Google Books Rocks!


I’m working on a lecture to deliver in Hamburg on “Freedom Properly Understood,” so I’ve been reading up on various theories of “positive freedom,” including Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom and, naturally, the works of Thomas Hill Green. I wanted to find his “Lecture on Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract” but did not have it in my editions of his works. I figured I’d have to trek to a library and spend a half a day getting a copy. Then… I thought I’d check Google Books. I’ve just finished printing chapter from the facsimile of the 1906 edition. Eureka!

(It’s pretty awful stuff, though. As he concludes his attack on freedom (in the name of freedom),

“The danger of legislation, either in the interests of a privileged class or for the promotion of particular religious opinions, we may fairly assume to be over. The popular jealousy of law, once justifiable enough, is therefore out of date. The citizens of England now make its law. We may ask them by law to put a restraint on themselves in the matter of strong drink. We ask them further to limit, or even altogether to give up, the not very precious liberty of buying and selling alcohol, in order that they may become more free to exercise the faculties and improve the talents which God has given them.”


4 Responses to “Google Books Rocks!”

  1. I don’t think Sen belongs in this company. His ideas are confused, but not “ugh.”

    In “Development as Freedom” he jumbles positive and negative rights together, but I think he’s mostly talking about negative rights (if that’s the term); about people being left free to earn their own incomes as a crucial part of development. He does a great job of taking to task the idea that giving someone $1 is the same as them having $1 they were free to earn, and he points out that freedom itself is a component of development — something almost all the development “experts” ignore.

    I think there are many things muddled in his analysis, and he writes very badly to boot, but Development as Freedom is still a good book; and I have learned useful things from him, as have my students.

  2. Tom G. Palmer

    I’m not saying anything like “Sen is a totalitarian.” Of course not. But he does suggest that he is a Greenian in a number of places, such as where he refers to his view of “development as freedom” entailing that “Attention is thus paid particularly to the expansion of the ‘capabilities’ of persons to lead the kind of lives they value â?? and have reason to value.â? It’s the “and have reason to value” part that indicates he is a Greenian. Rights and freedoms, in this view, require justification, which is provided by showing that you “have reason to value” what you do with them. There is a great deal of confusion in Sen’s approach (and more than a little good sense, too); in this regard, his talk of “real freedom” and “substantive freedom,” as distinguished from just-plain-old “freedom” puts him in the camp of those who believe that we enjoy “real freedom” when we do what we ought to do, meaning that the legislator, when compelling us, merely “forces us to be free.” Ugh is an appropriate response to those who defended prohibition of alcohol, for example, on the grounds that such compulsion provides us with “real freedom.”

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