Philosophy Kant vs Mill and Covid 19 Essay
Writea five-page essay on the following topic:
General Theme: Kant vs. Mill
Examine Kant’s notions of the Good Will and Duty. What role should emotion play in moral decision making, according to Kant? Define his Categorical Imperative. Then, contrast this with J.S. Mill’s overall position on ethics. What do you think is Mill’s essential difference from Kant? Finally, consider their respective impacts on policy during the COVID-19 crisis: How would their recommendations differ? Do you prefer one approach over the other?
Three needful things:
Please provide a comprehensive introduction to your essay, indicating its overall scope and direction.
Back up your summary of the material with at least four citations from our Ethics text (at least one on Mill), using a standard referencing system (APA or MLA) for your citations. (ATTACHED DOCUMENT)
Essays not following these directives will be returned for revision.
Essays are to be presented in double-spaced 12-point New Times Roman with standard margins.
THE RESPONSIBLE COMPANY CHAPTERS ONE AND TWO
We begin with a paradigm case of a business that is both successful and has a conscience. My point of
focus will be on the philosophy behind the company’s workings. To begin, it’s worth noting that the
authors (and it is significant that the book is a collaborative effort) are both athletes: they are deeply in
touch with their bodies, and aware of the complex conditions that allow the body to be healthy and
I find the very first sentence to be remarkably thought-provoking: it begins “We are still in the very early
stages of learning…” For those who think that we are at a late-stage of the game of civilization, or “it’s all
over but the shouting,” take heed: The perception of where we are in a story (whether personal or
collective) is a matter of free choice. Someone young in years can choose to be world-weary pessimist;
the Irish poet W.B. Yeats, as he approached the end of his mortal life, claimed that he was just learning
how to write.
The authors continue with some crucial observations on human nature, that we are inventive and have
moral capacity. And then an observation that is essential to understanding the philosophy of Aristotle:
“We now need to more fully engage these gifts…” In other words, we are falling short of our potential.
Most of Chapter One narrates the development of Patagonia, beginning with “You should know that at its
beginning Patagonia was meant not a risk-taking, environment-obsessed, navel-gazing company, but an
easy-to-milk cash cow.” (2) And then “Our responsibilities as businesspeople came slowly and almost
involuntarily…” (3) The narrative is one of improvisation, guided by what masters in the Zen tradition
call the “beginner’s mind,” and what Jazz masters and athletes call “being in the Zone.” (Of course this
relates back to the theme of time.) It is also a key precept in Zen that we are naturally compassionate, and
forgiving, and need to reclaim our “Original Face.” Much of the rest of the chapter engages these themes.
We learn later of a remarkable dialogue with Walmart (!): “Southern California versus rural Arkansas,”
(11) and the willingness to forgive the legions of “old villains” such as Nike. (8) (I wonder if one can be
too forgiving to Nike…)
Toward the end of Chapter One, the authors issue an ominous wake-up call that serves as a prelude to
Chapter Two: “No human economic activity is yet sustainable.” (15) Amidst the very real dangers
associated with our current pandemic and the perdurance of institutionalized racism, we need to recall that
we are still very much amidst (largely silent, at present) environmental crisis. This will be a crucial theme
in our course. Perhaps my favorite bumper-sticker of all time (along with “Yield to the Princess”) is
“Nature Bats Last.”
Regarding Chapter Two, I wish to focus on three themes. The first appears at the very beginning (17),
which once again engages the “time” issue, and reveals the deep philosophical attitudes that underwrite
our environmental crisis. They reference the 20th Century British philosopher Lord Alfred North
Whitehead (a quadruple whammy!): “We experience nature’s ‘creative advance’ as perpetual novelty. But
nature generates its changes at a much slower pace than we now allow, and in more complex ways than
we can easily recognize.” In other words, the Western tradition tends to focus more on sweeping changes
and disruptions rather than the complex homeostatic processes that evolve slowly and hold things
together. The perspective is one of an aloof spectator on a mountaintop, beyond it all and surveying vast
eons of time. For too long, philosophers (who do have their influence) have been spectators.
What follows is a series of mind-numbing numbers (which of course have changed since 2012) that reveal
a grim fact” “In short, the world is becoming a desert.” (20) What I wish to focus on is the phenomenon
of numbers itself (something you are all familiar with!) How do you feel when you hear the latest
numbers about the pandemic? Do you feel anything? And did you know that there is solid clinical
evidence that the discourse of numbers tends to truncate compassionate responses? Yep.
Finally, there is the trenchant observation about America’s tragically conflicted relation to the natural
world: “If the United States is the birthplace of conservation…of nature as teacher, we have not kept
stride with the rest of the world.” (22) Of course, we are barely moving right now. What lies behind this
contradiction? I think it has to do with America being the “New World,” with the settlers heading West
confronting those gorgeous open spaces (replete with “savages”) that was beautiful to survey but
containing an enormous wealth of resources that was “ripe for the picking.” As the sociologist Hughlings
Jackson said a long time ago, the idea of a Western Frontier defines the American psyche. It still does,
and we need to get over that, and soon…
THE RESPONSIBLE COMPANY CHAPTER THREE
Chapter Three concerns the evolving paradigms for responsible business practices, and specifies the
criteria for the best practices for today.
A significant part of the chapter narrates the changing nature of these practices, and as I’ve asked you to
chime in on this topic, I won’t address this now. I want to examine two themes in the authors’ perspective
on how things should look moving forward, and also suggest that this perspective might, in some way, be
rather sketchy and dissatisfying.
At the bottom of (28) the authors reveal a “web of responsibility” that companies owe to the “outside
world”: “In this light a responsible company owes a return not only stockholders but to something that
has come to be called stakeholders, entities dependent on or beholden to the company, but also on which
the company depends…employees, customers, communities, and nature.” This is indeed progressive,
ecological thinking, understanding things in the relation to the whole.
On the other hand, we read on “Stockholders still get first dibs and last, but their return relies on the
cooperative productivity of the other stakeholders.” I have two questions here: Does the stockholder’s
return really depend upon cooperative productivity of the other groups? This is very complex question.
First, relative weights need to be supplied regarding the importance of the other groups—and here the
stockholders rank first and nature last. The authors also assume that the market, in the end, is rational,
even just. Much can be said about both claims, and for now it’s worth noting that the
authors don’t mention that the top 10% in worth of the US owns 85% of the stock.
On (27) the author reveal their vision of our best future: “In a post-consumerist world, goods are likely to
be more expensive, to reflect their true and environmental cost, prompting us to shop less as a form of
entertainment…We’ll be able to recover time for satisfying pleasures that derive from pursuing our
deepest interests.” A beautiful vision, and the latter sentence, as we’ll see, could have been quoted from
Aristotle. But I close today with the question of whether this post-consumer society is compatible with
capitalism as we know it, with its benchmark annual 3% GDP growth. In the EU, where they arguably are
in a post-consumer society, many of the main banks have been loaning at negative interest. Do the math.
ARISTOTLE (384-322 BCE): BACKGROUND
We now come to the philosophical part of our course. What can we learn from this sequence of five
thinkers from the past? I hope to show that we can learn a whole lot, and that they are quite relevant to
every aspect of our lives, including Business Ethics.
From a certain perspective, Aristotle is a late-comer on the stage of ancient Greek thought. Philosophical
speculation had been ongoing for centuries before him, and this makes Aristotle the first historian of
philosophy. Nothing comparable in terms of a comprehensive theory was produced in the West until the
It would be helpful to say something about Aristotle’s predecessors, especially Socrates and Plato. Greek
philosophy begins with a series of attempts to offer “natural” (that is, non-mythological) explanations for
various phenomena in nature and in the human world. These “Natural Philosophers” also generally
formulated an ethic of “living in accordance with nature” (as they understood it): This is a matter of great
and continuing significance, since they perceived that living according to nature often meant disobedience
to the laws of society, and Natural Philosophers were often marginalized or even considered subversive.
A contemporary (or recent) analogue would be the Hippies.
Socrates (469-399 BCE) and Plato (428-348 BCE) forge a radical break with Natural Philosophy, and
their “urbanization” of thought (Cicero) might be considered a crucial moment in the West’s ecological
crisis. Socrates abandoned Natural Philosophy at an early stage of his career in favor of “concept
analysis.” The early dialogues of Socrates (recorded by Plato) feature Socrates cross-examining his fellow
citizens (significantly these were men who were Socrates’ social superiors) about the meaning of such
concepts as Justice, only to determine that those in power did not know what they were talking about.
Socrates deeply assumed that these concepts had objective existence (huge for Plato): Justice, for
instance, is not something we just make up.
As many of you might know, Socrates paid for his questioning with his life. In the account of Socrates’
trial, we seem him being confused with the very people he is trying to distinguish himself from (Natural
Philosophers, for example), and the charges that lead to his execution are “corruption of the youth”
(Socrates has “instigated” a generational divide) and “Impiety”: Socrates did have peculiar religious
views (monotheism, for instance). Religion in ancient Athens was state-administered, and not believing in
the gods of the city was tantamount to Treason.
