Influence: Coercion, Manipulation, and Persuasion

Dissertation, Princeton University (1991)

This dissertation submits to moral appraisal three strategies by which one person may seek to exert influence over another: coercion, manipulation, and persuasion. It challenges the standard view of a continuum of influence, in which coercion falls at the one end, persuasion at the other, with manipulation somewhere in the middle--where how these are arrayed on the continuum has to do with whether they are more or less invasive of freedom, undermining of autonomy, controlling of the person. I conclude instead that insofar as various strategies of influence are to be judged negatively, it is not because of their effects on freedom or autonomy, but because they violate in other ways ideals governing interpersonal relations. ;Looking first at coercion, I argue that there is nothing wrong or invasive per se in proposing to alter the consequences of another's actions, for better or worse, unless one's proposals run aground of certain other moral prohibitions. What marks off coercive from noncoercive threats is not the degree to which the coerced party is forced to act, the degree to which she acts unfreely, but the independent moral status of the threat itself. ;Looking next at manipulation, I focus on three very different ways of exerting influence: manipulation as covert persuasion; manipulation as playing on emotion; and manipulation as playing on a weakness. I suggest that the morally troubling features--if any--of these three kinds of persuasive techniques are not helpfully understood as violations of autonomy; instead, the moral assessment of manipulation as a technique of influence turns on what harm it causes and the ways in which it violates norms of trust. ;Looking finally at persuasion proper, I argue that while coercion and manipulation cannot be said to compromise autonomy, nonetheless it is true that persuasion involves a particular effort to engage another's autonomous self
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