Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Freedom and Flourishing: Which questions come first?

As I noted in the title of this blog my aim here is to explore the links between freedom (liberty) and human flourishing.

I decided when I started this blog about seven months ago that the best way to ensure that I actually used it to undertake this exploration of links between freedom and flourishing would be to make each item in the blog an attempt to answer a relevant question.

It seemed to me that the exploration could usefully be thought of as a sequence of questions. As each question was explored, that would raise further questions, which would, in turn, raise further questions, and so on.

However, the existence of a sequence of questions is not obvious when you look at the front page of the blog, even though I think I have stuck fairly well to my original intentions. As with any other blog, what you see on the front page of this blog is like what you would see opening a book at random. You might see some topics at the side, but trying to follow those is like looking at the index at the back of the book and then reading entries that look interesting.

Dipping into a blog in this way can be a useful thing to do to get an idea of what it is about. But some readers may prefer to read an introduction.

What I attempt to do below is to give readers the benefit of my thinking about the order in which questions should be considered.

Where to begin?

Many people who come to this blog will view happiness as the ultimate goal of life. If that applies to you, you might like to begin by considering how human flourishing relates to happiness.

  • What does flourishing mean? Here
    However, you might have come here with the view that there is nothing more important than individual freedom. If so, you might ask:
  • Why consider the links between freedom and flourishing? Here
Where next? In my view the question most central to this blog is:

  • Is freedom a necessary condition for human flourishing? Here

From there it seems to me that it would make sense to consider a set of questions related to the links between freedom and flourishing.

  • What do objective measures of freedom and flourishing tell us? Here.
  • What do subjective measures tell us about human flourishing and about the links between freedom and flourishing? Here.
  • Do people want to be involved in political decision-making? Here
  • How can we categorize the arguments against freedom? Here
Now, each of those questions raise a series of further questions.

1. Objective measures of flourishing. How good is income as a measure of human flourishing? See particularly:

  • Is anything left of the Easterlin paradox? Here
  • How does probability of happiness vary with income levels? Here
  • What should we make of survey results showing no increase in happiness as income rises? Here

2. Subjective aspects of flourishing.

  • How well do happiness surveys measure human flourishing? Here
  • Does inner freedom link liberty with flourishing? Here
  • How important is autonomy? Here
  • What is the best book about pursuit of happiness and good government? Here
  • Are some goals better than others? Here
3. Political institutions.
  • What does living in peace entail? Here
  • How would you know if you lived in the best of all possible worlds? Here
  • Can government be bound? Here
  • Can government be restrained by transparency requirements? Here

4. The arguments for restricting freedom

  • What is the role of individual responsibility? Here
  • How should needy people be helped? Here
  • Does a welfare state strengthen the social fabric? Here
  • Why not let people opt out of the welfare state? Here

This sequence of questions is not a complete listing of the topics covered in the blog. Hopefully it covers enough ground to provide readers with a useful introduction.

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