John Rawls & the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of politics Lisa Cooley
John Bordley Rawls (1921 ~ 2002) was an American moral and political philosopher.
In Justice As Fairness, Rawls sets out the 4 fundamental roles of Politcal Philosophy:
1. Practical Role
Arising from divisive political confluct and the need to settle order – find a basis for philosophical and moral agreement!
2. Collective Orientation
Identity. How we orient ourselves in society conceptually – articulate your principles for a reasonable society!
To make peace with what we don’t like because ultimately institutions are rational. Be positive rather than resigned!
4. Realistic Utopianism If you want to learn more check out How does the distinction between these two relate to our political system now?
(Variation of previous role) Probing the limits of practical political philosophy – Life is hard and messy but it still has the potential to be good!
What is politics?
“Enforced regulation of joint action/co-existance”
Why do we need politics?
HUMAN NATURE – Maybe we need enforcement to refrain us from ourselves?
∙ Hobbes’ psychological egoism, vanity, desire for self-protection
∙ SCARCITY – To deal with the economic problem of finite resources and infinite wants & needs
But why Government? Why not private institutions for everything?
Does politics = government?
Governments are only effective when there are non-zero-sum conflicts, meaning there is a way to compromise.
Govs can enforce political and economic agreements between people and make contracts legitimate in the marketplace
Govs can provide public goods – a class of goods that the marketunder-supplies
Govs can facilitate collective decision-making – constitutions to regulate our actions, lays out the expectations of society
The problem of Political Legitimacy
Don't forget about the age old question of spirillum volutans causes what disease
What kind og government has a claim on us even if we disagree with them?
∙ Normative criteria
o Personal Welfare – Is it good for the citizens individually? o Public reasons – Is it good for wider society?
Aristotle (384~322 BC)
Born in Macedonia (An outsider in Athens)
Starts off at Plato’s Lyceum: A place for teenage boys to philosophise for life
Leaves, makes his own school (The Academy) and tutors Alexander the Great before he becomes great Don't forget about the age old question of ml4t gatech
In Politics, Aristotle asks:
1. What is the right form of political organization? 2. Where do human beings fit in this? (What is the Good Life?)
He was interested in PRACTICALITY and “phronesis”, or the exercise of practical wisdom to pursue the good life (so not just ethics and normative thinking). How? The method of decomposition – “examining everything in the fewest possible elements”.
From this thinking we get the different units of association: Sub familial level Family Kin State
∙ The ultimate ‘end’ for humans seeking a good life is the state, because we are political animals.
∙ THE STATE IS PRIOR TO THE INDIVIDUAL
∙ Only as part of a city can people fully realize their nature; separated from the city, they are worse than animals.
The highest form of man is eudaimonia, (our telos) and this can only be achieved through:
∙ Being self-sufficing
∙ Being autonomous
∙ Having the right qualities of character (virtues)
∙ Having reason
∙ Identifying effective means
∙ Separating the real from the ephemeral
…All of these are best realised when part of a state.
1. Happiness is the satisfaction of goals/desires
2. Human beings are intentionally pursuing happiness
3. State is a social form that defines self-sufficiency
Social binaries – In the household, there is man and woman, master and slave, parent and child
A note on slavery:
Aristotle justifies slavery by arguing that the master-slave relationship is mutually beneficial. Some people are masters by nature just like some are slaves by nature. It is inhereted. The masters are more virtuous, and the slaves fulfill their duty by helping their master achieve his higher telos. Aristotle likens the relationship between master and slave to that between soul and body: the master possesses rational, commanding powers, while the slave, lacking these, is fit only to carry out menial duties. If you want to learn more check out 9itgs
He also likens the relationship between master and slave to that between a monarch and his people and that between a statesman and free citizens.
What kind of state is best?
One with a constitution that “determines what is to be the governing body, and what is to be the end of each community.” Needs legitimacy. The law should be the absolute sovereign, and the decisions of the government should only be made in those cases where the law is unclear. The government should not have the power to make decisions that go counter to the law. A sovereign law should confer benefits according to each person's contribution to the city (meritocracy), and deliberative and judicial assemblies that are made up of all citizens should rule in cases where the law is ambiguous. This form of government is polity. Don't forget about the age old question of 50000/160
A good citizen upholds the constitution – Because there are different kinds of constitutions there are also different kinds of good citizens.
