Front Page Titles (by Subject) I.: Ethical Analysis - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3
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I.: Ethical Analysis - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3 
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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Professor John Hosper's preceding bibliographical essay on the tradition of modern Anglo-American ethical analysis (“The Literature of Ethics in the Twentieth Century”) evidences the enormous range of problematic issues that fall under the ethician's scrutiny: the nature of moral good, egoism, utilitarianism, deontology, rights, justice, freedom, moral responsibility, and a host of “special topics,” such as medical ethics and the morality of war.
The following summaries on ethical analysis seek to supplement, from diverse viewpoints, themes outlined by Professor Hospers. The opening four summaries help clarify the notions of human rights and virtue. Beginning with the Green and Wikler summary, we turn to a series of studies on the crucial moral concept of “personal identity,” especially in John Locke's philosophy. Other ethical issues studied are human freedom and determinism, egoism, relativism, utilitarianism, and property rights.
Human Rights Scholarship
“Some Recent Work in Human Rights Theory.” American Philosophical Quarterly 17(April 1980):103–115.
This is basically a comprehensive survey of systematic discussions of human rights since about 1950. Machan divides human rights theories into essentially two groups, noncognitivists—those who deny that anyone knows that there are human rights and maintain, roughly, that by “human rights” we mean some general social preferences or presuppositions of moral discourse—and cognitivists or natural rights theorists—those who hold that human rights are principles we know to be binding on persons in a social context or basic conditions of a good human community based on human nature. The noncognitivists include Margarette Macdonald, Joel Fienberg, A. I. Melden, Wm. T. Blackstone, et al., while the cognitivists include Ayn Rand, Eric Mack, Alan Gewirth, Ronald Dworkin, Robert Nozick (uneasily), et al.
After analyzing these theorists' positions Machan offers a list of problems still left with human rights theories. Noncognitivists all tend to fall prey to relativism and arbitrariness, while cognitivist or natural rights theorists have failed thus far to appreciate the enormous depth of philosophical work need to justify their case. Nevertheless, there are better and worse tries thus far. While Rand's objectivist theory of human rights has depth, it lacks the requisite detail to make the argument succeed. Mack's argument, in turn, is far more meticulous but it omits the treatment of various epistemological and metaphysical issues most critics of natural rights theories rightly demand. Nozick's “argument from best explanation” approach is hardly a complete defense of individual rights and encounters problems by combining Hobbesian and more humanistic conceptions of human nature. Gewirth fails to treat objections to his crucial assumptions about the purposiveness of human action. He also treats as if they had the same political standing both the right to freedom, which is general, and the right to the enabling conditions (making actions possible for children), which is special. Dworkin promises objective standards of his political principles but does not deliver them, thus resting his seriousness about rights on little more than quicksand. Still, all these more recent discussions seriously advance the discussion of human rights theory, beyond its earlier confusions and neglect.
Rights and Professional Obligations
“Rights and Roles” in Right and Wrong (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1978, pp. 167–197).
If doing good and avoiding harm constitutes our basic obligations to others, how can there be special professional obligations to certain people that necessarily involve harming some other people? Why, for example, should a doctor be loyal to his patients, at the expense of others who might need scarce medical supplies more urgently? Or why should a lawyer be loyal to his clients at the expense of an adversary whom the lawyer knows to be innocent?
The possible answer to these dilemmas might be found by treating professional obligations as analogous to friendship obligations. Just as friends ought to be freely chosen in a context that initially involves no harm to others, so also clients and patients should be freely chosen in a context that initially involves no harm to others. But as it is not the role of a friend to see that the resources that he transfers to friends are most efficiently or fairly distributed in the first place, so it is not the role of a doctor or lawyer to see that the help that he should provide is distributed most efficiently or fairly. The tasks of seeing that all people are treated fairly and that resources used efficiently are more properly handled by all the people in their other role as citizens. The doctor or lawyer then, may only be obligated to help his client, since the legal/medical context in which he works has been co-created by other citizens. This conclusion is no more surprising than our common sense conviction that we are obligated to help our friends first, since we chose them freely in a social/legal context that has been cocreated by other citizens.
The superiority of this approach can be seen by examining its chief rivals. To expect doctors to select patients by some standard of “efficiency” alone could entail either drafting (or coercing) persons to become doctors, or coercing doctors into selecting only certain patients. Or, on another alternative, if lawyers were forbidden to select clients that they couldn't lie for or (incidentally) harm others, then some clients might never receive fair, legal representation under an adversary system. Thus, the right of doctors and lawyers to select their own patients/clients and to identify themselves with their clients interests (as a friend would do), is a role-specific freedom that it would be wrong to interfere with for reasons of either greater “efficiency” or “fairness.”
Liberty and Virtue
“Liberty, Virtue, and Self-Development: A Eudaimonistic Perspective.” Paper delivered at the Liberty Fund-Reason Foundation sponsored Symposium on Virtue and Political Liberty; Santa Barbara, California, April 24–27, 1980.
By founding political philosophy on a “rights-primitive” basis (where rights are axiomatic), rather than on a “responsibilities-primitive” basis, many modern political philosophers have severed the connection between liberty and virtue.
Basically, there are two fallacies at the root of the “rights primitive” approach. One fallacy is the notion that people ought to be given things throughout their lifetime, whether or not they have earned or deserved them through the cultivation of their own personal virtue. This is a fallacy because it assumes that desert doesn't have to be earned once a person has left the dependent stage of childhood.
The second fallacy is the notion that all the desirable benefits of life can be conferred by other people. This fallaciously assumes that a person's needs are basically “economic” in nature, and continue to be so, even after a person has left the economically dependent stage of adolescence.
A eudaimonistic theory avoids these fallacies by reconnecting moral and political philosophy via a more classical notion of the virtues. The virtue of generosity, for example, can be considered an indispensable precondition for moral maturity. And, the development of this virtue presupposes that an individual be allowed to benefit others who have earned the right to appreciate what he offers. There is no injustice, then, in allowing a Stravinsky to develop his musical talents in a way that only a few others might appreciate. Nor is there injustice in demanding that a Stravinsky be given the use of an orchestra when he has earned the right to express his talents in this way. Only by tying political desert to a moral merit that we earn by our own efforts, can moral and political philosophy be properly reunited.
Moral Education through Politics?
“On Improving Mankind by Political Means.” Paper delivered at the Liberty Fund-Reason Foundation sponsored Symposium on Virtue and Political Liberty; Santa Barbara, California, April 24–27, 1980.
Should legal sanctions be used not merely to restrain our vices, but to increase our virtue as well? According to Aristotle, the legislator can be a moral educator in the sense of promoting virtue. But Aristotle's position has been challenged by thinkers as diverse as John Milton and Albert J. Nock, and his position becomes even more questionable once we distinguish between “substantive rules” (authority-sponsored rules of distributive justice) and “ceremonial rules” (spontaneously generated rules that embody respect for persons).
Nock's argument against substantive rules (rules that carry penalties) was that forced virtue is no real virtue; i.e., that the demand behind such a practice of “moral education” contains a contradiction. A man forced to give away his property is hardly virtuous when he does so.
But neither of these thinkers gave much attention to how “ceremonial rules” might be capable of teaching respect and therefore, virtue. Ceremonial rules include such practices as asking for permission to use something that another is using, saying “please” and “thank you” and generally respecting others as free and rational beings. The key to these rules in the process of teaching virtue is that their rationale is capable of being understood by the people expected to follow them. Even a child can understand that asking permission to use something is a way of discovering what belongs to him and what does not. But a child who is only given substantive distributive rules (with their attached penalty) cannot truly understand he is being asked to give up something that he wants. If he obeys the rule, then it can only be because he experiences it as a command to which penalties are attached for noncompliance. This type of “moral education” might be better compared to the type of training that a soldier gets in wartime. The resulting actions may be “efficient,” but they are performed mechanically and without understanding. Only a moral education that increases both understanding and an appreciation for others is the education that can teach virtue. And these ceremonial rules are not the type of rules that legislators seek to impart by the use of “the political (coercive) means”—i.e., by commands and penalties.
Marx's ‘Social Man’
“Alienation, Sociality, and the Division of Labor: Contradictions in Marx's Ideal of ‘Social Man’.” Ethics 89(January 1979):82–94
The author claims that Marx's view of estrangment contains a basic contradiction. On the one hand, Marx believed communism would abolish such alienation and that man's sociality would become truly actualized. On the other hand, Marx believed that the source of man's social nature was the division of labor, which was also the source of estrangment; if communism abolished estrangment by abolishing the division of labor it would have to abolish man's social nature!
The basic contradiction of capitalism, according to Marx, was that capitalism was at once the most social and cooperative form of production and yet its organizing principle was one of egotism and self-interest, as individuals' interactions with one another is based on divided, opposed, and separated interests. Capitalism magnifies and brings to a head estrangment which began once people took on different occupations and tasks, and thus different ideas, outlooks, desires, and interests. The division of labor continues as physical labor is separated from mental labor, the individual is separated from the state, and people become one-sided and stunted. This increasing division of labor is directly related to the introduction and subsequent blossoming of private property, since the latter allows and hastens people's separation from one another and is an essential ingredient in the broad and complex exchange relations that contribute to continued estrangment.
Given this analysis, it is easy to see why Marx thought communism's abolition of estrangment would mean the abolition of the division of labor and private property. People will then produce what, when, and where they want and would do so only on the basis of human needs, as opposed to on the basis of some narrow conception of interests.
The problem with this is that Marx's materialism entails that people come together only because of material factors. Marx explicitly states this in The German Ideology: people come together, not on the basis of culture, moral ideals, political institutions, religion, etc., but because of the necessity of cooperation which is derived from the need to maintain and reproduce themselves as individuals and as a species. Cooperation means social relationships, which means a division of labor. Once these social relationships take on a peculiarly human form where the genesis of productive skills are not just biological, then needs expand, specialization begins, the division of labor becomes more complex, and interdependence widens. As the sphere of interdependence involves more and more people, man becomes more social. The abolition of the division of labor in communism would thus mean people would not need to cooperate or be social. Given Marx's analysis, a purely voluntary (no coercion of necessity) association of producers is a contradiction. If everyone's capacities are all fully developed, and scarcity is abolished, men would not need each other and the automatization of individuals would begin.
