P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 60
15th June 2003
I. 'East West Perspective on the Metaphysical Aspects of Self' by John Eberts
II. Bernard Williams 1929-2003
III. 'Redistributionism: Comments on the Recent Debate' by Stuart Burns
I. 'EAST WEST PERSPECTIVE ON THE METAPHYSICAL ASPECTS OF SELF' BY JOHN EBERTS
In Western philosophy, the Cartesian model of the self as Universal went
uncontested among most of the main stream philosophers. The few who did
challenge this model placed the self in a context shaped (constructed) by
social, cultural, economic and historical factors. The Universality of this
view has been challenged by Postmodernism and various other cultures, esp.
Buddhism. One sees in the literature from the East a counter argument against
this metaphysical self developed in the West. The challenge laid forth is that
the self is not separate, individualistic, egoistic, nor for that matter,
permanent. The concept of the self is considered the root of attachment,
conceit and desire in Buddhism.
"The world of concepts is not the world of reality. Conceptual
knowledge is not the perfect instrument for studying truth. Words are
inadequate to express the truth of ultimate reality...But if
conceptual knowledge is fallible, what other instruments should we
use to grasp reality? According to Buddhism, we can only reach
reality through direct experience. Study and speculation are based on
concepts. In conceptualization we cut reality into smaller pieces that
seem to be independent of one another. This manner of conceiving
things is called imaginative and discriminative knowledge (Vikalpa)
according to Vijnanavadin School of Buddhism. The faculty that
directly experiences reality without passing through concepts is
called non-discriminative and non-imaginative wisdom
(nirvikalpjnana). This wisdom is the fruit of meditation. It is a
direct and perfect knowledge of reality. Buddhism is a form of
understanding in which one does not distinguish between subject and
object. It cannot be conceived by the intellect or expressed by
Tich Naht Hanh (1995), pp. 41-43
If through both Postmodernism and Buddhism the individual's sense of center (as
we perceive it in the metaphysical West) is no longer fixed, is there any
foundation that gives man meaning? If life is segmented, carrying different
meanings for each segment, then "Who am I"?
The metaphysical world gave man his identity. In the Postmodern world, we are
forced to realize that our identity is a creation, developing through the
interaction of the individual and society. Yet these differentiated meanings
are relative, and there is no absolute truth. This disjointed dialectic causes
a crisis of identity. With the loss of metaphysics, we experience the 'Homeless
Mind' thesis presented by Paul Berger. Postmodernism is only a step -- but a
step into pluralism -- a plurality of meanings which replaced the one
(metaphysics). Although Postmodernism qualifies as being Nihilistic in nature
for removing the foundations of our metaphysical world view, it is not a
negative type of Nihilism. If one looks into one's self and examines not only
his belief system but the inner knowledge gained through an eastern approach
(meditation), there is promise. There may not be any different answers, but
that in itself is an answer: to move beyond the categories and to see the
questions as opportunities, to build toward a global culture and a pluralistic
society. This gives us the opportunity to realize the interdependentness that
encompasses the All, and see society and man for what they are, which is just
that "they are".
The world doesn't exist independently of those who observe it. The world's
existence derives from the existence of a relationship (interdependence)
between the world and its observer. There is a perspective that arises within
the individual and society to construct a metaphysical system that acts as a
reference point or anchor, giving one solid ground in seeing himself and
others. "The philosophers have said that man is a metaphysical animal, and it
can be said that this definition is fundamental and common to East and West"
(Abe, 1985. p. 83), the development of a metaphysical system is endemic to our
instinct for self-preservation and its relationship to the development of self
identity and the creation of the ego-self. This creation of the ego-self 'I'
arises from the need of discriminating, putting the individuals at the center
of everything, as well as a counter measure to the development of nihilism. In
the West, this ontological need has been accomplished through the individual's
social construction of reality. "From its beginning, Western philosophy points
towards the constructive subject that is always remaking the world in its own
image," (Taylor, 1986. p. 33) therefore presenting the world as real. In the
East, Buddhism has taken a different approach. In Zen Buddhism, according to
Masao Abe, "The true self, is realized only through the total negation of the
no-self, which is in turn the total negation of the ego-self." (Abe 1985. p.
