We now have some sense of what the principle of state neutrality is, how it has been defended, and what the prospects for such defences are. Let us turn for the remaining chapter to the doctrine it opposes – perfectionism – to see how the positive case for perfectionism can be made. I begin by noting two oft-cited, yet misleading, ways of looking at perfectionism which we ought to reject, and then move on to discuss the arguments of the most influential of contemporary liberal perfectionists, Joseph Raz, in making the case for the pursuit of the good in the political domain. I join Raz in arguing that political perfectionism is permissible, but I depart from him in that I deny that state support for valuable forms of life is necessary in order to preserve the autonomy of citizens. My reasons for doing so will be made clear in the sections entitled “The necessity of perfectionism” and “Raz’s collectivism.”

The misleading picture of perfectionism is, unfortunately, the one encountered in §50 of A theory of justice, where Rawls characterises what he calls “the principle of perfection” as a doctrine which appears in two variants, one more plausible than the other. The first, less plausible, version, which he associates with Nietzsche, is the view that society should ‘arrange institutions and…define the duties and obligations of individuals so as to maximise the achievement of human excellence in art, science and culture.’206


In fact Rawls might equally have said that what is implausible is the failure to grant anything other than the principle of perfection weight in formulating a political morality, as the second, “Aristotelian” version of the principle turns out to be the recognition that its rule is not to be absolute. Nevertheless, as Rawls sees it, the greater the weight accorded to maximising human excellence relative to other social or political desiderata, the more justified we are in terming “perfectionist” the set of principles which are presented as a political morality.207

But we ought not to see Rawls’s elucidation as definitive of perfectionism. For one thing, perfectionism need not endorse the account of excellence attributed by him to both the Nietzschean and the Aristotelian variants. While art, science, and culture are as plausible candidates as any for those activities a perfectionist state ought to promote, there are other candidates; the godly life, and, as we shall see when we discuss Raz, the autonomous life, for example. And there could be many others.

And secondly, accepting that the state promotes the good does not entail accepting that it ought to maximise the good. A perfectionist might quite coherently hold that certain reasons count against maximising the good, while they do not count against promoting it. So perfectionism does not entail the view that the state ought to promote the good and discourage the worthless at all costs, nor does it entail the view that the state is obliged to maximise the good.208


In contrast to Rawls, Sher presents a definition of perfectionism in opposition to subjectivism: as he sees it, any substantive ethical theory which traces all value to some combination of actual or ideal desires, choices, or enjoyments is a form of subjectivism, and any view that denies that these factors exhaust the determinants of value is a form of perfectionism.209 But while it is clear that the forms of perfectionism discussed in this dissertation require a commitment to an ethical theory of the kind endorsed by Sher, perfectionism should be understood as more than an ethical theory. Opponents of the principle of state neutrality such as Raz, Hurka, Haksar and Arneson have in common not merely a substantive ethical position, but also the view that the special value attributed by a perfectionist ethic of the kind described by Sher to some forms of human activity or experience ought to play a part in some political decisions.210

Raz puts it this way: ‘[p]erfectionism…is the view that whether or not a particular moral objective should be pursued by legal means is a question to be judged on the merit of each case, or class of cases, and not by a general exclusionary rule, as the so-called “neutralists” would have it,’211 and, further, as ‘a term used to indicate that there is no fundamental principled inhibition on governments acting for any valid moral reason.’212 Waldron (who is not a perfectionist) says that ‘[p]erfectionism is...the view that legislators and officials may consider what is good and valuable in life and what is ignoble and depraved when drafting the laws and setting the framework for social and personal relationships,’213 even, we might add, when doing so is controversial. It is with this kind of understanding of perfectionism – as a political theory – that we will proceed.

Hurka’s perfectionism explicitly harks back to Aristotle, Spinoza, Kant, Marx, and TH Green,214 and he takes the good life to be a life which develops or expresses human nature by developing or expressing those qualities which are essentially human. In fact he has been primarily concerned with defending a perfectionist ethic, but has also explored the ways in which such an ethic might support a perfectionist political dispensation which, in a manner similar to that advocated by Raz, provided citizens with the wherewithal for developing and expressing those essentially human qualities (one of which is their capacity for acting freely).


As Hurka sees it, states should not work from the false assumption that ‘human beings left on their own will always choose what is best’.215 Rather, they are obliged to create the conditions which increase the likelihood that citizens will live good lives. Sher, similarly, has argued that conceptions of the good are ‘often relevant to decisions about public assistance, educational policy, the criminal and civil justice system, the prison system, city planning and land use, transportation policy, the tax code, support for cultural institutions, regulation of the entertainment industry, investment incentives, and the structure of institutions such as the military – to name just a few of the more obvious candidates.’216

Of course this does not mean that any and every attempt to promote the good on the part of the state is legitimate. Wall, for example, points out that there may be many situations – such as those in which it is particularly likely that officials or institutions lack the capacity to promote the good – in which the state does best by keeping its hands off.217  The frequency of such situations will determine the extent to which the practical recommendations of perfectionists will differ from those of neutralists.

It will help, in clarifying what it is that perfectionists stand for, for us to make a distinction suggested (with a little modification) by a passage from Hurka.218 This is the distinction between “philosophical” and “state” perfectionism.219 And distinguishing between these two explains the somewhat surprising fact, which we will return to in the more detailed discussion of Raz which follows,220 that perfectionists, despite their theoretical commitments, may, under some circumstances, recommend policies which are very close to those recommended by anti-perfectionists.


What we might call philosophical perfectionism is concerned with political morality at its most abstract level. Philosophical perfectionism takes the view that the amount of good produced is a factor to be weighed in judging the ultimate worth of a legal or social system; it operates at the same level of abstraction as, for example, Rawls’s theory of justice, and is concerned, in other words, with what legislation, in general, is supposed to achieve. And the goods that perfectionists think a legal system should promote – goods which, of course, will differ from perfectionist theory to perfectionist theory – may or may not be promoted by actual perfectionist legislation.

If a philosophical perfectionist is of the opinion that the greatest good can indeed be promoted by perfectionist legislation, in a given society, he or she evinces a commitment to what we might call “state perfectionism.” To be a state perfectionist is to argue that this particular state ought in these particular circumstances to promote the good. Taking this position entails accepting philosophical perfectionism, of course, but the reverse does not apply. A philosophical perfectionist can conceive of circumstances in which the state should not attempt to promote the good.221

As we saw in the discussion of arguments for the principle of state neutrality in chapter two, and as we will see again in the discussion of Raz, a common motivation for anti-perfectionism is the fear of perfectionist coercion. The sheer power of the state, in comparison to other bodies or institutions that might attempt to promote the good, is thought by many to threaten human freedom. I have, of course, argued in chapter two that widely deployed arguments for the principle of state neutrality, whether they are premised on the value of autonomy or on various pragmatic concerns regarding oppression or instability, are unconvincing. But I wish to argue in this chapter that this does not mean that perfectionists cannot offer principled reasons for limiting the power of the state. They can; they simply do not postulate philosophical neutrality.


What exactly are these arguments? One way in which contemporary perfectionists have attempted to assuage doubts about whether the state should be entrusted with the power to promote the good is demonstrated by Joseph Chan, who argues (as does Sher222) for what Wall and Klosko have called the “weak perfectionist thesis” – the simple assertion that perfectionist considerations are a legitimate basis for policy.223    “Weak perfectionists”, like Chan might reject coercive promotion of the good on the part of the state on the basis of deontological considerations, while nevertheless endorsing non-coercive methods of advancing the good.

Another way in which one might assuage these doubts is to search for reasons for limiting state power within perfectionism, as those dubbed “strong” or “liberal perfectionists by Wall and Klosko do.224 Strong, or liberal perfectionism, as I will refer to it, argues that autonomy, limited government, or individual freedom, can be defended on a perfectionist basis. This position is, as has already been hinted at in chapter two, typical of contemporary perfectionists. And it is to the work of the most prominent of the contemporary liberal perfectionists, Joseph Raz, that I now turn.

4.1 Raz’s defence of perfectionism

Raz has argued that there are a number of reasons perfectionists might find for limiting the power of governments.225 One such reason would be perfectionism’s compatibility with moral pluralism. There is no reason for a perfectionist state to promote only one conception of the good life if there are in fact many ways of leading a good life. Nothing about perfectionism rules out the state’s encouraging a wide range of worthwhile ways of life (other than potential incompatibilities between these ways of life, which we need not assume will always be there). There is no reason, in other words, to assume that perfectionism entails the state imposing a unified conception of the good on a recalcitrant population.


Of course acknowledging moral pluralism does not give one a decisive reason against state paternalism. A moral pluralist might, for example, take the view Plato does in The republic, where the state pushes citizens into the roles it deems optimal for them, regardless of whether they wish to take up these roles or not. Offsetting this possibility requires the perfectionist to understand autonomy itself as a good.226 This would mean that a state which wished to promote the good would be required, in perfectionist terms, to promote citizens’ autonomy. And one might conclude from this that the power of the state to compel citizens in certain directions must be restricted.

We must note, however, that for the perfectionist autonomy will, on any plausible catalogue of goods, be merely one of a number of goods. Nor is it likely that a plausible perfectionism would accord personal autonomy the highest place in any such catalogue. Further, some perfectionists, including Raz,227 argue that autonomy is only valuable if exercised in the pursuit of the good, which implies that the state’s forbidding or discouraging worthless options cannot be ruled out. One might, strictly speaking, concede that the implementation of this kind of policy affects citizens’ autonomy, but not, as Raz sees it, their ability to lead an autonomous valuable life. Only the latter, thinks Raz, is a good worth promoting.

