Jeremy Waldron Essay Homelessness And The Issue Of Freedom

Does Poverty Restrict Liberty?The intention of this essay is to defend the view that poverty is the most potent obstacle of liberty, contrary to the view that the poor are no less free than the rich. There are two definitions of liberty that serve as a conceptual framework for this question, that of positive and negative liberty. The essay will proceed as follows: I begin by tackling the question of what liberty might be, and determining what a constraint on liberty consists in. Having established the parameters of my discussion, I offer Waldron s explication of the homeless condition to provide a forceful example of the material and physical constraints poverty imposes on society, independent of theoretical discussion. Lastly, I critique Amartya Sen s concept of capabilities - which act roughly as a way of conceptualising an individual s realistic ability to achieve the ends they want. It is my intention to define poverty, not as a lack of income, but as a capability deprivation that restricts the agent s ability to pursue his chosen ends realistically. Freedom, in my view, is a social relation. The freedom to determine one s own desires free of strictures is just as important as the freedom to flourish I pose that the debilitating impact that poverty has, either in relative or absolute terms denies an agent the basic capabilities necessary to justify living a life of dignity. To this effect, I plan to conclude that poverty is the most significant obstacle to not just an individual s freedom, but also the future well-being of entire communities. Sen s theory can therefore be extended, to include a list of basic capabilities, which, if unsatisfied, leave an agent, or section of society, unfree. John Stuart Mill s eminent fascination with Liberty coalesces as he declares that if man is not free to live as he desires, then society is unable to develop, crushed by the weight of collective mediocrity .[1] I believe that given this claim, it would benefit our debate to first examine a definition of liberty, and then set this against whether poverty can be a legitimate obstacle against its proliferation. Two definitions that have framed modern scholarship are that of positive and negative liberty, concepts explicated at length by Isaiah Berlin. Negative liberty states that one is free within a certain parameter, or boundary. For instance, one is free to the extent that there is no interference by other people. By contrast, positive liberty is the ability to determine one s own self, akin to fulfilling one s own potential, and taking control of one s own destiny.[2] I think that positive liberty is more in line with the Aristotelian notion of eudaimonia, or flourishing. If negative liberty were to an absence of obstacles, then positive liberty would be to a presence of control. Though positive liberty seems to be prima facie the more desirable definition of freedom, it can be used to justify some forms of tyranny. Following this, one may be able to justify some form of authoritarianism through making the somewhat perilous distinction that there is a divided self one of base urges, and one of higher, more rational desires.[3] An advocate for positive liberty may even be able to declare that some individuals are more rational than others. The fact that positive liberty is less concerned with the individual and more concerned with the entire community leaves a danger of oppression. However, the conception of positive liberty that I would like to offer is more of an ascetic ideal, of internal personal growth stemming from a move toward self-determination. I also think that the aforementioned paradox of positive liberty can be avoided if we use our reason and considered opinion to come to the conclusions others may find coercive. For instance, a Muslim lady is justified in her adherence to wearing the hijab if she has considered all other opinions, and not been coerced or bullied into arriving at her belief.I would now like to make clear what I take to be a constraint on liberty. Obstacles of liberty can take two forms: internal or external.[4] External obstacles, in accordance with negative liberty, are the grosser manifestations of exclusion such as doors, fences, laws, and markets. Internal obstacles are subtler, in accordance with positive liberty, such as false beliefs, or phobias. The weakness in adopting a negative conception of liberty is that one can argue from the libertarian perspective that you are unable, but not unfree. For example, a negative libertarian could argue that if my Mother has a broken leg and is at the top of the stairs, she is unable to come downstairs but she is not unfree, since she is only free to the extent that other people are not preventing her. Though this seems to be intuitively true, this is a deceptively simplistic example. Therefore, an obstruction to liberty is not just what a libertarian like Hayek would refer to as an absence of coercion, but a more delicate ideal.[5] A government or body, in my view can unintentionally render a group of people unfree, and one of these means is the advent of poverty. Moreover, the distinction between an external and an internal obstacle is also flawed. An internal obstacle to freedom such as depression can be pre-disposed genetically, as well as caused by external means. We must also interrogate the claim that an entity can be causally responsible for unfreedom but not morally responsible. Gerald Miller offers the example of a self-closing door in a storage room, and two scenarios. One where he is hiding in a cupboard, so his resident warden closes the door having checked everywhere within reason. On a second scenario, his resident tutor closes the door without checking who is in the room. Though his resident tutor had done everything expected of him in scenario one, there is no difference in the outcome, and he is causally responsible for both scenarios but only morally responsible for the second.