Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > A Right to Recognition: Freedom in a Democratic Society

The vocabularies with which we talk about freedom as a social and political ideal are badly distorted. They often focus our attention on generic capacities for choice and action, and on the ways in which others’ interference (or our vulnerabilities to interference) threaten these capacities. But our agency does not consist only in a generic power to recognize the options available to us, and to choose from among these options which will become actual. It is essentially social, located in the structures of our interpersonal relationships. These relationships make us, not only persons in some abstract, generic sense, but particular kinds of persons: owners of various kinds of property, participants in various kinds of markets, members of particular neighborhoods, participants in various family structures, and so on. And there are a wide variety of subtly distinct ways in which our society can construct these relationships in ways that make us unfree. In order to respect this variety, we most usefully characterize freedom in terms of the just distribution of status relations. Free people enjoy the social standing to lay claim to those social statuses on which they have moral claims, commanding others’ recognition of, and respect for, the various rights constitutive of these statuses. Freedom, so construed, requires a juridical community regulated both by an egalitarian deliberative culture, and by the kinds of democratic institutions that make law responsive to public argument.