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Abstract

In this dissertation, I develop and defend a conception of external freedom: freedom in relation to other people and the extrapersonal material world. One does something freely, I argue, only if one does it for its own sake and not merely for the sake of further ends. Mainstream accounts of freedom can be divided roughly into “negative” and “positive” theories. “Negative” theories tend to construe freedom as the absence of interpersonal coercion. Such approaches, I argue, are unable to make sense not only of non-interpersonal unfreedom and its social significance but even of coercion, for they fail to explain the way in which coercion makes its victim unfree, and consequently explain the wrongfulness of coercion in the wrong way. “Positive” theories, on the other hand, tend to construe freedom as autonomy. I argue that in their currently dominant forms, these theories are also unable to make sense of coercion because they misconstrue the unfreedom of coerced action as a defective form of internal self-relation, such as an impaired ability to set one’s own ends or to adjust one’s lower-order desires on the basis of one’s higher-order desires. My own account is a “positive” conception of freedom as autonomy which makes room for genuinely external forms of unfreedom. I begin with the familiar idea that doing something freely requires doing what one wants to do. But the relevant kind of desire, I argue, is intrinsic desire—the desire to do something on account of its intrinsic value. It follows that one does something freely only if one does it for its own sake, and not merely instrumentally. Free activity must be, in Marx’s terms, not “merely a means to satisfy needs external to it” but itself “the satisfaction of a need.” I show that this view makes sense of paradigm cases of unfreedom including the unfreedom of coerced action. Coerced action, by virtue of the peculiarly external way in which it is incentivized, is essentially a species of merely instrumental action and therefore unfree. I argue, however, that other activities motivated by similarly external incentives—such as paid labor—are merely instrumental, and therefore unfree, in the same way. Notwithstanding some moral differences between them, both coercively threatening someone and incentivizing them by means of payment are ways of objectionably using that person as a mere means. Finally, I show that toil—labor which is intrinsically unchoiceworthy by virtue of its content—is as such unfree. This includes “bullshit jobs” which the worker considers pointless as well as routine labor which affords the worker no meaningful scope for deliberation in her work. I argue that a market economy can be expected to give rise to avoidable toil of both kinds, and hence to avoidable unfreedom. If we are genuinely committed to living in a society of free people, I conclude, we have a collective duty to seek an alternative to the market as the central form of the social organization of productive activity.

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