Coercive Proposals and Coercion's Effects
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Tadros, William Ramzi
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CitationTadros, William Ramzi. 2021. Coercive Proposals and Coercion's Effects. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractCoercion is an important legal concept in the United States. A plea deal, for instance, is constitutionally valid only when its acceptance is not compelled. Likewise, self-incriminating statements are admissible at trial only if a defendant’s words were voluntary. Presumably, coercion’s legal significance rests on two, widespread moral judgments: that it tends to be an impermissible form of influence and that it typically does not result in a change in the victim’s moral duties or the victimizer’s permissions or entitlements. Yet theorists have struggled to explain what makes coercion morally wrong, when it is morally wrong, and why coerced conduct tends not to have the licensing effects that non-coerced conduct often has. In this dissertation, I argue that our moral judgments about coercion are, in the first instance, a function of the coercer’s intentions and consider the proposed theory’s implications for U.S. plea bargaining practices.
In Chapter I, I argue that a coercive proposal (and, by extension, coercion) is a distinctive form of wrongdoing that is defined by, and wrong in virtue of, an intention possessed by all would-be coercers, namely, the intention of forcing the recipient to behave in a given manner. After defining this intention and showing that it is what makes a coercive proposal pro tanto wrong, I outline the considerations that determine whether a would-be coercer can justify his behavior. One such consideration is whether the would-be coercer has the moral standing to make his demand—i.e., whether the would-be coercer is someone who can demand the compliant conduct’s performance, either because the recipient owes it to him or because they are jointly committed to the promotion of a set of interests that is promoted by that conduct, and, if so, whether he is acting in his capacity as one who can make that demand. The considerations that I identify suggest that the parties’ relationships, for instance, that of employer-employee or of doctor-patient, typically determine whether a given coercive proposal is justified. Debates over the permissibility of a given attempt at coercion are thereby shown to be disputes over the nature of such relationships.
In so arguing, I reject the widely held view that a wrongful coercive proposal inherits its impermissibility from the impermissibility of the threatened act. Beyond this view’s struggles to account for the impermissibility of blackmail, it cannot explain why impermissible coercive proposals are worse than analogous, impermissible non-coercive proposals. These shortcomings, I argue, show that the popular understanding of what makes a coercive proposal wrong is really a theory of what makes an impermissible non-coercive proposal wrong.
That said, I do not deny that a coercive proposal’s permissibility can depend on the penalty. While workers can threaten a strike to obtain a higher wage, they cannot threaten violence. I account for the penalty’s relevance by arguing that it operates like an aggravating circumstance, a fact that can increase or change one’s legal culpability for an act, but which does not ground the act’s illegality. For instance, while excessive force rules out a self-defense justification, that use of force is illegal because it satisfied the penal code’s criteria for assault and not because it was excessive. On my account, the threatened penalty functions similarly: it only affects whether the would-be coercer has met his justificatory burden.
The remainder of this dissertation then examines why coerced conduct typically does not change the victim’s duties or the coercer’s entitlements or permissions. In Chapter II, I correct a common misconception about the source of coercion’s deontic consequences and suggest a new account. Specifically, I argue against the theory that coercees are incapable of consenting, making promises, etc., at the time of compliance and that this inability explains why coerced conduct tends not to change a coercer’s permissions or entitlements. This explanation is untenable because it relies on a mistaken understanding of what is required for a coercee to be capable of consent, promise-making, etc. All that is required is that she be capable, at the time of compliance, of acting for reasons unrelated to the avoidance of the penalty, which she is capable of doing. Informed by this critique, I propose that coercion tends not to change coercees’ duties, or the coercers’ entitlements or permissions, because coercees, in virtue of their reasons for action, typically do not elect to consent, make a promise, etc.
In Chapter III, I address various objections to the proposed account. Foremost among those objections is that the theory cannot explain why coercion’s deontic consequences frequently differ from those of comparable, non-coercive exchanges. If the mugging victim retains her entitlement to her money because she acts to save her life, why isn’t the same true of the patient who pays a self-employed doctor for life-saving medical care? The answer, once again, turns on the proposal-makers’ intentions. When one issues a non-coercive proposal, one intends to grant, and typically succeeds in granting, the recipient a conditional entitlement or a conditional permission. For example, when the self-employed doctor offers to treat the prospective patient in exchange for a fee, he generates for the patient a right to his services that is conditional on his (the doctor) acquiring an exclusive entitlement to a set sum of the patient’s money. In doing so, the doctor also makes it the case that the patient’s entitlement to the stated sum of money necessarily passes to him should she act to obtain his services. Would-be coercers, in contrast, do not grant a conditional entitlement or a conditional permission because they do not intend to do so. As a result, the intended victim is typically free to engage in the compliant conduct without altering the would-be coercer’s permissions or entitlements. Contrary to received wisdom, then, coercion’s consequences do not stem from the constraints placed on coercees; they derive from the absence of the relevant limitations.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37370112
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