Liberty as non-domination

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In the past, there has been a desire to examine freedom from a non-dominational standpoint. A subject is free, according to this definition, if no one has the power to interfere with his acts. In circumstances where certain agents are purposely allowed to interfere with the subject's affairs, the most acceptable manner of interpreting freedom as non-domination can be found. In this paper, I will argue that the definition of freedom as non-domination is too narrow, and that it can be expanded to establish a critical perspective on economic and social disparities.  According to Berlin (1969), freedom can be defined from two concepts of liberty, a positive and a negative one. From his perspective, a subject is negatively free if he or she is in the position to do what he or she chooses. Negative freedom is when there are no barriers, constraints, and obstacles that bare an individual from doing whatever he pleases (Taylor 175). When freedom is understood from a cynical point of view, the subject is free only when he does not encounter interference whenever he intends to perform a particular action (Berlin 118). Conversely, when an individual is positively unbound, he can do an action depending on whether he is in a privileged position when choosing what to do. Positive liberty points out a situation whereby the subject is supposed to take control of his life and his fundamental purpose.

The two concepts of liberty were dominantly used in the twentieth century (Nozick 45). However, a new approach has gained significance in the debate, freedom as non-domination. The Republicans have historically defended this approach, and for that reason, it has been severally referred to as the ‘Republican notion of freedom’ (Pettit 29). This paper is going to discuss liberty with non-domination.

To start, I want to defend that this notion is convincing due to its contribution to political theory. It should be considered as an alternative notion of freedom and not compared to positive and negative liberty. Secondly, I will argue that the Republican definition of freedom entails some degree of social egalitarianism which we cannot overlook.

Freedom as non-domination

This concept can be compared to the notion of liberty as non-interference which has been used predominantly in the past (Gray 77). While according to the approach of negative freedom, a subject is free whenever his actions are not interfered with by obstacles, freedom as non-domination is not concerned with the barriers in place but with what will happen in non-actual cases (Rawls 20). The Republicans understand the concept in such a way that no one can interfere with the actions of the subject in any way. The planned activities of an individual are not affected by the constraints. It means that no one can arbitrary interfere with an individual’s action.

I will first present the notion of non-domination intuitively, then later give a formal definition. Suppose the subject is in a room that has two doors and wants to move out, he may choose to use either of the doors. The two doors are unlocked. According to the notion of negative freedom, the subject is free because he can come out of the room without any interference (Locke 17). With a literal understanding of negative liberty, an individual is unbound even if the doors were closed (Mill 2). The degree of freedom, in this case, depends on an individual acting without interference.

Some philosophers have accepted this notion while others have not because they feel it is a weak theory of liberty (Raz 155). Suppose one of the doors was locked and by bad luck, the subject chooses to come out of the building with the locked one instead. In this case, some will argue that he was barred from performing his actions because the door was locked. According to the cynical notion of freedom, this intuition is essential because the non-actual condition defines it appropriately (Shue 20). In this case, the subject is free to the extent that he is not interfered with while performing the actions he intends. He will not have been hindered from performing his actions if he chooses another option. It is not the republican notion of freedom, but a definition of two points representing different features. First, the idea of negative freedom can make us feel we are free to some extent, but in some sense, we are not free (Waldron 503). The second crucial lesson that can be deduced from the intuition is that a subject’s freedom is not only determined by what happens, but also what would happen if an individual chooses otherwise (Waldron 503). Counterfactual conditions can be used to determine whether an individual is or not free.

The notion of non-domination combines the two points but further give more details. This concept considers the idea of freedom as non-interference weak because a person can negatively be free and also not, in a meaningful sense (Taylor 176). To strengthen this notion, the republican concept of freedom takes into account what may happen in counterfactual circumstances (Berlin 119). From the intuition above, it can be noted that it is essential to consider the deluding influence on the concept of liberty.

To explain the notion of non-domination, we have to use a scenario that will be described below. For instance, if the subject is in a room that has two doors which are unlocked the person is considered free. A third person, who is outside the house, has keys to the doors. In this case, the freedom of the individual in the building is determined by the person outside the door (Mill 6). This idea presents the weak and strong arguments of the contrary notion of freedom. In the actual situation, the person outside did not lock the door, but he would have closed it if he wanted to (Locke 18). The intuition of freedom as non-domination is depicted in the fact that to some extent, the subject in the house is not free because of the actions of the person outside which might hinder him from coming out of the house (Dworkin 64). It is certain that if he had used the right door, he would not have gotten any interference because the door was unlocked. The same applies if he had used the left door. It is also true that for the arbitrary to leave the room, it will depend on the will of the person outside the door who has the keys (Pettit 31). Therefore, the claim by the Republicans that the person in the room is not free is in a meaningful sense (Pettit 32). To further support the above, an example of a slave and a master can be used to explain the notion of non-domination in liberty. Take, for instance, a situation whereby a slave that has a master who is very kind to the extent that he never interfere in what the slave wants to do (Nozick 46). The notion of non-domination becomes relevant because the slave is not free even if he is in a position to choose what he can do; he is subject to another agent. He happens to be non-interfered with but arbitrarily interfered with another agent.

