Freedom and the extended self

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Theories of social freedom all rest on assumptions about the nature of the agents who are the subjects of that condition. Typically, such theorizing focuses on the condition of individual agents, whether they are acting in cooperative (or competitive) interaction with others or on their own. However, the question of how we should understand freedom or liberty is complicated when we take seriously the ways that agents can be understood to be deeply (if not essentially) socially and diachronically structured. In the present article I try to show that certain plausible assumptions about human agency and self-conceptions, namely that agents exist over time and in socially structured matrices of identity, complicate certain mainstream accounts of liberty. To make these points, I focus on pure opportunity accounts of (negative) liberty. After laying out the general contours of such an approach, I describe what I mean by the socially and temporally extended self as the subject of social freedom. In other words, I explain how factors other than the current state of the person described in isolation from others must be included in a sufficiently rich account of the agent. I proceed to show that the only way to explain how freedom can be gained or lost for such agents is to look beyond the pure opportunity theories of liberty and to conceptualize that idea in terms of the agent's diachronic practical (social) identity. I also discuss why certain theorists in the literature have resisted moves of this type and respond to those concerns. I conclude by demonstrating that such an expanded understanding of the subject of freedom shows how liberal political principles and institutions, in which the protection of liberty is a central tenet, rely for their functioning and coherence on robust democratic practices in the societies in which they operate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)225-254
Number of pages30
JournalEthical Perspectives
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Philosophy


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