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Citation: 62 S. Cal. L. Rev. 1097 1988-89

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I. INTRODUCTION ....................................... 1098

A. THE NEUTRALITY PRINCIPLE ........................ 1098
B. RAZ'S CRITIQUE OF NEUTRALITY .................... 1100
II. AUTONOMY ............................................ 1103
A. THE CONCEPT OF LIBERTY ........................... 1103
B. PERSONAL AUTONOMY ............................... 1105
C. AUTONOMY AND NEEDS ............................. 1108
D. AUTONOMY AND MORAL CHOICE .................... 1109
III. THE CONDITIONS FOR AUTONOMY ................. 1114
A. AUTONOMY AS CAPACITY ............................ 1114
B. COERCION AND DEPRIVATION ........................ 1115
C. MANIPULATION ...................................... 1117
D. THE AVAILABILITY OF OPTIONS ..................... 1120
E. Is THERE A RIGHT TO AUTONOMY? . . . . . . . . .. . . . . .. . .
F. MORAL INDIVIDUALISM .............................. 1125
IV. PERFECTIONISM ....................................... 1127
A. THE VALUE OF AN AUTONOMOUS LIFE .............. 1127
B. IMMORAL OPTIONS ................................... 1130
C. LIBERAL NEUTRALITY ............................... 1133
D. COERCION AND THE STATE .......................... 1138
E. NON-COERCIVE PERFECTIONISM ...................... 1141
1. Taxation ......................................... 1142
2. Subsidies ......................................... 1147
3. Legal Frameworks ................................ 1149
V. CONCLUSION ........................................... 1152


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The idea that the law should be neutral between different views in
society about what makes life worth living has become a prominent
theme in modem liberal thought. Though it was originally rooted in the
view that the state should. refrain from any particular religious commit-
ment, recent arguments have extended the idea of neutrality to embrace
secular ethics as well.
The neutrality principle's formulation is reasonably familiar. Ron-
ald Dworkin presents it as a distinctively liberal conception of equal
respect. He says that liberal equality:
supposes that political decisions must be, so far as possible, independ-
ent of any particular conception of the good life, or of what gives value
to life. Since the citizens of a society differ in their conceptions, the
government does not treat them as equals if it prefers one conception
to another ....1
Bruce Ackerman imposes neutrality as a dialogic constraint on what
counts as a good reason for the differential distribution of power or
advantage in society: "No reason is a good reason if it requires the power
holder to assert ...that his conception of the good is better than that
asserted by any of his fellow citizens ...." And we find similar views
* Acting Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program, University of Califor-
nia at Berkeley. B.A. 1974, LL.B. 1978, D.Phil. (Law) 1986, Oxford University. An earlier version
of this Article was presented at the American Political Science Association's meetings in Washing-
ton D.C., in August 1988. The author is grateful to the other participants in that presentation for
their comments and also to Jill Frank for her assistance in the preparation of the Article.

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implied or suggested in utilitarian philosophy3 and in recent non-utilita-

rian work on the theory of justice by Robert Nozick and John Rawls.4
But while the neutrality principle is familiar, it is not easy to see
how it can be defended. So long as it was a view about religious neutral-
ity, its defense could be rooted in moral ideas-ideas deemed either to
have secular roots or to have a religious provenance commonly recog-
nized by all the denominations among which neutrality was ordained.'
But as soon as the ambit of neutrality was extended to encompass secular
morals, there was a danger of cutting the principle off from any possible
moral foundation. One may say with Dworkin that liberalism ordains
neutrality "not because there is no right and wrong in political morality,
but because that is what is right."6 But one has a hard time explaining
why it is right and why the state should act on the basis of its moral
rightness, if the doctrine itself requires the state to be neutral on ques-
tions of morality.
For this and other reasons, liberal neutrality has been heavily criti-
cized in the literature, and many critics assume that the idea is not only
implausible but incoherent.' Its dismissal out of hand, however, does not
do justice either to its historical roots or to the sense among many propo-
nents that it captures at least something important about the liberal com-
mitment to freedom. Certainly, neutrality is a slippery and paradoxical
formula. But until now the case against it lacked the sort of sustained
and detailed attention to levels of argument and presupposition necessary
to evaluate properly its claim to lie at the foundation of liberal thought.

3. The locus classicus of the utilitarian commitment to neutrality is the remark in J. BEN-
THAM, The Rationale of Reward, in II THE WORKS OF JEREMY BENTHAM 253 (J. Bowring ed.
1838): "Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music
and poetry. If the game of push-pin furnish more pleasure, it is more valuable than either." Cf J.S.
MILL, UTILITARIANISM 257-63 (M. Wamok ed. 1962).
JUSTICE 94, 211-12, 327 (1971); cf Rawls, Fairnessto Goodness, 84 PHIL. REv. 536, 539 (1975)
(comparing morality and justice).
5. For examples of both types of argument, see J. Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, in
Gough ed. 1976).
6. R. DWORKIN, supra note 1, at 203.
7. See, ag., N. MACCORMICK, Against Moral Disestablishment, in LEGAL RIGHT AND
SOCIAL DEMOCRACY (1982) (a collection of MaeCormick's essays); Nagel, Rawls on Justice, in
1975); Schwartz, Moral Neutrality and Primary Goods, 83 ETHICS 294 (1973); and the essays col-
lected in LIBERAL NEUTRALITY (R. Goodin and A. Reeve eds. 1989) (publication forthcoming).

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Happily, that is no longer the case. In his new book, The Morality
of Freedom, Joseph Raz has embarked on a critical evaluation of neutral-
ity in the context of a thorough and uncompromising revision of liber-
alism's fundamental principles.'
Raz conducts his examination at exactly the le~el that is necessary.
Like all his work, it eschews the impressionistic style that treats some-
thing like liberalism as a state of mind to be captured in an airy phrase or
two rather than as a body of theory that deserves detailed scrutiny.9 Over
the last ten years or so, the patient skill, insight into complexity, and
unflagging commitment to argument that yielded Raz's invaluable con-
ceptions of normativity and systematicity in law, have been focused on
issues of political philosophy.' 0 The Morality of Freedom is the culmina-
tion of that work, and it will contribute enormously to the impact that
Raz has already had on a generation of jurists and philosophers. He has
diminished the gap between legal and political theory so that there is now
a much better sense of how issues of jurisprudence matter, and he has
widely advanced our understanding in precisely those areas of principle
and value where easy slogans and fashionable equivocations are most
likely to seduce political thinking.
It will become clear in this Article that much in Raz's account is
controversial and that defenders of neutrality will want to take issue with
much of it. But I hope I can also convey that it is Raz who has now set
the terms on which any argument about these questions must be con-
ducted, and that Neil MacCormick was not exaggerating when he wrote
in a recent review that The Morality of Freedom "is as significant a new


9. Roger Shiner suggests that Raz's book is a presentation of European (Rousseuian) liber-
alism rather than the United States variety. Shiner, Review of THE MORALITY OF FREEDOM, 63
PHIL. 119, 121 (1988). But the book is not preoccupied with its provenance in this sense, and it lacks
the sort of airy allusion to the history of ideas that disfigures many recent critiques of liberalism in
American political theory.
Raz, Autonomy, Tolerationand the Harm Principle,in ISSUES IN CONTEMPORARY LEGAL PHILOSO-
PHY: THE INFLUENCE OF H.L.A. HART (R. Gavison ed. 1986); Raz, Right-Based Moralities, in
THEORIES OF RIGHTS (J. Waldron ed. 1984); Raz, On the Nature of Rights, 93 MIND 194 (1984)
[hereinafter Raz, On the Nature of Rights]; Raz, Liberalism, Autonomy and the Politics of Neutral
Concern, 7 MIDWEST STUD. PHIL. 89 (1982); Raz, Principlesof Equality, 87 MIND 321 (1978).
Though all these articles have been included in The Morality of Freedom, they have been adapted
into the structure of a larger argument that makes that book much more than the sum of its parts.

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statement of liberal principles as anything since John Stuart Mill's On

I have said that Raz's book is a comprehensive reworking of liberal
argument. There will not be space in this (or any) article to do justice to
the full range of topics that he covers in the course of his discussion.
Two topics in particular bear much fuller examination. The opening
chapters develop the arguments about authority, obedience, and fidelity
to law first set out in his book The Authority of Law.12 Raz argues firmly
that the state can claim no authority over its citizens unless it can be
shown that, by subjecting themselves to state authority, citizens are more
likely to act successfully for the reasons that apply to them than if they
acted on their own initiative.13 This argument, as we shall see, enables
Raz to sidestep the liberal worry that a non-neutral state might require
citizens to pursue morally unjustified ideals. Such a requirement, Raz 14
argues, would lack authority quite apart from the issue of neutrality.
The Morality of Freedom also has two excellent chapters on how to
understand the concept of individual rights. These chapters, located in
the middle of the book, present what has become known as the Interest
Theory of rights, which builds on the so-called Benefit Theory set out by
Jeremy Bentham, and more recently, by David Lyons, and which Raz
and Neil MacCormick defended in earlier articles.15 I shall refer briefly
to this Interest Theory in considering the nature and importance of the
commitment that Raz thinks a liberal state should have to its citizens'
personal autonomy. But there will not be space in this Article to argue
as I have argued elsewhere that the Interest Theory provides the best
account we have of the language of rights in political philosophy.1 6

11. N. MaeCormick, Access to the Goods, TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT, (June 5, 1987, at
599. The only book that comes remotely close to the complexity of Raz's discussion of these issues is
12. See J. RAz, supra note 10. There is an excellent discussion in L. GREEN, THE AUTHORITY
OF THE STATE (1988).
13. J. RAz, supra note 8, at 71.
14. See id. at 157-62.
15. Bentham's view is discussed in H.L.A. HART, ESSAYS ON BENTHAM: STUDIES IN JURIS-
PRUDENCE AND POLITICAL THEORY (1982), chapters IV and VII. See also D. Lyons, Rights,
Claimantsand Beneficiaries,6 AM. PHIL. Q. 173 (1969) (defining "right"). For the Interest Theory,
see N. MacCormick, Rights in Legislation, in LAW MORALITY AND SOCIETY: ESSAYS IN HONOUR
OF H.L.A. HART 189 (P. Hacker and J. Raz eds. 1977); J. Raz, On the Nature ofRights, supranote
PROPERTY (1988), Ch. 3. I have discussed some difficulties in Raz's claims about the connection
between rights and individualism in Waldron, Can Communal Goods Be Human Rights?, 27

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In this Article I want to concentrate on what I take to be the central

argument of The Morality of Freedom: Raz's critique of neutrality and
the case he makes for the alternative view that the state has a right, and
perhaps even a duty, to promote valid ideals of the good. Raz labels the
view he defends "perfectionism," a term used by John Rawls to pick out
substantially the same position, and I shall follow him in that.17 But the
jargon should not distract us: perfectionism is simply the view that legis-
lators 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.
In its bluntest terms, perfectionism is the doctrine set out in the Poli-
tics of Aristotle: "the legislator must labour to ensure that his citizens
become good men. 'He must therefore know what institutions will pro-
duce this result, and what is the end or aim to which a good life is
directed."1 8 Though Raz emphatically denies (what Aristotle appears to
suggest) that there is some single criterion of the good life which the
legislator must uphold, 9 his perfectionism does involve the claim that
some ways of life are simply morally worse than others and that the legis-
lator's job is to discourage them.
Implicitly or explicitly, neutrality so dominates modem liberalism
that it is natural to think of perfectionism as an anti-liberal doctrine,
based on values other than those such as individual freedom on which
liberals characteristically pride themselves. Thus, it would be natural to
expect Raz to defend his perfectionism by showing that individual liberty
does not matter as much as mainstream liberals have traditionally sup-
posed. Natural, but mistaken. Raz addresses his book "primarily to
people who grew up in the embrace of the liberal tradition or who have at
least felt its attraction." 0 He aims not to abandon liberal principles, but
rather to understand them in a way that enables us to see what they are
rooted in and what exactly they imply.
To do this, he relates freedom to a deeper and richer ideal which he
calls "personal autonomy": the ideal of men and women being in large
part authors of their own lives. 21 Autonomy, he claims, lies at the heart
of liberal morality. He argues that if it is properly understood, autonomy
is not only compatible with perfectionism, but is based on a moral yearn-
ing and is related to the social environment in a way that makes any

17. J. RAwLS, supra note 4, at 25.

18. ARISTOTLE, THE POLITIcs 317 (E. Barker trans. 1958).
19. J. RAz, supra note 8, at 133.
20. Id. at 1.
21. Id. at 370.

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principle of neutrality an insulting constraint on the way we organize our

society. As Raz defends it, "[t]he autonomy principle permits and even
requires governments to create morally valuable opportunities, and elimi-
nate repugnant ones.",
Since Raz's notion of autonomy is valuable in itself quite apart from
his perfectionist argument, Part II of this Article outlines what it
involves and its relation to more familiar ideas in the literature. Part III
considers Raz's account of the conditions that are necessary if people are
to be autonomous, including his account of the wrongness of coercion
and manipulation. Part IV considers society's and, more particularly,
the government's role in relation to these conditions. This Part involves
considering the various ways in which autonomy may be undermined
and promoted; it will therefore give us our sense of the nature and limits
of Raz's commitment to perfectionism. Part IV also contains my main
criticisms of Raz's thesis. Part V concludes the Article with the sugges-
tion that, although Raz's argument for perfectionism is flawed, at least he
has identified the proper ground on which mainstream liberals and their
opponents should discuss these matters.



Everyone knows that liberals are committed to liberty, though some

deny that this is a constitutive liberal position. 23 But liberty is a contested
concept, the locus of much bitter argument in political philosophy. One
sails straight into controversy as soon as one leaves the safe haven of
anodyne formulas like: "On the whole, other things being equal, individ-
ual liberty is a good thing."
Part of the controversy stems from the fact that some liberties seem
more important than others. Freedom of choice is important for some
types of action, but does not seem to matter that much for other types of
action. For example, freedom of religious worship seems to matter more
than freedom to drive my car in any direction I please along a cross-town
avenue; the government therefore should be more reluctant to restrict the
first freedom than the second.24 What are we to say about such distinc-
tions? Do they arise because different liberties engage different values, so

22. Id. at 417.

23. Cf. R. DWORKIN, supra note 1, at 188-91.
24. See R. DWORKIN, TAKING RIGHTs SERIOUSLY 269-70 (1977).

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that it is not libertyper se that is really important but rather these differ-
ent values? Or is it that liberty is more at stake (or more liberty is at
stake) in the first kind of case than the second?
Another part of the controversy concerns how liberty itself is under-
stood. Liberals are often taken to be defenders of a "negative" concep-
tion of liberty, in which liberty consists simply in the absence of certain
restraining conditions. To say that a person is free to do X says no more
than that no obstacles or restraints (of some specified type) stand in the
way of doing X.25 But liberty defined purely in this negative way seems
odd and empty. It suggests that we simply value the absence of obstacles
without valuing what may positively exist and thrive in the space that is
left when the obstacles are cleared away. The negative definition sounds
oddly as though we have nothing affirmative to say about those values,
and this oddness has led many people to favor a more "positive" concep-
tion of freedom.2 6
A positive conception seems necessary anyway even for someone
who wants to focus only on restraints and impediments. For people
expound all sorts of claims about the things that make us "unfree." I am
unfree to do X if someone deliberately restrains me physically from doing
X. But what about foreseen but unintended constraints? Do they make
me unfree? What about constraints that I have been led to believe exist
which do not in fact exist? Do psychological constraints-fears and pho-
bias-make me unfree? Does it make a difference how they were brought
about? Does fear of penalties or sanctions make me unfree? (Hobbes
thought the answer was "no," but if that is the case it is hard to get any
grip at all on the notion of political freedom.)27 Am I unfree when all
that is required of me is that if I do a certain action, I do it in a certain
way (driving with a seat belt, for example)? If fear of penalties makes me
unfree, can fear of destitution do the same? Are the poor free not to take

25. The classic conception of negative liberty is that of Thomas Hobbes. See T. HOBBES,
LEVIATHAN 261 (C.B. Macpherson ed. 1968) ("Liberty, or Freedome, signifieth (properly) the
absence of Opposition; by Opposition, I mean external Impediments of motion").
26. The distinction between "negative" and "positive" conceptions of freedom is discussed in I.
BERLIN, FOUR ESSAYS ON LIBERTY 118-72 (1969). The case against a purely negative conception is
stated most cogently in Taylor, What's Wrong with Negative Liberty?, in THE IDEA OF FREEDOM:
ESSAYS IN HONOUR OF ISAIAH BERLIN 175-93 (A. Ryan ed. 1979). Raz uses the term "positive
freedom" to refer to the background conditions (mental and physical capabilities, etc.) for the exer-
cise of autonomy. See J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 408-09. But that is too restrictive. "Positive free-
dom" is the name of a full-blooded conception of liberty (or family of conceptions). See, e.g.,
G.W.F. HEGEL, PHILOSOPHY OF RIGHT 105-08 (T.M. Knox ed. 1967).
27. T. HOBBES, supra note 25, at 262-63 ("Fear and Liberty are consistent .... And generally
all actions which men doe in Commonwealths, for fear of the law, [are] actions, which the doers had
liberty to omit.").

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minimum wage jobs if they have no other way to satisfy their needs and
those of their families? Am I free to refrain from something to which
there is no rational alternative? Can ignorance make one unfree? And so
One of the lovely things about Raz's book is his insistence that it is
fatuous to try to answer these questions by techniques of "linguistic anal-
ysis.""z These questions arise precisely because there is no agreement on
the meaning of the word "freedom"; it is thus hopeless to appeal to its
settled meaning in order to answer them. Even if "freedom" had a set-
tled definition allowing a pedant to say confidently, for example, that fear
of penalties can make a person unfree even though fear of destitution
cannot, someone who disagreed could still suggest that we rewrite the
dictionary to replace the offending term with one more sensitive to the
underlying moral analogy. The point is that we do not know how to
answer these questions until we know why freedom matters. Once we
have a grip on that, then we can ask how these various alleged impedi-
ments relate in fact to the deep values supposedly at stake when talk of
freedom is in the air.2 9
Clearly, none of the issues about freedom that I have outlined-the
different importance of different liberties, the emptiness of a purely nega-
tive definition, and the controversies over what counts as a restraint-can
be dealt with adequately without a deeper investigation of what it is we
value when we call for people to be free.


For Raz, the deeper value is personal autonomy: "The ideal of per-
sonal autonomy is the vision of people controlling, to some degree, their
own destiny, fashioning it through successive decisions throughout their
lives." 3 Autonomous people are, in a large part, the authors of their
lives in the sense that the shape and the direction of their lives can be
explained substantially in terms of the deliberate choices they have made:

28. See J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 15-16.

29. For an excellent discussion of the limitations of linguistic analysis, see Miller, Linguistic
Philosophy and PoliticalTheory, in THE NATURE OF POLITICAL THEORY 35-51 (D. Miller and L.
Siedentop eds. 1983). As Raz recognizes, the approach taken in the text also makes nonsense of the
claim that a "value-neutral" definition of these terms can be given. See J. RAz, supra note 8, at 16.
Cf. F. OPPENHEIM, POLITICAL CONCEPTS: A RECONSTRucrION I-2 (1981) (there is a need to have
explicit definition of terms in order to discuss them even though definitions given may require devia-
tions from ordinary language).
30. J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 369.

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His life is, in part, of his own making. 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 significant31matters but simply drifted
through life is not an autonomous person.
Raz further adds the notion of "significant autonomy." Signifi-
cantly autonomous persons are those who not only make choices but use
their capacity for choice to "adopt personal projects, develop relation-
ships, and accept commitments to causes, through which their personal
integrity and sense of dignity and self-respect are made concrete. ' 32 By
exercising their capacity for choice in this way, they define success and
failure in their lives and what is ultimately to be taken as making their
lives worth living.33
This account of autonomy resembles, and subtly improves upon,
John Rawls' account of life plans and individual conceptions of the good.
Rawls believes that "a person may be regarded as a human life lived
according to a plan . . . [and that] an individual says who he is by
describing his purposes and causes, what he intends to do in his life."
The 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 favorable cir-
cumstances .... 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.35
Robert Nozick develops a similar conception. What is important about
the idea of a person, he says, 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 for-
mulates to itself and hence not merely the plaything of immediate
stimuli, a being that limits its own behavior in accordance with some
principles or picture it has of what an appropriate life is for itself and

31. Id. at 204.

32. Id. at 154.
33. See id. at 387.
34. J. RAwLs, supra note 4, at 408.
35. Id. at 92-93.

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others ... operating in terms of an overall conception of its 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 of 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 shap-
ing his life in accordance with some overall plan is his way of giving
meaning to his life; only a being with the36
capacity to so shape his life
can have or strive for a meaningful life.
The trouble with these suggestions as they stand is that the idea of living
one's life from beginning to end according to aplan seems both implausi-
ble and unattractive. Diachronically, it underestimates the way people
change, and it puts lifestyle changes in a rather uncomfortable tension
with autonomy. And even for a given moment or period of one's life, the
account exaggerates the comprehensiveness of a single conception of the
good. We are simultaneously many things to ourselves and others, and it
seems wildly implausible that a single scheme of values should order and
rationalize everything we are, want to be, and want to do.
Almost alone among modem liberal philosophers, Raz has recog-
nized the importance of these points. Though he talks of autonomous
people as authors of their lives, Raz insists that "[tihe image this meta-
phor is meant to conjure up is not that of the regimented, compulsive
person who decides when young what life to have and spends the rest of
it living it out according to a plan."3 7 He warns against confusing auton-
omy with "a rigid, planned life, lacking spontaneity and hostile to the
possibility of changing one's mind and dropping one pursuit to embrace
another."3 Nozick similarly recognizes that significant autonomy pre-
supposes some diachronic perspective on one's life -"Our life comprises
the pursuit of various goals, and that means it is sensitive to our
past" 3 -but it does not require projects which are definitive of the
worth of one's whole life, as opposed to projects that give one a sense of
what counts as success or failure for the time being." The link between
choice and autonomy, on the one hand, and personal identity, on the
other, is always in danger of being exaggerated:
the ideal of personal autonomy is not to be identified with the ideal of
giving one's life a unity .... The autonomous life may consist of
diverse and heterogenous pursuits. And a person who frequently

36. R. NozicK, supra note 4, at 49-50.

37. J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 370.
38. Id. at 384.
39. Id. at 387.
40. There is an excellent account in S. HAMPSHIRE, THOUGHT AND AcTION 220-22 (1959).

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changes his tastes can be as4 1autonomous as one who never shakes off
his adolescent preferences.


Impatience with liberal talk of autonomy comes easily for the fol-
lowing reason. Many people have neither the opportunity nor the leisure
to contemplate the shape and direction of their lives; it is all they can do
to keep themselves and their loved ones fed and housed, these are the
considerations which determine most of their choices. That impatience
is important for any theory which proposes autonomy as an ideal for
humans, as opposed to the rather ethereal "persons" who populate the
pages of so many works of political philosophy. One does not have to be
a socialist to be reminded by one's "profane stomach" that, as Marx put
it, "life involves before everything else eating and drinking, a habitation,
clothing" and so on.4 2
Raz takes seriously the role of personal needs in a theory of auton-
omy. He recognizes that it is for need driven, rather than abstract,
beings that autonomy is proposed as an ideal, and he develops a powerful
analysis of how abject need and deprivation may undermine even the
autonomy that is possible for beings with our nature.
The first point is responsible for Raz's rather careful formulation
that autonomous people are only in part or merely to some degree the
authors of their lives. No one can comprehensively determine her life, if
only because life is always lived among others, and the choices others
make, the options they establish, and the meanings they sustain affect
what is available to any individual. But in addition, each individual has
inescapable basic functions requiring satisfaction, apart from whatever
else she wants to do. It is no derogation from either our freedom or our
autonomy that we must eat or even that we (or some of us) must work.
Nor are these needs regrettable features of a "second-best" theory of
autonomy that would provide perfect freedom for angels. They are nec-
essary incidents of the fact that autonomy is being proposed precisely for
creatures like us.43
Our potential for autonomy consists partly in our ability to deter-
mine how we satisfy our needs-what to eat, where to live, what work to
perform, and so on-and partly in the happy fact that, for some of us in
developed societies, satisfying our needs does not consume all our time

41. J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 370-71.

42. KARL MARX: SELECTED WRITINGS 148, 165 (D. McLellan ed. 1977).
43. J. R.Az, supra note 8, at 155-56.

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and energy.' The satisfaction of our needs provides us with an array of

reasons for action no matter what we choose or want.4 5 But, as we shall
see in the next section, we are, on Raz's account, also capable of provid-
ing ourselves with reasons for action by adopting goals in which their
pursuit might not contribute to our well-being but for our having chosen
them.4 6 I have a reason to eat, whether I choose to eat or not. But my
reason for eating at Chez Pannisse rather than McDonald's derives from
my decision to pursue California's culinary delights, and my reason for
going to the opera after dinner is a reason that may have no application
whatsoever to someone who has not cultivated such pursuits.
Satisfying basic needs is not only instrumentally important to the
pursuit of our goals, it is also indispensable for our capacity to hold our
goals autonomously. To embrace a goal autonomously is to be aware of
the possibility of changing it. As Raz puts it, the satisfaction of basic
needs is "a precondition of one's ability rationally to adopt new goals and
pursuits, and abandon existing ones."'4 7 From this, it follows that mate-
rial deprivation can undermine autonomy as much as, say, coercion can:
"The autonomous agent is one who is not always struggling to maintain
the minimum conditions of a worthwhile life."' 48 A person does not
author her life, in Raz's sense, if the only choices she makes are those
necessary to sustain life and the bare possibility of autonomy. These
types of choices disclose nothing about theparticularautonomous person
she might choose to be.


What, then, is the nature of the particularchoices that autonomy

involves? Here Raz's thinking is at its most subtle and rewarding. A
person lives an autonomous life by pursuing some goals rather than
others and embracing some projects and relationships rather than others.
Although one's pursuits and projects may change over time, one cannot
chase every rainbow or fall in love with everyone. So how does an auton-
omous person choose?

44. Raz is a little ambiguous on this point. Sometimes he talks about pursuits which go
beyond biologically determined needs, id. at 290. In other places, however, he suggests that even our
distinctively autonomous pursuits involve the engagement of "innate drives" such as "drives to move
around, to exercise our bodies, to stimulate our senses, to engage our imagination and our affection,
to occupy our mind." Id. at 375.
45. Id. at 290.
46. Id. at 300.
47. Id. at 297.
48. Id. at 155.

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According to Raz, the ideal of personal autonomy must steer a

course between the Scylla of something like existentialism and the Cha-
rybdis of moral rigorism. He rejects views which "[exaggerate auton-
omy] into a doctrine of arbitrary self-creation based on the belief that all
value derives from choice which is itself not guided by value and is there-
fore free, i.e. arbitrary."'4 9 To a certain extent, the merits of various alter-
natives and the reasons in their favor can be determined independently of
anyone's choice, and in this sense values can be impersonal." But a
choice which is nothing but a response to the weight of impersonal moral
reasons is not, according to Raz, an exercise of personal autonomy:
Autonomy requires a choice of goods. A choice between good and evil
is not enough. (Remember that it is personal, not moral, autonomy we
are concerned with. No doubt is cast on the fact that [a person choos-
ing good over evil] is a moral agent and fully responsible for his
actions. So are the inmates of concentration camps. But they do not
have personal autonomy.) 51
When we face a choice between things more valuable and less valuable,
of course it is important that we choose the former. But in so choosing
we do not disclose ourselves or our individuality in the special way we do
when we choose between options that are good.
Raz's middle course between rigorism and existentialism involves
three elements. The first is a happy fact about value. There is no one
good way to live one's life; modem circumstances provide many ways
which cannot all be pursued in a single life. The second element con-
cerns our choice of one (or more) of these ways of life over others: what
matters is not that at the time we choose, our selection be fully articulate
and rationally defensible on impersonal grounds, but rather that we see
ourselves as having reasons now for the choices we have made and con-
tinue to embrace. Some of those reasons will be impersonal ones that
would have counted in favor of the choice at the outset; but some, and
this is the third point, will be reasons the choice itself spawns, reasons
that would not exist but for our having chosen as we did.

