DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S007-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 24, 2021, from

3. Coercive and noncoercive proposals

Various examples, actual and hypothetical, have convinced some writers that there are such things as coercive offers. One rather standard example is that of the ‘lecherous millionaire’: B’s child will die unless the child receives expensive surgery. A, a millionaire, proposes to pay for the surgery if, but only if, B will agree to become his mistress (Wertheimer 1987: 229). The millionaire’s proposal, which does not project any harm beyond what would happen without his gratuitous intervention, is clearly an offer; an ‘illicit offer’, but an offer none the less. The controversy over this example has been mainly over whether the offer is coercive or not. On the one side, it has been argued that the example, at least from B’s point of view, is coercive in just the sense in which the standard gunman’s threat is coercive (Feinberg 1986). In both examples, the powerful wrongdoer (A) uses superior advantages (weapons or money) to manipulate B’s options so that B has ‘no choice’ but to do what A wants. In either case, the option seen from the victim’s point of view is: ‘Sleep with me or your baby dies’.

On the other side, it is frequently argued that it is misleading to label as ‘coercion’ a proposal the effect of which is to create a net increase in a person’s options, giving them a valued choice not previously possible (Zimmerman 1981). Thus B has been given an option she did not have before, without losing any options that she did have before, so that in a sense her freedom has been increased. Yet to some the suggestion that a coercive proposal could be freedom-enhancing is intolerably paradoxical.

Citing this article:
Feinberg, Joel. Coercive and noncoercive proposals. Coercion, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S007-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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