Humane Studies Review
Winter 1996-1997 Volume 10 Number 4
In this issue:
© Copyright 1996, by the Institute for Humane Studies
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THE CONCEPT OF FREEDOM. PART II: CLASSICAL LIBERALISM AND
Ian Carter was an I.H.S. Claude R. Lambe Fellow in 1991-2. In 1992 He
completed his Ph.D., on "The Measurement of Freedom", at the European
University Institute, Florence. He has previously taught political
theory at the University of Manchester, England, and is currently a
research fellow at the Dipartimento di Studi Politici e Sociali of
the University of Pavia, Italy. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
......FREEDOM AND CAPITALISM.....
Contemporary classical liberals usually go beyond definitions of the
kind proposed by the defenders of "negative freedom" cited in part I
of this essay, and attempt to link freedom more explicitly to
capitalism. One plausible way of doing this is by arguing that
impersonal economic forces cannot reasonably be interpreted as
constraints on freedom. At this point, the "Y factor" in MacCallum's
formula (mentioned at the end of part I of this essay) gets narrowed
down to only those obstacles that are imposed deliberately, or that
are at least foreseeable, by other individuals. Along these lines, F.
A. Hayek, in *The Constitution of Liberty* (London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul, 1960 - an extract is published in Miller's *Liberty*,
cited in part I), distinguishes between a person's freedom and her
range of choice. Though the poverty of the tramp who is unable to
dine at the Ritz (mentioned in part I) might be put down to factors
that are in the last analysis humanly caused, what is restricted here
is the tramp's range of choice, not his freedom. Hayek, in fact,
narrows down the notion of a constraint on freedom to include only
cases of *coercion*, where coercion involves a person's actions being
made to serve the will of another person rather than her own
purposes. Thus, according to Hayek, what we mean when we say that the
tramp nevertheless enjoys freedom is that he is not subject to
coercion on the part of another - i.e., is not subject to the
exercise of arbitrary power. This is seen by Hayek and others as
implying the restriction of the "Y factor" to constraints that
violate the *rule of law* (on this point see John Gray's "Hayek on
Liberty, Rights and Justice", in *Ethics*, Vol. 92 (1981)). In this
connection, Hayek's work (notably, *Law, Legislation and Liberty*,
London: Routledge, 1982), to some extent anticipated by that of Bruno
Leoni (see his *Freedom and the Law*, Los Angeles: Nash, 1961), is
generally seen by classical liberals as especially important for the
distinction it makes between "law" on the one hand and "legislation"
on the other, where legislation, rather than law, constitutes a
limitation of freedom.
General accounts of the role of liberty in Hayek's thought are to be
found in Chandran Kukathas's *Hayek and Modern Liberalism*, (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1989), ch. 4, in John Gray's *Hayek on Liberty*
(London: Routledge, 1986), and in Norman Barry's "Hayek on Liberty",
in Z. Pelcznski and J. Gray (eds.), *Conceptions of Liberty in
Political Philosophy* (London: Athlone, 1984) - which is,
incidentally, a very useful collection, each chapter of which focuses
on the conception of liberty of a particular author. For a critique,
from a libertarian point of view, of Hayek's notion of coercion, see
Ronald Hamowy, "Hayek's Concept of Freedom: a Critique", in *New
Individualist Review* (1961). See also Hayek's reply, "Freedom and
Coercion: Some Comments and Mr. Hamowy's Criticism", *New
Individualist Review* (1961).
In a more "virtue-oriented" vein, Tibor Machan has argued that
freedom and capitalism are linked because market exchanges foster
moral responsibility. See his "The Virtue of Freedom in Capitalism",
*Journal of Applied Philosophy*, Vol. 3 (1986). See also the critique
of Machan by Alan Hawarth, "Capitalism, Freedom and Rhetoric: a reply
to Tibor Machan", *Journal of Applied Philosophy*, Vol. 6 (1989).
