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Redefining liberty: is natural inability a legitimate constraint of liberty?
  1. Zahra Ladan
  1. The University of Manchester Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences, Manchester, UK
  1. Correspondence to Zahra Ladan, The University of Manchester Faculty of Medical and Human Sciences, Manchester M13 9PL, UK; zahraladan2{at}


In P v Cheshire West, Lady Hale stated that an act that would deprive an able-bodied or able-minded person of their liberty would do the same to a mentally or physically disabled person. Throughout the judgement, there is no definition of what liberty is, which makes defining an act that would deprive a person of it difficult. Ideas of liberty are described in terms of political liberty within a society, the state of being free from external influence and individual autonomy. This essay explores various philosophical ideas of liberty and what a legitimate constraint of liberty is. It will be argued that defining liberty in terms external influence from other human agents undermines the impact of natural inability on a person’s ability to fulfil their intrinsic desires—a true constraint of liberty is any which prohibits a person from acting in the way they desire. If liberty is not the same for all, it follows that a deprivation of liberty differs between different agents. Although the government must protect personal liberty, it is important to recognise that an act that may deprive an able-bodied or minded person of their liberty, may in fact promote the liberty of a disabled persons. It will be argued that acts that allow a disabled person to act out desires that they ordinarily would not be able to perform, do not deprive them of their liberty.

  • philosophical ethics
  • legal philosophy
  • mentally ill and disabled persons

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  • Contributors ZL wrote this essay in its entirety.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement No data are available. Not applicable.

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