“Freedom” and ”Coercion”—Virtue Words and Vice Words


Peter Westen


Much has changed since young Thomas Jefferson took up his quill pen in the winter of 1781 and wrote by candlelight about "freedom" and "coercion." More has changed since Plato lauded freedom and derogated coercion two thousand years earlier. 2 The material changes in the way we live are obvious. The normative changes in what we value -- in what we regard as good and evil, right and wrong -- are equally dramatic: the abolition of chattel slavery, the disestablishment of religion, the end of indentured servitude, the demise of monarchy, the prohibition of torture and blood sanctions, the banning of child labor, the emancipation of women, the prevalence of birth control and premarital sexual relations, and the advent of universal adult suffrage, free public education, social security and no-fault divorce -- all in the past two hundred years. Yet despite these tidal transformations in our conceptions of good and evil, one thing remains the same: We use much the same language to express our conceptions of good and evil today as Jefferson and Plato used in their times.


Peter Westen, “Freedom” and ”Coercion”—Virtue Words and Vice Words, 1985 Duke Law Journal 541-593 (1985) Available at: http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/dlj/vol34/iss3/1

Lecture Date

January 17, 1985