Reclaiming Two Concepts of Liberty

GIDEON ELFORD
POLITICS, PHILOSOPHY & ECONOMICS 12.3 (2013): 228-246 

Abstract: The article responds to an influential critique of the view that there is a conceptual distinction between kinds of liberty. The critique in question began with Gerald MacCallum Jr’s famous argument that liberty is a single concept that has a triadic structure between agent, constraint, and end. Against this view, the article argues that the triadic structure offered by MacCallum is unable to conceptualize a particular distinct understanding of liberty. The article defends the view that there is a distinct ‘exercise-concept’ of liberty that the triadic structure cannot account for. In support of this claim, the article contests a recent argument that an exercise-concept of liberty can be conceptualized in terms of the triadic structure. The article argues that the triadic framework can only conceptualize an exercise-concept of liberty at the cost of abandoning the substance of that framework. To defend this, the article explains that the triadic structure and an exercise-concept are basically conceptually distinct in virtue of the fact that the former embodies a ‘static’ concept, whereas the latter embodies a ‘dynamic’ one. To complete the argument that an exercise-concept is a distinct concept of liberty, the article articulates a common theme that unifies both the triadic structure and an exercise-concept as concepts of liberty.