Good citizen = good man? If you want to learn more check out chapter 8 the emergence of a market economy
The only standard for being a good man is perfect virtue, so it is possible to be a good citizen without being a good man. A good ruler who possesses practical wisdom can be both a good citizen and a good man.
Are the demands of citizenship as Aristotle sees them too much for a modern person? May it be possible to refuse them? What might that look like?
Aristotle’s virtues (courage, reason, self-sufficiency, autonomy) aren’t strictly defined! Also, they might not be practically possible for everyone in society – maybe it can/should only be expected of civil servants? If everyone becomes virtuous, who’s going to do the menial jobs? Aristotle would say that the “natural slaves” simply have lower rational capacities and lower virtue potential.
Obstacles to practical wisdom:
interpretation of constitution
Forms of government:
No. of rulers
For Aristotle, Polity is the best. It is the “attempt to unite the freedom of the poor and the wealth of the rich”, and “ruling and being ruled in turn.” Power lies in the strong, middle class citizens
Different organs of government controlled by different sections of the population. (Except not really because ‘citizens’ were a small group of elite men – anyone who is entitled to share in deliberative or judicial office.)
A shared venture in which everyone participates in order to achieve a common good.
Aristotle’s epistemoligcal beliefs – In line with Plato’s theory of ideal forms. Everything can be understood in relation to the ideal.
Aristotle doesn’t really answer the question of how much authority the state should have over the individual. For him, the goal of the city = the goal of the individual. The individual could have no truly rational needs or interests outside the confines of the state, because we are political animals. As a result, it would be absurd to desire any kind of individual freedom in opposition to the state. Connection to Hobbes.
Justice is the end goal of politics. All constitutions are based on a notion of justice, but are different, so the definitions vary. There are differing notions about the end goal of the city. The end goal of a city is the good life for its citizens. For Aristotle, justice≠equality! Everyone should know their place in society and their own virtue potential.
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)
Born in Florence, Italy and had a peaceful childhood
Received a humanist education
Moved to Rome to work for a Banker
Returned to Florence in 1494, witnessed the expulsion of the Medici family, oligarchic despots who had ruled Florence for decades, and the rise of Girolamo Savanorola, a Dominican religious zealot who took control of the region shortly thereafter.
Political Conflict in Italy – French invasions by Kind Charles VIII, influences Machiavelli’s attitude towards the gov and pleas for Italian unity.
Machiavelli gets involved in the government and the Florentine military. In 1513 he is wrongly accused of participating in a conspiracy to restore the republic and leaves Florence.
He desperately wanted to return to politics and writes The Prince to win the favor of Lorenzo de’ Medici, then-governor of Florence and the person to whom the book is dedicated. Career opportunist? Maybe.
Beginning of the Renaissance (‘rebirth’) – rediscovered the works of Aristotle (But he wasn’t Christian and they needed a way to link his philosophy to Chrisitian doctrine)
“mirror of princes” – description of what traits a ruler should have. Machiavelli composed The Prince as a practical guide for ruling. flattering and coming out of the humanist tradition
Unlike Aristotle’s virtue and telos-based political philosophy, Machiavelli focuses on how things really are in the world.
Types of principalities
∙ Much easier to maintain as compared to new principalities because everyone ‘knows the drill’ so to speak. There’s no need to change past institutions.
∙ Harder to maintain. People will willing trade one ruler for another, there are no strong attachments to anyone who hasn’t ruled before.
∙ The expectation that someone else is better suited to be king makes people take up arms against a relatively unestablished prince.
∙ It is good if the Prince speaks the same language and has the same culture as the people. In this case, the prince just has to destroy the family of the former prince, and maintain the principality’s laws and taxes.
∙ Otherwise, they have a harder job and need to set up a completely new regime
∙ Recognize problems early and support the weak, discourage the strong
∙ Advises living there in the state so that the people feel more connected to you but also so your opponents feel more scared of you.
∙ Also, establish colonies to maintain power.
∙ Good Princes need to understand war craft and statecraft – they are interconnected.
