P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 64
10th August 2003
I. 'Practitioners, not Jumpers' by Tim LeBon
II. 'Redistributionism and the Social Contract: a reply to Tony Flood'
by Stuart Burns
III.'Online Courses from Oxford, Stanford and Yale Universities'
by Jeanette McLoughlin
I. 'PRACTITIONERS, NOT JUMPERS' BY TIM LEBON
"In an impressive display of gymnastics, ho ho, thank you,
Professor McFee bends over backwards to demonstrate that
moral judgements belong to the same class as aesthetic
One of the main themes of Tom Stoppard's recently revived philosophical play,
'Jumpers', is that philosophers are mere mental gymnasts clever people jumping
through logical hoops but producing little of value. There certainly is a sort
of academic philosophy which is like that, but as a blanket judgement on
philosophy it is less accurate now than in the 1970s when 'Jumpers' was
written. Pathways itself is dedicated to taking philosophy out of its ivory
tower and making it accessible for all. In the last 30 years 'applied
philosophy' has also been a growth area, and philosophers have made important
contributions to such public issues as war, abortion, pollution, animal rights
and euthanasia. Yet there is another leap that philosophers can make, from
applying philosophy to theoretical issues to actually practising philosophy
with ordinary people, often helping them with issues of personal concern.
'Philosophy in Practice' is the name of the international movement dedicated to
promoting this idea. In this article I will begin with a brief description of
the three main areas of philosophy in practice, and then comment on what for me
personally are some of the most interesting recent developments.
The three main activities that philosophical practitioners engage in are
philosophical counselling, Socratic Dialogue and philosophical enquiry in
education. In each, whilst the facilitator is a suitably trained philosopher,
participants need have no philosophical background.
Philosophical counselling is a type of counselling that uses philosophical
methods and insights to help people reflect wisely on areas of personal
concern. The issues that bring people to philosophical counselling include
ethical questions, major decisions (such as career decisions), relationship
issues and dealing with troublesome emotions. You can see good philosophical
counselling in action in the following case study, provided by the Israeli
practitioner Lydia Amir in the latest issue of 'Practical Philosophy'. Here is
an excerpt from 'The Case of The Lonely High-Ranked Merchant Marine Officer.'
"A high-ranked merchant marine officer spends long times at
sea in painful isolation. He does not want to associate with
other crew-members because they do not respect the law...
As he refused to discuss tolerance towards digressions or
... the possible benefits of solitude (from which he
suffered enormously), I asked ... "Why is it important not
to associate with some people?" ... The first answer he
proposed was that when one associates with people, it means
that one shares their values... I noticed the confusion and
after clarifying it, I mentioned Aristotle's three levels of
friendship in the eighth book of his Nicomachean Ethics.
Aristotle differentiates there between friendship based on
utility, friendship based on pleasure and friendship based
on the sharing of values. As luck would have it, the
example he gives for the lower kind (utility) is that of
persons at sea, whose friendship lasts as long as the trip.
My counsellee was immediately relieved. Disentangling his
view of the meaning of association from his opinion of
values, he believed that from now on, he could associate
with these people for his and their benefits during the
trip, without adopting their values. He bought a copy of
Aristotle's Ethics and took it with him to sea, determined
to learn more about philosophy." (Amir, L., 2003 in
'Practical Philosophy' 6.1)
This short case illustrates perfectly some of the distinctive features of
philosophical counselling. The philosophical counsellor used a philosophical
text; in this case Aristotle's 'Nicomachean Ethics', as a source of possible
wisdom. She used two central philosophical methods, conceptual analysis (asking
'what is friendship?') and critical thinking (asking 'does one have to share the
values of one's friends?') to help with an issue of real concern (how the
officer could avoid loneliness without compromising his values). Finally, it
inspired the counsellee to begin his own philosophical journey.
