9th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Mills

Christopher Mills

Waldron on Manipulation

In his paper ‘Autonomy and Perfectionism in Raz’s Morality of Freedom’ (1989) Jeremy Waldron constructs a criticism of liberal perfectionism centred on a claim that interferences with citizens’ lives justified in a perfectionist manner necessarily ‘distort’ the reasoning of the citizen. In doing so the state does not accord sufficient respect to the citizen’s personal autonomy. Thus it acts in an illiberal fashion by altering the real costs of the individual’s decision. This paper refutes Waldron’s claims. I argue that Waldron’s position cannot be founded on either of the two conditions of personal autonomy (authenticity or competency). Instead it is based on a Kantian interpretation of respect for the value of personal autonomy. Consequently, Waldron’s position requires more to defend itself from liberal perfectionists than he realises. Liberals aiming to promote citizen well-being base their views on a contrasting conception of respect for personal autonomy – a model that draws no distinction between respect for and promotion of personal autonomy. I show that proponents of this view can call into question the coherence of Waldron’s claims by questioning Waldron’s ability to both; i) claim that all perfectionist interventions necessarily distort citizen’s reasoning, and ii) identify an ‘original’ set of merits. The paper concludes by proposing an incentive scheme that reduces already present costs of certain options facing a decision-maker. Acting in this way allows the incentive scheme to avoid Waldron’s worries (thus making them acceptable to Kantian liberals) whilst still retaining the comprehensive and perfectionist liberal’s ability to promote citizen well-being.