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Should I be free to sell my freedom?

Should I be free to sell my freedom? It seems that from a libertarian perspective, I should be even though I should own my self. But a problem I have with this view is that we can, and often do, make arguably irrational decisions that will inhibit my future capacities as a person. To demonstrate using a small example, it would be better for me to eat an apple rather than a cake but I still choose the cake. Should I be allowed to do this for things as important as my own autonomy. e.g consenting to a contract that binds me to my labourer for life in exchange for shelter and food? Or is the moral responsibility on the employer to not exploit me?

Very interesting!

I suppose there are some libertarians who think that taking individual liberty seriously should permit you to go so far as to be able to sell yourself irrevocably into slavery to a master. Indeed, as some libertarians insist on persons having the right to take their own lives (self-killing or suicide), it may not be easy to avoid a slippery slope in which persons can do anything they wish (so long as it is not compromising the well being of others and meets other, base-line moral requirements). In that sense, you may be free to rationally or irrationally eat and work as you like. But for those who prize autonomy and self-determination as a great good, there will be resistance to think that "anything goes." Someone from that perspective, may well claim that contexts in which you are exploited involves serious wrong-doings on behalf of employers or contractors. From this vantage point, it may be understandable that you would "sell" your freedom in order to safeguard the more fundamental good of life itself, but those who forced you into such a situation would be found to be profoundly guilty of violating the good and right of your self-respect and the good of your freedom.

Very interesting! I suppose there are some libertarians who think that taking individual liberty seriously should permit you to go so far as to be able to sell yourself irrevocably into slavery to a master. Indeed, as some libertarians insist on persons having the right to take their own lives (self-killing or suicide), it may not be easy to avoid a slippery slope in which persons can do anything they wish (so long as it is not compromising the well being of others and meets other, base-line moral requirements). In that sense, you may be free to rationally or irrationally eat and work as you like. But for those who prize autonomy and self-determination as a great good, there will be resistance to think that "anything goes." Someone from that perspective, may well claim that contexts in which you are exploited involves serious wrong-doings on behalf of employers or contractors. From this vantage point, it may be understandable that you would "sell" your freedom in order to safeguard the more...

Is freedom of speech distinct from freedom of behavior? For example, is burning

Is freedom of speech distinct from freedom of behavior? For example, is burning the Bill of Rights distinct from calling for the revocation of the freedom from unjust imprisonment?

Excellent question. The right to freedom of speech has been used to defend what used to be illegal acts (burning an American flag). But the two are certainly distinguishable. So, burning a copy of the Bill of Rights may be highly dangerous in a building full of petroleum containers or in a crowded elevator. Also, speech may be easier to interpret than behavior. If you call for the revocation of the freedom from unjust punishment, your conviction seems pretty clear. But if we see you burning a copy of the Bill of Rights, your views may be less clear: You might not know what you are burning. You might be cold and the copy of the Bill of Rights is the only paper available for you to light a fire to be warm. You also might simply like to burn things, whereas it would be highly unusual for someone to say in public 'Let us revoke our right to be free from unjust punishment" unless they honestly desired such a revocation (assuming the "speech act" was not part of a film script or artistic 'happening' called 'what would it be like if the Bill of Rights was rendered null and void legally?')

Excellent question. The right to freedom of speech has been used to defend what used to be illegal acts (burning an American flag). But the two are certainly distinguishable. So, burning a copy of the Bill of Rights may be highly dangerous in a building full of petroleum containers or in a crowded elevator. Also, speech may be easier to interpret than behavior. If you call for the revocation of the freedom from unjust punishment, your conviction seems pretty clear. But if we see you burning a copy of the Bill of Rights, your views may be less clear: You might not know what you are burning. You might be cold and the copy of the Bill of Rights is the only paper available for you to light a fire to be warm. You also might simply like to burn things, whereas it would be highly unusual for someone to say in public 'Let us revoke our right to be free from unjust punishment" unless they honestly desired such a revocation (assuming the "speech act" was not part of a film script or artistic 'happening'...

It seems to me that the power of the first amendment to protect freedom of

It seems to me that the power of the first amendment to protect freedom of speech is vastly overstated. If a wealthy corporation doesn't like a magazine which is agitating against them they can just buy the magazine. Wouldn't freedom of the press be better served by some degree of government involvement?

Very interesting observation and question!

