The Different Forms of Freedom

Freedom is a term that is used quite frequently in public discourse. We see the word projected on political billboards or used in a companies latest advertising campaign. The modern world aims to convince us that we can do whatever we want. The future is boundless, limitless.

In this article I want to go beyond these conventional notions, and assess two different conceptions of freedom. That is, freedom from and freedom to. This binary view of freedom has been explored by various philosophers and social critics throughout history including Erich Fromm, Charles Taylor and Isiah Berlin.

  • Freedom From: Also known as negative liberty, freedom from is when an individual is not limited or restricted from pursuing what they want. Moreover, there are no external obstacles or impediments imposed on them by others. Freedom from provides access to opportunities whether we decide to act on them or not. Put crudely, it embodies the ethos of ‘you can’t tell me what do to.’
  • Freedom To: On the contrary freedom to , also known as positive liberty, is when one has the capacity and will to act in a manner that is consistent with their interests, intentions and values. It is focused on developing and cultivating one’s inner disposition, character and internal locus of control. That is to say, one is the master of their own lives.

Contrasting the Two Freedoms

An example that may further clarify this dichotomy is as follows. An individual may be of legal age and therefore free from the legal restrictions placed on them for consuming alcohol. However, they may develop a bad drinking habit which ultimately hinders their goals of completing their academic studies and pursuing their career.

In this case an individual has negative freedom in the sense that they are free to indulge in alcohol, and no one is coercing them to do so. However, they lack positive freedom as they do not have the willpower to restrain their impulses. They fail to act in their best interests.

Crippled by Choice

Of course, there are exceptions, but by in large modern society represents a fundamental shift away from abiding by the rules, norms, expectations and ways of life of the collective (i.e. tribe or tradition). We are now free to live in whichever way we like. This is particularly apparent in our consumer culture which promises the satisfaction of every desire with the click of a button. The possibilities are endless indeed.

However, as the great existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard astutely observed, “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.” The abundance of choice can be paralyzing. In addition, merely appeasing our every desire makes us prisoners of our passions and base instincts. As the Buddhist scholar D.T Suzuki explains this is the antithesis of freedom:   

Freedom never means lawlessness, wantonness, or libertinism. Those who understand freedom in this latter sense and act accordingly are making themselves slaves to their egotistic passions. They are no longer masters of themselves but most despicable slaves

D.T Suzuck, Mysticism: Christian and Buddhist

Self- Actualization

For the phycologist and scholar Erich Fromm, a healthy and satisfying life requires one to work on cultivating their positive freedom, inner life and character. For Fromm, being freed from societal constraints and restrictions is not an end in itself, but rather a transitory step in the progress towards self-actualization and human flourishing.  

When one has a strong sense of purpose and meaning they can more readily overcome external obstacles and work towards a life that aligns with their values and ambitions.

The tag line for this blog is ‘in search of inner freedom.’ One commonality that I have identified that connects different spiritual traditions and philosophies that I’ve researched over the years is the necessity of tending to one’s inner life. Yes, material things make us happy for a while perhaps, but life is often bumpy and unpredictable. Finding nourishment in one’s inner being can help us navigate the uncertain territory that lies ahead.

Lasting freedom can only be found within.

The most important consequence of self-sufficiency is freedom


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A Love Letter to the Mad Ones


The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles.

Jack Kerouac, On the Road

A Life of Virtue: An Introduction A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life

The objective of A Life of Virtue Blog
I turn my heart towards the mad ones, 
those who reject the temptations of conformity and the allure of sameness. 
They venture into the wild and carve their own path. 
They walk into and embrace the darkness, without any direction home. 
They follow the burning light inside of them, their torch ablaze, 
illuminating the cave to new ways of being. 

'Zombies, zombies everywhere!' they whisper in my ear with caution.
Nothing terrifies them more than the 'cult of normal', they tell me.  
These humans, they say, are pre-programmed with a similar code, 
with identical thoughts, goals and aspirations. 
They are stamped, dated, and come off the assembly line in a timely manner. 
One after the other after the other.   
Mass production.
Cookie-cutter hearts, 
Cookie-cutter minds, 
Cookie-cutter souls. 

Let us not forget that the trailblazers throughout history, from Socrates, Jesus, the Buddha and Gandhi, were all initially dismissed by the conformists, the dogmatic masses. 
We laughed, scolded and persecuted them with our childish arrogance.  
It is only in retrospect in which we fully appreciate their greatness. 

Blessed are the weird ones!
Let us turn our hearts to those who have no shame in living out their authentic selves.

So I tell you, dear reader,  
throw away the script, 
corrupt the code, 
follow Truth, Beauty and Goodness wherever it may lead you.  

Embody courage, 
Live as a free-spirit, 
But more importantly, be human - all too human.  

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Ramblings on Personal Sovereignty

I aspire to be an independent thinker. One who adheres to a clear set of authentic principles, and can hold their own against the tyranny of the majority.

I long to be free from ideology and dogma, free from the imaginary boundaries and limitations of this group or that group in the time of the culture wars.       

Why should I pursue endeavours purely to appease others or act in a way contradictory to my nature?

A term I feel particularly drawn to during this time of chaos is personal sovereignty. As Jordan Hall describes it,

Sovereignty is the capacity to take responsibility. It is the ability to be present to the world and to respond to the world — rather than to be overwhelmed or merely reactive. Sovereignty is to be a conscious agent.

To me, being a sovereign individual entails being in the driver’s seat – being in control.

It means having the awareness and insight to be able to cut through the noise and find the truth in a world that is increasingly politicized and divisive. 

That is not to say, I must reject conformity or social norms at all costs. Rather it is to use discernment and reason to act on the most logical course of action.

This has become increasingly difficult in a time where corporations, the media and politicians are constantly fighting for your attention, dollars and votes.  

Who to believe?

Who to trust?

Where can truth be found?

My hope is that the practice of mindfulness and Stoicism will allow me to see things more clearly, as they are – from an objective standpoint. To not be thrown around emotionally by the headlines, but have greater control and autonomy over my reactions to external events.

It is difficult to flow against the grain, to risk being wrongly accused and be viewed as an outcast. However, this is what a commitment to Truth requires. As Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us,

Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance