Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Giovanna Borradori: The Illusion of Negative Freedom

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the liberalist tradition developed this sense of individual autonomy into a notion of negative freedom, according to which I am free when I am left alone, not interfered with, and able to choose as I please. Hegel's response to this position, as well as the response of those who followed Hegel, including Marx and Freud, was that this is an illusory conception, for it does not probe beneath the surface and ask why individuals make the choices they do. Since these choices are limited by one's access to all kinds of resources -- economic, cultural, educational, psychological, religious, technological -- the idea that people can be left alone to make their own choices without interference by others does not make them free; on the contrary, it leaves them at the mercy of the dominating forces of their time.

Believing that there is nothing more philosophical than history implies that freedom begins with the realization that individual choices are formed in permanent negotiation with external forces. Freedom is thus measured by the degree to which we become able to gain control over these forces, which otherwise would control us. (4)

Borradori, Giovanna. "Terrorism and the Legacy of the Enlightenment: Habermas and Derida." Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida. University of Chicago Press, 2003: 1-24.

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