The first amendment is (I believe) customarily treated as what some philosophers call a "negative right." That is, the amendment refers to the duty of government and private citizens to REFRAIN from outlawing or unjustly silencing "voices" that are licit (that is, the people speaking / publishing are not breaking some other precept of justice, e.g. a newspaper uses its prestige to make baseless claims about the outbreak of an epidemic that does not exist causing a mass population to a panic that leads to many preventable deaths). So, initially, it seems the first amendment does not involve a positive right, a right that would entail duties on behalf of people to insure that all voices be heard/ made public.

So, in the case you bring up: if a wealthy corporation has broken no laws and (let us imagine) has acquired its wealth justly (from a moral point of view), it seems that the second amendment would not be a sound basis for objecting to their acquisition of a magazine critical of the corporation. But your question and observation brings up a vital point: in a democracy, the citizens need to have access to fair and balanced information about their nation and the world. Other things being equal, it seems that a publicly funded source of information / news would be better than a news organization funded by private financing with a specific ideological agenda or, putting things differently, did not have a vested interest in the result. So, I believe that many of us would be more likely to trust a claim by a study that was funded by the public on the safety of Tobacco products than a study funded by Philip Morris.

While I suggest that there MIGHT be nothing unethical or illegal about a corporation buying a magazine critical of the company, democratic societies have a real and significant interest in insuring that their citizens have a fair and balanced understanding of what occurs locally and internationally. So, if the free market economy is unable to sustain a public investigation into whether a company is implicated in dangerous practices, there is a collective interest in supporting news sources that are not vulnerable to manipulation due to market pressures, especially those advanced by the company itself.

Very interesting observation and question! The first amendment is (I believe) customarily treated as what some philosophers call a "negative right." That is, the amendment refers to the duty of government and private citizens to REFRAIN from outlawing or unjustly silencing "voices" that are licit (that is, the people speaking / publishing are not breaking some other precept of justice, e.g. a newspaper uses its prestige to make baseless claims about the outbreak of an epidemic that does not exist causing a mass population to a panic that leads to many preventable deaths). So, initially, it seems the first amendment does not involve a positive right, a right that would entail duties on behalf of people to insure that all voices be heard/ made public. So, in the case you bring up: if a wealthy corporation has broken no laws and (let us imagine) has acquired its wealth justly (from a moral point of view), it seems that the second amendment would not be a sound basis for objecting to their...

At what point does an action change from something you do sometimes to a habit?

At what point does an action change from something you do sometimes to a habit? At what point does a habit become an addiction? Do those same points exist in reverse and are they in the same spot? Is this more of a medical question or maybe physiological? Is it a mental change you make (whether you know it or not) or a physical change? Why is it so hard to break but so easy to make worse?

Great set of questions. Certainly, these are matters that involve psychology and have an application in medicine, though philosophers from Ancient GreeK though onward have found it important to reflect on responsibility, habits, and determining when actions are truly voluntary. I suspect voluntariness is the key. The more we become habituated to a pattern of behavior, it seems that the more will power is required to break the pattern. I believe that Aristotle was right when he described the path to virtue in terms of habituation or the developing good habits or dispositions (to act justly, temperately, etc). In a sense, the virtuous person is someone who has developed a character so that they naturally and without struggle seek to do what is good. And the opposite would be true of a person in terms of vice; their character is such that they naturally and without struggle do what is cruel, destructive, and the like. Speaking more directly to your question(s) it seems that voluntary action is a scaler term (a matter of degree) and so would matters of habit or addiction. So, to take alcohol consumption, there seems to be a fairly common sense distinction between an occasional or "social" drinker, a habitual drinker, a heavy drinker, and an alcoholic, and these seem to map matters of voluntariness. Treatment centers and insurance companies are likely to treat the alcoholic as someone with very little, if any, voluntary control over their drinking, whereas someone who drinks habitually or regularly (say, one glass of wine a day) has more control, and the only occasional moderate drinker has even more control. For an excellent book on this later topic see Heavy Drinking by (and I am probably slightly misspelling his name) Finegrette.

Great set of questions. Certainly, these are matters that involve psychology and have an application in medicine, though philosophers from Ancient GreeK though onward have found it important to reflect on responsibility, habits, and determining when actions are truly voluntary. I suspect voluntariness is the key. The more we become habituated to a pattern of behavior, it seems that the more will power is required to break the pattern. I believe that Aristotle was right when he described the path to virtue in terms of habituation or the developing good habits or dispositions (to act justly, temperately, etc). In a sense, the virtuous person is someone who has developed a character so that they naturally and without struggle seek to do what is good. And the opposite would be true of a person in terms of vice; their character is such that they naturally and without struggle do what is cruel, destructive, and the like. Speaking more directly to your question(s) it seems that voluntary action is a...

