Liberty as the Absence of Necessity
To fully understand liberalism one must first understand liberty.
The broadest definition of liberty is indeterminism with respect to a certain action. Its opposite is necessity which signifies a single determined course. There are a number of different types of necessity.
- Physical necessity: All material beings (living and non-living) are subject to external agents (which themselves are normally physical) and certain internal laws. Thus rocks are subject to the influence of gravity and the wind. This type of necessity includes the laws of physics and chemistry. Other examples of physical necessity include such biological activities as nutrition, elimination, reproduction, and growth.
- Biological necessity: All living beings are subject to internal principles. The instincts of animals and the phototropism of plants are examples of internal principles in living beings. These are necessities in that they do not vary over time, but are species specific. All rational beings are normally exempt from biological necessity and thus have liberty of choice.
- Moral necessity: All rational beings while exempt from biological necessity and possessing the ability to resist mechanical forces (which other living beings share) are determined to one course because they depend on the will of another. The superior will on which the inferior will depends is called authority. The superior will exerts its influence by means of rewards and penalties. Morally all inferior rational beings are bound to obey a superior will, but because they have liberty of choice they are capable of disobeying.
- Logical necessity: Every rational being’s thoughts are subject to the laws of logic. Logical necessity is the property, which certain logical arguments have, in which it is impossible for the conclusion to be false given that the premise(s) are true.
- Metaphysical necessity: Closely related and prior to logical necessity is metaphysical necessity. Metaphysical necessity guarantees that all beings act in accordance with their natures. Thus an ant will never act like a dog. A human will never grow wings and fly. Any being which is good by nature can do no evil. Metaphysical necessity is that which determines that the goal which every human being by nature seeks is happiness.
Reference: Liberalism: A Criticism of its Basic Principles and Divers Forms. Billot, Louis. 1922. pp. 4-7. Impr.
Ideas of Freedom
As far as human liberty is concerned a masterful analysis of freedom was accomplished by the philosopher Mortimer Adler in his The Idea of Freedom: A Dialectical Examination of the Conceptions of Freedom. In this book, Dr. Adler examines the history of the idea of freedom as seen in the writings of practically all of the major Western philosophers. He comes to the conclusion that there are three main distinct conceptions of freedom that these philosophers have used:
- Circumstantial freedom of self-realization: This is the freedom that people think about when they think about doing what you want. Due to internal and external factors it is not always possible to do what you want. An example of limiting circumstances would be a prison for a prisoner.
- Natural freedom of self-determination: This is the freedom which corresponds to free will (or liberty of choice as in number 2 above). It is natural because the will is naturally free and cannot be coerced into doing anything without its consent.
- Acquired freedom of self-perfection: This is the freedom which corresponds to holiness. For those who have taken the necessary steps, they have gained the freedom which consists of consistently doing good.
The above is a sufficient explanation of liberty for the purposes of understanding liberalism.