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Christopher Bertram?s Paper on Political Philosophy
Freigegeben von: Wolfgang Melchior
Christopher Bertram?s Paper on Political Philosophy
  • Lecture 01: Introduction: Legitimacy and Legitimation
  • Lecture 02: The Hobbesian argument for the state
  • Lecture 03: Statism versus Anarchy
  • Lecture 04 Authority and democracy
  • Lecture 05: Rights and Self-Ownership
  • Lecture 06: The General Will
  • Lecture 07: Rawls: The Original Position
  • Lecture 08: The Difference Principle
  • Lecture 09: Communitarian critics of liberalism
  • Lecture 10: Rawls’s Political Liberalism
  • Lecture 11: Democracy, Preference and Consensus
  • Lecture 12: Forms of Egalitarianism

    Lecture 1: Introduction: Legitimacy and Legitimation
    Back to index

    Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know? What can make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer. (Rousseau: Social Contract: Bk 1, Ch. 1)

    1. Power and legitimacy In nearly all societies people are bound by laws and other devices which compel them to engage in or refrain from certain acts or types of acts. And in those societies some people exercise power over others and claim a legitimacy for their actions. Political philosophy, as opposed to political sociology, asks not about the perceived legitimacy of various forms of domination, but rather whether any such domination could ever actually be legitimate.

    2. Modernity and legitimation
    Political philosophy is in the business of reason-giving and the kinds of reasons for the exercise of power that might pass muster in one form of society will not do in another. We can no longer ask intelligibly why I, a peasant, should submit to the authority of my lord. Nor,
    in an age of that has been'disenchanted', can we point to an objective moral
    order that is 'out there' to ground the exercise of legitimate power.

    In the modern world we are constituted as individuals with no fixed place in a
    social or moral order. Each may hope for the attainment of their ends, their
    hopes and ambitions, no-one is confined to a particular social role just by
    virtue of their estate or caste or family. Any justification of power has then
    to be an justification to people like that: to individuals with private
    interests and ambitions who are apt to reserve to themselves the judgement of
    what they ought and ought not to do in particular circumstances.

    3. The State and Political Obligation
    When we seek to identify the
    exercises of power that require justification, the most obvious candidate cases
    would seem to be ones involving the state and its laws. Most
    conventional political philosophy concentrates on answering the question of why
    anyone (morally) should obey the state ever, and then on answering questions
    about the limits of permissible state power. But to concentrate on these
    questions and on the state-citizen/subject relation as central is to miss out
    on some of the most important questions of legitimacy in modern societies.

    4. The Social Question
    There are many exercises of power within society
    that are not obviously by the state at all (thought they may be bolstered or
    underpinned by the state). Further, there may be aspects of social relations
    which it is difficult to categorize as the exercise of power by a person or
    institution over other persons, but which nevertheless affect people's chances
    of securing their ends (or even shape their ends) in subtle ways.Marxism brings
    into question the mapping of a public-private division onto the distinctionbetween state and civil society; feminism begins to ask whether even the family
    is not part of a public sphere that is a worthy focus of concern for those who
    seek to question the distributions of power, authority and advantage. Feminism
    also begins to place in question what Rousseau's chains are actually made of.
    Are they composed exclusively or even mainly of legal rights and obligations or
    do they also consist in patterns of expectation and belief that are embedded in
    ideologies or even in language itself?

    5. Ways of evaluation Perhaps we ought to favour that social
    structure that best realizes some goal or appropriately weighted set of goals?
    Another proposal might be to build in some strong safeguards for each
    individual into the very foundations of our polity. Alternatively we could look
    to that set of institutions that is to the mutual advantage of the many
    individuals in a society. Or we might prefer that set of institutions that
    would be chosen by people if the self-regarding distortions of their particular
    situation were somehow filtered out.I shall be exploring all these approaches
    to the problem, but I shall also try not to neglect another perspective, a
    perspective that comes in forms that a nostalgic for some precapitalist ideal
    of community and also forms that look forward to the reconstitution of
    community on some new postcapitalist basis

    Suggested further reading:

    Max Weber, 'Politics as a Vocation' in C. Wright Mills and H. Gerth eds,
    From Max Weber.

    Ernest Gellner, 'The Social Roots of Egalitarianism' in Ernest Gellner,
    Culture, identity, and politics.

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract, Book 1, chs 1-5

    Lecture 2: The Hobbesian argument for the

    Back to index

    Historically, the most important and influential argument for the state
    has been that advanced by "">Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679).
    Hobbes, writing at the time of the English Civil War, In the absence of state power, he believed, people would lapse into a
    situation of endemic violent conflict which would afford no-one even basic security of the person. So appalling was this prospect,
    that any state power, provided it could maintain peace was justified and should be obeyed.

    Human nature So why does Hobbes believe that without a state people would be in such a miserable condition? To
    understand this we need to take a look at his account of the nature of human beings and human agency. Hobbes was concerned to
    deny three of Aristotle's central doctrines about human beings. First, Hobbes denied Aristotle's belief that there was a particular
    good way of living and a state of being - eudaemonia - achievable by that way of living. Second, he rejected Aristotle's
    belief in the naturalness and permanence of human inequality. Third, he rejected the idea that people are by nature social animals
    in favour of a conception that sees people are being basically dissociated; an atomistic view of society.

    The State of Nature Hobbes invites us to participate in a thought experiment where these equal and dissociated
    individuals are places together in a state of nature without the existence of a state power placed over them. He believes that they
    will soon lapse into a state of war where each person is threatened with violent attack. He attributes this conflict to three basic
    factors which he calls Competition, Diffidence and Glory. Competition consists in the fact that in the state of nature, if there is
    some resource which a person wants there are no restraints on getting it other than the physical and mental powers of other
    people. Glory, consists in the concern that each person has to have value for others. But arguably more important than either of
    these is 'diffidence'. This is essentially the suspicion that another may be about to attack you, a suspicion which makes it rational
    for you to get in the first blow. Many modern theorists have sought to illuminate Hobbes's argument by suggesting that each
    person's encounters with other persons in the State of Nature has the structure of a "pd.htm">Prisoner's Dilemma .

