"Relativism," Relativism and the Study of Man, ed. Helmut Schoeck and James W. Wiggins, Van Nostrand, 1961.  Reprinted in The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism.


“Relativism” has many meanings. In order not to become confused by the “blind scholastic pedantry” that exhausts itself and its audience in the “clarification o£ meanings” so that it never meets the nonverbal issues, I shall work my way into our subject by examining the recent statement of a famous contemporary about “the cardinal issue,” the fundamental political problem of our time. As a fundamental problem it is theoretical; it is not the problem of particular policies, but the problem of the spirit that should inform particular policies. That problem is identified by Isaiah Berlin as the problem of freedom.’

Berlin distinguishes two senses of freedom, a negative and a positive sense. Used in the negative sense, in which it was used by “the classical English political philosophers” or “the fathers of liberalism,” “freedom” means “freedom from”: “Some portion of human existence must remain independent of social control”; “there ought to exist a certain minimum area of personal freedom which must on no account be violated.” Positive freedom, on the other hand, is “freedom for”: the freedom of the individual “to be his own master” or to participate in the social control to which he is subject.’ This alternative regarding freedom overlaps another alternative: freedom for the empirical self or freedom for the true self. Still, negative freedom, freedom from, is more likely to mean freedom for the empirical self; whereas positive freedom, freedom for, has to a higher degree the tendency to be understood as freedom only for the true self and therefore as compatible with the most extreme coercion of the empirical selves to become something that their true selves allegedly desire.

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