[6] Thus, there are still means by which an agent can be causally responsible for a lack in freedom but not morally. In the same way, one does not have to deem a capitalist system as morally responsible, but causally responsible for poorer communities unfreedom by benefitting some and leaving others arguably worse off.However, I find this unconvincing. Miller interrogates the twin concepts of negative and positive freedom to a further degree in stating that the negative conception of freedom largely belongs to a libertarian view of capitalism, whereas the positive conception of freedom signifies a socialist view. In addition, freedom under capitalism is unequally distributed freedom depends not only on the absence of legal action, but also on having the effective opportunities to pursue one s chosen course of action. Miller s example of the watering hole makes it a convincing case for the notion of personal obligation, especially between a monopolist and a dependent party. Consider the only watering hole in a desert manned by one person, charging an extortionate amount for a sip. Miller asserts that even a libertarian such as Nozick would state that freedom is restricted when faced with a monopoly.[7] Though the Nozickian may respond by saying the man is violating a Lockean proviso of fair and equal share for others, the example cannot be surmounted without appealing to a sense of personal obligation to satisfy needs, paired with an obligation not to violate the freedom of the needy. Though this view of obligation is subjective, it is at least intuitively considerable to view poverty as a social relation between the dependent and monopolist, where one party is morally responsible, and accountable to the other. Next, as an example of this relation, I offer an exposition of the homeless condition. When establishing the link between poverty and liberty, it may be tempting to apply theories of social justice to society as a whole I think that it is more beneficial to regard poverty as a social relation which has extremely individualising and isolating properties which deny the victim agency and freedom, but more pertinently, denies them a space in society. The disenfranchisement of the homeless community is embodied in Waldron s case study of homelessness. Waldron s framing of the limiting powers of poverty is able to penetrate the dense and callous theory employed to defend claims that society is made up of equal persons. Firstly, anything that exists has to exist somewhere. Yet, the ability to exist in a space is restricted by the concept of private property, which grants exclusionary rights to the owner.[8] The onus to exclude lies not just on the owner of the property, but also with the state. For example, I may call the police to remove someone I do not know from my property. This can be contrasted with collective property, or public spaces such as parks, playgrounds (in the States) and bridges. Given the framework of the claim to be centred on the distinction between public and private, I will now evince how a homeless person fits into this dichotomy. Waldron declares that a homeless person is at all times, at the mercy of society. Since the homeless are not allowed within private property, their only saving grace is the communally held public sphere of parks and bridges. In essence, a homeless person only has freedom to the extent that our society contains a communal dimension.[9] The intervention of the state contests this Waldron poignantly advances the claim that freedom means nothing to a cold and hungry person - the material predicament of the homeless takes precedent over abstract concerns regarding its existence, as the freedom to sleep without being prodded with a nightstick outweighs other more complex freedoms [10]. This is steeped in the conception of negative freedom homeless people are only free to the extent that they are not forcibly removed from the space they are occupying. As I have argued previously, this is in no way susceptible to the objection that freedom and ability are synonymous homeless people are able to forcibly enter a private property at any time, however, the threat of being forcibly removed from such properties renders them unfree. Prohibitions and rules, such as curfews and police patrols inhibit homeless persons from existing in the public sphere either. Therefore, the limbo that homelessness leaves them in, is precisely what their unfreedom consists in. It is the mere fact that the agent is homeless that renders them unfree, limits their freedom of association, desire for privacy, and a life worthy of self-respect. It is therefore clear that the restriction of liberty has gross as well as subtle manifestations, which are physically manifested within the homeless community.Having laid the preliminary groundwork for my definition of freedom as a social relation, I will now explicate Amartya Sen s capability theory. Despite competing definitions of liberty, I pose that poverty makes it impossible to achieve either one. Sen declares that in order to conceptualise liberty we need to think about an agent s actual opportunities for well-being. Poverty, to Sen, is a form of human oppression, and its proliferation causes a denial of opportunities of living a tolerable life .[11] It seems clear that poverty is a considerable restriction on what someone would deem to be a minimally decent existence. Nonetheless, I shall now offer what I believe to be the best explanation of how the menace of poverty poses a threat to an individual s freedom. Capability theory argues that each agent has functionings and capabilities . A functioning can be a being or doing phrase, such as being healthy , or shopping for nutritious food to be healthy . A capability is your real opportunity to achieve a functioning. For example, travelling would be a functioning whilst the opportunity to travel would be a capability. I argue that without the capabilities to fulfil basic functionings, the agent can be deemed unfree. Poverty is disenfranchising, debilitating, and above all, restrictive of one s ambitions. No basic functionings such as eating healthily, or holding a decent job can be fulfilled if the agent does not have the real opportunity to achieve it, and the urgency of these basic needs, as Waldron has previously pointed out, is not captured by a utilitarian account.[12] Therefore, the proliferation of liberty is useless if it is not effectively possible to realise it. Thus, it supports my argument to view poverty as the deprivation of basic capabilities rather than merely lowness of income.[13] Aligned with this assessment, I think that the capability approach is the strongest advocate of my opinion that poverty restricts liberty because of its endorsement of the understanding that the source of poverty is not just means based (concerning the agent s income), but is ends based instead, so that people have the reason to pursue the ends that they desire, and the freedoms to satisfy those ends.