Public Reason: Vol. 3, No. 2, December 2011
Freedom of Choice and Freedom from Need
David Levine


Those who attempt to make choice the basis for arguments about welfare tend to assume that choice involves nothing more than the availability of options and the opportunity to select among them. The opportunity to select is sometimes referred to as “freedom of choice,” which is assumed to follow from the absence of coercion. There is, however, an alternative way of thinking about the problem that links freedom not to the absence of external constraint on action we associate with choice, but to the capabilities and resources needed to make conduct the expression of an internal agency. This alternative understands freedom not as choice but as self-determination. This paper explores the idea of freedom as self-determination and its implications for the notion of choice not, however, by considering freedom as self-determination an alternative to choice, but rather as the condition without which choice has no meaning. The main theme of the paper is that self-determination is the capacity to negate needs originating in either the natural determination of the organism or in its immersion in a group of the kind that shapes and determines the identity of its members. Choice only becomes meaningful as an expression of the capacity to negate need, which capacity is referred to as freedom from need. The idea of freedom from need is then applied to the problem of the limits of the market and the role of the public authority in securing welfare.  Consideration is given to the matters of health care and income subsidy. 

Key Words: choice, ethics, freedom, groups, needs, self, welfare.



Levine, David. 2011. Freedom of Choice and Freedom from Need. Public Reason 3 (2): 107-123.