Front Page Titles (by Subject) I: I Rights, Freedom, and Ethics - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1
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I: I Rights, Freedom, and Ethics - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1980, vol. 3, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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I Rights, Freedom, and Ethics
The next group of summaries returns to a familiar theme treated before in Literature of Liberty: the ethical implications and foundations of human rights and freedom. For example, the opening two summaries question how effectively Alan Gewirth’s recent writings have justified freedom and the moral obligation to respect human rights. Other issues concern Thomistic and Hobbesian ethical analyses of morality, rights theory, human nature, utilitarianism, and personal responsibility. Each theme has obvious bearings on defense and the meaning of individual freedom and rights.
The Need vs. the Right to Freedom
Review of Alan Gewirth, Reason and Morality. Ethics 89 (July 1979):401–414.
Has Alan Gewirth succeeded in justifying, on deontological grounds (that is, on the grounds of moral obligation), an absolute right to freedom and well-being? Professor Henry Veatch answers a ‘reluctant’ no, because Gewirth neglects natural-law ethics.
Veatch locates a basic non sequitur in Gewirth’s move from the proposition that any agent, qua agent, must value freedom and well-being, to the conclusion that the agent has a right to value freedom and well-being. Presumably, Gewirth has no trouble establishing that any human agent must value freedom and well-being. In the very act of trying to renounce or surrender his freedom, for example, the agent would be doing so freely and purposively. But why should the move from ‘must value’ to ‘right’ be any less questionable than any immediate inference from ‘is’ to ‘ought’? That is, how can something (such as pursuing freedom) be a right simply because it (freedom) must be desired, any more than can something (such as pursuing masochism) be desirable simply because it happens to be desired?
Now, if Gewirth were willing to say that things like freedom and well-being are right to desire because they are (ontologically) naturally good, rather than saying that these things are good and right to pursue because we must (deontologically) desire them, his justification problem might be solved. For then the independent value or desirability of freedom and well-being (along with the promise that one is right to pursue what is independently valuable or desirable) would yield the conclusion that one is right to pursue freedom and well-being. But Gewirth seems to rule out this type of maneuver almost a priori.
This natural law approach assumes that agents can know what is objectively good or right, quite apart from how they behave or feel towards that which is good or right. Gewirth, however, believes that he must ground his justification on the necessary presuppositions and facts of human behavior and feeling. Thus, Gewirth’s rigorous and non-formal justification for deontological ethics may be limited by starting with the presuppositions of human action, rather than with the broader, ontological setting for that action.
Gewirth: Is Virtue Knowledge?
“Gewirth’s Rationalism: Who is a Moral Agent?” Ethics 89(January 1979):179–90.
Alan Gewirth has argued in a series of articles (and in Reason and Morality) that there is a supreme moral principle, the “principle of generic consistency”, (PGC) which every rational agent must accept on pain of self-contradiction. The principle of generic consistency is: apply to the recipients of your action the same generic features of action that you apply to yourself. According to Gewirth, (1) generic features of action (the features all actions have in common) are voluntariness and purposiveness; (2) every agent, (that is, any creature who can unforcedly control his behavior with a view to achieving his purposes) necessarily and implicitly makes an evaluative judgment about the goodness of his purposes and hence of the necessary goodness of the necessary features of action, namely freedom and well-being; (3) every agent must implicity claim he has a right to these features, i.e., freedom and well-being; and so (4) every agent must grant the same rights to every other agent.
Cohen is not concerned with the derivation of the PGC. What disturbs him is what Gewirth must say about behavior that is in violation of the PGC.
Gewirth believes that anyone who can voluntarily behave so as to achieve some ends reveals that he is thereby disposed to accept the canons of deductive and inductive logic. It is in this sense that Gewirth thinks any agent is at least minimally rational. Thus, if a person violates the PGC (says Cohen) there are only two responses open to Gewirth: (1) The behavior was not an instance of the disposition to behave in a minimally rational manner; (2) The behavior was an incorrect instance of this exercise of this disposition.
The first approach entails that anyone who violates the PGC is not a moral agent, and therefore cannot be morally condemned (though his action can be considered morally bad). Thus, anyone who engages in immoral behavior according to the criteria of the PGC can never be justifiably condemned.
