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Liberal Fragments

Liberal Fragments

(p.90) Four Liberal Fragments
Our Oldest Task
Eric T. Freyfogle
University of Chicago Press

This chapter explores the dominant moral frames embraced in the United States and similar cultures, frames that recognize moral value in humans alone among species (human exceptionalism), that understand humans as autonomous individuals, and that center on liberty, equality, and economic expansion—all incomplete normative fragments. Liberty comes in many forms, positive and negative, individual and collective. Our elevation of negative individual liberty undercuts other forms, particularly the collective positive liberty of communities to control landscapes, and we too often detach it from the common good. Individual liberty is typically limited by an obligation to avoid harm, but harm is not self-defining and we are uncertain about the community’s role in defining it. Equality is similarly incomplete in that, unless linked to other normative values, it merely means treating like cases alike without giving guidance on when cases are alike and when meaningfully different. The chapter questions individual rights as a frame to guide our dealings with nature. It similarly questions economic growth as a normative frame, noting, inter alia, that such calculations rest ultimately on individual preferences, not any normative standard of community health or social justice. Economics also fails to consider the important citizen-consumer dichotomy.

Keywords:   citizen-consumer dichotomy, harm definition, human exceptionalism, incompleteness of equality, individual liberty, forms of liberty, positive liberty, rights critique

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