[The following is loosely inspired by a compare-and-contrast re-reading of Scanlon’s material on coercion in his Moral Dimensions (p. 74, 78, 108-111) and Michael Huemer’s initial discussion of coercion – in his stipulative sense that simply means exercising or threatening to exercise physical violence or control over another person – in his The Problem of Political Authority (pp. 9-10).]
1. One might coerce someone by doing things that impact or interfere with their exercise of their agency in a ways that are never permissible. One might also coerce someone by doing things that impact or interfere with their exercise of their agency in ways that are permissible if the patient consents – but they have not consented (and in the right circumstances like having full information and with the conditions of consent or non-consent not themselves being coercive). Both sorts of coercion presuppose antecedent moral requirements, moral requirements not to do specific things that negatively impact the ability of others to exercise their agency. So the requirement not to coerce would seem to be a generalization over particular ways of interfering with the agency of others that are of these two types (absolutely forbidden, forbidden unless the patient consents).
2. So it would appear that the requirement not to coerce others is something like a generalization over basic elements, not itself a basic element. What is basic – in the scheme of coercion-related moral requirements – is that we are required not to do various particular things that impact the ability of others to exercise their agency. (Of course, we are also morally required not to do other sorts of things that negatively impact the well-being or dignity of others, either unconditionally or unless they consent.) It is these things (things like torturing people, killing people, etc.) that involve purely descriptive elements to which the basic deontic normative (moral) features attach. In terms of prescriptions or rules: these are the basic rules, while the requirement not to coerce is a general characterization of (certain of) these basic rules.
3. The requirement not to coerce explains (or provides explanatory information about) the more specific requirements not to do specific sorts of things that interfere with the agency of others – but not in a fundamental way. What it does, as a generalization, is capture information about patterns of basic requirements. It does not explain how we may, and may not, impact the agency of others (and in what circumstances). For example, it does not explain why some ways of interfering with the agency of others are always forbidden while others are forbidden only if people do not consent to them (under the right conditions) – say due to the more-specific action-types being ways of realizing the general action-type of coercion. (The sort of explanation that we seek here is, I think, much more complicated. Perhaps it will concern it being of intrinsic significance to us to instantiate certain action-types concerning respecting and not harming others in particular ways and our tendencies to instantiate these action-types – if adherence is enforced well enough for adequate compliance – being indispensable for producing most of the further, more prosaic things of intrinsic significance to us.)
4. Coercion, then, is not a descriptively-individuated act-type to which the basic being-morally-forbidden feature attaches (it is not a basic moral requirement). Rather, it is a normatively-individuated descriptive feature. And the moral requirement not to coerce others does not provide a fundamental explanation of why, and the conditions under which, we are morally required not to do each of the various particular things that negatively impact others exercising their agency. So the requirement not to coerce others, though not uninformative, should not play any fundamental explanatory or justificatory role in our normative ethics (or normative politics).