What is the difference, if any, between liberty and freedom?

Does it convey the same meaning if "Status of liberty" is replaced with "status of freedom" ? or every occurrence of "liberty" in Declaration of Independence is replaced with "freedom"?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Doesn't liberty imply the pursuit of Happiness?

  • 1
    As a side note: Richard Stallman explains the meaning of "free" in "free software" using the word "liberty" and claims there is no better word choice. No. I am not claiming that "liberty" is unambiguous.
    – Fountain
    Commented Mar 7, 2011 at 10:00
  • 1
    As he put it, “Free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer.....An unambiguous and correct term would be better, if it didn't present other problems. Unfortunately, all the alternatives in English have problems of their own."
    – Fountain
    Commented Mar 7, 2011 at 10:02
  • 1
    Why don't you put your comments as part of the question? Makes it a bit easier to read :)
    – falstro
    Commented Mar 7, 2011 at 10:14
  • It's because the Richard thingy is just a side note.
    – Fountain
    Commented Mar 7, 2011 at 10:21
  • BTW, there's a question about gratis versus libre. Also related: “Liberation” and “free”
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Mar 7, 2011 at 13:19

4 Answers 4


It's yet another example of this double foundation/richness of English

  • The Saxon root : German Freiheit => Freedom.
  • The Norman root : French Liberté => Liberty.

As in other occurrences of this double origin, there is a subtle distinction of freedom being more an everyday thing (because words from Saxon origin were preferred by common people) and liberty a more institutional thing (because Norman words were preferred by the ruling class).

I think it becomes more apparent if one says jokingly "Whenever people demand Freedom, all what they can hope for is actually Liberty";


As the NOAD reports freedom means "the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint".

Liberty means

  • the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one's way of life, behavior, or political views
  • the power or scope to act as one pleases

The first meaning of liberty makes reference to "restriction imposed by authority"; the second meaning makes only reference to "the power to act".

The Bill of Rights was intended to secure basic civil liberties.
Individuals should enjoy the liberty to pursue their own interests and preferences.

She talks of revoking some of the freedoms.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the freedom of speech.


I encourage everyone to read the entire article on liberty in SEP.

Quote from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Many authors prefer to talk of positive and negative freedom. This is only a difference of style, and the terms ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ can be used interchangeably. Although some attempts have been made to distinguish between liberty and freedom, these have not caught on. Neither can they be translated into other European languages, which contain only the one term, of either Latin or Germanic origin (e.g. liberté, Freiheit), where English contains both.

  • +1 A very important and significant aspect. Thanks for the citation, too.
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 5:16

Liberty comes from the Latin word libertas, which means “unbounded, unrestricted or released from constraint.” Libertas even contains the idea of being separate and independent.

The English word Freedom can trace its roots to the Germanic or Norse word Frei, describing someone who belongs to a tribe and has the rights and protections that go with belonging. Besides freedom the root frei becomes the English word friend.

To have liberty is to be unencumbered.

To have freedom is to have the aggregate benefits and protections provided by society.

As citizens we give up some of our liberty in exchange for freedom. This is the social contract. It allows us to enjoy our liberty far more than we otherwise could. (Being unencumbered isn’t much fun in a lawless place like Sudan)

Freedom is given by society to its constituents. For example, our society provides medicine, education and rule of law (among many other things). Any one of these would be far less valuable without any other. Therefore the aggregate is more than the sum of its part, so the word “freedom” has its own unique meaning.

There is no other word for this concept, and by forgetting the meaning of “freedom” we have lost some of our appreciation that which unites us.

  • Aside from the fact that the etymologies given here are very partial and in some respects inaccurate, this confuses historic and contemporary meanings: the "etymological fallacy". The suggested contrast, while it may inform your use, does not obtain generally. Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 13:22
  • In my view liberty, of Latin origin, and freedom, of Germanic origin, mean exactly the same. If the two words were or are used with slightest differences in certain documents or by special writers it is a special thing of those documents or writers. But definitions of a difference are interpretations by individual persons and are nothing but hairsplitting.
    – rogermue
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 5:58

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