10) With the denial of the self also comes the denial of the need for the
construction of a metaphysical system. Both these movements for realization,
although following different premises, arrive at the same conclusion: the self
is a social creation; in reality it is not attainable and is in fact an
In Western Postmodern Philosophy, the self becomes transparent, relegated to
the margins of our World View, instead of occupying its center. Postmodernism
is seen as a state of flux, discontinuity and decenteredness. According to
Olson, "Within the world of flux, there are no universal and timeless truths to
be discovered because everything is relative and indeterminate, which suggests
that our knowledge is always incomplete, fragmented, and historically
culturally conditioned." (2000. p. 20)
In the Buddhist's view, the problem of the self and the center is treated very
differently. Nishitani sees the center of everything as sunyata, or emptiness,
where there are no limitations. For example, "Each thing in its own selfness
shows the mode of being of the center of all things. Each and every thing
becomes the center of all things and, in that sense, becomes an absolute
center. This is the absolute uniqueness of things, their reality." (Nishitani,
1982. p. 146) For Nishitani then, the idea of selfness, authentic selfhood and
the absolute center are only obtainable with emptiness. When the self is
negated by moving from the field of nihility to emptiness, a shift from an ego
central state to a state of non ego selflessness occurs. Nishitani would agree
that the self represents our primary identity, but the self is seen in terms of
emptiness. It is a temporary self. The self is not something one can possess,
but rather "when our 'self' is true then our self is not ours and not others --
it is the four elements and the five shandhas." (Dogen, 1986. p 47) For Dogen
then, true self is concrete, not transcendental, and this no-self is unchanging
and permanent. The self which we create, the self of illusion, is constructed.
It is the illusionary self that people feel they possess, but one or the other
in reality is not possessable. It is a self that is in constant flux with no
presence, and as a result of this constant changing, it is impossible to
possess. Yet through our construction of reality, we equate this ever changing
illusionary self with the attribute of permanence. However, a genuine self
still exists for the east; it is a self that represents the immediacy of
In Buddhism, nothing is independent or self-existing. With the concept of
dependent origination everything 'Is'. Although one has impermanence, there is
dependent co- arising without an eternal or substantial selfhood. When the
individual is enlightened or fully realizes that it is one's attachments to
materialism by which we create the illusion of self, they realize ultimate or
true reality. The idea of the negation of being, existence, and substantiality
are realized in the concept of sunyata or emptiness, which is not nihilistic.
Emptiness is without Form and is neither Being or non-being, moving the
individual past duality. Emptiness embraces yet transcends the concept of
duality. Transposed into the Western dialectic, it would be the negation of
negation, which affirms both its emptiness and fullness. By translating this
into the Western structure, one sets up a dialectic of 'I' and 'me',
superimposed with the 'u' and 'mu' and a psychological idea of identity would
develop, containing the 'I' and 'me' and Non-being and Being. If these parts
generate equal force, then in reality they would be complementary and
reciprocal, and neither would have ontological priority. Only by directly
transcending the duality of this concept do the individuals realize that they
are emptiness without permanence. It also becomes necessary to realize that
emptiness is in itself non-emptiness. With this awareness, one sees one's
existence as a self-contradictory oneness of non-being and Being, dependently
arising to the true self (self-awareness). The necessity of this, according to
Nishitani, is that "self-awareness is a nexus at which the self and knowledge
are emptied, although this self-awareness is a non-knowing that represents the
self as non objective." (Olson. 2000. p. 216) In essence, by each thing being
itself in not being itself and conversely not itself in being itself, all
things are interconnected and share the same basis as all other things. This is
all made possible in the field of sunyata (emptiness).
