Liberty and its Circumstances – A Functional Approach

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The philosophical debate about liberty has recently gained in complexity and political relevance through the revival of the republican understanding of liberty as the absence of asymmetric power relations or domination. As a staunch defender of the importance of theorizing liberty in this way, I nevertheless argue that a theory of liberty in the social world needs to be conceptually multifaceted and also take into account the social and institutional circumstances within which liberty and its violations are played out and made possible.
In this article I will do three things. First, I will spell out the multidimensional feature of liberty, as being practical, moral-political and evaluative. Second, I will argue that, across these dimensions, assessing an agent’s liberty or lack of it requires a consideration of power as a dispositional concept, i e power as capacity. This will be explained by means of addressing what we might have in mind when we talk about freedom to (act or be) and freedom from, where the absence required for freedom to obtain is understood, again, in a multifaceted way as actual obstacles or constraints, disabling circumstances, and, importantly, domination. All these, not only freedom from domination, relate to power or capacity in interesting ways, both the agent’s own and the power relations in which she stands to others. This fact also shows the link between freedom to and freedom from. For example, my freedom to act can consist in my capacity to transcend an external obstacle or to resist domination. Third, liberty and its restriction and violation are played out in a social and institutional setting, a setting which sets conditions for what liberty can meaningfully be understood to mean. For example, “freedom from law” not only implies different things depending on whether we talk about freedom from the practical, moral-political or evaluative dimension; it also means different things depending on whether our outlook is internal or external to the institution of law. Hence, what liberty is or can be and when and how it is or can be restricted, by and for whom, is largely conditioned on institutional circumstance and the vantage point from which we view our collective existence.


Externa organisationer
  • External Organization - Unknown

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK

  • Filosofi, etik och religion


Titel på värdpublikationNew Waves in Political Philosophy
RedaktörerBoudewijn de Bruin, Christopher Zurn
FörlagPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (tryckt)9780230221239
StatusPublished - 2009
Peer review utfördNej
Externt publiceradJa