Freedom or Liberty?

Freedom and Liberty are frequently used as interchangeable terms. In this those who do so err.

It is true that both constitute Rights. But these rights are each of a different character, with different ramifications.

Freedom is a passive state, one in which the person has the right not to be circumscribed by external duties, at least within described spheres of action. Those duties to which the individual is not subject can be either mandatory duties, viz, you shall do, or prohibitory duties, viz, you shall not do. The degree of freedom depends upon the quantity and scope of those spheres.

Liberty is an active state, one in which the person has the right to engage in certain activities, at least within described spheres of action. Any duties to which the individual is subject are ones which are only internally imposed, by the individual himself or herself. The degree of liberty depends upon the quantity and scope of those spheres.


Freedom and Liberty can exist within the same system and be concurrently available to its member individuals. Because of their different characters, though, they are employed in different contexts and for different objectives.

Freedom is an essential right. It consists of the right to chose what not to do. For certain activities can be detrimental to the individual, either by their immediate material impact or persisting moral impact.¹

However, in comparing it with Liberty, as we shall see, it is more important for the emphasis to be upon Liberty than it is upon Freedom.


This is demonstrable since Liberty is not only the right to choose what to do, it also consists, as with Freedom, of the right to chose what not to do. Like as with Freedom, it consists of the opportunity to determine the range of activities in which to not engage — since being compelled to engage in certain activities will obstruct the opportunity to engage in different activities of one’s choice — but also the range in which to engage.

But in what range of activities should one engage? For it is not Liberty to engage in all activities within one’s capacity.

On a reflexive level, some activities appeal to the individual and some don’t; some appeal to certain impulses, some to others. To engage in those which are anomalous to the person and to which he would have a propensity to offer resistance would be to abandon one’s identity and, perhaps, one’s own self. Thus, if one is induced by external influences, rather than one’s own character, to engage in such an activity, the result would be the loss of the person’s liberty.

However, there remains an aspect of Liberty more profoundly significant. It is in the symbiotic relationship of it with Freedom.

For we have already recognized that some activities can have a detrimental effect. These effects can be immediate or persistent. In those which are persistent does danger most lurk.

For engaging in some activities can constrain us from embarking toward other theaters of participation. If then a certain activity or activities are so preoccupying that they captivate a person, one then suffers a loss of their Liberty.

All people are endowed with a certain potential for attainment of productive objectives. The criterion then is whether a certain activity constrains or expands the exercise of the potential for successful attainment of them

While some activities liberate us by activating us toward engagement in further ones, what we choose out of liberty might instead enslave us. The question then is recognizing whether doing something particular harms or inhibits an individual, since if the answer is in the affirmative it is not the exercise of Liberty to do it.

Therefore, True Liberty is refraining from those activities, and rejecting those objectives that can restrain or inhibit us. Thus, a rejection of certain activities or objectives, and a refusal to engage or embrace them, can be Liberty in action.

¹ While the spurned activity is an election by an autonomous consciousness, the impact to be avoided may be one perceived as detrimental not to this particular individual (or at least not solely) but instead to other persons. However, if the danger is the latter, the detrimental impact would concomitantly impinge upon the range of activities otherwise available to these other persons. In this it would potentially impact both their Freedom and their Liberty. Consequently, it would seem that, in order to rigorously distinguish between these two rights, it is suggested that restricting application of Freedom to its impact upon the particular individual is more prudent.

² While the endeavor is usually of an active nature, it can occasionally be of an inactive nature.  For in appropriate situations observation or simply rest may in the aggregate yield expanded constructive attainments.

Forester Twp, Michigan USA
20 November 2017

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