Thought experiment: Philip Pettit on freedom

This post’s thought experiment comes from Philosopher Phillip Pettit. Pettit’s thought experiment is related to the concept of freedom, specifically political freedom. Hence, before discussing the thought experiment I will briefly explain the two main concepts of political freedom: negative and positive.

The contrast between positive and negative freedom was coined by Isaiah Berlin. Negative freedom is the freedom of non-interference. If no one is interfering with what I want to do, then I am free in the negative sense. For example, if I want to go to the store and no one is stopping me, then I have negative freedom to go to the store. Positive freedom is having the ability to do what I want to do, regardless if I am being interfered with. For instance, if I go to the store and want to buy an item but I don’t have enough money, then I have negative freedom to buy the item but I do not have the positive freedom.

With the standard concepts of freedom understood, this is Pettit’s thought experiment:

“In Ibsen’s Doll’s House, Torvald is devoted to his wife Nora. He gives her most things … Norah is not interfered with in her range of choices for a 19th century women.  But Torvald holds all the cards: he’s got legal, financial, and cultural power. He can dictate who she associates with, where she goes, how she dresses, what she has to eat.” (Pettit, 2014, cited by J. Gelonesi)

From this thought experiment, Pettit asks us: is Nora free?

What do you think? Is Nora free? If yes, how and why is she free? If no, how and why is she not free?


Published by

Andrew Tulloch

I have a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Philosophy and Sociology, with a Political Science minor. I also have an honours degree in Philosophy. I am currently studying for my PhD in Philosophy.

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