Considering that, in the final analysis the Buddhist system shares the
conviction stated by Kant that there is a unity of self and that if it can
become aware of its own identity there is some affinity between the two
systems. In Kantian terminology, "I am conscious of myself not as I appear to
myself, nor as I am in myself, but only that I am." (Kant, 1964. pp. 152-153)
This makes the empirical self known and is an idea essentially similar to
Hume's. Kant goes on to explain, "Consciousness of self according to the
determinations of our state in inner perception is merely empirical and always
changing. No fixed and abiding self can present itself in this flux of inner
appearances." (Kant. 1964. p. 136) Therefore it becomes impossible to know or
prove the existence of a transpersonal self. Furthermore, since the self we do
experience undergoes change and is in a state of flux, it can't represent
reality or be permanent.
In this way, we find that both Eastern and Western thinkers have developed some
type of philosophical system to deal with the problem of metaphysics. From its
beginning with Platonic Forms and the Middle Way of Tsang, through Universals
and materialism in particular, through Idealism, Phenomenonology and
Postmodernism, the main problem is to develop a classifying system of
understanding. It is this cognitive dimension that takes the world of
experience and the phenomena we see as objects, in terms of our cultural and
linguistic patterns, and make them real.
Abe, M., (1985). 'Zen and western thought.' Ed. William R. LaFleur. Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press.
Berger, P.L. & Luckmann, T., (1967). 'The Social Construction of Reality: A
Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge.' New York: Anchor.
Dogen,. (1986). 'Shobogenzo -- The eye and treasury of the true law.' vol. I.
Translated by Kosen Nishiy Ama and John Strevens. Tokyo: Nakayama Shobo.
Hanh, T.N. (1995). 'Zen Keys: A guide to zen practices.' London: Thorsons.
Kant, I.. , (1964). 'Critique of pure reason.' Translated by Norman Kemp Smith
(London: Macmillan and company Ltd.) New York: St. Martin's Press.
Olson, C., (2000). 'Zen and the art of postmodern philosophy.' New York: State
University of New York Press.
Taylor, M.C. Ed. (1986). 'Deconstruction in context -- literature and
philosophy.' Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
(c) John Eberts 2003
II. BERNARD WILLIAMS 1929-2003
Sir Bernard Williams, 73, Oxford Philosopher, Dies June 14, 2003
By Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
Sir Bernard Williams, the lightning-witted Oxford professor who is credited
with reviving the field of moral philosophy and was considered by some to be
the greatest British philosopher of his era, died on Tuesday in Oxford. He was
73 and lived at All Souls College, Oxford.
No cause of death was announced but he said in 1999 that he had cancer.
Steering clear of monolithic system building, Sir Bernard viewed moral codes
and writings as inseparable from history and culture, and questioned what he
called the "peculiar institution" of morality, pronouncing it a particular
development of the ethical system worked out by modern Western philosophers.
Indeed, in "Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy" (1985), considered his best
book, he argued that ethical concepts are so embedded in history that they are
often incapable of being shared by subsequent cultures, although they can be
understood to some extent through study, and he held that the simple goals of
truth were worth pursuing.
With this in mind, he argued in a later book, "Shame and Necessity" (1993), a
study of ancient Greece, that Hellenic ethics allowed for a wider scope of
praise and blame than did Christian-based morality, concluding that the sense
of shame can be more in tune with our intuitions than moral guilt, and permits
more latitude for living a whole life well.
In his philosophical work, he rejected the nearly mathematical positivism
predominant when he was a student and the utilitarian views that morality lay
in seeking the greatest good for the greatest number.
Bernard Arthur Owen Williams was born in Westcliff, Essex, on Sept. 21, 1929,
the son of Owen Pasley Denny Williams, an architect and surveyor, and Hilda Amy
(Day) Williams, a secretary. He attended Chigwell School and went on to read
classics at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was already considered a prodigy.
