by Massimo Pigliucci
“What is the most beautiful thing in the world?” “Freedom,” replied Diogenes of Sinope. (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, VI.69)
These days there is much talk of freedom, and just as little understanding of what it is and what it entails. Especially in the United States, certain people seem to conceive of freedom as the ability to act unimpeded in life. “It’s a free country!,” they proudly shout, and promptly proceed to engage in one obnoxious behavior or another, such as not wearing an antiviral mask on public transport, even when mandated by law.
This kind of freedom is referred to by philosophers as “negative,” in the sense that it hinges on non-interference by others. We do, in fact, enjoy several negative freedoms. For instance, when I’m in my apartment in New York I have ample freedom to do or not to do what I wish. But of course my negative freedoms have limits, even within my own home. I cannot blast music at 3am, because that interferes on other people’s negative freedoms, like the freedom of my neighbors to get a good night sleep. … (continue on Medium)