The Notion of Freedom and Its Different Meanings

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This essay will explore the notion of freedom and attempt to shed light on various explanations on what freedom is. Narrowly speaking, the plain and ordinary definition of freedom is ‘the absence of restraint,’ but how this definition is applied is much harder to clarify and encompasses a wide range of ideas. This essay will attempt to highlight some of these ideas by focusing mainly on the theories of Isaiah Berlin and his two different concepts of freedom, including negative and positive freedom. It will analyse the various theories of other philosophers with reference to these two distinct ideas and attempt to conclude whether the law does indeed restrict freedom.

Isaiah Berlin explains his idea of negative freedom by articulating that, ‘I am normally said to be free to the degree to which no man or body of men interfere with my activity.’ Put simply, this means, ‘If I am prevented by others from doing what I would otherwise do, I am to that degree unfree.’ This seems to suggest that any restrictions placed on an individual from any form of state authority would interfere with the freedom of that individual. This is similar to the concept of social freedom articulated by D.D Raphael, who describes it as, ‘the absence of restraint from other people.’ This would include restrictions placed on individuals as a result of the law. However, it is rather impossible to contemplate a world in which complete social freedom exists, as ‘to be socially free is to place no restrictions on doing as you like.’ This is highly problematic, as if one person were to exercise complete social freedom; this would inevitably be restricting another person’s social freedom. This is just one of the reasons why effective laws are needed in order t...

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