The Multiplicity of Freedom [Freedom, part I]

There is a claim made by a portion of Americans—especially among those who lost the most recent election—that they defend the ideal of “freedom” and that it is in danger of slipping away, either under the current administration or just in contemporary culture generally. But the idea of freedom is both vague and complex. Although this is an enormous topic, there are a couple points I’d like to make, one regarding the multiple angles of the concept to begin with, and one regarding how history and technology have had an effect. Today, I’ll look at three ways that the concept of freedom may be grasped: as ability, as choice, and as feeling. In my next post, I’ll follow up with what this means in context.

The first version of freedom is the simple capacity to do something. This is originally inhibited only by the laws of nature—I can walk but I can’t fly, and though I am free to be lazy I still must find food if I wish to stay alive. However, as history progresses this aspect of freedom is impacted by technology and society. For instance, my first example is now false in everyday parlance –modern human beings fly all the time. Donna Haraway’s theory of cyborgs exploits this use of freedom: ultimately, what we are able to do is what makes us free, so technology is a beneficient force. For Haraway, women in particular suffer when reduced to that which nature intends—or demands—and not allowed the creativity of the artificial. Once intertwined with technological possibilities, embracing a “cyborg” nature as she calls it, women can actuate a new level of freedom. This goes against tradition and any idea of natural law, of course, in which freedom is met by clear boundaries.

The second concept is the idea of free will or autonomy, which is not the physical possibility of performing a particular action, but the process of choosing intentionally to do so. (This is the kind of freedom that usually gets tied up in theories of determinism, which I am not going to address here). Nonetheless, autonomy is always complicated by secondary pressures and forces. That is, the individual may define this notion of freedom externally by some form of law or moral boundary that is not identical across the population. It is easy to say we should all be free, but harder to agree on whether that freedom includes certain choices—and as it turns out, much of what is considered taking away freedom by one group is seen as a way to save or protect freedom by another. It is an argument of definitions as much as policy: Is it the freedom of the mother or the fetus that should be under consideration when discussing abortion? Is it freedom of speech to be able to demean someone for their belief, or freedom of religion to be able to practice that religion without persecution? The autonomy of multiple parties has to be accounted for, and is commonly in conflict. The most libertarian approach, where existence and action always win over persecution and impediment, runs into trouble when trying to explain why people can’t be watched, used, and generally exploited since it’s the freedom of the big guys to keep expanding their enterprises. Limitations that recognize protecting freedoms to, for instance, pursue happiness and not just maintain one’s existence, complicate definitions and also leave the edges of each person’s liberty rubbing against each other.

The third is a less specific ideal and one that permeates the American psyche. It is the fantasy of a new beginning, of wild horses and open land on an uncharted continent allowing for anything to happen. This notion can change as time passes, and history begins to settle in. America is a young country, but no longer adolescent. When Emerson wondered what the “new American Scholar” would be like, the Civil War had not even taken place yet. He advised members of the childlike country to stick closer to Nature and Action than Books, to explore things anew instead of being weighed down by history, but now Americans are bound to the traditions of our own books, quoting Emerson instead of following his advice. Even so, the feeling of excitement towards free, open space, a sense of boundlessness and lawlessness, is clearly universal, and there are multiple ways that this desire manifests. The question may be how it is related to the more distilled forms of freedom mentioned earlier.

In our most everyday use, we might say freedom is the ability to do as you choose. This definition could be thought to include both capacity and self-rule. One might presume it to be boundless unless directly challenged, but on closer inspection neither component requires there to be an immediate enemy in order to be reduced. Both the potential avenues a person can travel, as well as their own awareness and determination in making active choices, can face severe erosion due to social and environmental factors alone. In other words, a person’s freedom can be limited by the chance experiences they undergo in life, so that they are stuck in a situation where there truly is no other choice, or in terms of our definition, where they have no freedom.

Does such a situation count as a society taking away freedom? I will look into how this multiplicity of freedom can clarify the nature of the concept, as well as discuss the historical arc of technological change, next.

Leave a comment ?


  1. The most libertarian approach, where existence and action always win over persecution and impediment, runs into trouble when trying to explain why people can’t be watched, used, and generally exploited since it’s the freedom of the big guys to keep expanding their enterprises.

    I think this is such an excellent point that it deserves to be said twice.

