Conceptions of Liberty: Ancient & Modern

Convenors: Dr Eleni Leontsini (Ioannina) & Dr David Rose (Newcastle)

This Workshop aims to explore ancient, modern and contemporary accounts of liberty and to discuss the various conceptions that originated in Isaiah Berlin’s famous distinction, in his Oxford inaugural lecture ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ (1958), between negative and positive liberty, but also in the distinction made by Benjamin Constant, in his 1819 lecture delivered at the Athénée Royal in Paris, between ‘ancient’ and ‘modern’ liberty. According to Berlin’s famous distinction, ‘negative liberty’, is involved in answering the question of the area within which persons or groups of persons should be left to do what they want without interference by others, while ‘positive liberty’ on the other hand is involved in answering the question what, or who, is or should be the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do or be one thing rather than another. Negative freedom is in this sense freedom from, whereas positive freedom is freedom to. According to Constant, ancient liberty is mostly defined as ‘democratic participation’, while modern liberty as ‘non-interference’. While, preferencies usually side with the conception of negative liberty, nevertheless, classifications of the notion of liberty are not as clear-cut as usually conceived, and one could argue that, in fact, there could be at least four families of traditions of freedom: negative liberty is ‘freedom as non-interference’; positive liberty is ‘freedom as self-mastery’; republican liberty is ‘freedom as non-domination’; while ancient liberty is ‘freedom as democratic self-government’. In particular, the conception of ancient freedom defined as ‘liberty as participation in government’ or as ‘democratic self-government’ is usually neglected. Indeed, as far as ancient liberty is concerned little philosophical scholarship has been produced so far, mostly because it has either been thought that the ancient conception of freedom is outdated and of no contemporary relevance, or that the ancient notion of freedom is non-existent. Nevertheless, ancient political thought would seem to have very little to contribute to contemporary political philosophy if it had nothing to say about freedom.

This workshop aims mostly at exploring the notion of ancient liberty in relation to that of the republican one, but is also open to all traditions of liberty (republican, liberal, or idealist). Papers on any topic of liberty are welcome. Papers examining historical accounts of liberty (ancient and modern) are also welcome. Accounts of liberty that take into consideration –or are contrasted with– ancient accounts of liberty are also invited.

Contact details:

Dr Eleni Leontsini,

E-mail: eleon@uoi.gr

Web-page: http://uoi.academia.edu/EleniLeontsini

Dr David Edward Rose,

E-mail: d.e.rose@ncl.ac.uk

Web-page: http://www.staff.ncl.ac.uk/d.e.rose