49. Id. at 387-88.

50. As I read Raz, this impersonality of value does not necessarily imply any thesis of realism
in meta-ethics. Certainly Raz repudiates the sort of skepticism that denies that any choice is ever
any better from a moral point of view than any other. Id. at 160. But anti-realism no more commits
one to this than to any other first order view in ethics, nor is it at all incompatible with the claim that
some of the reasons in favor of one's pursuit of some project may not be dependent on the fact that
one has chosen it. For a sophisticated exploration of the options here, see S.BLACKBURN, Rule
Following and Moral Realism, in WITTGENSTEIN: To FOLLOW A RULE 163-87 (S.Holtzman & C.
Leich eds. 1981). Raz cites Blackburn's account of second order goals with approval. J. RAZ, supra
note 8,at 294 n.l.
51. J. RAz, supra note 8, at 379.

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The first point, moral pluralism, lies at the heart of Raz's account of
morality. Warnings are often issued against any easy assumption that
everything good in life can fit into a coherent scheme. Isaiah Berlin, for
example, maintains that "not all good things are compatible, still less all
the ends of mankind," and he regards the denial of pluralism as the basis
of moral totalitarianism, and that denial as more responsible than any
other belief "for the slaughter of individuals on the altars of the great
historical ideals."5 2 But Raz sees that there is more to be said about
pluralism. Even if the ends of life are mutually incompatible, that incom-
patibility does not excuse political philosophy from providing a coherent
account of how the state should respond to the truth (including the plu-
ralistic truth) about value.
He recognizes, for example, that it makes a difference whether the
various ways of living a good life seriously rival one another. Different
pursuits may emphasize some abilities and virtues and exclude others.
Indeed, it is possible that cultivating the abilities and virtue required for
certain (morally worthy) ways of life might actually dispose one toward
impatience and intolerance of the abilities and virtues required for others.
For example, committee types who are excellent at getting things done
are often impatient with single-minded devotion to a cause.5 3 Or, the
virtues of universal philanthropy may make a person contemptuous of
the skills involved in maintaining a comfortable family life. If any of this
is correct, we cannot assume the morally good person's tolerance of
others who also lead morally good lives. Our theory of toleration will
have to become more complicated and sensitive to take account of the
diversity and competitiveness which exist among rival and incompatible
ways of living life well.5 4
Raz's moral pluralism is spelled out in terms of incommensurability.
Certain options, pursuits, and careers are widely thought incomparable
with one another in terms of value. As Raz points out, "[P]eople are
likely to refuse to pronounce on the comparative value of a career in
teaching and in dentistry. They deny the comparability of playing a
musical instrument and cycling to visit old churches as pastimes, etc.""
Their refusal does not always mean that the options are equally valuable
nor that we cannot tell which is more valuable; it sometimes means that
comparing the options in terms of value is simply out of place, and that
incompatible options A and B may both be good for reasons a single

52. I. BERLIN, supra note 26, at 167.

53. 3. RAz, supra note 8, at 406.
54. See id. at 401-07.
55. Id. at 336.

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person can recognize and yet neither option be better than the other.5 6
Moreover, the fact that people do choose between options does not belie
this refusal to make comparisons; choice may be revealed preference
without necessarily being the revelation of comparative judgment.
Indeed, we simply do not know enough about how options are cho-
sen in real life to say anything much about the evaluative processes
which choice necessarily implies. A recurring theme in Raz's book is the
rejection of what he calls "over-intellectualized conceptions of auton-
omy." 8 Though he defines autonomy to contrast with "drifting through
life without ever exercising one's capacity to choose,"5 9 he concedes that
many of the most important things in our lives, rather than being con-
sciously chosen, may be projects we have grown up with and aspirations
we discover when we first autonomously deliberate.6 0 What matters for
autonomy is not so much the genesis of our projects and aspirations, but,
first, that we recognize the possibility now of abandoning them or contin-
uing to embrace them; second, that when we choose among these options,
we do so for reasons that play a conscious role in our continuing practi-
cal deliberations; and third, that we identify in good faith with the
choices we have made." Parents may have begun nurturing their chil-
dren's musical talent long before they became capable of autonomous
deliberation; but the latter's pursuit of a musical career still counts as
autonomous if, aware of the alternatives, they later embrace consciously
and wholeheartedly the course of life on which their parents set them.
Autonomous people regard themselves as having reasons for the goals
they pursue. But, as Raz puts it, this need have little to do with the way
one comes 62 by one's goals; it has everything to do with the way one holds
them now.

56. Raz's formal definition of incommensurability is in fact slightly stronger than this and
involves a limitation on transitivity as a condition on rational choice: "Two valuable options are
incommensurable if (1) neitheris better than the other, and (2) there is (orcould be) anotheroption
which is better than one but is not better than the other." Id. at 325.
57. Id. at 338.
58. Id. at 371.
59. Id.
60. Id. at 290-91.
61. This third point defines Raz's notion of integrity. See id. at- 383-85. If we say that keeping
faith with one's choices involves a readiness consciously to deploy the reasons that inform them
elsewhere in one's practical life, id. at 291, then one can start to see an oblique relation between
Raz's notion of integrity in personal life and Ronald Dworkin's notion of integrity as a systemic
interpretive virtue in jurisprudence. Cf. R. DWORKIN, LAW's EMPIRE 176-224 (1986).
62. J. RAz, supra note 8, at 389.

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This brings us to the point about personal and impersonal reasons.

Finding that one has a developed talent (such as a trained musical abil-
ity) provides a reason for continuing to nurture that talent. Often, the
course that one has embarked upon provides reasons for continuing on
that course that were not the reasons for embarking on it in the first
place. Raz's work has always embodied a special sensitivity to the struc-
ture of practical reasoning and the layered relations between reasons at
different levels.6 3 Here that sensitivity provides insight into the texture of
a person's embracing a lifestyle:
The emerging picture is of interplay between impersonal, i.e.,
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 the self-creation of
value by one's actions and one's past provides the clue to the role of
the will in practical reasoning.... 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, in the way
explained, part of a valid
reason for action, once the initial commit-
ment has been made.
Thus autonomous choice can be creative as well as moral, since an agent
constitutes a new array of reasons to act by choosing one way rather than
another. In this way, and in the way it builds on itself, making a series of
autonomous choices becomes a mode of self-disclosure, for someone's
identity in the practical sphere is partly defined by what counts in that
person's choices about what to do and what to be.
Raz's theory provides a detailed account of something that has
otherwise only been hinted at in recent critiques of liberalism. Michael
Sandel is famous for arguing that the theories of Rawls and other liberals
presuppose an image of the self that stands at a certain distance from
whatever interests it has. The liberal self is independent of its commit-
ments in at least the sense that it can reconsider them without calling its
own existence in question:
One 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

63. .See J. RAz, PRACTICAL REASON AND NORMS 35-45 (1975), for the notion of exclusionary
reasons as an explication of normativity.
64. J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 389.

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could be so essential that turning away from it would call into question
the person I am.65
Like much talk about identity and ontology in political theory,
Sandel's position is exaggerated and ill thought out. The ontological
sense in which we as individuals might be understood as "wholly
detached from our aims and attachments,16 6 has nothing to do with how
our projects grip us or the extent of our commitment to them. Liberals
may deny that a commitment makes a difference to our essential being, in
some suitably uninteresting metaphysical sense, while conceding, as Raz
shows, that a commitment makes all the difference in the world to our
reasons for action, the hierarchy of our goals, and the way we picture
ourselves in practical life. Moreover, Raz shows how our commitments
can make this difference without blinding ourselves to the role that
choice plays in our embracing them and without stunting that part of our
imagination which modulates our most fervent commitments with the
thought that we could always revise them if we chose.
This part of the Article has attempted to indicate the depth and
subtlety of autonomy as Raz understands it. Though his arguments are
complicated and often difficult, what emerges is a conception that is
humane rather than severe. Unlike much modem philosophy which con-
nects an analytical style with a forbiddingly abstract content, Raz's
account of autonomy recognizes the messy reality of concrete choices
about life and work and love. He takes seriously the view that liberal
politics must rest on a distinctive and articulate account of moral choice
and value, and he provides such an account. The difficulties begin only
when he attempts to build a politics on that basis.



Others cannot make my autonomous choices for me. 68 But they can
make a difference as to whether I am capable of making these choices
myself. Raz notices that "autonomy" is used sometimes in the sense of
an achievement, sometimes in the sense of a capacity. In the former


66. M. SANDEL, Introduction, in LIBERALISM AND ITS CRmcs 5 (M. Sandel ed. 1984).
67. See also Waldron, When JusticeReplaces Affection: The Need for Rights, 11 HARV.J.L. &
PUB. POL'Y 625, 646-47 (1988).
68. See J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 407.

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sense, people are autonomous if their lives are largely of their own mak-
ing, in the way that we have already discussed. In the latter sense, call-
ing people autonomous means only that they can determine the course of
their lives if they want, and that they live in an environment where self-
determination is possible. Many people lead lives which are not autono-
mous despite their capacity for autonomy. Raz believes that the second
sense derives from the first: we define the capacity by seeing what would
be involved in the achievement. And he believes that only the achieve-
ment is of ultimate value: it is "the value of the exercise which endows
the capacity with what it is worth." 6 9
Still "one cannot exercise an ability one does not possess,"' 70 and we
must ask what is requisite for people to have this capacity. Among the
several conditions required, some pertain to the individual and some to
the environment in which options are presented and endowed with moral
meaning. 71 The individual attributes are fairly straightforward and need
not detain us here. They include cognitive abilities "such as the power to
absorb, remember and use information," emotional and imaginative
capacities, character traits like "stability, loyalty and the ability to form
personal attachments and to maintain intimate relationships," and of
course basic health and physical well-being. 72 As we shall see shortly,
the idea is not that the lack of any of these attributes prevents a person
from living the autonomous life; rather the idea is that we value each of
these things partly (indeed substantially) for their contribution to the
autonomous life.


A second set of conditions recalls traditional ideas about freedom.

Obviously, one cannot be autonomous if one's decisions make no differ-
ence to what happens in one's life. Imprisoned people can contemplate
choices and nominate options all they like but these decisions will not
make much difference on how they live if they cannot move about,

69. Id. at 372.

70. Id.
71. One of the themes to which I cannot do justice in this Article is Raz's explication of the
social dimension to individual freedom. In his account of the relation between individual and collec-
tive goods, see J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 198, and in his account of the way in which individual options
are endowed with social meaning, see id. at 307-13, 348-57, he does much to diminish the fashionable
contrast between liberal and "communitarian" approaches to political morality.
72. J. RAz, supra note 8, at 408.

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choose their company, follow outdoor pursuits and so on. Negative free-
dom, in the brute Hobbesian sense, is an indispensable condition for
autonomy.7 3
Freedom from coercion is a much more complicated idea. Raz
notices, quite rightly, that if someone threatens to harm me unless I do as
ordered, there is still a sense in which I make a choice: "[T]he coerced
prefer to comply with the threat and avoid the penalty. The coerced may
regret the circumstances they are in, but so do many people who face
hard unpleasant choices."'74 So what is wrong with coercion? How does
it undermine autonomy? And what distinguishes situations that are
coercive from those that are not?
Suppose someone threatens to break my fingers unless I make a cer-
tain choice. If the threat is credible, my choice lacks autonomy presuma-
bly for the same reason that any choice dominated by the need to
preserve the basic integrity of one's body lacks autonomy. This insight
provides the basis of an important connection between the view (com-
monly held by "negative" libertarians) that threats undermine freedom
and the view (commonly reviled by negative libertarians) that poverty
undermines freedom. Raz properly argues that the two views stand or
fall together.7 5
In addition, Raz points out that threats that go beyond biological
needs can coerce us. For example, threatening to break someone's fin-
gers is especially significant to concert pianists, for although we all have
reasons not to have our fingers broken, pianists have a special reason
derived from the way they shaped their lives. A career aspiration like
piano playing may occupy such a high position in the hierarchy of a
person's goals 76 that losing her fingers may make a worthwhile life
impossible. Therefore, it is also presumably true that threats to deprive
people of something required for the pursuit of their life projects consti-
tutes coercion even if that something has nothing to do with their biolog-
ical needs. Threatening to smash a sculptor's nearly completed life work
might be one example. And since "projects" embraces relationships,
threatening harm to a loved one can also undermine one's autonomy.
73. T. HOBBES, supra note 25.
74. J. RAz, supra note 8, at 151.
75. Id. at 156.
76. See id. at 292-93.
77. See id. at 153.

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Coercion also has significance for autonomy that goes beyond its
impact on the circumstances of its victims' lives. Coercion, being inten-
tional, involves an element of insult: The victim is "being treated as a
non-autonomous agent, an animal, a baby, or an imbecile. ' 78 Raz's work
is much more sensitive to issues of hermeneutics than is most liberal the-
ory: Meaning and significance are determined for actions and practices
at a social, rather than an individual, level. 9 It is thus possible for a
threat to constitute disrespect for autonomy even when it does not signifi-
cantly diminish it:
The natural fact that coercion and manipulation reduce options or dis-
tort 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 sym-
bolic meaning expressing disregard or even contempt for the coerced
or manipulated people.80
This, as we shall see, is important for Raz's later explication of the liberal
opposition to the use of coercion in pursuit of perfectionist ideals.


Raz draws a distinction in meaning-but not in significance-

between coercion and manipulation. Coercion reduces options by delib-
erately associating unbearable costs with options that are otherwise
attractive to a person. Manipulation also interferes with one's choices
but, according to Raz, without affecting one's options: "Instead it per-
verts the way that person reaches decisions, forms preferences or adopts
goals." 8 1
For reasons I cannot fathom, Raz deems it unnecessary to say any-
thing more about the nature of manipulation. We are told that it inter-
feres with autonomy, as does coercion, that it can be endowed with a
social meaning beyond its consequential impact, and that its use in poli-
tics should be restricted as the use of coercion is. 82 But Raz's account of
the way manipulation affects autonomy is far less detailed than the
account he gives of coercion. He simply tells us puzzlingly that, while
manipulation invades autonomy in a way that is "unlike coercion," 83 it
interferes with autonomy "in much the same way and to the same

78. Id. at 156.

79. See supra note 71.
80. J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 378.
81. Id. at 377-78.
82. Id. at 420.
83. Id. at 377.

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degree."" 4 This unclarity is unfortunate for the evaluation of Raz's

perfectionism. For when he maintains that the state may pursue perfec-
tionist policies non-coercively,8 5 one suspects that some of the misgivings
among mainstream liberals will focus on the manipulative character of
the state's "promotion" of morality.
But that is jumping ahead to Part IV of this Article. For now, we
should ask, "What might manipulation involve that makes it an invasion
of autonomy?" One answer is that it may interfere with the mental and
decisional capacities that autonomy requires.8" Artificial limits on pow-
ers of reasoning or imagination imposed specifically to make a person
more likely to choose a certain option make it hard to say that a choice is
indeed this person's choice rather than of the person doing the
The difficulty of course lies in deciding what is artificial and what is
not, what is a way of limiting the imagination and what is a way of
expanding it. We can see this difficulty if we consider some of the more
radical definitions of "manipulation" given in the literature on power.
Steven Lukes, in his critique of behaviorist methods in political science,
argues, for example:
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, shap-
ing or determining his very wants. Indeed, is it not the supreme exer-
cise 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? 7
The conceptual difficulty with this critique is that in order to apply
it, we must have some counterfactual sense of how a person's thoughts
and preferences would have developed but for the intervention of the
manipulating person. Developing this sense may be impossible without
circularity if the counterfactual itself refers to manipulation (e.g., "What
B would have preferred if B had not been subject to manipulation").
Developing this sense is certainly very difficult for a theory which, like
Raz's, holds that the reasons which make a preference autonomous may
stem from the fact that the preference has been adopted, rather than the
other way round.

84. Id. at 420.

85. Id. at 417.
86. Id. at 407-08.
87. S. LuKEs, POWER: A RADICAL VIEW 23 (1974).

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That last point bears expanding. Under Raz's theory, people's goals
(and thus their preferences and their sense of what constitutes their well-
being) can hardly be chosen utterly independently of others. Parents
instill aspirations in their children, lovers thrust projects upon one
another, and society as a whole makes certain options available and
others unavailable. What matters for autonomy is not that we hold our
goals independently of others, but that we currently embrace them for
reasons that appeal to us using our own evaluative capacities. Those rea-
sons may include impersonal ones that would or should appeal to us
independently of others' having given us these goals; but, as we have
seen, they need not. One's only reasons for embracing a goal may be
reasons that derive entirely from its original adoption, and its adoption
may be nothing but the result of others' intervention in one's life. Given
his boot-strapping conception of goals and reasons, Raz simply cannot
afford to regard this as manipulation.
The same point can be made more generally about the conditions for
autonomy. One does not develop one's capacity for autonomy "natu-
rally" or in isolation. The social environment generally and one's inter-
action with others are going to affect it. Some of those interactions may
be deliberate, others may not. But deliberateness surely cannot be the
morally relevant distinction, for we want people to affect one another in
ways that are designed to enhance one another's capacities to choose.
Notice that Raz will not want to say that affecting a person's capaci-
ties counts as manipulation just in case it increases the likelihood that
person will make bad choices. That would be too easy. Raz wants to
banish manipulation as well as coercion even in the service of enlightened
perfectionist ideals.8 8 It follows that we must at least be able to imagine
cases where people are manipulated to choose options that are good and
where that still counts as a derogation from their autonomy.
I think that in the end Raz will want to settle for a fairly modest
idea of manipulation which involves something as simple as the inculca-
tion of false beliefs. People have hierarchies of goals, so that they pursue
some goals because of a belief about their connection with others: I write
this Article only because I believe it will contribute to the discussion of
Raz's book. If someone leads me to adopt that belief, knowing it to be
false, in order to get me to write the Article, then I am being
88. J. RAz, supra note 8, at 420.

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But even this idea, of the inculcation of true and false beliefs, is far
from straightforward in a social and political context. If I contribute
deliberately to the symbolic loading of some option (for example, if I
propose or support the establishment of some faith as the official English
religion), am I misleading people about what it is to be English or patri-
otic? Am I manipulating people's choice of religion? Any affirmative
answer seems to presuppose that there is such a thing as an option's "real
merits" apart from the social meaning with which it has been endowed.
And that presupposition seems naive given the rest of Raz's theory. But
if my behavior is not manipulation, then loading toothpaste with a con-
notation of sex appeal is not manipulation either, and it becomes hard to
see what work the concept is doing.


According to Raz the conditions of autonomy are threefold: first,

"the mental abilities to form intentions of a sufficiently complex kind,
and plan their execution"; second, freedom from coercion and manipula-
tion; and third, the availability to the agent of an adequate range of
options.9 Since autonomy is good, Raz believes everyone has a duty to
promote all three conditions.
This Article leaves the third of these conditions until last because it
raises special problems about the nature of autonomy as an ideal.
Raz believes that respect for autonomy requires society to ensure
that we face an array of significant choices in our lives:
They should include options with long term pervasive consequences as
well as short term options of little consequence .... We should be able
both to choose long term commitments or projects and to develop last-
ing 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 .... To 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 90
innate drive to exercise, as well as to decline to develop
any of them.
In an intriguing passage Raz argues that the pervasive and compre-
hensive goals in people's lives will not be options they can create for

89. Id. at 372-73.

90. Id. at 374-75. For this notion compare supra note 44 (even distinctively autonomous pur-
suits involve the engagement of "innate drives").

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themselves; they will have to be socially constituted (like forms of mar-

riage, friendship, political participation, or the structure of a profession).
Goals that are dense and pervasive are things with which we become
familiar only through experience, and the only forms of experience open
to us are social.9 1 Thus, if there is a duty to make it possible for people to
live autonomously, the duty must have collective and social aspects in its
content and character. As we shall see, this is the basis of Raz's view
that morality cannot be understood in exclusively individualistic terms.9 2
There are social duties to make options available for autonomy only
because autonomy is independently desirable. But there will be some
who deny that autonomy, as Raz understands it, is desirable; they believe
that people are better off living in traditional social forms without the
sense that they can choose what direction or trajectory their lives will
follow. Much recent "communitarian" thought presents itself as nostal-
gia for lost innocence and views the possibility and the exercise of auton-
omy as a curse, rather than a blessing, of modem society.9 3 Raz believes
that this view is wrong, and that in modem society autonomy is valuable
for each individual, whether that individual recognizes and embraces it
as an ideal or not. He argues against "applying autonomy to itself"94 so
that it becomes valuable for a person only if that person chooses it.
Raz seems to argue, however, that autonomy's value is contingent
rather than unconditional. Autonomy is valuable for us (whether we like
it or not) only because of the sort of society in which we live:
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 success-
fully autonomous.
Life in a traditional society is not available to anyone in the modem
world, though pockets approximating it can be created artificially. Still,
creating, sustaining, and participating in such communities can itself be

91. See id. at 310-12.

92. See id. at 198-209.
OF C.B. MACPHERSON (A. Kontos ed. 1979).
94. J. RAz, supra note 8, at 390-91.
95. Id. at 391, 394..

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understood only as an individual choice. Raz even points out that those
who see the importance of autonomy in modem society by no means
commit themselves to thinking it is a good thing:
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 per-
sonal choice in all relationships and pursuits. They may consistently
with their belief in personal
autonomy wish to see an end to this pro-
cess, or even its reversal.
The situation is analogous to the relation between justice and scar-
city (or courage and danger). If there were no scarcity, there would be
no place for considerations of justice, and if there were no danger, there
would be no call for the virtue of courage. As things stand and are likely
to remain for any plausible future we can imagine, justice and courage
will continue to be important. The importance of these virtues, however,
is no reason for promoting or perpetuating the circumstances that make
them desirable; the virtue of courage does not justify creating danger, nor
does the importance of justice warrant perpetuating scarcity. 97 The
worry that I have about Raz's position lies in his derivation of the duty to
provide options for the exercise of autonomy. If autonomy is morally
valuable only because of the sort of options we have in modem society,
then the importance of autonomy is no more a reason to promote or even
sustain the options that exist than the virtue ofjustice is a reason to resist
the abolition of scarcity. The availability of options has to be seen, on
Raz's account, as one of "the circumstances of autonomy." 98 That those
circumstances may change is not deplorable or regrettable on the basis of
the importance of autonomy, for the fact that they change may have an
impact on the actual importance of autonomy.
I should add that none of the above would follow if one were to
abandon Raz's coyness and say simply that autonomy is unequivocally
good and that the growth of the social circumstances that make it both
possible and important is to be celebrated unconditionally as one of the
advances of modem life. It would then be true that we would have duties
derived from the value of autonomy to sustain the environment that
makes its exercise possible. I find that position more attractive, but it
seems to go beyond the limits of Raz's enthusiasm for modernist versions

96. Id. at 394.

97. These points are made powerfully in M. SANDEL, supra note 65, at 28-35.
98. Analogous to what Rawls describes as "the circumstances of justice." J. RAWLs, supra
note 4, at 126.

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of liberalism.9 9


Though he believes autonomy is important, Raz denies that it is

something to which individuals have a right. As noted earlier, this Arti-
cle will not go deeply into Raz's conception of rights.1 " But Raz offers a
useful definition: a person has a right to X only if that person's interest
in having X is sufficiently important in itself to warrant holding others to
be under a duty to promote it.101
His doubts about a putative right to autonomy stem from the nature
of the duties involved. We have seen that many of the things that make
autonomy possible are collective goods, for example, the existence of
social practices, professions, or supportive environment. Raz argues that
because creating and sustaining social practices imposes a collective bur-
den which would have to be shouldered by almost everyone, it is unlikely
that mandating such practices as a duty can be justified on the basis of
the interest of any single individual. "Assuming that the interest of one
person cannot justify holding so many to be subject to potentially bur-
densome duties ... it follows that there is no right to personal auton-
omy."I 2 Notice that the argument does not show that there are no such
duties, nor that they are unimportant; it purports to show only that they
are not right-based.
Even so, the argument is flawed for three reasons. First, it does not
follow that because some of the duties required to promote an individ-
ual's autonomy are too burdensome to be based on the interests of that
individual alone, that all of them are too burdensome. X has a duty not
to coerce or manipulate Y, for example, and that duty is not particularly
burdensome. Since under Raz's analysis that duty is based on Y's inter-
est in autonomy, it follows that Y has a right to autonomy. Simply
because that right might not capture everything we want to say about
autonomy does not show it is not a right.
Second, it is disputable whether the duties Raz talks about really are
as burdensome as he suggests. In order for me to be autonomous, others
99. Right at the end of the book, Raz seems a little less hesitant about autonomy. As he dis-
cusses the problem of immigrant or religious communities that do not support autonomy, he implies
that, although their members may have "an adequate and satisfying life," still we can assume that
"their culture is inferior to that of the dominant liberal society in the midst of which they live." J.
RAz, supra note 8, at 423.
100. J. Raz, supra note 8, at 166.
101. Id. at 247.
102. Id.

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must sustain a certain sort of social environment. But sustaining that

environment is a good to them apart from any autonomy related justifica-
tion, and it is this fact that may make the duty less burdensome notwith-
standing that, to the extent that the duty is a duty, it is imposed on them
to serve my interest in autonomy. I could not choose to be an artist
unless there were a social practice of art; but far from being burdensome,
the sustenance of that practice mostly arises from others happily making
this same sort of choice. 103
The third point is more difficult. Raz says that we should regard a
duty as right-based only if our reason for holding others to be under that
duty concerns the importance of the -interest of some individual consid-
ered on its own. This definition has the advantage of distinguishing
between right-based and utilitarian duties. The latter are imposed only
on the basis of a calculation of aggregate interest. Intermediate, how-
ever, are those duties imposed because an interest is common to all indi-
viduals. An interest is common if all individuals have it. Most of the
interests corresponding to what we call human rights are like this, and
so, according to Raz, is the individual interest in autonomy. In politics,
the intriguing thing about common interests is that the individual inter-
ests of a whole set of individuals may be served by the existence of a
single social institution or practice. The single institution of representa-
tive democracy serves the interest that we all have in common with each
other of being able to participate in the choice of leaders and policy. The
single institution of the FBI serves the interest that each U.S. citizen has
in common with every other in being protected from certain forms of
crime. Of course, no one would set up a democracy or a police force just
because of the interest of one person; nevertheless, these institutions (and
the duty to sustain them) are rationalized on the basis of individual inter-
ests taken one by one, not aggregated in a utilitarian way. If duties
imposed on this sort of basis cannot be regarded as right-based, then we
must exclude almost all of what we think of as political rights from the
ambit of Raz's definition.
The Morality of Freedom is clearly a book that has been written in
layers."° Despite Raz's argument that I have just been criticizing-that
duties to promote autonomy are not right-bised because they are not
based in the individual interest in autonomy-he talks quite happily later

103. Cf. Reaume, Individuals, Groups, and Rights to Public Goods, 38 U. TORONTO L.J. 1
(1988) (considering whether an individual's interest in a cultured society can justify imposing a duty
on others to create such a society); see also Waldron, supra note 16, at 305-06 ("[Pleople enjoy
participating in the production of a cultured society.").
104. See supra note 10.

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in the work about "autonomy-based duties." 10 5 Since he believes that

"our concern for autonomy is a concern to enable people to have a good
life,"' 1 6 and that any duty to promote autonomy "arises out of people's
interest in having a valuable autonomous life,"1 "7 it follows that (if we
accept his conception of rights) people do have a right to autonomy.


