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.. Art
Fake art

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What is a Species?
Why are Tropical Birds So Colorful

.. HUM
A Mind

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Cut Energy Use
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Jesus and the Money Changers
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Sleeping in a tent
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Culture is Ordinary

AI and Art
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Excellence is a Plateau
Is this picture real?
NonFungible Tokens
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What is Art?
Working With Reality

Artificial Intelligence and the Collingridge Dilemma.
Bird Brains
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Competence Without Comprehension
Consciousness is More Like Fame Than Television
Developmental Processes
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I Lost My Knife
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Thinking about medical procedures
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Underdetermination and Redundancy
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
What Does Google Know?
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A Country Is Not Like A Company
Alternate ideas lying around waiting for disaster
Blood and Money
Can Capitalism Survive?
Do Our Minds Own Our Bodies?
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Money and Value
Money is Different
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Profit Motive Fails
Rentier Capitalism
Social Wealth vs Surplus Value
Spending Money Into Existence
The Metaphysics of Money
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Thinking about Money
Wealth is What Money Buys

Blowing Up Pipelines

Absolute Knowledge
I do not know everything
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
Rethinking Knowledge
Rethinking Knowledge
Semiotics and Body Language
The Curious Ineffectiveness of Facts
The Past and the Future.
Uncertainty and Unpredictability
Whatever happened to The Truth?

Body Plans
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Dr Malthus would be pleased
Error Correction
Evolution Defended
Evolution is not Religion
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Forces of Nature
Is Natural Selection Obsolete?
Politics and Evolution
The Evolution of Purpose.
The Problem with Natural Selection.
The Source of Bad Behavior
Thinking about Tails
Why Does a Leopard Have Spots?

Free Speech in the age of Twitter
Freedom and Badness
Freedom and Morality
Freedom From and Freedom To
Freedom in the Age of Convoys
Libertarian Coercion

10 Views of Landscape
Affect and Effect
I pay rent.
Listening to Corn
The Reform vs Revolution Paradox
What is Public Schooling For?

Levels of Abstraction
Levels of Abstraction and Minds
What is a newspaper?

As Much As Possible
Zipfs Law

Emotional Plague
Memes: Imitated Behavior.
The Problem with Memes
What is a replicator?

Beyond Rules Based Morality
Freedom and Morality
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What do we owe animals?


Maps and Territories
Metaphysics Without Absolutes
Philosophy Buds
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Sorites Paradox
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The Gorilla in the Room of Science
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What is Going On?

If It Walks Like a Duck
Right Wing Freedom
The Sovereign Citizen
Tyranny of the Majority


Constructed Life
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A Job
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To the Moon
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What is to be said?
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Why is there a shortage of nurses?
Work - Productive, Useful, Worthless, and Bad.

Implications of Very Productive Technology
Modest Proposal
Problems with Universal Basic Income
Tormenting Unlucky People
Why there are oligarchs

Freedom From and Freedom To

ie negative and positive freedom

Negative freedom (ie freedom from) is freedom from obstacles. It's called negative because it's about something that's absent - ie obstacles.

Positive freedom is the freedom to do something; eat, learn, travel etc.

So the negative/positive dimension is about the absence or presence of something - it's not necessarily a moral dimension.

This distinction has been significant since Isiah Berlin explored in the 1950s but glimmerings of it have been around for a while. It is seen as what divides conservatives seem to be more interested in negative freedom while progressives seem to be more interested in positive freedom.
(Label alert - when you read the literature on this what I'm calling conservatives are called liberals - sometimes classic liberals. So, philosophically liberals are right wing, not left wing as in popular discourse).
(And it's kind of interesting - in the SEP article I read about this they had a label for the liberals but not one for those who favoured positive freedom - found here:
(For clarity in the present context I'm going to use the current label for classic liberals - libertarians. I'm using the term in the sense of the mainstream in American politics. And like all labels so much is covered by that we need to be careful.)

Berlin's distinction seems fairly clear and even intuitive but when we look into the details we run into a snarl.

Libertarians want minimal restriction and consider taxation to support programs they don't want to voluntarily support to be an unacceptable invasion of their freedom to not be constrained. The idea is that everyone be free to do whatever they want as long as they don't infringe on anybody else's freedom to do what they want.

But libertarians also need an important positive freedom - they need to be able to enter into and enforce contracts. And contracts themselves represent severe constraints. A contract is basically agreement among people to constrain their behavior in future in certain ways in return for certain benefits. Negative freedom concentrates on the various interactions that people engage in and is one of the bases of western democracies. When we talk about free speech and free press and freedom to assemble and freedom to dress as you please etc you are talking about negative freedom. Negative freedom is associated with the values of an individualistic society where all citizens are expected to be able to look after themselves.

It's also a part of the set of values needed for our concept of private property.

The paradox of course is that libertarian society evolves into a more and more oligarchic one because the logic of the creation of surplus value means that the wealth and power of the oligarchs grows exponentially. A point is reached where the oligarchs are the main source of constraint.

Positive freedom is what the welfare state is based on.
It's the idea that not being constrained is meaningless if you don't have the ability to do something.

For instance - it's meaningless to be 'free' to eat if you have no food. Positive freedom is often associated with charity where good hearted people provide for others that which they think the others need.

And of course the danger of charity is an oppressive paternalism where people get forced to do things 'for their own good'. One of the sources of the welfare state was the realization that charity was not a good way of providing for the unfortunate - without direct oversight by democratic governments watched by a free press charity gets Dickensian real fast.

A sickening episode of that happened in Canada within my own lifetime. Thousands of aboriginal children were shipped to church schools for their own good. The stories of the abuse they faced are horrifying.

And that observation about charities got transferred willy nilly to all conceptions of positive freedom - but is the connection necessary?

I know smokers feel the state is being paternalistic in restricting their habit. And the rest of us think that the state needs to provide us with freedom from second hand smoke.

Armatya Sen talks about providing the capabilities that people need to be able to live a good life. The good life is fairly clearly defined; everyone able to participate in their society as they want because they have the skills, opportunities, and resources to do that. There is no need in a democracy for that to turn into an oppressive system - but given you experience with charity it's hard for us even now to resist the temptation to make social assistance paternalistic.

But does this dichotomy proposed by Berlin really cut the issue at it's joints?

Gerald MacCallum thought not.

". . . there is in fact only one basic concept of freedom, on which both sides in the debate converge. What the so-called negative and positive theorists disagree about is how this single concept of freedom should be interpreted."

Indeed, in MacCallum's view, there are a great many different possible interpretations of freedom, and it is only Berlin's artificial dichotomy that has led us to think in terms of there being two.

MacCallum defines the basic concept of freedom - the concept on which everyone agrees - as follows: a subject, or agent, is free from certain constraints, or preventing conditions, to do or become certain things.

The discussion of freedom can get complex.
If you have been renting someplace for decades what are the implications for freedom if you get evicted so your landlord's son can take it over?

On the one hand - as long as contracts are being enforced then there is no implication for freedom. On the other hand one person is being forced to move in the interests of another.

And this can be very unjust. Imagine that in the decades of renting the renter's payments had actually paid off the entire mortgage on the house at no expense to the landlord. Something about evicting somebody in that sort of situation just seems to me to fly in the very face of the idea of freedom. You've paid your way and should be entitled to be left alone.

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.