Understanding autonomy as one amongst many values, and understanding it as valuable only in pursuit of the good, as Razian perfectionism does, leaves open the question whether, for example, what has traditionally been referred to as morals legislation, is illegitimate, as most neutralists (excluding those that think the state only need be neutral with regard to controversial values) take it to be. By morals legislation, I mean those laws, of which there are examples in every polity, which forbid actions on the grounds of their depravity, as opposed, generally speaking, to the likelihood of their harming others. The outlawing of homosexual behaviour, for example, was usually justified on the basis of the claim that such actions are depraved. Contemporary western societies, of course, usually permit homosexual behaviour, but laws against certain fringe manifestations of sexuality are still on the statute books: bestiality, various forms of exhibitionism, incest, and extreme forms of sado-masochism are forbidden, not because of any alleged harms they impose, but because of a consensus that they are immoral, or, to use terminology more typical of the philosophical literature, a consensus that they are worthless forms of life.


Morals legislation has frequently been attacked on the grounds that whatever good it promotes is paid for in terms of citizens’ autonomy.228 And then either this cost is deemed to be too high, or, if the neutralist does not wish to deploy a consequentialist argument, the mere fact of citizens’ autonomy being violated is deemed to be sufficient grounds for rejecting morals legislation. But taking the view that autonomy is one among many goods, and also that it is only valuable to the extent that it pursues the good, leaves the case against morals legislation a good deal weaker. On this view, if the forms of life morals legislation seeks to combat are worthless, any autonomy citizens express by indulging in these forms of life is not worth protecting or promoting.

Certain perfectionists do defend morals legislation in this way.229  But one might also find perfectionist reasons for resisting morals legislation. One could, for example, argue that coercive promotion of the good must be ruled out on the grounds that, or in those cases where, genuine goodness cannot be coerced. And one might argue that this is because compelled virtue is no virtue. Or one might, following Raz, argue that ‘there is no practical way of ensuring that the coercion will restrict the victim’s choice of repugnant options but will not interfere with other choices.’230  This view implies that the state’s coercive combating of worthless forms of life does not diminish autonomy per se, but is sufficiently likely to have deleterious effects on the efforts of its victims to choose valuable forms of life as well for it to be an illegitimate strategy for a liberal state.231 Accepting these considerations would also seem to imply that as long as non-coercive state strategies are as likely to be successful in promoting the good as coercive strategies, they ought to be preferred.


In what follows in this chapter, I will outline how Raz’s defence of perfectionism has two strands, one of which I defend, and one of which I reject. The first aspect of Razian perfectionism involves the arguments he presents which are designed to establish that governments are entitled to make policy on the basis of judgements as to the value of comprehensive conceptions of the good life. The second aspect involves the arguments he presents which are designed to show that governments are obliged to make policy on the basis of judgements as to the value of comprehensive conceptions of the good life: in particular, that unless governments make policy on a perfectionist basis, the autonomy of citizens will be diminished. It is Raz’s contention that liberals must acknowledge the necessity of perfectionism, given the fundamental role the value of autonomy plays in liberal political morality. I discuss the first strand in the section below entitled “The permissibility of perfectionism” and the second in the section entitled “The necessity of perfectionism” and those which follow it.

4.1.1 Raz’s case for the permissibility of perfectionism 

In this section I defend Raz’s argument for the claim that governments are entitled to make policy on the basis of judgements as to the value of comprehensive conceptions of the good life. His way of making the case for this claim involves, primarily, rejecting as unwarranted two traditional concerns regarding the illiberality of perfectionism. These two concerns are, first, the alleged danger that the values of one sector of the citizenry are imposed on the rest, and, second, the alleged danger that this imposition will take the form of coercion. In what follows I will defend Raz’s defusal of these concerns.

A popular motivation for anti-perfectionism is the perception that allowing comprehensive conceptions of the good into politics entails the values of some citizens being imposed on others with contrary values. Accordingly, neutralists have argued that a state does not treat citizens with equal respect as long as conceptions of the good are permitted to be taken into account in political decision-making, given that imposing the values of one section of the citizenry on another appears to deny citizens whose views are judged unacceptable as a basis for legislation the respect to which they are entitled.


Raz’s response is to point out that, in a perfectionist dispensation 

the fact that the state considers anything to be valuable or valueless is no reason for anything. Only it’s being valuable or valueless is a reason. If it is likely that the government will not judge such matters correctly then it has no authority to judge them at all.232


Another way of putting this would be to say that perfectionist policies need not (or should not) be defended on the basis of their provenance, but can (or should) be defended on the basis of their validity: his claim is that perfectionist lawmakers need not say “these values should be promoted by law because they are the values of privileged caste p” but rather “these values should be promoted by law because they are the right values (and it is an uninteresting matter that the truth of this is apparent to some and not others).”

Raz’s strategy, then, is to distance perfectionism from views which ground the legitimacy of laws in the opinions of a select body, without taking an interest in the question of the correctness of these views: Patrick Devlin holds a position something like this,233 as do Rousseau-style democrats who locate the legitimacy of laws in their fidelity to the general will, or those communitarians who locate the legitimacy of laws in their fidelity to the values of the community. But Razian perfectionism does not deem laws to be legitimate on the basis that they express the views held by the appropriate body of decision-makers. A further question must be asked, namely, whether the views of those entrusted with the business of making law are likely to be valid.

It is not clear, of course, that Raz’s strategy would satisfy those who remain sceptical about the capacity of governments to judge matters of the good correctly. But remaining sceptical about this on the basis of a general moral scepticism – scepticism, in other words, about anybody’s capacity to know anything about morality – is a very unpromising position, however, given that it undermines the basis for any political morality. And even a general scepticism about the capacity of governments to make moral judgements leaves its advocate unable to advance the principle of state neutrality, as governments, after all, must judge whether proposed legislation is neutral or not. But, as we saw in chapter two, there are legitimate, albeit not decisive, worries about whether governments are in the best position to access knowledge of the good, such as it is to be had. Raz appears to see the force of this point when he says that


...it is possible that the appeal of anti-perfectionism is at least in part indirect. There is no way of acting, politically or otherwise, in pursuit of ideals except by relying on the judgement of some people as to which ideals are valid and imposing it on others who disagree. Those whose views are imposed on the community do not regard the fact that they hold those views as a reason for their imposition on others who reject them. They maintain that their conception of the good is valid and that is the reason which justifies its imposition. But such an action is constitutionally justified on the ground that rulers, the majority, etc. chose to act in that way, regardless of the truth or soundness of their views.’234

Raz is willing to admit, further,


the dangers inherent in the concentration of power in few hands, the dangers of corruption, of bureaucratic distortions and insensitivities, of fallibility of judgement, and uncertainty of purpose, and the...insufficiency and the distortion of information reaching the central organs of government.235

These are not, however, reasons for rejecting philosophical perfectionism. This is because holding that the fact that laws conform to the values of the lawmakers, but not the entire citizenry, means that such laws are imposed on dissidents, and must therefore be considered illegitimate, is to hold to an untenable position. The problem that some members of society approve of the laws and others don’t is by no means a problem peculiar to perfectionism.236 Imposition must mean something more nuanced than this, otherwise we must conclude that it is inescapable. And this conclusion would deprive neutralists of any “non-impositional” alternative to perfectionism.


Raz goes on to say that

 [t]he pursuit of full-blooded perfectionist policies, even of those which are entirely sound and justified, is likely, in many countries if not in all, to backfire by arousing popular resistance leading to civil strife237 


and that ‘[i]n such circumstances compromise is the order of the day...which will confine perfectionist measures to matters which command a large measure of social consensus...’238 These factors hamper governments in fulfilling their legitimate role of helping citizens achieve well-being, and Raz’s acknowledgement that they must be taken into account may mean that there may be little ultimate difference between the policy recommendations of a Razian perfectionist and a Rawlsian anti-perfectionist. What difference there is lies in the fact that the anti-perfectionist rules out perfectionist policies in principle, while the Razian concedes merely that they may not always be strategically or tactically wise.

A second motivation for anti-perfectionism which Raz seeks to defuse is the view that state neutrality is necessary to prevent one section of the population from coercing others into acting in accordance with their conception of the good life.

But as we saw in chapter two, perfectionist policy could consist in the encouragement and facilitation of action of the desired kind, or discouragement of undesired modes of behaviour – Raz mentions the possibilities of conferring honours on creative and performing artists, giving grants or loans to people who start community centres, taxing certain kinds of leisure activity (his example is of hunting). Citizens do not suffer criminal penalties for failing to become creative artists, or failing to get married, and so perfectionist policies of this nature, he argues, cannot be construed as coercion. And he argues, crucially, that there is an important difference between imposing criminal penalties on citizens for non-compliance with perfectionist laws, and using financial incentives (or disincentives) to encourage certain lifestyles and discourage others.


Many might argue, of course, that these allegedly non-coercive perfectionist methods are not importantly different from coercion, or that the difference between imprisonment, which is clearly a case of coercion, and taxation, which is less clearly so, is merely one of degree rather than kind. Even if nobody is forced to, for example, go to the theatre, everybody is obliged, on pain of coercive sanction, to pay taxes. The taxes which are used to promote the activity of theatre-going are raised coercively, and this surely means that the state is using its coercive power to enforce its judgements regarding the relative merits of various options (the theatre being held to be a valuable form of life despite its less than universal popularity).