There is a deeper point at the back of all this. Raz is anxious to

discredit what he calls "moral individualism": the view that collective
goods have only instrumental value and never any intrinsic value of their
own. He is able to do this fairly easily by showing that the existence and
availability of certain social options and of a certain sort of social envi-
ronment is valuable, not just as a means to autonomy, but as part of what
autonomy consists in. The conclusion is that "the ideal of personal
autonomy is incompatible with moral individualism."' 8
But the argument is far too quick. Raz's notion of a collective good
is flawed, and his conception of moral individualism captures little that
has ever been involved in debates on that subject.
The idea of a collective good, according to Raz, is that of an "inher-
ent public good"-that is, a good that is non-excludable and non-contin-
gently so. 10 9 It is not necessarily true that if a good is non-excludable an
account of its value is not exhausted by an account of its value to individ-
uals. Clean air is non-excludable, but still it is a good simply to individu-
als, for air is individually breathed. Non-excludability concerns the
conditions under which a good is supplied; it has nothing whatever to do
with the basis of its value. Moreover, it is not clear that the non-exclud-
ability being non-contingent makes any difference to the basis of its value:
the modality cannot alter the fact that excludability is a point about sup-
ply, not about the basis of value.
It is true that some goods are genuinely communal, in the sense that
they are good for communities in a way that is not captured by any
account of their value to individuals. The good of a particular shared
language is an example.' 10 But it would be odd to talk about non-exclud-
ability, contingent or otherwise, as a (defining) feature of such goods,

105. J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 408.

106. Id. at 412.
107. Id. at 418.
108. Id. at 206.
109. See id. at 198-99.
110. See Waldron, supra note 16, at 309-13.

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since non-excludability is a concept that concerns the way a good is sup-

plied to individuals, and supply to individualsis precisely not the issue for
communal goods. In any case, Raz does nothing to establish that talk of
autonomy presupposes goods that are communal in this further sense.
With regard to his own conception of "collective" goods (such as it
is), the most that Raz establishes is that these goods have some intrinsic
value. But "intrinsic value" is a very broad category for Raz. It includes
not only (1) things good in themselves, but also (2) things which are
elements of things good-in themselves and which contribute to the value
of the latter.I' Intrinsic goods in category (2)-what Raz calls "constit-
uent goods"-are worth having only on account of the existence of the
goods whose value they help to supplement. We cannot explain the value
of a constituent good by considering it in itself; we must appeal to the
ultimate good which in part comprises the constituent whose value is in
These definitions are perfectly acceptable. But then Raz goes on to
define "moral individualism" as the view that no collective good has any
intrinsic value. Given Raz's broad understanding of intrinsic value, this
definition is simply a caricature. It means that the following proposition
is not an expression of moral individualism: "The worth of everything
which is valuable can be explained in the last analysis by the contribution
it makes to the good of individuals." But most people take that to be the
essence of moral individualism. Moreover, such a proposition is per-
fectly compatible with the view that collective goods are intrinsic goods
because they are constituent goods. In other words, the rather weak and
poorly defined collectivism that emerges from Raz's analysis of the value
and nature of individual autonomy does nothing to challenge the founda-
tions of moral individualism, as most people understand it." 2
111. See J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 200.
112. A similar point is made in Graham, The Morality of Freedom (Book Review), 37 PHIL. Q.
481, 482 (1987). Raz's argument seems
too easy a victory, relying as it does upon a somewhat idiosyncratic definition of individual-
ism. An alternative, and I think more plausible individualism would hold that the value of
collective goods must ultimately be explained by their value in the lives of individuals, and
not for instance in the activities of states, nations, or corporations. If the proper explana-
tion shows them to have a constitutive and not merely an instrumental role in those lives,
this need do nothing to disturb the fundamental reference to individuals.

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The basis of Raz's perfectionism in political morality lies in the con-

junction of three beliefs. The first is one from which other liberals would
not necessarily dissent: The government has a duty to promote auton-
omy. The second seems innocuous as well, although liberals might want
to reconsider it after reading Raz's book: The government has a duty to
promote autonomy only because and insofar as autonomy is valuable.
But the third goes to the heart of Raz's position, and explains why the
first two might set liberal sensibilities on edge: "Autonomous life is valu-
able only if it is spent in the pursuit of acceptable and valuable projects
and relationships."1'1 3 Together they entail his perfectionist conclusion:
"The autonomy principle permits and even requires governments to cre- '1 14
ate morally valuable opportunities, and to eliminate repugnant ones."
Raz defends the third proposition, that autonomy is valuable only to
the extent that it is exercised in the choice of options that are good, by
[Has autonomy any value qua autonomy when it is abused? Is the
autonomous wrongdoer a morally better person than the non-autono-
mous wrongdoer? Our intuitions rebel against such a view. It is surely
the other way round. The wrongdoing casts a darker shadow on its
perpetrator if it is autonomously done by him.11 5
This argument does not work. The value of autonomy is not to be
equated with the overall moral praiseworthiness of the autonomous per-
son, any more than the value of courage is to be equated with the overall
praiseworthiness of a courageous person. That an action displays a cer-
tain value adverbially, as it were, may make no difference to our overall
assessment of whether the act was right or wrong or whether the agent
should be praised or blamed. There are many different evaluative things
that we can say about an action, and we must not assume that they all
sum into a single assessment of the action or the agent.
We evaluate different aspects of a situation for different purposes.
Thus, an act can be courageous, indeed even be a useful exemplar of
courage, but have all the unmitigated wrongness of murder. Similarly, a
style of life can be prudent and temperate, even a paradigm of prudence

113. J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 417.

114. Id.
115. Id. at 380.

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and temperance and yet have all the unmitigated wrongness of a care-
fully planned and executed conspiracy to defraud. We do not need to say
that because courage, temperance, and prudence have evaluative signifi-
cance, they must therefore make the acts or lives they qualify better or
worse. They are virtues everyone has reason to want, but not because
they enhance the value of anything a person chooses to do. t l6 I suspect
that all the virtue concepts work like this; certainly some of them do.
Thus, Raz's argument, quoted above, will not go through unless he
shows that autonomy is unlike other virtues in that regard.
Maybe there is a better argument for the proposition that auton-
omy's value depends on the value of what the autonomous person
chooses. An autonomous choice is a choice made or embraced for rea-
sons. We saw earlier that it is not supposed to be a choice made arbitrar-
ily, though some of the reasons that make it non-arbitrary will flow from
the fact of the choice itself. It is not supposed to look arbitrary from the
outside nor feel arbitrary from the inside. It is true that sometimes peo-
ple choose for the wrong reasons or because of considerations that are
not really reasons (for them) at all. Even so, we cannot capture the
chooser's intent except by saying that the person thinks she is choosing a
goal on account of its value." 7 And objectively, we would want to say
that, when people pursue goals they think valuable but which are not,
then their well-being would be better promoted if they fail in their pur-
suit than if they succeed. We would expect too, in normal circumstances,
that if the goal lacks the value that the chooser thinks it has, we should
be able to draw this to that person's attention in a way that brings her to
regret its pursuit." 8
Raz's discussion of all this is complex and profound," 9 though it
does rest on a broad identification of morality with reasons for action
which may seem question begging to some. At any rate, it provides a
basis for a version of his claim that autonomy is valuable only when exer-
cised in the pursuit of what is valuable. The considerations just outlined
establish that, if one neglects the aspiration to value implicit in the
choices of an autonomous person, then one is likely to misrepresent what
it is that she values in her autonomy and why autonomy matters. People
value their autonomy because they value choosing projects and a way of

116. Indeed, Raz seems to concede this when he criticizes right-based theorists for thinking that
the only value a virtue has is its contribution to the likelihood that virtuous people will do their duty.
See id. at 197.
117. See 411-12.
118. See 141.
119. See id. at 300-20.

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life for reasons. They do not value it in spite of this aspect; they value it
precisely because of the opportunity it provides to shape their lives them-
selves in accordance with the reasons that they apprehend. One does
violence to the self-understanding of people aspiring to autonomy if one
advises them that the moral quality of their choices is unimportant so far
as the value of their autonomy is concerned.
But now, having established the third of Raz's propositions, we may
want to re-examine the second. For the purposes of the perfectionist
argument, the second proposition is as follows: Governments have a
duty to promote autonomy only because and insofar as it is valuable (in
the sense just established). This argument seems innocuous: The reasons
for promoting something are of course the reasons that make it desirable.
But appearances may be misleading. One cannot come away from a dis-
cussion of autonomy this complex and dense without a suspicion that the
reasons that governments promote autonomy are not exactly or simplisti-
cally identical with the value of autonomy to autonomous individuals.
Think back to the account of the importance of autonomy. That
account was based on the facts of life in modern society: "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." 120 That
suggests that a government which fails to promote autonomy, or inter-
feres with it in a social environment of this kind, makes life unbearable
for its citizens. When the government engages in this type of activity it
takes away from its citizens the only chance to prosper that they have.
Stifling autonomy might be a permissible political strategy in a society
where traditional ways of life are still available; where the conditions for
non-autonomous life have disappeared, however, the government must
accept autonomy as the only route left open for the individuals it gov-
erns. When an account of the duty to promote, or not to interfere with,
autonomy is presented along these lines, it is not clear at all that it is a
duty to promote autonomy only to the extent that autonomous choices
are good choices. Though the value of autonomy to the people who exer-
cise it will certainly be bound up with the values they pursue in their
choosing, the importance of promoting autonomy as an imperativefor
governments can be defended quite independently of that.
As I argued earlier, Raz could strengthen his case immeasurably by
coming out and saying with us moderns that autonomy is uncondition-
ally a good thing. But so long as its importance is made relative to social
circumstances in which no other mode of life is possible, then there is an

120. Id. at 391.

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argument that governments must respect autonomy which has nothing to

do with the value of the options that autonomous persons embrace.
Given that there is such a case, any argument that governments ought to
make their pursuit of autonomy sensitive to its character as a moral ideal
begs the perfectionist question.


Does it matter that Raz says almost nothing about what makes an
option or an individual's conception of the good repugnant or immoral,
even though the central thrust of his argument is to establish the govern-
ment's right, indeed its duty, to extirpate options of this sort?
Strategically, there is a good reason for this reticence. Raz does not
want the debate about perfectionism to become entangled in the debate
about whether a particular style of life is moral or immoral. If he placed
much emphasis on examples, then the book would be read as Raz's
attack on pornography or Raz's attack on bullfighting. In real life, per-
fectionist principles are sometimes invoked to discourage certain behav-
ior like homosexual relationships, atheism, or the use of harmless
narcotics. Liberals respond by saying that the alleged immorality does
not justify the state's interference. But Raz is surely right to imply that
the stronger response is to say that these things are simply not immoral
at all. These activities are perfectly decent ways of living life, and any
legal ban is, therefore, an abuse of perfectionist principles. At any rate,
he is right to ask 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. As a practical matter that
possibility always remains, but it is worth being clear all the same about
where exactly the critique is directed. For this reason, perfectionism is
better defended without examples.
It is worth noting that Raz's theory does not have much in common
with the sort of legal moralism Patrick Devlin advocated some years
ago.121 Devlin opined that society was entitled to use legal means in sup-
port of its established mores, irrespective of their objective moral quality:
[T]he 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 integ-
rity .... 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


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government. But he has not to vouch for their goodness and truth.
The reference to the "integrity" of society means its integrity as the par-
ticular moral community it is. In other words, Devlin's approach is con-
servative rather than perfectionist.
There is a conservative element in Raz's theory. The government
cannot support or make available every worthwhile option in life, and if
it has to choose it may choose those that are already rooted in social life
rather than promote lifestyles with which no one is familiar. 2 3 Even so,
Raz would say that when a government takes action in support of an
established social practice it does vouch for its goodness. No one should
concede the government's authority to take such action unless one thinks
it is likely to be right sufficiently often to make it unacceptably risky from
a moral point of view to take no notice of its strictures.
Whether a state has such competence is an empirical question.
Some liberals have rested their opposition to perfectionism precisely on
the ground that the state's organization-crudely, a bureaucratic staff in
command of all the artillery in a territory-makes the state the last
agency to whom subtle questions of personal morality should be
entrusted. 125 It is therefore worth asking what sort of considerations
make an option good or moral on Raz's account: Without getting into
examples, what sorts of factors will governments take into account when
they determine that a lifestyle is so repugnant that political action should
be taken to discourage it?
The short answer that Raz gives is that such decisions will be based
on the same moral grounds as any other political decisions. On any
account, states are going to have to address moral issues-crime, justice,
war, rights, and so on. Even if they follow doctrines of neutrality and
anti-perfectionism, they do so because of the moral reasons, if there are
any, that support such positions. Governments will have to be sensitive
to moral argument in those areas, and follow where they lead. That is
why neutrality and antiperfectionism cannot be defended on the basis of
moral skepticism: if nothing can be known on moral matters then the
wrongness of perfectionism, not to say murder, cannot be known
122. Id. at 89-90, 94 (explicitly rejecting perfectionism in Raz's sense).
123. See J. RAz, supra note 8, at 161-62, 427.
124. See id. at 159-60, 412.
125. See, eg., B. ACKERMAN, supra note 2, 361-65; cf. M. WEBER, Politics as a Vocation, in
FROM MAX WEBER: ESSAYS IN SOCIOLOGY 77, 118-28 (H. Gerth & C. Mills eds. 1946).