These events impacted Plato deeply. He thought that Socrates’ fate was a referendum was on humanity
(or lack thereof) itself: This was the kind of thing that happens in this situation. The Righteous suffer, and
their Kingdom is “not of this world.” (Sound familiar?) While his early dialogues are generally
considered close to verbatim accounts of Socrates’ conversations, Plato’s later works are philosophical
fiction, where Plato is “channeling” Socrates. There are two points of great significance: First, Plato
believes that there is another dimension of existence (containing pure Ideas of things, including Justice)
that is untouched by the Darkness of this world. Second, is Plato’s concept of Justice itself, which is
crucial to our course. It is arguable that Plato had a “richer” conception of it than our generally held idea
of it, where justice is held to be understood in terms of “fairness” and “equal treatment.” In his Republic,
Plato envisions an ideally just society defined in terms of every member of society doing the work that
they are best suited for; in other words the work that they find the most fulfilling to their nature. This
means that if you’re in the wrong job, this is evidence of injustice. Plato thought that in undesirable
political systems (democracy, for instance!) almost everyone ends up with the wrong job.
It’s been said (with some justice) that a person is either Platonist or an Aristotelian. Aristotle was Plato’s
“star student” at the Academy, the clear forerunner to the modern university. It is crucial to note that
Aristotle was born about fifteen years after Socrates died: This tragic event didn’t touch Aristotle’s soul in
the same way it did Plato. This, plus the simple fact that Aristotle’s temperament might have just been
different, led Aristotle to be much more committed to worldly things. This is encapsulated in his doctrine
of “hylomorphism”: For Plato, destroy this world and the realm of pure Forms will endure; not so, for
Aristotle. Like Plato, he thought there was a difference between Form and material substrate, yet for
Aristotle you can’t have one without the other.
The effects of this different vision are rather massive. Aristotle’s thought recommences interest in nature
(although in a very different way than the pre-Socratics), and his scientific ideas held sway in Western
culture until the Renaissance. Of much greater interest to us is his politics and ethics. Aristotle was much
more a “pragmatist” when it came to politics. He realizes that you can’t have the same level of precision
in politics than say, a logical or mathematical proof (we’ll see this repeatedly in the readings), and it is
quite worth noting that while Plato was a failure as a political consultant, Aristotle was mentor to the most
powerful person in the Western world at that time: Alexander the Great.
Yet, on the other hand, Aristotle does take away quite a bit from his mentor, including the “richer” notion
of Justice and the critique of democracy. In addition to this, we will also see that political and economic
systems (and business entities) can be evaluated in terms of how they promote and nurture those qualities
that make us distinctively human. This will be Huge…
Finally, a biographical note: Aristotle, in keeping with his character, was no “Drama King.” When
Alexander died in 323, his enemies came out of the woodwork, and conducted a witch hunt rather similar
to the one that led to Socrates’ demise. Aristotle was a prime target, and similar charges where levelled
against him. He was given the option to self-exile, or face a trial that would certainly lead to a Socrateslike fate. He decided to get out of town, “lest the Athenians sin twice against philosophy,” and died
peacefully the following year.
Before moving onto the text, it would be helpful to say a bit about Aristotle’s “conceptual world.”
Obviously, it is a pre-Darwinian, even pre-Newtonian perspective. Two features stand out:
First, Aristotle classifies (as does Socrates and Plato) beings in terms of the general class (or genus) to
which they belong, and then in terms of the characteristic(s) that make that being unique to its class: this
is the differentia (or “species”) being. Aristotle believes that the world is, in fact, arranged this way (so
it’s not just a convenient classification schema), and here we can see more than a hint of “intelligent
design” theory. This is the background for Aristotle’s famous definition of humankind as
“political/rational animals.” Further, every being has its own unique virtues. The Greek notion of virtue
has less to do with restraint and more with excellence and power: A virtue is what makes a being an
excellent example of its kind. Toward the beginning of the Republic, Socrates famously says that “Justice
is the human virtue.”
Second, Aristotle’s physics, and general theory of motion may seem rather naïve to us, but contains some
ideas that I think continue to be useful. Aristotle thought that motions can be categorized into one’s
conducive to fulfillment and those contrary to fulfillment, which Aristotle calls “violent” motions. Thus,
the rock thrown from a tower falls because the Earth is its “natural place”; and fire rises because it seeks
its natural place, which is the stars. Obviously this is a non-starter as physics, yet perhaps it is still valid in
understanding human behavior, and even the process of History itself. More on this later.
I wish to draw attention to four key points from Book I. In the first section, Aristotle introduces a further
dimension to his theory of motion/action. There are two types of actions: those that are means to some
further end (or goal) and those, in performing them, are in a sense the end, or goal, itself. Obviously these
latter form a quite special category, and we will be examining the general issue, and the various responses
given to it throughout the term.
