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Book Chapter

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Publication Title

Positive Liberty: Past, Present, and Future

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Cambridge University Press


A number of well-known Hegel-inspired theorists have recently defended a distinctive type of social freedom that, while bearing some resemblance to Isaiah Berlin’s famous description of positive freedom, takes its bearings from a theory of social recognition rather than a theory of moral self-determination. Berlin himself argued that recognition-based theories of freedom are really not about freedom at all (negatively or positively construed) but about solidarity, More strongly, he argued that recognition-based theories of freedom, like most accounts of solidarity, oppose what Kant originally understood to be the essence of positive freedom, namely the setting of volitional ends in accordance with an individual’s exercise of his or her own reason, apart from social authority.

In this chapter I argue that recognition might describe an essential social condition of positive freedom, or moral autonomy, as Kant and Berlin understand that term, but only with qualification: Only if recognition doesn’t imply a strong state of social solidarity, understood as a psychological state of identifying with, viz., feeling totally at home with and completely affirmed by, one’s society, and instead assumes only a weak form of democratic civic solidarity, can it function as a category of social freedom, and then only in the narrow sense of political freedom. To the degree that the different institutionalized forms of recognition in modern democracies compete with each other, social freedom will presuppose a second-order recognition of society’s affirmation of their freedom by those whose identities are invested in these forms, to wit: that such forms are or can be sufficiently harmonized with each other by means of judicious government policies and constitutional safeguards. Recognition that one is not overly dominated by a given social role or social expectation in living one’s life can enable one to become rationally reconciled to society and its primary recognition orders in a way that can be socially freedom-affirming. Detached in this way from any positive solidarity with society, recognition-based social freedom cum recognition of non-domination might also (perhaps better) be conceived as a species of negative social freedom. I conclude that rational reconciliation remains at best an imperfectly achievable goal in modern societies marked by basic constitutional and institutional tensions.




Author Posting. © David Ingram, 2021. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Cambridge University Press for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Positive Freedom: Past, Present, and Future, September 2021.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.