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Res Publica

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 175–192 | Cite as

Slaves, Prisoners, and Republican Freedom

  • Fabian Wendt
Article

Abstract

Philip Pettit’s republican conception of freedom is presented as an alternative both to negative and positive conceptions of freedom. The basic idea is to conceptualize freedom as non-domination, not as non-interference or self-mastery. When compared to negative freedom, Pettit’s republican conception comprises two controversial claims: the claim that we are unfree if we are dominated without actual interference, and the claim that we are free if we face interference without domination. Because the slave is a widely accepted paradigm of the unfree person, the case of a slave with a non-interfering master is often cited as providing a good argument for the first republican claim and against a negative conception of freedom. One aim of this article is to raise doubts about whether this is true. The other aim of the article is to show that the prisoner—also a paradigm of the unfree person—presents a good argument against the second republican claim and in favour of a negative conception of freedom. This is called the ‘prisoner-argument’. It will be argued that neither Pettit’s distinction between free persons and free choices nor his distinction between compromising and conditioning factors of freedom can help to rebut the charge of the prisoner-argument.

Keywords

Philip Pettit Liberty Freedom Domination Interference Republicanism Slavery 

Notes

Acknowledgments

An earlier (and shorter) version of this paper was presented at the congress of the Société de Philosophie Analytique in Geneva (2–5 September 2009). I am very grateful to Philip Pettit—who was among the attendees of my talk in Geneva—for giving me important hints on where and how to improve and extend my paper. I would also like to thank the other participants in Geneva for their comments. I am thankful to my colleagues in Hamburg, especially Thomas Schramme, Michael Oliva Córdoba, and Benjamin Buchthal, for discussing later versions of the paper with me. Finally, two anonymous reviewers for Res Publica provided me with extremely helpful comments.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophisches SeminarUniversity of HamburgHamburgGermany

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