Academic journal article Review of Contemporary Philosophy

Non-Priority of the Freedom Principles: Non-Frustration, Non-Interference, Non-Domination

Academic journal article Review of Contemporary Philosophy

Non-Priority of the Freedom Principles: Non-Frustration, Non-Interference, Non-Domination

Article excerpt

As a general rule, a generous variety of definitions for the same term is an inevitable byproduct of a lengthy genealogy. The ancients invented a separate genre that is entirely focused on preserving and representing a wide array of existing opinions, doxcte, on various subjects. Perhaps, in the case of freedom, it is more appropriate to determine why the corresponding list remains relatively short, while the notion traces its roots back to the very origins of Western civilization. Soon, the list may become even shorter as one definition supersedes the others. This appears to be the purport of recent contributions to the theory of freedom created by Philip Pettit, who, along with Quentin Skinner, is the main force behind emerging "neo-Roman" or republican political theory.1 Pettit has argued that the republican definition of freedom as non-domination has a logical priority over the others, i.e., liberty as nonfrustration, which is associated with Thomas Hobbes, and liberty as noninterference, which is employed in the liberal political philosophy of Isaiah Berlin.2

In this paper, I refute Pettit's argument for the absolute priority of nondomination. It is important to limit this discussion to the three principles; almost nothing will be said about merits of the related political theories, such as liberalism and republicanism. My focus is on principles, not theories. For this reason, the "open-doors" metaphor, first introduced by Berlin and then adopted by Pettit, plays an important role in the subsequent discussion. This metaphor, which is a useful tool for comparing competing principles of liberty, occupies only a marginal position within the elaborated political theories. In other words, republicanism itself emerges unscathed. I have nothing but great respect for the monumental achievements of both key contributors to the emergence of the contemporary republicanism, which currently dominates the field of the normative political philosophy. However, I see an opportunity for an alternative approach; discussing foundations is an inevitable first step in this direction. For me, the most interesting outcome of the subsequent argument is not the dethronement of the republican non-domination principle, but rather the partial rehabilitation of the non-frustration principle, which has seemingly lost all its champions since 19th century, when it was prominently upheld by John Stuart Mill.

My methodology is dual. I could have simply analyzed the logical side of Pettit's argument, which is deficient, as I show below (in 5.ii). However, with freedom being such a controversial topic, a broader outlook should provide a valuable perspective. I contribute by offering a parallel argument (in 5.i) based on a contextual rather than formal analysis of the reasons to prioritize a certain liberty principle over another. I begin by comparing the two approaches and explaining my reasons for using both of them. Then, I introduce three principles of liberty and the "open-doors" metaphor. After presenting two partial and one absolute priority claim, I discuss their validity by applying contextual and formal analysis consecutively. The contextual analysis shows that neither partial priority claim is faithful to the theoretical context of the criticized principle. The formal analysis demonstrates that, even if the partial priority claims were true, the absolute priority claim would be false.

1. The Analytical and Historical Dimensions of Liberty Concepts

Those studying theories of freedom for the first time are likely to begin with Isaiah Berlin's seminal work "Two Concepts of Liberty" (1958), in which he introduces several important ideas. First, he distinguishes between two notions of liberty that can be identified throughout the history of Western civilization: the positive and the negative.3 Contrary to what the names imply, Berlin campaigned for the negative concept and rejected the positive concept. He argued that the negative concept of liberty forms the foundation of liberalism, whereas the positive concept, defined by Berlin as self-mastery, is the source of totalitarian ideology and propaganda. …

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