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In his article, Ripstein (2006) offers an alternative to the harm principle, introduced by Mill, and this alternative is the sovereignty principle. In the process, he coins his own definition of freedom that seems very questionable. Ripstein (2006) first refers to the most common understanding of freedom as “a person’s ability to achieve his or her own purposes unhindered by others” (p. 230). The sovereignty principle, proposed by the author, lies on the understanding of freedom as “each person’s ability to set and pursue his or her own purposes, consistent with the freedom of others to do the same” (Ripstein, 2006, p. 231). In fact, there is no real difference between the two definitions. Both define freedom as the ability to satisfy one’s desires, and both require others not to interfere with one’s freedom. None of the definitions apply to the example of the nap given by Ripstein in the beginning of the article.
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Failure of the first concept is fairly described by the author himself, so now we’ll examine the failure of Ripstein’s concept. For example, my purpose is to take a nap in somebody’s bed. According to Ripstein’s concept of freedom, I can rightfully pursue my goal. Ripstein also wants me to be consistent with the freedom of bed’s owner to pursue their goals, and they do not want me to sleep in their bed. So, they have the freedom to pursue their goal of preventing me from taking a nap in their bed, and I have the freedom to pursue my goal of sleeping in their bed. Both of us are free, and the only question here is who will be more successful in achieving the goals. No one violates another’s ability “to set and pursue his or her own purposes”. Foreseeing this objection, Ripstein (2006) notes that “the consistency is achieved through the joint ideas of noninterference and voluntary cooperation” (p. 233). But how do these ideas emerge from his concept of freedom? What if voluntary cooperation is not my purpose at all? The need to pursue it comes into contradiction with Ripstein’s (2006) definition of independence as a state when “no one else gets to tell you what to do” (p. 231). Therefore, Ripstein’s concept of freedom is not elaborated well enough, and this is why his theory of the sovereignty principle also fails.
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