Volume 40, 1998
Philosophy of Values
C. L. Sheng
An Interpretation of Liberty in Terms of Value
This paper discusses the nature of liberty from the point of view of value. Liberty is the highest value for liberals. The root of this liberal view is their particular conception of self. Rawls says 'the self is prior to the ends which are affirmed by it.' This is also the Kantian view of the self: the self is prior to its socially given roles and relationships. Therefore, no end is exempt from possible revision by the self. There is nothing wrong with this basic idea. In fact, all theories agree on free choice of life plan or self-determination. But they disagree about what package of rights and resources best enables people to pursue their own conceptions of the good. However, the liberal view of liberty is based on a metaphysically reasoned idealism. This results in a conception of liberty that is absolute, supreme, and has infinite value compared with other things. Communitarians have several arguments against the liberal view. I consider the following two points to be of utmost import: (1) The liberal view of the self is empty; (2) The liberal view ignores our embeddedness in communal practices. My reasoning is not exactly that of the communitarians. I view 'emptiness' as freedom associated with the substance of an action, which has a value that does not lie in itself.