Write a 2-page critical outline

Length 2-3 pages single-spaced, 12 point font


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Read Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts of Liberty” (attached in the files) and then answer the following three questions:

  1. What does Berlin mean by the “Negative” idea of liberty? Give examples to illustrate how/when people are free in this “negative” sense;
  2. What does Berlin mean by the “Positive” idea of liberty? Give examples to illustrate how/when people are free in this “positive” sense; and, finally,
  3. Why does Berlin think that the “positive” idea of liberty is/has been a dangerous one?

Before answering these questions, students should consult the following:

A guide to writing Critical Outlines.

            Critical outlines are short written responses to brief selected passages from the course materials.  They are designed so that you can practice, and I can test, your a) descriptive, b) interpretive, and c) analytical abilities: how well can you summarize, in a succinct and clear fashion, the passages’ central arguments and conclusions?  How well have you understood those arguments and conclusions; is your particular reading of them arbitrary or supported by textual evidence?  Finally, can you offer a reasoned and persuasive assessment (whether positive or negative) of the author’s central claims?

            In each case, an exercise in judgment is required.  Given that the critical outlines should be no more than three pages, single-spaced, you will not be able to simply regurgitate everything that the reading contains.  You will have to select, on the basis of your careful reading, the most important bits, given what you take to be the passage’s key conclusions, while leaving yourself enough space to offer an assessment.

            As a general rule, spend one-third to half of your outline on summary and interpretation, and the remainder on analysis. Here is a brief guideline of sample questions that you might find useful to ask yourself in composing your outlines.

What is the author saying in the selected passage?  What is s/he trying to get us to believe?

On the basis of what evidence or which arguments are we asked to believe this?

Finally, is that evidence persuasive or not?  Do you accept the author’s conclusions?  If so, why? If not, why not?  Do the author’s conclusions follow logically from their premises?  What undefended and perhaps indefensible assumptions does the argument contain?  Can you think of additional evidence to support, or counter-examples to undermine, the positions defended in the text?

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