It seems to me that the right way for Raz to defend himself on this matter is to distinguish between coercion per se and the state’s use of its coercive power. It is clearly prospect of financial penalties or jail sentences for failing to observe officially-sanctioned religious or political dogma that causes anti-perfectionists to worry that perfectionism involves coercion. And it is clearly a stretch to argue that use of tax money which one would have paid anyway for purposes to which one is not entirely committed constitutes coercion – at least of a worrying kind. We might therefore deem the latter to be “the state’s use of its coercive powers”, and concede that, strictly interpreted, perfectionism does (as does any political dispensation) involve the use of tax moneys for purposes which not every taxpayer can be expected to endorse. But this is a far cry from enforcing political, religious, or moral orthodoxy, and that is one of the important motivating forces behind the attachment to anti-perfectionism, not the uses of tax money.

Raz says very little about which lifestyles should be regarded as immoral, and for good reason, as his purpose in writing the book is to raise the question whether there is anything left in the liberal critique of perfectionism once we set aside the possibility that perfectionism might be deployed to support mistaken standards.239 This is better achieved by avoiding the danger that The morality of freedom be read as Raz’s treatise against, for example, pornography, or some such thing. It is indeed the case that perfectionist principles are frequently invoked to call for a ban on lifestyles which some consider to be immoral, and that liberals usually counter by invoking anti-perfectionism so as to argue that the morality or immorality of, say, homosexuality, is not the state’s business.240 Raz’s perfectionism, however, would afford one the stronger response of saying that, for example, homosexuality is not immoral at all.


Razian perfectionism must be distinguished from legal moralism of the kind advocated by Patrick Devlin, who argued that

the law-maker is not required to make any judgement about what is good and what is bad. The morals which he enforces are those ideas about right and wrong which are already accepted by the society for which he is legislating and which are necessary to preserve its integrity…Naturally he will assume that the morals of his society are good and true; if he does not, he should not be playing an active part in government. But he has not to vouch for their goodness and truth.241


This is a conservative rather than a perfectionist view, given that Devlin regards (one of) the purpose(s) of morals legislation as the maintenance of society’s integrity, by which he means the maintenance of the particular moral community it happens to be, regardless of whether this can be justified in any objective sense.

Raz’s view does show conservative tendencies, in that his perfectionism obliges the state to defend worthwhile social practices, and in that it is not implausible to suppose that it makes more sense to defend established worthwhile social practices rather than create new and unfamiliar ones. However, his view differs from that of Devlin in that a Razian state does vouch for the goodness and truth of the social practices it supports. Indeed, a Razian state only has legitimate authority to the extent that it can vouch for the value of these practices. And, of course, the question whether a state could indeed possess such competence is much in dispute.

Raz believes it could, and he believes that the grounds on which state decisions about the good should be made are exactly the same grounds as those upon which state decisions about the right should be made. His perfectionism, like any version of perfectionism, is willing to countenance legislation in support of distinctive conceptions of “wide morality” – principles, in other words, regarding the constitution of a ‘successful, meaningful, and worthwhile life’242 – regardless of whether the interests of one’s fellow citizens are directly involved or not. And this is where anti-perfectionism must part company with Raz.


Anti-perfectionists are especially preoccupied with the state because of the coercive power it holds. Both Max Weber and Locke understood the state primarily in terms of the means at its disposal. As Weber saw it, ‘the state cannot be defined in terms of its ends…Ultimately, one can define the modern state sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political association, namely, the use of physical force.’243 Locke’s view was that ‘the care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force’244

Raz, on the other hand, has never seen the use of force as the defining characteristic of legal orders, preferring to see the generality of its claim to authority as the state’s definitive feature, and it is against this background that we should understand his lack of squeamishness regarding the possibility of non-coercive perfectionist policy-making on the part of the state. As he sees it, there can be no objection to the state’s pursuing perfectionist goals if such means as, for example, taxing some kind of leisure activities, subsidising others, or conferring public honours on certain exemplary citizens, or using education to encourage certain kinds of activities judged to be noble, are employed.

However, traditional liberals are not likely to be convinced, as their worries about perfectionism are connected to the widely-held view that the state is distinguished by its monopoly on the use of force. Many would argue that the generality of the state’s claim to authority is not, as Raz suggests, unique. Institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church make the same sorts of claim to general authority as those made by states – the difference between the authority of the state and the authority of the Roman Catholic Church is that the former, possessing those divisions of which the Pope has none, is much more likely to be obeyed. If this is so, then the government’s ability to do anything rests, ultimately, on its coercive powers, and we should therefore be sceptical about claims about the allegedly non-coercive nature of policies.245


Raz specifies that state coercion is legitimate only under certain tightly-circumscribed conditions – conditions which he takes to be the same as those under which Mill sanctioned state coercion. Raz’s version of the harm principle, however, specifies that harm to autonomy is what legitimate state coercion is aimed at.246 In other words, he allows that the state may coerce me so as to prevent an unacceptable diminution in my autonomy or the autonomy of another, but he explicitly rules out the use of coercion as a means of stamping out immoral or worthless forms of life:

A moral theory which values autonomy highly can justify restricting the autonomy of one person for the sake of the greater autonomy of others or even of that person himself in the future. That is why it can justify coercion to prevent harm, for harm interferes with autonomy. But it will not tolerate coercion for other reasons. The availability of repugnant options, and even their free pursuit by individuals, does not detract from their autonomy. Undesirable as these conditions are, they may not be curbed by coercion.247


We should note, though, that Raz’s reluctance to sanction coercion in the name of perfectionist ideals is pragmatic, rather than principled, and applies only to those forms of coercion which are broad and indiscriminate invasions of the autonomy of the coerced individuals:

 [C]oercion by criminal penalties is a global and indiscriminate invasion of autonomy. Imprisoning a person prevents him from almost all autonomous pursuits. Other forms of coercion may be less severe, but they all invade autonomy, and they all, at least in this world, do it in a fairly indiscriminate way. That is, there is no practical way of ensuring that the coercion will restrict the victim’s choice of repugnant options but will not interfere with their other choices.248


If such “smart” coercion became available in the future, Raz would have no objections to its use, as removing the option of harmless depravity from peoples’ lives does not damage, in any sense that matters, the autonomy of those who would otherwise have participated in it.

4.1.2 The necessity of perfectionism: Raz’s fundamental premises

I move now from Raz’s defusal  of widespread worries about perfectionism to his positive argument for the claim that governments are obliged to make policy on the basis of judgements as to the value of comprehensive conceptions of the good life. This is a more complex matter, and, although I find myself in agreement with Raz over much of this argument, I do not in the end believe that he establishes that the liberal commitment to the value of autonomy not only permits, but also requires state perfectionism. My reasons will be made more explicit in the section entitled “Raz’s collectivism”.

In outlining the argument with which he attempts to establish this, we begin with three premises. Firstly, Raz holds that well-being is success in the autonomous pursuit of a valuable form of life (or of valuable forms of life). I deal with the implications of this premise in the section entitled “Well-being and autonomy”.


Secondly, he argues that the justification of political authority lies in its capacity to enable citizens better to act for the reasons that apply to them than they would be in the absence of the authority. I deal with the implications of this premise in the section entitled “The justification of authority”. Thirdly, he holds that the various forms of life through which we pursue our well-being are social in nature – they depend on collective goods for their continued existence. I deal with the implications of this premise in the section entitled “Raz’s collectivism”. And it is here, as I will indicate, that the argument stumbles.

4.1.3 Well-being and autonomy 

Raz’s first premise – that well-being is success in the autonomous pursuit of a valuable form of life – derives from his rejection of moral scepticism, in that he holds that no well-being can issue from the pursuit of a worthless form of life, regardless of whether the agent takes it to be valuable or not. The mere fact of having been chosen is not sufficient to confer value on a form of life.

It is also the case, however, according to Raz, that well-being cannot be derived from unchosen pursuits. Autonomous choice is essential to well-being, and so, given that everyone has a fundamental interest in well-being, we may conclude that everyone has a strong interest in autonomy.


This interest is sufficiently strong, as Raz sees it, to impose on everyone an obligation to promote and maintain the conditions of autonomy – those social conditions without which individual autonomy would not be possible. This obligation Raz terms “the principle of autonomy”.

Raz’s commitment to the view that well-being is success in the autonomous pursuit of valuable forms of life also entails the conclusion that autonomy is only valuable in pursuit of the good, as the value of autonomy must lie in its contribution to our well-being, and well-being cannot issue from the pursuit of worthless forms of life.

It follows that, in promoting the conditions of autonomy, which include, amongst others, the existence of an adequate range of choices, the state is under no obligation to maintain worthless forms of life, as, even if one’s autonomy is enhanced by the existence of such forms of life (and Raz is hard to pin down on this question), one’s well-being cannot be. Raz therefore understands the existence of an adequate range of valuable forms of life as a condition of autonomy.


Raz opposes moral scepticism. He holds not only that well-being is derived solely from valuable ways of life, but also that it is possible to know which ways of life are valuable and which are not, and further, that it is acceptable for the state to act on such knowledge.

It follows from this position that the good life must be a life which the agent has good reason to value – and that this is something about which it is possible to be mistaken. To the suggestion that nothing can be known on moral matters, Raz responds by saying that if this is so, then the wrongness of perfectionism cannot be known either.249 It is clear that no liberal, not even of the anti-perfectionist persuasion, could coherently be sceptical about all moral judgements, as doing so would leave unclear the basis for defending the standard liberal doctrine that everyone ought to be free to pursue their own conception of the good life.

The Razian view is that, because our goals and desires are not arbitrary – because we make our choices on account of the value we think they have250 – our ideals must be understood as reason-dependent. And, in so understanding them, we must concede that their value is not determined (entirely) by ourselves, and that we may therefore be mistaken about them, leaving open the possibility that others may be in a position to draw our attention to our misguided reasoning.