    The Laws of Nature Hobbes's solution to the problem of endemic conflict engendered by this kind of situation is the
    absolute sovereign. Hobbes tells us that in a state of nature each person has a right - that is a liberty - to use all things, including
    the bodies of other people. But each person is also possessed of reason. As possessed of reason each person is at the same time
    led into pre-emptive non-co-operative action and is also enabled to see the possibility of a set of co-operative conventions (laws
    of nature) which, if only they could be generally enforced, would be in everyone's interest. The rational person is bound to will
    the implementation of such conventions but also knows that it would be folly to implement them unilaterally since that would be
    to deliver oneself up to the predations of would-be exploiters.

    The Sovereign as Solution The problem then is to generate an atmosphere of sufficient confidence that people will be
    tend to abide by these laws of nature, to keeps their agreements and so on. Hobbes's answer is straightforward: '...the Lawes of
    Nature ... of themselves, without the terrour of some Power, to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our naturall Passions,
    that carry us to Partiality, Pride, Revenge, and the like. And Covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to
    secure a man at all.'[85]. But a problem immediately arises: how are people incapable of spontaneous co-operation going to
    institute such a power? And we may also notice a subsidiary problem: if they can co-operate to institute a power without the prior
    existence of that power, why would they need a power to get them to co-operate?

    Somehow, people overcome the collective action problem involved in forming a state. They enter into a once-and-for-all bargain
    with one another whereby they mutually renounce their right to all things in favour of themselves considered as a collective body.
    The power of this collective body is then vested in a person or a group of persons. This sovereign power inherits the liberty to all
    things that each person had possessed in the state of nature, and, having voluntarily ceded that right, persons have no residuary
    right to impede the sovereign power. The only grounds on which they may do this is if the sovereign becomes a threat to the very
    purposes for which it was instituted (namely the preservation of each person), so people threatened with death by the state may
    reasonably resist. The legitimacy of this state seems then to be founded in the agreement that people make.

    Contract or Consequences? This part of Hobbes's argument is, to say the least, problematic. He wants to found the
    legitimacy of the state and ultimately of all states on consent. But it is far from clear what purpose his principal account actually
    serves. If it is, implausibly, given a historical twist, and purports to tell us what out ancestors did in founding the first state, why
    should that have any legitimising force for us? If the argument is supposed to show that rational person in the state of nature
    would consent, again that seems to have little force for us. Even if it can be shown that we ourselves would agree to something in
    certain hypothetical circumstances then that hardly suffices to bind us to that norm or institution now. Moreover, Hobbes's
    account of consent seems much too weak to ground any sort of moral obligation. The suspicion is that Hobbes justifies the state
    not because people agree to it, or would agree to it, but rather because of the good the state secures. : the avoidance of war.

    Reading: Hobbes, Leviathan, chs 13-21 ? C.Bertram, 1995

    Political Philosophy Lecture 3: Statism versus

    Back to index

    1. In last week’s lecture we saw people in the
    state of nature as facing a "pd.htm">prisoner’s
    . We can notice two initial
    problems with this: a) Hobbes may have no right to the motivational
    assumption he employs: predominant egoism. This might be an effect of
    life with the state rather than a good reason to institute one; b)Whilst
    defection may be the dominant strategy in the 2-person one-shot prisoner’s
    dilemma, it may not be best in the iterated (repeated) version of the
    game. Axelrod’s experiments suggest that tit-for-tat would be a better

    2. There are passages in Hobbes that do appear to suggest
    the possibility of spontaneous co-operation arising among self-interested
    individuals. For instance, Hobbes considers the problem posed by the

    ‘The Foole hath sayd in his heart, there is no such thing as
    Justice; and sometimes also with his tounge; seriously alleaging, that
    every mans conservation, and contentment, being committed to his own care,
    there could be no reason, why every man might not do what he thought
    conduced thereunto: and therefore also to make, or not make; keep, or not
    keep Covenants, was not against Reason, when it conduced to ones benefit.
    He does not therein deny, that there be Covenants; and that they are
    sometimes broken, sometimes kept; and that such breach of them may be
    called Injustice, and the observance of them Justice: but he questioneth,
    whether, Injustice ... may not sometimes stand with that Reason, which
    dictateth to every man his own good....’[72]

    He replies:

    ‘He ... that breaketh his Covenant, and consequently declareth that he
    thinks he may with reason do so, cannot be received into any Society, that
    unite themselves for Peace and Defence, but by the errour of them that
    receive him; nor when he is received, be retayned in it, without seeing
    the danger of their errour; which errours a man cannot reasonably reckon
    upon as a means of his security...’[73]

    3. Michael Taylor points
    to this passages and others as supporting his contention that social order
    is possible in anarchy where social relations are based on
    community. He ascribes three characteristics to community:

    The set of persons who comprise a community have shared beliefs and values;

    relations between members are direct and many sided;

    community is characterised by reciprocity. This term ‘covers a range of arrangements and relations and exchanges,
    some forms of co-operation and some forms of sharing. Each individual act in a system of reciprocity is usually
    characterised by a combination of what one might call short-term altruism and long-term self-interest. I help you out
    now in the ... expectation that you will help me out in the future.’(CAL 28-9)


    One worry we might have about Taylor’s solution concerns the space for individual autonomy in the communities he

    4. Constrained Maximisation Another set of possibilities for co-operation in anarchy is opened up by
    David Gauthier who suggests that it would be rational for individuals in a Hobbesian state of nature to transform their
    characters and dispositions in such a way as to make themselves more suitable partners in co-operative ventures. He suggests
    that the best stance to adopt is that of the constrained maximise, who is disposed to co-operate on reasonable terms when
    others are too, and is disposed to straightforwardly maximising behaviour when placed in an environment where others are
    generally disposed to exploitative behaviour.

