Ethics Discussions at PEA Soup: Philip Pettit’s “The Instability of Freedom as Noninterference: The Case of Isaiah Berlin,” with Commentary by David Schmidtz

We are pleased to present the next installment of PEA Soup's collaboration with Ethics, in which we host a discussion of one article from an issue of the journal.  The article selected from Volume 121, Issue 4 is Philip Pettit's "The Instability of Freedom as Noninterference: The Case of Isaiah Berlin" (open access here).  We are also extremely grateful that David Schmidtz has agreed to provide the critical precis of the article.  His commentary begins below the fold and is followed by several replies from Professor Pettit.

"On Freedom"

When you sit down with Philip Pettit’s work, you may not be convinced, but when you rise you will see things more clearly than you did when you sat down. In print and especially in person, Philip Pettit is an uncommonly stimulating philosopher. And I will pay a further complement: Philip practices what he preaches. He does not aim to dominate. One goes to him as free and equal—to engage rather than be tutored. He makes the world more interesting. In the following note, I will sketch a few thoughts about his most recent article.

What is (political) freedom? In Hobbes, freedom requires non-frustration: the option you prefer must be accessible. This is obviously true so far as it goes.  But to Berlin, what Hobbes says is inadequate. A sufficient condition for freedom requires more.  To Hobbes, Berlin adds that freedom requires non-interference: every door must be open. It takes work to make that “open door” idea precise, but Berlin’s idea is political rather than metaphysical: there must not be options that you would have but for the fact that someone took them away. 

Pettit accepts Berlin’s point, then offers a parallel argument that freedom requires something stronger still. The stronger condition required is non-domination: that each option be accessible and that no one be able to block access at will.

Pettit speaks of the adequacy of conceptions of freedom, but there are whiffs of another issue.  Pettit mentions Mary Wollstonecraft, for example, who patently was concerned not with how we should articulate a concept but with what we should settle for as citizens. And Pettit at various points seems likewise concerned. “The woman who lives under the will of a husband may rely on mincing steps and beguiling smiles to keep her husband sweet and to get her way in a variety of choice. But she doesn’t succeed thereby in getting out from under his will, escaping the constraint that it represents. She may delude herself that she is free in those choices, as the adaptive prisoner may delude himself about his freedom, but no one should be deceived.”

Here, then, are some questions. I intend these as inviting Pettit and interested readers to elaborate, and clarify in passing what is at stake—why it matters how we characterize freedom.  I’ll put my questions in the form of questions because they are in fact questions, not criticisms. 

1. Pettit says, “To the extent that I have a power of interfering without cost in your choice I count as dominating you.” Suppose we said instead “To the extent that I am at liberty to interfere…”  Or it might be even more to the point—albeit narrower—to say, “To the extent that you need my permission…”

The essential idea, I take it, is that to be non-dominated within a given range of discretion, one’s exercising discretion within that range must be a right rather than a revocable privilege. If Bob is a teen-ager wanting to borrow the family car, Bob is frustrated and thus unfree in Hobbes’s sense if he is denied permission.  If Bob is granted permission to borrow the car to attend football practice, but is not at liberty to use the car for any other purpose, then Bob is interfered with. He is free in Hobbes’s sense but not in Berlin’s. If Bob is given permission to borrow the car for any purpose he may have, Bob is free in Berlin’s sense as well as Hobbes’s, but not in Pettit’s sense, because Bob still needs permission.  Am I getting this right?

Suppose we imagine a “rule of law” such that Bob cannot borrow the car during the week but can as a matter of course take the car on Saturdays, without needing to ask, provided that he has mowed the lawn as promised. Bob is not as free of responsibility as we could imagine him being. To get the kind of access to the car that he wanted he had to pay with his labor, on mutually agreeable terms. But neither is he subject to a parent’s arbitrary whim. I take it we should count him as undominated?

2. The ordinary meanings of words tend to have degrees of plasticity.  We speak of freedom and sometimes listeners know that we are concerned about frustration.  Other times they know we are concerned about interference. Other times they know we are concerned about domination.  Does anything more need to be said?  Is there any issue about whether we are, in some of those cases, using the word incorrectly? 

3. Berlin seems to have been aware of and to have endorsed the idea of freedom as non-domination. But when it came to identifying the key element missing from Hobbes’s characterization of freedom, he arguably succeeded when he homed in on the idea that freedom requires non-interference.  When the time came in turn for Pettit to identify the key element missing from Berlin’s alternative to Hobbes, Pettit arguably succeeds when he homes in on the idea that freedom requires non-domination. Have we gone as far as we can?  Is the quest here to identify a “most muscular” freedom?  If not, then what is the quest?  If so, then why not go further still? Why not say freedom requires not only non-frustration, non-interference, and non-domination, but non-limitation: at its most extreme, being possessed of god-like ability to reshape the world at will, not limited in any way?

There are obvious answers, but explicitly stating them might help clarify what the essay is supposed to be accomplishing. Undoubtedly, for some purposes, being free as unlimited is beside the point, and the important question concerns the offensiveness of being dominated. Likewise, there are purposes for which the important question concerns the offensiveness of interference or frustration. So, why not acknowledge our several conceptions of freedom, along with the several contexts that motivated their development, and leave it at that?

4. Pettit says, “You cannot make yourself free just by accommodating yourself to my disposition to interfere.” Agreed. If you are excessively worried about getting tenure, you can change your views to accommodate those of your senior colleagues.  You can be ingratiating too. I would agree that those hardly sound like ways of being more free. But those are not the only forms that accommodation can take. Suppose you accommodate by learning to be happy with your next best option.  If you fail to do this, telling yourself you cannot live with your next best option, you intuitively are making yourself less free. By contrast, suppose you resolve to make up your own mind, speak your own mind, and embrace the truth that being denied tenure is no big deal in the grand scheme of things. That kind of accommodation (declining to exaggerate what is at stake) intuitively renders you more free, no?

