A state of freedom: a defence of perfectionist liberalism
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This essay begins with the assumption that a liberal political morality is grounded upon two core ideals one, that the freedom to shape one's own life in accordance with one's reasonable beliefs about the good is constitutive of the ideal human life; and two, that the state ought to be in the business of securing this life-shaping freedom for its citizens. I argue that the endorsement of these ideals has perfectionist implications for a political morality. My central claim is that if the liberal state is committed to securing its citizens' life-shaping freedom, then it must actively and intentionally promote a definitive ideal of human flourishing. Accordingly, a liberal political morality is perfectionist insofar as it promotes an ideal of human flourishing; it is liberal insofar as that ideal is a distinctively liberal one. My argument proceeds in four stages. In Chapter II, I argue that a liberal political morality cannot remain neutral in the way that many liberals claim it must be. The consequence of this is that a liberal morality must be grounded upon a non-neutral moral ideal. In Chapter III, I argue that this non-neutral ideal must take citizens' positive liberty or what I am calling their life-shaping capabilities ÃÂÃÂseriously if it is to achieve its end of securing its citizens' life-shaping freedom. In Chapter IV, I present a theoretical framework intended to support the perfectionist element of my account. To do this, I propose a capabilities approach to well-being, which enables us to determine which capabilities are necessary for life-shaping freedom. In Chapter V, I address the inevitable worry that the state's enforcement of perfectionist political principles is likely to unjustifiably infringe upon its citizens'ÃÂÃÂ freedom. To alleviate this concern, I argue that any paternalistic interference justified by a capabilities approach actually enhances citizens' long-term freedom by preventing them from permanently forfeiting the necessary conditions of their freedom. Once this obstacle has been overcome, we will be free to embrace the perfectionist implications of our commitment to life-shaping freedom.
Wiens, David Abram (2003). A state of freedom: a defence of perfectionist liberalism. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from