There are only two ways out of this dilemma: either admit that Marx was not serious that communism would actualize social man, or admit that Marx would have to concede there are other bases for sociality then material ones. Both of these alternatives are unattractive. If we take the former, what is so advantageous about self-sufficient individuals with all their powers developed so that they do not need anyone? Perhaps a society of such people would end estrangment, but it would do so at the cost of promoting pure egoism. The second alternative would mean that cultural and/or social needs would bring communist persons together. Cultural needs would be needs to learn from one another, to expand one's potential by associating with others who have similar needs. But it seems a pious hope that such needs by themselves will achieve the harmony Marx hoped for, and it violates the spirit of Marx's materialism to make such an idealist assumption. Social needs would be the need for the company approval, affection, etc., of others—in general, a broad gregarious tendency. But Marxist assumptions require that such a general tendency be given specific content by historical details in order to vindicate the claim that such gregarious tendencies will bring people together harmoniously. However, the absence of thing-oriented and physical needs make it unlikely that it could be given such content. Marx's theory requires that social relationships in the absence of any material basis would not be very complex, which implies that communist society would become very primitive. So no matter which turn we take, Marx's dilemma remains insoluble.
Defining a Person's Death
“Brain Death and Personal Identity.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 9, no.2(1980):105–133.
Can we justify the tendency to define death in terms of brain death instead of the cessation of heart and lung function? Arguments based upon biological and moral considerations have been advanced, but only an ontological argument—based on a defensible concept of personal identity—directly engages the issue of how we define death.
Biological arguments which define death as brain death emphasize the crucial role of the brain stem in regulating such life-functions as the heart and lung. Thus, when the whole brain dies, the other functions soon stop functioning as a system. But it is only a current technological limitation that the brain stem can't be replaced by an artificial aid which performs its regulating function. Hence the continual functioning of the lower brain stem is not essential to the systematic functioning of the organism.
Moral arguments which define death as brain death emphasize the crucial role of higher brain functioning in making consciousnes possible and thereby giving value to human life. Even if the body could survive death of the neocortex for several months or years, this type of life would have no more value for human life than preserving an appendix in a bottle of formaldehyde. It is therefore seen as appropriate to begin “death-behavior” (mourning, turning off life-supporting equipment, removing vital organs for transplant) when the neocortex has ceased functioning. However, defining death is not the same task as deciding when it is appropriate to begin death-behavior, since meaning is not determined by the behavior that it may give rise to. “We have only to realize that the moment of pulling the plug need not be the moment of death to see that defining death is a different job from deciding when it is best to remove the life-support systems.”
Once an ontological distinction is made between the patient and his identity, we can grant that the individual (say, Jones) may cease to exist even if “the patient” remains alive. Then, if the loss of capacity for mental activity occurs at brain death, and psychological continuity is a necessary condition for personal identity, Jones will cease to exist with brain death, even if “the patient” continues to live. Psychological continuity is a necessary condition for personal identity because it provides a causal tie between person-stages which the spatio-temporal continuity of brain tissue or other body structures can not provide. Thus, a given person ceases to exist with the destruction of whatever neurological processes underlie that person's psychological continuity and connectedness. It is not simply that a mindless future life would be of no value to us, but that such a life could not be ours. No moral conclusions follow from this definition of death, but it is unlikely that the definition could be used to justify euthanasia for those whose lives had merely ceased to have value.
Locke on Personal Identity
“Locke's Theory of Personal Identity.” Philosophy 54(April 1979):173–185.
It is widely held that John Locke viewed personal identity primarily as a function of consciousness and memory. Objections have been raised against this reputed position by numerous modern philosophers including Anthony Flew, J.L. Mackie, and Bernard Williams. Some contend, for example, that Locke's theory must be supplemented by the notion of bodily continuity either because memory alone is not sufficient or because the concept of memory is itself dependent on bodily conditions. Others claim that, since memory is faulty, forgetfulness according to Locke's theory would entail a partial loss of personal identity.
Oddly enough, Locke treats these and other standard objections to memory in the Essay and dismisses them as not bothersome. For Prof. Helm, those perennial criticisms ignore what was, in Locke's mind, the relationship between consciousness and memory in the make-up of personal identity. In Locke's theory, Helm asserts, identity consists of the “spatiotemporal continuity of consciousness.” The philosopher himself explicitly states: “...Since consciousness always accompanies thinking and it is that that makes everyone to be what he calls self...in this alone consists personal identity, i.e. the sameness of a rational being.”
Within this framework, memory gives evidence of the spatio-temporal continuity of consciousness, but it itself is not the essence of one's identity. The role of consciousness in identity is thus logical and metaphysical, while memory plays an epistemic role, as a test for the continuity of consciousness.
Recognizing the fallibility of memory, Locke could declare: “Ideas in the mind quickly fade and often vanish quite out of the understanding, leaving no more footsteps or remaining characters of themselves than shadows do flying over fields of corn...” Nonetheless, there are three senses (requiring careful delineation) in which Locke regards memory as necessary to personal identity.
First of all, while it is not logically necessary that one remember certain events of the past, remembering (especially of oneself) remains an essential component of consciousness. Secondly, in a forensic sense, memory is required for an individual to have evidence that he is identical with someone in the past and thus responsible (in his own and others' eyes) for certain past actions. Augmented or ideal memory (as on the day of the Last Judgement) would allow for perfect justice in assessing actions. Barring divine inspiration, however, humans must content themselves with provisional justice in this world. Thirdly, a logically sufficient condition for identity is that the individual consciousness can recall some past action, not that it does recall it. This point is made in the chapter “On Retention” in the Essay.
Thus, the relation between memory, consciousness, and personhood assumes a much more complicated character in Locke than is normally assumed. The basic error of many interpreters is to hold that Locke posited perfect memory as a condition for identity and responsibility. More complex objections usually rest upon this fundamental misapprehension. These evaporate, however, with an understanding of Locke's more subtle position.