Another classical liberal stance on freedom, most famously taken by
Robert Nozick in *Anarchy, State and Utopia* (New York: Basic Books,
1974), ch. 7, is that which involves identifying an agent's freedom
with respect of others for his or her moral rights to private
property. Here, the Y factor in MacCallum's formula becomes "actions
which violate one's private property rights". If no one violates my
rights, I am completely free; my freedom is infringed to the extent
that my rights are violated. This appears also to be the position of
Bruno Leoni, in *Freedom and the Law* (see above), and of Murray
Rothbard, in *The Ethics of Liberty* (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities
Press, 1982). The property-based definition is criticized from a
socialist perspective by G. A. Cohen in *History, Labour and Freedom*
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986) and more recently in his *Self
Ownership, Freedom and Equality* (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1995). For a similar argument see also C. C. Ryan, "Yours,
Mine, and Ours: Property Rights and Individual Liberty", in J. Paul
(ed.), *Reading Nozick* (Oxford: Blackwell, 1981). Cohen's argument
is that such a definition begs the question in favor of the freedom-
property connection. It just stipulates that freedom is maximized
when property rights are respected, rather than arguing that it is.
On a less loaded, or less "moralized" definition of freedom - one
which sees private property as "a structure of freedom *and*
unfreedom" - it will no longer be obvious, Cohen says, whether or not
capitalism maximizes freedom. Indeed, such a question will have to be
investigated empirically. It is worth noting, however, that neither
Cohen nor anyone else has gone on to answer that empirical question.
Perhaps this is partly due to the difficulties, both theoretical and
practical, involved in "measuring" freedom (see below). In any case,
classical liberals who take a Nozickian stance on freedom generally
take the view that freedom is inevitably a value-laden concept (while
not sympathizing with the "essential contestability" thesis mentioned
in part I of this essay), and so are unmoved by his criticism.
......LIBERTY AND EQUALITY.....
Much recent work connected with classical liberalism (both by its
proponents and by its critics) has concentrated on the claim that
liberty conflicts with equality. A useful collection of articles on
this topic is E. Frankel Paul, F. D. Miller jr. and J. Paul (eds.),
*Liberty and Equality* (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985), which contains
defenses of the classical liberal perspective by Jan Narveson
("Equality vs. Liberty: Advantage, Liberty") and Michael Levin
("Negative Liberty"). Recent egalitarian works that criticize the
classical liberal perspective on this problem are Steven Lukes,
"Equality and Liberty: Must they Conflict?", in his *Moral Conflict
and Politics* (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), and Amartya
Sen, *Inequality Reexamined* (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Both
Sen and Lukes claim that libertarians, no less than egalitarians, are
interested in distributing freedom equally, and that at least in this
sense, they must see freedom and equality as compatible. This is a
claim which many libertarians readily accept (indeed, it is
anticipated by Narveson). Given this, the debate between libertarians
and egalitarians appears to be reducible to a debate about the
definition of liberty, in particular to the debate over whether or
not freedom should be identified with ability (see part I of this
essay). In general, by "equal liberty", classical liberals mean
"political equality", or "equal respect for people's rights". They do
not believe that "equal liberty" implies "economic equality" (though
an important exception here would appear to be that of Steiner - see
below); indeed, they see the two kinds of equality as conflicting, if
not conceptually, at least empirically, once state power gets
increased sufficiently to enforce "economic equality". That is how
their claim that liberty and equality conflict is best interpreted.
......RAWLSIANS, COMMUNITARIANS AND REPUBLICANS
The "liberal egalitarians" mentioned above generally work within the
so called "Rawlsian" paradigm (see John Rawls's *A Theory of
Justice*, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1971), and
generally adopt a moderate positive conception of freedom as ability
(see part I of this essay). Rawls himself rejects the claim that
poverty or ignorance constitute constraints on freedom (see ' 32 of
*A Theory of Justice*). However, he does say that such cases of
inability, while not implying a lesser degree of liberty, do imply a
lesser "worth of liberty", and then goes on to propose the reduction
of inequalities in "the worth of liberty" (by means of his
"difference principle"). Therefore (and despite the lack of precision
in Rawls's definition of freedom), the general tendency of this
school of thought can nevertheless be classified as that of favoring
a positive conception of freedom-as-ability. Useful accounts and
discussions of Rawls on freedom can be found in Jeffrey Paul, "Rawls
on Liberty", in Pelczynski and Gray (eds.) *Conceptions of Liberty in
Political Philosophy* (cited above), Norman Bowie, "Equal Basic
Liberty for All", in H.G. Blocker and E.H. Smith (eds.) *John Rawls's
Theory of Social Justice* (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1980), and
Norman Daniels, "Equal Liberty and Unequal Worth of Liberty", in
Daniels (ed.) *Reading Rawls* (Oxford: Blackwell, 1975) (which, from
an egalitarian point of view, criticizes the distinction between
liberty and it's worth).
