Friday, June 05, 2009

Honderichian humanity

"""""Do you anticipate an adverse judgement on American hierarchic democracy, more than implied already? Are you, maybe, superior in advance to any such judgements? Do you remember some first year philosophy and say that maybe there is no standard of right and wrong, no moral truth, only subjectivity? Does the weakness of so much political philosophy come back to mind?

Do you remember the social contract theory of justice of John Rawls of Harvard and that it sticks in its liberalism at the beginning, in something called the Original Position, and so is dead certain to get it out at the end? Do you remember that the neo-conservative Robert Nozick, also of Harvard, chose not to notice that a liberty is not any freedom, say a freedom to rape, but a freedom with justification, which latter justification he did not provide for the freedoms of his just society, where the starving have no right to food?""""

In the space of two paragraphs Ted Honderich sums up 500+ pages of Rawls' Theory of Justice, and reduces the Rawlsian social contract to the embodiment of futile and/or hypocritical liberalism. That's rather conclusionary, as legalists say. Rawls's shortcomings should be considered no worse than any academic theorizing about social and/or economic justice--and superior to the usual American bumper-sticker pathos. Indeed, Rawls' contractualism seems rather pragmatic, and substantially less visionary and utopian than Kant's grand vision of the categorical imperative (act as if your every act was a maxim binding on all? A rational person would not drive to work per the CI)--or the usual theological rhetoric. Rawls' "original position" does preserve a bit of the Kantian autonomy, however: a concept unknown to bolsheviks or brownshirts of whatever type (even demopublican types). Similar to Hobbes's Leviathan, Rawls's TOJ ranges closer to economic theory--like Galbraith, or Adam Smith for that matter (who had read his Leviathan)--than to metaphysics. Hobbes assumed that reasonable people, or most of them, in his hypothetical scenario of Leviathan (Rawls also making use of a hypothetical situation for the VoI) would choose a certain egalitarian, peaceful society, in hopes of avoiding the unpleasantness of a state of nature (or life under Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin etc).

Making use of a variation of the prisoner's dilemma, Rawls creates a situation where one's choices (political and economic choices at least) would most likely be in favor of egalitarianism, and also in favor of rights--reasonable people would presumably choose something like rights, and Due Process ( Rawls includes the Lockean/Nozickean minimal rights as well in his system). In fairly well-defined situationsa Rawlsian structure could apply-- such as citizens of a small village--Kropotkinville-- deciding on sharing certain responsibilities---. At a macro-level it might fly, but only with supremely ethical legislators working to put it into effect (so unlikely in Amerika), and some power of enforcement or coercion behind it.

The real objection to a Rawls comes not from the rather utopian Honderich, but, I would suggest, from a Blackbeard--one who has read some Hume, Malthus, Darwin, Nietzsche--the bad guys of Philosophia (include Marx too; no pal of liberal reformers, Rawlsian, or Honderichian). Blackbeard says, why should we choose to enter a Veil of Ignorance, or even bother being ethical or consistent whatsoever? Why not rob, rape, and pillage when you can get away wit' it (and the neo-Darwinists have no ready answer to that either): the Blackbeard meme, however obvious. Most humans, Blackbeards or not, would at the level of society (and not the ethicist's coffee house) likely choose to gamble, be pirates and select inegalitarianism, where they are counted among the aristos, and the majority are peasants and slaves. For that matter, the status quo--whether in terms of property relations, the free market, existing religious organizations, existing governments--may still favor many citizens, so by entering the VoI they would stand to lose (especially given a global context).So one may be forced to rely on a Kantian--or Dantean--argument ad infernalis.

With no govt. force or power to impose the system of ToJ (or H's principle of humanity)--say in terms of distribution of property, labor, and shekels--most humans will not bother with considering donning Rawls' hypothetical VoI, anymore than say many successful criminals--whether mobsters, vegas mafiosi, or chicago politicians--bother following the law; Exitus acta probat being the default "contract." Rawls does allude to this problem of the intelligent Rebel somewhere (re Nietzsche's "perfectionism")--as did Hobbes, rather more forcefully; Rawls, while he made a somewhat valiant effort, appears like an imbiber of wine-coolers compared to the rum-swilling Hobbesian secular hero. (Zizek doesn't care for Rawls either, but bases his objections on some lightweight Freudian "envy". And Zizek like most continentalists leftists would have all anglo-American thinkers who ever existed hanged). Like Marx, Hobbes indeed realized that many people (ie rebel knights, rogue nations, theocrats, pirates--piracy a real concern in Master Hobbes' day) will not likely submit to a social contract or commonwealth, except at the point of a gun (or gunship); Rawls doesn't seem to recognize the existence of guns.

Honderichthis idea of autonomy

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