5. Pettit says, “Most theories of what makes people free in relation to the external world treat the obstacles that derive from the ill will of others as the primary restrictions on freedom.”

Agreed, but people being in the way without ill will is also a problem, right?  If you need a job but our overworked search committee deems you unqualified, you are thwarted regardless of whether our committee bears you ill will. There is a difference between being a target versus having a dossier that fell through the cracks, to be sure, but either way you are frustrated, right?

6. Consider a country like Singapore. The conditions of non-domination are not satisfied, so far as I understand the situation there.  And that is not just a theoretical point. Freedom is in a sense fragile there and citizens know it, yet the government is not in fact abusive, and people there are among the freest citizens in the world in important ways.

Pettit says that if your options are A and B, the probability o
f interference has to remain low regardless of which you choose. Pettit adds that, given options A and B and letting F = friendly and H = hostile, “there are four possible ways the world may be and in each scenario the probability of interference has to be low. It must be low in the presence of A & F: that is, when you choose A and others are friendly. And it must also be low in the presence of A & H, B & F and B & H. You must enjoy such protection or empowerment in the actual world that interference is unlikely under each of those scenarios.”

Agreed. However, there is more to say. Let A stand for writing articles about non-domination. In Singapore, interference given A & H is likely, yet H itself is rare. There is a lot of freedom but it is in a way a lesser freedom—noninterference rather than non-domination.  Given enough variation in the probability of H, the scope and value of a freedom that fits Berlin’s model can exceed the scope and value of a freedom that fits Pettit’s. Imagine a businesswoman, not subject to the arbitrary will of any bureaucrat, yet just about everything she wants to do with her life is illegal. She wonders whether she would be more free in a country where everything requires permission in theory but where permission goes without saying in practice. I take it we should allow that her question cannot be settled by definition.

Again, I say this without denying that Pettit’s discussion of non-domination adds something missing from Berlin’s critique of Hobbes.

23 Replies to “Ethics Discussions at PEA Soup: Philip Pettit’s “The Instability of Freedom as Noninterference: The Case of Isaiah Berlin,” with Commentary by David Schmidtz

  1. Professor Pettit’s replies follow. Professor Schmidtz’s questions have been edited slightly (by DB), so please see his précis above for more context.
    **********
    I greatly appreciate these remarks and will try to reply by offering comments on each of the questions raised by David Schimdtz. The questions prompt me to expatiate at greater length on various questions. I hope I don’t do so ad nauseam.

    1. …Suppose we imagine a “rule of law” such that Bob cannot borrow the car during the week but can as a matter of course take the car on Saturdays, without needing to ask, provided that he has mowed the lawn as promised. Bob is not as free of responsibility as we could imagine him being. To get the kind of access to the car that he wanted he had to pay with his labor, on mutually agreeable terms. But neither is he subject to a parent’s arbitrary whim. I take it we should count him as undominated?

    There are a number of points to address here, all of them interesting.
    1a. Is there an equivalence between my having a power of interference without cost, my being a liberty to interfere, and my being in a position to deny permission? Having a power of interference is something that comes in degrees as the reference to ‘extent’ signifies and there is no clear cut-off threshold such that above this I have such a power in some absolute sense. But there is a cut-off that determines whether I am at liberty to interfere or whether I can deny you permission. I will be at liberty to interfere, at least in one common usage, if there are no rules that prohibit my interference. I will be positioned to deny you permission, at least again on a common usage, if there are rules under which I have this positive right. But a further more important difference between having a power of interference and the other concepts is this. I may be at liberty to interfere or be able to deny you permission without having any real power of interference. And vice versa. Being at liberty and having the ability to deny permission are both defined, it seems to me, by reference to some supposed rules whereas there is no such reference involved in having a power of interference. Thus I may have such a power even if there are rules that mean I am not at liberty to interfere or that I am not positioned to deny you permission. But these points only carry on the usage I am supposing of ‘at liberty’ and ‘being positioned to deny permission’; broadly a usage reflected in Hohfeld’s well-known categories. Admittedly, then, there is a distinct sense in which my having a power of interference in a choice of yours means that you can exercise your choice only with my leave or permission: only ‘cum permissu’ as it used to be said.
    1b. You suggest, David, that on this account you, the agent envisaged, will be free in a choice if and only if you have a right to make it one way or another. But you might have a formal right without having an effective or real right, in which case you wouldn’t be free. And you might be free, I would say, without having a right: that is, without enjoying a right under any salient or presumptive set of rules. Remember that for me to be freedom in a choice is not meant to be a normative category: we don’t have to identify or endorse any set of rules or values in order to know whether you are free or not in a given choice. You will be free to the extent that you are able to exercise the choice without dependence on the will of another; assuming there are others around, none must be able to change the choice before you by removing an option, replacing an option (say, with a penalized alternative), or by misrepresenting the options in a way that denies you the knowledge required for being able to exercise the choice.
    1c. I worry a little bit about asking in the car examples about whether the agent, Bob, is free or not. The reason is that at this point in our analysis we are speaking about whether Bob has a free choice, where a choice is defined by options, and as the examples change, so the issue about whether Bob is free in each of the choices changes. Thus in the first case, Bob is free in the choice between going to football practice by car and going by other means; at least he is free in the non-frustration and non-interference senses; he will be free in the non-dominated sense to the extent that parental power is restricted and he cannot be stopped using the care. I would take each of these cases, turn by turn, since there are different sets of options involved in each. And with each choice I would ask how far the person avoids i. frustration; ii. interference; and iii domination.
    1d. How to make sense of our asking about whether an agent is free or not, period, without reference to a particular choice? I would say that in such a usage, there is always a presupposed choice or set of choices in the background. In a usage that I find also in Berlin, the presupposed set of choices are usually the ‘basic liberties’, so called, which are choices, roughly, that all can exercise and enjoy at the same time and that are sufficient, presumptively, for enjoying a meaningful life. Someone will count as a free person, a ‘freeman’ in older republican usage, insofar as he (she) enjoys freedom in the basic choices involved. The Hobbesian, Berlinian and republican theories I distinguish differ in the first place on whether freedom in any choice requires non-frustration, non-interference or non-domination.
    1e. This observation suggests that there are two different dimensions on which someone’s freedom may increase. The person may come to have freedom in a wider (and, let us assume, significant) set of choices, thereby increasing their freedom of opportunity. And with a given set of choices the person may come to have freedom in a richer degree, avoiding interference rather than just frustration, or domination rather than just interference; they may increase their freedom of exercise, as we might say. I think these two dimensions are not as clearly or as widely distinguished as they ought to be.

    2. The ordinary meanings of words tend to have degrees of plasticity. We speak of freedom and sometimes listeners know that we are concerned about frustration. Other times they know we are concerned about interference. Other times they know we are concerned about domination. Does anything more need to be said? Is there any issue about whether we are, in some of those cases, using the word incorrectly?

    I absolutely agree that our usage of terms like ‘freedom’, ‘liberty’ and their cognates is very loose and that sometimes we have only the absence of frustration in mind and at other times something richer like the absence of interference or domination. I am particularly interested in a normative theory of politics that casts free choice as requiring non-domination, and free status (i.e. freedom of the person or citizen) as requiring equal non-domination in the sphere of the basic liberties or choices. Why? For a number of reasons. One, I think that this has resonance in the long republican tradition as much research, prompted mainly by Quentin Skinner, has emphasized. Two, I think that this sense of freedom alone captures the powerful connotation of much usage, according to which being free requires being able to choose without dependence on the will of another. Three, and most importantly, I think that this notion of freedom offers a political ideal around which it is possible to build a plausible theory of social justice or equality, political justice or democracy and international justice or sovereignty. I have written on all three topics, as now have many others, from a republican point of view and I am preparing a short book for Nortons, entitled Just Freedom, which will seek to display the fecundity of the idea on all three fronts.

    3. …Pettit arguably succeeds when he homes in on the idea that freedom requires non-domination. Have we gone as far as we can? …Why not say freedom requires not only non-frustration, non-interference, and non-domination, but non-limitation: at its most extreme, being possessed of god-like ability to reshape the world at will, not limited in any way? …. There are obvious answers, but explicitly stating them might help clarify what the essay is supposed to be accomplishing. Undoubtedly, for some purposes, being free as unlimited is beside the point, and the important question concerns the offensiveness of being dominated. Likewise, there are purposes for which the important question concerns the offensiveness of interference or frustration. So, why not acknowledge our several conceptions of freedom, along with the several contexts that motivated their development, and leave it at that?

    From the point of view of conceptual analysis, it would be just fine to distinguish the different uses of the terms and ‘leave it at that’. But as I just mentioned under 3, my primary interest is in setting out a political theory that is built on the ideal of freedom as non-domination. It is certainly possible to treat freedom as non-limitation but I think that such an ideal will not serve as well as freedom as non-domination in an overall political theory. Two relevant considerations are these. First, to treat freedom as essentially requiring non-limitation is to think that natural obstacles are as important and objectionable as the obstacles that derive from the will of others as to what you should do. Kant is on my side here, as the quotation I use early in my paper makes clear. Second, non-limitation is not strictly a stronger concept in relation to domination, interference and frustration. Whenever someone frustrates you or interferes with you, at least without doing so ‘on your terms’, i.e. non-arbitrarily, then they dominate you. And yet they may dominate you without actually frustrating you or interfering with you. In that sense non-domination is a stronger ideal that non-frustration or non-interference. But non-limitation does not relate in a similar way to the other ideals. The reason is that I may dominate you in a choice just through your depending on my not exercising a power of interference; and yet in that case I couldn’t plausibly be said to limit your choice.

    4. Pettit says, “You cannot make yourself free just by accommodating yourself to my disposition to interfere.” Agreed. If you are excessively worried about getting tenure, you can change your views to accommodate those of your senior colleagues. You can be ingratiating too. I would agree that those hardly sound like ways of being more free. But those are not the only forms that accommodation can take. Suppose you accommodate by learning to be happy with your next best option. If you fail to do this, telling yourself you cannot live with your next best option, you intuitively are making yourself less free. By contrast, suppose you resolve to make up your own mind, speak your own mind, and embrace the truth that being denied tenure is no big deal in the grand scheme of things. That kind of accommodation (declining to exaggerate what is at stake) intuitively renders you more free, no?

    I am inclined to say, no. You will certainly be happier to the extent to which you get to accommodate yourself to what’s available and stop agonizing over what is not available. But making yourself happy, as Berlin says, is different from making yourself free. It’s the difference between getting what you want and coming to want what you get. What may be true, however, and what you may have in mind is this. If you are in a position of dependency in relation to another for the availability of a certain option, then a good way of establishing a healthy relationship with that other (one in which it is manifest to each that neither is desperately wanting something from the other) is to display an indifference towards that benefit for which you depend on the other’s not denying you. This underlines the fact, incidentally, that the enjoyment of full freedom as non-domination, even in the range of basic choices, may require a certain psychological capacity for and self-assertion as well as legal and cultural protection.

    5. Pettit says, “Most theories of what makes people free in relation to the external world treat the obstacles that derive from the ill will of others as the primary restrictions on freedom.” Agreed, but people being in the way without ill will is also a problem, right? If you need a job but our overworked search committee deems you unqualified, you are thwarted regardless of whether our committee bears you ill will. There is a difference between being a target versus having a dossier that fell through the cracks, to be sure, but either way you are frustrated, right?

    Absolutely: not to be able to achieve something you desire is always going to be unattractive; and if what you desire is required for freedom as a person, or for some other normatively commanding end, then it is going to be undesirable as well as unattractive. And that is going to be the case, even if the factor that prevents you is not a hostile will on the part of another as to what you should get. But nevertheless I argue, in line with Kant and a long tradition, that it is worse in various ways to be denied by the will of another rather than for independent reasons.

    6. Consider a country like Singapore. The conditions of non-domination are not satisfied, so far as I understand the situation there. And that is not just a theoretical point. Freedom is in a sense fragile there and citizens know it, yet the government is not in fact abusive, and people there are among the freest citizens in the world in important ways. … Let A stand for writing articles about non-domination [and let H stand for hostility]. In Singapore, interference given A & H is likely, yet H itself is rare. There is a lot of freedom but it is in a way a lesser freedom—noninterference rather than non-domination. Given enough variation in the probability of H, the scope and value of a freedom that fits Berlin’s model can exceed the scope and value of a freedom that fits Pettit’s. Imagine a businesswoman, not subject to the arbitrary will of any bureaucrat, yet just about everything she wants to do with her life is illegal. She wonders whether she would be more free in a country where everything requires permission in theory but where permission goes without saying in practice. I take it we should allow that her question cannot be settled by definition.

    I don’t think much divides us here. Domination is bad and is enough to reduce freedom. But domination with interference is worse than domination without and domination with frustration is worse again. If you live in a society where you are neither frustrated nor interfered with in the sphere of basic choices, then you are very fortunate. But if you are dominated in those choices, say because the government is not subject to accountability under a system in which you have a share of control, then you are not as well off as you might be. That’s why the enjoyment of equal freedom as non-domination in the sphere of basic choices requires living under a democracy. And more specifically, a democracy that meets some quite demanding standards; I try to elaborate such a republican model of democracy in a forthcoming book, On the People’s Terms: A Republican Model of Democracy, which should appear with CUP in 2012.

  2. I’d like to explore a case similar the tenure accommodation case raised in Dave’s fourth comment.
    Pettit’s dilemma depends upon what “ingratiation” comes to. In Pettit’s descriptions of the idea, we are to imagine some sniveling, servile person retaining her “freedom” by convincing her masters to be nice to her. And, sure, the sniveling servant seems to be unfree in an important respect and, perhaps, even in the case where she is under the threat of being denied tenure.
    What does Pettit mean by ingratiation? The answer is illustrated by the next sentence, “You cannot make yourself free just by accommodating yourself to my power of interference.” (12)
    So for X to ingratiate herself to Y is for X to accommodate herself to Y’s power of interference. Ingratiation looks like accommodation to power to interfere.
    Now I submit that the intuition Pettit grooms weakens when we think more about what “accommodation to power to interfere” comes to. Let me give two examples:
    (1) John the Serf: John is a serf in a medieval fiefdom. By and large, John’s lord, Jim, does not interfere with John’s activities. However, the only reason he refrains from interfering is because John has decided not to rock the boat and demand that he have more control over his land. John has achieved this form of non-interference by flattering Jim and defending him in local skirmishes with other feudal lords.
    (2) John the Contractor: John is a contractor for a modern subdivision. He builds homes for Jim, the local landowner. By and large, Jim does not interfere with John’s building practices. However, the only reason he refrains from interfering is because John has signed a contract with Jim that divides their discretionary power over how construction should proceed. John has achieved this form of non-interference by doing good work for Jim and proving himself trustworthy.
    My intuition is that both Johns accommodate themselves to Jim’s power to interfere. In both cases, Jim can make John’s life worse-off. Jim the Lord can interfere with John the Serf’s farming practices and Jim the Landowner can interfere with John the Contractor’s building practices (if for no other reason than he could refuse to renew the contract). In both cases, John’s livelihood would suffer. And in both cases, John has had to work hard to win Jim’s regard. Yet John the Serf seems to lack an important sort of freedom that John the Contractor does not due to the potential for Jim to interfere. John the Contractor’s liberties were won through a free (in the negative liberty sense) agreement, even if quite a bit of John’s welfare depended on the agreement, whereas John the Serf’s liberties were won in the context of centuries of actual servitude (in the negative liberty sense). John the Contractor increases his freedom through ingratiation – he has the freedom to build as he likes.
    It is true that contracts are legally enforceable such that Jim the Landowner can’t back out of the contract once he has signed on. But we can imagine that Jim the Lord is similarly bound (feudal lords often were) by local custom, common law, etc. In both cases, Jim assigned freedoms to John due to John’s accommodating himself to Jim’s power. And we can trust that in both cases, Jim will uphold his end of the bargain. After all, the ingratiation, by stipulation, was successful.
    Conclusion: to evaluate Pettit’s argument, we need to know a bit more about ingratiation and accommodation. We need to know either (i) why John the Contractor is less free or (ii) why John the Serf and John the Contractor are different in a way that does no harm to Pettit’s argument.
    Seconding Dave, some forms of ingratiation/accommodation seem to increase freedom, whereas others do not. And so it seems to me that Pettit has not identified a category of actions (ingratiation) out of which his Berlin-and-Beyond argument can be built.

  3. Hello,
    Understood normatively rather than conceptually, Philip Pettit’s paper (which I thoroughly enjoyed) suggests:
    1) It is often valuable for a person to have an option even if she won’t select that option (non-interference)
    2) It is often valuable that a person does not have control over whether another person has an option even if she won’t deprive the person of that option in fact (non-domination)
    These claims are consistent with:
    3) The value that an option has to a person is often enhanced if that person will select that option (if I am to be deprived of an option, better that it is one that I will not select).
    4) The value of a person not having control over whether another person has an option is often enhanced if she would otherwise deprive the other person of that option (if I am to be a slave, better to a benevolent slavemaster).
    I am sympathetic to all of these claims, including 2). I take it that Philip is sympathetic to 4) as well as 3).
    I don’t know how we should understand the concept of freedom. Like David Schmidtz’s second comment implies, I am not sure how important that is.
    I wonder about Philip’s account of 2).
    His account is as follows:
    ‘Insofar as I have the resources to interfere without cost in a choice of yours – insofar as I have the power and knowledge required – your ability to make the choice is dependent on my will as to what you should do, and you are in that sense subject to my will. To the extent that I have power of interfering without cost in your choice, I count as dominating you’ (707).
    Suppose that I can interfere in a choice of yours, but if I do this I will bear a cost. For example, I will be punished. On Philip’s definition I do not dominate you. Now suppose that the cost that I bear is insufficient to prevent me interfering with your choice. I don’t even treat the cost as a reason against interfering. It seems false that I don’t dominate you on the best understanding of what domination is. Furthermore, it seems wrong that your freedom increases with the increasing magnitude of the costs that are imposed on me insofar as I ignore those costs. You are just as much subject to my will.
    For example, domestic abusers dominate their partners even if they are regularly punished for abuse insofar as their conduct is not shaped by the law. Also, the fact that abusers are punished does not seem to render victims of abuse freer if punishment is ineffective in shaping the abusers’ conduct.
    In consequence, I wonder whether non-domination might better be understood to depend on the way people govern their conduct rather than on (or perhaps in addition to) whether costs are imposed on them. Non-domination is not secured by the existence of an enforced law prohibiting domestic abuse. It is only secured if people adopt appropriate policies for the regulation of their own conduct.
    Victor

  4. Thanks to Professor Pettit for a rich and informative paper. I have a relatively minor question about an issue that Pettit explicitly doesn’t focus on,the claim early on that it is “impossibly hard to count as a freeman or free person” (696) on Hobbes’s conception of freedom, given that it requires escape from “all external hindrance in the options you prefer to take,” and Pettit interprets this to mean that one “must be lucky enough, or perhaps powerful enough, for none of your choices to be frustrated….”
    This strikes me as too strong an interpretation of Hobbes, though. It seems more plausible to read him as requiring only escape from external hindrances in some limited range of choice situations in order to count as a free man with respect to that range. That is to say that Hobbes’s definition seems merely to suggest that being able to do what you want without hindrance makes you a freeman with respect to that choice when it occurs, not that you must have the capacity to always be effective in doing what you will.

  5. Victor: I had almost your precise question about costs in mind as well while I was reading, but I hesitated insofar as we might read Pettit here as just offering a sufficient condition for unfreedom.

  6. Thanks David, that might be right. It would then be interesting to know more about the necessary and sufficient conditions of unfreedom.
    I’m also not sure, though, whether there is unfreedom in all cases where there is an absence of a cost in response to interference. Suppose that there is a set of rules in some community requiring people not to interfere with each other’s options. Each person respects these rules. They are highly motivated to conform to them. They would not be at all motivated by any sanctions that might back up the rules. Do members of this community dominate each other? Perhaps it might be argued that this case is unrealistic. It is certainly unrealistic for a large modern state, but perhaps not unrealistic for some enterprises and communities.
    Victor

  7. I’m persuaded that there is more to freedom than mere non-frustration, but I’m not convinced by Berlin’s adaptation argument.
    That argument, I think, goes like this:
    (1) If all there were to freedom of choice is the availability of one’s preferred option, then one could make any choice free simply by adjusting one’s preferences to fit the available options.
    (2) But one can’t make a choice free simply by adjusting one’s preferences to fit the available options.
    (3) Therefore, there must be more to freedom of choice than the mere availability of one’s preferred option.
    I accept (3) but I’m not sure about (2). First, adaptive preference formation seems ubiquitous. Second, I suspect that (2)’s intuitive appeal stems from the thought that preference adaptation is phony – that someone who adjusts his preferences to fit his options doesn’t really come to prefer that which he claims. Pettit’s prisoner case is like that since it’s hard to believe that someone can genuinely get himself to prefer confinement. But if we factor that out then (2) loses much of its intuitive appeal (at least to me). For consider. Suppose Fred and I are deciding between tea and coffee, and that, if we choose coffee, Phil will knock over our cup (but not if we choose tea). Fred is lucky – he just happens to prefer tea to coffee. I am not so lucky, but I have at my disposal a tea preference pill. If I take it, and thus genuinely come to prefer tea, I’d be inclined to say that, all else being equal, Fred and I would be equally free in our choice. I’m not sure our choice would be fully free, but, all else being equal, I think our choice would be equally free. Pettit, of course, could (and probably would) deny this, but on what grounds? Does he really want to say that a choice’s freedom depends at least party on where the chooser’s preferences came from, how they were formed, etc.? There’s a lot of talk about this in the autonomy literature but, to my mind, no one has yet produced a compelling story of which preferences count as having proper origins.

  8. In the “parallel” argument for nondomination, I understand premise 3 to be specifying a sufficient condition for one to enjoy the freedom of choice between A and B, namely, that you have such freedom if I am disposed to interfere with neither A nor B “notwithstanding my power” to do so (p. 704). However, Pettit also says that domination could consist just in my “having the power to interfere more or less without cost should my will incline that way … even when domination is the last thing I seek” (pp. 704-705). Am I reading these right and, if so, are these consistent?

