Freedom and Rights


Freedom is not just part of political discourse


That is it say, it is not anchored solely in an individual's or groups of individuals relation to some form of political power e.g. the Government or 'the State'


However we tend to focus on that kind of relationship perhaps because political power is seen as a rather singular face of power that is fairly easily nameable and identifiable.


When it comes to economic power, because of its complexities - its complex system AND at the same time it seems at the same the so 'everyday' - we pay for things, we earn money by working, prices go up and down, and we seem to havelots of choice between different goods or forms of the same goods - we tend to be less clear that the economic system is just as much a power relation as is that between us and the state.


Indeed, Marxists will insist that economic power - namely that, capitalism - is far more a form of 'power over' and thus compromises freedom, than does any political exercise of 'power over'.


Thus it may be that in terms of our default position on what constitutes freedom - that there are no blockages to our engaging in actions and opinions - we are a little blind to unfreedoms that lie outside political power.


This said, I have begun to define 'freedom' as an absence of blockages to engaging in actions and opinion.








The former is usually associated with NEGATIVE LIBERTY - we are free when we are free from interference by another. As such it is a state of neutrality - of quiet within oneself - we are left to ourselves.


Philip Petit has noted that Hobbes: "...first draws attention to his conception of freedom as non-commitment - that there is a sense in which the very fact of deliberating and making a decision reduces oneís freedom.


So long as one has not yet deliberated and formed a decision between certain alternatives (formed a will, as Hobbes would put it), one is free to do one or another of the alternatives. The very fact of deliberating and making up oneís mind means that that freedom is lost."


But Hobbes later on Leviathan draws our attention to the classic formulation of negative liberty:


The right of nature, which writers commonly call jus naturale, is the liberty each man hath to use his own power as he will himself for the preservation of his own nature; that is to say, of his own life; and consequently, of doing anything which, in his own judgement and reason, he shall conceive to be the aptest means thereunto. By liberty is understood... the absence of external impediments; which impediments may oft take away part of a manís power to do what he would, but cannot hinder him from using the power left him according as his judgement and reason shall dictate to him.


So for Hobbes, freedom is underpinned by natural law and right - the Natural Law is a rationally arrived at universal rule about human beings-that they are implanted with a tendency to preserve their lives, and this mean that one has a right to go about preserving it though for Hobbes THAT DOES NOT ENTAIL A CORRESPONDING OBLIGATION OR DUTY OR ANYONE ELSE TO ENABLE THAT RIGHT


Glen Newey comments:

For Hobbes, if you have a right in the state of nature, all that this means is that you are not under a duty or obligation... So, when he says that everyone has a right to all things in the state of nature, he means that you are under no duty to refrain from having or doing anything which might be useful in preserving your own life. But, by the same token, nobody has a duty to provide you with anything to which you have a right.


By this one may be suspicious that for Hobbes, freedom is not to be seen as essentially an existential condition of man, but as a right to do what you wish unimpeded, but absent of any claims of right against others.


Is Freedom a right... or a prior form of unthreatened existence?

Roussseau famously notes: Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.


That dreamy romanticism of an original natural happy self - set against the cynical troubled world of Hobbes.






The alternative to Hobbes's and many others' negative view of freedom is founded on: the linkage between Freedom (or liberty) AND the possession of an ability to execute a choice.


How can Ibe free if I am not able to perform any of my choices


This is usually seen as POSITIVE LIBERTY - we are free when we are able to do what we wish - we have the ability (our resources that enable us) to act as we wish.



I want to jump 100 feet into the air - I am free to try, as nobody outside of me will stop me...but I am not free to by my nature - I do not have the power to jump that high. There are natural limits to freedom in the sense of restrictions.


Is that unfreedom?


If I wish to jump as high as the best high-jumper as matter of choice to reach my full jumping potential should I be in some way compensated by being offered funded training. Thus I can have a chance to have the same amount of freedom as the world champion.Is that freedom-promoting?


I am elderly and I wish to get to the shops, I am very restricted by my arthritis and I do not have the same freedom (ability) as everybody else to walk to the shops - there is no bus service etc.I want to be enabled to do this walk, so I need some specialist physiotherapy..paid for by the NHS = other's taxes.


Would this count as freedom?



I want to go to University - it would better enable me to get a good job, higher salary, life the kind of life I would wish to live without interfering with any one else. But I was not given a decent education so I did not qualify for Univ. I am unfree to go to Univ.