It is said that happiness should be attained from the "inside out". That it

It is said that happiness should be attained from the "inside out". That it should be unilaterally seeked, and not externally determined. On a philosophical standpoint, is this view tenable, considering that we do not live in a vacumn? It is, to a large extent, true that we can choose the way we respond to a situation. But wouldn't undesirable or negative events (or even harassment) trigger the need to choose to respond in a way that does not allow for the event to determine one's happiness, and that that itself connotes that external events have a role to play? I may be stretching the notion too far, in which case, a rephrasing of the question would involve asking the extent to which happiness should/could be unilaterally determined? On a general level, is happiness a concept that is consensually determined (a social construct) or is it a subjective pursuit, such that one can "choose to be happy" for real?

Excellent question or set of questions! The Ancient Greeks were especially vexed by this concern, some of them (like the Stoics) stressing happiness as something that is almost always an internal matter, but those influenced by Greek tragedy tended to take the opposite view (chance or fate can have a major impact). Probably the best book on this historically and as a substantial question on its own is The Fragility of Goodness; Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy by Martha Nussbaum (Cambridge University Press, 1986). I suspect that some kind of middle ground is the most reasonable: your flourishing or happiness cannot be entirely internal (it would be hard to be happy while being slowly tortured to death), but it cannot be entirely external (we can imagine a chap having the best conditions possible and yet responding with spiteful unhappiness).

As for your general question on happiness, the current debate is quite interesting! Some philosophers are impressed by some empirical evidence that suggests (to them) that a person is not the best judge of whether he or she is happy. There are studies to the effect that most people report being happy with their lives (see "Most People are Happy" in Psychological Science, vol. 7, 1996). There was a 1978 study that reports that accident victims who become paraplegic usually return to their original state of happiness within one year. And another study in 1996 which suggests that few of us (except in non-fatal conditions of course!) are badly effected after three months of a bad event. (There is an excellent paper on this by Jason Marsh entitled "Quality of Life Assessments, Cognitive Reliability and Procreative Responsibility.") Some philosophers think all this is pretty good news, but others conclude that the data must reveal that people are self-deceived and while they think they are happy, they are not. I personally have a hard time believing these studies (I think it would take me more than a year to recover from being paraplegic), but if these studies are accurate they perhaps support a middle ground position: a person's happiness is neither entirely internal nor entirely external.

I don't think Marsh's paper is published yet; I heard it presented to my department. But keep an eye out for his treatment of such cases!

Excellent question or set of questions! The Ancient Greeks were especially vexed by this concern, some of them (like the Stoics) stressing happiness as something that is almost always an internal matter, but those influenced by Greek tragedy tended to take the opposite view (chance or fate can have a major impact). Probably the best book on this historically and as a substantial question on its own is The Fragility of Goodness; Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy by Martha Nussbaum (Cambridge University Press, 1986). I suspect that some kind of middle ground is the most reasonable: your flourishing or happiness cannot be entirely internal (it would be hard to be happy while being slowly tortured to death), but it cannot be entirely external (we can imagine a chap having the best conditions possible and yet responding with spiteful unhappiness). As for your general question on happiness, the current debate is quite interesting! Some philosophers are impressed by some empirical evidence...

It seems plausible that a person might do something they don't want to do,

It seems plausible that a person might do something they don't want to do, without any external pressure. For example, a person on a diet might cheat and eat a bar of chocolate, even though they don't want to cheat; or a person trying to quit smoking might smoke a cigarette even if they don't want to smoke the cigarette. And yet, these are actions which require conscious activity in order to complete - these aren't accidents, and so it seems fair to say that, on some level, even if the person on a diet doesn't want to eat the chocolate, he or she does, in fact, want to eat the chocolate. This seems absolutely contradictory - yet surely, everybody has, at some point or another in their life, given in to some temptation despite not wanting to, or otherwise done something that they, in strong terms, did not want to do, even though they weren't forced to do so. How, then, are we to make sense of such situations? It seems logically impossible to both want to eat something and to want to refrain from...