    Also — for some reason, your post reminded me of Thomas Pogge’s puzzle for libertarian approaches to intellectual property rights. Suppose I invent a new thing (say, beef stew), and patent it. Suppose the state protects my copyright: so anybody else who wants to make that beef stew and sell it has to give me a portion of the profits. What distinctively libertarian justification can we have for this intervention on behalf of the government?

    The only libertarian justification, it seems, would make use of the capacities argument. I, Mr. Beef Stew, have empowered us all just a little bit more by giving us a new option on what to eat. In a Haraway sort of sense, I have made us all a little bit more free.

    But, paradoxically, you are also less free, in a closely related sense. After all, you’re no longer in a position to cook that stew and sell it without taking an additional economic hit. I am a positive obstacle to your free exercise of capacities.

  2. Miranda Nell write:
    Is it the freedom of the mother or the fetus that should be under consideration when discussing abortion? 

    Very interesting question. I’d love to be able to discuss it with you.

  3. Ben:

    Pretty much, but the point parallel’s a bigger and I think more interesting one about freedom as a whole. We could turn around and say that the constraints we do accept are the ones we need to limit certain kinds of freedoms, the ones that cause harm to others for instance. The justification here though is the harm that it does to others. What’s missing here is the fact that constraints themselves can actually empower us and not necessarily in the “overall” kind of sense you point to. Just look at language. I am constrained by common understandings of the meanings of words and by a common understanding of grammar but this constraint give me the wonderful power of being relatively easily understood by other people. The point though is that it’s not clear that you could even have that particular capacity without the constraint: I could learn to make a workable beef stew on my own pretty easy, but a private semantics, well not so much.

  4. Thanks TGM. Definitely, there’s a parallel there. On many occasions, freedom and constraint are two sides of the same coin.

    But I’m not yet convinced that this lesson has to generalize to all notions of freedom, so long as we’re being realistic. e.g., being alive is a freedom (power, capacity) that is not itself a constraint. Freedom is in a realistic sense primary or foundational, and that all further notions of freedom and constraint are derived from that initial freedom. (Granted, in dark moments, if experience has taught us that life is a surplus of burdens, we might think that we would find more freedom in death. But that’s just dancing around the point.)

  5. Hey Ben.

    Thanks for keeping me honest on constraints and capacities, you’re exactly right on that point so for now I probably want to limit myself to freedom as a political notion.

    I was though trying to say something a bit more meaty than just claiming that freedoms and constraints are two sides of the same coin. Part of the goal also is to actually deny that freedom is in fact fundamental. The way this works for me is to think of the liberalism of people like Mill and Rawls. The reason is that both of these thinkers appeal to liberalism as part of a deliberative system. This means that faced with the question of where to draw the lines around legitimate freedoms, there’s no way I can do that without taking your desires into account. The question is what to make of this fact. It could just mean that I recognise your sovereignty over your own body, but I think it would be naive to think that anyone who stepped outside of themselves and their own world view far enough to be able to recognise the desires of another person is thinking in an ordinary sort of way.

    So my thought is maybe the real value of freedom is that thinking about it it makes us act in certain ways, it makes us recognise there different possible solutions, think about the question in a more rounded sort of way or maybe even use fundamentally different kinds of thought processes in reasoning our conclusions. And if that’s true, that leaves the possibility that the real value of liberalism has little to do with freedom, and instead far more to do with theories of how groups help us know things about the world

  6. Miranda;

    very good article, I enjoyed very much.

    Isn’t the concept/idea/feeling of freedom a reflection of society/political/ governing structures?

    It seems to me that the idea/feeling of freedom in the countries I lived in are nearly always in relation to the governing structures of the society either current or past.

    For example, in the US there is a clear correlation between the idea of freedom with the independence movement; i.e not to pay taxes to the english crown, and now no taxes to the federal goverment.

    In other countries, for example third world countries, is associated from freedom from an external country that oppresses them.

    It appears that there is a dominant version of the concept of freedom that results from the way we interact with each other. Is there a philosophical category for this in the analysis of freedom?

  7. Hey TGM, no problem!

    On politics and freedom, I’m not sure what counts as fundamental to politics. Though in some important sense I’d be inclined to agree that neither Mill nor Rawls regard freedom as politically fundamental, quite a lot depends on how to make sense of the word ‘fundamental’.

