'freeing oneself from our constraints.

Positive liberty he defined both as freedom to, that is, the ability (not just the opportunity) to pursue and achieve willed goals; and also as autonomy or self-rule, as opposed to dependence on others.

Your desire to critique philosophy overrides your ability to read some words. Does the quote, quoted twice, not answer your question? Does the life work of a philosopher need to be perfect for one part of it to be useful?

Stop being so touchy. Philosophy is all about people critiquing and complaining about the blind spots in the ideas of others.

Me?.. I’m simply trying to find some real world relevance.

I read the words, I think about the words, they are sort of self evidence and sort of interesting and curiously naive - And I wonder where should one go with that?

Where’s the transition from some idealistic formulation to the real world as we exist in?

No person is full “autonomy” - we humans depend on others in a myriad of ways, with most going unrecognized. Even the autocrat “calling all the shots” is constrained by tides of advisors and bureaucracies and resource realities.

These are fun notions to play with - I’m just asking how do they assist when it comes to our lives and the rubber hitting the road, so to speak.

If it’s useful, shouldn’t it be discussable?
How is it useful?

I’m not touchy you are.

Discussing would be great. Not what you’re doing.

The story is written by a woman who was raised to be one of many wives, to do what the men in her life told her to do, to wait for the end times, never take medicine, or go to school. It meant something to her. It was taught to her at Cambridge University.

I’m pointing out the self indulgent hollowness of much of academic philosophy.
Which seems to trigger much umbrage in you.

And your OP read:

Where I was faced with,

Isaiah Berlin (1909–97) was a naturalised British philosopher, historian of ideas, political theorist, educator, public intellectual and moralist, and essayist. He was renowned for his conversational brilliance, his defence of liberalism and pluralism, his opposition to political extremism and intellectual fanaticism, and his accessible, coruscating writings on people and ideas. His essay Two Concepts of Liberty (1958) contributed to a revival of interest in political theory in the English-speaking world, and remains one of the most influential and widely discussed texts in that field: admirers and critics agree that Berlin’s distinction between positive and negative liberty remains, for better or worse, a basic starting point for discussions of the meaning and value of political freedom. Later in his life, the greater availability of his numerous essays began to provoke increasing interest in his work, particularly in the idea of value pluralism; that Berlin’s articulation of value pluralism contains many ambiguities and even obscurities has only encouraged further work on this rich and important topic by other philosophers. …

Now you’re upset that I have no empathy (or something) for the woman . . . ? . . .

Is it okay to feel very confused?

Sorry, when you directly made your comment to me, I didn’t realize you were speaking generally about philosophers. (not sorry)

Do you know that constantly saying things like, “now you’re upset” is exactly what people who want to control others do, who want them to feel like there is something wrong with them for speaking. I simply clarified, I added to my reasons for making the post, I explained, I forwarded the conversation. To you though, I’m upset.

I was telling you that some people in the world read something like Berlin’s speech and get something from it. Some people, like the ones on Stanford Philosophy like to critique speeches, find the contradictions. Nothing wrong with either. Both of those things can exist in the world. Berlin can say something that is still taught in world-class universities, and “guy on the internet” can critique it. No one needs to be upset by that.

You actually quoted these two things, this from Stanford:

but you put this in bold

Why? What is your point?

The link goes to Berlin,Isaiah

The link opened to 5.1 The Concept of Liberty, Isaiah Berlin.
That’s what I was looking at and working off of. Had you included a link to "a woman"s article, I might not have ignored her.
Forgive me for the oversight.

Sure, I don’t deny that.
But for me, honestly, what I get out of it seems the most important to my particular struggle.

First, what strikes me is that

the absence of constraints on the agent imposed by other people

No mention of the constraints our body puts on us, nor the constraints our environment puts on us, nor the other interesting complexities we can imagine.
Once I stop to really consider that claim and exercise it in a mind experiment, it turns into mush.
Sort of like those self-help books out there, sure nearly all contain true pearls of wisdom; that could transform one, but few actually absorb the lessons, or do the work it takes to test and transform oneself.

Positive liberty he defined both as freedom to , that is, the ability (not just the opportunity) to pursue and achieve willed goals; and also as autonomy or self-rule, as opposed to dependence on others.

But none of us are fully autonomous!
Seems to me Positive Liberty would be more about the outcomes of self recognition and a sober appreciation for the Human Mind ~ Physical Reality divide.

Requiring self recognition,… of oneself and one’s realistic situation. Thereby enabling us to also recognize potential gaps in the confining fabric of our lives (full of obligations and desires). These gaps provide the space for Positive Liberty opportunities to exercise one’s freedom to pursue one’s own aims.