∙ Fortuna = Go seek it, don’t wait for it to come!
∙ Virtu = Like virtues, but not about being a good person according to humanist tradition, but being a good ruler who knows how to maintain control. Machiavelli looks at the historical record to determine what the virtu of rulers are.
Machiavelli wants to be completely empirical – he doesn’t have a Hegelian notion of history. If we want to move forward, we have to look at the way history teaches us.
Machiavelli’s philosophy emphasises ordinary subjects. Compared to Aristotle’s elitest philosophy, he sees the ordinary citizen as a simpleminded creature ruled by pain and pleasure, which will determine their like or dislike of the government. As long as the prince can maintain control, he need have little concern for their welfare. There is a dichotomy between ethics and politics. The ends justify the means (as opposed to Kantian ethics). Moral flexibility.
English civil war (Parliament vs the King) 1642 – 1651
Thomas Hobbes (1588~1679)
“Fear and I were born twins”, born the day the Spanish Armeda sets sail to attack England.
A ‘domestic’ of lord Cavendish (Erl of Devonshire) Discovered as a prodigy at a young age and received an excellent education thanks to his rich uncle.
An interlocuter of Descartes and Gallileo
Influenced by Euclid’s ‘elements of geometry’ 1640 – flees to France for 11 years because he is scared of persecution for supporting King Charles I (Royalist) when parliament was turning against the king.
1646 – becomes a tutor to the Prince of Wales 1649 – King Charles I is executed
1653 – Leviathan is published in London, returns to London Leviathan
Starts off with what we know about human nature:
1. Desire for self-preservation is psychologically innate – People often say noble things, but when it comes down to it, they will defend themselves tooth and nail, survival of the fittest.
2. Felicity – There are certin things that give us pleasure, but instead of going for the strong one-time hit, we should aim for long-term pleasure/happiness
3. Insatiability – there are natural (original) and instrumental (derivative) powers. Natural powers: having a loaf of bread, Instrumental powers: having money to buy a loaf of bread. We are never satisfied with the amount of power we have.
4. Passions – fear, love, jealousy, hate, all opposed to reason. “The power of man, to take it universaly, is his present means to obtain some future apparent good, and is either original or instrumental.” You keep wanting more because it is a way to ensure #1 and #2.
Social condition of Humanity
Laws of Nature
“dictates of reason” and also “divine commands” (He needed to appeal to the religious folks of his time)
1. Immediate, unconditional preferences – “every man ought to endeavour peace, as long as he has hope of obtaining it”. This is what we naturally do anyway! We perform covenants because they benefit us and not doing so is foolish.
2. Conditional preferences – when cooperation of an individual is conditional on the cooperation of others. Kind of like the golden rule. These preferences needs an authority to enforce.
“Niceness prevents unreasonable nastiness”
The doctrine of anticipation
If we anticipate that the ed result will be violent, we might as well start the violence now to have to upper hand.
Our human instinct to self-preservation and the doctrine of anticipation combined = the need for an authoritative ruler.
Hobbes’ basic argument:
1. If people lived without a state, they would be in a state of war (actualy fighting and anticipation of fighting)
2. A state of war is the worst possible human circumstance 3. An absolutist state offers a stable and desirable to all resolution 4. N form of state with limited authority provides a stable resolution 5. The absolutist state is the ONLY form of state that can be rationally justified
Key Claim: “The social and political regime which can be shown to be agreeable to all from the appropriately specified and independantly defensible position is thereby justified as the preference of every subject. Actions that undermine that regime are, therefore, irrational.” (Similar to Machiavelli, viewing ordinary people as simple)
Theory of political obligation
For Hobbes, a social contract is a surrender of liberty in return for order. Because the ruler has authority over everyone, everyone obeys.
Who do we pick?
Wo don’t. This is unimportant to Hobbes. Nothing is worse than a state of nature. As long as there is a ruler, the doctrine of anticipation stops binding, and self-preservation makes you more scared of the ruler than your neighbour.
Power and Authority
Everyone is equal in their capacity to injure others, and their vulnerability to be unjured by others. Physical strength doesn’t matter because we have other means of hurting one another (a skinny man with a gun is just as/more dangerous as a big man with a stick)
Power = Capacity. Strength. Think in terms fo physics. Authority = Public power. The power to influence people. For Hobbes, power is too spread out and needs to be concentrated into one person who has authority.