The second approach entails that all moral errors are solely intellectual errors. If the person is an agent, i.e., is minimally rational in that he accepts the canons of deductive and inductive logic, then his anti-PGC activities can only be explained by a failure to reason correctly. Gewirth responds to this by pointing out that there is a difference between moral errors and other errors, for the former have to do with the realm of action. Cohen counterargues that all Gewirth’s response shows is that moral deductions differ from non-moral ones in terms of the contents of their deductions; it does not deny that the errors are of the same sort, namely errors of reasoning. Cohen concludes by noting that if Gewirth’s view is right, then our usual notions of immoral behavior and judgments must be radically revised. Such behavior or judgments must be due either to the fact that the person is not a moral agent or that he reasons incorrectly.
Aquinas: Natural Right or Natural Law?
“On Thomistic Natural Law: The Bad Man’s View of Natural Right.” Political Theory 7(February 1979):101–22
Goerner criticizes the usual characterization of St. Thomas Aquinas as a natural-law thinker (that is, as a thinker who believes that whether an act is right or not depends upon whether it conforms to universally valid moral laws). For Aquinas, natural law is subordinate to natural right, that is, subordinate to the judgment that a virtuous man would make.
Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae deals, in its First Part, with God and his creative work. The Second Part of the Summa Theologiae, dealing with principle of human action, contains Aquinas’s “Treatise on the Law.” Goerner argues that we must focus on this “Treatise” not by itself, but within the context of the Summa Theologiae as a whole. In Part One Aquinas says that God governs the universe by a providence that deals with individuals; in short, God does not govern the world by law. In Part Two, Aquinas points out that insofar as man acts in accordance with virtue, he realizes himself in the latent image of God. But since man is defective— either due to ignorance or sin—he cannot always act out of virtue. Therefore, Aquinas needs a way whereby God, who must achieve His purposes, can achieve His order. This way is by law, which is a corrective for the defect in man. This is why Aquinas says in Part Two that God governs the world as a law-maker. Whereas virtue is an internal principle governed by love of the good; law, whether human or divine, is an external principle governed by fear of punishment. Given man’s weak nature, God must rely on the latter. Thus Aquinas’s notion of virtue takes primacy in the sense that the perfect is theoretically prior to the imperfect.
Someone might argue, however, that although Aquinas thinks of virtue and law as different (with regard to the motive for following them) their content is the same. Goerner claims there is a difference here as well. Law, whether human or divine, or the natural law which is man’s participation in divine law, is an indirect way of governing affairs, a way that applies to beings who have free choice and reason, and yet who will not always be virtuous. This being so, law can only converge towards the judgment of the virtuous sage. Natural law will thus consist of relatively crude rules which will explain the consequences of certain behavior so that wrong conduct can be eventually corrected. Aquinas illustrates this by referring to the German robbers who eventually came to see that robbery had to be prohibited if there was to be any sort of long-term productive society. Since natural law can even be appropriate for bad men, its content will have to be fairly general, rough and ready; it will not have the subtlety and discrimination necessary for handling difficult cases.
Hobbes and Conventional Morality
“Thomas Hobbes: Moral Theorist.” Journal of Philosophy 76(October 1979):547–559
Gauthier claims Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) was the greatest of English moral theorists. Hobbes ingeniously derived morality from three propositions, whose combination would seem to deny the possibility of morality. The propositions are: (1) value is a subjective, individual preference; (2) a rational individual tries to maximize value; (3) interests are “non-tuistic,” i.e., interacting persons do not take an interest in one another’s interests.
Hobbes’s argument is that it is rational for men to seek peace in the state of nature. Man’s natural condition is war, says Hobbes, because if each person tries to maximize his own notion of value, he will do whatever he can to preserve himself. This, of course, is rational given Hobbes’s maximizing notion of rationality. He believes that every man has a right to whatever he wants in the state of nature. This right—which is more aptly called a liberty since there is no obligation corresponding to such a blank check on one’s actions— leads to an unstable situation for all. Each person’s prospect of preserving his life is sharply curtailed by this war of all against all. Accordingly, each person seeks peace for the sake of his self-preservation. Peace requires laying down one’s unlimited right to everything and introducing a constraint not to injure others. This self-constraint means that one accepts an obligation, i.e., a limit on one’s maximizing behavior: morality has now entered Hobbes’s picture. This morality is conventional: the main reason Hobbesians would accept this constraint not to injure others is that they know most men will accept the constraint and expect others to accept it.
Hobbes responded to “the Foole” by arguing that people will expect others to cast out the covenant-breaker from society, and this belief makes adherence to the constraint more rational than breaking it. Gauthier points out that Hobbes’s reply only weakens the idea of morality as a rational, conventional constraint. For if each person’s good is maximized by following the covenant, and thus not injuring others, then morality is no longer a conventional constraint. Each person’s rationality will lead him to follow morality regardless of whether others do. On the other hand, if the Foole is right, and each does worse to follow morality, then “does worse by following morality” is a conventional constraint, but it is no longer rational. In either case, Hobbes’s notion of morality as a rational conventional constraint fails.
