An unresolved problem: freedom across lifetimes

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Freedom is one of the central values in political and moral philosophy. A number of theorists hold that freedom (or, relatedly, opportunity) should either be the only or at least one of the central distribuenda in our theories of distributive justice. Moreover, many follow Mill and hold that a concern for personal freedom should guide, and limit, how paternalist public policy can be. For the most part, theorists have focussed on a person’s freedom at one specific point in time but have failed to give proper attention to freedom across time. Given that we care about personal freedom now, we have reason to care about future freedom too. But what kind of distribution of freedom across a person’s lifetime should we promote as a matter of legislation and public policy? I argue that none of the candidate principles for the distribution of freedom across time is plausible. Neither a starting gate view, nor a maximisation nor a sufficientarian view is satisfactory, because none adequately reflects our various reasons to value freedom. I show that this result presents a tough challenge for theories of distributive justice and paternalism that set great store by personal freedom.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1413-1438
Number of pages26
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun-2017


  • Positive and negative liberty
  • Equality of opportunity
  • Freedom
  • Liberty
  • Aggregation
  • Distributive justice
  • Mill
  • Paternalism

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