Masthead CMC Magazine / January 1, 1996

* A Plea for Understanding--Beyond False Dilemmas on the Net, by Charles Ess

Positive Freedom

In contrast to negative freedom, positive freedom stresses the capacity of the individual to develop his or her own goals of action, and thereby to establish the most appropriate means of achieving those goals. As artists, athletes, and scientists know, to undertake the arduous labors of long hours of study, practice, and experiment--undertaken as a means to self-chosen goals of excellence in a given endeavour--is a much different kind of "work" than following the rules established by others for us. As paradoxical as it will sound to those who understand only a negative conception of freedom--under a positive conception of freedom, we become freer, more powerful, more understanding, precisely through following our "rules" (the regimes of practice, study, etc.), not by rebelling against them (as negative freedom must).

As a simple example of positive freedom: we are freer to undertake our driving projects (get to school and work, go out with friends, pick up the kids, etc., as choices made out of positive freedom) in an environment of agreed-upon rules and regulations (as means of making driving behavior orderly, predictable, and safe). Negative freedom could only prescribe an environment of no rules and regulations--not an especially promising or inviting environment, especially when populated by automobiles.

The capacity for positive freedom is what -- modern democracies presume.

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