Yet there is a reply Hobbes could have offered. Once one has decided not to do whatever is necessary to preserve one’s self, then one has also decided not to appeal to the standards of rationality that were present within the state of nature, i.e., subjective maximization. Since one has decided to seek peace, the standard of reason now becomes peace, not subjective maximization. Thus the Foole cannot appeal to “reason” in the state of nature to show the rationality of breaking covenants. Once one agrees to the covenant, the standard of rationality becomes peace. Thus reason itself becomes conventional. We only accept it and expect others to accept it. Hobbes is a dual conventionalist: conventional reason supersedes natural reason and thus justifies a conventional constraint which constrains self-maximizing behavior.
Gauthier concedes there are two problems with this framework: (1) though the move to morality is rationally justified, men may not be motivated to accept it, and may prefer to break covenants anyway; (2) the morality that is justified is quite minimal.
The Problems of Consequentialism
“Against Consequentialism.” American Journal of Jurisprudence 23(1978):21–72.
Consequentialism (i.e., the view that the criterion of a moral act is its conduciveness to measurable results) has usually been attacked by intuitive appeals to strong counter-examples. But a deeper analysis is needed to attack the ultimate, consequentialist presuppositions. Grisez attempts to establish: (1) that as a theoretical position, the consequentialist attempt to employ “greater good” as the univocal criterion makes the expression literally meaningless, and (2) that as a method of moral reasoning, consequentialism reduces to a type of rationalization.
Utilitarianism and Prescriptivism
“Universalized Prescriptivism and Utilitarianism: Hare’s Attempted Forced Marriage.” Journal of Value Inquiry 13(1979):61–74.
Hare’s “universalized prescriptivism” holds that duty is a function of what action an agent would assent to having performed, after giving the desires of all affected parties equal attention or “weight.” This universalized prescription is questionable not only because it seems non-intuitive (or “anti-deontological”), but because it seems strangely anti-utilitarian as well.
First, by shifting attention to the satisfaction of desires, rather than interests, Hare seems to ignore the insight of earlier utilitarians (such as Bentham) that many of the desires of the “affected parties” can be non-utilitarian or even anti-utilitarian (for example: racist, ascetic, or even sadistic desires). He also ignores the fact that certain desires can be “rigged”—so that their diversity is either artificially diminished (via brainwashing) or artificially augmented (via unnecessary advertising).
Second, by shifting attention from actual consequences to the agent’s intentions, Hare fails to show how or why the universalizing of “impartial” desires would necessarily have to involve universalizing the “maximal” satisfaction of desires. Why couldn’t a person impartially or universally prescribe a satisfaction of desires at some midpoint (or “golden mean”) or even at a minimum satisfaction point? The only way Hare seems able to defend his notion of what “impartiality” must involve is to build more and more qualifications into his “ideal”—e.g. that the agent must be “omniscient” and have a “duty” to ignore his own moral reasons when giving prescriptions. But the more qualifications that are added, the more implausible it is that Hare is giving us a moral theory from a “value-free” analysis of what certain words must mean. Since there seem to be clear cases of people of moral excellence who do not seek to prescribe the maximum satisfaction of desires, Hare’s ethical conclusions only follow from a dubious, redefinition of “impartiality.”
Non-utilitarian, Anti-welfarist Morality
“Utilitarianism and Welfarism” The Journal of Philosophy 76, no. 9(September 1979):463–484.
Do the non-utilitarian sources or components of a certain moral outcome (for example, that the outcome has to be caused by some injury done to an innocent person) affect the desirability or value of that outcome? For Sen, the goodness or desirability of outcomes can be considered apart from whether it is right to produce them because some outcomes might not even be produced by humans). But it can’t be considered good apart from the non-utilitarian values that are involved in that outcome (like the dis-value of any pleasure derived from torturing innocents).
Sen divides his criticism of “outcome utilitarianism” (the view that the value of an outcome is a function of the sum of individual utilities in that outcome) into its two component parts: (a) “sum-ranking” —i.e., the view that the addition of individual utilities is an appropriate method of aggregation, and (b) “welfarism”—i.e. the view that value is a strict and positive function of the utilities comprising an outcome. He criticizes “sum-ranking” or full commensurability for utility on the grounds that it fails to give due importance to the distribution of intrapersonal value over time. The tragedy of King Lear’s fate, for example, cannot be considered “offset” by the fact that he was unusually fortunate in the earlier parts of his long life.
