P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 56
20th April 2003
I. 'From the Republic of Letters to the Empire of Email'
by Richard Anthone and Steve Williams
II. 'Redistributionism Continued' by Anthony Flood
III. 'Pre-Philosophical Ideas about the Soul and Philosophical
Inquiry' by Charles Countryman
I. 'FROM THE REPUBLIC OF LETTERS TO THE EMPIRE OF EMAIL'
BY RICHARD ANTHONE AND STEVE WILLIAMS
A comparison between eighteenth century discussion culture
and a philosophical enquiry project on the Internet
"I have often thought, that the best way of composing
dialogues, would be for two Persons that are of different
Opinions about any Question of Importance, to write
alternately the different parts of the Discourse, & reply
to each other."
David Hume 'A letter concerning the dialogues' 10 March 1751
The eighteenth century is often called 'the age enlightenment'. It was a time
of great philosophers like Newton and Kant but also, maybe even more
importantly, it was a era when a much wider range of people became concerned
with the arts, literature, philosophy and science. A more commercial and less
courtly culture evolved through coffee houses, clubs, reading societies,
commercial theatres and libraries. Private postal services across Europe
enabled an explosion of thoughtful correspondence - the 'republic of letters'.
At the same time, the developing print technologies ensured a rapid exchange of
ideas and controversies in the form of cheap books and pamphlets. Ideas,
information and literary works seemed more ephemeral and less dominated by
local influences, while the flourishing correspondence societies exemplified
new kinds of impersonal interest groups.
Some of these cultural trends seem familiar to us in the age of the Internet -
a new technology appears, enabling even more rapid forms of communication.
Information about all kinds of issues is readily available. There is an acute
sense that ideas and works are ephemeral and much doubt about what information
to trust. There is an explosion of Internet correspondence that is both
personal and organised into interest groups. Even the increased access to
pornography that comes with the Internet was mirrored in the eighteenth century
as clandestine publishers in Switzerland and the United Provinces smuggled
radical books and pornographic pamphlets - so-called livres philosophiques -
across the border into France and then to private libraries across Europe. So
there is a sense of familiarity across the centuries.
The sociable century
The eighteenth century is often characterised by its sociability. An enormous
amount of social and cultural activity became apparent, as if somebody had
dropped a stone in an ants' nest. This sociability manifested itself in two
forms. The first was the institutional sociability of organisations such as the
Royal Society in England and the many other academies around Europe. Those
institutions were recognised by governments and often patronised by
'enlightened' and absolutist kings.
The other kind of sociability was more informal - an expression of people's
liking for 'being together' and organising communal cultural activities with
the goal of learning through discussion and the exchange of ideas. This is
clearly expressed in the Latin quote 'Nemo solus satis sapit' - On your own,
you never know enough (Van den Berg, p. 154).
Informal sociability was strongly related to the emerging cultural market
economy - the exponential growth of book and journal publishing, the continuing
commercialisation of the postal services and so on. But such a commercial
explanation doesn't take into account the spiritual labour involved in
discussion, debate and correspondence. This was the driving force behind
Discussion had a central place in every kind of social activity. Science became
as fashionable a topic in society as the arts - again rather like today. Many
people wanted to reason and they had a passion for knowledge (Zwager, p. 83,
1968). Writers and scientists would often submit their ideas to the salons and
academies before publication (Habermas, p. 34, 1992). People repeated and
discussed their newly-attained knowledge in the clubs, coffee-houses or even in
Networks of sociability
Major academies like the Royal Society of London and the Paris Academy of
Science were founded at the end of the seventeenth century. They were formed to
organise scientific advance and debate. Moreover they were founded as a result
of the rejection of university-based scholastic science (McLellan, p. xix,
Such organisations had two purposes: firstly to obtain and distribute useful
scientific and philosophical knowledge and secondly to facilitate the
integration of individuals into communities that transcended differences
(Roche, p. 158, 1988). Therefore, academies played an important educational
role. For that purpose they organised 'concours', or national examinations,
where people could present essays. In France, two famous people won the academy
prize: Rousseau and Robbespierre (Roche, 1988). It was not only scientific
academies that were founded; academies of fine arts, academies of letters and
academies of music also flourished.
Almost every European country had a set of academies (McLellan, 1985). At
first, contacts between them were tentative, but extensive correspondences soon
developed to facilitate the exchange of publications and ideas, introduce
members to each other, make travel arrangements, and more importantly, to set
up common endeavours (McLellan, 1985).