Locke's Concept of Persons
“Moral Science and the Concept of Persons in Locke.” Philosophical Review 89(January 1980):24–45.
Locke's early writings emphasize the idea that general moral truths rest on universal truths about human nature. In his later writings, Locke denies that universal truths such as “all men are rational” can be both certain and instructive; only mere verbal truths can be certain. Locke further argues that for us to be certain of a universal proposition which is not true by definition we would need either direct experience of all the members of a kind (which is possible only if the kind is restricted) or experience which assures us of things beyond our experience.
Despite this, Locke asserts that the concept of “moral man” may help us ground universal truths. He makes this argument by way of an analogy with mathematical knowledge which he thought capable of universal certain truths. Locke held the conceptualist view that our own ideas are the archetypes and essences of the mathematical sort. Since mathematics is concerned with conventional kinds (called modes) not natural kinds (called substance kinds) we can know all there is to know about the essences of mathematics, since the real and nominal essence are the same. Mathematical propositions are universal because they are propositions about ideas (not things), and certain because they are merely about the relation of ideas. Furthermore, mathematical propositions are instructive as well because their predicate ideas are not contained in the subject and mathematical propositions contain information about real particulars. Locke thought ethics would provide truths similar to those found in mathematics. Moral ideas give us adequate notions of moral kinds, and moral essences have necessary connections with other real essences. Still, in order for there to be moral knowledge of the kind Locke was seeking, an additional premise was needed: that it be humanly possible to demonstrate the necessary connections among moral ideas. This premise was one Locke later grew to be skeptical of; his separation of the concept “moral man” from “human” shows where his thought was heading. The idea was that “moral man” would not apply to all biological humans but to any creature which was a corporeal, rational being.
In the fourth book of the Essay, Locke's attention shifted to that of “rational selves.” He considers this a “clear” idea, i.e. a representation of a real essence (which refers to particulars) in the mode kind. The concept of rational selves is even more specialized than that of moral man since it does not involve reference to corporeality.
The author concludes by saying that Locke has a genuine insight here: that the notion of a person is relevant to ethics, that it is different from the natural kinds concept of humans, and that the extension of this concept does not depend on the inner structure of individuals. And it also goes without saying that Locke's concept of a person was crucial to his often discussed concept of personal identity.
Locke, Suicide, & Political Resistance
“Locke on Suicide.” Political Theory 8(May 1980): 69–182.
Locke proclaimed in the Second Treatise an absolute prohibition against suicide on the grounds that we are God's property and are thus made to last during His pleasure. However, other aspects of Locke's thought don't fit with this absolute, theologically based doctrine. In The Essay on Human Understanding, we are told that nature intends the pleasure and preservation of the whole, not each of its constituent parts. God designed pain for the preservation of the whole. This implies that suicide for those with unceasing pain cannot be condemned by Locke as it does not impede God's plan for the good of the whole.
Furthermore, within the Treatise itself there are doubts concerning how seriously one should take the absolute prohibition on suicide. Locke justifies the taking of slaves in war partly on the grounds that, should the victor's reign become too harsh, the slave can resist and thus obtain the death he desires. And Locke suggests that the slave is a moral agent in doing so, since he acts voluntarily. That a voluntary action designed to produce one's death is not denigrated but rather is used as a partial justification of slavery points to Locke's less than absolute prohibition of suicide.
Even more direct evidence is provided by Locke's declaration that in the state of nature man lacks liberty to destroy himself or any creature in his possession except where justified by some “nobler use.” Why then the insistence that the “law of nature” absolutely prohibits suicide? The author offers three reasons. First, Locke wanted to bask in the reflection of conventional (theologically grounded) opinions. He believed theological arguments were important for the vast majority of mankind that must believe rather than know. Furthermore, parallel secular and nonsecular argument would help the reader become accustomed to the fact that God's demands are not distinct from those stemming from one's desires. Secondly, the prohibition of suicide furthers Locke's argument in the following way: since all men are equal as God's workmanship, prohibition on suicide provides Locke with a nonutilitarian argument for refraining from taking others' lives. Thirdly, the denial of a man's arbitrary right to take his own life provides support for the right to revolution. Citizens can resist arbitrary power because no “body can transfer to another body more power than it has itself” and nobody has absolute power over oneself. The right to resist arbitrary power is strengthened by our status as God's property. Of course, the fact that no one has arbitrary power over one's own person or property under the law of nature does not rule out suicide under all circumstances.
Freedom & Determinism
“Freedom, Determinism and Character.” Mind 89(January 1980):106–13.
The author argues that the sense in which actions flow from character traits points to a problem for those “incompatibilists” who think that there is an incompatibility between determinism and freedom. While some compatibilists have made arguments similar to Sankowski, he differs from them since he does not believe that actions must be causally determined by character in the sense of a universal law (“if p, then q”) in order for free action to flow from character. A person's character is such that many, but not all, acts freely follow from it.
If the incompatibilists were right, as we move from acts which are not predictable in practice to acts which are more or less predictable, we should find that we consider such acts or agents less free. In fact, we do nothing of the kind. The incompatibilists may reply that the only determination at issue is that of universal causal law, so that predictability which occurs as a result of character traits is irrelevant. But this reply is wrong: if necessity is held to cancel out freedom, what difference should it make whether the necessity is of the kind that occurs in universal causal laws or in looser claims about character traits? The incompatibilists' position is based on the alleged fact that factors outside a person's control generate a necessity which cancels out freedom. If this is the position, then there is a slippery slope regarding the type of necessity about which incompatibilists worry. The incompatibilist reply fails and the argument retains its force.
