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

Andreas Schmidt

Free to Be a Slave? Overall Freedom and Paternalism

This paper tries to resolve the paradox that surrounds, what I will call, Mill’s Slave Case: does a concern for liberty require prohibiting even those forms of slavery that are entirely voluntary? There are two powerful intuitions here:

  • Intuition 1: taking away the option to become a slave is a restriction of liberty.
  • Intuition 2: leading the life of a slave means living a very unfree life.

This paper, first, discusses answers that try to resolve the paradox by either denying Intuition 2 (thus claiming there are ‘free slaves’) or that deny Intuition 1 (claiming that prohibiting slavery does not restrict liberty). All these solutions are shown to fail. The paper then suggests that the paradox is best accounted for by a distinction between simple overall liberty and expected overall liberty. If we try to maximise simple overall liberty – the amount of freedoms available and amount of unfreedoms absent before taking any decision – then restricting slavery is not justifiable with respect to liberty. If we aim to maximise expected overall liberty – the aggregated overall liberty across time that takes into account the probability that an agent will act certain ways – then prohibiting slavery can be required. This paper will then show how this distinction can fruitfully be applied to problems of paternalism more generally.