As a result of the growth of these correspondence networks, academies began to
employ people to maintain and enhance them - to make translations and to
co-ordinate common projects. 'One noteworthy example of the recognition of the
distribution network of the scientific societies and its usefulness for
disseminating science was the project undertaken in 1784 by the English board
of Longitudes' (McLellan, p. 175, 1985).
Salons and coffee houses
Informal salons and coffee houses also played an important role in the
dissemination of knowledge by means of conversation and debate. Salons, like
the academies, started to appear in the seventeenth century, but then they were
of a different nature. The conversations in that time - like the salons of Mme
de Rambouillet and Mme de Scudry - were very elegant, polite and courtly.
Writers were considered to be mere servants.
By the eighteenth century, however, the salons had evolved into meeting places
for all different kinds of people: scientists, writers, travellers, diplomats,
artists and philosophers. The term philosopher, though, was only used for those
who were political and atheist (David Hume frequently visited several salons but
was not regarded as a philosopher, rather as 'un homme des lettres' - a well
educated man.) The philosophy salons were in a minority and the most remarkable
one was that of Baron d'Holbach (Charrier, 1925) where Diderot and D'Alembert
(the encyclopedists), Helvetius and Grimm regularly took leading roles.
Socially, the salons were very important because, unlike the academies, they
encouraged the meeting of well-educated people with a variety of interests and
specialisms. The salons enabled the circulation of information and provided a
forum for discussion and criticism leading to philosophical and personal
development (Roche, p. 242, 1988).
Salon discussion often started when a visitor told a story, reported piece of
news, or read out a letter. Salons developed their own correspondence networks
(though these were informal and not organised as in the academies). Unpaid
salon members maintained the correspondences. Voltaire alone conducted an
active correspondence with 1500 different people, Rousseau maintained a network
of 600 people (Roche, p. 265, 1988). Ferney called Voltaire 'un salon par
correspondence'(Zwager, p83, 1968). The correspondence networks provided
coherence and a sense of community to people unable to attend salon meetings.
Salon correspondence demanded a style of letter writing based on reason rather
than emotion (Roche, p. 264, 1988). We cannot give a clear definition was what
constituted a 'typical' city salon, but some common features were: regular
meetings, conversation, equality of the sexes, equality of classes, friendship
and respect (very important) and a hostess (mostly) who was the subject of much
praise (Zwager, p. 23, 1968).
Eighteenth century coffee houses resembled the salons but, because their
customers didn't need an invitation, they attracted a wider range of social
classes. Dinner or lunch often preceded each discussion. Coffee house owners
prepared tables with books as well as with food and drink. Visitors read,
debated and passed on knowledge. Some of the coffee houses even evolved into
'musees', lycees' or small folk-universities.
Debating clubs were quite large-scale commercial enterprises that charged
admission fees. An example of such a club was the Robin Hood Society in London
where, every Monday evening, large groups of people debated subjects chosen
from a list the week before. Orators were entitled to develop their arguments
for 5 minutes and then the general discussion started (Zwager, p. 33, 1968).
For example, on 20 May 1776 the Robin Hood Society debated the question 'Is it
now compatible with the dignity, interest and duty of Great Britain, to treat
with America on terms of accommodation?' The outcome of the debate is unknown.
In 1780 there were 35 different debating clubs advertising meetings in London.
Women were drawn into the London debating clubs and were described in reports
as 'fair orators' by those who approved and 'bar maids' or 'Strand girls' (i.e.
prostitutes) by those who didn't. The Times of 1788 remarked that '... the
debating ladies would be much better employed at their needle and thread, a
good sempstress being a more amiable character than a female orator' (Andrew,
p. xi, 1994). That women of many social classes attended such meetings and
spoke at all deserves to be noted.
Correspondence continued to be an important conduit of ideas - even outside of
the salons and academies. Letters provided an entry into the world of ideas for
people who would otherwise have been excluded - including women. 'It seems to
have been possible for a woman such as Mary Astell to introduce herself by
letter to a philosopher - in her case the Englishman John Norris - and to carry
on an extensive correspondence, which was eventually published.' (Atherton, p.