Novels and the Politics of the '60s
“From Catch-22 to Slaughterhouse V: The Decline of the Political Mode.” The South Atlantic Quarterly 78 (Winter 1979):17–33.
Imagistic literature does not necessarily reveal the cultural milieu which it describes, however such literature can be significant in understanding an era when considered as perceptions of the society it represents. Hartshorne presents two examples to defend his argument: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller and Slaughterhouse V by Kurt Vonnegut. Both books offer a fictitious view of the world and its problems together with a series of rules for coping with these problems.
Heller's Catch-22 creates a symbolic situation of an individual, Captain John Yossarian, in conflict with his corrupt military superiors during WW II. Yossarian's search for his own personal salvation resulted in his desertion from the army. Rising above the claims of a particular group of men unworthy of respect or obedience, he found his freedom.
Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse V could be considered more of a religious work than Heller's political fable. The protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, is coming to terms with the dichotomy between man and whatever it is that is responsible for the organization of the universe. Billy Pilgrim is kidnapped by aliens from outer space and taken to the planet Tralfamadore. The resolution he arrives at is to accept his role as a pawn of forces he cannot control. Billy hopes only to accept life's circumstances and to love and be kind to others.
Hartshorne suggests these books are reflective of the era in which they were written—Slaughterhouse V in 1969, Catch-22 in 1961.
Yossarian of Catch-22 was striving for a particular goal of personal freedom. He was rebelling against a specific human conspiracy, not against the entire bureaucratic system that caught him up in that conspiracy. The events in the novel move in a particular direction, and ends on an optimistic note when Yossarian deserts his company. For Yossarian, survival constitutes a victory.
If Billy Pilgrim is fighting, it is against the whole universe. There is no contest in Slaughterhouse V because there is no possibility of victory. “There are no bad guys for him to defeat, except perhaps God.” For Billy, survival is not crucial because death is inevitable. All one can hope for are a few good moments to cherish in life.
The tone of these novels echoes the political culture of the 1960s. The decade began with optimism and the firm belief that change is possible with the proper strategies. As the decade progressed, however, a feeling of “we have struggled, and we have failed” became pervasive. The theoretical orientation of the protest movement changed from vigorous reform to violent expression. “It is not the specific evil to which we must address ourselves, it is the evil of the whole system—which has produced evil.”
Catch-22 portrays the mood of the early 1960s with an attitude that effective resistance by the individual is possible, if we are careful to outsmart the authorities. Joseph Heller offers us instruction in how to achieve solutions to our problems.
Slaughterhouse V exemplifies the decay of reformist hopes in the late 1960s. Kurt Vonnegut can only offer us perspectives on how we may learn to live tolerably in a world we cannot change.
Both books make strong political statements capturing the moodswing of American culture during the 1960s. Although not set in the '60s: these novels deepen our understanding of that era.
Freedom, Determinism, Praise & Blame
“Asymmetrical Freedom.” Journal of Philosophy 77(March 1980):151–166.
How are freedom and value related? What is the connection between a person who freely controls his own actions and a person who merits moral claims of praise or blame? Many have claimed that being a free agent is necessary if one is to be a moral agent. This view gains its plausibility from the intuition that if a person's interests, values, and desires are psychologically determined by his or her heredity and environment, then a person cannot help doing what he does and thus can do nothing that is praiseworthy or blameworthy. The problem with this view is that a “free” person, one who is not determined to act as he does, does not seem to be a moral agent. For if I can act against my deepest interests, values, desires, it seems that, more likely, I'd be considered psychotic rather than a moral agent.
The problem is that our intuitions go both ways. When talking about freedom the “incompatibilists” seem right—an act is free only if it is psychologically not determined. When thinking about value, the “compatibilists” seem right: no moral agency is possible (no praise or blame) unless I am psychologically determined. How can we have both freedom and morality?
Wolf suggests that the philosophers have not gotten a firm grasp on our intuitions. It is with regard to blame (i.e., a person doing bad actions) that lack of determination is necessary for moral agency. In such cases where an act was not free (because, for example, the actor's childhood caused him not to try to stop compulsively stealing) the incompatibilists seem right. With regard to praise, however, the situation is revered. It is precisely because a person is psychologically determined (e.g., “I couldn't help but aid my friend”) that moves us to praise. If a person is generous only out of childhood habit, his actions may not be praiseworthy; whereas if he was taught to be generous as a child and as an adult freely decided it was a virtue to be generous, then his actions are probably praiseworthy. Thus, with regard to praise, the compatibilists are right. A person is free only if he is determined: a good act is one in which an agent could have done otherwise had there been good and sufficient reasons, but the person was in a situation where there were no other good and sufficient reasons. With regard to blame, the incompatibilists are right. A person can only be blamed for a bad action if he acts in the face of good and sufficient reasons to act otherwise in that situation.
This means that the freedom we want is the freedom to find the “True” and the “Good” so as to be determined by them. The problem of free will cannot, therefore, be understood in value-free terms. It is easy to see why many philosophers have supposed that being determined by the Good is not really being determined.
Finally, Wolf points out that on her view psychological determinism is false, since for a person to perform a blameworthy action he must not have been determined to do so.
Freedom & Norms
“Freedom and Constraint by Norms” American Philosophical Quarterly 16(July 79)187–96.
The author clarifies Kant's claim that one is free insofar as one acts according to the dictates of norms and principles, as opposed to causes.
