SOPhiA 2022

Salzburgiense Concilium Omnibus Philosophis Analyticis

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Programme - Talk

Freedom Without Ability
(Political Philosophy , English)

Most political philosophers assume that ability is necessary for freedom and in the absence of ability, either one cannot be said to be free, or the question of freedom does not arise at all. That is, if I am unable to &_966;, either I cannot be said to be free to &_966;, or it does not make sense to ask whether I am free or unfree to &_966;. If this view is right, then a hypothetical prevention has no impact on my freedom when I lack the relevant ability. In other words, when I am unable to &_966; but will be prevented if I could &_966;, that hypothetical prevention does not reduce my overall freedom. I argue against the ability-based account of freedom by claiming that a hypothetical prevention also reduces my overall freedom because I cannot increase or decrease my overall freedom all by myself while everything else around me, including the deposition of other agents, remains exactly the same. I argue that when I am unable to &_966; in the absence of preventive obstacles, I am unfree to &_966; provided that I will be prevented if I become able and try to &_966;.

Virtually all contemporary theorists of freedom reject the direct relevance of one's desires to one's freedom. According to a desire-based account, freedom is the ability to do what one wants to do. Suppose that you are a prisoner and you want to go out but the guards prevent you. If you remove your desire to go out, you will not be prevented to do what you want to do. So, by meditation, you remove most of your desires and now you want to do those things which are allowed in the prison. Thus, prison guards do not prevent you from doing what you want to do and by meditation you increased your overall freedom by removing some of your unfreedoms. In short, a desire-based conception of freedom implies that a prisoner who reduces his desires to the set of actions which are allowed to him does not suffer from any unfreedom. The reason why contemporary philosophers reject desire-based view is their belief that you cannot increase your overall freedom all by yourself while everything else around you remain exactly the same.

Now suppose that the UK government declared me persona non grata. So, I am unfree to enter the UK but I want to increase my freedom. After reading those philosophers who argue that one cannot be free to do something if one is not able to do that thing, I decided to remove my ability to enter the UK. I jumped over a cliff in order to become paralyzed and I made myself unable to enter the UK. On ability-based conception of freedom, while before I was prevented by the UK government and this prevention reduced my overall freedom, now this prevention does not matter. Thus, by becoming paralyzed I made myself freer. In other words, while everything else around me, including the disposition of the British government to prevent me, remained exactly the same, I increased my overall freedom by removing one of my unfreedoms - namely, entering the UK.

So, as the prisoner increased his overall freedom by reducing his desires, I increased my overall freedom by reducing my abilities. But if desire-based conception is rejected, ability-based conception should be rejected too. Both conceptions hold that I can increase my overall freedom by decreasing something about myself (my ability or my desire) while everything else around me remains exactly the same.


Chair: Giada Coleschi
Time: 16:00-16:30, 07 September 2022 (Wednesday)
Location: SR 1.007
Remark: (Online Talk)

Ilkin Huseynli 
(University of Milan, Italy)



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