In 1958, the political theorist and historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin gave an Inaugural Lecture at the University of Oxford, which was subsequently published as an essay entitled ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’. Almost certainly the most influential English-language essay in twentieth-century political thought, it continues to be included in nearly every philosophical anthology that touches on the topics of freedom or liberty (in this chapter we will use these two terms interchangeably). Berlin was addressing a difficult and persistent puzzle about the multiple and often contradictory purposes to which these terms can be put, which will also serve as our starting point here. For example, sometimes we speak of people being unfree to dine at a fine restaurant because they cannot afford to do so, or being free to publish a novel or to give up smoking because no one is stopping them from doing so. In different contexts, we might say that democratic citizens are free in a way that subjects of dictators cannot be, or that a people can become free by throwing off their colonial masters. Furthermore, some social and political theorists associate structural inequalities, such as patriarchy or racism, with unfreedom, arguing that oppressed people can only become free if those structures are reformed or abolished. In all of these cases, and in the many others that we use on a regular basis, it seems unlikely that the word ‘freedom’ signifies the same thing. This raises an obvious question: what is it that we mean when we invoke the concept of freedom?
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