The Amherst Lecture In Philosophy.

Lecture 9, 2014

“The Quest for Free Labor”
Elizabeth Anderson
University of Michigan

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Pragmatists argue that we can improve our moral principles by testing them in experiments in living. When all affected parties can participate in the construction and interpretation of experiments in living, systematic moral biases are more likely to be corrected. The aboli- tion of slavery offers a case study in pragmatist methods. All post-slavery societies, including Haiti, Jamaica, and the U.S., experimented with free labor regimes. I explore what these experiments were thought to be testing and how contestation by the freed people over the terms of free labor were critical in shaping social understandings of what freedom meant, and in partially correcting racist perceptions of blacks. In all cases, the participation of freed people led to greater freedom in the emerging labor regimes than would have been estab- lished on the basis of the a priori moral arguments of many of white abolitionists.

Preferred citation
Anderson, Elizabeth “The Quest for Free Labor.” The Amherst Lecture in Philosophy 9 (2014): 1–35. <>.