History of Political Philosophy a Throffer is a Proposal with a Threat – Or a Coercive Control

Abuse: power & control behaviours

In political philosophy, a throffer is a proposal that mixes an offer  with a threat which will be carried out if the offer is not accepted. The term was first used in print by political philosopher Hillel Steiner, and while other writers followed, it has not been universally adopted. An example (pictured) is “Kill this man and I’ll pay you—fail to kill him and I’ll kill you instead.” Steiner differentiated offers, threats and throffers based on the preferably of compliance and non-compliance for the subject compared to the normal course of events that would have come about were no intervention made, although this approach has been criticised. Throffers form part of the wider moral and political considerations of coercion, and form part of the question of the possibility of coercive offers. The theoretical concerns surrounding throffers have been practically applied concerning workfare programmes, where individuals receiving social welfare have their aid decreased if they refuse the offer of work or education. Several writers have also observed that throffers presented to people convicted of crimes, particularly sex offenders, can result in more lenient sentences if they accept medical treatment.

Coercion

First published Fri Feb 10, 2006; substantive revision Thu Oct 27, 2011
Bullying

Bullying (Photo credit: aeneastudio)

The concept of coercion has two different faces, corresponding to the two parties involved in its most ordinary cases. On one face, it picks out a technique agents (coercers) can use to get other agents to do or not do something. On the other face, it picks out a kind of reason for why agents (coercees) sometimes do or refrain from doing something. Coercion is typically thought to carry with it several important implications, including that it diminishes the targeted agent’s freedom and responsibility, and that it is a (pro tanto) wrong and/or violation of right. Nonetheless, few believe that it is always unjustified, since it seems that no society could function without some authorized uses of coercion. It helps keep the bloody minded and recalcitrant from harming others, and seems also to be an indispensable technique in the rearing of children. A state’s legitimacy and sovereignty is sometimes thought to depend on its ability to use coercion effectively and to monopolize its use within its territory against competitors, both internal and external.

Because of its usefulness and its sometimes devastating effects, coercion is a matter of longstanding political and ethical concern. Nonetheless, there has been little sustained scholarly attention to its nature until recently; historically, many seem to have willed to accept the concept of coercion as a primitive. Since the 1970s, however, the nature and function of coercion has come in for significant philosophical discussion. This flourishing of interest may have been sparked by social unrest (including efforts to suppress it) and the success of some mass non-violent resistance movements. Also of import were tensions between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., centered on their arsenals of nuclear weapons, by which each aimed to deter the other from disastrous behaviour, including the launching of a nuclear first-strike. More recently, philosophical interest in globalization and terrorism have added to interest in coercion. The new-found interest in the topic coincides with a marked change in the way philosophers have understood its nature. Though the pace of study has slowed somewhat since 1990, the nature of coercion and its effects remains a matter of dispute.

Sometimes the term “coercion” is used in popular speech with a broad sense. For instance, one hears “coercion” used to describe social pressures (e.g., the need to conform to peer expectations or to placate one’s parents); or the constraining or manipulative effects of advertising, one’s upbringing, or the structuring of society more generally (e.g., the necessity of participating in a capitalist economy). It is also sometimes treated as a general concept encompassing almost any sort of interpersonal infringement on one’s rights. Such uses are not wholly foreign to philosophical discussions (see, e.g., Ripstein 2004). Nonetheless, the following discussion will focus on a narrower sense of the term more in line with its use by major historical philosophical writers and contemporary theorists alike. This usage will rule out, by stipulation, such things as mere disapproval, emotional manipulation, or wheedling. (What is “ruled in” is subject to dispute, as is discussed below.) This minimal setting of boundaries still leaves much room for disagreement over how best to understand coercion’s workings, its preconditions, and its effects.

1. History

Coercion

Coercion (Photo credit: phil dokas)

Historically, the use of coercion by powerful actors has been of great concern to philosophers and legal theorists. Detailed attention to understanding the concept coercion, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon. One effect of this discrepant attention is that it is sometimes difficult to determine what precise meaning earlier writers intended in their discussions of “coercion,” as well as to decide whether “coercion” captures something different from or related to other frequently used terms, such as violencecompulsionpunishmentforce, orinterference. A brief survey of a few notable thinkers suggests that coercion has commonly been understood as a use of a certain kind of power for the purpose of gaining advantages over others (including self-protection), punishing non-compliance with demands, and imposing one’s will on the will of other agents. The kind of power needed for these functions is the sort that states and other forceful or violent agents possess. One of the clearest, most important uses of coercion has been understood to be the state’s enforcement of law, either through direct uses of force or through punishments meted out to lawbreakers. The state’s use of coercion is thought to be licensed in particular for the sake of preventing private acts of violence or coercion, as well as for punishing the failure to keep agreements. These public uses of coercion are thought justified because they make possible private cooperation and peaceable coexistence among people not linked by ties of affection or blood.

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