Four Conceptions of Freedom

Political Theory 38(6) (2010), pp. 780-808

30 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2012

See all articles by Horacio Spector

Horacio Spector

University of San Diego School of Law; Universidad Torcuato Di Tella

Date Written: October 11, 2012


In this paper I discuss Benjamin Constant’s division between the liberty of the ancients and the liberty of the moderns, and Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between negative and positive liberty. I explore whether the received twofold classification of liberty should be dismissed in favor of one single concept of liberty (“reductionism”), or rather expanded to include a “third concept of liberty” (“anti-reductionism”). I defend anti-reductionism. However, instead of asserting that there is a “third”, new concept, I argue that there lurk four concepts of liberty in Berlin’s famous lecture. I present a fourfold classification of concepts of liberty. Armed with this classification, I show that Constant’s and Berlin’s dichotomies do not really coincide, as often wrongly assumed.

Keywords: Freedom, Liberty, Liberalism

Suggested Citation

Spector, Horacio, Four Conceptions of Freedom (October 11, 2012). Political Theory 38(6) (2010), pp. 780-808. Available at SSRN:

Horacio Spector (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States

Universidad Torcuato Di Tella ( email )

Buenos Aires

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