    On the one hand, Rawls certainly thought that basic institutions of a well-ordered society were of central interest; and he thought that liberty was lexically prior to distributive justice. I guess in some very loose sense of ‘fundamental’, those count as fundamental commitments. But on the other hand, in a stricter sense of the ‘fundamental’, the later Rawls thought that politics was more like a skyhook than a thing with foundations. The idea that the politics of liberalism is an expression of a certain strain of culture in the West, and not in heady metaphysical theses, was characteristic of his meta-politics.

    We might do a similar game of one-the-one-hand-on-the-other with Mill. The principle of liberty is vital to Mill’s liberalism, and in that sense we might think liberty is central to his politics. But as far as I recall, Mill’s politics was an extension of his morals, and so by inference, the strictly fundamental feature of Mill’s politics was utility.

    You seem to be suggesting in your second paragraph that the ideal of liberty is just a powerful way of framing issues of political legitimacy, and not a fundamental feature of political institutions as such. I’m quite inclined to agree with that assessment (though it is a potentially controversial stance to take).

    Even so, I’m not sure that the alternative, that liberalism has “to do with theories of how groups help us know things about the world”, is what follows. It depends on what you had in mind.

  8. Ben:

    What I’m trying to argue for is the idea that political institutions are really epistemic institutions and liberalism, when it’s being applied right, is really an epistemic principle. There’s a relatively shallow way to make this argument, for instance by saying things like we need to leave as many possible answers on the table as long as possible in order to know that we’ve found the answer. I want to say something far bigger than that though, that there is something epistemologically special about the act of getting agreement between people that goes over and above just corroboration or openness and that it’s something like this process which we’re trying to appeal to when we make appeals to liberal values in politics. For instance working towards agreement between people causes us to develop cunning tools like meanings that, depending on what you think of semantics, potentially ties us and our listeners to the actual state of the world but which also opens up logical analysis and verbal reasoning as possible tools.

    What’s left is to set out some arguments as to why I think this is a better explanation of liberalism in politics. The first is that conditions of knowledge are often easier to establish than identities. The classic example of this is the paradox of inquiry, but it’s also being appealed to in situations where people say “I’ll know it when I see it”. Given the trickiness of normal political life then, setting out a set of knowledge conditions might simply be a good tactic for making our lives easier. The second argument suggest that maybe this way of thinking makes better sense of the institutions we do have. So for instanceif liberalism as it’s classically understood is the best way to make sense of democracy, why is it that our most successful democracies are representative as opposed to direct? That’s pretty easy to account if the question we’re asking is how best to take decisions, but far harder if we’re saying that our political institutions somehow represent the “will of the people”.

  9.  Once intertwined with technological possibilities, embracing a “cyborg” nature as she calls it, women can actuate a new level of freedom

     I teach you the Superwoman.  Woman is something that is to be surpassed.  What have ye done to surpass woman?(sorry about that Friedrich)

    Would these cyborgienne’s pass the Voight-Kampff test? (: lol

  10. JJM, if freedom is a result of how we respond to each other or the governing bodies we create, one could see it as a defensive move against a sense of bondage (bonds of social connection are also bonds of social constriction). In other words, it is a name for something that originally needed no name.

    If we consider human beings as self-aware, self-moving animals, then the equivalent but unarmored notion of freedom is part of human nature, and it is only when interdependence and conflict become the norm that it has to be outlined… Still, I think certain basics can be the same or at least analogous once societies develop, without getting into the particulars of political interests.

  11. I find your post very interesting, but I may have a different view of freedom.

    A “freedom” may not necessarily lead one to freedom, the freedom to choose pornography, for example, leads not to freedom, but to enslavement.

    You have the “freedom” to drink, but may end up enslaved to alcohol.

    I do not think that the concept of freedom is what is free, or indenturing, but the results of what we consider to be free, sure seem to have varying results.

  12. TGM said:

    [T]here is something epistemologically special about the act of getting agreement between people that goes over and above just corroboration or openness and that it’s something like this process which we’re trying to appeal to when we make appeals to liberal values in politics.

    That’s an interesting project. There’s certainly some folks out there that would be on board with it, depending on how you cash out what you mean. There’s a lot to figure out, though.

    For one thing, we have to figure out what it is about this nominally liberal epistemic process, such that it involves agreement-maximization, and such that it can be characterized in a fashion that goes up and above corroboration and openness.