Second, it is worth drawing attention to a potentially ominous point made in the second section. Here
Aristotle claims that “politics is the master art form” since it decides how other arts are to be practiced in
a society. Just file that one, for now.
Third, we come to our first approach to his famous definition of Eudaimonia (translatable as either
“happiness” or “flourishing”): It is “activity of the soul (psyche) in accordance with virtue.” (71) Yet,
what sort of activity? According to Aristotle, it can only be those activities that make us distinctively
human: the expression of our rational and political natures, nourished by virtues, is in itself fulfilling.
We’ll go into detail at the beginning of next class.
Finally, there is the rather sobering proviso: that this Eudaimonia is only possible “in a complete
life…one day or a short time does not make a person blessed and happy.” (71) This theme, which might
be called the “fragility of goodness,” suggests that our happiness might be subject to conditions beyond
our control. Hence the importance of education, and politics…
THE RELEVANCE OF ARISTOTLE
While not good physics, Aristotle’s theory of action is helpful in understanding the pursuit of a life-plan:
our actions are to be evaluated in terms of the fulfillment of the plan. We will also see this idea applied to
the historical process itself: that human history itself has a (perhaps implicit) “plan” (or ideal)—an
important phenomenon in the run-up to Marx.
Also very helpful is Aristotle’s account of the virtues as a “fine-tuning” of our personalities. In some
ways, this bears resemblance to the “Middle Path” ethos in Buddhism.
Yet, in terms of Business Ethics, probably the most important consideration derives from Aristotle’s
belief that if we are denied leisure to contemplate, we do not realize our essential natures. And his noting
that this opportunity depends on forces that no private individual can control remains quite relevant. Thus,
for our purposes, the extent to which a business entity, or even our economic system, promotes
“contemplation” (however you wish to define it) is of great significance in an ethical “audit.”
Finally, it is worth glossing on an interesting (and somewhat esoteric) theme discussed in Book X. We
already know that in contemplating things, we actualize our own nature: but Aristotle goes further and
claims that we are actualizing the things’ nature too. This is not the way we generally think of it: The
World is “there” whether we know it (or like it) or not. But Aristotle claims that the world is here for our
contemplation. His belief is often understood in terms of the old “tree in the forest” question: For
Aristotle, it is claimed, the tree did not fall if it was not heard. Personally, I do not find this example
helpful: It is more like the Earth being a piece of music: If there’s no-one to listen, then it’s not Real.
KANT (1724-1804) CONTEXT: MODERNITY AND ENLIGHTENMENT
We now take a huge leap forward in time, from Antiquity to Modernity. As we will see, the world of Kant
breathes a quite different atmosphere from Kant, much more like our own. Of course, what lies between
these two figures is a whole lotta Christianity, and the various ways in which Christianity has been
understood—and attacked—will inevitably be a topic of concern moving forward…
If I could encapsulate the change to modernity in a single image, it is as if the human gaze is redirected
from the vertical plane to the horizontal: Instead of gazing up at “Heaven” or downward to Purgatory or
Hell, we now look into the Horizon. With the Voyages of Discovery (and the beginnings of Colonialism),
the overall loosening of the bonds between the Church and individuals, and (crucially) greatly increased
economic activity, the World is becoming more “Worldly.”
The Enlightenment is centered in the 18th Century. Also known as “The Age of Reason,” there is a
general emphasis (although there are exceptions) upon those qualities that make us equal as human beings
(our Declaration of Independence and Constitution are quintessentially Enlightenment documents), and
the general mood is one of optimism in the inevitable progress of science and technology, and in our
Kant himself is the last, and perhaps the finest fruit of Enlightenment. He lived in the far northern part of
the German speaking world which was known for two key qualities: Pietism (a strong version of
Lutheranism) and for its Business Ethics. Kant saw the consistency of a daily routine to be a beautiful
thing, and the housewives in his neighborhood could set their clocks to the exact moment he walked by in
his afternoon “constitutional.” (Pardon the Pun!)
KANT’S “FOUNDATIONS”: TEXT AND COMMENTARY
Kant begins (184) with celebrating the infinite worth of Good Will. The Good Will is an underlying
disposition of the personality, and is something that you can give to yourself (“autonomy”). As we’ll see
it is not founded on variable emotions, but from a more constant source: Reason. A person who acts
according to Good Will is benevolent (which means “good will”), and is something fundamentally
different from sympathy. Kant is not a “critic” of sympathy; rather it is a safety net, when one is “not
feeling it.” As opposed to “talents of the mind” (such as intelligence), virtues (such as courage), and
various gifts, which all can be used for nefarious purposes, the Good Will “shines like a Jewel in the
Darkness of the World.”
