Libertarianism is associated with what many philosophers call the idea of “negative freedom” i.e., freedom from the coercive interference of others. To the extent that I am not restrained, by the use or threat of physical force, from acting according to my own judgment, I am said to be free.
Freedom in this sense depends on how others act in regard to me. And since actions are guided by value judgments, I can be free only to the extent that others value my freedom by refusing to aggress against me. This brings us to a key question: Why would other people value my freedom?
When deliberating how to act we select from a limited number of psychological options, not from an unlimited number of physical alternatives. Most physical alternatives are screened out in advance, leaving only a handful of options for serious consideration. Our moral principles play a crucial role in this screening process.
For example, most people who need to raise money do not regard bank robbery as one pragmatic option among others ..
Every purposeful action involves a choice, and every choice is driven by a value preference ..
.. norms enable us to focus on a manageable number of realistic options. When such norms embody our fundamental values—when they state, for example, that we should exclude the initiation of force as a legitimate option in social relationships—then we are dealing with moral norms. Moral decisions reflect our basic values, and moral norms determine the nature and range of morally legitimate options.
Freedom, as I shall now use the word, exists whenever a person is not subject to the compulsion or constraint of another person. This describes an objective state of affairs .. Subjective intentions and values have no bearing on our description of the factual state of affairs, the objective relationship between Jack and Jill.
.. the expression “negative freedom” can be misleading when used to depict the libertarian ideal of a free society. Although libertarians are (and should be) willing to argue for the pragmatic benefits of freedom, most libertarians also understand that a free society must ultimately rest on a moral foundation – a positive respect for the moral autonomy of individuals. In short, freedom has both negative and positive aspects.