Theses Doctoral

The Problem of Unfreedom

Hominh, Yarran Dylan Khang

Can unfree people make themselves free? Some people are unfree because of the social and political conditions in which they find themselves. To become freer would require changing those conditions; yet changing them requires the exercise of freedom. So it seems like they must already be free in order to become free. Drawing on John Dewey, W.E.B. Du Bois, and B.R. Ambedkar, I argue that the unfree can make themselves free. Unfreedom involves external constraints and how those constraints shape people’s agency. Becoming freer involves coming to know, from the inside, how our agency has been shaped. We can change that shaping and in turn the social conditions. The problem of unfreedom is a vicious cycle. Social conditions constrain agency, which in turn further entrenches the social conditions. A virtuous cycle is possible. Agents can change their conditions, reducing the constraint on their agency, in turn enabling greater change. Conditions are unstable, and agents can take advantage of that instability.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Bilgrami, Akeel
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 18, 2021