Another factor which fostered the democratisation of philosophical discussion
was a view of the nature of human reason that stemmed from Descartes 'that
sound reasoning was in the power of every human soul and that what was required
in order to bring it about was not erudition but a method based on
introspection, and hence within the means even of women' (Atherton, p. 3,
1994). Mary Astell, for example, in 'A Serious Proposal to the Ladies,' Part I,
argued that 'All have not leisure to learn languages, and pore on books, nor
opportunity to converse with the learned; but all may think, may use their
own faculties rightly, and consult the master who is within them.'
What did people of the eighteenth century discuss? Many of their subjects would
now be called 'philosophical'. Discussions of the time covered moral themes,
problems of 'free will', education, religious subjects, social subjects, and
the sovereignty of the king. They were often stimulated by plays and books. For
example, Rousseau's book about inequality prompted many discussions and debates
(Zwager, p. 150, 1968).
Our own century is, like the eighteenth, a time of fragmentation, increasing
commercialisation and fast-developing communications technology. One could also
say that, in a sense, we are witnessing a revival of correspondence culture. And
maybe this is because people want to be intellectually sociable again. Like the
academies in the eighteenth century, universities today organise e-mail
networks for the dissemination of scientific information. As with the networks
of the salons and correspondence societies, people organise email-lists, news
groups and online forums. One can choose a topic of personal interest and
discuss it with others around the world. People can educate themselves by
searching for information or by subscribing to recommended lists run by
newspapers and libraries.
Knowledge seems even more ephemeral today than in the eighteenth century.
Participation in impersonal correspondence (via the Internet) seems even
easier. Yet there is also a sense of futility, a feeling that Internet
discussion doesn't really matter. This, it seems, was mirrored in the
eighteenth century; Diderot and Grimm, who produced the Correspondence
Literaire in manuscript form, believed their correspondence project to be 'an
act of unprecedented waste'. (Bryson, 1981)
It is striking that there are numerous similarities between the Internet and
eighteenth century correspondence networks. Still, there is an important
difference: on the Internet most people are sitting alone behind their
keyboards and screens. Unless specifically organised, there is no
group-discussion conducted orally and no dissemination of common conclusions.
Although one could argue that good-quality group discussions are possible on
the Internet, there is rarely any connection between orally conducted
discussions and written ones on the same topic.
And yet, it should be possible, especially in education. Why not copy the model
of the eighteenth century and take advantage of the technical possibilities of
the Internet. One way or another, written correspondence - transmitted
electronically - can add an extra dimension to oral discussion. The act of
writing can assist the processes of thinking and reflection.
The Philosophical Hotel Project
In 1996, Richard Anthone organised an Internet discussion project called The
Philosophical Hotel. It was funded by the European Commission (as part of its
Netdays collection of online events) and facilitated by Averbode, the Belgian
educational publishing company. The project aimed to encourage
philosophical dialogue, both oral and online, across a network of European
schools with children between 10 and 14 years of age. The project involved a
limited number of schools at first (two in France, four in Belgium, two in the
Netherlands and two in England). It was then made available for several weeks
to any schools who had heard about the initiative through correspondence or
We provided children and teachers, via online forums, with mini-stories,
puzzles and questions to stimulate oral discussions. The forums were designed
to look like discussion rooms in a hotel, complete with cartoon receptionists
and waiters. Teachers conducted oral discussions with the children following a
methodology appropriate to philosophical inquiry - beginning with numerous
'open-ended' questions and leading on to a dialogue of ideas.
After taking part in oral dialogue, children were asked to report their
agreements and differences to others by posting discussion summaries to the
appropriate online forums. Thus, the children created written reconstructions
of oral philosophical discussions about thoughts and ideas. Although the
children's writing and that of the online moderators was entered in their own
language, it was then systematically translated into the other languages used
in the 'Hotel'. Teachers printed out the discussion summaries and used them as
a starting point for further classroom conversation. The resulting summaries
were posted to the forum and thus, a cycle of dialogue had begun. This model of
online philosophical discussion stimulates critical ability and creative
thinking because it provides:
a starting point for cycles of classroom conversations
a refuge for all those who have questions (no online
question is ignored)
a motivation to return to discussions in response to
comments from groups of children in other schools
One highlight of the project was a philosophical event held in an 'Internet
theatre' in Brussels. Groups of children from an International school held
discussions in a variety of languages with help from philosophers and teachers.
The discussions were broadcast 'live' via the Internet. Translators from the
European Parliament provided synchronous translations into five languages so
that children from around Europe could understand all the discussions.
