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Liberalism and Communitarianism*

  • Will Kymlicka (a1)
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Footnotes

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This paper was first presented at the annual meetings of the Canadian Philosophical Association at McMaster University, May 1987.

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References

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1 Cohen, G.A.Self-Ownership, World-Ownership and Equality: Part 2,’ Social Philosophy and Policy 3 (1986), 79

2 Dworkin, RonaldIn Defense of Equality,’ Social Philosophy and Policy 1 (1983), 26

3 Dworkin, ‘In Defense,’ 24

4 Unger, RobertoKnowledge and Politics (New York: Macmillan 1984), 66-7; Jaggar, AlisonFeminist Politics and Human Nature (Totawa, NJ: Rowman and Allenheld 1984), 194

5 Jaggar, 42-3

6 Jaggar, 86

7 Mill, J.S.Utilitarianism, Liberty, Representative Government, Acton, H.ed. (London: J.M. Dent and Sons 1972), 114-31; Dworkin, In Defense,’ 24-30; Nozick, RobertPhilosophical Explanations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 1981), 410-11, 436-40, 498-504;Rawls, JohnA Theory of Justice (London: Oxford University Press 1971), 206-10; Raz, JosephThe Morality of Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1986), 291-305

8 Taylor, CharlesHegel and Modern Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1979), 157

9 Ibid.

10 Taylor, 159

11 Macintyre, AlasdairAfter Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (London: Duckworth 1981), ch. 9

12 Of course, some liberals seem to believe that the exercise of such freedom of choice is also intrinsically valuable, something to be valued for its own sake. Berlin, lsiah(Four Essays on Liberty [London: Oxford University Press 1969), 192) attributes this position to Mill. And indeed Mill does suggest that we should exercise our capacity for free choice because it is our ‘distinctive endowment’ (Mill, 116). But Mill immediately goes on to say that exercising that capacity is important, not for its own sake, but because without it we gain ‘no practice either in discerning or desiring what is best’ (ibid.). Ladenson, Robert (’Mill’s Conception of Individuality,’ Social Theory and Practice 4 [1977), 171) cites a number of other passages which suggest that Mill is best understood as having ‘attached the greatest importance not to the mere exercise (or existence) of the capacity for choice, but to certain states of affairs and conditions which he believed are the consequences, under favourable conditions, of its free exercise.’

Claiming that freedom of choice is intrinsically valuable may seem like a direct and effective way of defending a broad range of liberal freedoms. But the implications of that claim conflict with the way we understand the value in our own lives in at least two important ways:

(1) Saying that freedom of choice is intrinsically valuable suggests that the more we exercise our capacity for choice, the more free we are, and hence the more valuable our lives are. But that is false, and indeed perverse. It quickly leads to the quasi-existentialist view that we should wake up each morning and decide anew what sort of person we should be. This is perverse because a valuable life, for most of us, will be a life filled with commitments and relationships. These, as Bernard Williams has argued at length, give our lives depth and character. And what makes them commitments is precisely that they aren’t the sort of thing that we question every day. We don’t suppose that someone who makes twenty marriage choices is in any way leading a more valuable life than someone who has no reason to question or revise an original choice. A life with more autonomous marital choices is not even ceteris paribus better than a life with fewer such choices.

(2) Saying that freedom of choice is intrinsically valuable suggests that that the value we attempt to achieve in our actions is freedom, not the value internal to the activity itself. This suggestion is endorsed by Carol Gould (Marx’s Social Ontology [Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 1978]). She accepts that action is directed at achieving the purposes internal to a given project, and that ‘one is apparently acting for the sake of these purposes themselves posited as external aims.’ But she goes on to say that truly free activity has freedom itself as the ultimate end - ’thus freedom is not only the activity that creates value but is that for the sake of which all these other values are pursued and therefore that with respect to which they become valuable’ (Gould, 118).

But this is false. First, as Taylor rightly points out, telling people to act freely doesn’t tell them what particular free activities are worth doing. But even if it provided determinate guidance, it presents a false view of our motivations. If I am writing a book, for example, my motivation isn’t to be free, but to say something that is worth saying. Indeed, if I didn’t really want to say anything, except insofar as it’s a way of being free, then my writing wouldn’t be fulfilling. What and how I write would become the results of arbitrary and indifferent and ultimately unsatisfying choices. If’writing is to be intrinsically valuable, I have to care about what I’m saying, I have to believe that writing is worth doing for its own sake. If we are to understand the interest and value people see in their projects we have to look to the ends which are internal to them. I do not pursue my writing for the sake of my freedom. On the contrary, I pursue my writing for its own sake, because there are things that are worth saying. Freedom is valuable because it allows me to say them.

The best liberal defense of individual freedoms is not necessarily the most direct one. The best defense is the one that best accords with the way people on reflection understand the value of their own lives. And, if we look at the value of freedom in this way then it seems that freedom of choice, while central to a valuable life, is not the value which is centrally pursued in such a life.

13 Taylor, 157; Sandel, MichaelLiberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1982), 161-5

14 Sandel, 94, 100, quoting Robert Nozick

15 Sandel, MichaelThe Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self,’ Political Theory 12 (1984), 86

16 Rorty, RichardPostmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism,’ in Hollinger, R.ed., Hermeneutics and Praxis (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press 1985), 217

17 Sandel, Limits of Justice, 58

18 Ibid., 149

19 Ibid., 150

20 Ibid., 152

21 Ibid.

22 Macintyre, 204-5, 201

23 Ibid., 205

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 Sandel, ‘Procedural Republic,’ 91

28 Galston, WilliamJustice and the Human Good (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1980), 44-5; Rawls, 441-2, 543-4

29 Rawls, 440

30 Kant, I.Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Moral,’ in The Moral Law, Paton, H.ed. (London: Hutchinson 1948), 109

31 Raz, 300

32 Williams, BernardEthics and the Limits of Philosophy (London: Fontana Press 1985), 170

33 Williams, 108-110, 199

34 Ibid., 169

35 Rorty, 217

36 Ibid., 216

37 Ibid., 217

38 Ibid., 218

39 Unger, 68

40 Macintyre, 205

41 Rorty, 216

42 Ibid., 217

43 Ibid., 219

44 Ibid., 216

45 Walzer, MichaelSpheres of Justice (Oxford: Blackwell 1985), xiv (emphasis added)

46 Cohen, J.Review of Spheres of Justice,’ Journal of Philosophy 83 (1986), 467

47 Kant, quoted in J. Cohen, 467

48 See, for example, Walzer, 5, 79.

49 Rawls, 18

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid., 21

52 J. Cohen, 467

53 Dworkin, RonaldA Matter of Principle (London: Harvard University Press 1985), 176

54 Macintyre, 67

55 I discuss communitarian objections to these broader issues of liberal political theory in chapter 4 of Liberalism, Community, and Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press forthcoming [1989]).

56 I would like to thank G.A. Cohen, A.M. Macleod and W.E. Cooper for helpful comments on an earlier draft.

* This paper was first presented at the annual meetings of the Canadian Philosophical Association at McMaster University, May 1987.

Liberalism and Communitarianism*

  • Will Kymlicka (a1)

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