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either. 126 But Raz goes on to draw a faulty inference from this
Putting such general skepticism to one side, the question is: is there
reason to think that one is more likely to be wrong about the character
of the good life than about the sort of moral considerations which all
agree should influence political action such as the right to life, to free
expression, or free religious worship? I know of no such arguments.
The argument in the rest of the book.., showing that all aspects of
morality derive from common sources refutes such a possibility. 127
In fact, it does no such thing. Algebra and arithmetic stem from a com-
mon source, but that does not show that one is no more likely to make
mistakes in the former than in the latter. That morality is coherent
through all its departments and that rights are not cut loose from prem-
ises about the good, does not establish that it is either homogenous or
smoothly unstructured. It may well be that questions of political moral-
ity are easier to answer than questions of personal ethics, even though
they are rooted in the same sources. 128 1 have, for example, much more
confidence in my view that religious freedom is necessary for people to
have any chance of making a decent life for themselves than I have in my
view that the religious life is a repugnant and depraved way to live. The
considerations, if any, that establish the latter position may spring from
the same premises about human dignity that ground the former, but they
become more complex, more elusive, and certainly less demonstrable as
we move into the realm of personal ideals.129
A little later in the book, Raz distinguishes something he calls "nar-
row morality": narrow morality comprises restrictions on each person's
pursuit of her goals imposed in the interests of others. 130 It is pretty
clear that the political morality which perfectionists and their opponents
agree should be upheld by law falls into this category. The basic princi-
ples of criminal law, property law, economy, and distributive justice, are
imposed to determine the extent to which one individual may affect or
compromise others' pursuit of their interests for the sake of the pursuit of

126. See J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 160. Failure to see this point disfigures the discussion in B.
ACKERMAN, supranote 2, at 11,368-69. For a better view, see G. HARRISON, Relativism and Toler-
ance, in 5 PHIL., POL. AND Soc'V 273 (P. Laslett & J. Fishkin eds. 1979).
127. J. RAz, supra note 8, at 160-61.
128. There is also the point N. Simmonds made in his Article, The Morality of Freedom (Book
Review), 46 CAMBRIDGE L.i. 167, 168 (1987) ("the ultimate basis of a moral institution may be
more uncertain [than] the institution itself. derivation from a common source therefore shows noth-
ing about relative certainty or possibility of error.").
129. For an excellent discussion, see P. F. STRAWSON, Social Morality and IndividualIdeal, in
130. See J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 213-14.

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her own. No one denies that the state may act to discourage or even ban
the pursuit of individual lifestyles which impose an unacceptable cost on
others, and that substantive moral reasoning is necessary to determine
which costs are fair and acceptable and which are not. John Rawls, for
example, insists that this reasoning, about justice as fairness, has norma-
tive priority over the exercise of individual autonomy: "The principles of
...justice... impose restrictions on what are reasonable conceptions of
one's good. In drawing up plans and in 13deciding
on aspirations men are
to take these constraints into account."
But perfectionism goes beyond this, into the realm of "wide moral-
ity"-"the art of life," i.e., the precepts instructing people how to live
and what makes for a "successful, meaningful, and worthwhile life,"' 3 2
even when the interests of others are not directly involved. Again, with-
out placing too much emphasis on examples, these precepts will include
such things as: monogamous love;133 respect for the arts;' 34 the impor-
tance of friendship; 135 the need to avoid putting a price on love and
37 138
friendship;' 36 the importance of loyalty;' the value of spontaneity;
and the preference for a tasteful, rather than a vulgar, urban environ-
ment.139 If Raz's perfectionism is distinct from the commitment to jus-
tice which he shares with Rawls and others, it is because it implies that
the state may act on the basis of these considerations as well.


What I have termed the traditional liberal position holds that the
state should be neutral at least on aspects of morality involving what Raz
calls "the art of life."'" If people choose to live lives that are (for exam-
ple) polygamous, philistine, solitary, mercenary, rigid, or vulgar, the gov-
ernment should do nothing to discourage them. The depravity of these
ways of life is, of course, a reason for others to remonstrate with these
people, reason with them, entreat them, persuade them and, if that does
not work, avoid their company. But it is not a reason for compelling

131. J. RAwLs, supra note 4, at 31.

132. J. RAz, supra note 8,at 213.
133. See id. at 161.
134. See id. at 215.
135. See id. at 306.
136. See id. at 347-53.
137. See id. at 354-55.
138. See id. at 384.
139. See id. at 422.
140. Id. at 213.

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them or taking political action to visit upon them any evil or disadvan-
1 41
tage if they will not mend their ways.
Neutrality, as Raz argues, is an ambiguous principle. It may mean,
on the one hand, that the government must take care not to do anything
which makes it more likely that one conception of the good will flourish
rather than another. This imposes a duty of care on the government to
see that its actions are evenhanded. On the other hand, neutrality may
mean that, whatever the effects of it's actions, the moral merits of com-
peting conceptions of the good do not provide the government with any
valid reason for promoting one rather than the other. I shall call the first
neutrality of effect and the second neutrality of reasons. The difference
between these concepts can be delineated by considering a case posed by
John Locke:
[I]f any people congregated upon account of religion should be desir-
ous to sacrifice a calf, I deny that that ought to be prohibited by a law.
Meliboeus, whose calf it is, may lawfully kill his calf at home, and burn
any part of it that he thinks fit. For no injury is thereby done to any
one, no prejudice to another man's goods. And for the same reason he
may kill his calf also in a religious meeting. Whether the doing so be
well-pleasing to God or no, it is their part to consider that do it....
But if peradventure such were the state of things that the interest of
the commonwealth required all slaughter of beasts should be forborne
for some while, in order to the increasing of the stock of cattle that had
been destroyed by some extraordinary murrain, who sees not that the
magistrate, in such a case, may forbid all his subjects to kill any calves
for any use whatsoever? Only 'tis to be observed, that in this case the
law is not made about a religious, but a political matter; nor is the
sacrifice, but the slaughter of calves, thereby prohibited.142

The economic ban on killing calves will certainly have a differential

effect on the bovine sacrifice cult, relative to its effect on other cults, so it
is ruled out by neutrality of effect. But the ban is not imposed for that
reason, and, indeed, as Locke points out, it can be formulated in terms
that make no reference to the idea of animal sacrifice. Therefore, the ban
does not fall foul of neutrality of reasons.

141. Cf J.S. MILL, ON LIBERTY 13 (C. Shields ed. 1956).

He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do
so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be
wise or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with
him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him or visiting him with
any evil in case he do otherwise.
142. J. LOCKE, supra note 5, at 147-48.

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Elsewhere I have argued that which of these conceptions of neutral-

ity one chooses depends not on dictionary definitions but rather upon the
arguments supporting the underlying position.14 3 For example, Mill's
argument about the need to preserve a diverse array of lifestyles and
opinions, some of them good and some of them bad, weighs in favor of
neutrality of effect, whereas an argument based on skepticism about poli-
ticians' abilities to distinguish good conceptions from bad ones weighs in
favor of neutrality of reasons. Neither argument, as it stands, contributes
anything to the case for the other conception." 4
Raz quickly dismisses neutrality of effect, and I have no wish to
quibble with his argument. It would be an extraordinarily demanding
ideal, because almost every governmental action is going to have some
impact on the prospects for various lifestyles, some impact on the moral
environment. Neutrality of effect entails that the government must take
care to see that unworthy options do not suffer as a result of its actions.
This might make sense if there were some inherent or instrumental value
in the existence and flourishing of unworthy options. But Raz insists,
along lines already mentioned, that there is no such value, and he has no
patience with the view that the presence of depraved options sharpens or
contributes to our sense of the good.' 4 5
Neutrality of reasons is another matter. It places limits on what
may count as a good reason in politics. Citizens may permissibly act for
purposes that are not permissible for governments to pursue. Though
citizens always make personal decisions of lifestyle based upon the moral
merits, in a broad sense, as they understand them, a government must
eschew all such considerations in its legislative, policymaking, and
administrative activities. Such a constraining principle might be justified
on the grounds that ethical reasoning gets distorted when one moves
from the personal into the political sphere.'" But, in order to focus the
discussion on Raz's argument, for the rest of this Article, I shall consider
only the case that might be made for neutrality of intention on the basis
of respect for personal autonomy.
143. See J. Waldron, Legislation and MoralNeutrality, in LIBERAL NEUTRALITY, supra note 7.
144. Hence Ackerman's strategy in defending neutrality is hopeless and leads to incoherence.
He argues that it makes no difference how one defends neutrality, that one can be as liberal about
that as one is about conceptions of the good. B. ACKERMAN, supra note 2, at 11-12, 358-59.
145. See J. RAz, supra note 8, at 380-81; cf J.S. MILL, supra note 141, at 43-55 (concerning his
argument for allowing false opinions to flourish).
146. See supra note 125 and accompanying text.

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There are several ways in which the neutrality principle might be

attacked. Some of them are silly. Thomas Nagel argues that "since neu-
trality needs as much justification as any other position," it is self-defeat-
ing as an ideal because it cannot be justified in a neutral way. 147 But
neutrality does not require a neutral defense (whatever that means); one
is always neutral in a particular conflict for a reason, and, of course, one
is not neutral about that reason. What is required is that there be a
moral justification for neutrality. Morality is not simply the set of indi-
vidual conceptions of the good; as Raz emphasizes repeatedly, ideals like
autonomy function quite differently from the latter.1 48 Hence, basing
one's neutrality on a commitment to autonomy is not basing it on a com-
mitment drawn from the domain of options among which neutrality is
Nagel also argues that liberal neutrality discriminates against
options and lifestyles that are not individualistic-those that involve the
existence of social structures.1 49 The silliness of this criticism is a little
more complex because Raz succeeds in showing that the contrast
between lifestyles that involve social structures and those that do not is
misconceived. 150 It is true that liberals have traditionally ordained neu-
trality only among personal lifestyles, not among social options, such as
Islamic conceptions of law, communitarian ideals, established churches
and the like. But this does not show that neutrality is incoherent. The
liberal enjoins neutrality in regard to Conflict A, the conflict between
competing conceptions of individual good, because of some opinion
about what is at stake in that conflict. The fact that Conflict B, a conflict
between competing conceptions of social structure, can be identified as a
conflict of a somewhat different sort need not embarrass liberals. There
are different things at stake in Conflict B, and they are things for which
neutrality would be enjoined, if it was enjoined at all, for utterly different
reasons. The fact that the liberal cannot be neutral in every ethical dis-
pute, and has no reason to be, is not an indictment of liberalism.
Let me turn now to the serious arguments that Raz makes against
neutrality. One strategy declares that because neutrality is a principle of
restraint, all the perfectionist needs to do is show that the restraint is
unjustified. One does not have to give positive reasons in favor of state

147. Nagel, supra note 7, at 9. Raz appears to accept Nagel's argument. J. RAZ, supra note 8,
at 118.
148. J. RAz, supra note 8, at 391.
149. Nagel, supra note 7, at 9-10. Raz appears to accept this argument also J. RAZ, supra note
8, at 119.
150. See J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 307-13.

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action to support the good. What is more natural than that one should
act to encourage worthy ideals and discourage unworthy ones? Unless
good reasons are provided for restraint, perfectionism follows simply
from one's evaluation of the worthiness or unworthiness of an ideal. The
perfectionist can afford to sit back and pick off the mainstream liberal
arguments as they come.
In fact, however, the connection between evaluation and perfection-
ist intervention is not nearly so straightforward. That an ideal is unwor-
thy provides a person with a reason not to choose it as her ideal, but it is
not at all clear that it provides others, let alone the state, with a reason to
discourage her from choosing it. It does so if it is true that the others
have an independent reason to see to it that she chooses well. But that is
problematic in the context of a theory which finds virtue in people choos-
ing options for themselves.
Raz attempts to finesse this point by asking what he thinks is a rhe-
torical question:
Is one treating another with respect if one treats him in accordance
with sound moral principles, or does respect for persons require ignor-
ing morality (or parts of it) in our relations with others? There can be
little doubt that stated in this way the question admits of only one
answer. One would be showing disrespect to another if one ignored
moral considerations in treating him.151
As Raz states the point, one must agree. But perfectionism is not
the theory that we should treat others morally. A more honest way of
putting the question would be: "Is one treating others with respect if one
tries to get them to act in accordance with sound moral principles"?
That is a genuinely open question, and, moreover, it seems helpfully sen-
sitive to the nature of the means that are used to promote moral action, a
concern which Raz's formulation neglects.
So one may need a positive justification for perfectionist intervention
even if the defender of neutrality provides no valid argument for political
restraint. Unfortunately, Raz sketches only one such argument and it is
rather unconvincing.
Supporting valuable forms of life is a social rather than an individual
matter. Monogamy, assuming that it is the only morally valuable form
of marriage, cannot be practiced by an individual. It requires a culture
which recognizes it, and which supports it through the public's atti-
tude and through its formal institutions .... [P]erfectionist ideals
require public action for their viability. Anti-perfectionism in practice

151. Id. at 157.

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would lead not merely to a political stand-off from support for valuable
conceptions of the good. It would undermine 52
the chances of survival
of many cherished aspects of our culture.'

Though Raz does a good job of showing the social character of

many liberal ideals, nothing he says comes close to establishing the claim
necessary to his position: that valuable options require recognition
through law and the formal institutions of society in order to survive.
That claim is simply incredible. Religious faith fares far better in
America than in Britain, where there is an Established Church. 1 3 The
changes there have been in the concept of friendship over the last few
centuries have nothing to do with changes in legal and political institu-
tions. 154 The increased availability of formal opportunities for political
participation seems to correlate inversely with the extent and substance
of such participation. 5' Often we lawyers simply exaggerate the extent
to which social practices need formal institutionalization. The social
environment might indeed be quite different if perfectionist standards
were not embodied in legal principles, but I doubt that it would be any
poorer or that the worthy options would be any less diverse. Good social
practices are likely to be those capable of flourishing perfectly well on
their own, unassisted by the efforts of the law.


Besides their doubts about the positive case for perfectionism,

defenders of neutrality are worried about the means that political action
might involve. This explains their special preoccupation with the state.
Weber convinced most of us that "the state cannot be defined in terms of
its ends .... Ultimately, one can define the modem state sociologically
only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political
association, namely, the use of physical force."' 5 6 The point is not that
states can act only through force; it is rather that their coercive resources
give them their distinctive supremacy and ultimately provide them with

152. Id. at 162.

(Gallup polls indicate 94% of Americans believe in God and 71% in a life after death. Comparable
figures for the United Kingdon, where there is an established church are 76% and 43%
CAN LIFE (1985) for an excellent discussion.
155. See H. ARENDT, ON REVOLUTION 111-37 (1965).
156. M. WEBER,supra note 125, at 77-78.