Kant develops an intriguing argument about the role of Reason in establishing a Good Will. On 185-6, he
disqualifies two traditional options for the role of Reason: First, he claims that when it comes to securing
our needs, Instinct is more reliable than Reason. Second, and Kant has Aristotle in mind, the exercise of
Reason does not necessarily bring happiness or pleasure. He assumes that we have Reason “for some
reason,” and preliminarily claims that Reason is a “practical faculty, meant to have an impact on our
will.” In other words, it can determine our Duties.
A Duty is something you do “whether you feel like it or not”; or more deeply, something that is done
regardless of circumstances and regardless of consequences. (Kant is the ultimate “it’s the principle of the
thing” philosopher.) He forges the connection between Reason and Duty by observing that both are
concerned with establishing Laws. And our duties are what issues forth from Good Will.
Now that some of the pieces of the puzzle are on the table (Kant rewards patience!), he turns (187) to a
famous example of what we generally consider to be morally paradigmatic, and asks what the deep
structure of this phenomenon is. He takes the example of a gifted doctor who is suffering from
depression, and is contemplating suicide. The doctor decides to pull herself/himself together and move on
with the work. So, what’s really going on here? First, Kant is claiming that such a move really is possible,
and this means that we really are free. This is crucial theme throughout the text (see especially 191): It is
an essential characteristic of personhood that we can step outside the causal sequence of events, see them
from without. Only humans have an idea (or concept) of what a Law is.
Now Kant asks the crucial question regarding what is going on in the mind of the noble doctor. And here
we come to our first approach to the Categorical Imperative. The doctor steps outside the immediate,
private situation of depression, and sees oneself as a representative of humanity, asking whether “I will
what I am contemplating right now (suicide), as a Universal Law?”
O.K. we now have a foothold in the text. Kant requires time, and we’ll look deeper next time.
As we’ve seen, Kant (in line with Enlightenment) places the highest emphasis on what unites us in
common, which he believes is Rationality. And here we come to the key conundrum in his thought: Kant
claims that we differ in Intelligence but are equally Rational: How is this possible? His answer isn’t
terribly clear, but I think good sense can be made of it. What Kant means by Rationality is the capacity to
formulate and modify a life plan. This is what really does separate us from non-humans, and is arguably
the fundamental source of human dignity.
Thus, Kant’s Ideal Society (the “Realm of Ends”) would feature the mutual recognition of one another’s
capacity for formulating and modifying life-long projects. Now, imagine a World in which we conceive
of one another as such, as a “work in progress,” and not as the Representative of some ideology that you
happen to dislike? In other words, Judge Not (though critical engagement with the other remains fair
game.) Thus, the great value of Kant’s ethics is to promote the Foundation of a Civil Society. The
Categorical Imperative, which Kant claims is the real teaching of Christ in the Gospels, puts a break on
our inner reptile, whose expressions are so fostered by our popular culture.
Kant shared the deep Enlightenment perception that gradual progress in promoting its values would
spread throughout the world. This belief was supported by 18th Century natural history, which envisioned
a very different world than the one described by Darwin. Because he believed in a “tweak this, tweak
that” approach to political change, Kant’s politics, supported by his view of Time, were quite
conservative. All of this changes in the next century…
INTRO TO THE POST-KANTIAN 19TH CENTURY
The 19th Century ushered in Romanticism, and featured four coordinated changes in European culture:
First is the change in our understanding of unconscious mental functioning. Kant thought that automatic
mental processes were rational and common to all people: now they began to be seen as non-rational and
unique to each individual. Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams (1900) stands at the end of a long process,
with increased fascination with dreams, psychopathology, and paranormal phenomena.
Second, artistic creativity takes on an enhanced importance. Art largely replaces rational inquiry as the
essential human activity, as it conjoins reason with the non-rational. Artists such as Beethoven become
supreme cultural figures.
Third is the rediscovery of nature and the dawning of ecological consciousness. 18th Century culture was
very urbane, and there is a cute story about a wig-pated artist riding through the alps in a carriage, pulling
the curtains down so he did not have to look at the “irrational” and jagged mountains. The same figure a
century later, with long natural locks, gazes out and is inspired to create.
Lastly, there is nationalism in various forms. As we saw, the Enlightenment emphasized our
commonalities. Now, we see various cultures concerned with returning to their “roots.” Composers often
turn to regional folk material for inspiration. Politically, differences are emphasized, which later lead to
some quite virulent forms, such as Nazism.
