Prof. Martin van Hees (University of Groningen)

Freedom, Success and Preferences

Ethics provides a welter of different accounts of freedom. In fact, it has been argued that there are so many definitions of freedom around that it is naive to think that there is some essential characteristic of freedom that all conceptions of freedom refer to. In the first part of the presentation I argue that social or political conceptions of freedom do possess such a common core - they can all be defined in terms of the notion of conditional success. The second part of the presentation argues against particular conceptions of freedom, viz. 'preference-neutral' definitions of social freedom. On such accounts of freedom, to say someone is free to do some x does not say anything about the preferences or desires of the actor concerning x. Familiar arguments in favour of having a preference-neutral account of freedom include anti-paternalism and fear of indoctrination in the name of freedom. Rather than discussing the desirability of preference-neutral conceptions of freedom, I argue - on the basis of an analysis of the type of conditional success that they presuppose - that they fail to do what their defenders claim they should be doing. That is, I demonstrate that even on a preference-neutral account of freedom individuals can increase their own freedom or that of others through a change of their preferences. I conclude by discussing the moral and political implications of the analysis.

Martin van Hees (1964) studied political science and philosophy at Erasmus University Rotterdam, obtained his Ph. D. in 1994 from the University of Nijmegen, held a postdoc position from 1994 until 1998 at Twente University and has been affiliated since 1998 with the University of Groningen. Van Hees is the author of Rights and Decisions (Kluwer, 1995) and Legal Reductionism and Freedom (Kluwer, 2000) (both monographs are to appear this year in Chinese translation) and numerous articles published, among others, in Economics and Philosophy, American Politican Science Review, Synthese, Journal of Philosophical Logic, British Journal of Political Science, Social Theory and Practice, Social Choice and Welfare. Trained as a philosopher and as a political scientist, his research has a strong interdisciplinary focus that combines insights and applies tools from philosophy, political science and decision theory. The interdisciplinary perspective on the study of problems in ethics and political theory is also a key element of his NWO-VICI research programme Modelling Freedom, which was awarded funding in 2004.