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Autonomy, Vote Buying, and Constraining Options

Journal of Applied Philosophy

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A common argument used to defend markets in ‘contested commodities’ is based on the value of personal autonomy. (1) Autonomy is of great moral value; (2) removing options from a person's choice set would compromise her ability to exercise her autonomy; (3) hence, there should be a prima facie presumption against removing options from persons’ choice sets; (4) thus, the burden of proof lies with those who wish to prohibit markets in certain goods. Christopher Freiman has developed a version of this argument to defend markets in votes. I argue that Freiman's argument fails, and that its failure illustrates the falsity of the widespread claim that the more options a person has available to her the better able she will be to exercise her autonomy. In Part 1, I outline Freiman's argument from ‘the presumption of voter liberty’ for legalising markets in votes. In Part 2, I argue that the option to sell one's vote in a legal market for them would be a ‘constraining option’ – an option which, if chosen, would be likely to lead to a diminution in a person's future ability to exercise her autonomy. In Part 3, I respond to objections to my arguments.