We generally divide freedom into two types: freedom to and freedom from. But we can break it down into many more nuanced types, which I’ll explore in this article.
Generally, freedom to refers to the liberty to conduct desired actions without restriction. It is the capacity to make choices that are yours alone, independent of external influences or pressures (Naktranun, 2015; Okulicz-Kozaryn, 2014).
Freedom, however, is not just about action. It is also about liberation from undue influence or oppression. This is often referred to as ‘freedom from’ and is central in classical liberal an libertarian philosophies emergent during the Enlightenment.
‘Freedom from’ entails the right to be free from interference or domination, typically formulated as negative rights. ‘Freedom from’ focuses on protection and emotional safety. It lays the groundwork of a society where citizens can live without fear of oppression and can thrive as a community.
Naturally, there is significant overlap, interplay, and even conflict, between these two types of freedom (Okulicz-Kozaryn, 2014), and as such, these freedoms are hotly contested in the political spheres of societies.
Types of Freedom
- Political Freedom: A condition where individuals can freely participate in the political life of their country. This includes the right to vote, run for office, and join a political party. It ensures people’s voices are heard and represented at all levels of governance.
- Economic Freedom: This refers to the liberty to conduct business and financial affairs without unnecessary interference. It includes an individual’s prerogative to manage their wealth and resources as they see fit. Economic freedom fosters entrepreneurial spirits and amplifies market competition leading to societal wealth and prosperity.
- Religious Freedom: Religious freedom allows any individual to practice their religion of choice without fear of hindrance or reprisal. It includes both the freedom to express one’s faith privately and in public, and to change one’s faith or refuse religious adherence altogether. This type of freedom supports societal diversity and harmony.
- Freedom of Speech: This denotes the right to articulate one’s views and ideas publicly without fear of censorship, reprisal, or legal punishment. Freedom of speech encourages the open dialogue necessary for democratic societies to function effectively. This freedom, however, does not protect hate speech or inciting violence and danger to others.
- Freedom of Thought: Freedom of thought permits individuals to think and hold opinions freely, free from external influences or coercion. This refers not only to the content of one’s ideas, but also to the process by which these ideas are formed. It thus underpins almost all other forms of freedom, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
- Freedom of Assembly: Freedom of assembly secures the right of individuals to come together and collectively express, promote, pursue, and defend their common interests. Whether for a political, religious, or social cause, this liberty is key to democracy, allowing peaceful protests and rallies. However, it does not extend to gatherings that incite lawlessness or violence.
- Freedom of the Press: The fundamental freedom of the press signifies the lack of interference from both, the authorities and any other controlling bodies. It ensures the media’s ability to gather and distribute news and opinions freely. This independent and unfiltered flow of information is pivotal for a democratic society.
- Freedom of Movement: This freedom involves the individual’s right to move freely within a country or to travel out of it. The freedom of movement includes the liberty to choose where to live, subject to respect for the rights of others. Any limitations, such as imposed due to a pandemic, must be lawful, necessary, and proportionate.
- Freedom of Choice: Freedom of choice signifies an individual’s right to make decisions about their life without external coercion. Whether this involves personal matters like lifestyle choices or more public affairs like voting, this freedom empowers personal autonomy. However, it doesn’t grant permission to harm others or violate laws.
- Intellectual Freedom: Intellectual freedom ensures the right to access, explore, and express ideas without fear of censorship or retribution. It encourages the pursuit of knowledge, creativity, and progress across many fields. This underpins academic, artistic, and journalistic pursuits where open information exchange is vital.
- Artistic Freedom: Artistic freedom enables artists to create and express without censorship or government interference. It involves respect for artists’ creative processes, their right to reflect diverse perspectives, and explore sensitive or controversial topics. This freedom fuels cultural diversity and societal commentary.
- Educational Freedom: Educational freedom allows individuals (or their parents) choice in the type and manner of education received. It can involve decisions about attending public vs private schools, home-schooling, or the desire for specific programming including special needs or gifted education. This freedom supports diverse learning styles and needs.
- Freedom of Association: Freedom of association recognizes individuals’ rights to organize themselves into groups for purposes of their choice. This could range from forming labor unions to creating special interest clubs, to assembling political parties. This freedom enables collective bargaining and fuels democratic representation.
- Informational Freedom: Informational Freedom is the right to seek, receive, and distribute information without restriction. It covers the realms of the internet, data protection, and privacy laws. This freedom ensures a transparent and informed society, but must be balanced with respect for private data and national security.
- Personal Freedom: Personal freedom is the holistic right to live your life as you see fit, without undue restrictions, provided you respect the rights of others. This encompasses myriad more specific freedoms including freedom of thought, speech, and action. It supports personal growth, life planning, and fulfillment.
