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Philosophy and Public Affairs (PPA) Colloquium Bushuis F0.22, Bushuis, Kloveniersburgwal 48

Event details of John Christman (Penn): “Freedom as Liberation”
Date 18 March 2013
Time 16:00

Abstract: Admittedly, the word “freedom”, like other politically loaded terms, is often used as simply a placeholder for whatever social goals are being heralded by the speaker or her group.  But under conditions of what we would all describe as oppressive – historical struggles against slavery, dictatorial regimes, domination of socially vilified groups, and the like – calling for “freedom” has a strikingly consistent ring.  As political philosophers, we owe it to these struggles to attempt to capture what is coherent and motivating in these uses, yet most standard accounts of freedom in the political or social sense fail to fully capture what is lacking in oppressive circumstances.  This paper attempts to provide such an account.  It is my contention that “freedom” in such contexts refers to what I describe as “liberation”, namely the removal of constraining conditions that prevent the movement toward minimally just social conditions.  To use such a term meaningfully, I contend, one need not have fully developed a settled concept of ideal “justice”, nor need one have a fully defensible diagnosis of what makes one’s current conditions “oppressive”.  However, “freedom” in such contexts can refer to a fight to remove preventative conditions that make progress toward a minimally just social structure impossible.  I call these conditions “oppression” in a special sense and explicate the idea of freedom as liberation from such oppression.  My overall point is that understanding freedom in such a way is conceptually coherent and better captures the motivational force of that idea in these contexts than do other competing conceptualizations in the literature.