The Enforcement Approach to Coercion


This essay differentiates two approaches to understanding the concept of coercion, and argues for the relative merits of the one currently out of fashion. The approach currently dominant in the philosophical literature treats threats as essential to coercion, and understands coercion in terms of the way threats alter the costs and benefits of an agent’s actions; I call this the “pressure” approach. It has largely superseded the “enforcement approach,” which focuses on the powers and actions of the coercer rather than the perspective of the coercee. The enforcement approach identifies coercion with certain uses of the kinds of powers that agents need to accumulate and wield in order to be able to make significant, credible threats. Though there is considerable overlap extensionally in the instances of coercion recognized by the two approaches, the enforcement approach encompasses some uses of power to coerce that do not involve threats . It also circumscribes which threats should be counted as coercive, though notably it provides a picture of coercion that is non-moralized in its essentials. While there may be specific purposes for which a pressure account is to be preferred, I argue that the enforcement approach better describes how coercion works, and elucidates factors that are often tacitly assumed by pressure accounts. It also is more useful for explaining the social and political significance of coercion, and why coercion is thought to have the implications commonly associated with it. In particular, I argue that it helps us understand why uses of coercion are in general a matter of ethical significance, why state authority depends on commanding a monopoly on the right to use coercion, and why being coerced may reasonably provide one a defense against being held responsible for actions one is coerced into taking.

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Scott Anderson
University of British Columbia

References found in this work

Coercion.Robert Nozick - 1969 - In White Morgenbesser (ed.), Philosophy, Science, and Method: Essays in Honor of Ernest Nagel. St Martin's Press. pp. 440--72.
Coercive Wage Offers.David Zimmerman - 1981 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 10 (2):121-145.
Toward a Theory of Coercion.Michael Corr - 1986 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 16 (3):383 - 405.
Coercion: Its Nature and Significance.H. J. McCloskey - 1980 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 18 (3):335-351.

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Citations of this work

Autonomy in Neuroethics: Political and Not Metaphysical.Veljko Dubljević - 2013 - American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience 4 (4):44-51.
Coercion.Scott Anderson - 2011 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Against the Asymmetric Convergence Model of Public Justification.James W. Boettcher - 2015 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 18 (1):191-208.
Liberalism Without Perfection: Replies to Gaus, Colburn, Chan, and Bocchiola.Jonathan Quong - 2012 - Philosophy and Public Issues - Filosofia E Questioni Pubbliche 2 (1):51-79.

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