Questions by email were accepted and discussed by the children in Brussels.
Extract from the Online Forum
The following extract was taken from the Philosophical Hotel forum which
explored the question: 'Can you know everything?'
Staf Lijntjes, young reporter for Kid City Newspaper - 11:20 am - 20/10/1997:
Can you know everything? I hope not. Just imagine ... one day you would know
everything. This means you wouldn't have to learn anything. Never ever. You
would never be surprised again. How boring life would be.
Richard, the receptionist - 17:04pm - 20/10/1997:
One additional question: if you don't want to know everything, why do we HAVE
and WANT to learn all kinds of things? How much do we really want to know? How
much can we know? Just reflect on that.
Ecole primaire Jean de la Fontaine - 16:03pm - 20/10/ 1997:
We have thought about the question: can you know everything? We think tacit
investigation is natural because it appeals to our senses. The understanding of
one phenomenon can help us understand others. But isn't there a serious danger
that we make mistakes in our solitary progress, mislead by our senses or a
false deduction? We are looking forward to your reactions.
Richard, the receptionist - 16:57pm - 20/10/1997:
To cole Jean de la Fontaine St Sylvain France: Welcome to the Philosophy Hotel.
Sorry for my lousy French, but I hope you understand what I'm saying. If I get
your point, you answer the question 'Can you know everything' affirmatively. Or
at least the tacit learning. But what do you mean by that 'solitary progress'
you are talking about? Is there a way to get round that problem?
Ecole Primaire Jean de la Fontaine - 13:55pm - 21/10:
No, we cannot learn everything on our own. We would need more than a complete
lifetime to discover just a part of all there is to know. What we meant by
'lonely, individual progress' or 'solitary progress' is this: Every time you
hit your fingers with a hammer, it hurts a lot. So, a hammer is an object
designed to hurt fingers. Is this a correct deduction? Or is it not?
Steve Williams - 9:58am - 23/10/1997:
To Ecole primaire Jean de la Fontaine and everyone: I think I understand your
example about the hammer. Are you saying that people can best find truth by
talking and listening to each other because we can correct each other's
mistakes or say what we think and why. So I might think I know that a hammer is
for hurting fingers but then someone disagrees. They have a better explanation.
I listen and learn. Maybe there is a reply to Staf Lijntjes here who said:
'Just imagine ... one day you would know everything. This means you wouldn't
have to learn anything. Never ever. You would never be surprised again. How
boring life would be.' But even if I think I know something, I can still be
surprised by what others say about it. I might have to think again. So no
matter how much I think I know, life is never boring if I keep wanting to learn
and I like talking and reading about what others think. Is there a difference
between really knowing something and thinking I know. Can I say I know
something if I admit that one day I might change my mind? Some people think
that they know everything they want to. Maybe learning is boring for them. Some
school children seem to think that some kinds of learning are boring - why do
you think that is?
Ecole Primaire Jean de la Fontaine - 17:02pm - 23/10/ 1997:
Dear receptionist: You have asked us why we think we need a complete lifetime
to learn a little bit of everything there is to know. Here is our answer: We
cannot discover everything there is to know in just a tentative way, because
all knowledge together is a very gigantic heap! Even when we think a certain
experiment is very valuable, two investigations will complement each other.
Derwentwater Primary School - 15:41pm - 4/11/1997:
Dear Ecole de Jean de la Fontaine and Richard: We feel that knowledge is not a
gigantic heap. Instead, we view life as a series of empty corridors separated
by many doors, many of which we will wish, at some time, to pass through. Each
door is a choice in our lives. Knowledge is the key to unlock these doors.
Everything we learn is a step along these corridors towards particular doors.
We don't need to accumulate all the knowledge used to get through these doors
of life, only the stuff we need to use now or possibly in the future.
Ecole Primaire Jean de la Fontaine - 17:47pm - 4/11/1997:
Dear Steve Williams: You have completely understood what we wanted to say. It
is by confronting our ideas and talking about them that we get closer to truth.
We think there are different kinds of knowledge: indispensable knowledge,
knowledge related to our future jobs, knowledge related to everyday life,
knowledge just for fun, geographical exploration, music, painting, dancing,
culture, poetry. There is a type of knowledge that can 'hit' you at any time in
your life; It's a type of knowledge you eagerly search for.