First, Brandon focuses on linguistic norms. What makes a linguistic performance correct or incorrect or an utterance appropriate or inappropriate are the human social practices of a community—such as the practice of criticizing the utterances of others for perceived failures to conform to the practices governing linguistic performances, or the practices involved in adjudicating disputes. The instances of a social practice are whatever the community takes them to be, as opposed to objective kinds wherein instances are what they are regardless of what any particular community says. Brandon does not deny that there can be appraisals which concern the objective features of the utterance; his point is that the norms which specify criterion of membership in a linguistic community are not objective. If truth of utterances were such a criterion, language would be impossible since it would presuppose infallibility.
The distinction between objective and social kinds throws light on the dispute between naturalists and nonnaturalists on the relation between objective facts and norms. Since social practices express norms, it might seem that the question is whether there is an objective difference between the social and objectively factual. Instead the author suggests that the difference between social and objective phenomenon is itself a social distinction. But what is the difference between treating some system as a set of social practices as opposed to objective processes? The difference is between translating something versus giving a casual explanation of it. The former involved setting up our set of social practices as an unexplained explainer and showing how the practice in question differs from ours vis-à-vis what one should do in a certain situation. This process assumes that the system in question contains similar norms of appropriateness and justification of its performances. Thus when we translate a stranger's performance we treat his performances as one of our own. Kant's original suggestion that the realm of Freedom differs from the realm of Nature now becomes: we treat someone as free if we treat him as one of us. That is, he is free if we see him as subject to the norms inherent in the social practices conformity, which is a criterion of membership in the community. We treat him as unfree insofar as we see him in terms of causes which constrain him.
The author broadens this notion by noting that most of the sentences uttered have heretofore never been uttered. One has not learned a language unless one can invent new sentences which are deemed appropriate by the community. This creative aspect of language is a paradigm of expressive freedom. Mastering a new language means one is capable not only of forming new descriptions and making new claims, but also of forming new beliefs, intentions and desires (sophisticated beliefs, intentions, desires require language) and thus of engaging in new actions. Thus it is only by virtue of being constrained by norms inherent in social practices that one is free to generate and understand new possibilities. This notion of expressive freedom shows that Hegel's criticism of Kant was correct: freedom is not just constraint by norms but constraint by certain types of norms (those which make expressive freedom flourish). Furthermore, exercising one's linguistic capacities creates new practices, which in turn makes new performances possible. This shows that Hegel was right in asserting that there is a dialetical relationship between the individual and the norms within which he operates. Brandon concludes by noting that social and political constraints are justified if they make possible expressive freedom which would otherwise not exist without the norms.
Beyond Kant: Moral Egoism
“Is Kant the Gray Eminence of Contemporary Ethical Theory?” Ethics 90(January 1980):218–238.
Recent ethical theory is governed by a paradigm, consisting of an ignoble picture of human beings and two basic principles. Human beings are depicted as appetitive animals, in pursuit of their desires. The two principles proclaim that human beings' occupation with what comes naturally or with what is in their interest to do is not an ethical concern; rather—and this is the second principle—ethics enters in when someone's self-seeking behavior interferes in some way with another's activity. Veatch argues that this is a contemporary paradigm by citing Rawls, Hare, Harman, Baier, Nozick, Frakena, and Gewirth.
Kant provides the rationale for this contemporary paradigm, not so much in the sense that he literally articulated these two principles, but because his philosophy has seemed to many to imply these principles. The first principle corresponds to Kant's view that our natural, unchosen inclinations and tendencies have only to do with the causes of, rather than the ethical reasons for, action, and that seeking reasons for acting is irrelevant to ethics. Thus, in this version of Kant, moral action can never be directed to any sort of natural end or goal because such ends and goals would only be causally determined, and thus nonrational and heteronomous (action) determined by some object rather than by the autonomous, choosing will itself. Furthermore, according to Kant all such heteronomous actions are done to promote one's happiness and are thus egoistic. The second principle in the contemporary paradigm corresponds to Kant's view that the criterion of moral and rational behavior is that one acts for reasons which are not simply self-centered but universalizable and hold for rational beings as such.
The problem with the Kantian paradigm is that the first principle eliminating all goal-related action from the moral realm renders the universalizability criterion empty. Why not, then, sanitize the egoistic nonmoral ends or goals so that they will be appropriate for universalizability? But to do this, one needs a theory of the objective good which modern moral theorists reject. Instead they resort to a kind of trick: why not universalize our ordinary desires and ends? For instance, Hare says that once we take our desires and purposes to be right, then we are committed to universalizability and hence ethics enters the picture. For Rawls it is the fact that we would choose to abide by his two principles of justice in the original position and this amounts to a commitment to universalize the primary goods of life. This likewise moves us from nonmorality to morality. But, counters Veatch, the fact that we would say that our desires are right or that we would choose certain principles under certain conditions is merely an interesting fact which cannot move us from the nonmoral to the moral. He suggests the way out of this impasse is via a theory of objective good like that of the Aristotelian/Thomistic tradition. If such a view of the good is correct, then there is no longer any opposition between nonmoral egoistic purposes and moral general principles. For if something is objectively good, it is moral and desirable both for myself as well as for everyone else.
Popper, Relativism, & Freedom
“Plato, Popper and the Open Society: Reflections on Who May Have the Last Laugh.” The Journal of Libertarian Studies 3, No. 2(Summer 1979):159–172.