    There is, I suppose, what you might call a dignitarian or optimistic orientation to social and political life. The dignitarian stance tells us that we have a duty as citizens to be maximally considerate. The pursuit of mutual understanding or agreement could be characterized as a kind of eternal quest for understanding, the hobby-horse of latte gulping cosmopolitans.

    But what makes this dignitarian approach distinctively liberal? Some American liberals do have something like this point of view, I gather — but they seem to be an aberration. The historically defined sense of ‘tolerance’ that you find in the liberal tradition does not seem to have much in common with the intelligent social butterfly with a love for nuance and inexhaustible good will. From my point of view, when the rubber hits the road, liberals are curmudgeons and misers. Realistically speaking, the liberal would be satisfied if everybody just shut up and kept to themselves without killing their neighbours and/or letting them die in the streets. The general liberal ethos aims to be satisficing, not optimizing.

    Also, the dignitarian strain in American liberalism seems to run through other traditions as well. I tend to associate the dignitarian approach with subsets of groups of socialists, communitarians, and even anarchists. Perhaps it is more characteristic of the ethos behind ‘progressivism’ (a vague nonsense word) that we coined to be an antonym for conservatism (another vague nonsense word).

    I would also wonder what you mean by knowledge-conditions, such that identity-conditions is not entailed. In the post-Gettier world, propositional knowledge is understood as something like, “non-accidentally justified belief in the truth of (p)”. And most theories of propositions are cashed out in terms of semantics which depend crucially on the principle of identity. The paradox of inquiry has the most bite when it comes to propositional knowledge.

    That said, we can certainly have different regimes of justification, and these regimes of justification might not assume robust knowledge. The paradox of inquiry usually has very little force when it comes to justification alone, and the role of identity in practical reasoning is rather sketchy and provisional. e.g., you might believe you have a justified belief in (p), without actually having a justified belief in (p). (For that matter, you might intuit you have a belief in (p), without actually believing (p)!) So maybe that’s what you meant?

    A final note — that is indeed a puzzle for liberal democracy, and I don’t have any considered opinion about it. But one potential wrinkle that is worth thinking about is that the very idea of ‘representation’ is internally complex. Mark Brown’s recent book, “Science in Democracy“, offers a bundle of different conceptions of ‘representation’ which ostensibly apply both in terms of political representation and in terms of epistemic representation.

    Anyway, I think it’s a cool and important project, and well worth thinking through in detail.

  13. Freedom and ability should not be confused because ability does not of itself have moral boundaries.

    I have the ability to strangle a small child to death with my bare hands but hardly anyone is going to argue that I am “free” in the moral sense to do so. Of course I am literally able to do so insofar as there is no physical impediment to me.

    Freedom in the moral sense or liberty is simply the absence of obligation in the circumstances.

    If it is not imperative on me to do something or my conduct is not prohibited then I am at liberty to do it.

    I am free to be rude insofar as I do not owe anyone a moral obligation to be polite. You might criticise my rudeness and you would be free to do so since you do not owe me a moral obligation to not criticise me. However, the fact that my exercise of freedom might be worthy of criticism does not make it any less my freedom.

    The margins of liberty are wide and they only end where moral obligation begins.

    Ability or lack thereof may indicate the existence or absence of a moral obligation. For example the inability of a wheelchair bound quadriplegic to swim indicates that there might be a lack of moral obligation to save a drowning child. In contrast my ability to swim indicates that there might be a moral obligation to save a drowning child provided the risk to my life is acceptable.

    In terms of personal self-defense I have both the physical ability to defend myself and the liberty to do so. I also have the liberty to not defend myself i.e. I can take the hits if I want to.

    Personal self-defense is not obligatory but defense of others could be depending on the circumstances.

  14. That Guy Montag


    Live and let live is as you rightly put it, a very limited kind of political principle so if that’s what I mean with liberalism you’re right, the best that I can expect from a normative theory of this kind is a curmudgeonly “just leave me alone”. So clearly it’s not what I’m aiming for.