    5. Nozick If Gauthier is right then we might not eliminate conflict altogether, but the state of nature would be
    closer to the account found in Locke than in Hobbes. This would pave the way for the sort of investigation carried out by
    Nozick who argues that the state would emerge from a state of nature comprised of self-owners, by a process that no-one
    could object to.

    ‘Out of anarchy, pressed by spontaneous groupings, mutual protection associations, division of labour, market pressures,
    economies of scale, and rational self-interest there arises something very much resembling a minimal state’. (ASU 16-


    Hobbes, Leviathan, ch. 15.

    Michael Taylor, Community, Anarchy and Liberty, chs 1 and 2.

    David Gauthier, Morals by Agreement, ch. 6.

    Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia part one.

    Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Co-operation.

    Lecture 4 Authority and
    Back to index

    In the last two lectures, I have approached the question of whether there should be a state, of whether
    a state is a good thing. But even a successful consequentialist argument for the state might fail to
    resolve some worries. Most important of these is a concern that a state is not just a body which
    possesses a certain coercive power over people (lots of bodies do that). Rather states claim
    authority for themselves. Could any body or institution have the authority over people which
    states typically claim for themselves? To answer this question we need a better understanding of what
    authority is and also of the kind of reasons for action that persons have. State officials do not just
    assert that they have certain powers as a matter of fact. Rather, they are claiming a right to
    be obeyed, and thereby asserting that others (the subjects) have a duty of obedience. In
    making such a claim (whether or not it can be vindicated), states are doing something which
    distinguishes them from the Mafia. The state does not rest its appeal to the reason of individuals
    simply on the fact that they will be punished if they don’t obey. Rather it claims that when it
    commands people have a moral reason for obedience. It is this suggestion that we need to expose to
    scrutiny now. Is it correct? Could it, or anything like it ever be correct? If not, where would that leave

    Wolff’s challenge
    Wolff seeks to argue that our views about moral agency are incompatible with the notion of political
    obligation. An autonomous person, or as Rousseau would have put it a morally free person, is a person
    who obeys a law they have given to themselves. . They deliberate, they weigh the reasons for and
    against particular courses of actions, and they are accountable for their decisions - they take
    responsibility for them. Even when we fall short of autonomy action, we normally expect that others
    treat us as autonomous agents. Wolff’s contention is that in all states save one ruled by unanimous
    direct democracy, to acknowledge the authority of the law is to put oneself in the condition of the
    child or the lunatic. It is to abandon, and abandon voluntarily, the status of moral agent and to allow
    oneself to be guided by others.

    Raz and Green on the grounds for
    accepting authority
    One possible means of replying to the Wolffian problem is found in the writings of Joseph Raz and
    Leslie Green. People have reason to act upon the reasons that apply to them. There are often cases
    where a person’s own judgement of the balance of reasons for and against a course of action is not
    decisive as to what they have most reason to do. Sometimes reasons pre-empt other reasons and
    prevent reconsideration of the merits and demerits of particular cases. Often, accepting the authority
    of the state provides use with a better chance of acting on the reasons which apply to us, than is we
    rely directly on our own reason. If Raz and Green are right, then we sometimes have reason to accept
    authority. Wolff’s contention (and the act-utilitarian’s) that we should always act on the balance of
    reasons as we see them, is too extreme. It fails to take account of how much of our ordinary practical
    reasoning requires us to abandon that consideration of the balance of reasons anyway. But the Raz-
    Green view nevertheless fails to underwrite the sort of authority that state’s claim for themselves.
    States claim to have the right to unconditional and universal obedience. But the grounds for the
    acceptance of authority in the scheme are conditional and non-universal.

    Democracy, representation and majority rule
    The direct democracy embodied in Rousseau’s ideal polity is almost a best-case scenario for the
    congruence of individual autonomy and political authority. In all existing real-world states the
    situation is much worse. Every functioning ‘democracy’ is in fact governed by representatives,
    representatives who are not the agents of those who have elected them but rather represent them ‘in
    general’ and deliberate for them about legislation. If I deliberate on a question and then choose
    someone else to cast my vote for me then in Wolff’s (and Rousseau’s) view I have retained my right as
    a responsible agent; but if I choose someone to do my deliberating for me ‘in general’ then I have
    abrogated that responsibility.

    Even where I deliberate myself, Wolff claims that the acceptance of majority rule constitutes an
    abandonment of autonomy. One possible solution, which Keith Graham puts forward in his The
    Battle of Democracy
    concerns the Wolffian treatment of autonomy. Granted that autonomy is of
    very great value, we can notice that there are two ways in which we might implement it. First, we
    might see it as what Robert Nozick calls a side-constraint. That is to say, we might view autonomy as
    a good that is not tradable for any other good. Respect for autonomy is then seen as an absolute
    precondition of the legitimacy of any social or political order. Alternatively, we might value autonomy
    as a goal. In other words we might see autonomy as a good whose realisation we would aim to


    R. P. Wolff, In Defence of Anarchism[JC571 WOL]

    Leslie Green, The Authority of the State, ch. 2 [KA27GRE]

    Joseph Raz ed., Authority (especially the essays by Raz and Green).

    Keith Graham, The Battle of Democracy (sections dealing with Wolff) [JC423 GRA]

    Political Philosophy Lecture 5: Rights and Self-OwnershipBack to index

    The law of nature
    According to Locke ,
    people in a state of nature can arrive at a
    set of rules for dealing with one another (the laws of nature), the problem is that there is no common judge to sort out
    disputes. Where conflict does occur each person is likely to interpret the facts and the law of nature to their own
    advantage and, in the absence of a better way of proceeding, is likely to use force to settle matters. The law of nature
    assigns to each individual a set of rights which grant them exclusive use of their own bodies and also of certain
    external objects. Questions immediately arise about what sorts of entities ought to have these special moral or legal
    powers, with respect to what sorts of things, on what basis might they be justified? Locke’s successors (though
    perhaps not Locke himself) pursue one set of answers to these questions. Roughly, they conceive of all rights as
    analogous to or forms of property right and they conceive of those rights as forming an absolute barrier (or
    side-constraint). As to what grounds there being rights in the first place there is little consensus. Locke seems to have
    attributed this to the will of God, though the will of God is discoverable in these matters not by reading scripture or by
    revelation but rather by the use of reason. Other theorists appeal to intuition, still others appeal to the power of
    property-right based conceptions in affording us a possible resolution of interpersonal conflict.