Does unfreedom entail rights to be compensated: rights to be helped to be (more) free


None of these cases directly involve deliberate state restriction upon one's freedom but they do suggest that there is a positive linkage between freedom and ability to exercise one's freedom


And further that there is a link to enabling people to gain their freedom in terms of choices they wish to make where their range of choices is equal to anybody else's


Should that be the starting point - equal freedom of opportunity as the basis of freedom?


And not having that entitles me to a claim against everybody else to help me to achieve an equal potential for the same freedom as all others? we only apply the imperative of freedom to specifiable range of social/cultural/ political/economic goods and choices?


i.e. we do not recognise the ability to jump as high as a world champion (with training) as relevant to a concept of freedom...but the elderly person's wish to go to the shops?....or a disabled person's similar wish?..or the poor under-privileged Uni wannabe?


If we deny that freedom is to be linked to providing systems of enablement - whether training, education, physiotherapy, a wheelchair - then should freedom be restricted by moral luck? (unless someone voluntarily helps you/charity)


That is: that your life-situation is as it is and you have no claims on anybody else to help you (though you may receive compensation from a careless driver, or someone who damaged you).


As such moral luck would seem to support a version of negative liberty. That is that my luck that I am well-endowed with opportunities by dint of my inherited health and wealth let us say, I claim to be irrelevant to the idea of freedom and to a theory of justice - I have no obligations by my luck to redistribute the results of it and you have no rights to it either). The only freedom that counts is that I am left alone (free from interference) to act as I see fit.


Equally, even if they could, it should not be the obligation of the NHS to make you better off (more free/enabled to do what you previously thought you could not as an able bodied person (before your accident).

So is moral luck un-compensatable? and if so in what sense.


Clearly not literally, because someone could by their charity close the 'freedom gap' between you and (due to moral luck) the better off person.


But perhaps then this matter comes down to rights...and rights claims....


I am entitled to (have a right to) enablement-compensation to maximise my freedom opportunties.


In other words following and adapting for our purposes Rawls' Theory of Justice, (1971) would one wish there to be a freedom principle that works to be to "the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society". (This is known as the 'difference principle')


and this for Rawlsian theory is rooted in a universalising thought-experiment known as the 'veil of ignorance' - It asks what principles of justice, freedom, economic and socio-political equality would you choose if you had no idea where in society you would end up - poor, rich, able-bodied, disabled, young elderly...

This is known in Rawls-speak as 'the original position'


i.e. if you were ignorant of your circumstances when designing your society.


The idea here is that due to the veil of ignorance, we would all be motivated rationally to agree that to follow a principle that maximises each individuals' capacity (ability) to execute their life-plans at any one point in time...This because (one might assume) each person wishes to maximise and not merely have the right/the freedom to act etc as they wish.

so long as the resulting pattern does not tend (on best knowledge available) to increase inequalities of freedom.


Of course it may lead to some very extravagant freedom claims for rights which to be enabledwould also be extravagant on the public purse.



So: Q - which freedoms should be claimable sponsored goods?



Should we allow people to go rock-climbing despite its demonstrable dangers and the resulting unhappiness to families etc or even to someone who gets very badly damaged.


Where 'expensive to put right' damage occurs that was anticipatable, and that expense comes from the public purse, thereby imposing a cost on all others that reduces each contributors ability to perform alternative choices


Should they compensate society for the hospital bills, whereas a gambler who gets addicted should not to the same extent as they can't help it (even if they could have earlier) We do not ban them so long as they are willing to pay?


...and not because of reducing my rightly earned property, but of reducing my freedom of opportunity to spend my money on something else given I am now obliged to contribute to hospital care for some careless anonymous rock-climber.




Does freedom come with corresponding (and perhaps, compensating) responsibilities under some account?


Or is it that a compromised version of freedom as my anticipation of responsibility tends to curb the likelihood of actsof freedom - carefree activities.


And what is the limit of this freedom/responsibility relation? Are there some 'absolute rights' of freedom that should not carry responsibilities


What about 'free speech'?


And if freedom is calibrated by the harm that may result from its exercise, how does one determine at what point one restricts freedom where the harm is subjectively psychological?






Are only individual rights bearers?


Can there be group rights?


Is there a right to life - is your desire for life a proper basis of a right to life?


Can we have a right if we do not know how to claim it?


Can very young children have a right to life if they cannot understand or signify it?


Do animals have right? Vegetables? Trees?