Steve Williams - 0:30am - 5/11/1997:
Dear Derwentwater: I like your analogy. It's very striking. I think we could
play around with it a little bit. You say life is a series of empty corridors.
Why empty? Is there anything worthwhile that might go on in the corridors? Your
doors are like choices. Does that mean all knowledge should lead us towards
achieving our goals in life? Are your choices the same as your goals? Also,
what else apart from knowledge might help us to get through the doors? How does
knowledge help us get through the doors? Can you give us any examples? I'm
looking forward to reading your ideas on any of these questions.
Derwentwater Primary School - 15:36pm - 5/11/1997:
Dear Steve and Ecole Jean de la Fontaine: This is what we thought about the
corridors. We thought that each corridor was a big glass cylinder with bigger
glass cylinders surrounding each of these, telling our past, present and
future. As we go along we see doors around us. The key to all doors is
knowledge. This knowledge we get or experience from the many images, pictures,
memories etc. that we see or glimpse through the glass. If we take a peek
inside another door, and look back, the one we were in has changed for good.
Knowledge changes our views of life. Even the floor is glass. Through this we
see our present life and knowledge of the world. Our future can only be glimpse
in the distant layers of glass of glass. All of our life experiences give us the
keys (knowledge) to the many, many doors.
Barnstreet CP Junior School - 13:43pm - 6/11/1997:
Dear Derwentwater: May we come in on the idea of corridors? How long is a
corridor of knowledge? We think a corridor of knowledge is never ending because
it is a life of learning. In life what doors do we come to? There may be good
doors, bad doors, sad doors, a door that means life is over. The knowledge
corridor could end when your life is over ... at death. We think at birth we
enter into the first corridor of knowledge - there is no turning back. Do you
think we have the same corridor? We feel that we all have our own corridor of
knowledge. From Nathan, Sara and Danielle
Through projects such as this, the Internet allows us to revive the dialogical
traditions of the eighteenth century correspondence networks. The Internet
offers teachers what they are all too frequently denied: the opportunity to
link with other and to supply teaching material on request. In this case, the
teaching material is a collection of thoughts from other children and a model
for good discussion. Maintaining and developing discussion networks in the
eighteenth century and today requires much energy, much work, voluntary
participation, a sense of intellectual adventure and above all the belief that
'On your own you never know enough.'
Andrew, D. ed. (1994) 'London Debating Societies 1776- 1799'. London Record
Atherton, M. (1994) 'Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period'. Hackett,
Bryson, N. (1981) 'Word and Image, French Painting of the Ancien Regime'.
Cambridge University Press
Charrier, Ch (1925) 'Les salons au 18ieme siecles'. Librairie Hatier, Paris,
Habermas, J. (1992) 'The structural transformation of the Public Sphere'.
Oxford, Blackwell publisher
McLellan III, J.E. (1985) 'Science reorganized, scientific societies in the
eighteenth century'. Columbia University Press, New York
Roche, D (1988) 'Les Republicans des Lettres'. Fayard, Paris
Van den Berg, W. 'Sociablititeit, genootschappelijkheid en de orale cultus'.
Spies, Historische letterkunde
Zwager, H. (1968) 'Waarover spraken zij? Salons en conversatie in de 18de
eeuw'. Van Gorcum
Richard Anthone: firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Williams: email@example.com
This article first appeared in Analytic Teaching, November 2002, Volume 23,
Submitted to Philosophy Pathways by Steve Williams, Editor of Teaching Thinking
II. 'REDISTRIBUTIONISM CONTINUED' BY ANTHONY FLOOD
My thanks to D.R. Khashaba and Hubertus Fremerey for their responses (Issue 54,
23rd March 2003) to my comments on Jonathan Wolff's paper on redistributionism
and to Geoffrey Klempner for the opportunity to rebut.
(1) Three quick reminders. First, I was invited to comment. Second, the
opportunity to discuss redistributionism tipped the balance in favor of my
accepting the invitation, despite my indifference to how one might offer
redistributed goods to prospective beneficiaries. Finally, Professor Wolff may
have defended those presuppositions somewhere, but commenting on that possible
defense was not what I was invited to do.
(2) Moral Ownership. I should have, but did not, specify moral ownership when I
stated that a resource's owner has the exclusive right to deploy it.
