Bill Glod, Institute for Humane Studies



Academic Year: 




Defending a Basic Right of Self-Direction Against Enforceable Duties of Beneficence: How a Coasean Bargain Might Help

Thursday, 11/16/2017 - 12:30 to 13:45

Location: Old Main, Room 227 (Julie Modine Woodrow Boardroom)

We welcome faculty, students, and staff of the Philosophy and Moral Science Departments as well as members of the wider University community.


Defenders of a restricted scope of basic rights often claim that certain largely self-regarding liberties are worth protecting and others are not. One reason offered for selectiveness is that certain liberties are valuable relative to their risk of (sometimes, even great) harm. So, a Jehovah’s Witness should be free to refuse a lifesaving blood transfusion that offends his religious conscience, and a rock climber should be free to engage in a challenging activity she finds important if risky, but a motorist should not be free to drive unbelted since such a liberty does not reflect any beliefs or values of importance to that agent. In this paper I argue that excluding some liberties that can lead to severe harm, but including other liberties, is arbitrary. There is no solid case for selective exclusion if we take seriously what I call the Capacity for Autonomous Decision-making (CAD). According to CAD, all largely self-regarding liberties, however seemingly trivial, should be granted to persons as the default, which amounts to a basic right of self-direction. I then consider the possibility that we have legally enforceable duties to care, up to a point, for those who have culpably harmed themselves, and whether such costs permit us to restrict certain liberties in the fashion defended by proponents of selectiveness. I conclude by considering a Coasean bargain as an alternative to outright inclusion or exclusion of liberties: if liberty is the default, perhaps we can offer to pay people not to engage in certain risky behaviors or activities; if restriction is the default, perhaps people can buy the freedom to engage in any number of risky behaviors or activities.