Freedom and its Measurement

Andreas Schmidt, University of Göttingen (andreastschmidt@googlemail.com)

Ronen Shnayderman, University of Hamburg (ronenshman@gmail.com)

The subject matter of this workshop is the concept of freedom and its measurement.

 Freedom is widely considered to be one of the most important moral and political ideals. Consequently, questions regarding its distribution – e.g., how much overall freedom would we have under different forms of society? How would it be distributed among us? How much overall freedom should we have? – are also of the utmost moral and political concern. When discussing these questions, it is usually assumed, first, that freedom has non-specific value, i.e. value that is independent of the value of being free to do specific things such as expressing our political views or practicing our religion; and, second, that freedom is a quantitative good, a good which is possessed to various degrees and which can be measured (at least to some extent). Yet, until very recently, with only very few exceptions, the vast body of political and philosophical literature dealing with the ideal of freedom lacked a treatment of these issues, let alone a serious one. Ian Carter’s groundbreaking book A Measure of Freedom (1999) is the first systematic study of the importance and nature of quantitative judgements about freedom. In his book he argues explicitly in favour of the view that freedom does have non-specific value, and offers a strict empirical theory of freedom measurement, on which the degree of overall freedom one has is a function of the physical extent of the freedoms (and unfreedoms) that one has. Carter’s book was quickly followed by an opposing theory of freedom measurement developed by Matthew Kramer in his book The Quality of Freedom (2003). Kramer, who agrees with Carter that freedom has non-specific value, argues in favour of an evaluative theory of freedom measurement, on which the degree of overall freedom one has is partly a function of the physical extent of the freedoms (and unfreedoms) that one has and partly a function of their specific value. Since then this important debate has hardly progressed (there is, though, quite a thriving, more formal debate in economics and social choice theory about the closely related topic of the measurements of choice/opportunity). One aim of this workshop is to revive and advance the study of the issues of the nature and role of quantitative judgements about freedom in political philosophy. But we also welcome contributions on topics surrounding the aforementioned issues, such as the definition of specific freedom, the value of freedom in general and the relation between freedom and justice.

Possible subjects include:

  • Why is freedom valuable? Does it have non-specific value?
  • Is freedom a quantitative good?
  • Do we have a right to a certain degree or a certain distribution of overall freedom?
  • Is measuring overall freedom a value-free or a value-laden enterprise?
  • The role of overall freedom within theories of justice.