Sunday, October 25, 2009

Arthur Ripstein's "Force and Freedom"

Arthur Ripstein is a professor of law and of philosophy at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Equality, Responsibility and the Law (1999), and editor of Ronald Dworkin (Cambridge 2007) and co-editor of Law and Morality (1996, second edition 2001, third edition 2007), and Practical Rationality and Preference (2001).

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Force and Freedom: Kant's Legal and Political Philosophy, and reported the following:
In Force and Freedom, I try to explain and defend Kant’s legal and political philosophy. Kantian ideas have had a considerable indirect influence on political philosophy, but Kant’s own arguments have been neglected. His central claim is that force can only be used to uphold a system of equal freedom. That claim has been rejected as empty or incomprehensible by writers in many different traditions. I show that Kant’s ideas are not only coherent, but powerful and appealing. Kant understands freedom in terms of each person’s independence of the choice of any other. The systematic requirements of freedom generate familiar legal doctrines of property and contract, but such private rights are only enforceable in a condition of what he calls “public right” in which citizens reason and act together through public institutions.

Page 99 is in the middle of a discussion of the acquisition of private property. Acquisition is an important topic for political philosophy, less because anyone thinks that most property claims in modern society depend on it, than because it is puzzling how one person, acting entirely on his or her own initiative, manages to put others under an obligation – to avoid interfering with the acquired object – without consulting those others at all. The discussion is part of a negative argument to show why neither intention nor effort could have this power. Kant’s positive account explains individual acquisition as an exercise of political authority, and so provides the starting point for his explanation of public right. So page 99 is pivotal to the argument of the book as a whole, though you might not know it from that page alone – a common difficulty while reading (about) Kant.
Read an excerpt from Force and Freedom, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue