, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 61-81

Choice, freedom, and freedom of choice

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This paper argues in favour of a distinction between ‘freedom’ and ‘freedom of choice’ – a distinction that economists and political philosophers have so far either ignored or drawn wrongly. Drawing the distinction correctly may help to resolve a number of disputes in contemporary political philosophy and non-welfarist normative economics regarding the so-called ‘preference-based’ account of freedom and the relevance, to judgements about freedom, of degrees of similarity between agents’ options. The paper begins by setting out three much discussed axioms for the measurement of freedom (of choice?) originally put forward by Pattanaik and Xu. It is suggested that the problems these axioms give rise to can be solved by distinguishing correctly between ‘freedom’ and ‘freedom of choice’. The paper then sets out definitions of ‘freedom’, ‘choice’ and ‘freedom of choice’, justifying these in philosophical terms and arguing their superiority to alternative definitions. Finally, on the basis of these definitions and with reference to Pattanaik and Xu’s axioms, it is shown that an agent can enjoy freedom without enjoying freedom of choice, and that she can enjoy an increase in one of these without enjoying an increase in the other.

For their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper, I should like to thank Keith Dowding, Martin van Hees, Matthew Kramer, Marco Negri, Serena Olsaretti, Olof Page, Mario Ricciardi, Alan Ritter, Hillel Steiner, Kotaro Suzumura and audiences at seminars in Manchester, Palermo, Pavia and Oxford. I am grateful to the Italian Ministry for Higher Education (MURST) and the Italian National Research Council (CNR) for funding that facilitated the completion of the paper.