Why only 1 person?
If there are checks and balances on the ruler, his authority is not complete, and people who are unhappy will turn to the person/judge who has some authority over the ruler and try to make him king instead. This will lead to civil war.
3 key features of the ruler:
1. Absolute power
2. A product of the covenant between ourselves
3. Objecting o him is objecting to ourselves- the ruler and the people should have the same interests
‘Liberty’ = Also comes form physics. ‘Unrestricted movement’. Even at gunpoint Hobbes says we are free and think liberty and fear can coexist.
1. Position of choice – Human nature, social condition of humanity, reason
2. The causal mechanism that turns the state of nature into the state of war
3. How the absolutist rule resolves the problems of the state of war and the coordination argument
4. Why other kins of regimes cannot succeed
5. Absolutism is the answer.
John Locke (1632 ~ 1704)
Secretary to Anthony Ashley Cooper, later Earl of Shaftesbury. Performs sensitive political tasks, including writing the Consitution of Carolinas.
2 years earlier, King James II was ousted for King William III in the Glorious Revoluion – it was mostly bloodless and peaceful
Whigs vs Tories the question was ‘how far can the ruler press his power without getting checked? Power of the prerogative (taking action without consent) Locke was on the side of the Whigs and was pro-revolution.
Locke is called on to write a rebuttal to Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha, that argues for absolute government. Locke’s Second Treatise of Government is published in 1690 It is commonly compred to as a the major counter-argument to Hobbes’ Leviathan
Filmer’s Paternal Theory:
Political obligations of children follow from the fact of being born. Noone is free.
o Argument from reason: Fathers give their children life, therefore can take it away
o Argument from fact: Fathers have the right to control their offspring o Argument from revelation: The Bible says so
Filmer’s Property Theory:
Political obligations are a consequence of pre-existng structure of property ownership inhereted from Adam.
1. Humans are naturally equal and have ” personal political equality” and natural rights. In a state of nature, natural law governs behavior, and each person has license to execute that law when someone enfringes on their rights. To Locke, natural law is always going to bind as catagorical imperative.
2. Humans are naturally free and property is an extension of life and limb.
In a state of nature, there are 3 rights:
1. Natural right to freedom (and, as an extension, the right to inheret property of ancestors)
2. Natural executive right to punish
3. Exclusive right to seek compensation (restitution)
The Position of Choice:
1. Natural Freedom
2. Natural equality
3. The existance of the wicked
4. Subject to passions
5. Interests in life, liberty, and property
6. Instrumental reason
Lockes’ solution: Limited social contract
A two-stage contract from the state of nature:
1. Commonwealth (People) that act via majority rule to… 2. …Hire the government
trading away unanimous consent
government’s authority held ‘on trust’ from final authority (the people)
fall of gov ≠fall of the commonwealth
Normatively speaking, the government should act in the best interests of the people, as should the people. TRUST can be revoked! The government is tied by strings to the commonwealth.
BIG Difference between Locke and Hobbes: There is no trust in Hobbes. The Gov is not a trustee! If the gov falls, we revert to a state of nature.
For Locke, if the gov fails, it can be replaced because eof the 2- state structure
Limits on the authority of the people:
In Letter Concerning Toleration, there is a distinction between state and religion. The 2 should not coincide. You can’t force someone to believe, but you need to force someone into the social contract by virtue of being in a society.
∙ Environmental determination argument – youre most likely to stay in the denomenation of your parents. There is evidence today that shows that beliefs can be changed/engineered. Psychology.
∙ Counter critiques – Irrelavence of coersion for internal belief, ‘red line test’ (If you can see that a line is being crossed where there could potentially be damage.
Limits on the authority of the government:
1. The purpose constraint – The whole purpose of the government is to protect the lives, liberties & properties, and so it CANNOT take the lives, liberties and properties
2. Rule of law – ‘publically promulgated and impartially formulated’
3. Requirement of consent for property takings – no taxation without representation!
4. Legislative Supremacy despite the executive’s Perogative Power.