    The self-ownership thesis
    Locke conceives of us having a property in our own person. It is not hard to discern some of the attractions of this idea.
    Many of the conclusions it generates about what people may and may not legitimately do to one another coincide with
    and may appear to underpin many of our intuitions about the same things. For instance, it might be very laudable for
    me to donate some of my body parts to help a sick child (say by donating one of my kidneys) but it would surely be
    wrong to take a kidney from me without my consent simply on the grounds that more good than harm is effected by the

    Private property
    However, this device for determining who is allowed to do what with who or what is going to be limited in its
    usefulness unless we say some more about the connection between people’s ownership of themselves and the
    disposition of external resources on which human life depends. Can we establish private property rights in external
    objects? If we can then that provides a justification for the use of at least some coercive force against others (when they
    try to make use of our property). But how extensive can property rights be? After all, if one person were to own
    themselves and the whole world of external objects on which life depends they would exercise total power over the
    others who owned only themselves. Locke argues that people have a God given duty to improve the earth and that
    private property is a necessary adjunct to this task and to that of sustaining human life. He also specifies, more
    importantly, a number of routes by which a self-owner might come to own part of the world and an accompanying
    limitation on the extent of ownership. The most well-known of Locke’s methods for legitimately acquiring private
    property is where a self-owners ‘mixes’ what he owns (his labour) with some previously unowned bit of the world and
    thereby makes it his own. A more promising argument is one that is based directly on Locke’s limitation to property
    acquisition. Locke permits the privatisation of bits of the world so long as ‘enough and as good’ is left for others and
    that what is appropriated is not wasted or spoiled. Locke’s own formulation of this ‘proviso’, is notoriously vulnerable
    to a regress argument.

    It ought not to be hard to see that such a system, by giving rise to alienable private property, will quickly give rise to
    inequalities in the distribution of external resources. And the inequality in the distribution of external resources will
    give rise to a further inequality in the relative bargaining positions of the propertied and the propertyless. The self-
    ownership principle had been meant to prevent people from being used in various ways against their will. It looks as if
    one of its consequences is that at least some people will be left in a situation where there best option is to choose to
    allow themselves to be used in just those ways. How are we to respond in the face of these problems? There are three
    options. First we could, in the face of these examples, simply affirm that the voluntary nature of the choices involved
    negates the morally objectionable character of the actions. Second, we could abandon the self- ownership thesis. This
    has the disadvantage that the thesis does accord with many commonly held intuitions about how people may and may
    not be treated and it may be difficult to capture those intuitions without appearing to affirm something like the self-
    ownership principle. Third, we could continue to affirm self- ownership whilst building in conditions that guarantee
    access to the means of production.

    John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, second treatise, Ch. 5.

    Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, Ch. 7, part 1.

    A good recent guide to Locke is David Lloyd-Thomas, Locke on Government.

    The best recent books on self-ownership are G.A.Cohen, Self Ownership, Freedom and Equality and Hillel
    Steiner, An Essay on Rights.

    Political Philosophy Lecture 6. The General Will
    Back to index

    1. One thinkerwho hoped to go beyond both Hobbes and Locke by combining both a respect
    for individual autonomy with a sensitivity to the whole social dimension
    of human existence was =
    ""> Jean-Jacques Rousseau
    . Rousseau rejects
    the naive and ahistorical conception of human nature associate with the
    Enlightenment (in favour of a new, social, conception of selfhood. Second,
    he poses, and gives an answer to the following problem: ‘To find a form of
    association that defends and protects the person and possessions of each
    associate with all the common strength, and by means of which each person,joining forces with all, nevertheless obeys only himself and remains as
    free as before.’ Rousseau’s answer to this challenge is his doctrine of
    the general will.

    2. Rousseau draws our attention to the fact that
    people have two distinct sort of needs: natural and social. When man is in
    his most primitive state he cares only for himself as a physical being. He
    experiences hunger, thirst, cold etc. You and I however have quite other
    basic requirements for our well being. We live in a world not simply
    composed of physical objects and resources but also of other people. The
    modern world is born when we cease to see others as simply parts of the
    material world in which we live and begin to see others as other selves
    who in turn perceive us as selves. Once that development has happened
    Rousseau believes that the content of what makes our lives go well has
    changed forever and a new mode of self-interest concerned with this new
    way of being in the world comes into play - amour propre.

    3. In the Second Discourse Rousseau places most emphasis on the negative
    side of amour propre, on feelings of pride and vanity. One form
    this negative or inflamed mode of amour propre takes is seen in the
    master-servant/slave relationship which Hegel takes over from Rousseau.

    4. Rousseau thought it almost inevitable that people would succumb to
    inflamed amour propre and would, in consequence, fail to satisfy
    their deepest needs. But he did sketch two routes by which people could
    avoid this fate. In Emile the main character finds salvation in a
    relationship of erotic love. But Rousseau also provides us with a social
    route to universal recognition through his idea of a republic based on the
    general will. Central to this idea is a conception of a republic of
    persons. Whereas the glue that holds the Hobbesian commonwealth together
    is, at bottom, the instrumental reason of asocial individuals, the
    citizens of a Rousseauian republic have an enriched and socialized idea of
    themselves as a result of their association and in participating in the
    life of the community they best realize and express their deepest

    5. One way of looking at the general will is as a solution to
    collective action problems such as the prisoner’s dillemma. Here the
    general will points to some collective good and the individual will to
    some selfish one. Hobbesian rational utility maximizers either fail to
    co-operate (to their collective disadvantage) or they devise carrots and
    sticks to make individual interest coincide with collective interest.
    Rousseau doesn’t rule out the possibility of using coercive force, but
    more important for him is the connection between a person’s identity -
    their sense of who they are - and the collective of which they form a
    part. The individuals who make up Rousseau’s state think of themselves
    primarily as citizens and as citizens they individually will the
    general will.

