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1st ASEAN Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences

28-30 May 2015, Vientiane, Lao PDR.

Understanding Freedom from Different Perspectives


Chanut Naktranun

Abstract
This article examines the conceptions of freedom from different perspectives, starting with Berlins positive and
negative freedom. The article then shows that there are also natural and civil sides of the freedom apart of the
positive/negative side and these four types of freedom can be combined into another four types of freedom. The article
continues to examine freedom in terms of particular freedom/overall freedom and in term of meta-decision/object-decision.
These four are not another type of freedom but another aspect of freedom. The article combines four types of freedom with
these aspects in order to show why civil freedom is better than natural freedom.
Keywords: Positive Freedom, Negative Freedom, Civil Freedom, Natural Freedom, Meta-Decision, Object-Decision

Introduction
What is freedom? This is a classic question that many academicians have been trying to answer. Berlin provides us
with two concepts of freedom, negative freedom and positive freedom. (Berlin, 2006) Positive freedom doesnt mean the
freedom of good people and negative freedom doesnt mean the freedom of bad people. According to Berlin, negative
freedom is the freedom from interference and positive freedom is freedom to do something of ones will. Berlins conception
of freedom has been cited, analyzed, expanded and criticized many times. For example, Spector states that positive freedom
can be positive in two senses. (Spector, 2010: 796) It can be positive in the sense of possessing an opportunity or power and it
can be positive in the sense of actually achieving self-realization. According to Spector, positive freedom is both an
opportunity-concept and an exercise-concept. Spector elaborates more on the subjects by categorizing four conceptions of
freedom. He states that there are two types of negative freedom and two types of positive freedom. According to him, there
are natural negative/positive freedoms and civil negative/positive freedoms so its not about the general negative/positive

Lecturer, Faculty of Political Sciences, College of Government, Rangsit University; Email: c_naktranun@hotmail.com

1st ASEAN Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences


28-30 May 2015, Vientiane, Lao PDR.
freedom because there is also a civil side of freedom. This article tries to understand the conceptions of freedom by using
Berlins analysis as the starting ground and develops the conception of freedom into a more complex one.
Natural and Civil Freedom
There are two different conceptions regarding the origin of freedom. The first conception states that freedom is a
property of citizen of a political society. People could be free only as members of a political society in which power is
authorized by the people (Hirschmann, 2015: 3). So freedom is not a property given by nature. The second conception states
that freedom is a property of human beings and is a central value in terms of defining what a human being is (Hirschmann,
2015: 4). Natural freedom is the freedom of people in a state of nature where there is no man-made law while civil freedom is
the freedom of people, as citizens, in a civil or political association that has man-made law. Natural freedom is a freedom for
both evil and good so if one wants to do a bad thing its his/her freedom or if one wants to do a good thing its also his/her
freedom. By contrast, civil freedom is a freedom of justice and goodness (Spector, 2010: 790) Using the Berlinian conception
of freedom, the positive/negative dichotomy, neglects the difference between natural and civil freedom.
The Confusion of Natural Freedom and Civil Freedom
Spector states that there is a misunderstanding of conceptions of freedom which is the misunderstanding of
reductionism. Reductionism has two problems. The first problem is that it tries to reduce civil freedom to a form of natural
freedom. The second problem is that reductionism tries to reduce the non-domination form of natural negative freedom to the
non-interference form of natural negative freedom. (Spector, 2010: 794) These are two forms of natural negative freedom
which I will explain..
Lets look at the first problem of reductionism. The point is that civil freedom cant be reduced in the absence of
legal restraints (Spector, 2010: 796). Reductionism believes that the absence of legal restraints is the same thing as freedom
granted by law. One may have rights to do something because the law that provides rights but it doesnt mean that he can do
whatever he wants such as killing, raping and robbing. Freedom provided by law is totally different from freedom provided by
a state of nature.
Lets turn to the second problem of reductionism regarding the non-domination side and non-interference side of
natural negative freedom. A phrase like non-domination, is problematic because if its vagueness. Reductionism doesnt see
the difference between opportunity-concept and an exercise-concept of freedom and that is why they dont see the difference
between interference and domination. Non-interference is the absence of actual interference while non-domination is the
absence of potential interference. For example, a slave is subject to the masters domination even if the master does not
actually interfere with him because he could interfere at will (Spector, 2010: 797). In terms of quality of freedom, nondomination is better than non-interference because non-domination is the absence of both potential and actual interference but
non-interference is only the absence of actual interference. If we judge the freedom of a slave by using the criterion of noninterference, he does indeed have freedom because the master still hasnt interfered with him but if we judge his freedom from
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1st ASEAN Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences


28-30 May 2015, Vientiane, Lao PDR.
the criterion of non-domination then he doesnt have freedom. So we cant reduce non-domination to non-interference.
Reductionism also doesnt see the psychological side of the domination relationship. A slave is so afraid of his master that he
wont do anything without his masters consent. In this case, the master hasnt done anything in terms of actual interference
but his slave has been actually interfered with by the fear of his master. In conclusion, freedom does exist in different degrees
and freedom does exist in different types.
Particular Freedom and Overall Freedom
Kramer states that freedom does not exist by degrees (Kramer, 2002). We will begin by distinguishing the difference
between overall freedom and particular freedom. I will use the example provided by Kramer. He states suppose that the
government bestows access to the means for performing X only to people who have complied with numerous bureaucratic
requirements such as the filling out of forms the exercise of the freedom to engage in X at any particular place and time has
been made more costly or difficult the heightened costliness of exercising the freedom-to-do-X for a person P resides in his
having to bear the untoward consequences that will ensue from his availing himself of that freedom Should we therefore
conclude that his freedom-to-engage-in-X-at-t is less than it would be if the aforementioned costs or difficulties did not
loom? (Kramer, 2002: 232) Kramer answers the question with a negative response. He provides two reasons. The first reason
is that we have to distinguish between the freedom to perform something and the likelihood that the freedom exists. What
is lower is not the freedom to do something but the likelihood of that freedom to exist. Its existence and non-existence are
starkly dichotomous, even though the probability of its existence or non-existence can vary over countless by different
degrees. (Kramer, 2002: 235).
Here is very interesting analogy between the identity of one person and the nature of a particular freedom. Suppose
that 25 men are in a room and that one of them is my twin brother. I know as much, though I cannot see any of the menI
therefore know that there is a 4 percent chance that the specified person will turn out to be my twin brother. In articulating
that probabilistic judgment, I am clearly not suggesting that the person singled out as 4 percent is my twin brother and 96
percent somebody else. That person is either my twin brother tout court or someone else tout court; (Kramer, 2002: 235). His
point is that there is no way the particular person is 4% part of his twin brother and 96% part of somebody else. Its either
100% his twin brother or 100% somebody else.
The same can be said about the case of particular freedom, Its either 100% of full particular freedom or not at all.
Even though the chance of that particular freedom to happen is 4%, if it does happen then its 100% particular freedom not the
4% particular freedom. I will elaborate by using the case of marriage. I want to marry a woman but the difficulty is that I have
to acquire so much money in order to marry her. My likelihood at acquiring so much money is only 4% so the likelihood of
my marrying freedom is 4% but if for whatever reasons it does happen then I have my full 100% freedom to marry her.
The second reason is that the particular freedom to perform something is not lower but what is lower is the overall
freedom of the person. For example, if I use my particular freedom to do something that is very costly my overall freedom is
lessened because of the impacts caused by doing that particular thing. I have my particular freedom to marry the woman but
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1st ASEAN Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences


28-30 May 2015, Vientiane, Lao PDR.
after I have spent 100 million baht just to marry her, my freedom to do other things is lessened because I dont have any
money left. Kramer states that If the punishments to be inflicted on P for his doing of X at t are purely post hoc, then they do
not preclude him in any way from actually doing X at t. They merely preclude him from doing certain other things in the
aftermath of his doing of X at t (Kramer, 2002: 233). In conclusion, if the negative impacts of doing something are post hoc
the particular freedom is still intact.
What if the impacts are not purely post hoc? Kramer answers that if the preventive measure succeeds in stopping
someone from having a particular freedom, the freedom in this case is not lessened but is eliminated altogether. Its either I
have full particular freedom or I dont have particular freedom at all. I want to marry a woman but I dont have enough money
to bribe her family then my particular freedom to marry her isnt there at all.
Freedom of Interfered Person
We have already learned about particular/overall freedom but what does freedom actually mean? Bouillon provides
us his definition of freedom that freedom is the absence of an intentional interference in the private sphere of another person,
sufficient to produce the intended effect without the consent of another person (Bouillon, 2003: 8). From this definition its
important to note that a person can interfere in the private sphere of another person without destroying anothers freedom if
the interfering person has the consent of the interfered person. For example, I want to stop smoking but I find it difficult to do
myself so I ask my wife to help me by throwing anything related to smoking out of the house. By doing that, my wife
interferes intentionally in my private sphere but she has my consent so my freedom is still alive and well. But its another
story if I didnt ask my wife to help me stop smoking and she did throw anything related to smoking out of the house. So there
are two types of interference in the private sphere, one that involves coercion and one that does not. There is no freedom if its
one that involves coercion.
Is forcing a people to be free possible? Appbaum provides us with very interesting question (Appbaum, 2007:
359). There is a conception of freedom that states forcing a people to be free is a conceptual impossibility because if a people
are forced, it cannot be free; if free, it cannot be forced (Appbaum, 2007: 367). This sounds incompatible with the case of
smoking I have provided. From this point of view, even though my wife has my consent, she cant throw away my smokingrelated belongings without destroying my freedom. Its my task to show you that the definition provided in Appbaums article
is problematic.
I can still be free even though my wife forces me to stop smoking (with my consent) because my wife doesnt force
me to force her to stop me from smoking. Its my choices whether to use the service of my wife. If I decide that enough is
enough I dont want to use her service anymore but she still forces me to stop smoking, thats another story though. But the
conception that states if a people are forced, it cannot be free is still valid if we look at the case of smoking from another
perspective. For I am not free from the influence of nicotine, I have to be forced in order to be free from nicotine but I am still
free whether to use the service of my wife. The point is that one can be free in some situations but not free in other situations.

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1st ASEAN Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences


28-30 May 2015, Vientiane, Lao PDR.
One can be forced and still be free if the interfering person has the consent of the interfered person. This is compatible with
the conception of particular freedom already explained in this article.
True Freedom in Term of Negative Meta-Decision
Bouillon provides another criterion to understand the nature of coercion. (Bouillon, 2003: 9-10) He introduces the
conception of meta-decision and object-decision We have to understand the difference between meta-decision and
object-decision Imagine the situation where my original goal is to go home as soon as possible but I am stopped by a
merchant to buy either apples, oranges, or bananas (Bouillons example). In this situation, the decision I have to make is to
either go home by ignoring the merchant or listening to the merchants offer, this is called meta-decisions, the freedom to
choose between my original plan and the interfering persons plan. The choices between apples, oranges, or bananas (its
doesnt matter whether I buy all of them) is called object-decisions, the freedom to choose the choices provided by the
interfering person. The meta-decision is always an either-or-choice because the interfered person always has only two
choices, the first choice is to stick to the original plan of the interfered person, the second choice is to not stick to the original
plan. The object-decisions can have from only two choices to many unlimited number of choices.
The object-decision isnt important because we always have freedom in terms of object-decision. For example, if
someone points the gun at me and says You have to be my sex slave. My original plan in this case is to live my own life but
I am so afraid so I have to choose to be a sex slave of the interfering person. This is called object-decision but as I have
already said the object-decision isnt important because we always have freedom even though it really doesnt look like
freedom at all.
The meta-decision is a true criterion for understanding freedom. Bouillon states that there are two types of metadecision. The first one is called positive meta-decision and the second one is called negative meta-decision. The positive
meta-decision is the acceptance of the interfering persons plan while the negative meta-decision is the rejection of the
interfering persons plan (stick to our original plan). If we have real freedom we can choose the negative meta-decision
without being in a dangerous situation. In the case of a sex offender I have provided, I have no real freedom because if I
choose the negative meta-decision (I dont want to be your sex slave, get lost you stupid prick!) there is a high chance that the
interfering person will shoot me with his gun. The cost is so high that I have to pay with my life. In conclusion, Bouillons
definition of freedom is the absence of artificial interference in the private sphere of another person that would produce
artificial costs for that person if she/he opted for a negative meta-decision.
Understanding Freedom from Different Perspectives
This article will try to understand conceptions of freedom by using the combined explanations of Bouillon, Spector
and Kramer.