But Berlin, like most philosophers, treats these things like beautiful thoughts, works of art, words striving to enunciate an idea better than anyone else has.

Yet, some how remaining disconnected from the real world that science teaches us about, and that we tread in, full of heroes and their stinky clay feet.
{And ideas that are totally divorced from reality: hey lend me a billion bucks, have I got a dream, wouldn’t it be the coolest to test one drop of blood for EVERYTHING, imagine the profits, line up to get in on the ground floor. Next, let’s to Mars and build space hotels. Oh, oh, here’s a great idea for humanity, free energy and then we an create machines that will do all our thinking and working for us, now wouldn’t that be the coolest. :sunglasses: so fly }

I don’t know what oversight you are talking about. I never expected that you would guess the book I was talking aboutand track it down and read it and then know the full context of my post.

However, I expected that you would relate to your struggle. You have been doing that with near 100% frequency in the last year or more.

I guess he was talking about people then.

Never defended a self-help book. Are you saying Berlin didn’t “do the work”?

Obvious statement is obvious.

Also expected. Relating to your titled concept. Claiming self-recognition leads to exercising freedom. A lot of steps in between left out. Then right back to a slam on the philosopher, he’s just a dreamer. :yawning_face:

What’s that mean?

You missed my point. I’m pointing out that even self-help books are full of pearls of wisdom, perhaps meaning I would expect philosophers to enunciate good ideas including some genuine pearls of wisdom.

It’s their incompleteness that I’m point out.

You keep saying that, like it’s obvious we are all evolved creatures.
But it’s only so many words until the notion really penetrates past one’s ever vigilant ego. Which I don’t see among most who touch the subject.

No it’s not obvious!!! There are so many implications woven into that, that are worth unraveling and savoring. Instead, it’s an easy dismissal, the way you do so well.

No umbrage. Hmmm. You can’t even be honest with yourself.

Damned straight!

It doesn’t get any more fundamental than that! Recognizing that we are evolved biological creatures, with our bodies are quasi-independent entities, thanks to their direct unbroken generational link to the dawn of time!

Truly recognizing that your mind is a creation of your body communicating with itself about the task of living, providing both function and the narrative thanks to our highly developed bodies, brains and interactions with our environment.

It doesn’t get any closer to fundamental truths than that!

No matter how grand our mental pipe dreams get.

But you simply dismiss it with a yawn.

Even though we have an example right here in these comments of someone so lost he doesn’t know up from down to the point of denying his own biology.

When through watching animals and the natural world, we can find incredible insights into ourselves. Insights that can help achieve a more balanced, satisfying life, even while being stuck in the rat race with everyone else.

Philosophers are as full of ego and insecurity and ambition as anyone, it’s a dog eat dog world in academia and they are as busy with an eye on their competitor, and their respective hurdles toward some vaguely defined goal - as any other competitive field.

Too much professional jockeying, serving up intellectual entertainment and too little honest self-critical introspection, in light of modern scientific understanding.

You keep saying that. Like we should obviously transcend our egos. I’ve heard that all my life. Most of the people who say it are stuck in their ego. The ones who aren’t stuck there don’t need to say it.

As long as you believe this, it will be a struggle to converse with you.

Come on, isn’t the question WHO AM I at the core of every half way intelligent kid’s curiosity and intellectual struggle as they are growing up?

Who am I?
How did I get here?
How did all this stuff around me get here?
Is it all part of my imagination?
Why am I here?
Do I have any value?
Do I have a purpose?

What’s the deal with all these “impulses” that drive my behavior?

Are you saying those questions aren’t at the roots of humanity’s interior intellectual conflicts and struggles? And its philosophy?

If not, what do you suggest are the most fundamental mysteries people have historically been struggling with?


I’m not referring to the “chest thumping” ego.
I’m referring to the EGO that is our inner identity - the ego that our mind defines, our conscious idea of ourselves.

As opposed to the your human body/brain that can actually function with your self-aware consciousness removed. Why is that possible. Doesn’t that get about as fundamental as we can get? Or do you disagree?

What are your most fundamental of fundamental notions?

1 Like

The error in your sentence is “transcend”.

I haven’t “transcended” my Ego, but I’ve certainly learned to recognize my Ego, especially the difference between my conscious Ego and my biological body.
That’s big. Very big and deep.

And it’s growing into this understanding that has also revealed to me the folly in the Players attaching all sorts of bells and whistles and cosmic fireworks and even hints at extra powers from achieving “transcendence” - when what there is, is biology and biology is fairly straightforward, lacking the magical powers that various philosophers and gurus try to inject into the search for self-understanding.

The transcendence is in finding out, it’s okay, it is what it is, and it’s okay, and then we die like all other animals and our mother Earth will continue on it’s way. I’m good with that, because I actually really and truly have learned to appreciate the moment and to live my life in the now, even as I’m aware of past and future.


