Coercion: The Wrong and the Bad

Ethics 128 (3):545-573 (2018)
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The idea of coercion is one that has played, and continues to play, at least two importantly distinct moral-theoretic roles in our thinking. One, which has been the focus of a number of recent influential treatments, is a primarily deontic role in which claims of coercion serve to indicate relatively weighty prima facie wrongs and excuses. The other, by contrast, is a primarily axiological or eudaimonic role in which claims of coercion serve to pick out instances of some distinctive kind of pro tanto human bad (such as unfreedom or interpersonal subjection). I argue that this turns out not to be a simple case of one idea put to two different uses, but rather a case of two subtly distinct ideas in need of separate philosophical treatment. Moreover, although often relatively neglected, the primarily eudaimonic idea of coercion is of enduring importance to both liberal-perfectionist and socialist political moralities, as well as to personal ethics. This paper aims to elucidate it and to examine its relationship to its better-theorised deontic cousin. In addition, the paper seeks to show how a better understanding of these aspects of the concept can enable us to resolve certain important and long-standing theoretical disagreements, such as the dispute over whether coercion is an ‘essentially moralised’ concept and the dispute over whether (genuine) offers can be coercive.

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Author's Profile

Michael Garnett
King's College London

References found in this work

Force and freedom: Kant's legal and political philosophy.Arthur Ripstein - 2009 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Exploitation.Alan Wertheimer - 1996 - Princeton University Press.
Coercion.Robert Nozick - 1969 - In White Morgenbesser (ed.), Philosophy, Science, and Method: Essays in Honor of Ernest Nagel. St Martin's Press. pp. 440--72.
The moral limits of the criminal Law.Joël Feinberg - 1984 - Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 93 (2):279-279.

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