Dissertation, London School of Economics (2021)

Authors
Nicolas Cote
Cambridge University
Abstract
This thesis concerns the measurement of freedom, and its value. Specifically, I am concerned with three overarching questions. First, can we measure the extent of an individual’s freedom? It had better be that we can, otherwise much ordinary and intuitive talk that we would like to vindicate – say, about free persons being freer than slaves – will turn out to be false or meaningless. Second, in what ways is freedom valuable, and how is this value measured? It matters, for example, whether freedom is valuable only insofar as it enables us to pursue specific ends we happen to value for independent reasons, or whether it is also valuable in itself. In the latter case, but not the former, more freedom will always be better. Likewise, it’s important to get clarity on what ends, exactly, freedom is especially instrumentally valuable in promoting, since this goes to how much we should care about it. And finally, the liberal political tradition asserts that there is a special sphere of personal choices within which individuals should be free to do as they please, for reasons over and above the value of freedom itself. Now, can we measure the extent to which states and individuals respect individual liberties, and can we weigh the importance of respecting liberty against competing values like social welfare? To answer these questions, I follow the axiomatic tradition of social choice theory, and I develop several novel measures of freedom – including the first measure of freedom ever proposed that is sensitive to how modally robustly our options are available – a novel approach to measuring the diversity of an opportunity set, and I develop an account of the value of freedom according to which an important part of why freedom matters is that it enables us to improve our preferences through learning, and I construct ways of measuring the value of freedom along this dimension of value. Finally, in later chapters, I provide a representation result for a measure of illiberalism, i.e. of the degree to which states fail to respect the rights of their citizens, and I extend this result to provide a characterization of moral theories that express concern for respecting the rights of others. The final chapter closes by discussing how this concern may be weighed against concerns for social welfare.
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