    So, full disclosure, my background here is I’m researching the relationship between evidence and semantics (liberalism is a hobby, which I’m sure shows). My view is that something like Wittgenstein’s private language argument is probably right and that individually we just don’t have the resources available to tie the meanings of our words to the world in a way that makes sense of the way we actually use language. Wittgenstein’s solution, that we collectively hold each other accountable, might work but the argument seems to me from Kripke forward that that still isn’t enough, that we need the world as it actually is to be able to finish the set of resources we need to make language work. There are a series of ways this argument gets built, indexicals, demonstratives, anaphora, false descriptions, possible worlds etc., but the idea is that when there is some flexibility in our ability to shift the meanings (though it may be better to say something like character here) of individual terms, the world becomes a necessary semantic backstop.

    Now clearly I can’t use this argument as is because in a political debate we’re not necessarily debating meanings (though sometimes that’s exactly what we should be doing.) I think a similar principle still holds though in that the only way I can see someone being able to shift perspective enough to be able to honestly grasp the position of another person is if they keep the world as it really is, in view.

    This in turn leads to my point about knowledge conditions. In the context of the kind of semantic argument I’m using, the analogy is going to be Wittgenstinan again. The point here is that Wittgenstein is probably still right about for instance what kind of conditions can we give for whether or not someone knows the meaning of the term red. The example I’m thinking of is his argument about what happens if you ask someone to pick a red flower. Internally they don’t stop and compare their experience to some kind of paradigm and then pick up the red flower, they just pick the red flower. Equally, the way we know whether or not someone understands the term red is just to look and see whether they respond appropriately. As a point this is only going to be important politically at the extremes, but it’s roughly that we don’t necessarily have to be worried that we don’t have a precise definition for all of our political terms. On the long run the semantic argument above implies that better and more rigorous terms are useful, probably even necessary, but only for the purpose of helping to keep the world as it really is in view while engaging in our ability to occupy the positions of others. This in turn means that something like the liberal worries over consent are pretty much unnecessary, maybe even dangerously so, in much the same way as we think Positivist claims about the priority of empirical experience are unnecessary for our understanding of meanings.

    As a closing footnote in case you’re interested, despite my argument here I think the semantic argument I give above implies that the Positivists may have actually been right about verificationism, they were just wrong about its relationship to empiricism but this is seriously a completely different discussion.

  15. Hey TGM,

    The examination of semantic meaning is indeed tightly intertwined with politics, albeit at a distance. Also, this is getting quite far afield from the OP, so I won’t respond at length with any musings about semantic theory. But the general lesson — that you need to assume common ground with your interlocutor before you can make sense of them — is a sound one, and certainly applies to all forms of discourse.

    I’m not sure your penultimate paragraph was a concession to the point I was making about ‘knowledge-conditions’, or if it was meant as an explication of the view you had endorsed earlier. ‘Knowledge-conditions’ are, presumably, not quite the same as verification conditions, since verification falls short of truth, while knowledge entails truth. e.g., the red flower example does not seem to be a very good example of knowledge, since I might have verified that Smith understands redness when I see him pick up a red flower on command, but I might not actually know that Smith has seen red, because as it turns out Smith is actually a convincing simulacrum.

    So if you’re talking about verification conditions, not knowledge conditions, that’s fine. It’s also a useful point, politically. If nobody agrees about the conditions under which knowledge-claims can be verified, then it’s pretty bad news.

    There are still troubles.

    1. Let’s assume, as you (and I) do, that there will still be a need for assumed common ground in order to support a semantic theory. What happens when the world itself is deeply confusing and variegated? In that case, there will be an increased need for [members of] the linguistic community to occupy the same mental space, to perform regular check-ups on each other. If the physical world is irregular enough, then you have to make very sure that you and your fellow observers are on the same page. In short: when the world is variable, norms must be the constant.

    2. It is arguably the case that sometimes, when we are talking about socially relevant facts, it is actually laudable to refrain from recognizing common ground in any sense whatsoever. So, for example, Herbert Marcuse argued that since the zero-sum game theory of his day had infected the entirety of the political discourse, and that this form of discourse was responsible for the odious doctrine of mutually assured destruction, conscientious persons were obligated to abandon that discourse entirely. Marcuse did not want to build common ground; he wanted to burn the house down. In a sense, the Ayerian-positivists had a similar critical project, since they refused to recognize the intelligibility of language which did not fit into the obnoxious constraints of Hume’s Fork.

    3. I don’t see how the mutual recognition of a common world entails that that consent can be eliminated from politics. That’s jumping too far. I also don’t see how the priority of empirical experience is unnecessary for our understanding of meanings; many externalists will say that, while meaning ain’t in the head, our understanding of meanings is still skull-bound.

