Review: Freedom, Reassessments and Rephrasings


Starting with Isaiah Berlin’s definition of freedom as “negative and positive liberty”, Hirschmann proceeds to demonstrate that positive liberty does not consist only in the removal of external barriers and the facilitation of conditions conducive to the expression of freedom but must also include attending to “internal barriers”- fears, addictions, compulsions – that may prevent individuals from making the right choices and accessing their freedom. Building on the ideas of Rousseau, Locke, and Hobbes she extends the notion of the social construction of the virtuous citizen to the social construction of desire and choice, thus reversing the question from what I want or desire to why I harbor certain desires and make certain choices. Freedom then becomes not only about the absence of constraint to make a choice but also about the discursive construction of choice, and true freedom “has to be about having a say in defining the context” where choices are made. Hirschmann’s thesis raises many important questions, one of which I would like to introduce here: given the constructed nature of desire and choice, and the inevitable presence of what Sartre would call ‘Bad-faith’ (1943/2001, Ch. 2), what grounds do we have in determining the real freedom of an agent?