The Primacy of Right. On the Triad of Liberty, Equality and Virtue in Wollstonecraft's Political Thought

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I argue along the following lines: For Wollstonecraft, liberty is independence in two different spheres, one presupposing the other. On the one hand, liberty is independence in relation to others, in the sense of not being vulnerable to their whim or arbitrary will. Call this social, or political, liberty. For liberty understood in this way, infringements do not require individual instances of interfering. Liberty is lost in unequal relationships, through dependence on the goodwill of a master. In addition, liberty is independence of mind, a state I am in when I trust my own reasoned judgement above any other authority. Call this moral liberty. Moral liberty needs social liberty. In other words, to the extent I am subject to the whim of others, I am not in a position to be guided by my own judgement. Moral liberty is one of two aspects of virtue: a disposition to independent deliberation according to reason. As such, virtue is a habit of mind. The second aspect of virtue is universal benevolence as its action guiding principle. This is how liberty, equality, and virtue fit together. Social liberty, understood as independence in relation to others, necessarily coexist with equality, and is necessary for moral liberty, the habit of mind that makes up one aspect of virtue, as well as for universal benevolence as virtue’s action guiding principle. This triad explains her views on property, on sex equality, and also on legitimate government. My second line of argument is that according to Wollstonecraft, we have a duty to be virtuous. Virtue is the main object of human life. But since virtue, in both its aspects, needs social liberty and since liberty is the birthright of man, the duty is conditioned on the right. The foundation for the triad of liberty, equality, and virtue is a theory of rights. The basis for the discussion of virtue is the right to the conditions necessary for its realization. The duty is conditioned on the right to liberty.


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Sidor (från-till)75-99
TidskriftBritish Journal for the History of Philosophy
Utgåva nummer1
StatusPublished - 2007
Peer review utfördJa
Externt publiceradJa

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