    6. It is important to notice at this point that the
    general will already has two different incarnations. The general will is
    both what people would will if they considered themselves to be members of
    the relevant collective and put its collective interest to the fore (and
    had all pertinent information at their disposal) and it also what people
    do will insofar as they actually do consider themselves to be members and
    derive a consitutive sense of what they are from the collective. Now
    Rousseau believes that in a just state these two senses will co- incide in
    practice, because, first, the state will be small in number, technically
    unsophisticated and roughtly egalitarian in conditions of life and second,
    the general will determines the content of the law and this, by its
    nature, is general and universal in its application. But many of
    Rousseau’s critics have worried about the application of an idea like the
    general will, which Rousseau says is never wrong and may often be
    contrasted with the empirical will of all, in a modern differentiated

    7. A smoothly running Rousseauian state will aim to meet his
    criterion of legitimacy then by adopting the Hobbesian strategy of having
    everyone alienate their rights to the sovereign, but then allowing the
    sovereign to consist of everyone. Eveyone alienates their original right
    to all things in favour of themselves! Whilst this might be thought to
    imply the tyranny of the collective over the individual, Rousseau believes
    that membership of the collective will so inform an individual’s sense of
    self that they will not see the general will as an onerous imposition by
    an alien body but rather as expressive of their own moral personality.
    Moreover, the egalitarian republic avoids the self-defeating inflamed
    amour-propre characteristic of the Lockean state. Through their
    recognition as citizen, the self-respect of each is assured.Unfortunately,
    this picture is too rosy. Whilst he has opened some possibilities for us
    to explore we can see at least two ways in which his ideal republic falls
    short of his standard of legitimacy. The first of these concerns the
    shadowy figure of the ‘lawgiver’ and the second some of Rousseau’s own
    remarks on freedom in the state.


    Social Contract, Books 1 and 2.

    Rousseau, Discourse on
    the Orgins of Inequality.

    Rousseau, Emile, book 4.

    N. J. H. Dent, Rousseau. (c) Christopher Bertram (1995)

    Lecture 7: Rawls: The Original Position
    Back to index

    Rawls argues that the principles that should govern the ‘basic structure’ of a just or ‘well-ordered’
    society are principles that would be chosen by individuals in a specially constructed imaginary
    circumstance called the ‘original position’. The principles that emerge from this hypothetical procedure
    are principles guaranteeing first, a substantial and equally distributed set of basic liberties, second, a
    genuine equality of opportunity, and third, a defeasible presumption in favour of equality in the
    distribution of certain ‘primary goods’, such as wealth and income.

    One reason for using the contract device of the original position is to overcome the indeterminacy in our
    concept of justice. Perhaps we can make progress in hitting on fair principles by devising a fair
    procedure and then seeing whether what result from it gels with our considered judgements about
    justice. We aim at what Rawls calls, ‘reflective equilibrium’.

    But we can also seen Rawls’s contract procedure as being a response to the failure of alternative ways of
    tackling the problem. Perfectionist theories are infeasible given our assumption of a lack of consensus on
    what gives value to life. Utilitarian theories fail because of their aggregative character: they fail
    adequately to take account of the interest of individuals. Contractarian theories explicitly take note of the
    interest of each, but without some restriction on information would tend to reproduce an existing pattern
    of advantage and disadvantage.

    The fair procedure that Rawls uses is one embodied in what he calls ‘The Original Position’, this has
    five main features:

    1. First, the task facing the parties to the agreement is specified. They are to reach a consensus on the
    principles to govern the basic structure of a society in which they themselves will be placed. This
    society is conceived of as being in Hume’s ‘circumstances of justice’: that is it is a society of limited
    generosity and moderate scarcity.

    2. Second, the character of the parties is settled. They are conceived of as instrumentally rational in the
    sense employed in economic theory (that is they seek the most efficient means to realise the goals
    they happen to have) and mutually disinterested (they do not care whether other people do well or
    badly compared to themselves).

    3. Third, they are conceived of as choosing behind what Rawls calls the ‘veil of ignorance’. They are
    ignorant of two sorts of things: first their own talents and abilities and their place in society; and
    second, their own conception of what gives value to life (their conception of the good, which may
    include religious and aesthetic ideals or even just tastes and preferences). Rawls introduces these
    restrictions so that people cannot tailor the principles of the just society to suit themselves. The veil
    of ignorance implements the idea of impartiality which is an essential component of the concept of

    4. Fourth, the choice of principles is constrained by various formal considerations which Rawls takes to
    be essential to the concept of law. Principles must apply universally and generally, they must be
    capable of generating a definite answer in case of conflict and they must, crucially, be capable of
    being made public. The principles that are to govern the just society must be principles that are
    known and understood by citizens rather than being reserved to an elite of guardians.

    5. Fifth, the parties do not choose their principles from scratch, but rather are presented with a list of
    alternatives which represent various conceptions of justice that as plausible as prima facie
    interpretations of the concept of justice as applied to the basic structure of society. These
    alternatives are drawn from our tradition of reasoning about such questions and include amongst
    their number classical utilitarianism, average utilitarianism, various perfectionist principles and
    some mixed ones.

    Rawls suggests that the parties will hit on two principles to govern the basic structure of society:

    FIRST PRINCIPLE: Each person has an equal right to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic
    liberties which is compatible with a similar scheme of liberties for all.

    SECOND PRINCIPLE Social and economic principles are to satisfy two conditions. First, they
    must be attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of
    opportunity (the opportunity principle); and second, they must be to the greatest benefit of the
    least advantaged members of society (the difference principle).

    The first principle is considered as lexically prior to the second and the first part of the second is
    lexically prior to the second part of the second.

