A Measure of Freedom

A Measure of Freedom

A Measure of Freedom

A Measure of Freedom

Synopsis

It is often said that one person or society is `freer' than another, or that people have a right to equal freedom, or that freedom should be increased or even maximized. Such quantitative claims about freedom are of great importance to us, forming an essential part of our political discourse and theorizing. Yet their meaning has been surprisingly neglected by political philosophers until now. Ian Carter provides the first systematic account of the nature and importance of our judgements about degrees of freedom. He begins with an analysis of the normative assumptions behind the claim that individuals are entitled to a measure of freedom, and then goes on to ask whether it is indeed conceptually possible to measure freedom. Adopting a coherentist approach, the author argues for a conception of freedom that not only reflects commonly held intuitions about who is freer than who but is also compatible with a liberal or freedom-based theory of justice.

Excerpt

There is an important controversy among liberal political philosophers which has yet to be clarified satisfactorily. This chapter and the next are aimed at providing such a clarification, as well as defending one side against the other. The division turns on the question, does liberty play a fundamental role in liberal thinking? The initial reaction of many liberals--and I count myself among them--is to say 'yes'. How, indeed, could it not be part of the essence of liberalism to see freedom as a fundamental, if not the fundamental, component in one's system of values? But is this initial thought borne out by a careful, close analysis of the idea of freedom and of the reasons we have for valuing it? There is a recent tendency among liberal theorists to deny this initial thought, and therefore to deny that freedom is a fundamental good for liberals. There is no such thing as 'freedom' tout court, they say; there are only specific freedoms, like the freedom to speak one's mind on political matters or the freedom to leave the country or the freedom to practise a certain religion. According to these theorists, liberals stand up for specific freedoms, not freedom as such, and each specific freedom needs to be justified by reference to other goods of a more fundamental nature--goods which do not themselves include freedom. Therefore, freedom is not itself a fundamental good for liberals.

Which side one takes in this disagreement depends on whether one is interested only in specific freedoms, or also in overall freedom, where one's overall freedom is the amount of freedom one has in either absolute or relative terms, and represents some kind of an aggregation over one's specific freedoms. The theorists mentioned above, who are sceptical about freedom having value 'as such', are interested only in specific freedoms. They endorse what I shall call the specific-freedom thesis. By contrast, those whom I shall later dub 'freedom-based liberals' believe that people have a right to (or at least a fundamental interest in having) a measure of freedom. They believe that freedom as such is a fundamental good for liberals, and that liberals should therefore care about 'how much freedom' people have. They endorse what I shall call the overall-freedom thesis. According to the specific-freedom thesis, a person's specific freedoms are all that we need worry about. According to the overall-freedom thesis, a person's overall degree of freedom matters too . . .

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