Raz takes it as axiomatic that individuals have a fundamental interest in personal well-being, the pursuit of which he distinguishes both from that of self-interest and from the satisfaction of preferences. One ought to, he argues, understand self-interest as relating primarily to one’s biological needs, whereas well-being ‘depends on the value of [one’s] goals and pursuits,’251 and can come about only from the successful pursuit of autonomously chosen, valuable, comprehensive goals.252

The value of such goals is not conferred merely by the fact that somebody regards them as valuable. In fact, claims Raz, the ‘[s]atisfaction of goals based on false reasons does not contribute to one’s well-being.’253 However, well-being is nevertheless dependent on how good one’s life is from one’s own point of view,254 in that one has personal reasons for action which flow from the comprehensive goals which one has chosen. The pursuit of goals one has not chosen, or goals one is compelled to pursue, cannot result in well-being.

Comprehensive goals are necessary for well-being in that they provide us with what Raz calls “action reasons” – reasons we have to undertake certain endeavours, as opposed to simply enjoying their outcomes. Our well-being arises from participation in the endeavours which provide our lives with meaning, and our autonomy is realised in that we have the particular action reasons we do on account of the particular comprehensive goals we choose.255


Raz argues further that the importance of action reasons for our well-being implies the incommensurability of the comprehensive goals from which these reasons arise. Without having already adopted a comprehensive goal, one lacks, as Raz puts it, ‘any grounds for judging a career as a graphic designer to be intrinsically better or worse for those engaged in it than a career as a livestock farmer or a gliding instructor, assuming that they are likely to be equally successful and content in them.’256 The fact that one has adopted a particular set of goals, and therefore

care[s] about one thing rather than another determines to a considerable degree what is in [one’s] interest and what is not. Therefore we cannot rank options by their contributions to our well-being. The conditions of our well-being, we might say, were not yet created. They are determined by our choices, and therefore they can guide our choices only to a limited extent. In large measure the direction is the other way: our choices determine our well-being. At that stage indeterminacy reigns, for many of the options are incommensurate, and reason cannot advise us how to choose between options which are incommensurate, except to tell us to avoid those we are unlikely to succeed in.257


Since it is frequently impossible to pursue various options simultaneously, and since these options typically only acquire value for us through actually being pursued, we find that we are not in a position to compare them.

One of the political implications of incommensurability is that governments are in an equally unpromising situation with regard to making such comparisons. Raz will argue that the best they can do is to maintain, in the interest of personal autonomy, a range of acceptable social forms from which people can choose, and thereafter derive well-being.258

If well-being is primarily determined by success in the pursuit of valuable, socially-defined goals, we can understand the morally good person as one whose prosperity is so intertwined with the pursuit of worthy goals which advance the well-being of others that it is impossible to separate their personal well-being from their moral concerns.259


In fact Raz anticipates that, if the state supports a sufficiently wide range of valuable options from which citizens may choose their comprehensive goals, it will be

easy for people generally…to choose for themselves goals which lead to a rough coincidence in their own lives of moral and personal concerns…By being teachers, production workers, drivers, public servants, loyal friends and family people, loyal to their communities, nature loving and so on, they will be pursuing their own goals, enhancing their own well-being, and also serving their communities and generally living in a morally worthy way.260


As one might expect, however, anti-perfectionists deny that the pursuit of personal well-being is quite so inseparable from the promotion of social values which benefit the whole community.261

Two further premises in Raz’s argument for perfectionism are derived from the claim that well-being is the successful pursuit of autonomously chosen valuable forms of life. I begin below with the first – that autonomy is necessary for well-being. This will involve a discussion of what Raz takes autonomy to be, as well as a discussion of what he takes the social conditions of autonomy to be. I turn in the section below entitled “Raz’s collectivism” to the second premise which is based on Raz’s understanding of well-being: that autonomy is valuable only in pursuit of the good.

Despite the consensus that freedom is an important value, there are aspects of it which remain obscure, and controversies have arisen around the question of what precisely it is that makes us unfree.


For example, being physically prevented from doing something I wish to do seems to be the perfect example of the loss of freedom. But even cases such as this are less straightforward than they seem at first blush, for we might want to ask whether the desire which we are being prevented from fulfilling is one which was freely acquired, and/or whether its fulfilment might lead to enslavement.

And there are many more complicated cases: Do I lose my liberty when fear prevents me from acting? Does it matter whether the fear is well-grounded or not? Do poverty and ignorance deprive people of liberty? The difficulty of deciding whether freedom is what is being lost in these cases has given rise to the by now familiar distinction between negative conceptions of liberty – whereby freedom is understood purely as the absence of constraints – and positive conceptions of liberty, in which the “freedom to” pursue certain values is emphasised, as opposed to “freedom from” constraints.262

Raz’s understanding of autonomy is closer to the idea of “positive freedom”, but it does not suggest that freedom from interference is valueless. It should rather be understood as showing us which liberties are worth pursuing and which are unimportant, as well as showing why freedom requires that citizens have rights to certain services – education, for example – without which our freedom from interference would be less than satisfactory.


Raz understands autonomy, first and foremost, as the ideal of people being (in part) authors of their own lives,263 as opposed to living lives of coerced choices264, and ‘the vision of people controlling, to some degree, their own destiny, fashioning it through successive decisions throughout their lives’.265 The autonomous person’s life is

marked not only by what it is but also by what it might have been and by the way it became what it is. A person is autonomous only if he had a variety of acceptable options available to him to choose from, and his life became as it is through his choice of some of these options. A person who has never had any significant choice, or was not aware of it, or never exercised choice in significant matters but simply drifted through life is not an autonomous person.266


Looking at autonomy this way is of course not startlingly original. Rawls describes personhood as ‘…a human life lived according to plan’267 and writes that ‘…an individual says who he is by describing his purposes and causes, what he intends to do in his life.’268 He notes further that

 [t]he main idea is that a person’s good is determined by what is for him the most rational long-term plan of life given reasonably favourable circumstances…We are to suppose, then, that each individual has a rational plan of life drawn up subject to the conditions that confront him. This plan is designed to permit the harmonious satisfaction of his interests. It schedules activities so that various desires can be fulfilled without interference. It is arrived at by rejecting other plans that are either less likely to succeed or do not provide for such an inclusive attainment of aims.269


Raz is concerned to emphasise, however, that autonomy does not entail the implausible requirement that one live one’s life from beginning to end according to a plan. His view is that

the ideal of personal autonomy is not to be identified with the ideal of giving one’s life a unity…The autonomous life may consists of diverse and heterogeneous pursuits. And a person who frequently changes his tastes can be as autonomous as one who never shakes off his adolescent preferences.270


Although the pursuit of goals does require some sensitivity to the past,271 we do not need to be committed to projects which define the worth of our entire lives in order to be pursuers of goals in the sense necessary for us to be autonomous beings. Lesser goals will also suffice – and, indeed, an overly rigid life may be an indication of a lack of autonomy.

Raz is careful to stress that the autonomous person is part author of his or her life. A life is always lived in the face of basic needs, and in the midst of other people, who provide for one the materials out of which one’s life is to be created. Autonomy is not compromised by the mere fact of having needs to satisfy – it is compromised by (amongst other things) the absence of choices as to how these needs will be satisfied. Raz at times seems to suggest that all our autonomous activities involve the satisfaction of needs, although they will often be less basic needs, such as the ‘drives to move around, to exercise our bodies, to stimulate our senses, to engage our imagination and our affection, to occupy our mind.’272

Satisfying our needs provides us with reasons for action. But Raz also asserts that in adopting particular goals (such as deciding to pursue certain interests), individuals acquire reasons for action that they would not otherwise have had.273 And it is in these reasons for action, peculiar to themselves, that their autonomy can be seen, in that having reasons for action which they would not have had, were it not for the goals they have adopted, they determine how they will satisfy their needs, even though they cannot change the fact that they have (certain basic) needs.


Unfulfilled basic needs are nevertheless usually detrimental to one’s autonomy. As Raz puts it, ‘the autonomous agent is one who is not always struggling to maintain the minimum conditions of a worthwhile life.’274 Choices made under such conditions do not reflect the particular person one is – they cannot be said to reveal authorship. One might respond by suggesting that one’s true colours are revealed in difficult times. This is hard to dispute, but leaving the matter there misses the subtlety of Raz’s point. Hard times may reveal character – both in the sense of the capacity to remain steadfast, and in the sense which refers to the particular constellation of characteristics displayed by individuals. But neither sense conveys precisely the quality of authorship which Raz sees as essential to autonomy. And he is surely right here – one may be of strong character, and one may be unique, but neither of these qualities is identical to or necessary for autonomy.

Raz also warns against ‘over-intellectualised conceptions of autonomy’275, arguing that an autonomous choice need not be fully articulable, nor defensible in terms of reasons that would apply to everyone, at the time it is made. He argues that in many cases the most important projects in the life of an autonomous person are just as likely to be acquired, or discovered, as they are to be chosen by an act of conscious deliberation.

Echoing the work of Sher,276 John Christman,277 and Harry Frankfurt,278 it is not how such projects were initially acquired that matters for autonomy in Raz’s view, but their conscious and wholehearted pursuit. We should understand the autonomous person as one who, being already in possession of certain projects, however acquired, regards themselves as having reasons either to persist with these projects or to abandon them. Furthermore, autonomous people choose amongst the projects they’ve acquired on the basis of reasons which they continue to use in their practical deliberations, and they identify with the choices they have made.