A socratic dialogue is a structured investigation of a conceptual or ethical
question such as 'When is leadership good?' or 'What is wisdom?'. Socratic
Dialogues require each participant to recall real examples which supply an
answer to the question under discussion. For example, if the question is 'When
is leadership good?, each participant chooses a situation when they had
experienced, given or observed good leadership. The group chooses the example
that seems most interesting and engages in a neo-Kantian method for teasing out
the example's implications, called 'regressive abstraction'. Basically this
means extracting from the example the criteria that intuitively led the group
to think it was a good example i.e. what makes this example an example of good
leadership? Having found the criteria, the group then tests it Socratically
against the other examples to see if it covers these as well
One point of the dialogue is to answer the question under discussion; another
is to learn how to think together constructively. If, for example, civil
servants, politicians and journalists could be brought together to dialogue
about such a topic as 'When should we keep a journalistic source private?', one
would hope for improved ethical guidelines and a better mutual understanding.
Philosophical enquiry in education
Philosophical enquiry in education is more often referred to as 'Philosophy for
Children' or 'P4C'. It too is associated with a particular method, the
community of enquiry. A stimulus, usually a story, is presented to the class,
which then formulates questions about the story. A vote is taken and the most
voted-for question is discussed. The discussion is encouraged to be a
co-operative venture, with people really listening to what other people say and
giving their reasons for agreeing or disagreeing with them. The teacher's role
is largely facilitative -- they are not there to tell the students the right
answers, but to generate a suitable environment for philosophical enquiry to
flourish. The method also works well for adults. I recently facilitated a
mini-enquiry about the Kafka parable 'Before the Law' which continued,
unofficially, well into the pub, and was still being talked about at the end of
Two personal examples
Philosophical counselling, Socratic Dialogue and P4C are then the three main
avenues at present for conducting philosophy in practice. Reading through what
I have just written, I am happy that it conveys the facts about philosophy in
practice; what it does much less well is convey the enthusiasm I feel for the
discipline. One of the things that excites me most about philosophy in practice
is that it offers the opportunity to fulfil philosophy's potential to help
people. In becoming a philosophical practitioner you can help people with
issues of personal concern and help them discover the joy of philosophising for
its own sake. Another very positive aspect is that the discipline is relatively
young and fresh, so there is plenty of scope for developing your own ideas, on
your own or in a community with other philosophical practitioners.
Here are two personal examples. Philosophical counsellors use 'atomic' methods
like conceptual analysis, critical thinking and thought experiments.
Philosophical counsellors in the UK are additionally developing integrated
methods to help with specific issues. In my book, 'Wise Therapy' I describe
RSVP, a method to help with values clarification and Progress, a method
developed with David Arnaud and Antonia Macaro, which helps with
decision-making (see also http://www.decision-making.co.uk). These methods
combine 'atomic' philosophical methods and draw on philosophical ideas -- about
values, practical wisdom and the emotions for example -- in a structured way.
For example Progress improves on traditional 'pros and cons' methods of
decision-making by incorporating an analysis of relevant values and ideas about
how emotions can help and hinder wise decision-making.
The second promising development is the application of these ideas in adult
education. I teach courses in practical philosophy at the City Literary
Institute and on the adult education programme at City University in London.
The central question of the course is 'What is the good life?' which is in
itself an extremely interesting -- and much neglected -- question.
Existentialist, Epicurean, Utilitarian, Stoic, Aristotelian and Socratic
perspectives are all of great interest to a philosophically-minded public
starved of serious debate about this question. We also go into some of the
'meta' questions such as 'Is there is such a thing as 'the good life?', the
relationship between prudence and morality, and where virtues come from. But
what really makes the practical philosophy course come alive for students is
combining this content with some of the methods developed by philosophical
In session one we begin by engaging in a Socratic elenchus on 'the good life'
(Socrates was arguably the first philosophical practitioner of them all). I
encourage students to keep hold of their own personal definition of the good
life, revising them each week in the light of new theoretical ideas. We do a
mini Socratic Dialogue based on a noteworthy positive experience in their
lives, to help inform their ideas about the good life with concrete life
experience. The group experiences Progress on a real decision one facing one of
them. All this really helps to make philosophy practical -- to really 'walk the
talk' -- to not only experience the methods of philosophy in practice but also
to see how well philosophical theories work when applied to oneself.
