2021 Australasian Association of Philosophy Conference: Navigating Freedom by Alistair Macaulay

Activity: PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENTConference AttendanceProfessional Development


Improvisation is often applauded for its freedom but is clearly not entirely free, having some prior enabling conditions. The issue of positive and negative liberty is intimately tied to how authorial responsibility is distributed for an improvised action. Ryle offers two examples of a cricket fielder but notes the complex causal system involved. First, the fielder eyes are closed, but by luck, the ball lands in their hands. In the second, the fielder runs forward, leaps into the air, extends their arm and is otherwise seen to be actively striving to catch the ball. His question is, for what can the fielder claim authorial responsibility given the catch’s contingency on the batsman and bowler? In the first example the agent is passive, displacing the locus of creativity to highlight the scene of the action. In the second example, the agent is active.
In this paper, I argue that improvisation must be explained with recourse to both positive and negative liberty. Expanding on Taylor’s analysis of positive liberty as an exercise concept and negative liberty as an opportunity concept, I consider improvisation in the Deleuzean terms of latitude and longitude. This serves to unravel what it means to intend something unforeseen.
Period15 Jul 2021