Excellent question(s)! To begin, it may be mis-leading to think of the "will" as an entity, whether substantial or framented. It is perhaps more plausable to think of the "will" as an abstract way of referring to a person's intentional powers, so that to say that a person has free will or any kind of will, is to refer to a person having the power to act and, in the case of free will, the power to act in more than one way (to do an act or not do an act). There is a massive literature addressing your important questions going back to Socrates. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were suspicious of claims that people can do that which they know (or strongly believe) are wrong. (There is some controversy over interpreting Aristotle on this, but I suggest he stood with his teacher, Plato, on this.) Two promising approaches to this problem (which is sometimes called the problem of weakness of will or Akrasia, Greek for "lack of self-control") involve distinguishing levels of desires. Harry Frankfurt (Princeton), for example, distinguishes between first and second order levels of desire. On this view, the person wants on the first level to eat the chocolate bar, but on a higher level, he or she does not. Frankfurt goes on to portray moral self-struggle with determining which desire is the one that you most identify with versus the one that you consider alien. This might see odd, but I think it quite common. When I gave us smoking, I had to think of myself as a non-smoker thus siding with the desire not to smoke and saw occasional lapses as truly lapses and not reflecting my ultimate, deepest commitment. Another way of addressing akrasia might involve a bit of fragmentation. Someone might have to consciously will (desire / intend) X in order to do the act, but at the same time (sub-consciously) the person may know that what they are doing is wrong.

As for guilt and responsibility, I suggest that recognizing that we sometimes cave in to first order desires or act against what we know (deep down or implicitly) to be wrong, need not throw us into chaos. A person may have "a factured jumble of dozens of mutually exclusive desires" and yet be fully accountable for why he or she acts on base or immoral desires rather than resolve with greater will power only to act on that which is good or permissible.

Excellent question(s)! To begin, it may be mis-leading to think of the "will" as an entity, whether substantial or framented. It is perhaps more plausable to think of the "will" as an abstract way of referring to a person's intentional powers, so that to say that a person has free will or any kind of will, is to refer to a person having the power to act and, in the case of free will, the power to act in more than one way (to do an act or not do an act). There is a massive literature addressing your important questions going back to Socrates. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were suspicious of claims that people can do that which they know (or strongly believe) are wrong. (There is some controversy over interpreting Aristotle on this, but I suggest he stood with his teacher, Plato, on this.) Two promising approaches to this problem (which is sometimes called the problem of weakness of will or Akrasia, Greek for "lack of self-control") involve distinguishing levels of desires. Harry Frankfurt (Princeton...

If it is assumed that a person is indeed free to have his/her own opinions,

If it is assumed that a person is indeed free to have his/her own opinions, views, perspectives, etc., should this right still be respected even if a person's opinions are demonstrably wrong, misleading, or potentially harmful (to themselves and others)?

Great question! Replying to the question will depend on the kind of "right" you have in mind. Consider three areas: politics, education, and the general issue of integrity.

In a pluralistic democracy that respects basic liberties, you may have to tolerate (though to tolerate is not necessarily to respect) demonstrably false beliefs unless there is serious reason to believe that they will lead to actual (not merely potential) harm. So, it seems there is no obstacle for most world democracies today to insure that overt racism is not cultivated by any public institutions and to make it difficult (if not impossible) for private institutions to cultivate racism, especially when this is harming the innocent. But it will not be easy to directly control what people think or believe using political tools (how might a government insure that no citizen ever believes their horoscope?). The government can and most governments do control certification processes involving medicine and health, and so there are some ways in which the government might control dangerous beliefs, but probably the more effective means will have to involve education.

In educational institutions (and all the certification systems that go with them), there will be means to expose demonstrably false opinions, views, perspectives, and to bring to light the harms involved. There seems no ill involved (and indeed much good is involved) when universities weigh in on what practices are deserving of our respect and what practices are not. Educational institutions can be profoundly flawed, but this seems to be a setting in which one may rightly expose demonstrably false, dangerous views.

Apart from politics and education, philosophers disagree about when a person has a right to any given belief. According to a strong form of evidentialism, it is wrong (or bad) to adopt any belief without sufficient evidence. On this view, you would not have a right to a belief even if it turns out (unknown at the time) to be true and if acting on the belief generated great, demonstrable good, if you did not have sufficient evidence to believe it is true. Other philosophers think this is too stringent and hopeless, as we currently lack clear criteria for identifying sufficient evidence.