It is likely that some of these reasons we have for pursuing our choices will be impersonal – ie that they could in principle apply to anyone – but, as noted above, it is also likely that many of them will arise from having made the choice in the first place. As Raz puts it:

The emerging picture is of interplay between impersonal, ie choice-independent reasons which guide the choice, which then itself changes the balance of reasons and determines the contours of that person’s well-being by creating new reasons which were not there before. This interplay of independent value and self-creation of value by one’s actions and one’s past provides the clue to the role of the will in practical reasoning.279


We see here how choosing autonomously is a way of creating oneself, as in doing so we create new reasons for future choices, and we are who we are at least partially through the reasons we have for our choices.

Some critics of liberalism, such as Michael Sandel, have argued that liberal political theory presupposes the existence of a self that stands at a certain distance from its own interests, a self that can reconsider its commitments without calling its own existence into question.280 But the conception of the person evident in Raz’s view of autonomy is not one to which typical communitarian critiques of liberalism can easily apply.

Far from regarding commitments to conceptions of the good as detachable from the self, Raz’s understanding of autonomy in fact requires such commitments, as the following passage makes clear:


 (Significantly) autonomous persons are those who can shape their life and determine its course. They are not merely rational agents who can choose between options after evaluating relevant information, but agents who can in addition adopt personal projects, develop relationships, and accept commitments to causes, through which their personal integrity and sense of dignity and self-respect are made concrete. Persons who are part creators of their own moral world have a commitment to projects, relationships, and causes which affect the kind of life that is for them worth living.281

Further on he notes that autonomous people may have commitments, the betrayal or compromise of which would render their lives ‘worthless or even impossible (in a moral sense)’.282 Such commitments may be regarded as constitutive of the identities of those concerned – in other words commitments they cannot imagine themselves being without. Moreover, as we will see shortly, Raz regards the ability to maintain intimate relationships and form personal attachments, as well as the characteristic of stability, as conditions of autonomy.


And once one has taken up certain relationships or projects, one’s subsequent reasons for action are changed:

Saying ‘I want to...’ can be a way of indicating that one is committed to a project, that one has embraced a certain pursuit, cares about a relationship. It is...part of a valid reason for action, once the initial commitment has been made. In this usage it does not signify the existence of a particular mental state, a desire. It signifies a commitment, deep or shallow, to a pursuit, which may be limited or lasting or comprehensive.283


For the autonomous person, as Raz sees it, choices already made create the framework for future (autonomous) choices. The goals they choose determine the ways in which their autonomy is worked out. Clearly, a view of this kind cannot be construed as guilty of the (allegedly) typical liberal error of regarding the self as necessarily detached from his or her commitments.

Waldron comments that although liberals may deny, in some uninteresting metaphysical sense, that a commitment makes a difference to our essential beings, Raz has helped to show how our commitments make a great difference indeed to our goals, our reasons for action, and the way we see ourselves. Furthermore, says Waldron, he does this without neglecting either the part our own choices play in these commitments, or the sense we have that we could revise these commitments if we so chose.284

Now that we have some idea of what the autonomous life is, let us look at the conditions which are necessary before individuals enjoy the possibility of living such a life. Raz goes to some lengths to emphasise the social nature of these conditions. For the time being I will simply note this position, as I engage in a fuller discussion of its implications in the section below entitled “Raz’s collectivism”.


The three conditions of autonomy are, according to Raz,285 firstly, the mental abilities to form intentions of a sufficiently complex kind, secondly, freedom from coercion and manipulation, and, thirdly, the availability to the agent of an adequate range of valuable options.

In discussing the first condition, Raz lists a number of attributes of persons which we value on account of their contribution to the autonomous life – attributes without which individuals would have no capacity for autonomy. The list includes cognitive abilities such as ‘the power to absorb, remember and use information,’286 character traits such as ‘stability, loyalty and the ability to form personal attachments and to maintain intimate relationships,’287 as well as conditions such as basic health and physical well-being.

This first condition of autonomy is uncontroversial. Even anti-perfectionists are likely to argue, consistently with an opposition to perfectionism, that the state has a duty to provide people with the necessary basis for them to make their own, autonomous, choices – and this may involve taxation to raise funds for education and so on. Arguing that education and health are preconditions for the ability to make truly autonomous choices is hardly controversial, and even arguing that a certain level of prosperity is necessary for autonomy does not necessarily fall foul of the anti-perfectionist principle that the state refrain from judging the merit of different lifestyles.


Raz’s list of the capacities necessary for autonomy is of course disputable. It includes such features as the capacity for loyalty which, anti-perfectionists may argue, blurs the distinction between the conditions for and the objects of choice. The perfectionist may well respond that recognising that certain objects of choice cannot be autonomously chosen (as Mulhall and Swift put it, that ‘not just any choice can count as an autonomous one’288) calls the distinction into question. And the distinction might also be called into question in the opposite way. An anti-perfectionist argument which, for example, suggested that state subsidies for the arts promotes the capacities necessary for the autonomous life, would be hard pressed to deny that the superior value of the arts is one of its premises.

Even less likely to be disputed by anti-perfectionists is Raz’s second condition of autonomy: that of freedom from coercion and manipulation, given that negative freedom, in the Hobbesian sense,289 appears to be a necessary condition of autonomy, even if not obviously a sufficient one. One could not be considered autonomous in circumstances in which one’s desires or decisions had no impact on what one could do.

Unfortunately, however, it is unclear that the mere fact of being coerced does indeed mean that one’s desires or decisions have no impact on one’s actions. It is at least plausible to suggest that, when threatened with harm, one chooses to comply with the threatener’s wishes.290 And the suggestion that what defines coercion is that one regrets having to make the choice will not work either, as it appears to cover a range of situations, many of which we would not regard as coercion.


Raz regards any choice following directly from the need to preserve one’s bodily integrity as a heteronomous one – whether the result of coercion, threat or poverty.291 He goes on to observe that threats to destroy the projects or relationships which are central to our lives are also coercive, and therefore also destructive of autonomy.

Furthermore, he notes that


 [t]he natural fact that coercion and manipulation reduce options or distort normal processes of decision and the formation of preferences has become the basis of a social convention loading them with meaning regardless of their actual consequences. They have acquired a symbolic meaning expressing disregard or even contempt for the coerced or manipulated people.292

On this view, I may show disrespect for your autonomy by threatening you, even if I don’t actually diminish it. I might do this by threatening dire consequences for you if you do not do something you in fact wanted to do, for good reasons, anyway. We’ll see later that Raz’s opposition to the use of coercion in the pursuit of valid moral ideals requires this particular understanding of disrespect.

Raz distinguishes manipulation from coercion by postulating that the former ‘perverts the way [a] person reaches decisions, forms preferences or adopts goals,’293 whereas the latter reduces one’s options by associating unbearable costs with the options one would otherwise wish to pursue.294


Raz’s analysis of manipulation is far less detailed than his analysis of coercion. What he does clarify is that, like coercion, manipulation is a threat to personal autonomy. He also makes clear that manipulation can be an insult to autonomy, much in the way that threats are, and that the political use of manipulation should face the same restrictions as the political use of coercion. However, as we’ll see when we come to discuss the shape of Razian perfectionism, critics may well suspect that, even if the perfectionist state’s promotion of morally valuable options can escape the charge of coercion, the charge of manipulation is less easily evaded. A defence against this charge would require more explication than Raz gives.

Let’s look, for the time being, at what he does say on the subject. Firstly, one may regard manipulation as an invasion of autonomy on the grounds that it interferes with what Raz calls the inner capacities necessary for autonomy.295 If certain possibilities are deliberately concealed from one so as to ensure that one chooses a particular option rather than others, then clearly one cannot be said to be making an autonomous choice.296 Choices made under such conditions cannot be said to be one’s own choices.

Unfortunately, though, the matter of deciding which desires have been artificially induced, and are therefore indicative of the manipulation of the agent, is a tricky one. Firstly, in order to ascertain whether manipulation has taken place or not, one needs to know what desires the agent would have had, had the alleged manipulation not taken place. Obviously, it is not clear how one might know this.297


And, as if this were not bad enough, someone like Raz, who holds that the reasons which make a preference autonomous may stem from the fact that the preference has been adopted, faces a yet more complex problem in attempting to distinguish manipulated desires from unmanipulated ones. Raz quite correctly acknowledges the fact that none of our preferences are adopted wholly independently of other people, hence his view that autonomous desires are those which we currently embrace on the basis of our evaluative capacities. And the reasons we have for embracing these goals might, of course, be reasons which we would have regardless of the interference of others, but then again they might not. The fact that our preferences derive initially from the interference of others in our lives cannot then serve, for Raz, as an indication of their heteronomy.298 

Furthermore, Raz has argued that personal autonomy is not possible outside of certain social conditions, conditions which are fragile and therefore require deliberate action to maintain them. Given that Raz will argue that we have a duty to create the conditions of autonomy for others, it may (not infrequently) be the case that we are duty bound to interfere in the lives of others in the interests of their autonomy. This, of course, leaves Raz unable to regard deliberate interference as necessarily indicative of manipulation.

Nor can he simply define manipulation as interference which creates the likelihood of bad choices on the part of the person interfered with – although such interference will certainly count as manipulation. But he needs to be able to offer an account of manipulation which allows for the possibility of the manipulative inculcation of virtue, which is, like the coercive inculcation of virtue, damaging to autonomy,299 and this means that the moral quality of the choices resulting from interference cannot be the standard by which we judge whether the interference is manipulative or not.


Defining manipulation as the inculcation of false beliefs is equally problematic, as there are many cases in which we simply cannot tell what the merits of a belief are apart from the allegedly manipulative efforts to establish merits for it. Waldron uses the example of the symbolic loading of an option to make this point.300 

If I wish, for example, to attempt to establish a certain way of being as “authentically x” – for example if I were to manage an election campaign with the intention of inculcating the belief that voting for the African National Congress is the authentically South African thing to do – is there some way of working out what the genuinely authentically South African thing to do would be apart from the social meanings with which this option has been and is being endowed? It’s hard to see how even Raz could believe that there is. But if attempting to create the aura of authentic South Africanness around the African National Congress is not manipulation, then one might ask why attempting to create the aura of machismo around Marlboro cigarettes is.

Raz’s third condition of autonomy requires the availability to the agent of an adequate range of valuable options, and this is where we come to the real controversy.


Autonomy is not possible without a society which ensures that the choices available to its members ‘include options with long term pervasive consequences as well as short term options of little consequence.’301 We should also, according to Raz, ‘be able both to choose long term commitments or projects and to develop lasting relationships and be able to develop and pursue them by means which we choose from time to time. It is intolerable that we should have no influence over the choice of our occupation or of our friends.’302 Moreover, ‘[t]o be autonomous and to have an autonomous life, a person must have options which enable him to sustain throughout his life activities which, taken together, exercise all the capacities human beings have an innate drive to exercise, as well as to decline to develop any of them.’303

While one can imagine anti-perfectionists accepting that autonomy isn’t possible in the presence of coercion and manipulation, or in the absence of certain basic capacities, it is clear that anti-perfectionists must part company with Raz with regard to his third condition. The claim that the state has the duty to use its coercive powers so as to secure an adequate range of valuable options implies that the state must act on judgements as to the value of certain options, and this is not a position anti-perfectionists could endorse.

Why is a life without autonomy a life without well-being? Raz’s answer here is a little surprising:


The nature of modern societies, he argues, denies well-being to the heteronomous. Given that well-being depends on the successful pursuit of valuable social forms, and given that the social forms of modern liberal democratic republics are autonomy-presupposing, it follows, says Raz, that autonomy is necessary for the well-being of citizens of such societies. Conversely, members of different kinds of societies do not necessarily have an interest in autonomy.304 As he puts it:

For those who live in an autonomy-supporting environment there is no choice but to be autonomous: there is no other way to prosper in such a society…The value of personal autonomy is a fact of life. Since we live in a society whose social forms are to a considerable extent based on individual choice, and since our options are limited by what is available in our society, we can prosper in it only if we can be successfully autonomous.305


But note the phrase “autonomy-supporting environment”. It so happens that modern industrial/post-industrial society is autonomy-supporting, and this means that well-being in this society requires autonomy, whether individual members of the society want it or not.306

This of course raises the question of what should be done with the heteronomous in modern societies – whether they are so because they belong to pockets of non-modern culture, or simply because they choose against autonomy. Raz denies that non-autonomous lives cannot be valuable,307 and in particular denies that those on the outside of modern societies should be forcibly “autonomised,” so that they achieve the levels of well-being which the rest of us enjoy. He makes the obvious point that plunging the unprepared into a society that requires autonomy of them may well leave them a good deal worse off than before, and this can hardly be understood as a contribution to their well-being.308 

The claim that autonomy is of fundamental importance is, of course, associated with anti-perfectionism. Raz, however, is equally committed to the value of autonomy. It is just that he takes liberal political morality to be derived from a comprehensive ideal of the good life: that of the valuable autonomous life, where valuable and autonomous are not synonyms. As he sees it, 


…the autonomy principle309 is a perfectionist principle. Autonomous life is valuable only if it is spent in the pursuit of valuable projects and relationships. The autonomy principle permits and even requires governments to create morally valuable opportunities, and to eliminate repugnant ones.310 

What Raz says here about the autonomy principle is surprising, first, in that he terms it a “perfectionist” principle: rather than requiring the state to withdraw from the terrain on which values battle for dominance, it requires the active promotion of a valuable human attribute, namely autonomy.


Second, Raz does not take autonomy to be valuable simpliciter. He thinks, rather, that the autonomous life is valuable only if it is spent in the pursuit of valuable projects and relationships. This means that Raz rejects the view that the state’s job is done to the extent that citizens are offered a choice between ways of life: on the Rawlsian view, the quality of the choices on offer is also a matter for the state. And if we make the additional, plausible, assumption that governments could only have a duty to promote autonomy to the extent that it is valuable, we can conclude that the state can have no duty to support worthless forms of life.

Writers who stress the importance of autonomy, as liberals generally do, tend to emphasise that the state must leave citizens in a position to make choices. Remarking on the objects of such choices might be thought to be the province of ethics, or of comprehensive conceptions of the good, neither of which are thought by anti-perfectionists to be appropriate bases for political morality.

Is valuing autonomy, while denying that it confers value on immoral or worthless choices, a tenable position? It is certainly less paradoxical than it seems. Stressing that it is of paramount importance that people choose for themselves, as all liberals do, does not imply that worthless ideals themselves acquire value through the fact of being chosen. While we do often make remarks such as “at least she chose it for herself” we do not thereby endorse the value of the object of a person’s choice. Rather, in making such remarks, we emphasise the evil of coercion or manipulation. And it is a short step from conceding that worthless ideals do not acquire value through having been autonomously chosen to the recognition that being offered a range of worthless options may well allow one to make an autonomous choice, but not one that is in any sense worth having.311 Autonomy is valuable when there are valuable options on the table. If not, one’s predicament is not improved by autonomy.


The autonomous life requires valuable choices, and this obliges Raz to accept moral pluralism. As Raz sees it, the moral ground for the liberal commitment to individual liberty is provided by the good of personal autonomy which individuals realise in choosing between morally valuable but incompatible possibilities.

According to this position, there are many morally worthy ways of living one’s life, and they are not necessarily compatible with each other, nor can they all be pursued by a single person. As Isaiah Berlin puts it, ‘not all good things are compatible, still less all the ideals of mankind.’312 In fact, it is likely that the pursuit of certain morally worthy ways of life would dispose one towards intolerance of other, incommensurable,313 morally worthy ways of life.

Raz notes that ‘if autonomy is an ideal then we are committed to [moral pluralism]: valuing autonomy leads to the endorsement of moral pluralism’314 – otherwise it would not be clear with regard to which choices autonomy could be exercised. Once one accepts that a life can only be autonomous and valuable if one has a number of valuable alternatives to choose from, then one must also accept moral pluralism, as it is necessary to make valuable autonomy possible. On the other hand, if autonomy is valuable regardless of the moral value of the choices made, a commitment to moral pluralism does not necessarily follow.


Raz’s position is distinctive in that his view of autonomy presupposes the truth of moral pluralism. His argument attempts to establish an internal relation between moral pluralism and the claim that a life is only valuable if it is in pursuit of a valid ideal that has been autonomously chosen. In other words, his claim is that if autonomy, as he understands it, is possible, then value must be plural. In contrast, the more standard argument treats moral pluralism and the claim that a life is only valuable in pursuit of an autonomously chosen valid ideal as two separate claims, and concludes that a state concerned to promote the valuable autonomy of its citizens has no reason to favour any particular valuable form of life.315

4.1.4 The justification of authority

Raz regards the exercise of political authority as justified only if the governed are more likely to comply with the reasons (moral, prudential and other) that apply to them if they accept as binding the directives of the authority, than they would be if they tried to comply directly with these same reasons. This thesis he terms the “normal justification thesis”, and argues that if directives are indeed justified in this way, then the governed have an obligation to follow them and to treat them as pre-empting and replacing all other reasons which apply to them. The normal justification thesis is derived from the so-called “service conception of authority”, also articulated by Raz, which takes political authority to be justified only to the extent that it serves the governed.

It is important to note the connections between the service conception of authority and the principle of autonomy. Because we all have a powerful interest in autonomy, we have reasons to act so as to create the conditions of autonomy for ourselves and others. And given that the role of governmental authority is to assist us to comply with the reasons which apply to us, government therefore has a duty to promote autonomy and compliance with the principle of autonomy. Political authority is therefore justified principally because and to the extent that it provides conditions necessary for personal autonomy.316


In summary then, Raz’s second fundamental premise is that the justification of political authority lies in its capacity to enable citizens better to act for the reasons that apply to them than they would be in the absence of the authority. It follows from this premise that, if the state is able to assist citizens in pursuing the reasons which apply to them (which would include their moral obligations), then it must do so, for failing to do so would be to neglect its duty.

4.1.5 Raz’s collectivism

Raz’s third premise is that the conditions on which autonomy depends are social in nature – that is, they cannot be created by individuals.

He argues further that these conditions depend on state support, to the extent that they would wither in the absence of such support, leaving the range of valuable forms of life insufficient for citizens to make genuine autonomous choices between them, and therefore deleteriously affecting their chances of experiencing well-being. I will explain, in what follows, why this part of Raz’s argument for the necessity of perfectionism is unconvincing.


Raz’s claim that ‘[a] person’s well-being depends...on success in socially defined and determined pursuits’317 involves, firstly, the claim that well-being depends on success in one’s comprehensive goals, and secondly, that comprehensive goals must be based on social forms of behaviour. This much is certainly true.