He later was given many honorary degrees but did not earn a doctorate. According
to a profile in The Guardian of London by Stuart Jeffries, Sir Bernard's mentor
at Oxford, Gilbert Ryle, later said of him, "He understands what you're going
to say better than you understand it yourself, and sees all the possible
objections to it, all the possible answers to all the possible objections,
before you've got to the end of your sentence."
According to a Guardian obituary by Jane O'Grady, Sir Bernard neglected the
historical aspect of the classics to the degree that he claimed to have used
part of his history finals' time to learn history; he arrived 29 minutes late
for the exam wearing a white magnolia in his buttonhole.
He graduated with a congratulatory first-class degree, a highly unusual honor
in which the examining professors ask no questions about the candidate's
written work but simply stand and applaud.
Sir Bernard then did his national service in the Royal Air Force and excelled
as a fighter pilot. He later said that the year he spent flying Spitfires in
Canada was the happiest of his life. While on leave in New York City, he went
out with Shirley Brittain, later a prominent British politician, who was then
studying at Columbia University. He had known her when they were students in
England, and they married in 1955. The marriage ended in 1974, The Daily
Telegraph reported. They had a daughter, Rebecca, who survives him along with
his second wife, Patricia Law Skinner, whom he married in 1974 when she was
Cambridge University Press's philosophy editor, and their sons, Jacob and
After returning to England at age 22 he was made a fellow at All Souls but left
Oxford. first for University College, London, and later Bedford College (now
defunct), reportedly to serve the political ambitions of his wife, who later
became Baroness Williams of Crosby, a leader of the Liberal Democrats in the
House of Lords. The couple and their newborn daughter lived in a large house in
Kensington with the literary agent Hilary Rubinstein, his wife, their four
children and various boarders, an arrangement that remained amicable for 17
Sir Bernard's academic career flourished. He went on to become Knightsbridge
Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge from 1967 to 1979, and then provost of
King's College, Cambridge, from 1979 to 1987, where he was earlier responsible
for its being the first Cambridge college to admit women. He was knighted in
1999, The Daily Telegraph reported.
At the same time he became a virtuoso of public commissions, producing in
November 1979 a masterly report on obscenity and film censorship, which
concluded that pornography could be made available at designated sites, as long
as it was not thrust upon children and unsuspecting members of the public. These
recommendations were ignored after Margaret Thatcher's ascent to power, although
most of them were later adopted piecemeal.
In the late 1980's he left England in disgust over the Thatcher government to
teach at the University of California, Berkeley, with which he remained
connected almost to the end of his life, although he eventually returned to
Oxford, announcing that he did not really feel at home in America.
All the while he continued to turn out significant books written with great
clarity, although their underlying ideas are considered sometimes forbiddingly
compressed and obscure. But in his last, "Truth and Truthfulness" (2002), he
sought to speak plainly, and took on the post-modern, politically correct
notion that truth is merely relative, particularly as it is expressed in the
work of by his former colleague Richard Rorty, who argues that truth is
dispensable and that its pursuit is a form of substitute religion and as such a
In contrast, Sir Bernard tried to show in his book that in any human society
truth will be valued, and the twin virtues of truth, sincerity and accuracy,
held dear. As he said in a San Francisco Chronicle interview last year when
asked about the philosophical value of psychoanalysis, there was "a level of
self-deception more subconscious than unconscious that can be dealt with by the
virtues of accuracy and sincerity."
"That's what we have those virtues for," he concluded.
(c) 2003 The New York Times Company
[Article posted on the PHILOSOP e-list 15 June 03 by Prof. Norman Swartz,
III. 'REDISTRIBUTIONISM: COMMENTS ON THE RECENT DEBATE' BY STUART BURNS
I have been following the discussion of "Redistribution" that has been taking
place in the recent issues of Philosophy Pathways (Issues 53, 54, 56). Much to
my own surprise, I have found myself agreeing more than disagreeing with all
parties to the debate.