Freedom as non-domination is non-reducible to non-interference because one can be free in the sense of non-interference and may not be hampered in the sense of non-domination. Similarly, a subject may be unbound in the sense of non-domination and not free in the sense of non-interference (Rawls 21). For instance, in the case of the slave, he may be free in the sense of non-interference. It can also be imagined to be improbable that the master will not interfere with the actions of the slave. Nevertheless, he is not free because the master can appear anytime and act upon him. There can also be a case where there is interference, but non-domination. For instance, when there are laws that restrict the performance of some actions (Waldron 504). The subject is interfered with because he cannot do what he intends to do. If the laws are just, then he can ultimately be free because no one is going to dominate and dictate his actions (Shue 25). So in my view, the notion of freedom as non-domination is unique, and from the examples of the slave and the doors, it shows that it is accepted as correct unless proved otherwise (Mill 23). It is, therefore, a goal worth pursuing.

Limits of freedom as non-domination

According to the Republicans, an individual’s freedom depends on the interference of his or her affairs by another agent (Pettit 30). One might be worried about an arbitrary power which will limit freedom of an individual. When explaining the limits of freedom, I will focus on the notion of an agent. The Republicans argue that whether the subject is free or not, it depends on the interference of acting by an agent (Taylor 176). For instance, slavery is a case where the subject can be interfered with by the master. A parallel example is when a dictator acts on those that he governs. A situation where a wife is beaten by the husband, as well as an employer who has control over his workers, is an indication of lack of freedom (Gray 78). These are intuitions that predict that an individual is not free in the notion of non-domination. The fact that the above examples are in line with the Republican freedom approach provides a firm basis of argument.

However, this definition cannot be used for cases where the actions of the agent are non-intentional. For example, arbitrary powers such as economic welfare, social background, and fashion do not interfere with the freedom of the subject because the intentional agents do not exist, they do not prevent an action from taking place (Nozick 47). Interpreting the situation more broadly, if one subject cannot buy an item and the other can, it does not mean that the latter has more freedom than the former (Rawls 23). The Republicans are aware of the loophole, and they provide an argument that liberty as non-domination should be restricted to cases where only other agents interfere.

The arguments that I have provided are similar to those of the Republicans on freedom as non-domination by presenting situations where the subject is not free even if he can do whatever he wants. It explains that it is the capacity to interfere rather than the actual interference that can determine the freedom of an individual.

In conclusion, the Republican notion of freedom as non-domination has a significant contribution to political theory. However, there is a limit to the approach because an intentional agent can interfere with the intended purpose of an individual (Waldron 504). The requirements of a deliberate agent trying to bare the actions of a subject have limited the scope of the republican notion of freedom because economic situations and social status were not affected (Pettit 34). My argument is that some cases must be devised to extend to situations where some intentional agents can change a position that is interfering with another person’s affair. According to Petit (2005), freedom is dependent on the absence of domination. The concept of political liberty can be looked at from two perspectives. The first case is when lack of interference is not enough to secure freedom, and the second, the existence of a barrier is not sufficient for domination. What is more, it would require an individual to accept that there must be a constraint that will act as a barrier to the accomplishment of an action by the subject. Therefore, non-domination offers a conception of political liberty than any other theory.

Works cited

Berlin, Isaiah. "Two concepts of liberty." Berlin, I (1969): 118-172.

Dworkin, Gerald. "Paternalism." the Monist 56.1 (1972): 64-84.

Gray, John. "Against Cohen on proletarian unfreedom." Social Philosophy and Policy 6.1 (1988): 77-112.

Locke, John. Two treatises of government: And a letter concerning toleration. Yale University Press, 2003.

Mill, John Stuart. "On liberty." A selection of his works. Macmillan Education UK, 1966. 1-147.

Nozick, Robert. "Distributive justice." Philosophy & Public Affairs (1973): 45-126.

Rawls, John. Justice as fairness: A restatement. Harvard University Press, 2001.

Raz, Joseph. "Autonomy, toleration, and the harm principle." Justifying Toleration: Conceptual and historical perspectives (1988): 155-175.

Pettit, Philip. "The Tree of Liberty: Republicanism: American, French, and Irish." Field Day Review(2005): 29-42.

Shue, Henry. Basic rights: Subsistence, affluence, and US foreign policy. Princeton University Press, 1996.

Taylor, Charles. "What's wrong with negative freedom." The Idea of Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979) (1985): 175-93.

Waldron, Jeremy. "Rights in conflict." Ethics 99.3 (1989): 503-519.

May 02, 2023

Life Government

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