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Essay on Philosophy: Liberty

Updated on December 12, 2015


Robert Green Ingersoll said, "What light is to the eyes--what air is to the lungs--what love is to the heart, liberty is to the soul of man." Liberty is an important part of American society. Even if it is not present in actuality, it is certainly present in potentiality-- and that's what makes America so profoundly different from other countries. In class we discussed how liberty could result in chaos or anarchy if taken to an extreme (even though I tend to view this extreme as its purest form). I would like to examine this concept and provide how we, as Americans, could share a rich form of liberty that would not result in chaos, as well as how it could potentially result in the infringement of the rights of others.

Anarchy and Chaos

How could liberty spawn anarchy and chaos? Well, if I viewed it from an absolute standpoint, I could say that (reiterating an incisive statement made by a fellow classmate) liberty could result in "gratification at the expense of others." One good example of this is theft. If I am at liberty to do "what I will," am I not then at liberty to possess anything of personal interest, even without the necessity of gain or honest effort on my part? I have spoken (in the past) to those actively involved in theft-- and, for some of them, on this premise their acts were justified. For this reason alone, it is possible to see liberty as potential chaos. Henry Brooks Adams pointed out that, "Absolute liberty is absence of restraint; responsibility is restraint; therefore, the ideally free individual is responsible to himself."


However, in a closer study of the definition of liberty, I found that it is important to realize that liberty is not a matter of being free from others, or being able to do whatever you want without regard to its potential effect on others. Rather, liberty is a matter of being free with people, reinforcing their rights rather than encroaching upon them. The more liberty you have, the more responsibility you have, the more care and consideration you must apply. It is an interpersonal idea, and must be altruistically maintained by society in order to function. I think an understanding of this is an important facet of the Libertarian system: we should be at liberty to do as we will as long as (and here is the exception) we do not cause any unnecessary harm to others-- opting for the more "foundational" right (such as life) when the rights of two parties are in conflict with one another.


To discount liberty on the grounds that it could produce chaos is a saddening prospect. I believe that a free society could flourish if its people were to pursue honor, honesty, and propriety. Is this too idealistic? Perhaps, but even so-- I stand with Thomas Jefferson on this one. "I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."


Magee, Bryan. The Story Of Philosophy. A Dorling Kindersley Book, 2001.

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