  16. That Guy Montag


    To bring this back to my original point, the argument I was trying to make was to suggest a different way of thinking about liberalism, one which ties it to theories about knowledge in political contexts as opposed to representing some kind of rights based genealogy for political authority. The first step is to downgrade liberalism so that it represents a sort of common ground. Hopefully we can then agree that it would be possible to tie it into a general theory of political knowledge as playing the same sort of role that a public language does in semantic theory. Where I think we start to disagree is that I want to take this basic snapshot further and say that making our claims public actually does more than simply make ourselves intelligible to others. An example here will be common units of measurement. Sure, a common unit of measurement means that you and I can for instance share data. A common unit of measurement also means however that we can do things like quantify abstract entities like speed, acceleration or force and therefore reason about them. I think the common ground that thinking in liberal terms requires might in fact play a similar role in making certain kinds of reasoning possible.

    I’ll put the rest of your points into two arguments and a very nice point. The first is that you’re raising doubts about whether public languages necessarily have to reflect the world. This point comes from your zombie argument and your point about normativity taking the place of a common world. The second set of objections revolve around the reasons why I think a theory of liberalism based around knowledge is better than the traditional theory which is where the concerns about knowledge and consent arise.

    Before I go further though, your nice point. I completely agree with your point about Marcuse. I’m busy debating whether or not it’s a fatal argument. Part of me wants to simply say that I’m appealing to a more general principle of reason and relating it to political contexts and the fact that Marcuse had reason to disagree with the language is enough. On the other hand I may want to give a bit of ground to Kuhn and his ilk and say that we do actually need to account for major changes in our thinking that don’t necessarily occur from within an old way of talking. I’m honestly not sure where I want to stand just yet.

    I’m far more comfortable on questions about whether public languages necessarily reflect the world though in that I’m going to say emphatically that they do. The first point is that any argument that works against a private language, works against a language governed by social norms as well just maybe on longer scales. I think there’s a more general point to be made here though. Every last one of the arguments for externalism that I’ve read shows that we actually need very minimal conditions in order for some link to the world to become necessary. Basically whenever there is any scope for meanings to shift in individual linguistic circumstances, the world as it actually is has to step in to save semantics. I guess I’m left saying something like sure, norms obviously can play a role and I certainly think there’s scope for sometimes stepping back and asking whether or not we’re using terms appropriately (I’m a philosopher for crud’s sake!) but they’re just never going to play the same sort of role that the world does. There’s obviously more to this argument, but I think this discussion may be getting a bit long already.

    My argument against genealogy is a bit different and maybe a bit more personal. The thing is that I think the classical way of thinking about liberalism both permeates a lot of the political debate and is deeply toxic. Sure, I’ll accept that I was indulging in a bit of hyperbole by saying we could get rid of consent as a necessary concept, but I do think we need something nearly that radical. Basically I can’t help thinking that liberalism with its dogma that the primary political question is tracing political authority to some expressed individual will of the governed is having a negative impact on political debate. Examples come from both end of the political spectrum from the anarchists with their juvenile fantasies about saving the world by reinventing local politics (sorry, horizontalism) to things like the Conservative mayor in London opportunistically using a referendum to scupper environmental legislation. Worse yet is the constant and frankly puerile trawling through dirty laundry, which makes sense given traditional liberal concerns with the “purity” of the political relation, but which rarely actually help the political debate.

    That said, I think liberalism is a vital step away from authoritarianism. So the idea overall is that by treating it as playing a similar role to that played by semantics we can do justice to how important the principle is for politics, while at the same time we can take all the dangerous and frankly difficult concerns about the supposed purity or not of political decisions and put it to one side. Instead the idea isto focus on the sorts of questions we do have traction on: was it a good decision, did it use the right sorts of evidence, did it follow appropriate principles of deliberation. Basically is it reasonable becomes the appropriate test for political decisions as opposed to did I consent. My argument was only trying to suggest that this is an easier and more natural bar to cross, I guess I’ll have to admit I got slightly carried away in that. As a neat side-effect though the pinko-lefty Marxist in me does also like the fact that the “semantic” discussion we’ve been having means that what counts as a principle for deliberation is heavily grounded in a notion of solidarity which I think is a far nicer interpretation of liberalism anyway.

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