- Freedom from Fear: Freedom from fear represents the rights to personal security and peace of life. It safeguards individuals from violence, threats, intimidation, and state aggression. Maintenance of this freedom forms the crux of public safety and law enforcement work.
- Freedom from Want: Freedom from Want encapsulates rights to basic needs such as food, shelter, and healthcare. It posits that no one should live in poverty, and underlines the importance of social welfare systems. Protecting this freedom is a key aim of equitable economic policies and human rights legislation.
- Sexual Freedom: Sexual freedom involves the rights to express one’s sexuality and engage in consensual sexual activity. It also guarantees freedom from sexual violence and coercion. This freedom underscores the significance of consent, sexual education, and equality law.
- Medical Freedom: Medical freedom safeguards individuals’ rights to choose their healthcare treatments. This involves the right to accept or refuse specific treatments and to make informed decisions about personal health. Balance between this liberty and public health interests can sometimes result in societal debates, like during vaccination campaigns.
- Emotional Freedom: Emotional freedom refers to the right to express one’s emotions without fear of stigma, ostracism, or repression. This encompasses mental health acceptance and the right to seek help for mental and emotional distress. Support for this freedom promotes psychological wellbeing and social cohesion.
- Digital Freedom: Digital freedom involves the rights to access the internet, use digital resources, and engage in online activities without unnecessary restriction or surveillance. It ensures the liberty to express views, seek information and communicate online safely. This freedom is coming increasingly into focus as we push further into the digital age.
- Freedom of Expression: Freedom of expression constitutes the individual’s right to articulate their opinions, ideas, and emotions. It encourages honest dialogues, debates, and a marketplace of ideas vital for societal progress. While this freedom has wider scope than freedom of speech, it does not include the right to incite actions that harm other people.
- Scientific Freedom: Scientific freedom permits researchers to explore and experiment within their field without hindrance, often to discover or infer how the universe or particular aspects of it work. It encompasses the abilities to publish findings and engage with the international scientific community. Balance should be maintained between this and ethical considerations, as outlined in research protocols.
- Academic Freedom: Academic freedom guarantees educators and researchers the liberty to teach, study, and publish without interference or fear of retribution. It champions intellectual debate and the growth of knowledge across disciplines. Universities and colleges worldwide regard it as vital for academic progress.
- Freedom of Conscience: Freedom of conscience is the right to have and express your own thoughts, beliefs, and moral judgments freely. It allows individuals to act in line with their deep-seated convictions and refrain from actions contrasting with these, provided they don’t infringe on others’ rights. This freedom acknowledges the spectrum of human beliefs and experiences.
- Freedom of Identity: Freedom of identity pertains to one’s right to establish and express their self-identity without fear of discrimination or reprisal. It includes elements such as gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, and culture. Recognition and protection of this freedom promote human dignity and social cohesion.
- Environmental Freedom: Environmental freedom refers to the individual and societal right to live in a safe, sustainable and healthy environment. It includes aspects like access to clean air and water, and the conservation of natural habitats. This freedom underlines the urgency of climate action and environmental policies.
- Technological Freedom: Technological freedom recognizes an individual’s right to use, understand, and develop technologies. It encompasses activities like coding, using software, and leveraging technology to facilitate everyday tasks. This freedom, while embracing technological advancements, must also consider privacy and security issues.
- Freedom from Discrimination: Freedom from discrimination guarantees protection from differential treatment based on attributes such as race, gender, age, religion or nationality. It upholds the concept of equality, promoting fair opportunities for everyone. This freedom is a fundamental human right, guiding legislatures and societies worldwide.
- Freedom of Privacy: Freedom of privacy is the right to keep one’s personal life and information secret from or inaccessible by others. It covers aspects like personal data security, protection from surveillance, and confidentiality. As technology advances, so does the importance of laws and norms maintaining this freedom.
- Freedom from Violence: Freedom from violence encapsulates the right of every individual to safety and security, be it in public or private spaces. It acknowledges every individual’s inviolability and the state’s role in preventing, addressing, and sanctioning violent behaviors. It forms the basis of peaceful societies and is essential to human dignity.
- Freedom from Torture: Freedom from torture guarantees individuals protection from cruel or degrading treatment. This ban applies regardless of circumstances, be it in times of peace, war, or public emergency. Human rights law vigorously defends this freedom, holding that torture, under no circumstances, can be justified.
- Freedom from Slavery: Freedom from slavery prohibits all forms of human trafficking, forced labour, and child labour, treating them as grave human rights violations. It ensures every person’s right to liberty and rejection of subjugation. This freedom is absolute, carrying a universal and unconditional ban.
- Freedom of Petition: Freedom of petition ensures the human right to address the authorities by way of petition, securing the responsiveness of governmental bodies towards its citizens. It thereby serves as a tool for public participation in governmental affairs, ranging from local to national issues. This freedom directly fuels democracy and state accountability to its citizens.