Raz’s understanding of well-being as depending on how successfully one is pursuing the most comprehensive goals one has set oneself means that well-being cannot, on this view, consist in the pursuit of goals one has not chosen, or is compelled to pursue. As noted earlier in this chapter, one might be mistaken about the value of one’s goals. And this is as true for societies as it is for individuals, according to Raz. He argues that his claim that one’s well-being depends on socially defined pursuits is ‘not a conventionalist thesis. It does not claim that whatever is practised with social approval is for that reason valuable.’318

It is also important to note that the comprehensive goals of individuals are dependent for their meaning on the social practices or conventions in which they are embedded. This is true for the whole gamut of possibilities, ranging from goals such as the pursuit of a medical career, to those such as supporting Manchester United Football Club. And one can only maintain such comprehensive goals through continual participation in social forms, as instruction in the various practices in which these goals are embedded is never explicit, but learned largely through a process of intuitive observation. Failure to participate in these social forms results in “losing touch”, whereby the successful pursuit of the associated goals becomes unlikely. This does not mean, of course, that it is not possible to deviate from social forms, nor that any attempts to deviate are valueless, but rather that deviations tend to gain their significance from the very fact of their being deviations from the norm.


It is on the basis of his claims that one cannot pursue valuable forms of life without the social forms that make them possible, and that autonomy requires the availability of a variety of valuable options, that Raz concludes that, for individual citizens to enjoy autonomy, a variety of social forms must be available. As he puts it:

...autonomy is only possible if various collective goods are available. The opportunity to form a family of one kind or another, to forge friendships, to pursue many of the skills, professions and occupations, to enjoy fiction, poetry, and the arts, to engage in many of the common leisure activities: these and others require an appropriate common culture to make them possible and valuable.319


Raz argues further that the social forms necessary to maintain a range of options sufficient for the autonomy of the citizens would wither away without state support. Perfectionist policies are then seen to be necessary to preserve the conditions of autonomy. And this is where he is much less convincing.

Raz argues that anti-perfectionism ‘[undermines] the chances of survival of many cherished aspects of our culture,’320 and therefore undermines the possibility of autonomous lives. Here again, Raz emphasises the social basis of autonomy. He argues that ‘[s]upporting valuable forms of life is a social rather than an individual matter,’321 and we can conclude from this that, without social support, such valuable forms of life will wither away. The example he gives is of monogamy, which, he points out, ‘cannot be practised by an individual,’ and which ‘...requires a culture which recognises it, and which supports it through the public’s attitude and through its formal institutions,’322 without which its chances of survival would be diminished.

We need to note that in claiming that cherished aspects of our culture may wither away without state support, Raz is not concerned with any particular cherished aspect of our culture. This is not an argument that the state has obligation to maintain, say, opera as an art form, because it is cherished.323 The concern Raz articulates is that, without state support for valuable options, opportunities for autonomy may wither away, as the withering away of these valuable options may eventually reduce the choices citizens are able to make to a point where they can no longer be described as autonomous. And if this diminution of autonomy is a genuinely possible consequence of anti-perfectionist policies, Raz’s concern is not one that anti-perfectionists can dismiss lightly.


Although anti-perfectionists do not usually articulate their commitment to neutrality as a commitment to ensuring that all conceptions of the good life are equally affected by state policy,324 the view that the consequences of a policy – particularly the consequences for autonomy – are irrelevant to the acceptability of the policy is not one that anti-perfectionists will rush to endorse. And neither would either the claims a) that we cannot identify any consequences as better than others, or b) that even if we can identify some consequences as better than others, the state has no reason to pursue these consequences, seem particularly tempting.

But would failure on the part of the state to support worthwhile forms of life have the consequences which Raz suggests it has? Raz has surely overstated his case, as it seems clear that many forms of life, the value of which he would endorse, do not require state support for their survival. This may not be true of opera, but Raz is not purporting merely to provide a defence of the value of opera, and we may well require a much larger set of examples of valuable forms of life which are likely to wither away without state support before feeling the need to abandon anti-perfectionism.

A lot hinges on what range of options counts as adequate for autonomy. And clearly, Raz’s understanding is that autonomy requires a rather wide range.325 Even so, however, it is hard to imagine that the number of such options would become so small as to constitute a threat to the autonomy of citizens in the absence of state support. Raz is not, after all, suggesting that the state has a duty to provide us with the most valuable life possible, a duty which would have to be derived from the implausible view that all individuals have a coercively enforceable duty to do the same. It seems more plausible to interpret him as requiring the state to support options sufficient to guarantee the autonomy of citizens, which would mean that one could acknowledge that a certain form of life was superior, while denying that its disappearance would condemn citizens to heteronomy.  


One possible Razian response to anti-perfectionist scepticism about the necessity of state support for valuable forms of life would be to acknowledge that many such forms could survive without state support, while arguing that state support is nevertheless necessary for them to be available to the majority of citizens. If the consequence of an anti-perfectionist refusal on the part of the state to support valuable forms of life would be a society in which a wide range of such forms is available only to the elite, leaving the majority of citizens with a much diminished menu of options, Razian perfectionism may appear as the preferable option.

But even we concede the possibility that, without state intervention, the range of options on offer in the society could be worryingly larger for the elite than for the majority of citizens, it remains unclear why we should think that the solution to this problem lies in a state which makes policy by judging the value of various forms of life. All that would be necessary is that the state redistribute resources sufficient for everyone to acquire the inner capacities necessary for the conduct of an autonomous life – as recommended by Raz himself in outlining his second condition of autonomy.326 Such a state need simply ensure that all citizens have access to education sufficient to allow them to create autonomously whatever forms of life they deem to be valuable. As Hannah Arendt, for example, has argued, the increased availability of formal opportunities for political participation seems to correlate inversely with the extent and substance of such participation.327 And Waldron suggests further that ‘good social practices are likely to be those capable of flourishing perfectly well on their own, unassisted by the efforts of the law.’328

This is not, of course, to argue that perfectionism is impermissible. As I have argued in chapter two, the case for the principle of state neutrality has not been convincingly made. It is rather to suggest that Raz’s conviction that anti-perfectionism must damage autonomy is not well-founded. And this is because, although he is correct to argue that autonomy is valuable only in pursuit of the good, and also that the state has a duty to uphold the conditions of autonomy for all citizens, it does not follow that the state must therefore promote the good, as, under the circumstances likely to obtain in modern liberal democracies state promotion of the good is superfluous to requirements: a range of valuable forms of life adequate to provide citizens with genuinely autonomous choices can be attained in many ways other than state intervention.



Fußnoten und Endnoten

206  John Rawls, A theory of justice (Revised edition) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 285-6.

207  ‘This more moderate doctrine is one in which a principle of perfection is accepted as but one standard among several in an intuitionist theory. The principle is to be balanced against others by intuition.’ See John Rawls, A theory of justice (Revised edition) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 286.

208  Contrary to Rawls’s comments in A theory of justice (Revised Edition) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) at pp. 285-92.

209  George Sher, Beyond neutrality: Perfectionism and politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 9.

210  To be fair to Sher, this is quite clearly acknowledged throughout Beyond neutrality, but is usually referred to therein as political perfectionism.

211  Joseph Raz, “Facing up: A reply” Southern California Law Review 62 (1989), pp. 1153-235 at p. 1231.

212  Joseph Raz, “Facing up: A reply” Southern California Law Review 62 (1989), pp. 1153-235 at p. 1230.

213  Jeremy Waldron, “Autonomy and perfectionism in Raz’s Morality of freedomSouthern California Law Review 62 (1989), pp. 1098-1152 at p. 1102.

214  Thomas Hurka, Perfectionism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 3.

215  Thomas Hurka, Perfectionism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 160.

216  George Sher, Beyond neutrality: Perfectionism and politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 246.

217  Steven Wall, Liberalism, perfectionism and restraint (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 15.

218  Thomas Hurka, Perfectionism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 162-3. In fact Hurka proposes in this passage a distinction between philosophical and state neutrality, but we may safely extrapolate from that to a similar distinction with regard to perfectionisms.

219  See also Steven Wall and George Klosko, Perfectionism and neutrality (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003), p.16.

220  See especially the section entitled “The contours of Rawlsian perfectionism” below.

221  Thomas Hurka discusses, albeit critically, what such circumstances might be in his “Indirect perfectionism: Kymlicka on indirect perfectionism,” Journal of Political Philosophy 3 (1995), p. 36-57.

222  See George Sher, Beyond neutrality: Perfectionism and politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 246.

223  Joseph Chan, “Legitimacy, unanimity, and perfectionism” Philosophy and Public Affairs 29, 1 (2000), p. 15 and Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 133. “Weak perfectionism” of this description also bears a close resemblance to the “Aristotelian” perfectionism discussed by Rawls on page 286 of A theory of justice (Revised edition) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

224  Joseph Chan, “Legitimacy, unanimity, and perfectionism” Philosophy and Public Affairs 29, 1 (2000), p. 15 and Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 133.

225  Joseph Raz “Liberty and trust” in Robert George (ed), Natural law, liberalism and morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 113-29.

226  This point is well developed in Thomas Hurka’s Perfectionism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 148-52 and 158-60.

227  See Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 378-81.

228  Although of course not only on these grounds. Other arguments against morals legislation would parallel other arguments for the principle of state neutrality: one might argue, for example, that morals legislation is likely to cause social instability, oppressive, or likely to enforce unsound morals, or even that the value or worthlessness of, say, bestiality, cannot be known, although one would have to be a particularly hardy sceptic to pursue the last line of argument.

229  Robert George is an example. See his Making men moral (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).

230  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 419.

231  Forbidding alcohol, for example, on the basis that a life devoted to its consumption is a worthless lifestyle, might well damage all kinds of worthwhile practices – including but not limited to the arts.

232  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 412.

233  Patrick Devlin, The enforcement of morals (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965).

234  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 158.

235  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 427.