“Welfarism” is then criticized because even when we compare equally distributed outcomes over time, we cannot abstract from the non-utilitarian components of those outcomes. An outcome that involves torture is not the moral equivalent of an equally distributed outcome that does not involve any such torture. Nor is this merelya morally objectionable implication of utilitarianism at the “level-one” or “intuitive” level of thinking, as R.M. Hare might argue, since a person could be a non-utilitarian, “anti-welfarist” at the level of critical thinking. A libertarian on the critical level, for example, who recognized dis-analogies between the sphere of peoples’ personal values (e.g. reading pornography) and the sphere of impersonal, public values, could consistently hold that the same weight should not be given to his own, prudish displeasure at someone else’s reading of pornography, and that other person’s delight in doing so.
Do Humans have ‘Equal’ Rights?
“Equal Rights: A Provable Moral Standard.” American Journal of Economics and Sociology 38(January 1979):73–81
Cord tries to justify the view that all persons have equal rights to life, liberty, and property. The derivation proceeds as follows:
Self-Knowledge and Knowing Others
“Wittgenstein and Polanyi: The Problem of Privileged Self-Knowledge.” Philosophy Today 23(Fall 1979):267–278.
Hall supports the view, previously advanced by C.B. Daly, that there is a “striking affinity” between the views held by Ludwig Wittgenstein and Michael Polanyi.
First of all, both thinkers reject the basic Cartesian framework which gave rise to the introspectionist/extrospectionist and mentalist versus behaviorist dualisms. Both Wittgenstein and Polanyi saw this Cartesian dualism as an artificial, unjustified wedge between knowing oneself, and between one’s mental and one’s physical existence (indeed, the mental and the physical ontological realms).
Secondly, Hall maintains that Wittgenstein did not complete the job of overthrowing Cartesianism because he “offers no positive third ontological and epistemological alternative in terms of which the problem of privileged self-knowledge can be solved.” The problem seems real enough, since on a commonsense level there does appear to be a difference between knowing oneself and knowing whatever is not oneself. Knowing oneself seems more immediately accessible, even somewhat more certain, than knowing what is not oneself could be. Yet when closely considered, this apparently feasible distinction simply fails to hold up (as Wittgenstein’s private language argument shows: purely private awareness leaves no room for ever being wrong, yet one is often wrong, even about oneself). Hall argues that Polanyi’s effort to broaden the use of “know” so as “to include not only ‘knowing that,’ but ‘knowing how’ as well” successfully rejects the introspective/extrospective dichotomy. And Polanyi’s point avoids the mistaken conception of knowledge as a passive experience, substituting for it the idea that in knowing something one engages in “integration,” which is “something we achieve.” These subsidiary ingredients of knowledge, the background of what Polanyi characterizes as “tacit” knowledge, are indispensable requirements for “the focus of my attention.”
Third, Polanyi’s conception of knowing helps avoid the mind/body dichotomy, especially as this is conceived in connection with the problem of other minds. This means: do we know other people as beings with a mind, if all we are passively aware of is their physical attributes and behavior? Hall claims that in Polanyi’s view “I am subsidiarily aware of [another’s] bodily movements, facial expressions, his words, etc., while my focal attention is on what these clues mean . . . [which is] the person.”
Fourth, Hall claims that by reference to Polanyi’s focal/subsidiary distinction in the activity of knowing, we can make room for the grain of truth in the private access theory without committing ourselves to the highly problematic dualism, either epistemologically or ontologically.
The Problems with “Moral Education”
“The Morality of Moral Education.” Hastings Center Report 8(April 1978):20–25.
Trends in educational psychology have succeeded each other with bewildering rapidity during the past twenty years. Prof. Bereiter’s article profiles a movement which has all the makings of a new educational bandwagon: the increasing emphasis upon moral education. Two methods of moral education, both nondidactic in character, have been warmly received among educators. These are Lawrence Kohlberg’s Cognitive-Developmental approach and the process approach termed “Values Clarification,” whose most prominent spokesmen are Louis E. Raths, Merril Harmin, and Sidney B. Simon.
Springing from John Dewey’s progressivism, Kohlberg’s approach presupposes six stages of moral development which extend from behavior motivated primarily by fear of punishment to the rarer conduct based on self-chosen ethical principles. Kohlberg sees this developmental movement as age-related. However, depending on one’s environment, movement may stop at any stage. Values Clarification, on the other hand, sprang from the shallower soil of the mental health movement. As in therapy or growth encounters, this technique stresses personal search and scrutiny of one’s underlying attitudes. Proponents of Values Clarification hold that only after such rigorous personal analysis can an individual be said to possess genuine values.