J.S. MILL (1806-1873): BIO
The epicenter of Romanticism was in central Europe, yet impacts all of it. Mill is also, in some sense, a
child of Enlightenment (heir to Hume) as well. Four key features of his life stand out:
John Stuart Mill was the son of James Mill, a prominent economist and architect of classical capitalism.
He also had “interesting” ideas about education, derived from the psychology of John Locke, who thought
the mind was a tabula rasa, a blank slate that would take on whatever is “impressed” upon it. J.S. was
home-schooled and had tons of information crammed into his head. Result: a complete mental
breakdown, from which he eventually recovered.
Mill was mentored by Jeremy Bentham, who invented the hideous word “utilitarianism.” As we’ll see
next time, he attempts to reinvent it, and Aristotle will be a seminal influence.
Third, Mill became quite active in politics. We’ll examine his inner conflicts regarding socialism, and he
also an essential figure in the women’s suffrage movement.
Last, and relatedly, Mill had a long romance with a married woman, Harriet Taylor, whom he later
married after her husband died. Together they authored The Subjection of Women, an essential work in the
Before moving on to the text, three items of note:
First, as I mentioned, Mill is trying to rehabilitate this notion, which was first pioneered by Jeremy
Bentham, his mentor. Bentham’s version features the infamous “Hedonistic Calculus,” in which
numerical values can be assigned to pleasures, with a decided emphasis on physical pleasures. Mill’s key
revision features a qualitative account of pleasure. (Ethics Chapter 11 is an article of Bentham’s, and it is
Second, in relation to Kant, we have the classic contrast between the “deontological” ethic of Kant, which
focuses on principle and purity of intent, with Mill’s consequentialist approach.
Third, Mill is famous for the other of his “Twin Towers,” On Liberty, which is a classic defense of the
benefits of freedom of expression, and for his “no-harm principle,” which limits this freedom by
prohibiting direct physical harm to others. As we’ll see, the two works are meant to dovetail with one
MILL’S UTILITARIANISM, CONT’D,
Text with Commentary:
On 221, Mill makes two major claims. Those who are acquainted with both physical and intellectual
pleasures prefer the latter. Comment: One can only hope. And is it so easy to distinguish between them?
Imagine a hard fought and successfully consummated romance: Physical or non-Physical?
He also claims that the more your higher capacities are developed, the more capable you are of suffering.
On 222, Mil claims that it is better to be a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied fool. Comment: What
about a million satisfied fools? He then goes on to say that a dissatisfied Socrates is more valuable since
he understands the many sides to an argument. Here is one point where there’s confluence with On
Liberty: In order to access these various sides, freedom of expression is essential.
Later on the page, Mill says that the higher sensibilities are a delicate plant, easily killed by a lack of
education and unfulfilling work. (Sound familiar?)
Two key points about the remainder of Chapter II: First, he claims (reasonably enough) that the “greatest
happiness principle” is compatible with self-sacrifice (after all, why would one otherwise sacrifice
oneself?) He makes an oblique reference to Christ’s self-sacrifice, and then goes on (227) to claim that the
best way of understanding Christ’s ethic is through the doctrine of utility. Comment: This does not at all
appear to be Christ’s ethic. To act in such a way implies that many (including the Elect) might be left
behind. Kant’s Categorical Imperative seems to be much more in-line with His teaching.
Finally, Mill claims (228) that the doctrine of utility is also compatible with acting self-interestedly. He
claims that we act in this manner most of the time and this is (somehow) compatible with the greatest
happiness of all. This sounds a lot like the “hidden hand” concept in capitalist economics. Mill then gives
the infamous example of the rescuing of a drowning man: what matters most is the outcome (the man is
saved), and not the motive of rescuer (he might well expect to be compensated). Comment: I find this to
be a very, very bad argument. Imagine you have rescued Jeff Bezos . He is grateful but assumes you have
recognized him and expect to be handsomely compensated. But you didn’t and acted out the kindness of
your heart. What a transformative moment when he realizes this! The purity of your intent does matter,
and can have enormous consequences. C’mon Mill…
Chapter Five of this work attempts to show how the principle of Utility is most in-line with our most
commonly held beliefs about Justice. More specifically, and in a manner virtually identical with Hume’s,
Mill says (238-9) that the ideal just system would harmonize our often-conflicting impulses of sympathy
and self-protection. Unlike Hume’s agnosticism on this matter, Mill says that his “greatest happiness”
principle is optimally suited to be the guide in framing codes of Justice. Comment: A powerful point.