Vinit Haksar comments on pp. 285-6 of his Equality, liberty, and perfectionism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979) that

Even if one takes a purely want-regarding line, there is the problem about who has the authority to impose the recommended policy, and about whose views should carry the day on what the want-regarding approach implies in practical. Even if one takes a non-perfectionist approach like that of BF Skinner…there is still the problem about whose views about what ought to be done should carry the day….He can reply to such accusations by making a distinction between recommending a policy that should be adopted by legislators and dictatorially imposing a policy. He could admit that he has no right, no authority, to impose his views by dictatorial means, but this does not prevent his views from being correct and from being deserving of implementation by the state through democratic channels.

237  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 429.

238  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 429.

239  Jeremy Waldron, “Autonomy and perfectionism in Raz’s Morality of freedom,” Southern California Law Review 62 (1989), p. 1130.

240  See Michael Sandel’s introduction to his edited collection Liberalism and its critics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1984).

241  Patrick Devlin, The enforcement of morals, (:,1965).

242  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 213.

243  ‘Politics as a vocation’ in H Gerth & C Mills (eds) From Max Weber: Essays in sociology 77 at 77-8 1946

244  “A letter concerning toleration” in Two treatises of government and A letter concerning toleration (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).

245  Jeremy Waldron, “Autonomy and perfectionism in Raz’s Morality of freedom,” Southern California Law Review 62 (1989), pp. 1139-40.

246  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), pp. 413-4.

247  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 419.

248  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), pp. 418-9.

249  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 160.

250  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), pp. 411-2.

251  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 298.

252  Raz understands comprehensive goals to be those goals which pervade one’s life in the widest-ranging manner, forming the context in which one pursues lesser goals. Examples of the contexts in which comprehensive goals would be situated are marriage or the structure of a given profession, or the structures of politics in a given society.

253  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 301.

254  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 299.

255  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 300.

256  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 343. This is his so-called “Incommensurability thesis”, which argues further that incommensurability is pervasive within our culture and hence integral to the structure of practical reasoning. See also WJ Waluchow, “Critical notice of Joseph Raz’s The morality of freedom,” Canadian journal of philosophy 19 (1989), p. 485.

257  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 345.

258  WJ Waluchow, “Critical notice of Joseph Raz’s The morality of freedom,” Canadian journal of philosophy 19 (1989), p. 484.

259  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 320.

260  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 319.

261  See, for example, Richard Bellamy, in his “Review of Joseph Raz’s The morality of freedom” History of European Ideas 9 (1988), p. 746.

262  The classic discussion of these two ways of looking at freedom is to be found in Isaiah Berlin’s essay ‘Two concepts of liberty’ in his Four essays on liberty, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 118-72.

263  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 370.

264  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 371.

265  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 369.

266  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 204.

267  John Rawls, A theory of justice (Revised Edition) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 408.

268  John Rawls, A theory of justice (Revised Edition) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 408.


John Rawls, A theory of justice (Revised Edition) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 92-3. Nozick makes a similar point in Anarchy, state and utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974), pp. 49-50, where he argues that what is important about the idea of a person, is that it is the idea of

a being able to formulate long-term plans for its life, able to consider and decide on the basis of abstract principles or considerations it formulates to itself and hence not merely the plaything of immediate stimuli, a being that limits its own behaviour in accordance with some principles or picture it has of what an appropriate life is for itself and others…operating in terms of an overall conception of it life and what it is to add up to…What is the moral importance of this…ability to form a picture of one’s whole life (or at least significant chunks of it) and to act in terms of some overall conception of the life one wishes to lead?…I conjecture that the answer is connected with that elusive and difficult notion: the meaning of life. A person’s shaping his life in accordance with some overall plan is his way of giving meaning to his life; only a being with the capacity to so shape his life can have or strive for a meaningful life.

270 Joseph Raz The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 370-1.

271  See Robert Nozick, Anarchy, state and utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974), p. 387 ‘Our life comprises the pursuit of various goals, and that means it is sensitive to our past.’

272  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 375.

273  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 300.

274  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 155.

275  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 371.

276  See George Sher, Beyond neutrality: Perfectionism and politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 61-5. See also my remarks in chapter two on the argument from the value of autonomy to the principle of state neutrality.

277  John Christman, “Autonomy and personal history,” Canadian journal of philosophy 21 (1991), pp. 1-24.

278  Harry Frankfurt, The importance of what we care about (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

279  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 389.


On page 62 of Liberalism and the limits of justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1982), Sandel says that

[o]ne consequence of this distance is to put the self beyond the reach of experience, to make it invulnerable, to fix its identity once and for all. No commitment could grip me so deeply that I could not understand myself without it. No transformation of life purposes and plans could be so unsettling as to disrupt the contours of my identity. No project could be so essential that turning away from it would call into question the person I am.

281  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 155.

282  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 155.

283  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 389.

284  Jeremy Waldron, “Autonomy and perfectionism in Raz’s Morality of freedom” Southern California Law Review 62 (1989), p. 1114.

285  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 372-3.

286  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 408.

287  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 408.

288  Stephen Mulhall and Adam Swift, Liberals and communitarians (2ed) (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), p. 275.

289  See Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982), p. 261, where he says that ‘[L]iberty, or Freedome, signifieth (properly) the absence of Opposition; by Opposition, I mean external Impediments of motion’.

290  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 151.

291  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 156.

292  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 378.

293  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 377-8.

294  Jeremy Waldron, “Autonomy and perfectionism in Raz’s Morality of freedom,” Southern California Law Review 62 (1989), p.1117.


Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), pp. 407-8. In this passage, he says that

[s]ome of these concern cognitive capacities, such as the power to absorb, remember and use information, reasoning abilities, and the like. Others concern one’s emotional and imaginative make-up. Still others concern health, and physical abilities and skills. Finally, there are character traits essential or helpful for a life of autonomy. They include stability, loyalty and the ability to form personal attachments and to maintain intimate relationships.


Steven Lukes, in his Power: A radical view, (1974), expresses how manipulation might be a very serious violation of autonomy indeed when he says

A may exercise power over B by getting him to do what he does not want to do, but he also exercises power over him by influencing, shaping or determining his very wants. Indeed, is it not the supreme exercise of power to get another or others to have the desires you want them to have – that is, to secure their compliance by controlling their thoughts and desires?

297  Jeremy Waldron, “Autonomy and perfectionism in Raz’s Morality of freedom,” Southern California Law Review 62 (1989), p. 1118.

298  Jeremy Waldron, “Autonomy and perfectionism in Raz’s Morality of freedom,” Southern California Law Review 62 (1989), pp. 1118-9.

299  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 420.

300  Jeremy Waldron, “Autonomy and perfectionism in Raz’s Morality of freedom,” Southern California Law Review 62 (1989) p. 1120. The general point is Waldron’s, the specific examples my own.

301  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 374.

302  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 374.

303  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 375.

304  On page 189 of The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), Raz comments that ‘not everyone has an interest in autonomy. It is a cultural value ie of value to people living in certain societies only.’

305  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), pp. 391, 394.


Note that, in Raz’s view, valuing autonomy does not necessarily imply valuing the extension of personal choice into all relationships and pursuits. In this regard, he comments that

[t]he relations between parents and their children are an example of a relationship which is not based upon choice of partners. It shows that an environment can be supportive of autonomy and yet include forms not based on choice…It has to be admitted though that even here choice has tended to creep more and more into the relations. Parents have greater control over whether and when to have children, and to a certain extent over which children to have. The widespread use of contraception, abortion, adoption, in vitro fertilisation and similar measures has increased choice but also affected the relations between parents and their children. The impact of the increased choice on the character of the family is just beginning to be felt.

It would be a mistake to think that those who believe, as I do, in the value of personal autonomy necessarily desire the extension of personal choice in all relationships and pursuits. They may consistently with their belief in personal autonomy wish to see an end to this process, or even its reversal.

Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 394.

307  ‘Autonomy is…inconsistent with various alternative forms of valuable lives.’ Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 395.

308  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 424.

309  The autonomy principle is the principle of political morality which requires the state to promote autonomy (and which derives from the duty individuals have to do the same).

310  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 417.

311  Roger Waters offers a particularly clear expression of this point in the Pink Floyd song “Nobody home”.

312  Isaiah Berlin, Four essays on liberty (:,), p. 26. 

313  According to Raz, ‘Two valuable options are incommensurable if (1) neither is better than the other, and (2) there is (or could be) another option which is better than one but is not better than the other.’ Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 325.

314  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 399 [my italics].

315  I owe this point to Mulhall and Swift. See their Liberals and communitarians (2ed) (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), p. 265.

316  WJ Waluchow ‘Critical notice of Joseph Raz’s The morality of freedom’ (1989) 19 Canadian journal of philosophy 479.

317  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 309.

318  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 310.

319  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 247.

320  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 162.

321  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 162.

322  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 162.

323  In fact a Razian state would not have the right to support any particular form of life unless failing to do so would not leave a range of valuable forms sufficient for the autonomy of citizens.

324  The anti-perfectionist view is usually articulated as a commitment to neutrality of policy justifications.

325  The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 375, where he says that ‘[t]o be autonomous and to have an autonomous life, a person must have options which enable him to sustain throughout his life activities which, taken together, exercise all the capacities human beings have an innate drive to exercise, as well as to decline to develop any of them.’

326  Joseph Raz, The morality of freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 408.

327  Hannah Arendt, On revolution (London: Penguin,1963), pp. 115-40.

328  Jeremy Waldron, “Autonomy and perfectionism in Raz’s Morality of freedom,” Southern California Law Review 62 (1989)  1138.

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