    See also, a Rawls glossary , for
    definitions of key terms
    Reading: John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Ch 1. ? C.Bertram 1995

    Lecture 8. The Difference
    Back to index

    The official canonical formulation of the difference principle, as Rawls states it in sec.46 of A Theory of
    is ‘Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are ... to the greatest benefit of
    the least advantaged, ... consistent with the just savings principle’. It is lexically subordinate both the to first
    principle of justice, which governs the basic liberties, and also to the other part of the second principle which
    guarantees fair equality of opportunity.

    Who are the ‘least advantaged’? Rawls understands this in terms of the prospects of some representative
    member of a class (he suggests unskilled workers) or in terms of the average income of those with less than the
    median income. Neither of these is especially satisfactory and Rawls seems to ignore the possibility that the
    least advantaged might be members of some permanently unemployed underclass with much less than the
    median income. He also seems tacitly to assume that much the same people will be ‘the least advantaged’ in
    different possible societies. A second ambiguity concerns the way in which Rawls builds inequality into the
    formulation of the principle. The way Rawls originally puts the principle it looks as if inequalities are only
    permissible if they better the lot of the least advantaged. But that interpretation seems inconsistent with
    Rawls’s claim that the parties to the original position do not take an interest in one another’s interests.

    Arguments for the difference
    1. The argument from the original position
    Rawls claims that the parties to the original position will use as a principle of rational choice the so-called
    maximin decision rule. This decision rule states that faced with a choice of alternative states of the world with
    each state containing a range of possible outcomes, one should choose the state of affairs where the worst
    outcome in that state of affairs is better than the worst outcome in any alternative. This decision rule is
    different from the one commonly employed in rational-choice theory which states that one should choose in
    order to maximize expected utility. Rawls claims that the normal utility-maximizing rule is not applicable
    where one is denied a knowledge of the probabilities attached to particular outcomes.

    2. The ‘Pareto’ argument
    Rawls’s official argument for the difference principle is then less than fully convincing. Fortunately he also has
    a subsidiary argument in favour of the difference principle. Here, he bases his defence not on contractarian
    rational choice but on moral argument. He begins from the familiar idea that people do not deserve either their
    natural abilities or their place in the social hierarchy. Where one was born and the assets one was born with are
    seen as matters of brute luck. In a free market system, of course, one trades on those assets to get more in the
    way of income and wealth. But Rawls contends that it would be unfair to allow distributive shares to be
    influenced by factors that are arbitrary from a moral point of view. According to him, this fact establishes a
    presumption in favour of an initial equality in social primary goods. But he then suggests that it would be
    irrational to insist of maintaining this equality if everyone could do better by abandoning it. He suggests that
    where the lot of everyone (and therefore the least advantaged) is improved by departing from equality this is
    what we should do.

    Predictably, since the difference principle is a principle of distribution that sits between a strict egalitarianism
    and an acceptance of whatever distribution issues from market interactions, the difference principle has
    attracted critics from both left and right .Right-wing criticisms have tended to focus on the apparent
    inconsistency between Rawls’s critique of utilitarianism and the acknowledged effects of the difference
    principle. Rawls, in his critique of utilitarianism makes much of the fact that utilitarianism ‘Fails to take
    seriously the difference between persons’. But doesn’t the difference principle do just this by using the talents
    of the better endowed as a resource for the less well endowed? A left-wing criticism might be to argue that if
    the sense of justice is motivationally effective, the more advantaged will not need unequalizing incentives to
    get them to contribute to the common good.

    John Rawls, A Theory of Justice section 11-17

    Brian Barry, Theories of Justice, ch. 6, and Appendix C.

    Christopher Bertram, ‘Principles of Distributive Justice, Counterfactuals and History’, Journal of Political
    I, 3 (1993).

    G. A. Cohen, ‘The Pareto Argument for Inequality’, Social Philosophy and Policy, 1995.

    John Harsanyi, ‘Can the Maximin Principle Serve as a Basis for Morality’, American Political Science
    , (69) (1974), pp. 594-606.

    Lecture 9 Communitarian critics of
    Back to index

    One of the most prominent strands of reaction to Rawls’s work has gone by the name of
    communitarianism. This current of thought revives some historically prominent lines of anti-liberal
    thought, of both right and left, drawing on ideas from Aristotle, Burke, Hegel and Marx to greater or
    lesser degrees. It opposes the universalism, individualism and abstraction of liberal thinking about society
    with an emphasis on the particular, the social and the concrete. It looks backwards to an ideal of human
    society as a community, rather than an association of individuals, and it looks forward to the revival of
    such community on a new basis.

    The just society and the good
    Communitarians allege that liberals, by presupposing that human beings are best seen as separate
    individuals pursuing their private goals are led to see society as a mere means for the pursuit of those
    separate goals. On the one hand, this is a false account of our nature. Our identity is not something
    original that is given to us prior to our participation in society, and many of the goals that we pursue are
    not private but social and common. On the other hand, it is also a deeply damaging one. Insofar as
    liberalism gains the upper hand, it is alleged, individual goods with be prioritised over social ones, people
    will become more individualistic and also more unhappy as they are cut off from the possibilities of
    shared human life together which are in fact essential to the good life.

    How far does Rawls actually exemplify the position that communitarians demonise? First, we could look
    at the design of the original position. Here we have separate individuals who take no interest in one
    another’s interests and who are in ignorance of their own conception of what gives value to life. Both the
    individualism and the abstraction of this picture might seem problematic. Second, communitarians might
    question Rawls’s emphasis on primary goods. goods that are valuable to someone whatever their plan for
    life. It might be questioned, for instance, how far Rawls’s list in fact incorporated a bias in favour of
    liberal individualism, screening out conceptions of the good which are intrinsically social in nature.
    Third, the priority of the right over the good, or neutrality about the kind of life human beings ought to
    lead, might be seen as a dangerous abstentionism in the face of knowledge about certain goods and bads,
    and might seem to preclude the possibility of state action in defence of those common goods or in defence
    of a shared identity. Fourth, the emphasis on justice, a remedial virtue, as ‘the first virtue of social
    institutions’ might be thought to divert effort and attention from the construction of a society which, not
    being sick, was not in need of such remedies. Finally, the universalism of A Theory of Justice
    might be seen as diverting us from the truth that the good life for human beings is always the particular
    form of life lived by particular human beings with particular traditions and falsely representing as
    universal, needs, aims and forms of life that are both themselves local and particular (just what people
    around here happen to do) and actually not very desirable by historical standards (people lead unhappy
    and frustrated lives).

