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Freedom is the power or right to act, speak, and change as one wants without hindrance or restraint. Freedom is often associated with liberty and autonomy in the sense of "giving oneself one's own laws".
In one definition, something is "free" if it can change and is not constrained in its present state. Physicists and chemists use the word in this sense.
Philosophy and religion sometimes associate freedom with free will, as distinct from predestination.
In modern liberal nations, freedom is considered a right, especially freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press.
Charles Taylor makes a distinction between "positive freedom" and "negative freedom".
In political discourse, political freedom is often associated with liberty and autonomy, and a distinction is made between countries that are free and dictatorships. In the area of civil rights, a strong distinction is made between freedom and slavery and there is conflict between people who think all races, religions, genders, and social classes should be equally free and people who think freedom is the exclusive right of certain groups. Frequently discussed are freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of choice, and freedom of speech.
Sometimes the terms "freedom" and "liberty" tend to be used interchangeably. Sometimes subtle distinctions are made between "freedom" and "liberty" John Stuart Mill, for example, differentiated liberty from freedom in that freedom is primarily, if not exclusively, the ability to do as one wills and what one has the power to do, whereas liberty concerns the absence of arbitrary restraints and takes into account the rights of all involved. As such, the exercise of liberty is subject to capability and limited by the rights of others.
Isaiah Berlin made a distinction between "positive" freedom and "negative" freedom in his seminal 1958 lecture "Two concepts of liberty". Charles Taylor elaborates on this idea, claiming that it is undeniable that there are two such kinds of freedom. Negative liberty means an ability to do what one wants, without external obstacles; positive liberty is the ability to fulfill one's purposes.
Wendy Hui Kyong Chun explains these differences in terms of their relation to institutions:
"Liberty is linked to human subjectivity; freedom is not. The Declaration of Independence, for example, describes men as having liberty and the nation as being free. Free will—the quality of being free from the control of fate or necessity—may first have been attributed to human will, but Newtonian physics attributes freedom—degrees of freedom, free bodies—to objects."
"Freedom differs from liberty as control differs from discipline. Liberty, like discipline, is linked to institutions and political parties, whether liberal or libertarian; freedom is not. Although freedom can work for or against institutions, it is not bound to them—it travels through unofficial networks. To have liberty is to be liberated from something; to be free is to be self-determining, autonomous. Freedom can or cannot exist within a state of liberty: one can be liberated yet unfree, or free yet enslaved (Orlando Patterson has argued in Freedom: Freedom in the Making of Western Culture that freedom arose from the yearnings of slaves)."
Another distinction that some political theorists have deemed important is that people may aspire to have freedom from limiting forces (such as freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom from discrimination), but descriptions of freedom and liberty generally do not invoke having liberty from anything. To the contrary, the concept of negative liberty refers to the liberty one person may have to restrict the rights of others.
Other important fields in which freedom is an issue include economic freedom, academic freedom, intellectual freedom, scientific freedom, and political freedom.
In its origin, the English word "freedom" relates etymologically to the word "friend".
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