Power Freedom and Relational Autonomy

In Aurelia Armstrong, Keith Green & Andrea Sangiacomo (eds.), Spinoza and Relational Autonomy. Edinburgh, UK: pp. 149-163 (2021)


In recent years, the notion of relational autonomy has transformed the old debate about the freedom of the individual in society. For Spinoza, individual humans are embedded in natural, social and political circumstances from which they derive their power and freedom. I take this to mean that Spinoza’s is best described as a constitutive theory of relational autonomy. I will show how by defining freedom in terms of power, Spinoza understands individual freedom as irreducibly relational. I propose that Spinoza develops his theory of power to understand how individual power or freedom is limited and enhanced by the power of those around one. For Spinoza, the power of an individual is a function of that individual’s emotions, imaginative conceptions of itself and the world and its appetites. In this paper (1) I will argue that Spinoza reformulates a concept of freedom in terms of power. (2) His mature theory of freedom as power proposes that individual power is determined through social interaction, and is thus best understood as a relational theory of freedom. (3) I will show that as a consequence of Spinoza’s theory, individual power and empowerment relies on those around the individual, and thus, to achieve individual liberation we must pursue collective empowerment.

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