I found Prof. Wolff's article, "Four Forms of Redistribution" an illuminating
examination of the moral premises that underlie the various approaches that
society employs to redress apparent disadvantages. Sufficiently so that it
induced me to find the longer paper on which the Pathways article was based
("The Message of Redistribution: Disadvantage, public policy and the human
good" at http://www.catalystforum.org.uk/pubs/pub8.html). And I also agree with
D.R. Khashaba in criticizing Mr. Flood's hostile approach to his comment on
Prof. Wolff's article. It is clear from both the Pathways article and the
longer paper on which the article was based, that Prof Wolff was not attempting
to address the moral foundations of Redistribution.
Yet, at the same time, I find myself in full agreement with the moral
principles presented by Mr. Flood -- "Forcible expropriation is justifiable
only to restore property to its moral owners, not to deprive them of it." I
empathize completely with Mr. Flood's desire to point out the fundamental moral
flaw underlying the entire concept of Redistribution as discussed by Prof.
Wolff. The tone of the Pathways article is even more obvious in the longer
paper. A couple of particular examples will serve to demonstrate.
In Section 2 of his paper, Prof. Wolff introduces the section with:
"In order to think further about the nature of redistribution, and
the different possible ways of pursuing it, I want to lay out a
particular theoretical framework. I will begin with some rudimentary
Mr Flood is quite correct in his criticism that "[Prof. Wolff] does not defend
the propositions on which his arguments depend." In Section 2, where he
introduces "some rudimentary social theory" in order to "think further about
the nature of redistribution", Prof. Wolff is singularly remiss in providing
neither a definition of, nor a moral justification for, the concept of
redistribution. The natural question that arises is how one can think further
about the nature of redistribution unless one knows what it is.
In Section 6, Prof. Wolff introduces his conclusion with:
"Redistribution is never simple. There will always be more than one
way in which public policy might seek to redress disadvantage. The
main idea I have presented here is that our intuitions about forms of
redistribution suggest deeper assumptions about the nature of the
As Mr. Flood points out (accurately I think), the language throughout the
article (and even more obviously the paper) is replete with subtle distortions
of what actually happens during redistribution. By focussing solely on the
receipt of distributed resources, Prof. Wolff not only glosses over the moral
justification of redistribution, but by his choice of words implies that there
is no such issue. In the particular quote here provided, for example,
redistribution does not "redress" disadvantage. It "balances" one disadvantage
with another. Whatever resources are distributed to one person to redress that
person's perceived disadvantage must come from some other person thereby
bestowing on that person (or those people) a (possibly not equivalent)
Despite the excellent review of the moral issues surrounding how the resources
are distributed to the recipients, Prof. Wolff ignores "the deeper assumptions
about the nature of the human good" that justifies the redistribution in the
first place. This is the question that is raised by Mr. Flood in his comment.
And I tend to agree with Mr. Flood that this is a far more informative (and in
my opinion more socially important) question with which to probe our hidden
assumptions about the nature of "the human good".
Not addressed by either Mr. Flood or Prof. Wolff, I think, is the equally
interesting (and important) question of how a factual description of a
difference in resources or status gets translated into a "disadvantage". The
word "disadvantage" that permeates Prof. Wolff's article is after all, a
normative term. I recognize that Prof. Wolff does specifically limit the scope
of his article (and his paper) to a discussion of the distribution side of the
full flow of resources. But I think it is remiss of him not to have addressed,
however briefly, the issue of why a difference in resources or status should be
considered a disadvantage that needs redressing. Prof. Wolff's manner of
dismissing this question is the phrase "even if we are agreed that a
disadvantage is unfair and calls for public action to rectify it..." This, of
course presupposes that a descriptive difference is a disadvantage, and merely
assumes as given that we can agree it is unfair, and we can agree that it calls
for public action to rectify it. The obvious implication here is of "Social
Relativist Ethics". If the plurality of public opinion is that the difference
is a disadvantage or unfair or calls for public action to rectify it, then by
definition it is and does.