Two other major contemporary rivals of classical liberalism are worth
mentioning in connection with the concept of freedom (though there
are fewer bibliographical references to be made): communitarianism
and republicanism. Charles Taylor (see part I of this essay), is one
of the few contemporary communitarian critics of liberalism actually
to have written explicitly about freedom. The fact that
communitarians pay so little attention to the analysis of the concept
of freedom is itself a legitimate source of worry for liberals; it
suggests that the difference between liberals and communitarians is a
very real one, rather than a simple product of misunderstanding, as
some have recently claimed. Either communitarians accept a negative
definition of freedom but do not see freedom as being especially
valuable, or else - as Taylor's work testifies - they endorse a
strongly positive definition of freedom. On this second view,
communitarians see an individual's freedom as the actualization of
her "higher self", where the nature of this higher self is determined
by the community. In its most extreme form, the community *becomes*
the relevant self, and, as Berlin pointed out, is in a position to
pull individuals into line in the name of "freedom".
The so-called "classical republican" challenge to liberalism, in
contrast, itself arises out of an explicit challenge to the liberal
conception of freedom. The concern of republicans is to revive the
view of freedom that was dominant in the ancient world and in the
renaissance (see the reference to Constant, in part I), according to
which a citizen is free if she actively participates in the political
life of the community. Quentin Skinner has suggested that this
conception of freedom does not lead to the paradoxical results
normally attributed to positive conceptions of freedom (see the
reference to Berlin in part I), and indeed that it provides a way of
safeguarding negative liberty. See e.g., his article "The Paradoxes
of Political Liberty", *Tanner Lectures on Human Values*, Vol. 5
(1984), reprinted in Miller's *Liberty* collection (cited in part I),
and "The Republican Ideal of Political Liberty", in G. Bock, Q.
Skinner and M. Viroli (eds.), *Machiavelli and Republicanism*
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). For a similar
argument, to the effect that freedom consists not in the mere absence
of restraint, but in its *guaranteed* absence, see Philip Pettit's
"Negative Liberty, Liberal and Republican", *European Journal of
Philosophy*, Vol. 1 (1993). Pettit has recently further developed his
position in a book entitled *Republicanism: a Theory of Freedom and
Government* (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming). The
republican position still appears to be unjustifiably marginalized in
contemporary debates. No supporter of the negative conception of
liberty has yet written a serious critique of the arguments of
Skinner and Pettit.
......RECENT WORK ON EXTERNAL CONSTRAINTS.....
Liberals generally agree that the Y factor in MacCallum's formula has
to be restricted to obstacles that are external to the agent and
humanly imposed. We have seen that they reject the notion of
"internal" constraints. But they disagree about what an external,
humanly imposed obstacle *is*. Does the concept of a constraint on
freedom include that of mere difficulty? And what about threats? Must
a constraint be imposed intentionally in order to count as a
restriction of freedom? There is clearly room here for a debate that
is internal to liberalism (both to classical liberalism and to
liberalism more broadly defined).
We have seen that for Hayek, a constraint on freedom is necessarily
deliberately imposed. Such a view contrasts with that of Hillel
Steiner, set out in his "Individual Liberty", *Proceedings of the
Aristotelian Society*, Vol 75 (1974-5). This widely discussed article
is best known for its denial of the claim, normally endorsed by
negative libertarians, that threats reduce freedom. Steiner believes
it is possible to demonstrate that if we include threats as
constraining freedom, we shall also have to include offers as doing
so. And a negative libertarian surely cannot see offers as
diminishing freedom. Furthermore, if we accept that there is no
connection between freedom and desire - as negative libertarians
generally do (see part I) - it would in any case be inconsistent to
say in addition that threats and offers restrict freedom. Steiner
amplifies on this "pure negative" conception of freedom in his recent
book *An Essay on Rights*, Oxford: Blackwell, 1994, ch. 1, where he
claims that unfreedom is a function of both actual and "subjunctive"
prevention - i.e., that I am unfree to do something if another is
either preventing me from doing it or would do so were I to try. The
book also defends the pure negative conception against an accusation
by Richard Flathman (in his *The Philosophy and Politics of Freedom*,
see above) and John Gray (in his "On Negative and Positive Liberty",
*Political Studies*, Vol. 28 (1980), reprinted in his *Liberalisms*
(London: Routledge, 1989)), to the effect that such a conception of
freedom is "behaviourist".