Mill’s often expressed optimism (which often sounds Enlightenment) is powerfully stated toward the end
of the reading (242). Mill, who had sympathies with some versions of socialism (stay tuned), often took
the side of Worker’s Rights in his parliamentary votes. Yet, he was conflicted. His no-harm principle
mandated his opposition against violent protest, even when the relevant capitalists were clearly
intransigent. And he went as far as supporting a Measure giving multiple votes to the propertied classes,
thus subverting democracy. In this way, Mill embodies inherent conflicts within Liberalism.
One final comment: “What’s the Timeframe, John? Is it the Greatest Happiness of the Greatest Number
of this Generation, or how many more, moving forward? What if the future happiness requires intense
present sacrifice?” Mill’s thought is ill-equipped to answer this concern.
REFLECTION: ARISTOTLE, KANT, AND MILL
Each of these thinkers provide a unique and valuable perspective, both regarding our own ethical Ideals,
and can be employed to evaluate various political and socio-economic entities.
In addition to his virtue ethics, Aristotle is invaluable in his insistence that human flourishing requires that
we exercise those qualities that make us distinctively human: our contemplative and political natures.
Kant provides the finest basis for our rules of civil engagement, and as we will see, Kant’s Categorical
Imperative is a major motivator for Marx.
Finally, despite all its evident flaws, Mill’s hierarchy of pleasures and Greatest Happiness principle as a
general directive for society still carry a lot of weight.
A solid personal ethical theory might well contain elements from all three theories.
BACKGROUND TO THE MANIFESTO
Hegel’s Theory of History: G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1832) is the most prominent German philosopher
between Kant and Nietzsche. While not a Socialist he laid a vision of history and of human interaction
that influenced much European thought, including Marx.
Unlike Kant, who thought and believed in gradual historical progress, Hegel presents a “catastrophist”
model, in which occasional revolutions were essential to historical development. As with the
Enlightenment, paradigms in natural science are used as models for historical change. As Nietzsche
would later say, “Without Hegel there would be no Darwin.”
Metaphorically, history is structured like a Beethoven symphony. (They’re born in the same year, so this
is Hegel 250, too). Motif fights it out with contrasting motif, leading to a new motif, which itself becomes
the source of contrasting one, and so on. Like Beethoven, these conflicts are resolved at the end. Both are
strong believers in redemption.
Other features: Cultures fail due to irreconcilable internal conflicts, often because they either overvalue
individuality or, on the other hand, the collective and, ironically, unjust regimes generate the very forces
that will destroy them. (Huge for Marx). Finally, Hegel imagines a state of extreme polarization before
the final synthesis: “The Night is Darkest just before Dawn.”
While the specifics of Hegel’s just society are complex, it bears resemblance to Plato’s Aristocracy.
Hegel’s Master/Slave Dialectic: In his Phenomenology of Spirit, he engages in a thought experiment
about the development of human consciousness. In this hypothetical, two persons confront one another
striving for much-needed recognition. What is suggested here is that we only come to a sense of Self
through recognition by Others: an essential precept of social psychology.
Continuing the story, one individual emerges victorious and subjugates the other, turning the individual
into a Slave. The Slave not only suffers the loss of recognition, and hence humanity, but also the
humiliation of having the products of her/his labor stripped of the Slave’s ownership.
What is suggested here is that, in addition to recognition, we come to understandings of ourselves through
our transformation of the world, that is, through Work.
These two features in tandem—recognition and work—are the essential lens through which Marx will
understand the plight of the Proletariat. And by the way, matters aren’t so great for the Master, either. In
demoting the Slave to an instrument, the Master is ironically deprived of recognition. And since the
Master doesn’t work, he lives an “ungrounded” life, with its attendant psychopathologies.
Marx and Hegel agree: An ideal society is one which features mutual recognition of our Personhood, and
where we feel that our objects of creation truly “belong” to us.
Marx’s “1844 Manuscripts”: One of the most noteworthy discoveries of the 20th Century was that of a
series of papers he wrote (and left unpublished) in Paris during the early years of Socialist uprising. Marx
was 25, and fresh off studies of Philosophy. Excerpts are included in Ethics Chapter 14, and I encourage
you to read Engels’ touching eulogy to Marx, cited at the beginning of the chapter.
Four key points of this selection stand out: First, Marx emphasizes the ongoing and worsening nature of
the sense of self-impoverishment, as workers submit the products of their hard work to their Masters.
Second, in a manner that engages both Aristotle and Kant, Marx speaks (264) of our “species being,” in
which we recognize ourselves as a “universal and consequently free being.” He is saying here that we are
unique since we are capable of recognizing ourselves as members of a species, and not just particular
beings within a causal order, we have a unique dignity.
