Freedom in Political Philosophy
Freedom in Political Philosophy
- Andreas T. SchmidtAndreas T. SchmidtDepartment of Philosophy, University of Groningen
Freedom is among the central values in political philosophy. Freedom also features heavily in normative arguments in ethics, politics, and law. Yet different sides often invoke freedom to establish very different conclusions. Some argue that freedom imposes strict constraints on state power. For example, when promoting public health, there is a limit on how far the state can interfere with individual freedom. Others, in contrast, argue that freedom is not just a constraint but also an important goal of state power and collective action. Good public health policy, for example, promotes people’s freedom. Of course, different arguments often draw on different theories of freedom. So, to evaluate such arguments, we need to analyze these different theories and their implications and assess their plausibility.
The broadly liberal tradition views freedom as being about external options. Such theories typically start with an account of when someone has a specific freedom or unfreedom to do something. For example, some argue that only a narrow set of interpersonal interferences count as constraints on freedom. Others argue that a far broader set of factors, including ill health and natural constraints, can reduce one’s freedom.
Since the 1980s and 1990s, scholarship has increasingly recognized that to use liberal freedom in normative arguments, one must move beyond specific freedom and unfreedom. Most laws and policies both subtract and add specific freedoms. What matters is how a person’s freedom is affected overall. Philosophers and economists have thus engaged in intricate debates about how to measure overall freedom. Moreover, policies and law affect not only one person at one point in time but also multiple persons across time. So, liberal freedom-based arguments also require distributive criteria for intertemporal and interpersonal distributions of freedom.
In the early 21st century, republicanism has developed into a prominent alternative to liberal theories. Republicans argue that being a free person is not just, or not even primarily, about liberal option-freedom. Freedom requires being free from dominating power. Republicans and liberals have engaged in a lively debate on who offers the better theory. In developing the republican ideal, republicans also engage in intramural debates. For example, is domination primarily an interpersonal or structural phenomenon? And what economic institutions does republicanism imply?
Theorizing around freedom has become richer and moved from narrower questions regarding specific freedom and unfreedom to overall freedom and to republican theories of nondomination. But recent theorizing also seeks to extend its focus and scope. Historically, theorizing started with the freedom of able-bodied male citizens within nation states. Recent theorizing shifts the focus to include issues around gender, disability, freedom at the international level, and the freedom of nonhuman animals and future generations. Beyond fascinating implications of existing theories, a more inclusive focus is likely to also yield important lessons on how current theories can be improved.
- Political Philosophy
- Political Values, Beliefs, and Ideologies