Freedom is the right, or the capacity, of self-determination, as an expression of the individual will.
Traditionally philosophers have distinguished two senses of the word "freedom". The most common use is "negative" and is defined as the absence of constraint. Thus for Hobbes, one is free when the law is silent on a subject. But "freedom" is also used in another "positive" sense, where freedom is defined as the ability to transcend the social and cultural restraints which limit the potential of the individual for self-actualization. This latter sense is common to the romantic and individualistic philosophy of 19th century Germany.
Another common distinction made between kinds of freedom is the difference between "freedom from" social and political ills (which is really more accurately described as safety or security), and "freedom to" do what one wants (for which the term "liberty" is more precise).
Political freedom is usually connected to thoughts of human rights and is often defined in terms of a lack of excessive government interference in peoples' day-to-day lives.
In most democratic societies, key freedoms legally established by the government include:
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of religion (or belief)
- Freedom of association
- Freedom of movement (or travel)
- Freedom from discrimination
The concept of what constitutes true "freedom" is often disputed by different groups on the political spectrum. For example, while capitalist societies would place a high value on freedom from government interference in the economy, Marxists, would criticize this kind of thought as placing too much influence on the needs of the individual, while ignoring the goal of complete social equality.
Environmentalists such as the Greens often argue that political freedoms should include some social constraint on use of ecosystems. There is no such thing, for instance, as "freedom to pollute" or "freedom to deforest" given the downstream consequences. The popularity of SUVs, golf and urban sprawl show that ideals of freedom and ecological conservation can clash.
This leads at times to serious confrontations, e.g. the Earth Liberation Front's arson of homes enroaching on the desert, and clashes of values reflected in advertising campaigns, e.g. that of PETA regarding fur.
In jurisprudence, freedom is the right of autonomously determining one's own actions; generally it is granted in those fields in which the subject has no obligations to fulfil or laws to obey, according to the interpretation that the hypothetical natural unlimited freedom is limited by the law for some matters.