Allocating Ecological Space

Steven Vanderheiden

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    25 Citations (Scopus)


    Liberals have long been committed to two axiomatic claims about freedom: that the exercise of control within one's private space epitomizes individual liberty, and that each person must be free to define and pursue the good life for themselves. Together, these claims form a conception of freedom as autonomy (from the Greek Auto-Nomos, giving law to oneself), conceptualized as a personal space in which each can act according to one's own view of the good, free from external constraint. Liberal theories of justice have embraced such claims about autonomy, defining justice in terms that recognize sovereignty within one's personal space and protect individuality. John Rawls's primary goods,1 Ronald Dworkin's resources,2 and Amartya Sen's capabilities approach3 all focus on instrumental goods within a metric of egalitarian justice, allowing individuals full control over their personal spaces of autonomy while maintaining the bases for interpersonal comparison that distributive justice requires. This spatial conception of liberty has dominated liberal thought at least since J. S. Mill's observation that 'the only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to attain it.'4 Here, Mill not only defines individual liberty in terms of autonomy, but he also specifies its limits: each of us should be free to pursue our own ideas about the good within our own space, bounded only by the space of others, where our acts infringe upon their autonomy.5 If this autonomous space is to play the role that Mill and other liberals have long assumed, it must be sufficiently large to allow for a wide range of actions and choices, allowing eachto express their individuality without encountering the limits that Mill mentions and the constraints on action that they entail. If almost everything that I do impedes others from pursuing the good in their way'harming them directly, limiting their opportunities, or otherwise infringing upon their space'then my personal space becomes vanishingly small, and my liberty but a trivial abstraction.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)257-275
    Number of pages19
    JournalJournal of Social Philosophy
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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