Free Person

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Karl Widerquist:

"A free person has the power to make or to refuse social interaction with other willing people. This definition is not meant to designate absolute or complete freedom but the difference between a person who is essentially free to live her own life and a person who is not, such as a prisoner, a slave, or a subject of a totalitarian state. That is, in short, “freedom as effective control self-ownership,” “freedom as the power to say no,” or “freedom as independence.” This distinction is not all there is to freedom, liberty,1 or social justice, but, but I argue that it is a critically important concern for social justice." (

Source: Freedom as the Power to Say No. Karl Widerquist. Basic Income, 2004. URL =


Karl Widerquist:

"This chapter makes five basic points:

1. A person is free if she has control over her own life. That is, her interactions with others are both voluntary and unforced: “Effective control self-ownership” (ECSO).

2. Interaction is unforced when all parties are able to decline interaction: ECSO freedom entails the power to say no.

3. The power to say no requires an acceptable default option: ECSO freedom requires independence.

4. For most people, freedom as independence is largely satisfied by freedom from specific interference by others.

5. ECSO Freedom is important to social justice because the absence of unnecessary force is a good in its own right, because it ensures that interaction is actually voluntary, and because it helps to make sure that interaction is mutually beneficial, fair, and reasonable." (


Karl Widerquist:

"This conception of freedom helps to remedy a common complaint about liberal theories of freedom. Taylor (1991) argues that the common liberal conception of freedom as noninterference (dating back at least to Hobbes and Bentham) does not give any reason to determine the important aspects of liberty. Similarly, Raz (1986, pp. 7-11) praises the no harm principle and the presumption of liberty, but he faults them for failing to give any insight as to which liberties are most important when liberties come into conflict with each other or with other important goals. Barry (2003) makes a similar criticism of Van Parijs’s (1995) definition of “real freedom,” as “the freedom to do whatever one might want to do;” real freedom, according to Barry, is so broad that it becomes hard to tell whether one state of the world has more real freedom than another. Focusing on the status of a free individual helps identify which liberties are central to maintaining freedom, and so it helps identify which freedoms are most important to protect, secure, or remedy in a world in which every law and every property right restricts someone’s freedom to do something. It is important to understand that stressing freedom as independence is not the same as stressing independence as an ideal. Social interaction is not bad; it is very good; and it is something people should seek. But the potential benefit of social interaction is no excuse for one group, even a majority group, to impose its idea of desirable terms of interaction on people who have no choice but to accept. If social justice implies a concern that people enter social cooperation, not by force, but as free individuals, it is important that society does not begin by interfering with their independence, and it may well imply that securing independence for all is an important goal of a just society.

Part one explains this definition of freedom and its entailments and discusses why it is important. Part Two discusses the relationship between this conception of freedom and other conceptions. The primary goal of that section is to explain this definition in relation to others, but hopefully it also brings out some of the importance of securing this kind of freedom." (