On my walk with Maddy I realized something else, in my experience it hasn’t been, so much, about transcending or mastering my ego. Though that’s probably where it started. Instead the decades watching people and life and myself, has achieved for me, is a deeper awareness of my body. I inhabit my body more fully, thereby gaining a better appreciation for the interaction of my body with my ego.

Why does it sound like you dismiss that as insignificant ?

What do you suppose the goal of philosophy is, beyond creating a name for oneself ?

Ok, you didn’t use that word, but you said tbis

First, that means you had some free time to study those things, to contemplate them. Which means there weren’t people around you trying to prevent that. Second, I think it takes more than the facts of bodies and brains to reach a conclusion about who we are in the universe. You need others around who are willing to explore that. It probably starts with childhood, something we have very little control over.

Most of human history, no one had the facts, now it’s still a majority that don’t. It’s getting easier to get to the second part, but we have a long way to go.

I can’t explain to you why you think that because I don’t know why you think that. I can see that your thinking it is a barrier to us communicating.

The first hominid individual who looked up and asked the question ; “what’s there and why does it bother me ?”

This must have been at the beginning of the human split from our common ancestor.

There are videos of an alpha chimpanzee reacting to thunder and lightning as he would to a living enemy, clearly showing belief in an “unseen sky enemy” making him and his family miserable.

IMO, this is the point when hominids invented gods and demons. Note that the earliest gods are associated with natural phenomena with mysterious causes.

And we’re running out of time.
So we ought to get on with it,
lordie knows the physical sciences has offered a torrent of clarifying information.
If only the philosophical community could catch up.

What does your sentence have to do with the essence and meaning behind what I said?

Beyond that what makes you think I was coddled?
I been taking garbage from fools all my life. Yes, fools, because I’m now looking at the world their mindset helped create, and it’s an ugly monster, and getting worse by the season.

I never said that’s all there is to it?

I’ve called it a benchmark, or landmark, that helps one keep their bearings. Besides, that doesn’t diminish the reality of people wondering Who Am I; Why Am I Here; What Value do I have, and not finding satisfactory answers.

Appreciating the fact of one’s body/brain as a quasi-independent biological evolved creature with knowledge and skills attained over eons. Coupled with understanding that your sense of self and conscious thoughts are things produced by that same body. It’s the starting point to genuine self understanding. Don’t knock it.

Regarding learning about the universe, the mind~physical reality divide provides a healthy alternative to human’s utilitarian focused thinking of, how can I exploit this, how can I profit - To a more objective appreciating of things as they are and for what they are.

This also encourages one to better examine both sides of the proverbial coin, no matter what the issue. Something current thinking certain discourages.

What’s that got to do with the validity of the thoughts?

In my experience it’s enabled me to more honestly assess my limitations and accept my limiting obligations and other constrains, then finding the gaps where I could be free, even within confining circumstances.

This is something most people should be able to relate to. I’ve written about how every day is an exercise in triage, and everything you do, means other important things won’t be getting done by you. And finding a balance to keep others and one self content, if not happy.

But this still deftly side tracks the screaming out loud fact that, we now understand how our creature bodies create thoughts and how humans achieved complex thinking, and how our consciousness springs from within us. Just as our Gods spring from our own conscious minds.

{That avoidance is being demonstrated right here.}

In fact, your story totally fits into, and flows from, appreciating that the spectrum of awareness, to complex social consciousness, is a biological continuum.
Ergo to truly appreciation human minds, you’d better also get to understanding animal bodies and brains, their evolution and a little about how they perceive the world - because it shines all sort of light upon how we got to be the way we are.

1 Like

You waste so much time with these questions. I never said coddled. I’m not going to try finding different words because you will twist those too.

This is a better place to focus. You say “should”, but never ask why they don’t. Your solution is still born because you haven’t examined the problem. You have a seed to plant but haven’t considered the soil.

That’s what happens when you tease with riddles.
Why not respond with a little substance, rather than condescending vagaries?

You could have just as easily chosen to respond to

What does your sentence have to do with the essence and meaning behind what I said?

But you didn’t. That’s not my fault.


That’s interesting how you pulled that snippet totally out of context, in order to plant another smack down…
You are a game player, stop kidding yourself that you’re not.

We should all be familiar with having to make choices in our day to days. You can do this and this, but it means you won’t be able to engage with that or that.
Yes and I’d think most adults should be familiar with balancing conflicting obligations and desires, and so on.

Many times i have said that no one is obligated to answer every question here. Look how many question marks you gave me. If I had answered 5 of them would you still complain?

You miss the point.

It was more about, what will you be present to. :raising_hand_man: