Thursday, December 26, 2013

Freedom: Non-Frustration, Non-Interference and Non-Domination (Part Two)



(Part One)

This is the second and final part in my series on the different conceptions of political freedom. The series is working from Philip Pettit's article "The Instability of Freedom as Noninterference: The Case of Isaiah Berlin". In this article, Pettit analyses three different conceptions of political freedom -- freedom as non-frustration; freedom as non-interference; and freedom as non-domination -- and makes an argument for the non-domination conception.

In part one, we looked at the differences between freedom as non-frustration and freedom as non-interference. The former conception, which was associated with the work of Thomas Hobbes, held that we are free just so long as we are not frustrated in doing what we want to do. The latter conception, which was associated with the work of Isaiah Berlin, held that we are free just so long as our choices are unimpeded across a range of possible worlds.

At the end of part one, we introduced the adaptation argument. This argument stated that the non-frustration conception of political freedom was unsustainable. It did so on the grounds that the non-frustration conception led to the absurd conclusion that you can make yourself free by adapting your preferences to match those of anyone who might be dispositionally inclined to interfere with your choices. Like, for example, the prisoner who adapts his/her preferences to meet those of the prison warden.

The adaptation argument hinted that the non-interference conception of freedom was preferable to the non-frustration conception. Or so it seemed when we left off. But is it really the case that the non-interference conception captures what is needed in an account of political freedom? Pettit thinks not. Just as the non-frustration account had to yield to the superiority of the non-interference account, so too must the non-interference account yield to the superiority of the non-domination account.

This post will cover Pettit's argument for this conclusion. It does so in two sections. The first covers the ingratiation argument, which maintains that the non-interference conception leads to an absurdity. The second explains exactly what is entailed by the non-domination conception, and why it is an appealing basis for a doctrine of political freedom.


1. The Ingratiation Argument
The ingratiation argument holds that the non-interference conception of freedom is absurd because it leads to the conclusion that a person is free if he/she ingratiates themselves with anyone who is dispositionally inclined to interfere with his or her choices. As with the adaptation argument before it, Pettit gives the ingratiation argument a six-step, semi-formal construction.

Here it is (numbering continues from part one):


  • (7) Suppose with Berlin that you enjoy freedom in a choice between A and B just in case both options are open; you avoid interference in each option, not just interference in the option preferred.
  • (8) By supposition, you do not enjoy freedom of choice in that case where I have a power of interference and, being ill willed, am disposed to interfere with one or the other option.
  • (9) But, by supposition, you would enjoy freedom of choice in that case if I were disposed, notwithstanding my power, to interfere with neither.
  • (10) If you know the situation, then, it appears that you can make yourself free, without reducing my power of interference, just by ingratiating yourself with me and getting me to let you have your way.
  • (11) But this is absurd. You cannot make yourself free just by accommodating yourself to my power of interference.
  • (12) Thus, the original supposition that noninterference is enough for freedom must be false.


The logic of this argument is pretty straightforward, but the conclusion is less compelling for me than was the case with the conclusion the adaptation argument. The problem, for me at any rate, is that the alleged absurdity doesn't grab me by the intuitive lapels in quite the same way as the absurdity in the previous argument. So perhaps some examples are needed to illustrate the problem.

Fortunately, such examples come readily to hand. One that Pettit specifically mentions in the article is the description of women who ingratiate themselves with their husbands from Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Legally, culturally and socially, these women were deemed to be the property of their husbands, and could only act with his permission. But, of course, the husband may have been relatively benevolent and the woman could have ingratiated herself with him so that he was never inclined to interfere with her decisions. Such a woman would achieve the ideal of freedom as non-interference, but would she really be free? Pettit thinks not, and this is why the non-interference account is absurd.

This conclusion must be tempered by one observation. Ingratiation can increase freedom in certain contexts viz. when it is used to increase the number of options available to someone. Pettit again gives the example (discussed in part one) of the person who ingratiates themselves with their friend so as to make themselves an acceptable hiking partner at the weekend. This increases the number of options available to the person, but does not imply any lack of freedom.

But why not? Ostensibly, what is going on here is similar to what was going on in the case of Wollstonecraft's charming wife who ingratiated herself with her husband: both agents are using their charms to increase the number of options available to them. Why does one use of ingratiation speak to a lack of freedom when the other does not?


2. Freedom as Non-Domination
The answer lies in the non-domination conception of freedom, the one that Pettit himself endorses. Pettit uses this conception to diagnose the flaws at the heart of the non-interference conception. The problem for the woman who must ingratiate herself with her husband is that she must do this in order to increase her options: social institutions are set up in such a way that she always subjected to the will of her husband and cannot act without his good graces. The same is not true of the person who ingratiates themselves with their friend: they are not institutionally and socially restricted in the same manner.

The non-domination conception of freedom captures the distinction between the two cases. According to this conception of freedom, one is free only if one is not subject to the dominating will of another, i.e. only if one is free to act without the permission of another. This is what is happening in the case of Wollstonecraft's charming wife. She is only allowed to act with the permission of her husband. She is subject to his dominating control, even if he is not inclined to exercise it. This is the essential ingredient in the political account of freedom that is passed over by Berlin's non-interference account.

Pettit says that the non-dominating conception of freedom can be illustrated using the same door analogy that Berlin used to illustrate the non-interference conception. As you'll recall from part one, Berlin argued that choices could be analogised to doors that we try to push open. The non-interference conception of freedom requires simply that the doors yield to us across a number of different possible worlds. The non-domination conception requires something more. It requires both that the doors yield to us across a number of possible worlds and, also, that there is no doorkeeper whose good graces you must rely upon whenever you wish to pass through.

All of which suggests that the non-domination conception of freedom is quite demanding. If it is right, then people can be dominated even if their dominators never interfere with their decisions; and people can be dominators, even if they never exercise their powers of domination. Identifying and removing all the possible sources of domination will, consequently, be an arduous process.


3. Conclusion
That brings us to the end of this series. To briefly summarise, we have looked at three different conceptions of political freedom: (i) freedom as non-frustration; (ii) freedom as non-interference; and (iii) freedom as non-domination. The first of these, which we associated with the work of Thomas Hobbes, led to the absurd conclusion that a person could be free if they simply adapted their preferences to match those of anyone who was dispositionally inclined to interfere with their choices. The second, which we associated with the work of Isaiah Berlin, led to the absurd conclusion that a person could be free if they simply ingratiated themselves with anyone who was dispositionally inclined to interfere with their choices. That cleared the path for the third conception -- that of non-domination -- which avoids these absurdities and makes for a more demanding political theory of freedom.

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