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the ability to use whatever other means they have at their disposal.15 7
Raz, however, has never been convinced that the use of force is dis-
tinctive of states and legal orders. In earlier work, he argued that,
although as a matter of fact all existing legal systems use sanctions
imposed by force, still a legal system can be imagined which makes no
resort to such methods.1 58 In the present work, he says that a state is
defined by the generality of its claim to authority: "[the state] claims
authority to regulate all aspects of life."15' 9 Unfortunately, this is distinc-
tive neither of the state nor of the legal order. All sorts of normative
orders claim comprehensive authority-the law of the Catholic church,
for example, which (on its own account and that is all that interests Raz
in this passage) claims to apply to all mankind and, potentially, to
actions of any and every sort. The state cannot be distinguished from
other orders claiming comprehensive authority except by reference to the
greater likelihood that its claims will be upheld. Despite what Raz says,
its supremacy ultimately springs from its command of considerable
means of violence.
This general point provides a background for evaluating Raz's claim
1 60
that "[p]erfectionist goals need not be pursued by the use of coercion."
It is certainly true that individuals may pursue perfectionist goals non-
coercively by banding together in self-improvement groups, setting up
culture collectives, raising the tone of their conversation, making dona-
tions to athletes and artists and such. But Raz's claim is supposed to be
true of the state. In its pursuit of human excellence, a government might
choose to tax some kinds of leisure activities and subsidize others, or to
confer public honors on artists, for example, or people of exemplary vir-
tue, or use its authority in a range of areas from urban planning to educa-
tion to promote various noble conceptions of the good, or provide a legal
framework to house some types of relationship but not others, as it does
in the case of monogamous marriage. If such non-coercive means are
used, Raz thinks there can be no objection at all to the official pursuit of
perfectionist goals. The background to mainstream liberal concern about
this view is, as I have said, the fact that even if governmental activity is

157. The heart of John Locke's case for toleration centered around this understanding of the
state in terms of its distinctive means. "[Tihe care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate,
because his power consists only in outward force.. ." J. LOCKE, supra note 5, at 129. Cf. Waldron,
Locke: Toleration and the Rationality of Persecution, in JUSTIFYING TOLERATION (S. Mendus ed.
1988) (criticizing Locke's case for toleration as "inadequate and unconvincing").
158. J. RAz, supra note 33, at 154-62.
159. J. RAz, supra note 8, at 4.
160. Id. at 417.

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not overtly coercive, still in the last resort the government's ability to
undertake any activity at all rests on its coercive power.
Is it possible to divide the means available to the state into those that
are coercive and those that are noncoercive? It can be done, superficially,
no doubt: There is nothing overtly coercive about a subsidy. But that is
not the end of the matter. Given that the subsidy is paid by a govern-
ment, we have to ask whether there is anything deeper about government
subsidies which engages the same sort of concerns that arise with out-
right coercion.
What are these concerns? Why does Raz rule out overtly coercive
action for perfectionist purposes? The short answer is that lie does not-
at least for certain perfectionist purposes. In order to ensure a fair degree
of autonomy for all, in at least a capacity sense, the government is enti-
tled to deploy its coercive power. The argument is complex and involves
Raz's version of Mill's famous "harm principle." '6 1 Coercion is both
actually and symbolically a threat to autonomy. 6 2 But "harm" can be
defined in terms of the diminution of a person's prospects for the autono-
mous life she has chosen.1 63 Hence, to say that coercion may be used
only to prevent harm is to say that the autonomy of one person may be
threatened only where it is necessary to avoid some unacceptable diminu-
tion of the autonomy of another. And Raz subscribes to this view.lM
Now, we saw earlier in our discussion of "narrow" morality that
perfectionist ideals go beyond principles of respect for the interests of
others. They open up into wide morality, the precepts of "the art of life"
that we considered at the end in Part IV. One could attempt to use coer-
cion in this area as well. Certainly many if not all legal systems have
tried to do so sometime in their history, and many still do so now; ban-
ning certain forms of consensual sex is the most obvious example. But
Raz believes coercion would be wrong in this area, even if the values
upheld were acceptable ones. Though coercion imperils autonomy,
[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

161. J. S.MILL, supra note 141, at 13: "[Ihe only purpose for which power can be exercised
over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."
162. J. RAz, supra note 8,at 418.
163. See id. at 413-14.
164. See id. at 417-18. He would also, I take it, subscribe to Mill's view that the harm principle
has two sides to it, legitimating coercion in certain cases, as well as restraining it in others. See J.S.
MILL, supra note 141, at 127: "[O]wing to the absence of any recognized general principles, liberty.
is often granted where it should be withheld, as well as withheld where it should be granted ...."

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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
1 65
may not be curbed by coercion.

The position is not an easy one for Raz to defend, for his perfection-
ism tends to push him further than this. It is true that if we ban an
option which is depraved but not harmful, we will be compromising the
autonomy of those who would otherwise be tempted to choose it. But
according to Raz, we would not be compromising autonomy in any sense
that mattered, for he claims that autonomy to choose a depraved option
has either no value or negative value. So what is wrong with a ban on
harmless depravity? Raz's answer is a ultimately a pragmatic one:
[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 ensur-
ing that the coercion will restrict the victims' choice of repugnant
1 66
options but will not interfere with their other choices.
We might imagine circumstances in which this concern about coercion
would not be applicable; and if so, then of course the restraint should
evaporate. 167 In any case, the passage makes clear that Raz's liberal
reluctance, if it can be called that, to use legal power in the service of
perfectionist ideals applies only and at most to those forms of power
which invade the autonomy of the individuals affected on a fairly broad
and indiscriminate front.


Whatever the case with coercion, "Raz does not believe it is wrong
for the state to use its fiscal powers to promote perfectionist ideals. It
may tax activities that are depraved in order to discourage them and to
mark its disapproval. It may subsidize those that are particularly noble,
if that makes it more likely that they will prosper. And it may embody
morally good practices in the framework of the law of the land-in the
way monogamous marriage is embodied-if that can be done without
coercive invasions of autonomy.

165. J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 419.

166. Id. at 418-19.
167. See id. at 419.

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In this Section, I argue that all three of these methods should be

subjects for serious liberal concern. Part of my strategy will be to com-
pare them with the sort of coercion that Raz opposes, and to ask whether
they engage at an implicit level any of the misgivings that coercion
engages explicitly. But I shall also try to develop an independent argu-
ment against these forms of perfectionism based not only on the analogy
with coercion, but on a deeper account of respect for individual moral

1. Taxation

Suppose a government imposes, as Raz suggests, a heavy tax on

forms of activity which it regards as morally depraved. He cites the
example of fox hunting in England,1 68 but any example of genuine
depravity will do. The point of such a tax is presumably to mark com-
munal disapproval of the practice and to do so in a way that discourages
people from engaging in it.
What does it mean to discourage an activity by imposing a tax? It
means, presumably, that the state raises the costs that a person must
incur if she wants to pursue the activity. All options involve costs-at
the very least, opportunity costs. If an activity like fox hunting is taxed,
then those who want to hunt must face the fact that they will have less
money in their pockets as a result-that is, they will have a lesser share
of resources to spend on other things than they would if the tax was not
It is important in this discussion to bracket off issues of justice and
redistribution. Maybe a tax on fox hunting is justified anyway on
grounds of soaking the rich. But Raz's proposal has got to be able to
survive the assumption that the distribution of wealth might in all other
respects be fair and just, and that the only reason for differentially taxing
this activity is that-it is depraved and should be discouraged.
Now, certainly, altering the costs and payoffs of an activity looks
like coercion. After all, what a threat does, if it is credible, is precisely to
add an artificial cost to an activity. The threat, "Your money or your
life," (assuming it is a genuine alternative!) adds the cost of death to the
option of keeping one's money. And in exactly the way that the high-
wayman makes it impossible for the victim to pursue that option without
accepting the cost, so, presumably, our perfectionist state will act to

168. See id. at 161.

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restrain any hunters who try to ride to hounds without paying the stipu-
lated fee. That restraintwill be coercive, even if one wants to insist that
the tax is not.
The point is an important one, because it reiterates the theme that
the coercive power of the state stands in the background even when it is
not overtly deployed. It also indicates the complexity of the notion of a
threat, and it may be worth unpacking that complexity in order to get a
grip on the permissibility of perfectionist taxation. For example, suppose
A threatens to break B's vase unless B hits C. There are many reasons
why A's making that threat might be wrong. Here are some of them:
(i) Because the threatened sanction is wrong (i.e., it is wrong to
break other people's pottery), the announcement of one's intention, even
one's conditional intention, to do it may be wrong also. 169 Not all threats
are wrong in this way. Blackmail, for example, often involves a threat to
perform an act that is independently right (e.g., reporting the victim's
wrongdoing to the appropriate authorities).
(ii) In order to make a threat credible, the threatener must have
some power over the victim, and holding that power may be wrong. The
threat's credibility, in our example, depends upon A already having hold
of B's vase. It may have been wrong of A to get hold of it or keep hold of
it once B realized what was happening.
(iii) The action one is trying to get the victim to do may be wrong,
so a fortiori it is wrong to try (by whatever means) to get him or her to
do it. In our example, it is wrong for B to hit C, and so wrong of A to try
to encourage the act.
(iv) The threat may be of such magnitude as to interfere with the
autonomy of the victim. It may be wrong therefore simply because it
undermines something that is valuable. In our case, this will depend on
how important the vase is to B. As we have seen, Raz argues quite con-
vincingly that a threat may interfere with an individual's autonomy even
though it is not a threat of serious injury or death. If the good threatened
is strategic to a person's conception of the good, then the cost that the
threatener is attaching to one of the options is the cost of giving up the
worthwhile life one has chosen. Clearly not all threats have this charac-
ter. If B does not cherish the vase in the special way just mentioned, the
threat may be wrong for reasons (i)-(iii), but not for reason (iv).

169. This is one of the reasons many people have misgivings about the morality of nuclear
deterrence: Since the killing of millions of civilians is wrong, then presumably any threat to kill
them is wrong also, irrespective of the purpose for which the threat is made.

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Presumably, the same is true for the small fines associated with cer-
tain legal bans: The loss of fifty dollars for smoking marijuana is hardly
going to overwhelm my pursuit of the good. But fines have one feature
that distinguishes them from taxes. In the latter case, all that the author-
ities may do is collect the money from those who choose to engage in the
activity. But in the case of fines arising under criminal law, the authori-
ties also have the responsibility of actually preventing the offending con-
duct if they can, whether or not the offender is willing to pay. This
means that there is an extra coercive dimension associated with criminal
restrictions that it is not associated with taxes.
In many cases, a threat which is wrong for reason (iv) will be also be
a threat which justifies or excuses the victim's compliance. Raz makes
much of this in his discussion,17 but I think he exaggerates the connec-
tion. Whether a threat excuses is one thing, whether and how it is wrong
is another. They are different types of normative significance. There may
be some acts which are never justified or excused by coercion.171 That is,
there may be some occasions on which one is morally required to surren-
der one's autonomy rather than obey the threatener. But even in these
cases, making the threat will still be wrong for autonomy-related
(v) Finally, it may be that there is something wrong with trying to
influence someone's choices with a threat even if the threat falls short of
reason (iv). Certainly that is wrong in some cases, even when the threat
is not wrong in any other way. Suppose a man threatens a woman with
the loss of some favor which he has it in his power to bestow if she does
not consent to sex with him: for example, "Unless you sleep with me, I
will revoke the $100 legacy to you that is presently in my will." The
threatened sanction is not wrong; the threatener does not need wrongful
power over the victim in order to impose it; the act he is trying to get her
to do is not wrong in itself or its consequences; and the loss of the small
legacy is hardly likely to overpower her will. Nevertheless the threat is
wrong, I think, just because this is the sort of decision to which one
should not attach costs in an artificial sort of way. In deciding whether
to sleep with him, the woman might want to consider a range of factors.
But he should not try to manipulate her by adding to that range factors
that are not part of the inherent "merits" of the issue.

170. J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 150-53.

171. For example, murder in recent English law see Abbott v. The Queen, [1976] 3 All E.R. 140
172. There is an excellent discussion in Frankfurt, Coercionand MoralResponsibility, in ESSAYS
ON FREEDOM OF ACTION 63 (1. Honderich ed. 1973).

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Let us go back now to the perfectionist tax on fox hunting. Is it

wrong in any of these senses? Clearly it is not wrong in sense (iii); or, if it
is, we have chosen our case badly, since we are assuming that what the
state is trying to get people to do (refrain from fox-hunting) really is good
and noble. And we may assume it is not wrong in sense (iv), if only
because a tax so severe as to overwhelm people's autonomy would
already be excluded by Raz's prohibition on coercion.
Senses (i) and (ii) are not so easy. Unless one holds a general liberta-
rian suspicion of all taxation, one may want to say that the imposition of
the tax is wrong in sense (i) only if it is wrong in one or more of the
senses (ii)-(v). And the same may be true of (ii). In other words,
whether or not it is wrong to impose and collect a tax, and hold the
power necessary to do so, depends upon whether the tax is justified.
Only an anarchist believes that taxes are unjustified because it is wrong
for any person or agency to collect or have the power to collect them. It
seems, then, that it is wrong for the government to take the money from
the fox hunters and wrong for it to have and exercise the power to be in a
position to take the money only if there is some independent reason for
holding that taxing fox hunting is wrong. Since we have eliminated (iii)
and (iv), that leaves (v) as the crucial question.
I suggested that, in the case of some actions, it is important that the
decision whether or not to perform them to be taken "on the merits,"
rather than on account of artificially imposed consequences. If and to
the extent that this is important, taxing an activity in order to discourage
it might be wrong, for it prevents people from refraining from it for the
right reasons, so to speak. An argument along these lines is certainly
bound up with the ideal of autonomy. Throughout the book, Raz
emphasizes the notion of self-authorship, the idea that an autonomous
person responds to value by choosing for reasons the person apprehends:
"it is the special character of autonomy that one cannot make another
person autonomous." '73 As we saw when we discussed manipulation in
Section III of Part C, an autonomous decision may be undermined not
only by overt coercion from the outside, but also by interfering with the
way people form their beliefs about value. 74 Messing with the options
that one faces, changing one's payoffs can be seen as manipulation along
these lines. If it is done intentionally, it also takes on the insulting aspect

173. J. RAz, supra note 8,at 407.

174. Id. at 377-78.

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of manipulation,' 75 for it treats the agent as someone incapable of mak-

ing independent moral decisions on the merits of the case.
The main difficulty with the approach I am suggesting lies in the
distinction between "the merits" of an option and factors and payoffs
that are introduced artificially from the outside. Certainly, the idea of the
merits of an option must go beyond its intrinsic character: As Ronald
Dworkin has emphasized, decisions whether to adopt some taste or pas-
time are rightly influenced not only by its inherent attractions but also by
consideration of the costs that its pursuit by us will impose on others.
We must consider what resources we are using, whether this is more than
our fair share, and so on. 17 6 But though this will complicate matters it
will not do so unduly.
The important thing about the tax we are imagining is that its per-
fectionist justification, if there is one, will already refer to the merits of
the option in question. The government's decision to tax fox hunting, for
example, will be justified by exactly those factors which a potential
hunter ought to consider when making the decision whether to opt for
this pastime. As an autonomous agent, the hunter should be the one
responding to those considerations, and those are the only considerations
the hunter should be responding to when making the choice. The impo-
sition of the tax, then, is necessarily manipulative, for it influences a per-
son's decision by distorting that individual's understanding of the merits
of the choice.
In all of this, I have assumed that the motivation behind the tax is
simply to discourage the activity-that it is not intended as a revenue
raising device. However, Mill suggested an interesting point about reve-
nue raising in a perfectionist context. He conceded that taxing things
like alcohol and narcotics "for the sole purpose of making them more
difficult to be obtained is a measure differing only in degree from their
entire prohibition."' 77 But he added that, of course, there are going to
have to be some consumption taxes if the government is to have sufficient
revenue to discharge its legitimate responsibilities. There is also no
avoiding the fact that for some people these taxes will have a persuasive
or prohibitive effect:
It is hence the duty of the State to consider, in the imposition of taxes,
what commodities the consumer can best spare; and afortiori,to select
175, Id. at 420.
176. See R. DWORKIN, supranote 1, at 193-94; Dworkin, What isEquality? Part L Equality of
Welfare, 10 PHIL. & PuB. AFF. 185 (1981); Dworkin, What is Equality? Part I. Equality of
Resources, 10 PHIL. & PUB. AFF. 283 (1981).
177. J.S. MILL, supra note 141, at 122.

