I have been thinking about coercion lately. You might even say that I have been coerced into thinking about coercion by the assignments that I have been given in class. Or you might not. That's a bit of why I'm writing this post.
To begin with, I will be referencing Denis Arnold's conception as of his paper with Bowie "Sweatshops and Respect for Persons" in 2003. He plans to update the conception that he uses in this paper, but it is pretty close to his current view, so I think it's legitimate to discuss it. Some of you will be at least a little familiar with the paper from our class with Jeff a few semesters back at BG. In any case, I'll give a little refresher on the concept of non-moralized coercion and the idea of the "coercive will" that Arnold uses. Then I'll argue that coercion is much more wide-spread than even the non-moralized version of coercion may be prepared to admit. It might not make any difference that this is the case, but it will be helpful to finally stomp out the remnants of the "coercion = bad" framework.
A non-moralized conception of coercion is what it implies. Coercion exists (when a coercive will exists) but the fact that an action is coercive does not imply that the action is morally "bad" or "wrong." If the action is to be bad or wrong it is necessary that there be something additional in the equation which adds the bad and the wrong. This conception is much better than the older (and maybe more common) idea that coercion is wrong because there are plenty of times we would say that someone was coerced and it was good that this happened.
Consider the case of a police officer who wrestles down a man who is beating his wife in public and arrests him. This is fundamentally different than the paradigm case of coercion in which an armed individual gives you the choice between your $$ and your life. In both cases the choice has not been left up to the agent. The criminal goes to jail and the victim of the robber hands over the wallet. One is a justified use of coercion and the other is not.
Additionally there are two sorts of coercion at work here. In the first case the criminal is overwhelmed by the cop and forced into handcuffs and taken to the clink. This is brute physical coercion. There is no question that this is coercion, but the question of moral good is left open until one fills in the appropriate blanks with other good- or bad-making qualities. In the second case the robber has used psychological coercion on the agent. He has not held the agent down on the ground and taken the wallet. Instead he has given the person a choice between his $$ and his life. I'll assume that he's not offering Chuck Norris this choice, and that the agent is steamrolled into handing over the wallet. His coercion was of the will or the mind and not of the flesh. This is the fundamental difference.
What makes psychological coercion distinct from rational persuasion (in Arnold's view) is that a coercive will is involved (page 229). This has two parts. The first is that "the coercer must have a desire about the will of his or her victim which can only be fulfilled through the will of another person." The second is that "the coercer must have an effective desire to compel his or her victim to act in a manner that makes efficacious the coercer's other regarding desire."
This sort of coercion is juxtaposed with rational persuasion. Usually, it is seen as better to rationally persuade someone than to employ psychological coercion. (I think that this is also the case in Arnold's view, but it's unexpressed.) The non-moralized view of coercion does not leave room for this juxtaposition.
What is the difference between a desire to persuade another to your point of view and a desire to compel another to act (think, in my example) in a manner that makes efficacious the coercer's other regarding desire? What is a desire to persuade other than a desire that your actions or thoughts mirror my own or that they mirror some act or thought that I want you to have?
One answer is that in one case I set out a particular penalty (shooting you for your wallet) which will come about should you not acquiesce to my demand. This is the answer that Arnold gave me in the context of employer/employee relations.
In this context it is coercive (says Arnold) if I say to a worker: "If you don't meet your quota then I'll fire you." It is not coercion if I say to a worker: "Come on. If you don't meet your quota then I will be behind in my production quota and if it continues I will have to let you go."
I don't see a difference here. The second way of dealing with the worker's inadequate production is nicer, but it says the same thing, i.e. "If you don't meet the quota I will fire you."
So, here's the conclusion: If you are intent on persuading someone to your point of view you are coercing them via rational persuasion. It has the interesting consequence that every time I engage in persuasion, say a philosophical discussion*, I am in possession of a coercive will and I have an intent to coerce. This doesn't say anything negative about philosophical argument in general. I am aiming at good ends when I coerce you. After all, if you do not side with me you are in danger of irrationality, inconsistency, or worse.
What do you think about that, folks?
*Also, not all philosophical discussion is like this. Sometimes we aren't defending our deeply held beliefs or convictions or even positions that we are confident about. We are just hashing it out and shaking the concept to see what falls out. I doubt that there is much coercion involved there.