    One difficulty for communitarianism is that insofar as it emphasises the internal values of particular
    societies, then liberalism can claim those as its own for this society. Insofar as it adopts an external
    relativistic stance, it fails to provide the kind of concrete support that members of a moral community
    would want to have.

    Walzer’s pluralism
    . In the course of exploring our shared meanings about justice Walzer notices something very interesting
    about societies like our own (and a fortiori the United States ) on the one hand, and societies like the now
    defunct Soviet Union on the other. He notices that in both of these societies a single principle of
    distribution tends to dominate all others. So that in market societies the purchasing power of cash tends
    to secure not just a few consumer goods but a whole range of good (even including social honour) and in
    Soviet type societies bureaucratic power had the same capacity. Walzer argued that for single principles
    to dominate in this way is unhealthy and the we should look instead to a plurality of principles: some
    things should be distributed according to money, some according to merit, some according to need

    Papers by Macintyre and Sandel; in Michael Sandel ed, Liberalism and its Critics.

    Stephen Mulhall and Adam Swift, Liberals and Communitarians, Introduction. ch 1, 2 [3 and

    Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy, ch 6.

    Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice, ch. 1.

    Jeremy Waldron, ‘Particular values and critical morality’ in his Liberal Rights.

    Political Philosophy: Lecture 10:
    Rawls’s Political Liberalism
    Back to index

    In A Theory of Justice Rawls is committed to something like the liberal principle of
    legitimacy. If we are to justify the use of the coercive power of the state over individuals it ought to be
    in terms of reasons that all can accept (or at least ought to accept). But people disagree with one
    another not just because of their unreasonable selfishness but also because of their quite reasonable
    attachment to a diversity of incompatible religious and philosophical doctrines. A Theory of
    has a picture of the well-ordered society as being one where citizens affirm something
    like the doctrine of Theory. If the coercive power of the state ever needs to be deployed it will
    be deployed for the reasons outlined in Theory and when citizens advance justifications to one
    another they are advanced in terms derived from Theory. But it is perfectly possible to be a
    reasonable person and to disagree with the reasonings of A Theory of Justice. Nor is there any
    reason to suppose that this problem will go away. Rather a theory of justice has to take cognisance of
    what Rawls calls ‘Four general facts’ about modern societies. These are: (1) The fact of pluralism; (2)
    The only way round the fact of pluralism is the oppressive use of state power to enforce unity; (3) If a
    well-ordered society is to survive it much enjoy the support of the majority of its citizens and so it
    must be justified in terms of reasons that most of them can affirm (yet most of them cannot affirm
    particular sectarian doctrines); (4) The public culture of most democratic societies contains intuitive
    ideas which it is possible to work up into the justificatory basis for a constitutional regime.

    This fourth fact leads Rawls to believe that it is possible to elaborate principles to govern the basic
    structure of society (its political realm) which will be acceptable to most citizens despite their
    conflicting views. Citizens may have all kinds of beliefs but they also have, Rawls believes, a public
    persona as citizens. In that role they see themselves and others as free choosers of ends and capable of
    revising and examining the conception of the good which they are to pursue. . Not only do people see
    themselves and others as free, pursuers of ends, they also have a conception of themselves and others
    as equal which disposes them to moderate their own claims in order to accommodate the reasonable
    claims of others and (a further and new dimension to reasonability) they can understand that how ever
    much they believe that their views about the good life, how to live, the existence of God etc., are true,
    yet another reasonable person might come to quite different conclusions about those same matters.
    Because of that fact of reasonable disagreement it would be quite wrong (and unreasonable) to insist
    on the enforcement by the state of that part of my beliefs that can be the object of such reasonable

    Now Rawls describes his new theory as being ‘political not metaphysical’. He means two things: first
    that the theory is restricted in scope to cover the ‘basic structure’ of society. Second, it is political in
    that it does not rely on any of the general metaphysical facts that are disputed among reasonable
    persons in a pluralistic society. Rather it relies on working up the shared values of freedom and
    equality that he presumes are shared among citizens into more determinate principles to govern
    society. These shared values are the focus of what Rawls calls an ‘overlapping consensus’.

    What about the societies where there is no such overlapping consensus? Surely Rawls wants to say
    that such societies are defective in some way and that it would be better for them if they were to have
    liberal institutions? Yet he seems to have deprived himself through his new-found contextualism of
    the means to make these points.

    A further criticism we might make is to point to the uncertain status of the reasonable within Rawls’s
    later theory. At its most basic level the reasonable has to do with the capacity for forbearance, for
    being willing to moderated one’s own claims when others are also prepared to moderate theirs. But
    Rawls also seems to want to use the term in a more neutral, epistemic sense. These senses

    Why should someone grant priority to the values of the political domain ? Rawls fails to give an
    adequate answer to this problem. Someone who is already predisposed to liberalism will no doubt
    agree with (or at least tend to give considerable weight to) the suggestion that those matters that will
    be the object of intractable disagreement between reasonable people (such as abortion, foxhunting and
    pornography) ought to be outside the province of legislation, but it is unclear that the demand to be
    reasonable is in itself enough to secure this conclusion.

    John Rawls, Political Liberalism.

    Jean Hampton, ‘The Moral Commitments of Liberalism’, in Copp, Roemer and Hampton eds.,
    The Idea of Democracy.