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1st ASEAN Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences


28-30 May 2015, Vientiane, Lao PDR.
Table1 Analyzing Freedom from Different Perspectives
Type of freedom
Overall Freedom
Natural Negative Freedom
Natural Positive Freedom
Civil Negative Freedom
Civil Positive Freedom

High
High
Medium
Medium

Likelihood of Particular
Freedom
Low
High
Low/High
Low/High

The cost of negative metadecision


High
Low/Medium/High
-

According to table 1, I categorize freedom into 4 types of freedom by combining Berlin and Spectors conceptions
of freedom and I also apply the work of Kramer by using the conception of overall freedom and likelihood of particular
freedom. Lastly, I use the conception of Bouillons negative meta-decision. I will examine each type of freedom by looking at
the overall freedom, likelihood of particular freedom and the cost of negative meta-decision.
In the case of natural negative freedom, the overall freedom is high because of the absence of civil law. In a state of
nature we are free from everything legally but the likelihood of particular freedom is low because in a state of nature even
though we are free from everything legally, we are actually not free from everything practically. We can say that we are free
from everything legally but what if someone is stronger than us and dominates us by force? A powerful person can always
become a master and a weaker person can always become a slave in a state of nature practically and we cant complain to the
master that this is illegal! I will file a lawsuit against you In addition, the cost of negative meta-decision is also high because
in a state of nature if you refuse to accept the domination of your master, there is a high chance that he will hurt you
somehow. We now see that living in a state of nature is risky because of the high cost of negative meta-decision.
The cost of negative meta-decision will always go in the opposite direction to that of the likelihood of a particular
freedom. If the cost of negative meta-decision is high, the likelihood of a particular freedom will be low, vice versa. Living in
a state of nature is costly because if the interfered rejects the interfering, the latter will not let the interfered go easily so the
likelihood that the interfered will be free from the interfering is low.
Lets turn to the natural positive freedom. The degree of overall freedom is as high as natural negative freedom. The
difference lies in the likelihood of a particular freedom because its higher than that of the natural negative freedom. Why?
Because in state of nature we are free to do anything. For example, if you are really into someone you can just rape him/her or
use whatever force you have to make love with that person but the downside is that anyone can also do that to you. (Dont
forget that the likelihood of a particular freedom of natural negative liberty is low, thats why) The likelihood of a particular
freedom of natural positive freedom is high but the likelihood of a particular freedom of natural negative freedom is low. Its
negative side is low because someone always uses his/her high likelihood of natural positive particular freedom.
Now lets talk about the civil negative/positive freedom. The degree of overall freedom is medium. The reason is
that even though we are free from illegal interference (civil negative freedom) we are still bound by law. For example, we are
not free from tax and traffic rules. And even though we are free to do many things (civil positive freedom) we couldnt just
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1st ASEAN Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences


28-30 May 2015, Vientiane, Lao PDR.
kill or rape someone. The likelihood of particular freedom in civil society is either high or low because you are either free
from something legally such as someone cant rape you (legally of course) or you are not free at all such as a duty to pay tax
(legally of course). The same can be said about the civil positive freedom. You are either free to open your houses door with
the key or you are not free at all to open someone elses door. The difference between natural negative freedom and civil
negative freedom also lies in the cost of negative meta-decision. You are always at high risk if you choose to refuse the
interfering person but in civil society it depends on the situation. For example, you can refuse to give money to a beggar the
risk is low, you can politely refuse to be someones lover if you just dont love them. The risk can be medium for he or she
may throw acid on your face but that will also get them to jail. But if you refuse to stick to traffic rules there is a high chance
that you will be in trouble.
In conclusion, we leave the high overall freedom in a state of nature behind because the cost of negative metadecision is high. We instead embrace the medium overall freedom in civil society because the cost of negative meta -decision
is lower than that of the state of nature and we can choose to be a good citizen in order to avoid the high cost of negative
meta-decisions.

References
Appbaum, A. 2007. Forcing a People to Be Free. Philosophy and Public Affairs 35 (4): 360-400.
Berlin, I. 2006. Two Concepts of Liberty. in R. Goodin and P. Pettit (eds.). Contemporary Political Philosophy: An
Anthology. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 369-387.
Bouillon, H. 2003. Breaking the Circle: The Definition of Individual Liberty. Ethics and Politics (2): 1-12.
Hirschmann, N. 2015. Freedom. in M. Gibbons (ed.). The Encyclopedia of political Thought. New Jersey: John Wiley &
Sons, pp. 1-14.
Kramer, M. 2002. Why Freedoms Do Not Exist by Degrees. Political Studies 50: 230-243.
Spector, H. 2010. Four Conceptions of Freedom. Political Theory 38 (6): 780-808.

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