  9. Thanks to Philip for a very nice paper – a pleasure to read, so clearly written. I have lots of comments but will confine myself to two closely related ones for now – in them I’ll refer to Philip Pettit as PP. But let me say first that I’ve discussed some of these matters in more detail elsewhere than I can discuss them here. See my chapter on “Liberty” in Issues in Political Theory, ed. Catriona McKinnon (OUP, 2008). 2nd ed., 2012.
    My first comment is that it seems to me Hobbes offers a valid concept of liberty of action in the famous definition of a free man he gives in Leviathan. PP says “there are two surprising claims built into [Hobbes’s] definition” (p.3). One claim is that you are not made unfree by having an action blocked if you don’t wish or desire to do it. PP apparently finds this counterintuitive and gives the example of the real tennis court. In this example, you (think you) freely choose not to play tennis when (unknown to you) your choice to play was blocked – you couldn’t have played even if you’d wished to because the door to the court was locked against you. Hobbes says the locked door is no impediment to your freedom unless you wish to play. He seems correct if we’re talking about liberty of action. On the one hand, you freely chose A as you wished, where A is the action of not playing. Nobody hindered your choice of that action/inaction. On the other hand, nobody hindered your choice of B either, where B is the action of playing. You didn’t wish to do B so nobody could coercively interfere with such a choice.
    The second allegedly surprising claim is that a man is free only if he isn’t hindered or coercively interfered with in any of the feasible actions he chooses to do. PP thinks this “makes it impossibly hard to count as a free man.” But this is a pretty ungenerous interpretation of Hobbes. Hobbes can say that a man is completely free if and only if he isn’t hindered in any of his feasible actions. But he can also say that a man is free to a certain extent, that is, free with respect to “a designated range of choices,” if and only if he isn’t hindered in choosing any of the actions within a given subset of his feasible set of actions. The man is completely free with respect to the relevant subset. This may be all that matters to him in practice, i.e., he has no wish to choose any actions outside that subset.
    So, I think Hobbes has a valid concept of liberty of action. As PP seems to recognize, this Hobbesian idea was Berlin’s original concept of negative liberty, although Berlin subsequently realized he’d made a “genuine error” and so made clear that he had a different idea of negative liberty in mind.
    When discussing Berlin’s alternative to Hobbes’s idea of liberty, PP emphasizes the importance of Berlin’s claim that you are made unfree by the blocking of options/actions which you could have chosen but didn’t wish to choose. As PP puts it: “Interference may be the enemy of freedom but it is not just frustrating interference, as in Hobbes’s picture, which matters: not just interference with the actual option preferred. The fact that you would have suffered interference in the choice of another option, even though you don’t suffer interference in the option you adopt, will equally take away from you freedom of choice” (pp. 5-6). PP also says that Berlin has an argument for his alternative idea that “undermines the Hobbesian view” (p. 8). I’ll come back to Berlin’s supposedly powerful argument in my second comment.
    In the meantime, I want to say that I agree with PP that Berlin’s idea of freedom differs from that of Hobbes, although I don’t think Berlin’s idea is helpful for reasons I won’t go into here in any detail. My present point is simply that Hobbes’s idea, not Berlin’s, seems the correct one if we are looking for a concept of liberty of action. Berlin’s idea of negative liberty is the idea of a field or sphere of actions among which you have the opportunity to choose without external interference, whether or not you actually wish to do any of the actions in the field. Whatever else may be said of it, this Berlinian idea seems irrelevant if we are interested in liberty of action – it simply doesn’t matter for your freedom of action if actions/options which you don’t ever wish to do are blocked. Even Berlin himself seems to admit this – he stresses that his two concepts of liberty (negative and positive) are political concepts, not to be confused with a concept of spontaneous action.
    My second comment, closely related to the first, is that Berlin’s well-known argument, that you can’t be made free by extinguishing your wishes or desires, is not a valid criticism of the Hobbes-Mill idea of liberty. PP suggests that “this argument is of general interest, and may represent Berlin’s most lasting contribution to our thinking about freedom.” In contrast, I think it is a misleading argument, and evidence of his serious confusions in these matters. More specifically, in context of PP’s presentation of the argument in six steps, the fact that you adapt your preferences, so that you forgo doing A and instead do B, doesn’t imply that you are free to do A. You will still be frustrated by external interference if you attempt to do A, even though by assumption you no longer wish to do A. Killing your wish to do A hasn’t made you free to do A as you wish.
    Of course, it’s a separate question whether you ought or ought not to adapt your preferences in any given context. If A is the action of murdering an innocent person, then you should kill the wish to do A. But killing that wish doesn’t thereby make you free to commit the murder if you wish. Instead, you will presumably still face external interference if you attempt to do A.
    I think Berlin’s argument, if it’s intended as a criticism of the Hobbes-Mill idea, reflects confusion about that idea. As mentioned in my first comment, the idea is that a man is free with respect to a given set of feasible actions, say, A and B, if and only if he can actually do any of those actions that he wishes to do, without being hindered by other people. So, to be free in Hobbes’s sense with respect to the set {A,B}, you must be able to choose A if you wish, or B if you wish. By killing your wish to do A, you aren’t made free with respect to {A,B} – you are simply free to do B. Moreover, the fact that you choose to do, say, B today isn’t the end of the matter; you must be free to do A tomorrow if you wish, unhindered by others.
    Reconsider the real tennis example. True, Hobbes says that the locked door is no impediment to your freedom of action if you don’t wish to play tennis anyway, and he seems correct. But he’s also saying that the locked door IS an impediment if you change your mind tomorrow and decide you want to play tennis. To be free with respect to {A,B}, a man must able to choose A or B if he wishes over time – choosing B one day doesn’t preclude choosing A another day.
    So, we must be careful when we claim that, for the Hobbes-Mill idea, you are not made unfree if an action you don’t wish or prefer to do happens to be blocked by other people, either directly or indirectly through human institutions that might be reformed. The claim is really only valid in a dynamic sense if you don’t wish to do the blocked action now, and never wish to do it on any tomorrow. If you ever wish to do it, you are not a free man in terms of the Hobbes-Mill idea. To be free with respect to {A,B} over time, you must be able to do A or B if you wish, at any point you wish within the relevant time interval.
    The upshot is that Berlin didn’t need to revise his original concept of negative liberty, that is, the Hobbes-Mill idea, if he was concerned to repel the objection that you can be made free to do an action A by killing your wish to do A. That isn’t an implication of the idea in the first place, as far as I can see. Moreover, Berlin’s revised idea, that negative liberty means being free to choose without external hindrance any one of the actions in a field of action even if you don’t actually wish to choose any of them, is problematic, in my opinion, but I won’t go into this here.

  10. Mike: That your choice in the tea case has been rendered “equally free” to Fred’s after your taking the pill may be true, but being equally free is compatible with neither of you being free at all. So the question is this: does taking the pill to change your preferences make you free thereby? It still strikes me as fairly intuitive that it doesn’t.

  11. Dave: You’ve put your finger on something I was puzzling over. Is Pettit claiming that a non-frustrated choice is at least partly a free one, unless the non-frustration results from adaptation? Or is he claiming that mere non-frustration has no bearing on a choice’s freedom? Obviously he thinks that mere non-frustration is insufficient for freedom, but since freedom clearly admits of degrees I suspect that that claim obscures more than it clarifies.
    My sense of the matter is that, all else being equal, a non-frustrated choice is a freer choice than a frustrated choice, regardless of why the choice is non-frustrated. Of course, that is compatible with saying that, all else being equal, a non-frustrated non-adaptive choice is freer than a non-frustrated adaptive choice. But it’s not clear to me that we should accept that view so long as adaptive preference in question is genuine (i.e. non-phony).

  12. Mike: I think the issue may be that non-frustration in and of itself just doesn’t count as freedom, period, and neither does non-interference, so there just aren’t degrees of freedom running from non-frustration to non-interference to non-domination. Instead, it’s only to the extent that one is not dominated that one is free at all. I suppose there could be degrees of freedom under the non-domination rubric, but Pettit, as far as I recall, doesn’t talk about that. Nevertheless, it would be quite interesting to explore: presumably there could be degrees of being subjected to another’s will — perhaps corresponding to the costs to the dominator of interfering?? — that would cash out to differing degrees of freedom thereby, but I’m just not sure.

  13. Hello David and Mike
    On David’s last comment – it seems plausible that non-frustration does not increase freedom. Suppose that I have some range of options. I may be better off than you if I want one of these options and you don’t. But the fact that I want one of these options but you plausibly don’t doesn’t render me freer than you. We should also conclude that freedom is not all there is to being well off, and may well not be the only morally significant fact about these cases.
    It seems less plausible that non-interference does not affect freedom. Suppose that you will provide me with an option, o, only if I ingratiate myself with you. I do so. Surely the reason why I ingratiate myself with you is to render myself free to o. Before ingratiating myself with you I was not free to o. Now I am free to o. Not only is it (typically) better for me that I have the option to o, in such cases, having the option to o increases my freedom. We should conclude, I think, not that there are different degrees of freedom, but that there are different kinds of freedom – freedom as non-interference and freedom as non-domination.
    There is another interesting twist to this, though that comes out of Philip’s discussion
    Suppose that you deprive me of the option to o. I can get you to provide me with the option to o by ingratiating myself with you. Although I can select o, I can so so only by ingratiating myself with you. In that case it seems plausible that I am not free to o.
    But it is not so obvious that we should say the same thing about the following case. Suppose that you provide me with the option to o. You will deprive me of that option if you begin to find me annoying, and you can do so at no cost. At the moment (surprisingly) you don’t find me annoying. In that case it seems more plausible to say that I nevertheless am free to o. This is so even though you appear to dominate me. In this case, it seems that I am better off than the person who is deprived of the option to o on the grounds that you find him annoying. I am better off in virtue of the fact that I am freer than him.
    We can see that I am better off than the other person in virtue of being freer than him in virtue of the fact that o might be valuable to me even if I don’t select o. Being free to o may be something that I value even if depriving me of o would not count as frustration.
    We might conclude that non-domination is only one kind of freedom, and it is not the only kind of freedom that can make freedom valuable.

  14. Victor: I take it that your point is in the spirit of what Schmidtz’s #2 was about, and I’m not sure I get Pettit’s reply. As he put it:
    “I absolutely agree that our usage of terms like ‘freedom’, ‘liberty’ and their cognates is very loose and that sometimes we have only the absence of frustration in mind and at other times something richer like the absence of interference or domination. I am particularly interested in a normative theory of politics that casts free choice as requiring non-domination, and free status (i.e. freedom of the person or citizen) as requiring equal non-domination in the sphere of the basic liberties or choices.”
    But how exactly is this a reply to Schmidtz’s question about why anything more needs to be said than merely that we’ve got different understandings of freedom in mind at different times? That one is particularly interested in one conception is fine, but then I lose sight of the motivation to try to undercut two other conceptions as the conceptions of (political) freedom. And to put this in Victor’s (and, I think, Mike’s) way of thinking, why couldn’t we also say that there may be degrees of freedom both within the different understandings and across them?