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in preference those of which it deems the use, beyond a very moderate

quantity, to be positively injurious. Taxation, therefore, of stimulants
up to the point which produces the largest amount of revenue (suppos-
ing that the State needs all the revenue which it yields) is not only
admissible, but to be approved of. 78
I cannot see any way to dispute the application of this to perfectionist
issues. It may be wrong for the government to tax harmless but depraved
activities purely for the purpose of discouraging them. But if it must tax
some pursuits anyway, it might as well choose those that are depraved.

2. Subsidies
Taxing an activity thought to be depraved may be wrong because it
interferes with autonomy in a manipulative way. But what about subsi-
dizing an activity thought to be noble?
The argument is not quite so straightforward, since there is no sim-
ple symmetry between taxes and subsidies. A tax is an inducement to
refrain from an activity, but a subsidy is not necessarily an inducement to
participate in it. Usually, a subsidy decreases the cost of participating in
the activity in question, rather than giving an additional reason to par-
ticipate in the activity. The trouble with a perfectionist tax is that it
provides a reason for refraining from an activity that is not one of what I
have called "the merits" of the case. A subsidy would be objectionable
on similar grounds if it were so substantial as to provide a positive
inducement to an activity thought to be noble. We would then worry
because people were responding, not to the nobility of the activity, but to
the bribe that was being offered for pursuing it.
But if people's reasons for participating in an activity are good and
noble, is it wrong to use tax revenue to facilitate their participation, to
make it easier for them? Raz says it is no objection that the tax is raised
I assume that tax is raised to provide adequate opportunities, and is
justified by the principle of autonomy in a way consistent with the
harm principle.... The government has an obligation to create an
environment providing individuals with an adequate range of options
and the opportunities to choose them. The duty arises out of people's
interest in having a valuable autonomous life.... Not every tax can be
justified by this argument. But then not every tax is justified by any
argument. A tax which cannot 179
be justified by the argument here out-
lined should not be raised.

178. Id. at 123.

179. J. RAz, supra note 8, at 417-18.

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This last point, of course, is absurd: there are other justifications for
taxes besides the one mentioned here. But it does sound as though Raz
wants to restrict the subsidization of options only to cases where it is
necessary to provide an adequate environment for autonomy. If such an
environment exists already, the government may not use coercively
raised funds to subsidize existing or additional options purely on the
grounds of their goodness.
It is pretty clear why this would be. To begin with, there would be
the problem of selecting which good options to subsidize. For example,
may the government subsidize some among the plurality of good options
but not others? May it choose to subsidize sport, for example, rather
than opera, provided that the necessary range of cultural opportunities
will exist anyway? And how should these choices be made? If the good
options are incommensurable interse and if, as we have seen, many of the
reasons for favoring one of them over another spring from the choice to
engage in the favored option, may government officials choose the
options they happen to engage in themselves? Remember we are not now
asking whether their "say so" makes it right. The question is simply:
How do they choose between incompatible goods if a choice has to be
made? If they choose to subsidize option A rather than option B, is that
not unfair to the adherents of B who, in virtue of their choice of B, have
no reason to favor A? (To sharpen these questions, assume for the sake
of argument that religion is a good thing, and ask how a government
should choose which church to subsidize.) Though Raz talks of moving
from neutrality to pluralism,180 and though he says a government may
take a hand "in directing or initiating" the processes by which some
options flourish and others wither away,' 8 ' he offers no guidance on how
governments should choose among a plurality of goods, when all cannot
be favored.
The other worry about subsidies is really an echo of the argument
about taxation. To subsidize an activity is to lessen the costs that must
be borne by those who choose to engage in it. Once again, to clarify the
argument, we must assume that there is no redistributive argument for
the subsidy, and that the pre-subsidy costs are a fair reflection of the
impact that an activity has on one's resources available for other pur-
suits.'" 2 (If these assumptions do not hold, then no specifically perfec-
tionist argument for the subsidy is necessary.) What a subsidy does,
180. Id. at 130.
181. Id. at 410-11.
182. Dworkin emphasizes that the arts are public goods in the economists' sense, and so their
pre-subsidy market costs may not be an accurate reflection of their impact on community resources.

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then, is to give those who benefit from it a misleading and distorted pic-
ture of the real costs and benefits of engaging in the subsidized activity.
It seems to me that, for example, those who consider cultivating a taste
for opera ought to give some consideration to the resources that must be
used to produce live opera and to the opportunities that are foregone in
society when resources are used in that way. But if their opera tickets
are subsidized by the state, because opera is a noble and wonderful art,
then they are not being encouraged to consider the matter on its merits.
Instead, they make their choices blithely unaware of the extent to which
their enjoyments deprive them and others of the use of social capital.
Once again, the underlying point is about respect for autonomy. In
choosing which activities to encourage through subsidization, the gov-
ernment is making its decision on the merits of those activities. Is this
not a decision that each person should be making? Is it not treating peo-
ple like children to make that decision for them, and then adjust the
payoffs so that they will accept it more easily. We must keep hold of one
of the deepest insights in the liberal tradition: Governments are merely
composed of people who happen to wield extraordinary power. There-
fore, when a decision is made to subsidize an activity, one group of peo-
ple is deciding a moral issue that ought essentially to be decided by other
people acting on their own. Raz stresses rightly, throughout the book,
that the fact that a government thinks something is good is not a reason
in itself for acting as though it were good."8 3 But he does not place
nearly enough stress on the insult involved when the government actu-
ally takes it upon itself to think about such matters in the first place.

3. Legal Frameworks

There is not room in this Article to review all the putatively non-
coercive means by which Raz believes perfectionist ideals might be pur-
sued. The final one that I want to consider, however, is the embodiment
of some perfectionist ideal in a legal framework for social relations. The
case that springs to mind is the special preference given to long term
monogamous relationships, over, say, polygamy or casually serial
monogamy, in the legal institution of marriage."8 4 In what follows, I
R. DWORKIN, supra note 1, at 221-33. Raz, however, does not link his account of subsidies to his
theory of public goods. J. RAz, supra note 8, at 198-203.
183. J. RAz, supra note 8, at 412.
184. Id. at 161.

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shall assume that monogamy is greatly preferable to these other relation-

ships, on moral grounds.18 5
It might be thought the legal principle of monogamy is a coercive
one. After all, bigamy is a serious criminal offence, punishable by long
terms of imprisonment. But that is a misunderstanding. Unless there is
also a ban on fornication, people are perfectly at liberty to live in
menages, or polygamous relationships, with as many lovers as they
please. What they may not do is give those relationships the imprimatur
of matrimonial law: Bigamy is the offense of going through a form of
(monogamous) marriage while being married already.
The point is a general one. Not all laws require or prohibit some
action on pain of penalties. As H.L.A. Hart has emphasized and as Raz
reiterates, 186 some laws simply specify the way in which a power may be
exercised if a change in legal relations is to be brought about. People can
write out testaments and go through ceremonies to their hearts' content;
but they will not have succeeded in making a will or getting married, in a
legal sense, unless they go through the proper formalities. "7 In this
sense, the laws are not directly coercive.
In his discussion of this issue, Hart considered the objection that
laws of this kind might be seen as fragments of wider laws which are
coercive.188 There is no coercive rule that everyone must make a will,
nor is there a ban on unattested testaments; but the rules for making
valid wills function as fragments of a larger rule, which governs (coer-
cively) who may and who may not use or have particular pieces of prop-
erty. For example, the reason my sister is not allowed to use this writing
desk without my permission is that my father made a valid bequest of it
to me; had his bequest been invalid, I might not have the right to control
the desk in that way. The rules about bequests are parts of wider rules
that determine who is entitled to use what, just as the rules about mar-
riage are, among other things, part of a wider set of rules governing who
can claim financial support from whom; and those wider rules are coer-
cive. Indeed, it is clear that something like this must be the case. The
only reason why it matters that one's bequests be valid or one's marriage
properly solemnized is that bequest and marriage have some further legal
effect. Ultimately, that effect consists in the way they affect the coercive
operation of the law.
186. J. RAZ, supra note 8, at 352.
187. H.L.A. HART, THE CONCEPT OF LAW 27-41 (1961).
188. Id. at 35.

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What, then, does the legal preference for monogamy over polygamy
involve? The fact is that the law gives the one kind of relationship a
certain status and effect elsewhere in the system which it denies to the
other. If I go through the proper ceremony, then my monogamous rela-
tionship. with my lover takes on a powerful significance in law, for all
sorts of purposes ranging from tax benefits to alimony to visiting and
consent rights in hospitals. But I and my several lovers can go through
all the ceremonies we please, and our polygamous relationship will never
be given that special legal status or effect. No matter how hard we try,
we will be treated like any other band of people who are rooming
together for the time being. (The same is true of monogamous relation-
ships between homosexuals, and so on.)
Is this a threat to autonomy? It is, and for roughly the same reasons
that we found taxes and subsidies objectionable. The decision to favor
one type of relationship with a legal framework but not another artifi-
cially distorts people's estimate of which sort of relationship is morally
preferable. Let me explain.
Everyone who chooses to live with another and to make a life
together has to contemplate the possibility that things may go wrong.
The relationship may break up or one of the partners may die, and then
property and financial entanglements will have to be sorted out. One of
the partners may fall ill, and medical staff may have to decide who
should make decisions about the patient's well-being, and who should
have visiting rights when these must be restricted. Even if things do not
go wrong, they may be complicated. A child may be born, and questions
will then arise about who should take care of it and make decisions about
its future. The people in the household must be taxed, and questions
may arise about how their incomes should be determined, and so on.
Everyone contemplating entering a relationship of whatever sort ought to
give some attention to these problems."8 9 And, if they are considering,
for example, living in a menage a trois, they must give some considera-
tion to the possibility that these problems may be intrinsically more com-
plicated for them to sort out than for a couple. These are the sorts of
moral factors people should appeal to in determining whether polygamy
is preferable to monogamy.
The government has decided on the basis of its estimate of these
factors to distort the matter by making it even easier for monogamous
couples to sort these problems out than for polygamists. Monogamous

189. See also Waldron, supra note 67, passim (it is a necessity that people have something to fall
back on if an attachment fails).

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couples have a framework to appeal to, and a set of familiar and well
understood rules and procedures for. dealing with these matters.
Polygamists have none of these benefits and therefore someone contem-
plating the choice has to consider this further factor. Apart from the
legal institution of marriage, problems in monogamy are arguably easier
to sort out than those in polygamy; but, the existence of the legal institu-
tion means that the "arguably" disappears, and monogamy becomes infi-
nitely more straightforward. Once again, as we saw in the case of taxes
and subsidies, the state insults its citizens by doing their moral calcula-
tions for them, and using the results as a justification for making the
citizens' own calculations easier than they should be.

None of this adds up to a conclusive case against perfectionism.
Raz may be right that there are some forms of political action which may
legitimately be used in the service of perfectionist ideals.' 9 ' But I hope I
have been able to say something to indicate the complexity of the misgiv-
ings that mainstream liberals feel about political action in this area. The
state may not show its guns when it takes such action. But ultimately it
is what it is on account of its guns, and there seems to be some special
insult involved in its taking advantage of that sort of position to do our
moral thinking for us. I hope it is also clear how much of this critique
depends precisely on the conception of autonomy that Raz developed.
Without Raz's account of the relation between moral choice, self-author-
ship, and the plurality of options, the points I have made about manipu-
lation and moral thinking would not have been nearly so clear to me.
Near the end of the book, Raz mentions a number of practical and
political difficulties which might impede the prospects for liberal perfec-
tionism.' Particular governments may be morally inept; power may
corrupt; freedom may be so fragile that the symbolism of any govern-
mental action to promote an ideal becomes problematic; society may be
so divided that perfectionist policies may lead to civil strife. These are all
things to bear in mind, and Raz is right to be unashamed of the vulnera-
bility of his argument to such empirical considerations. But he is right
also to insist that the main philosophical issue is deeper than this, and
that is the ground on which I have tried to meet his case.

190. J. RAz, supra note 8, at 420.

191. Id. at 424-29.

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