Unity and Disunity in the Positive Tradition

In John Philip Christman (ed.), Positive Freedom: Past, Present, and Future. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 8-27 (2021)
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What is 'positive freedom'? Whereas negative freedom may be characterised as an absence of coercion or physical prevention, and republican freedom as an absence of interpersonal domination, positive freedom resists such pithy treatment. The term is widely taken to refer to a variety of seemingly distinct goods, including but not limited to actually exercisable options or capabilities, collective self-determination, psychological self-government, and self-realisation or flourishing. In this paper I aim to bring the positive conception into better focus by tracing the positive tradition through some of its twists and turns, and considering in what ways it might qualify as a single tradition. Drawing on the lessons of this survey, I then suggest a way of thinking about the nature of positive freedom that’s both principled and historically informed.

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Michael Garnett
Birkbeck College


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