  15. This article is very interesting but it seems to me that there is gap in the argument. Hope this is not just repeating someone else or missing an obvious response.
    Let’s say we grant the Berlin argument and the augmented version that Pettit gives in the first part of section III. We must then admit that one cannot be liberated by engaging in successful ingratiation or adaptation.
    Now Pettit is right that freedom as non-domination is consistent with this conclusion. But freedom as non-domination is not entailed by it either.
    Consider, for example, the view that freedom is the absence of disrespectful domination. On this view neither adaptation nor ingratiation are means of liberation because they are servile, non-rational ways of circumventing interference. But on the freedom as non-disrespectful domination view, one *can* liberate oneself while remaining dominated. To do so one must reason with one’s dominator and he must, characteristically, respect those reasons which are compelling or plausible. If one is dominated by a reason-respecting tyrant, in other words, one can liberate oneself by giving plausible reasons for not being interfered with.
    Now I am not saying this is the best account of freedom, but it seems to accommodate the augmented Berlin argument just as well as freedom as non-domination does.
    So it seems there is a gap between the Berlin argument and the republican view of freedom; Pettit’s claim that, “the price that has to be paid for denying that ingratiation is a possible means of liberation is to take freedom to require nondomination,” seems to need more support.

  16. Brad: earlier I suggested that those who have could interfere with other people’s options without cost should not be understood as dominating those other people if they are responsive to the appropriate reasons not to interfere with those people’s options. You suggest an alternative view: that these people do dominate other people, but that they might not interfere with their freedom. I am tempted to defend my earlier view against yours – the ‘reason-respecting tyrant’, on this view, is not a tyrant at all. On your version, what makes the tyrant a tyrant, and what makes him dominate?

  17. Ah! Good question.
    Well I guess I was just following the in article definition of domination and thinking the respectful tyrant dominates me because I am subject to his whim. He might reliably refrain from acting on any non-rational whim to interfere, but the fact that he would be able (at no cost) to do so suffices for domination.
    Take the pre-woman’s rights case of Sally, whose husband allows her to get a job because she convinces him it will be good for her and the family bank account. He might be a benevolent and respectful master, but he is her master nonetheless. The fact that she has to ask his permission and that he could say no at no cost to himself entails he is her master. Like other feminists of the era, Sally wants to have the freedom that would come with liberation from her husband’s oversight and say-so (even though it is benevolent and respectful).

  18. Victor: that first response was confused because I slipped into using ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’ in Pettit’s way.
    Here is what I would say about Sally on the freedom as non-disrespectful domination view:
    Sally’s husband allows her to get a job because she convinces him it will be good for her and the family bank account. He is a benevolent and respectful but counts as her master because she has to ask his permission and he could say no at no cost to himself. Like other feminists of the era, Sally hates having a husband who is her master – she resents the fact that he could interfere if he wanted to. But on the freedom as non-disrespectful domination view, the feminists should think of themselves as wanting to live without masters. They do want freedom from mastery, but that is not needed for full personal freedom.

  19. Brad: I can see that he dominates her if his providing her with the option is conditional on her asking his permission. But in that case, he isn’t responsive to the right reasons – whether he gives her the option depends on whether she asks his permission, which isn’t a good reason to determine whether she ought to have the option.
    Now imagine that this isn’t the case. She can take the job without asking his permission, and because he recognises that her failure to ask his permission isn’t a good reason to remove the option, he doesn’t do so. Suppose also that the law permits him to interfere, though, with no cost to him. In that case, it seems less intuitive to say that he dominates her. It seems wrong to say that men inevitably dominate women in pre-women’s rights societies, no matter what their attitudes and actions.

  20. Victor:
    I see the pull of your point, and thanks for screening out my “asking for permission” noise.
    Maybe we can agree that the husband (i) has dominion over his wife and (ii) is her master?
    I think part of the issue here is that “dominate” implies that the husband has exercised his dominion in an objectionable way. I suspect, but do not know, that Pettit’s view is that freedom requires freedom from dominion and that his use of the term “non-domination” is misleading, but was chosen for rhetorical reasons?

  21. Brad: that’s helpful
    I’m not sure what I want to say about the case where the law entitles him to act in this way, but he regulates his conduct by legitimate rules. We could follow your suggestion and say that he has dominion over his wife and is her master, or we could alternatively say that the law entitles him to dominion over his wife and to be her master.
    I’m tempted by the latter idea. Why not privilege the understanding that he and his wife have over their relationship rather than the law’s understanding? I am entitled by law to be my wife’s master, he says – I find that objectionable and choose not to be. Is it impossible for him to make that choice?
    Obviously, the law in this case is objectionable. There is also perhaps a sense in which the wife is less free – he is free to become her master.
    Now suppose that the law prohibits him from controlling her options but it is not backed up by sanctions. I don’t see that the lack of sanctions makes him her master. Imagine that anyone could restrict anyone else’s options without sanctions. THe law prohibits this, and everyone abides by it, but there is no mechanism of enforcement. It seems false that everyone dominates everyone else in this case.

  22. Victor: Interesting points. I am tempted by your idea too, given that he repudiates, and does not merely refrain from exercising, his “rights”. But I know of feminists who would hold that the husband can’t really give up the socially instituted dominion. I am not sure what to think!
    Regarding the last case, I am thinking that domination has to be a one way street – mutual domination is not something that makes much sense, since if I have the ability to restrict you, I have the ability to impose a cost on you in retaliation for your imposing a restriction on me. So maybe that explains why in your case we would not say everyone dominates everyone else?

  23. Brad: on your last point, even if this got the right result in every case it doesn’t seem the intuitive explanation why the people in the society don’t dominate each other. It seems intuitive to me that it is sufficient that they successfully regulate themselves through a policy of non-interference which everyone plans to abide by. Sanctions only seem important insofar as they help to secure this end. If they are unnecessary or ineffective they don’t seem important, and I think that suggests they ought not to be central to our understanding of what domination is.
    We can also alter the case to avoid your suggestion. For example, suppose that none of the people in the society are motivated to retaliate if the rules are violated. Anyone could breach the rule without cost. Yet it still seems intuitive that they don’t dominate each other.

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