Liberty, Value, and the Liberal Perspective

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Liberty, Value, and the Liberal Perspective

ABSTRACT: This paper discusses the nature of liberty from the point of view of value. Liberty is the highest value for liberals. The root of this liberal view is their particular conception of self. Rawls says 'the self is prior to the ends which are affirmed by it.' This is also the Kantian view of the self: the self is prior to its socially given roles and relationships. Therefore, no end is exempt from possible revision by the self. There is nothing wrong with this basic idea. In fact, all theories agree on free choice of life plan or self-determination. But they disagree about what package of rights and resources best enables people to pursue their own conceptions of the good. However, the liberal view of liberty is based on a metaphysically reasoned idealism. This results in a conception of liberty that is absolute, supreme, and has infinite value compared with other things. Communitarians have several arguments against the liberal view. I consider the following two points to be of utmost import: (1) The liberal view of the self is empty; (2) The liberal view ignores our embeddedness in communal practices. My reasoning is not exactly that of the communitarians. I view 'emptiness' as freedom associated with the substance of an action, which has a value that does not lie in itself.

I. Introduction

This paper discusses the nature of liberty in terms of value and starts from the nature of value. Every good has a value. Physical goods have economic or material values. Social goods have non-economic or non-material values. I find that some social goods each have a value quite different from the value of most goods in that its value does not lie in itself, but lie in its functi...

... middle of paper ...

... liberty is finite, the metaphysical conception that liberty is something absolute and supreme seems nonsensical.


(1) John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1971), 560.

(2) Will Lymlicka, Contemporary Pliltical Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 208.

(3) C. L. Sheng, A Utilitarian General Theory of Value (Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi International Publisher, 1997), 33-44.

(4) C. L. Sheng, "On the Flexible Nature of Morality," Philosophical Research Archives, Vol. 12 (1986-1987), 125-142.

(5) C. L. Sheng, "On Charitable Actions," in C. L. Sheng, Philosophical Papers (Taipei: Tamkang University Press, 1993), 131-153.

(6) Joseph Raz, "Right-Based Moralities," in Utility and Rights, ed. R. C. Frey (Minneapolis, Minnesota: The University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 42-60.

(7) See note 4.
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