Freedom as a moral concept

Dissertation, St. Andrews (1990)

This thesis constitutes a conceptual inquiry into the nature of social freedom, which is held to be logically distinct from other freedom-concepts although it presupposes free-will/autarchy. The thesis argues for a 'responsibility view' of negative freedom according to which an agent B is socially free to do x iff he is not constrained by another agent A from doing x. A constrains B when A can be held morally responsible for imposing or not removing a real obstacle to choice/action that impedes B's doing x. This responsibility condition is satisfied when it is appropriate, in the given context, to ask A for a justification of his act/omission. Social freedom is a relational concept. Its irreflexive nature implies that internal bars, for which no other agent is responsible, cannot constrain our own freedom. Moreover, it is argued that autonomy is not a necessary condition of particular cases of freedom; nor is freedom in general a necessary condition of autonomy. Accounts of positive liberty assume that a) a person can constrain his own freedom; b) freedom is an exercise-, not an opportunity-concept. Hence, they are not accounts of social freedom but uphold other, logically distinct, values. The last part of the thesis deals with questions of method. It is argued that the widely held essential contestability thesis is either circular or paradoxical, and that it is methodologically possible to construct an authoritative definition of freedom which is normative and critical but non-relative.
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