Having agreed both with Prof. Wolff's analysis of the ethical implications of
the various methods of resource distribution, and much of Mr. Flood's criticism
of Prof. Wolff's analysis, I find that I also agree with Mr. Fremerey's
observations that Mr. Flood misunderstands the difference between "contractual"
and "social" relations. In replying to Mr. Fremerey's response, Mr. Flood says
"I see no substantial moral difference between... redistribution and robbery.
Forcible expropriation is justifiable only to restore property to its moral
owners, not to deprive them of it." I would like to suggest to Mr. Flood that
these two statements appear to be mutually inconsistent.
Consider this example. Common in some areas are what are called "Condominium
Communities" -- a small self-managed community with several hundred separate
residences. Many of the residences in such communities are "free-hold". Which
means that the buyer purchases full title to the property (and buildings) of
the residence itself, but the community streets, utilities, and public areas
are owned jointly by the Condominium Corporation. In order to purchase a
residence in such a community, the buyer must sign a Condominium Contract. This
contract lays out just what maintenance fees the new owner must pay to cover the
upkeep of the common facilities, and governs how the management of the
Corporation is to be handled. If I were to purchase a residence in such a
community, I would have to agree to the Condominium Contract. By so doing, I
would be acknowledging that I must pay some fee for the benefits of having the
common facilities. And I would be agreeing to delegate to the management
structure of the Condominium Corporation the authority to calculate those fees.
I think Mr. Flood would agree that such a Condominium Community is an excellent
model of how a modern society could be organized in the absence of a State.
Now suppose I were to refuse to pay the Condominium maintenance fee. I think
Mr. Flood would agree that I am in violation of a contract I have voluntarily
entered into, that the maintenance fee I have not paid is the moral property of
the Condominium Corporation, and the Corporation is morally justified in
employing forcible expropriation to recover their property. So far, I think,
Mr. Flood and I are in full agreement. But here's the wrinkle that I think Mr.
Flood is overlooking. Suppose that the Condominium Corporation decides, by the
processes laid out in the Contract that all residents have signed, that the
maintenance fee will include a certain amount to be redistributed to the
"disadvantaged" members of the community. Lets say the community has decided to
build ramps for some "mobility challenged" residents (and we'll assume that this
action is not dictated by government regulations). Here we have all the
challenges and moral issues addressed by Prof. Wolff, without any suggestion
that the resources being redistributed are coercively expropriated.
Although I have agreed to be governed by the rules of the Condominium Contract,
and to abide by the majority wish that such charity take place, I myself am not
in favor of this charity. So the charitable portion of the maintenance fee that
I pay may be regarded as gift-giving, but cannot be regarded as totally
voluntary. I think it would be too much of a stretch, therefore, to consider
these redistributed resources as a charitable gift on my part. I am curious how
Mr. Flood would regard this situation.
I'll now add an additional twist to the scenario. Most social communities are
not, of course, condominium communities. In general, in our modern societies,
we do not have explicitly agreed-to Contracts that govern how common facility
maintenance fees are to be calculated, and how our governing bodies are to be
managed. Instead of a Condominium Corporation we have The State. In one case we
have an explicit voluntary agreement to a legal contract as demonstrated by my
signature on a piece of paper. In the other case we have an implicit voluntary
agreement to a "social contract" as demonstrated by my presence in a particular
I agree with Mr. Fremerey that Mr. Flood seems to have overlooked the
significance of this "social contract" (what Mr. Fremerey calls "social
relations"). By remaining within the jurisdiction of a particular State, Mr.
Flood can be assumed to be implicitly agreeing to the "social contract" of that
jurisdiction. An implicit contract that governs the determination of the
"maintenance fees" (i.e. taxes) that he is asked to pay to cover the upkeep of
the common facilities that he is able to enjoy. In this manner, the problem of
redistributing coercively expropriated State taxes is transformed into the
redistribution of voluntarily committed Condominium maintenance fees. Mr.
Flood's presumption that the resources being redistributed by Prof. Wolff
necessarily must come from coerced expropriation is thus shown to be invalid.