By abandoning Plato's concept of a fixed human nature, Karl Popper may have thrown out the very concept that is necessary to support the kind of open society he wants to defend against Plato. Popper believes that a normative ideal based on a fixed human nature will not suffice for two reasons, one “scientific,” another “existential.” Popper's “scientific” reason for opposing fixed natures is that genuine theories are unable to disclose the way the world really ought to be, since they can't even disclose the way the world really is. At best, science can only tell us the way that the world really is not.
Popper's “existential” reason is that a fixed human nature would impose a closure on possible human values that is incompatible with our responsibility to freely choose our own values. Popper would see moral freedom constrained by any theory that would limit the possible values that can be selected from “World 3” (Popper's term for the realm of the imaginable).
However, when Popper makes his own values selection from World 3—in the form of an “open society”—he must either succumb to an utter arbitrariness or have a legitimate way of going beyond the limits of science and “imposed” values. He would be succumbing to arbitrariness if he didn't tell us why his particular image of man is to be preferred to that of Plato or anyone else. But if all theories must either avoid telling us the way man really is and ought to be, or end up imposing some image of man upon all of us, how can Popper defend his preferred image of man as the preferable image? Seemingly, he can do so only by restoring the Platonic notion of nonscientific knowledge of the preferable, and of a fixed human nature on which it rests. By this means, an open society can be defended by basing it on a justified image of man.
Popper & Objective Knowledge
“Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge, and the Third World.” Philosophia 9(December 1979):45–62.
Karl Popper's theory of the “third world” (the world of the imaginable) needs an amendment in order to account for its autonomous and objective character. Popper distinguishes three worlds: (1) the first world is that of physical objects; (2) the second world is that of the mental acts (or dispositions to behavior) that we direct towards physical or mental objects; (3) the third world is those mental objects themselves that form the content of our theories, arguments, books, libraries, etc.
Problems arise when Popper attempts to establish that the third world is both man-created and “objective,” or autonomous. The example of the natural numbers simply does not work, for while the numerals we choose to describe these natural numbers are man-created, the numbers themselves are discovered and are therefore not man-created. Similarly, the numerals that we use to describe natural numbers are as physical as chairs or tables, so we should consider them as elements belonging to “world number one.”
However, sentences and numerals are properly distinguished from meanings and numbers, the modified “third world” could include meanings and numbers as both nonphysical, discovered, and completely autonomous or objective. That would give the following components to our total world:
S: the linguistic form in which a number or theory is formulated;
C: the objective content expressed by S;
M: the mental act or state of X; and
P: (where relevant) the fact in the physical world to which S refers.
Now, the logical relationships and unintended consequences of “C” can be understood as both autonomous and not manmade, forming a bona fide “third world.”
Is Egoism Subjectivist?
“‘Because It is Mine’: A Critique of Egoism.” The Personalist 60(April 1979):186–200.
The egoist's moral position has represented a constant and formidable dilemma for those seeking a rational justification for a universal ethic, because the egoist bases his stand on a universal principle and he universalizes it. Nonetheless, he gives preference to his own claim whenever it comes in conflict with the claims of others.
Many ethical thinkers have sought to undermine the egoist stance with charges of subjectivism by arguing that justice, like all general and impersonal principles, must be applied universally, unless we can identify some relevant difference which distinguishes a situation or a person from a general category. The egoist, they claim, makes exceptions in his own favor whenever his interests dictate, ignoring the moral criterion of the relevant difference.
The egoist might reply that, besides universalizability, reason possesses another important dimension. Plato, for example, has defined reason as the faculty which makes possible the identification and achievement of the good of one's self as a whole. Justice or fairness thus becomes to ta heautou prattein—doing one's own work to attain one's total good. As for “relevant differences,” certainly the fact that the other person is not oneself constitutes a most relevant difference. The “Individualistic Argument” thus runs: “I ought to do x simply because I am I...and it is in my interest to do x.”
Prof. Beatty replies to the egoist that “I am I” is a statement that can be made by anyone. As such, it does not constitute a relevant difference. Furthermore, he asserts, “what makes a reason a good one is not its source—that would be authoritarianism—but rather its content, features of the reason on its own merits independently of its pedegree or the power or status of its advocate.” To say otherwise would be to fall into the very subjectivism which the egoist tries to avoid by his reasoning.
Nonetheless, one might salvage the “I am I” principle by another approach. Kant has pointed out that freedom is the presupposition of all moral claims. To assert that persons are free is to assume that there is a domain in which they may enjoy freedom from interference precisely because it is their own domain. Exceptions in favor of one's interests thus become licit because personal ownership is itself requisite for the autonomy presupposed by any moral principle.
However, Prof. Beatty asks, what principle allows the egoist to violate the theoretically inviolate autonomy of others to further his own ends? According to Beatty, the egoist might reply that morality itself requires the freedom to choose from among moral principles. If a moral agent were compelled by argument to choose one course of action over another, that would in effect render him unfree and would undermine the possibility of morality itself. The egoist thus would liberate himself to choose arbitrarily.
Closely examined, this form of freedom (or better capriciousness) appears intolerable. First of all, it leaves the egoist open to the depredations of others pursuing their own ends. In addition, by eliminating the requirement of justification, it subjugates the egoist to brute psychological or ideological compulsions which undermine the personal autonomy he defends.
Thus, Prof. Beatty concludes, the egoist who grounds his self-preferential claims on ownership and property must finally resort to the subjectivist “autonomy of morals.” In doing so, he must abandon all pretence that his position is intellectually grounded or indeed that it is a morality at all.
“Rule Utilitarianism, Rights, Obligations, and the Theory of Rational Behavior.” Theory and Decision 12(June 1980):115–133.
Harsanyi argues for the superiority of rule utilitarianism over act utilitarianism. First, rule utilitarianism achieves a better degree of spontaneous coordination (in the absence of communication) than act utilitarianism. An act utilitarian, concerned with the particular action that will maximize utility, will regard all other agents' strategies, even utilitarian ones, as given. A rule utilitarian, by contrast, will act on the assumption that all other utilitarian agents will follow the same moral rule. Given these differences, the act utilitarian will tend to act non-cooperatively in situations where a number of people taking identical actions is required to produce the action desired (e.g., a number of people must come out and vote for a desirable measure). That is, the act utilitarian will not perform the action in question when he is reasonably sure that his action will not make a difference in producing the desired outcome, which means the odds are that the act utilitarian won't perform the action. For the act utilitarian will reason that if others perform the action his contribution isn't necessary; if others don't perform the action, why should he? A rule utilitarian, on the other hand, will tend to perform the action since it is part of following the rule (e.g. voting) that maximizes utility.
Second, the author argues that rule utilitarianism is superior because it can make a rational commitment. Given the act utilitarian's concern with acts, he will not make a firm commitment in the beginning to follow the same strategy throughout the “game” but will decide on each move separately; whereas the rule utilitarian will follow the strategy he began with. It is clear that the rule utilitarian strategy of being committed in advance is more effective in maximizing utility.
Third, the author claims that the act utilitarian cannot respect individual rights and obligations since he will violate such constraints where the act of doing so produces a greater payoff. Rule utilitarians, on the other hand, have little trouble respecting such rights and obligations, as long as the rule observing such constraints produces more utility than disregarding them. Furthermore, the author claims that only rule utilitarianism can provide a firm foundation for such constraints. Rights and obligations provide the following advantages for society: they make it easier to form relatively specific expectations about people's behavior; they increase incentives to engage in desirable behavior; and they give rise to a beneficial division of labor.
The fourth advantage of rule utilitarianism is its role in solving the “voter paradox.” The voter paradox is that although, on utilitarian grounds, it seems irrational to vote, yet voters do not think this to be so. Voting is not irrational if one looks at it from the point of view of a rational commitment to a comprehensive strategy.
“Two Justifications of Property.” American Philosophical Quarterly 17(January 1980):53–59.
The author offers a schema (or set of formal conditions) for justifying property rights. Property rules perform two basic functions. First, they assign to individuals rights over things; such rights forbid other persons to interfere with the owner's use of these things. Rights over things can be called rights of title. Second, property rules create mechanisms for acquisition, transfer, and alienation of rights. These rules can be called “criteria of title” and answer the question “Who owns what?” The rights actually assigned and the criteria used to assign them, taken together, give the content of a set of property rules.
The criteria taken as a whole must be consistent, determinate, and complete. Consistency means that the criteria of title must not allow an individual to own something and not own it at the same time and in the same way. Need is an example of an inconsistent criteria of title: many parties may need the same scarce thing at the same time. Determinacy requires that it be possible in principle to unequivocally determine who owns what. Again, need is an example of an indeterminate criterion. Persons need food but it can be fulfilled in a variety of ways, so that the fact that someone needs food cannot determine what he should own. Completeness means there must be some procedure by which individuals or groups can come to own something.
With the requirements for the schema now set out, the author discusses two schemas. The first is teleological—consequentialist as allegedly exemplified by Locke. Here, the criteria of title are labor (when expended upon what is previously unowned) exchange, gift and bequest. Taken together these criteria are consistent, determinante, and complete. The rights of title in Locke are restricted only by the standard of innocent use, i.e., property may not be used in ways prohibited by natural law and the principle of harm (i.e., through wasting or spoiling which harms others through the resulting scarcity). Locke's set of property rules are justified because it can be demonstrated that no other possible set of property rules an produce as much utility within the state of nature. Clearly, the labor criterion produces utility for the laborer and it does not affect anyone's utility because of the restriction on appropriation (“enough and as good left for other”). Gift and bequest clearly raise the recipients' utility; though some expectations will be frustrated because of failure to receive what they anticipated, this will be a trivial source of disutility where “enough and as good left for others” is in operation. Exchange benefits all parties if the exchanges are voluntary.
The only criteria of title which it might be thought could produce better results than Locke's is that of want rather than labor. But want fails the consistency and determinacy conditions.
To complete the justification it must also be shown that the rights of title also maximize utility. This is easily done: the criteria give the owners maximum freedom to do as they wish, limited only by the non-harm restriction which, in effect, means that others' utility is not seriously dimished.
The author also discusses a deontological schema as set out (in part) by Alan Donagan's The Theory of Morality. This schema holds that the criteria and rights of title are justified if they are consistent with the deontological principles, in this case, the principle of respecting every human being as a rational being. It turns out that these criteria and rights of title are virtually identical with Locke's. The criteria and rights of title treat the agent as autonomous (as defined by Donagan), that is, as having the right, limited only by the moral law, of deciding what one's good is and how to pursue it. For the only restrictions on right and criteria of title as discussed by Donagan are those he thinks are required by the moral law (e.g., not to harm others). Of course, both the deontological and teleological criteria depend upon a crucial premise: that there is enough and as good left for others. Where this premise is falsified, the schema may provide a valid yet unsound justification.