Coercion as Enforcement

52 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2008

See all articles by Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Department of Philosophy; University of Chicago - Law School

Date Written: November 3, 2008


This essay provides a positive account of coercion that avoids significant difficulties that have confronted most other recent accounts. It enters this territory by noting a dispute over whether coercion has to manipulate the will of the coercee, or whether direct force inhibiting action (such as manhandling or imprisoning) is itself coercive. Though this dispute may at first seem a mere matter of taxonomic categorization, I argue that this dispute reflects an important divergence in thought about the nature of coercion. Though it has rarely been noted, there are two significantly different ways of theorizing coercion found in recent writing on coercion. One focuses on the ability of the coercer to inhibit actions by the coercee through techniques such as force, violence, and like powers, or threats based in such powers. The other approach restricts coercion to cases where coercion manipulates the will of the coercee, though widens it to include any sort of threat that puts pressure on the coercee's will and alters the coercee's intentional choice of action. The former, enforcement approach used to be widely assumed by many political theorists who discussed the place of coercion in law and politics, though it has been largely supplanted by the latter, pressure approach. I show that these approaches are indeed quite distinct, and argue that the enforcement approach is in several ways superior to and more fundamental than the pressure approach for recognizing and understanding coercion in ethics and political and legal philosophy. I also consider and respond to a number of objections to the enforcement approach, showing that it can deal with some puzzle cases such as bluffs, blackmail, inefficacious threats, oblique threats, and economic coercion.

Keywords: coercion, threats, pressure, force, political philosophy, ethics, philosophy of law, blackmail, exploitation

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Scott, Coercion as Enforcement (November 3, 2008). Available at SSRN: or

Scott Anderson (Contact Author)

University of British Columbia (UBC) - Department of Philosophy ( email )

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University of Chicago - Law School

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Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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