CFP: Debates Within Negative Freedom

Submission deadline: May 31, 2023

Conference date(s):
September 11, 2023 - September 12, 2023

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This event is available both online and in-person

Conference Venue:

Manchester Centre for Political Theory (MANCEPT), University of Manchester
Manchester, United Kingdom

Topic areas


Call for Papers: Debates Within Negative Freedom

Conveners: Ilkin Huseynli and Michael Garnett

Most of the recent debates over the concept of political and social freedom have focused on the relative merits of the negative conception of freedom on the one hand, and republican or positive conceptions on the other. This workshop will concentrate more specifically on interpretations of negative freedom, where negative freedom is understood, broadly, as the absence of obstacles to a person’s actions. The exact nature and importance of negative freedom, on this understanding, remains controversial in a number of ways.

Theorists of negative freedom typically distinguish between obstacles in terms of their sources: only obstacles for which others are responsible in some sense make us negatively unfree. What is special about the obstacles brought about by others? What is special about unfreedom as a social or interpersonal relation? “Brought about” in what sense? How, exactly, is inability related to unfreedom and ability to freedom? While some argue that the ability to do x is necessary for the freedom to do x, others believe that one’s abilities are not directly relevant for one’s freedom. According to them, one can be unable yet free to do something. What is it to be able to do something, and how, if at all, is this different from being free to do it?

Theorists of negative freedom have also distinguished between obstacles in terms of the ways they obstruct: for example, obstacles can be preventive, coercive or manipulative. They can make one’s doings impossible or ineligible in various ways. What kinds of obstacles should be seen as creating unfreedom in the relevant sense? What kinds of normative theoretical purposes should motivate us in taking into consideration only certain kinds of constraints?

Other important and related controversies pertain to the value of negative freedom within liberal political thought and the possibility of measuring negative freedom. What kind of value, if any, attaches in particular to negative freedom? Should measurements of negative freedom cover not only the actual obstacles, but also the subjunctive obstacles as well as the probability of their occurrence? If so, how are probabilities best incorporated into the measurement of freedom? How are degrees of negative freedom related to the values of the options open to the agent?

Finally, some argue that freedom is an essentially contested concept whereas others claim that negative freedom, in particular, can and should be defined non-normatively. To what extent is it possible to conceptualize freedom in such a way that it can be endorsed by people with different political ideologies? Can there be such a thing as a value neutral conception of negative freedom?

The panel will welcome contributions on, but not limited to, the following questions:

1. What counts as a constraint on negative freedom? How are different kinds of social power related to negative unfreedom?

2. What is the relationship between negative freedom and capability?

3. What role should the value of negative freedom play in a liberal theory of rights?

4. Should conceptions of socio-political freedom strive to be value-neutral?

5. What role should claims about responsibility play in judgements of socio-political freedom?

6. Is negative freedom valuable and, if so, why?

7. What are the limitations of purely negative conceptions of socio-political freedom?

8. How should we best think about the relationship between negative freedom and other forms of freedom, such as republican freedom and positive freedom?

If you would like to present a paper at this workshop, please send an abstract of no more than 500 words to [email protected] by the 31th of May 2023. The abstract should be prepared for blind review, but please include your name and affiliation in the email. Speakers will have 50 minutes each (20 minutes for presentation, 30 minutes for discussion). The workshop will be hybrid. Please, on your application inform us whether you would like to participate in person or online.

Fees for in-person attendance will amount to £135 for postgraduate students and £230 for academics. Participation in the social dinner involves an extra £30. For online attendance, fees will be £20 for postgraduate students and £45 for academics. Some fee-waiver bursaries will be available, so please specify in your submission whether you need one.

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Custom tags:

#Freedom, #Unfreedom, #Causation, #Responsibility, #MANCEP