[14] Thus, while low income is closely related to poverty, it is more convincing, and above all, realistic, to think of it as capability deprivation. Another reason why the capability approach offers a superior understanding of the nature and full implications of poverty is its emphasis on the differing circumstances between agents. People differ in their ability to convert means into valuable opportunities - it is not enough to earn money. Sen spots instances in which a household may misallocate their funds, which manages to alienate certain members of the family. In Sen s experience with India, this was almost always a woman.[15] Though this is not an essay regarding gender inequality, the consideration of the nuanced social difference between persons and appreciation of cultural milieu is another reason why I would advance the capability approach over a utilitarian system of justice, which fails to recognise the importance of the fact that fundamental differences across cultures can detract from what is universally the greatest good.[16] However, despite its validity, it seems that Sen s theory is under-theorised. Martha Nussbaum critiques Sen, and widens the scope of the debate to include a feminist critique. I think that whilst her extension of Sen s work is salient and purposeful, it would be productive to employ her theoretical framework (application of capability theory to feminist concerns), to our question of poverty and freedom. I think that the overlap between the treatments of disenfranchised women is akin to that of homeless people in Waldron s argument, and that a comparison between the two brings strength and force to my argument. Nussbaum s most striking charge against Sen is that the latter does not define the level of minimum capability for a just society.[17] To this effect, Nussbaum gives her own list of basic capabilities, premised on the belief that we begin with a conception of dignity of the human being, and of a life that is worthy of that dignity .[18] Nussbaum outlines ten basic capabilities that humans should be entitled to in a just society - among them the ability to live a life of non-humiliation and self respect, but also the right to hold property and seek employment on the same basis as others. The extension of Sen s theory to include basic capabilities that are inalienable give the proper priority to the capabilities which directly affect the poor this, in my opinion bolsters the claim that no society can be considered free if such basic capabilities are unable to be realistically achieved by a section of society. Overall, it seems clear at this point that if poverty, for instance in the form of homelessness restricts an agent from the basic capability to own property and secure employment, then it is certainly a strong obstacle to freedom. It is therefore clear that poverty should not just be understood in terms of a deficit of wages, but also a deprivation from the opportunities to obtain rights that the middle and upper echelons of society are able to take for granted. To conclude, it seems apparent that the deprivation of capability, or the realistic opportunity to achieve is a more satisfying definition of poverty than simply low wages. This definition, taken in tandem with the dual definition of freedom as freedom from obstacles, and the ability to self-determine, makes a compelling case for an individual s freedom being restricted substantively by poverty. In addition, it seems callous to ignore the physical manifestations of such deprivation. Waldron s article, in my view, has the implication that it is tempting to fall into armchair philosophy and be ignorant of the salient facts that large sections of our society are unfree and unable to enfranchise themselves. To this effect, I recommend Nussbaum s list of basic capabilities as a foundation for understanding how poverty isolates and restricts many communities from achieving basic freedoms. Overall, I think that that poverty is an obvious and ubiquitous restrictor of liberty. Words: 2997BibliographyJournal ArticlesMiller, David, Constraints on Freedom , Ethics, 94:1, University of Chicago Press, Chicago (1983) pp. 66-86.Sen Amartya Kumar, Anand Sudhir, Concepts of Human Development and Poverty: A Multidimensional Perspective , in: Poverty and Human Development: Human Development Papers (1997). pp. 1-20.Waldron, Jeremy, Homelessness and the Issue of Freedom , UCLA Law Review, 39 California, (1991) pp. 295-324.Print BooksBerlin, Isaiah Four Essays on Liberty . In David Miller ed. The Liberty Reader (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006) pp. 33-57 Feinberg, Joel, Social Philosophy. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1973 Hayek, Friedrich, The Constitution of Liberty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978Mill, John Stuart. On Liberty (1909 edn) The Floating Press, [e-book] 2009 Nussbaum, Martha, Poverty and Human Functioning: Capabilities as Fundamental Entitlements , in David B. Grusky and Ravi Kanbur eds., Poverty and Inequality. California: Stanford University Press, (2006) pp. 47-75Sen, Amartya Kumar, Development as Freedom. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2000Sen, Amartya Kumar, Equality of What? The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, California: Stanford University, 1979

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[1] John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, (The Floating Press, 2009) p. 111 quoted by Isaiah Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty . In David Miller ed. The Liberty Reader (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), p. 39

Isaiah Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty . In David Miller ed. The Liberty Reader (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006), p. 43.

Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978) p.11.

Sen, Equality of What? p. 219.

Мистер Чатрукьян? - послышался сверху звучный возглас. Все трое замерли. Над ними, опираясь на перила площадки перед своим кабинетом, стоял Стратмор. Какое-то время в здании слышался только неровный гул расположенных далеко внизу генераторов.

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