    Political Philosophy Lecture 11.
    Democracy, Preference and Consensus
    Back to index

    As citizens of liberal democracies we live in societies shaped by two sets of imperatives and with social goods
    distributed by two sets of mechanisms. Those mechanisms are, of course, political democracy and the market.
    One way of looking at these mechanisms is to see them as merely neutral instruments of social choice, with
    some goods (fruit and hi-fis) naturally best distributed by one (the market) and others (public order, defence)
    naturally best distributed by the other (the political system). Some people even see one of these mechanisms
    (the market) as somehow constituting a quasi-natural social order with the other as being an unwelcome
    parasite, to be dispensed with where possible. But to look these institutions in such a way is to presuppose
    something like the truth of the Hobbesian or Humean picture, and to see human needs as motivations as being
    external to the instututions that shape and pre-empt them. look at practices of voting and political argument.
    Both of these practices offer the possibility of a bridge from the self-interested self of the marketplace to the
    public-spirited citizen of the Rousseauain republic.

    According the instrumental view of rationality I act rationally when I act in such a way as to maximize the
    satisfaction of my preferences. Now there is a well-known problem about people so understood. This is that it
    seems to be irrational for them to vote in the first place.

    If the theory does't get people to the polls in the first place, nor is it going to do the job of explaining how they
    vote when they get there. In the polling booth, as I look at my ballot paper, I am conscious of myself as both
    consumer and citizen. Happily I am able both to express my judgment about the common good without
    incurring the cost of any net loss in terms of my personal interests. We can see here an asymmetry between the
    market and a political democracy as a social choice mechanism. In the market if I use my assets in one way I
    forgo the opportunity to derive the benefits that would have come to me had a I spent them in some other way.
    But the political case is quite different, I can enjoy the luxury of expressing my support for a particular vision
    of the common good without incurring any costs associated with my self-interest since the chances of my
    affecting the result are so small.

    Insofar as people are prepared to express and affirm a view on the common good they seem to be doing
    something which is open to criticism, which calls out for discursive justification etc. When we interact
    discurisively with others, when we communicate, converse etc. We often do this non-manipulatively. This is
    true when we are discussing some positive question about the way the world is where we all have an interest in
    the truth. But it is also true in discussion of politics, in collective practical deliberation about ends, and often
    about the means to secure those ends.

    A conversation conforms to the norms of rational communication insofar as it is free from domination (the
    exercise of power); free from strategic behaviour by those engaged in the conversation; and free from lying and
    self-deception. The conversation should also be conceived of as taking place between equals who are all
    competent to advance and criticize arguments. We all know of situations where these circumstances fail to
    hold. Do they hold to any degree in this case?

    Bringing the two parts of the argument together we can see that each person if they are rational is likely to cast
    their vote according to a judgement about the common good and that insofar as they engage with others in
    communicative action oriented towards reaching a consensus on the common good they presuppose certain
    conditions. Now very few of us has a systematic interest in distorting the conditions of communication in order
    to bring it about that a consensus is reached on other grounds than those of rational argument. In any case,
    given the scale of modern political discourse, few of us are in any position to couch our input in anything other
    than argumentative form.

    Geoffrey Brennan, 'Politics with Romance: Towards a Theory of Democratic Socialism', in Alan Hamlin and
    Philip Pettit eds, The Good Polity.

    Jon Elster, 'The Market and the Forum', in Jon Elster and Aanund Hyland eds, Foundations of Social
    Choice Theory.

    Christopher Bertram, ‘Self-Effacing Hobbesianism’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, vol
    XCIV (1994)

    Political Philosophy: Lecture 12:
    Forms of
    Back to index

    Equality is a value that figures prominently in the writings of both egalitarian socialists and
    egalitarian liberals. Even those who do not adhere to such views usually concede that equality is
    part of the story in political morality. The question naturally arises: what sort of equality should an
    egalitarian care about? The question is all the more pertinent since promoting equality on one
    dimension - say 'opportunity' - leads to inequality on another - say, wealth.

    In this lecture I discuss only briefly arguments for and against equality, such as those for Rawls's
    difference principle or those contending that the pursuit of equality is inimical to some other value
    such as freedom. My main concern is with competing concepts of equality.

    Equality of welfare. Welfare is a natural choice for the dimension on which people should be
    treated equally. After all, if people care most about their welfare it presents itself as a plausible
    candidate. But there are formidable objections to such a view whether we take a hedonistic or
    preference based view of welfare.

    1. The problem of other minds

    2. Welfare is not all we care about

    3. Other-regarding and impersonal preferences

    4. Offensive tastes

    5. Expensive tastes

    The difficulties with the equality of welfare conception have led some theorists, notably Ronald
    Dworkin to propose an alternative: equality of resources. Equality of resources can have two main
    forms: (1) it can be sensitive to the distribution of Rawlsian social primary goods; or (2) it can
    include within the scope of 'resources' not only the material resources available to a person but
    also a person's talents and abilities. Ceteris paribus under equality of resources a person will be
    worse off if they have expensive tastes or are inefficient resource to welfare converters but not as a
    result of poverty or mental or physical incapacity. Equality of resources is attractive partly
    because of the way it chimes with liberal neutrality.

    As an interpretation of equality it is, however, inferior to equality of opportunity for welfare. This
    interpretation is successful in defeating the expensive tastes objection but fails for other

    Egalitarians often favour compensation for disadvantage that is not properly cashed-out as welfare
    deficit (e.g. the unusually cheerful person who is paralysed still gets a wheelchair in an egalitarian
    scheme). But although egalitarians are often disposed to compensate for disadvantage in the sphere
    of capability, they also sometimes favour compensation in the sphere of welfare (would they refuse
    to issue painkilling medicine on the same terms as they did the wheelchair to a person who was an
    unusually capable athlete but who suffered great pain from moving her limbs?). On possible final
    candidate for consideration is that egalitarians should compensate people for disadvantage that is
    not the result of their own choices.

    Amartya Sen, 'Equality of What?', in S. McMurrin ed. The Tanner Lectures on Human
    vol. 8 and in his Choice, Welfare and Measurement.

    Ronald Dworkin, 'What is Equality?' parts one and two, Philosophy and Public Affairs
    10 (1981)

    Richard Arneson, 'Equality and Equal Opportunity for Welfare', Philosophical Studies 56

    G. A. Cohen, 'On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice', Ethics 99 (1989).

    W. Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy see chs 2, 3, 5.

    CB 24/01/96 13:04



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