Many have found Steiner's position on threats counterintuitive (after
all, do not most laws seem to restrict freedom by threatening
punishment?) and so have tried to provide counterarguments. J. P.
Day, in "Threats, Offers, Law, Opinion and Liberty", *American
Philosophical Quarterly*, Vol. 14 (1977) (reprinted in his *Liberty
and Justice*, cited in part I), argues that threats prevent complex
actions without preventing simple ones, where a complex action is an
action made up of various simple actions. The idea that threats
reduce freedom is also defended against Steiner by M. Hayry and T.
Airaksinen in "Elements of Constraint", *Analyse & Kritik*, Vol. 10
(1988), Horatio Spector in *Autonomy and Rights*, ch. 1, and
Christine Swanton in *Freedom: a Coherence Theory*, ch. 8, both cited
in part I. Steiner's position on threats is defended, on the other
hand, in Michael Gorr's *Coercion, Freedom and Exploitation* (New
York: Peter Lang, 1989), ch. 2.
David Miller, in "Constraints on Freedom", *Ethics*, Vol. 94 (1983),
develops an account of constraints which relies on the notion of
*moral responsibility*. Since any number of constraints can be
construed as in the last analysis being caused by humans, the
distinction between natural and humanly imposed constraints seems
virtually to disappear. Therefore, he says, that distinction must
rest on the idea of moral, not causal responsibility; only in this
way will the set of purely "natural" constraints turn out to be
plausibly large. Thus, while humans may be causally responsible for
unemployment, the unemployed do not as such lack freedom unless some
person or group can be blamed for their plight. Miller has further
expanded on his position in *Market, State and Community* (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1989). More recently, Kristjan Kristjansson has
employed Miller's theory in an interesting attempt to justify the
intuition that threats restrict freedom while offers do not. See his
*Social Freedom* (cited in part I), ch. 3. Miller's view is
criticized by Felix Oppenheim in "'Constraints on Freedom' as a
Descriptive Concept", *Ethics*, Vol. 95 (1985), because it implies
departing from a purely empirical conception of freedom. Despite
Miller's arguments, Oppenheim still prefers causal responsibility as
a criterion for singling out constraints on freedom. Clearly, though,
our application of the notion of causal responsibility will depend on
various assumptions taken from social theory. Some useful
observations on this problem are contained in John Gray's "On
Negative and Positive Freedom" (cited in part I).
......DISTRIBUTION, EVALUATION AND MEASUREMENT.......
Classical liberals often talk of the need to "maximize" negative
freedom, given the primary importance they attach to that value.
According to Hillel Steiner, however (see *An Essay on Rights*, cited
above, ch. 2), there can be no such thing as an absolute loss or gain
in pure negative freedom at the societal level: the distribution and
redistribution of individual liberty is a "zero-sum game". Therefore
it makes no sense to talk about political or economic systems as
"maximizing" freedom. All they can do is distribute freedom more or
less fairly. The zero-sum view is criticized by Tim Gray in *Freedom*
(London: Macmillan, 1991), ch. 4, and by G. A. Cohen in "Capitalism,
Freedom and the Proletariat" (in Miller's *Liberty*, cited in part
I), where it is argued that communalizing property can lead to net
gains in freedom. This last view is attacked by John Gray in "Against
Cohen on Proletarian Unfreedom", *Social Philosophy and Policy*, Vol.