Nevertheless, I presume that Professor Wolff believes, as I do, that "S owns x
for morally justifiable reasons" entails "Only S has the right to use x,
consume x, destroy x, lend x, or give x away." If S owns x, then some other
person T may not do those things with x without S's permission. If, for
example, S received x (money, food, clothes, etc.) via redistribution then,
according to Professor Wolff (I presume), S has acquired and owns x morally and
therefore has the exclusive right to do with x as S sees fit (short of
interfering with T's use of what T morally owns). Should T later stick a gun in
S's ribs and coerce S to hand x over to T then Professor Wolff would, I presume,
regard S as a victim of T's aggression.
I see no substantial moral difference between the ways that S and T acquire x
in the above examples, that is, between redistribution and robbery. Forcible
expropriation is justifiable only to restore property to its moral owners, not
to deprive them of it. While Professor Wolff might regard S as the victim of
one kind of theft, I regard S as the beneficiary of another, in which case S is
no more entitled to x than is T.
Redistribution is not charitable gift-giving. My arguments against the former
have no bearing on the latter. The issue is the permissibility of coercion.
"Redistribution" is a political, not an economic, notion: nothing is left over
to be "redistributed" after goods and services have been produced and
exchanged. Their owners should be free to give them to those whomever they
wish. It is impossible to justify any scheme that rests on coercion by
appealing to the various loves that bind, or ought to bind, human beings to
The concepts of physical possession and moral entitlement do not imply each
other. S owns x 'de facto' if S merely possesses x, that is, controls the use
or disposal of x as S sees fit, regardless of how S acquired x. S owns x 'de
jure' if S acquired title to x in accordance with moral rules, regardless of
whether S also possesses x. For example, I own my wristwatch 'de jure' if I
have acquired title to it in accordance with moral rules of acquisition, even
if I do not yet, or no longer, own it 'de facto'. I morally own my wristwatch
even if I do not yet possess it (I paid for it, but it hasn't yet been
delivered to me) or no longer do so (I was robbed of it). In forcibly taking
possession of my wristwatch, a robber does not acquire title to it.
Redistribution schemes blur the distinction between title and possession and
are therefore incoherent, for they both affirm and deny that forcible
expropriation is a morally justifiable means of acquiring property.
(3) Mr. Khashaba's Indignant Question. As I have argued elsewhere, moral
rules of acquisition have as their frame of reference an idea of the human
good, more concretely, a good life. That is the source of my answer to Mr.
Khashaba's question, "How can my ownership of anything be moral when my
neighbour is suffering for want of some of that same thing?": it can be moral
if he acquired ownership of it peacefully. Rules formulating peaceful means of
acquisition are moral because adherence to them enables anyone and everyone to
improve his or her life (i.e., to increase the probability that he or she will
attain a good life) at no one else's expense, that is, without imposing costs
on any one else.
If you acquired a meal peacefully, then even if I am hungry, you did not
acquire it at my expense. You did not make me hungry. Neither my mere claim
nor the disparity between our situations is sufficient to establish any ethical
obligation you may have to me. For a third party to force you to share your food
with me leaves any such obligation where it was: unfulfilled. Being coerced to
act is incompatible with fulfilling an obligation.
Adherence to peaceful rules of acquisition (original possession of previously
unowned things and any increase in their value; acquisition through voluntary
exchange or gift) does not only benefit those who create more and therefore
have more. It also improves the lot of those who create and have less, but want
more. That is, everyone in a free society is better off - as each of them
defines "better off" - as a result of noninterference with voluntary exchange,
the ethical standard of "good" being lives that achieve and enjoy a wide range
of values harmoniously and regularly.
In contrast, non-peaceful methods of acquisition - wars of conquest, piracy,
robbery, taxation, theft, extortion, third-party interference with the
exchanges of others, redistribution, etc. - are immoral: such methods diminish
the overall prospects of achieving a good-life achievement. They leave people
less well-off - as each of them defines that comparative state - than they
would have been absent the forceful or violent interference.
Those who suffer for want of material things stand a better chance of
alleviating their suffering if they live in a society of free markets, than
they would in a market-hampered or marketless society. The upwardly sloping
historical curve of human happiness in comparatively free societies, however,
bores redistributionists to tears. Even if the less well-off are still
better-off than the absolute monarchs of old, they take the fact that some are
still better off than others as evidence of injustice. As the late Australian
philosopher David Stove noted:
"the passion for equality has a curious feature which de
Tocqueville pointed out: that the more it is fed, the less
it is satisfied. As more and more inequalities are removed,
the more galling are any remaining ones felt to be. A tiny
inequality, at a time when privilege has almost entirely
vanished, excites more indignation than far greater
inequalities had done at any earlier stage."
