Freedom, Liberty, Autonomy

‘Freedom’, ‘liberty’ and ‘autonomy’ are controversial, contested words, often used interchangeably, yet laden with radically different connotations. In this lecture, I shall use them as labels to distinguish three different concepts. Most European languages have only one word to translate both ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’, e.g., ‘libertà’ (Italian), ‘liberté’ (French), ‘libertad’ (Spanish), ‘Freiheit’ (German), ‘frihet’ (Swedish), and ‘vrijheid’ (Dutch). Moreover, many English and American writers use ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ as if they were synonyms.1 Looking at the etymological references (which can be found in most good dictionaries) for these words, we find, however, that ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ point to different contexts of life and action. Understanding the differences between those contexts is the key to eliminating the terminological confusion often encountered in discussions of freedom and liberty. My interest in this is that of a philosopher of law. However, the distinctions made in this lecture are relevant also for other disciplines concerned with cognition of the human world, most notably economics
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