6 (1988). Gray argues that private property maximizes freedom, though
it is not always clear whether his argument is based on an empirical
or a moralized (rights-based) definition of freedom. Another
departure from the zero-sum view is represented by Philippe Van
Parijs's *Real Freedom for All* (cited in part I). According to Van
Parijs, the appropriate criterion for the distribution of freedom is
the "maximin" principle: maximize the freedom of those who have least
freedom. According to Van Parijs, this will be achieved by
establishing a universal basic income. It has to be born in mind that
we are talking here not about libertarian freedom, but about "real"
freedom (see part I). This rather crude rhetorical device aside, Van
Parijs's book represents an important challenge for classical
liberals, especially for those who are persuaded by Cohen's objection
to the moralized definition of freedom.
Recently, liberals have taken an increased interest in analysing the
claim that freedom is valuable (while taking for granted that by
"freedom" we mean some form of negative freedom or one of the weaker
versions of positive freedom mentioned in part I). Do liberals see
freedom as *intrinsically* valuable? An affirmative answer is given
by Amartya Sen in "Freedom of Choice: Concept and Content" *European
Economic Review*, Vol. 32 (1988), and Thomas Hurka in "Why Value
Autonomy", *Social Theory and Practice*, Vol. 13 (1987). Will
Kymlicka, on the other hand, in *Contemporary Political Philosophy*
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), denies that freedom has
intrinsic value, apparently because, as a liberal egalitarian, he
fears that such a view plays into the hands of libertarians.
Sceptical arguments are also to be found in Gerald Dworkin's *The
Theory and Practice of Autonomy* (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1988), ch. 5, and Ronald Dworkin's *Taking Rights Seriously*
(London: Duckworth, 1977), ch. 12. Ian Carter, in "The Independent
Value of Freedom", *Ethics*, Vol. 105 (1995) presents a typology of
the different ways liberals value freedom, and criticises the
arguments of Kymlicka and Ronald Dworkin. Joseph Raz, in *The
Morality of Freedom* (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), argues that
liberals value negative freedom in so far as it is necessary for
individuals to lead autonomous lives.
Clearly, if liberals are concerned about the degree to which people
are free (be this an aggregative or merely a distributive concern),
they ought to take an interest in whether, and if so how, freedom can
be measured. Some have tried to tackle this question constructively,
proposing formulas for the measurement of freedom. See especially
Hillel Steiner, "How Free: Computing Personal Liberty", Horatio
Spector, *Autonomy and Rights*, ch. 1 (both cited in part I), and Ian
Carter, "The Measurement of Pure Negative Freedom", *Political
Studies*, Vol. 40 (1992). Others are more sceptical about this
possibility. See, e.g., Onora O'Neill, "The Most Extensive Liberty",
*Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society*, Vol 80 (1980), Richard
Arneson, "Freedom and Desire", Tim Gray, *Freedom*, ch. 5, and Felix
Oppenheim, "Social Freedom and its Parameters" (all cited in part I).
The case of Oppenheim is particularly interesting, since he supposes
his empirical approach to the definition of freedom to be conducive
to neutral political science, and yet claims that the overall freedom
of a person or society cannot be measured, thus apparently posing a
problem for any political scientist interested in the correlations
between, say, freedom and development or freedom and stability. Those
who can handle the maths may be interested in the work of a number of
economists on the measurement of freedom, such as Patrick Suppes,
"Maximizing Freedom of Decision: An Axiomatic Foundation", in G. R.
Feiswel (ed.), *Arrow and the Foundations of Economic Policy* (New
York: New York University Press, 1987), P. Pattanaik and Y. Xu, "On
Ranking Opportunity Sets in Terms of Freedom of Choice", *Recherches
Economiques de Louvain*, Vol. 56 (1990), C. Puppe, "Freedom of Choice
and Rational Decisions", *Social Choice and Welfare*, Vol. 12 (1995)
and Kenneth Arrow, "A Note on Freedom and Flexibility", in K. Basu,
P. Pattanaik and K. Suzumura (eds.) *Choice, Welfare and Development*
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995). Often, however, such economists do
not appear to be well acquainted with the philosophical literature on
freedom, and as a result depart from the canonical definitions
without saying why. Those who are maths-averse may still be
interested in Amartya Sen's "Welfare, Preference, and Freedom",
*Journal of Econometrics*, Vol. 50 (1991), which argues, in contrast
to (though not explicitly against) the position of many negative
libertarians, that we cannot avoid taking into account an agent's
preferences when assessing the degree of her freedom.