Wherever bare subsistence is a daily struggle, redistribution is not on the
agenda: things, to be redistributed, must first be produced. Redistributionists
take production for granted. They dissociate the material engines of production
from the flesh-and-blood human beings whose dreams make them possible.
(4) Mr. Fremerey's Ambivalent Liberalism. Mr. Fremerey faults me for my
"fundamental misunderstanding" of the difference between "contractual" and
"The 'social' claim cannot be reduced to a formal claim.
But humans ARE social beings. You cannot deny the baby the
mother's breast by the argument that the baby is not
'entitled' to get nourished. This shows the failure of the
concept of entitlement to understand what society means.
Any decent human society depends on mutual loyalty and
solidarity and love and honesty and understanding. But we
are never 'entitled' to anything of this, because the mere
concept of 'entitlement' is not applicable here.
Entitlement is a juridical concept derived from mutual
consent of contracting parties. This is completely
different from 'social relations'."
Mr. Fremerey seems to be merely stipulating that by "social" he excludes what
we understand by "contractual." I find the stipulation arbitrary and unnatural.
My contractual relations are a subset of my social relations, not alien to
them. Yes, we are social beings, bound by ties of mutual solidarity and love,
and those bonds potentially qualify every contractual relationship. True, the
concept of entitlement does not encompass all of our relationships. It is
equally true, however, that none of them can substitute for entitlement. Any
attempt to supersede or nullify an entitlement on the grounds of love,
solidarity, social aid, or decency is an attempt to rationalize aggression.
Love implores and persuades. It never coerces. And free people do not relate to
other free people as suckling babes to their mothers.
"While in mutual assurance my premium is given by my own free decision," Mr.
Fremerey writes, "in social aid it is not, and this is not changed by the fact
that social aid is paid from taxes, since the state is obliged to minimal and
justified taxation in the common interest." The alleged obligation to tax that
he gratuitously asserts, I gratuitously deny.
Mr. Fremerey claims to "clearly understand," even "subscribe" to, liberalism
while at the same time accusing it of having "severe faults through
misunderstanding the nature of human society." (I suppose having a severely
faulty sociology doesn't fatally disqualify a social theory.)
"The idea of liberalism has been, that those connections
[of solidarity], instead of being defined by tradition,
should be defined by compact and mutual interest of its
members. But this left as unsolved the problem of the fate
of all those people who are NOT members of such a compact
and who need the state to defend their objective interests
in face of organized powers."
The solution to the problem of not being a "member of a compact" is to become
one, that is, to participate in free markets to the best of one's ability, to
provide goods and services that other people want. Others whom one meets along
the way may offer assistance or provide it if asked, but it is, morally
speaking, out of the question to force them to do so. One will face challenges
of varying difficulty, but the State can address them only by creating many
more, and more severe, difficulties. They may be unintended, unforeseen, and
invisible as in the case of, for example, market-driven private enterprises
that remain unrealized dreams because State-sponsored undertakings have
commandeered the resources that would otherwise have gone to the former. The
consequences of these forced divertings are no less painful for being
unintended. Socialists, redistributionists, and other egalitarians rarely allow
such disagreeable thoughts immobilize them.
There are many ways to come to the aid of second parties without forcibly
expropriating and redistributing the justly owned property of third parties.
Violating someone's rights is never a morally acceptable way to help someone
else. The one thing the State can do to improve people's lives is to peacefully
(c) Tony Flood 2003
Scroll down to my answer on property rights, which links to other answers. I
leave to the reader to judge whether my commitment to a society of free
markets, as a means to the end of making human lives good, is "religious," as
Mr. Khashaba suggested. And he misunderstands me if he thinks I want to live
under a State that "is not a family." I'd rather not live under any State. When
I said a State is not a family or a club, I was highlighting the State's
coercive nature. If there is a justification for a group of people, calling
itself "the State," to have a perpetual monopoly on the means of coercion, I
have not encountered it. A society of free traders does not require a State, in
my view, not even to provide police and defense services, but that's another
argument. I was only reminding those who defend the State that since it is not
like those more congenial institutions, the bar for justifying it is quite high.