It is arguable that the resources being redistributed are coming from a
collective decision to be charitable. Similarly, it can be argued that the
State is morally justified in employing coercive expropriation to recover the
property (i.e. the taxes) that Mr. Flood has implicitly agreed to pay by
remaining within the relevant jurisdiction.
Since I myself find this conclusion disagreeable, I would be very interested in
seeing a counter for this argument.
The most obvious counter that comes to mind, is to deny that the "implicit
social contract" involved is in any way a contract of mutual exchange entered
voluntary (within the meaning of "voluntary exchange or gift"). But I find this
rejoinder singularly unconvincing. It is easy to imagine a challenged State
simply mandating that every resident either sign an explicit legal contract or
leave the jurisdiction. In such a scenario, the existence of State determined
"maintenance fees" (aka taxes) would still exist. And the use of coercive
expropriation to collect those fees would still exist. I do not see how getting
the residents to sign a piece of paper changes the moral ownership of the
resources involved, or the moral status of the coercion being employed.
More particularly, I do not see how the existence of a signed legal document
makes the coercion employed by the Condominium Corporation to recover unpaid
maintenance fees morally justified (if it is), while the existence of an
implicit social contract renders the coercion employed by a State to recover
unpaid taxes morally unjustified (as implied by Mr. Flood).
A second line of rebuttal that I have seen, is to deny that there is any such
thing as an "implied social contract". If there is no contract, then there is
no voluntary exchange or gift. Taxes cannot be regarded as a contracted fee for
services rendered. And the coercive expropriation of the State has no moral
justification. I know that this is an approach employed by many Libertarians.
However, I have not yet found this argument persuasive either. Certainly it
would come as a surprise to those who work in government to learn that there is
no implied obligation to spend the taxes collected according to the government
statutes. And the public relations surrounding government spending is
overloaded with the message "see your taxes at work on good things". Most
people consider it an obligation to vote, and participate in the political
processes. Yet there is no law compelling such participation. And voting is a
singularly irrational investment of time and effort. Most people get upset if
their elected officials do not do after the election what they promised before.
Yet again, there is no law demanding that politicians keep their promises. There
are also instances where the courts have recognized the existence of an implied
contract from behavioral evidence (although I am no legal expert, and am quite
unfamiliar with the details of evidence in these cases). So even if it could be
argued that there is no implied contract involved, a lot of people are behaving
as if there was. I would love to see an argument that explains why the many
social obligations that we all readily accept do not demonstrate the existence
of an implied contract.
The final counter argument I will consider here, is the suggestion that the
Condominium Corporation is actually not morally justified in employing coercive
expropriation to recover unpaid maintenance fees. Obviously, if the Condominium
is not justified in employing coercion to enforce a legal contract, the State
could not by analogy be justified in employing coercion to enforce an implied
contract. What this counter argument must address is the assumption that it is
morally acceptable for the management of the Condominium to impose its decision
on dissenters. This is a very interesting challenge. The Condominium Contract
that I sign defines the management processes by which the management can
increase the maintenance fees to cover the costs of the new ramps for the
"mobility challenged". By signing the contract, I have voluntarily delegated to
the management structure the capacity to make this decision, and have agreed to
accept those decisions. My voluntary agreement to the contract now gives the
management structure the moral justification to impose its decisions on me if I
should disagree with them. But does it give the management structure the moral
justification to employ coercion?
Collective decision making is necessary anywhere people live in groups. But
collective decision making would become impossible if every individual member
of the group had a veto power over the group. Which is more morally justifiable
-- a group imposing its collective decisions on a minority of dissenters, or an
individual imposing his individual decisions on the group? I know I have no
ready answer. I cannot imagine how any social group could function without the
moral right to impose some decisions on some members. But I do not like the
Once again, I find the conclusion disagreeable, and would be very interested in
seeing an answer to this problem.
(c) Stuart Burns 2003
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