- Freedom from Interference: Freedom from interference encapsulates protections of private life, family, and home from intrusion by the state and other entities. It ensures respect for one’s personal and private rights, allowing individuals to live without unnecessary disruptions. It’s important to balance such freedom against societal and law enforcement requirements.
- Freedom of Contract: Freedom of contract allows individuals to freely enter into agreements with others, setting their terms within the limits of law. It forms the basis for many private interactions and transactions in society, from employment to housing contracts. This freedom, however, doesn’t permit arrangements violating societal norms, ethical standards, or law.
- Freedom from Oppression: Freedom from oppression protects individuals from unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power. It upholds the right to live without systemic societal or political constraints or abuses. Building societies free from oppression requires constant struggle to uphold human rights, promote justice, and ensure equality.
- Freedom of Action: Freedom of action primarily refers to everyone’s right to do as they please, so long as their actions don’t infringe upon the rights of others. It forms the cornerstone of individual liberty. While promoting personal exercise of agency, it also calls for responsibility and recognition of societal bounds.
- Freedom from Exploitation: Freedom from exploitation guarantees protection from being used or treated unfairly for others’ benefits. It manifests in multiple specifics like child labor laws, minimum wage regulations, and protections against sexual exploitation. This freedom signifies a progressive socio-economic environment championing human welfare and dignity.
- Freedom of Dissent: Freedom of dissent is the right to disagree or refuse to conform to official policies or prevalent opinions without fear of punitive action. It applies particularly in political and social contexts, enabling people to voice opposition and seek change. Ensuring such freedom fuels the democratic process and protects societal development.
Related: Real-Life Examples of Freedom
Philosophies of Freedom
Freedom is a foundational concept that underpins many philosophical frameworks.
Its exploration and application have influenced a broad spectrum of ideologies, theories, and political systems.
Below are some of the main political philosophies that explore and embrace various versions of freedom:
- Liberalism: Liberalism emphasizes the importance of individual freedom, positing it as a fundamental value necessary for a just society (Rawls, 2011). Proponents champion civil liberties such as freedom of speech, religion, and assembly, and advocate for a system in which individuals can pursue their own conception of the good life.
- Libertarianism: Taking the primacy of individual freedom a step further, libertarians argue for minimal government intervention, emphasizing the freedom of individuals to act as they choose so long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others (Nozick, 2013). In other words, any form of coercion or interference is an affront to personal liberty.
- Communitarianism: Communitarians view freedom in a communal sense, maintaining that individual freedoms thrive best in a community setting. They argue that individual freedom is not undermined but nurtured and aided by cultivating moral values, fulfilling social duties, and fostering a sense of community (Etzioni, 2015).
- Socialism: Socialists highlight the significance of economic freedom, advocating for collective ownership and equality to allow all individuals to be free from economic coercion or hardship. They often posit that true freedom cannot be achieved if economic insecurity and inequality are present (Ollman, 2014).
- Existentialism: Existential philosophers consider freedom as an inherent attribute of human existence, emphasizing the individual’s responsibility to define their own life purpose (Sartre, 2012). They argue that humans are “condemned to be free,” implying an unavoidable responsibility for our actions, stemmed from our inherent freedom.
- Feminism: Feminist theories of freedom primarily focus on gender equality, arguing for freedom from patriarchal societal structures that constrain women’s rights and potential. They advocate for structural reforms and changes in societal attitudes to realize the freedom of all genders (Butler, 2011).
- Anarchism: Anarchists argue for the absolute freedom of the individual and the abolition of the state and other structures they view as oppressive. They believe in the capacity for humans to self-govern and engage in voluntary cooperation without the need for enforced rules or hierarchies (Chomsky, 2013).
Butler, J. (2011). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. Berkley: Routledge.
Chomsky, N. (2013). On anarchism. Chicago: The New Press.
Etzioni, A. (2015). The new golden rule: community and morality in a democratic society. New York: Basic Books.
Malinowski, B. (2015). Freedom and civilization. London: Routledge.
Naktranun, C. (2015). Understanding Freedom from Different Perspectives. RSU International Journal of College of Government (RSUIJCG), 2(1).
Nozick, R. (2013). Anarchy, state, and utopia. New York: Basic Books.
Okulicz-Kozaryn, A. (2014). ‘Freedom from’and ‘Freedom to’across countries. Social indicators research, 118(3), 1009-1029. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-013-0473-x
Ollman, B. (2014). Dance of the dialectic: Steps in Marx’s Method. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.
Rawls, J. (2011). A theory of justice. New Jersey: Harvard University Press.
Sartre, J. (2012). Existentialism is a humanism. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]