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Abstract

The state regulates the way in which social power is exercised. It sometimes permits, enables, constrains, forbids how we may touch others, make offers, draw up contracts, use, alter, possess and destroy things that matter to people, manipulate, induce weakness of the will, coerce, engage in physical force, persuade, selectively divulge information, lie, enchant, coax, convince, … In each of these cases, we (sometimes unintentionally) get others to act in ways that serve our interests. Which such exercises of power should the state forbid? Which should it permit? An intuitively appealing way to answer this question is, with Ripstein and Kant, to point to the role of freedom: exercises of social power can be legitimately prohibited when (and only when) they restrict people's freedom. But this raises a further question: How do we identify when such exercises of power make people unfree in the relevant sense? Ripstein, in defending Kant, draws a crucial distinction between actions that subject others’ wills to our choices (and which it would therefore be presumptively legitimate for the state to forbid) and actions that merely affect the contexts in which others act (and which it would therefore be presumptively illegitimate for the state to forbid). I query that distinction, and argue that the idea of independence cannot bear, on its own, the weight it is expected to bear within the Kantian framework.