......IDEAS FOR TERM PAPERS AND FURTHER RESEARCH.....
A first group of questions that it is useful for students to pose
themselves concerns the debate between positive and negative
libertarians. Each of these in itself contains ample mileage for a
term paper based on a reading of the relevant literature mentioned
above. Can it make sense to say that freedom means being able to do
what you want to do? Can we be slaves to ourselves, or only to
others? Is freedom purely and simply the absence of coercion? Is the
slippery slope to totalitarianism represented by "positive" freedom a
conceptual one, or are Berlin's arguments better interpreted as being
of a historical nature? Are negative and positive freedom necessarily
incompatible? There is of course the further, more "metatheoretical"
question of the validity of the positive-negative distinction itself.
A paper dealing with this question would have to look closely at
MacCallum's article (cited at the end of part I). Another group of
questions looks more closely at the negative view of freedom and its
implications. Is the concept of negative freedom "value-neutral"? How
are negative freedom and property related? How are negative freedom
and equality related? Can the overall negative freedom of a society
be increased and decreased, or can it only be redistributed? And then
one can ask, with reference to specific conceptions of freedom, or
even leaving the definition of freedom entirely open, about the
effects on freedom of specific policy suggestions. Would the freedom
of Californians be reduced if bikers were forced to wear helmets? Is
freedom increased by the legalization of hard drugs? Does taxation
In terms of research aiming to push back the frontiers, much work is
yet to be done on the conceptions of freedom implicitly assumed by
contemporary republicans and communitarians. An important piece of
research from the classical liberals point of view would show how
far, exactly, such conceptions of freedom lead down Berlin's slippery
slope to totalitarianism. Is the republican view of freedom best
understood as an innocuous empirical theory about how best to
maximize negative freedom in the long run, or does it contain a more
sinister justification of public service as *in itself* constituting
freedom? Or is it in fact *superior*, as republicans themselves
claim, at safeguarding against tyranny? Is some form of
communitarianism compatible with negative liberty? How far down the
communitarian road can we go before negative liberty is seriously
compromised? I would suggest that the answers to many of these
questions will require the application of some of the recent work
cited above on the relationship between freedom and desire.
An interesting project involving more empirical research would look
at Cohen's as yet undefended claim that private property does not
maximize freedom. Apart from the implications of different
definitions of freedom at a conceptual level, this research would
presumably have a more practical side to it: it would look not only
at what individuals can do or not do, in an immediate sense, when
property is private or communal, but also at the long-term effects of
such differences on political institutions, and the effect that these
might in turn have on freedom. A similar project could look at Van
Parijs's recent proposals. I suggest that both projects would need to
look at the work in progress on the measurement of freedom (among
both philosophers and economists), in order to lay the foundations
for long-term judgements about the degrees of freedom implied by
institutional set ups.
Finally, though well trodden, the liberty vs. equality debate still
represents fertile ground for further research. Much work has
recently been done in the egalitarian camp on the so-called "equality
of what?" issue, often attempting to include a "liberty" or
"opportunity" element in the answer. More could be done by classical
liberals in response to this, in order to show the precise ways in
which they too favor equality, and to show in exactly what ways and
to what extent their notion of equality conflicts with the variety of
notions of equality recently developed and defended by egalitarians.
While libertarians may already have taken the high ground as far as
the concept of liberty is concerned, they have yet to do so as far as
the concept of equality is concerned.
To many, such research proposals may appear over-technical or too
abstract. However, appearances can deceive. The concrete political
implications of even the most technical and abstract work can often
be quite immediate. This is surely so in the case of freedom, where
we are dealing with one of the most fundamental values, if not *the*
fundamental value for classical liberals, and where our debates about
the nature of that value are therefore bound to have far-reaching
consequences. It is only by seeking to understand the exact nature
and value of freedom that liberals can hope to build convincing and
coherent liberal theories.
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Svatos, Michele. "Biotechnology and the Utilitarian Argument for
Patents." *Social Philosophy & Policy* (1996).
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