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Political Philosophy – Isaiah Berlin

3. Positive Freedom

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In this module, we explore Berlin’s concept of positive freedom, focusing in particular on: (i) the idea that positive freedom is self-mastery; (ii) that positive freedom focuses on the objective and not on the lack of obstacles; (iii) Berlin’s argument that positive freedom in this sense can lay the groundwork for legitimising political indoctrination, should a greater power lay claim to these objectives through monopolising the ideals or directives of the ‘higher self’; (iv) that therefore, Berlin’s liberalism is associated with the values of negative freedom which embraces (v) non-perfection and (vi) resistance to political authority and philosophical, religious or moral dogma.


In this course, Dr Dimova-Cookson (Durham University) explores the political ideas of Isaiah Berlin. In the first module, we give context to the life and works of Isaiah Berlin. Then, in the second module, we explore Berlin’s concept of negative freedom, before turning in the third module to compare this to Berlin’s notion of positive freedom. Here we think in particular about Berlin’s fear that positive freedom can lay the groundwork for legitimising political indoctrination. In the fourth module, we explore Berlin’s idea of value pluralism through contrast with monism, and comment on how Berlin could be seen as an exponent of multiculturalism. Finally, in the fifth module, we explore Berlin’s legacy and comment on some critiques of his work, before concluding with a defence of Berlin’s distinction between positive and negative freedom, drawing directly on Dr Dimova-Cookson’s own work in her book “Rethinking Positive and Negative Freedom”. This course may be particularly useful for those interested in the Liberalism and Multiculturalism aspects of the Core and Non-Core Political Ideas components of the AQA and Edexcel Government and Politics A Level.


Dr Dimova-Cookson is the Associate Professor in Political Theory in Durham University's School of Government and International Affairs. Her research focuses on moral and political issues in political thought, including the dual nature of liberty, justifications of human rights, moral development, value pluralism, ethical particularism versus ethical universalism, and multiculturalism. She recently published 'Rethinking Positive and Negative Liberty' (2020).

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APA style

Dimova-Cookson, M. (2022, April 06). Political Philosophy – Isaiah Berlin - Positive Freedom [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Dimova-Cookson, Maria. "Political Philosophy – Isaiah Berlin – Positive Freedom." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 06 Apr 2022,

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