Great question! Replying to the question will depend on the kind of "right" you have in mind. Consider three areas: politics, education, and the general issue of integrity. In a pluralistic democracy that respects basic liberties, you may have to tolerate (though to tolerate is not necessarily to respect) demonstrably false beliefs unless there is serious reason to believe that they will lead to actual (not merely potential) harm. So, it seems there is no obstacle for most world democracies today to insure that overt racism is not cultivated by any public institutions and to make it difficult (if not impossible) for private institutions to cultivate racism, especially when this is harming the innocent. But it will not be easy to directly control what people think or believe using political tools (how might a government insure that no citizen ever believes their horoscope?). The government can and most governments do control certification processes involving medicine and health, and so there are...

(Firstly I am sorry if this or a similar question has been presented but I can

(Firstly I am sorry if this or a similar question has been presented but I can not find one that sufficiently examines what I am trying to ascertain.) I have been relatively taken with the arguments surrounding determinism and free will. Chiefly the suggestion that there is no way to consolidate the two together into a singular idea. One such reason I have been presented with to support determinism is the fact that such base things as our values or beliefs might be influenced by outisde beings; parents being the example I will use. If people such as our parents can shape our values and beliefs do we actually have free will in what we decide to do when predented with a moral choice? (i.e. Catholic beliefs leading one not to have an abortion or so on). One such issue I saw with this is that through introspection I can see where the beliefs of my parents no longer hold for me. I have adapted and developed what I would consider my own set of beliefs; even though I did start with the beliefs taught by my...

A large number of philosophers believe that one may affirm both determinism and freedom of the will. Probably at least half the panel does, though I do not. I suggest that a person does an act freely if she does the act and has the power to do otherwise (all other things remaining the same). And if determinism is true (determinism is, roughly, the idea that every event is necessary given antecedent and simultaneous events and the laws of nature) then persons lack the power to do any act other than the act they do. In any case, for most philosophers who affirm that we are free, we rarely think that freedom is without any context or absolute. In other words, if you are free, you are free to do some specific act or adopt some particular practice, and so on. You righly note the influence of family and other factors in shaping our thinking and action as adults. And even now, as adults, we may be under the influence of all sorts of forces and conditions. Nonetheless when you do reflect freely about (to...

Assume it were discovered that certain mental aspects of a person - their

Assume it were discovered that certain mental aspects of a person - their temperment, their inclinations, their basic attitudes and desires - were at least partly the result of the person's genes. Now assume that a couple (for whatever reason) decides that they want their child to be an energetic, extroverted, optimistic and competitive; or that they decide they want a calm, collected, intelligent, questioning and cooperative child; or any other variation. They then go on to their doctor and have the embryo's genes modified such that their child will have these qualities. Is the control exercised over the child's fundamental nature an imposition of the parents' wills onto the will of the child? And is a person whose will has been designed by another will as free as a will that has not been designed at all?

Excellent question. It is excellent partly because it goes to the heart of the nature of freedom: freedom makes little sense without a context. So, it makes sense to ask of a person at any time whether she or he is free to do X, but in the case you are imagining there is no will of the child prior to the parent's decision making. So, we do not have a case of when, say, a two year old child is given some character-transforming infusion, we are rather focussing in on the very gestation and emergence of the child. I suggest that there might be reasons to discourage this kind of engineering (perhaps such engineering might tend to make parents feel they have a kind of ownership over their children), but that such engineering need not be seen as an imposition of the parents' will "onto the will of the child" with one proviso. That condition concerns whether the child has any freedom once she reaches maturity to be (for example) not optimistic, not competitive, to neglect her intellectual talents, to be non-cooperative and unquestioning and so on. Arguably, one freely does X when one does X and has the power to do otherwise. If the engineering is so thorough that the child cannot act other than she or he has been shaped then it seems that the parents have, as it were, programmed their child and eradicated her freedom, except in the trivial sense that the child will be free to do what she wants. I describe that as trivial in the sense that while she can do what she wants, she is not free to have any other wants than those her parents have selected.

Excellent question. It is excellent partly because it goes to the heart of the nature of freedom: freedom makes little sense without a context. So, it makes sense to ask of a person at any time whether she or he is free to do X, but in the case you are imagining there is no will of the child prior to the parent's decision making. So, we do not have a case of when, say, a two year old child is given some character-transforming infusion, we are rather focussing in on the very gestation and emergence of the child. I suggest that there might be reasons to discourage this kind of engineering (perhaps such engineering might tend to make parents feel they have a kind of ownership over their children), but that such engineering need not be seen as an imposition of the parents' will "onto the will of the child" with one proviso. That condition concerns whether the child has any freedom once she reaches maturity to be (for example) not optimistic, not competitive, to neglect her intellectual talents, to be non...