Overall freedom and constraint

Inquiry 44 (2):131 – 147 (2001)
Ian Carter argues against what he calls the ?specific freedom thesis?, which claims that in asking whether our society or any individual is free, all we need or can intelligibly concern ourselves with is their freedom to do this or that specific thing. Carter claims that issues of overall freedom are politically and morally important and that, in valuing freedom as such, liberals should be committed to a measure of freedom overall. This paper argues against Carter?s further claim that rejection of the specific freedom thesis requires rejection of morally based determinations of degrees of overall freedom. Using a concept of freedom as a capacity to pursue one?s interests, it is argued that the value of freedom overall is not reducible to the value of specific freedoms, and that conditions of action can be determined as constraints only within the context of their impact on freedom overall. Taking the case of coercive proposals, it is argued that we must evaluate the morality of the circumstances in which conditional proposals are made if we are to weigh the opportunities and constraints contained in the proposal to determine whether its recipient suffers a loss of overall freedom. We must therefore appeal to values other than that of liberty itself to determine degrees of liberty overall, which we require in turn to determine whether threats or offers are coercive.
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