Thursday, May 21, 2009

Charles Taylor on Positive Liberty III

The basic flaw in Taylor's article is his premise that the defenders of negative freedom and opponents of positive freedom

shar[e]...with the rest of us in a post-Romantic civilisation which puts great value on self-realization, and values freedom largely because of this.

Thus does Taylor think that such people are committed, whether they like it or not, to accepting that self-fulfillment is a species of freedom.

This makes no sense. The fact that freedom is a necessary condition of self-fulfillment doesn't show that self-fulfillment is a species of freedom; it proves precisely that it is not. The "necessary condition" here is of the practical-causal kind, not of the logical genus-species kind. Of course, if you need to have an animal in hand order to have a bird in hand, this proves a bird is a kind of animal. But that is a logical genus-special condition. When we say a man needs freedom in order to fulfill himself, we mean that he needs it as a matter of practical necessity. But if you need a wife in order to be happy, this doesn't prove that happiness is a species of wife. In fact, it proves that it is not. Because that is the practical-causal kind of condition.

Your weakness of will and your failure to understand which endeavors it would be good and fulfilling for you to undertake are therefore not species of unfreedom. They are vices of akrasia and ignorance. You need freedom in order to overcome these vices. When you overcome them, you may speak metaphorically of becoming free. But this is only freedom from your own vices. To speak of one's vices as forces that get in one's way is figurative. As Jeff Goldstein and Friedrich Hayek have advised, we must take great pains to avoid verbal traps.