The liberal case for transformative manipulation

  • Colin Alexander McLean

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


The liberal philosophical tradition is defined in part by a commitment to political conditions that reflect a view of persons as independent agents who are capable of determining for themselves what matters in life. Intuitively, this requirement places strong restrictions, or even a prohibition, on public policies that aim to affect a change to the target’s normative commitments
as a means of achieving specific policy goals (transformative policy). This thesis examines a particularly objectionable kind of transformative policy, namely, one that utilizes manipulation to affect the desired change (transformative manipulation). I argue, first, that the strongest case for an absolute prohibition on the use of transformative manipulation is one based on a principle of respect according to which the unconditional value of persons qua persons is realized in part by their being reasonably able to exercise a basic kind of autonomy; second, that this principle of respect in fact justifies the use of transformative manipulation when it is necessary to address threats to the stability of liberal political conditions; and third, that we can identify plausible cases where individuals pose a threat to stability that satisfies this condition. I conclude that the liberal tradition can accommodate the use of transformative manipulation.
Date of Award4 Dec 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorBenjamin Alan Sachs-Cobbe (Supervisor)


  • Liberalism
  • Transformative
  • Manipulation
  • Freedom
  • Public policy
  • Reasonable persons
  • Political stability

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