Both methods aim at providing a challenging, even abrasive environment in the classroom. Spirited discussions of moral dilemmas are intended to stimulate students either to a more sophisticated level of moral reasoning (Kohlberg) or to a greater awareness of ethical alternatives by which one may test the validity of personal attitudes (Values Clarification). Neither method inculcates moral values directly.
Prof. Bereiter raises a number of serious objections to the applications of these techniques in the public school. First of all, both systems emphasize the development of personal values but also assume that at the end of this process the student will have adopted socially acceptable norms. Thus, Kohlberg and the value clarificationists seem bent upon molding a generation of “conforming individualists” —somewhat bookish but otherwise undistinguished middle-class citizens.
In addition, both approaches ignore the very real influence of peer and teacher pressure during supposedly nondirective classroom encounters. Tailoring values to suit a personally significant group or person looms as the most likely choice for school-age children. According to Kohlberg himself, the highest level of moral reasoning attained by most adolescents is Stage 4—a level at which the person is particularly receptive to ideas which hold sway in his immediate environment.
Finally, educators who emphasize personal search in the school environment may ignore the role of parents in the formation of children. This approach also disregards several important religious groups who consider divinely-revealed truth, and not personal search, as the basis of moral education.
Clearly, moral educators have staked out the child as their personal and rightful field of activity. Nonetheless, Prof. Bereiter states, “it does not seem to occur to them that others may have a prior claim to that territory and that their own claims may be illegitimate.”
Human Nature and Ethics
“Human Nature and Ethical Theory.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 39(March 1979):386–401.
Ethical systems based on explicit or assumed theories of human nature have appeared throughout the history of philosophy—from Plato and Aristotle to Dewey and Rawls. Philosophers whose ethical views rest upon a precisely elaborated conception of human nature tend to cast their arguments in a form which is generally similar from system to system. In his article, Prof. McShea attempts both to explain and defend, not the views of an Aristotle or Hume, but the general form which their type of ethical theory normally assumes.
To begin, every human nature ethical theory assumes that each animal species, man included, possesses a genetically determined pattern of feelings and behavioral preferences which may cautiously be termed a value system. Human morality is thus viewed as an out-growth of species preferences—with the crucial difference that a system properly termed ethical or moral must contain concepts and feelings of obligation which are available only to members of a rational species. Human ethics ultimately derive from our species value system; all differences in moralities may be explained in terms of postconceptional experience.
Despite this biological basis for ethics, however, human beings, unlike other animals, feel impelled to establish behavioral norms which hold sway in varying form in every culture. Other animals need not elaborate such codes, since they react to relatively simple species feelings triggered by environmental cues. The intricacy of the human brain, however, complicates present feeling by evoking rapidly succeeding and heavily cross-indexed images of presents, pasts, and futures. As a result, immediate impressions no longer provide a reliable basis for action.
To restore the functionality of feeling, morality enables us to suspend action for the length of time necessary to allow alternative images or images of consequences to arise. Succeeding images engender contending feelings. The strongest feeling or combination of feelings wins and we act. Gradually these feelings become internalized moral standards and, later, a mature sense of characterological fitness and consistency predispose us to certain decisions.
When our stable configuration of feeling has finally asserted itself, we have reached a moral decision. The sense of obligation is implicit in, not separate from, the end-result of the moral process of delay and evaluation. For Prof. McShea, therefore, a feeling of obligation cannot be distinguished from an actual obligation. Not every sense of obligation need be accepted as final. We can reexamine facts, reassess feelings, and try for a yet more comprehensive adjustment of all these to our self-image. As self-identical entities capable of long-range action, or responsibility, and of deeply-rooted relationships with other people, we must commit ourselves throughout our lives to the moral process of delay and to action based upon it.
Of course, great disparities may exist among moral codes. The Eskimos and the Romans, for example, viewed treatment of the elderly in quite opposite terms. In Prof. McShea’s view, the human nature theorist can determine whether such practices are functional within a certain context. In doing so, he posits a species-appropriate standard.
Prof. McShea summarizes what he considers the distinct advantages of human nature ethical theory: “The theory meets our demand that an ethic be naturalistic and empirical, capable of accommodating our profoundest moral intuitions non-reductively, and that it furnish a common language in which men of all cultures and ideologies can hold reasonable discussions on the better and the worse.”