In order to gain a good understanding of the concept of freedom as non-domination it will be useful to focus first on what is required for freedom in one or another choice. As we saw, republicans traditionally concentrated on the freedom of the person, period – the free status of the liber, or ‘free-man’ or citizen – rather than on the freedom of a person’s particular choices (Pettit 2007e; Skinner 2008a). But once we know what freedom of choice requires, we can represent people’s status freedom as a function of their freedom over a common range of choices, secured on the basis of common norms and laws. We will return to that issue in the next chapter.
A choice is identified by a set of mutually exclusive, jointly exhaustive options, as in the choice you may have between doing X, doing Y and doing Z. The options are available insofar as two conditions hold, one objective, the other cognitive. Objectively, it is true that you can do X, or you can do Y, or you can do Z, and that’s it: there is nothing else you can do instead. And this truth registers cognitively: it holds according to your own perceptions of the scenario. Thus if you have a choice between X, Y and Z, then you must understand each of those options under its relevant aspect, as a case of X-ing or Y-ing or Z-ing; realize that you can choose any one of them, taking it under that aspect; and recognize that there is no further alternative. Whether you do X or Y or Z is up to you and you only; you can think truly ‘I can do X’, ‘I can do Y’ and ‘I can do Z’. It may not be the case that any option chosen is logically guaranteed to materialize as a result of your decision – the letter you mail may not reach its destination because of problems at the post office – but it is enough that as a matter of contingent fact there are no obstacles in the way. Sending a letter to your correspondent is an option for you just to the extent that the world happens to be compliant – there are no postal problems – and success is in your hands.