Real freedom

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Real freedom is a term coined by the political philosopher and economist Philippe Van Parijs. It expands upon notions of negative freedom by incorporating not simply institutional or other constraints on a person's choices, but also the requirements of physical reality, resources and personal capacity. To have real freedom, according to Van Parjis, an individual must:

1. not be prevented from acting on their will (i.e. they must have traditional negative freedom); and
2. possess the resources or capacities actually to carry out their will.

Under this conception, a moral agent could be negatively free to take a holiday in Miami, because no-one is forcing them not to (condition 1 is met); but not really free to do so, because they cannot afford the flight (condition 2 is not met). Similarly, someone could be negatively free to swim across the English Channel; but not really free, because they are not a good enough swimmer and would not be able to succeed in the task. Real freedom is, then, a matter of degree — one is more or less really free, not just either really free or not; and no-one has complete real freedom — no-one is really free to teleport to Mars, for instance.

Real freedom expands on negative freedom by adding the idea of actually being able to exercise a capacity or resource in the absence of constraint; but does not go as far as some ideas of positive freedom, by refraining from appeal to self-government by a real, best, or higher self.

Van Parijs uses the concept of real freedom as part of his influential argument for a universal basic income.[1]

See also


  1. Van Parijs, Philippe (1997). Real Freedom For All: What (if anything) can justify capitalism?. Oxford: Clarendon Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Birnbaum, S. (2004). Real Libertarianism, Structural Injustice and the Democratic Ideal. Paper presented at the 10th Conference of Basic Income European Network, Barcelona, 19–20 September 2004. A revised version was presented at the annual meeting of The Swedish Political Science Association, Stockholm, October 7–9, 2004 and included in the USBIG Discussion Paper Series.