Another aspect of our humanity is our sense of beauty (265). Marx claims that we do not create simply to
satisfy material needs (surprise!) but bring standards of taste to our creations. Here he implies that in
order to create in this manner, we need to have a sense of ownership, which is ruled out under Capitalism.
Finally, capitalism blunts our very senses: “Private property (that is, privately held capital) has made us so
stupid…that all our physical and intellectual senses have been alienated and replaced by the mere sense of
Thus, Marx meets Romanticism. Keep this in mind as we move forward…
MANIFESTO: TEXT AND COMMENTARY
This work, a collaborative effort, was written in Paris, during the 1848 socialist uprising. Marx was 30,
and this is significant, as he later will reconsider at least one major thesis of this work.
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” (9) Comment: An epic
opening, powerful and provocative. Yet, I think that standing alone, it may be deeply flawed. There is
more to a person than membership in a class (think Kant). This divisive rhetoric was featured in the
Sanders campaign, and I did not support it for this reason.
Marx then identifies the chief characteristic feature of the Age of Capitalism: the simplification of class
distinctions. Social class structure was “all over the place” in pre-modern Europe, but is now in a state of
extreme polarization. Comment: A deeply Hegelian thesis. While Marx’s observation here predates the
distinction between white and blue collar, the overall claim that the world is divided between those who
possess capital and those who don’t (and can’t) remains formidable.
Marx then identifies another undeniable feature of Capitalism: It’s expansionist tendencies. It becomes
“Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political
advance of that class…The executive of the modern representative state is but a committee for
managing the common affairs of the bourgeoisie.” (10-11) Comment: Another provocative, but
reductionistic thesis, and it is connected to Marx’s call for violent revolution. While modern
“democracies” (such as ours) tend to indicate support for the capitalist class, Marx, I think, did not
recognize the potential our form of government possesses. In any case, violent revolution in a country
such as ours is a complete non-starter.
Now, we come to one of the most interesting parts of the Manifesto: Marx (again inspired by Hegel)
claims that Capitalist culture generates its own pathological conflicts, and in effect digs its own grave.
Some aspects: Capitalism, in order to facilitate efficient communication, constantly innovates its
communication technologies. Yet, these devices can also be used for individuals and groups to share
crucial information, coordinate movements, etc.
Another example: “The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the city…and has rescued a
considerable part of the population from the idiocy (ouch!) of rural life.” Thus people can really get to
know Others without relying upon stereotypes, and find common ground.
Capitalism, with its insatiable demand for growth, generates its own periodic economic crises, such as
overproduction. Too much product is produced, and when effective demand fails, the product is
marketed for a lower price, meaning less revenue for the company, which generally means wages are
cut, which in turn means less buying power. Down we go…
CAPITALISM AND SOCIALISM: SIX NOT-SO TREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Before returning to the text…
What is Capitalism, Anyway? Capitalism means that the capital assets of a society are privately held.
“Capital” might be defined three ways: as the means of production, as embodied labor, as assets that
are used in the production of more assets. Under socialism, these assets are the collective property of
the society. Thus, when Marx speaks of the abolition of “private property,” he is referring to capital
assets, not personal possessions.
Capitalist=Entrepreneur, Right? No. A capitalist is one with funds to invest; an entrepreneur is an ideas
guy, creating new product for the society. A capitalist may be an entrepreneur but not necessarily.
Entrepreneurship is possible under economic systems other than capitalism.
Capitalism “corners the market” on Market Economies. Not true, either historically or theoretically. The
former Yugoslavia was a socialist market economy, and David Schweickart’s model, which I’ll present to
you on Tuesday is also a market socialism.
Socialism=USSR, right? Already it’s clear that this is not the case. Listen to the arguments that you’ll hear
(again and again) about socialism: “Since it didn’t work in the USSR it can’t ever work.” This non-sequitur
is nothing less than propaganda. And it’s worth noting that Marx himself did not think that Russia
(which he thought a backward and chronically corrupt State) was not at all fertile soil for his vision. And
as we’ll see on Tuesday, Lenin’s model of the Party was one long repudiated by Marx.
Socialism=Welfare State. Nope:) From the previous two classes it should be clear that Marx thinks that
work is essential to our identities. And in the ten recommendations with which he concludes Part II, # 8
reads ”Equal obligation of all to work.”
What is the best principle of just earnings? That one should earn one’s keep by Work. And here we come
to arguably the most important distinction in the world today, and that is between income and wealth.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that income is money made working; wealth is money made not working.
Thus, I think a huge part of a reconstituted society will include a transformation of investment and
banking structures. At present the upper 10% of the population owns 85% of the nation’s stock: How
can you justify supporting this?