 David Stove, 'On Enlightenment'. ed. Andrew Irvine. Transaction Books, 2003,
III. 'PRE-PHILOSOPHICAL IDEAS ABOUT THE SOUL AND PHILOSOPHICAL INQUIRY'
BY CHARLES COUNTRYMAN
Everyone, except infants and those who are extremely mentally disabled, has a
world view. While the "sophistication" of views may vary, world views mentally
filter our experiences and to a certain extent shape and even predetermine our
mental and physical responses to them.
My naive world view began with my acquisition of language. To have any idea
about the soul, I must have a language which includes words to form my concepts
and thoughts about it. While I may have naturally learned my native American
English, it had to be taught to me by my parents, older siblings, and others.
The language that I have been taught has a cultural context. Whether or not I
am aware of it, this cultural context includes a philosophical component.
So rather than this study being just about pre-philosophical vs philosophical
views of the soul, it is about how naive culturally based ideas about the soul
are modified and changed when subject to philosophical inquiry.
Through philosophical inquiry, I consider my understanding of individual self
or soul. But I recognize that my ideas are built upon concepts about the soul
that I was taught. My own personal ideas about the soul did not originate with
me, but have Augustinian/ Lutheran roots. For example, my naive "feeling" that
my individual thoughts have some mental substance is not just based on my own
subjective experience. Rather it began when I was first "learning to talk" and
continued through my informal and formal education. If the Nobel Laureate in
Medicine and late brain scientist Sir John Eccles was correct, this learning of
language actually began while I was still in my mother's womb.
The deep personal cultural roots of my thinking about the soul tend to conceal
from me the wider significance of the concept of "soul" in the lexicon of
Western philosophy that Dr. Mortimer J. Adler called "The Great Ideas." Looking
at it another way, philosopher John R. Searle says that there are some
intellectual problems so large that they establish a horizon for a large number
of other questions. He humorously notes that one can go through four years of
university education and never be told that there is a problem.
One of the large problems encountered when searching for the soul is the
problem about what seems to be our inside and outside dimensions, categorized
as being mental and physical. While in a conscious state, I seem to be inside
my body looking out. Perhaps this concept is rooted in my experience as an
infant looking at my mother. A leading neuroscientist and expert on Parkinson's
Disease, Dr. Susan Greenfield, has noted in her research that consciousness
seems to take place where the body and brain come together.
Since I have Parkinson's Disease, my encounter with these questions about mind,
body, and spirit is more pragmatic than theoretical. Since I frequently wake up
in the morning painfully "frozen in place," it is frankly impossible for me to
approach the issues here theoretically from a distance. I try to accept the
painful reality of my experience of self looking out. But a neurophilosophical
approach, one based on the integration of scientific and philosophical inquiry,
assists my understanding, including taking into account cultural influence and
It is premature for me to state my conclusions about the soul. Personally I
find myself bouncing back and forth between the nonreductive physicalism
advocated by Christian philosopher Nancey Murphy and the holistic dualism of
Sir John Eccles, probably depending more on my mood than on my thoughts on any
given day. At this point in my study, rather than conclusions, I would just
like to highlight some of the questions that I think are derived from a
neurophilosophical approach to the soul and my experience of the self looking
I do not routinely think about the distinctions that I habitually make between
the mental and the physical. The neurophilosophical approach demands that I
think about this. Is there really a division between the mental and the
physical? Is the folk saying, "mind over matter," anything other than a gross
simplification and/or error?
While I think the assumption about my self reflection being valid is necessary
for any philosophical inquiry that I may make , how do others understand what I
experience and think inside? How do I know what they think and feel? Is this
self reflection bound to the body? Is the idea of the self or soul necessarily
a dualistic concept?
By making an initial distinction between the mental and the physical, I believe
that I can more effectively think about the problems of the mind. However I must
understand the problems that this creates. The neurophilosophical approach makes
rational inquiry into how the brain and body interact, forming mind. It
recognizes the problems posed by other minds. It recognizes the problems with
my cultural assumptions about individual continuity and transcending to higher
dimensions. Borrowing from philosopher Nancey Murphey, it asks "whatever
happened to the Soul?"
(c) Charles Countryman 2003
Charles Countryman, is an ex-Marine who lives in Spokane, Washington State USA.
He is currently following Pathways Program B. Philosophy of Mind: 'Searching for
(See http://www.philosophypathways.com/programs/pak2.html )
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