I think that if Tom Stoppard had been aware of all this he would have been less
likely to lampoon all philosophers as being stuck in ivory towers. In the UK
there is now a society, the Society For Philosophy in Practice (SPP), which
produces a journal 'Practical Philosophy' and runs training courses in
philosophical counselling and Socratic Dialogue. The movement is still young,
but it has already proved beyond doubt that, if they put their considerable
minds to it, philosophers can be practitioners, not mere jumpers.
Tim LeBon is the author of 'Wise Therapy: Philosophy for Counsellors' (Sage,
There are still some places left on the 2003 Socratic Dialogue and
Philosophical Counselling courses run by the SPP in November in near Brighton,
UK. Contact DavidArnau@aol.com for details.
The SPP website can be found at:
Practical Philosophy website is at:
The Progress website is at:
(c) Tim LeBon 2003
Web site: http://members.aol.com/timlebon
[Matthew Del Nevo's 'Continental Community of Enquiry' can be downloaded from
the Pathways web site at http://www.philosophypathways.com/download.html -- Editor.]
II. 'REDISTRIBUTIONISM AND THE SOCIAL CONTRACT: A REPLY TO TONY FLOOD' BY
We seem to have diverged a fair bit from the genesis of these exchanges. The
nature, and possibly dubious validity, of notions of "Social Contract" is a
long way from a discussion of "Redistribution".
Mr. Flood says in his reply, "Redistributionists interpret redistributed
benefits as entitlements." And that is the reason he gives for discounting
the application of Prof. Wolff's analysis to the distribution of charitable
contributions. Now it does not surprise me that Mr. Flood should be more
familiar with the program of the Redistributionists than I am. I am a relative
neophyte to this field. Yet I must admit that I found nothing in Prof. Wolff's
article (or in his longer paper) that made me think he was discussing the
distribution of an entitlement.
As far as I can see, Prof. Wolff makes no mention of the source of the funds
being redistributed -- forced or otherwise. In fact this omission is one of the
criticisms that both Mr. Flood and I share of Prof. Wolff's article. So I think
that Mr. Flood's suggestion that Prof. Wolff's analysis should not be
considered as a valid discussion of the problems of distributing charity, is
misplaced. Even though it may possibly be motivated by a familiarity with the
larger Redistributionist program of which Prof. Wolff may be a part.
Social Contract Theory
It was somewhat amusing to me that Mr. Flood found my condominium scenario
"lacking in real reference". (As a reminder, the scenario involved a condo
board voting to pay for the installation of wheel-chair ramps despite an
absence of "State" requirements to do so.) I was a resident in such a
Condominium in 1975 when the Condominium Board voted to do exactly that.
I would agree with Mr. Flood that explicit charitable acts by Condo Boards are
rare (and ought to be, for the various fiduciary reasons described by Mr.
Flood). The Boards I have had some experience with have spent most of their
efforts making decisions, on behalf of the owners, in the management of the
common areas of the Condo. These decisions have varied from such mundane things
as to when to resurface the parking lots, to such controversial questions of
what colors to paint the exterior, and such highly contentious issues as
whether to enlarge the flower garden in the common area.
"Charity", however, is often in the eye of the beholder. Whether the
wheel-chair ramps in my scenario qualified as "charity" to the Board members
who voted to spend the common funds to put them in place was not relevant to
the point I was trying to make. What was relevant is that the Board voted to
spend some of my maintenance fees on common elements I personally did not agree
to pay for, and would not use. To me, therefore, the funds expended on those
ramps constituted an involuntary charitable contribution.
But I do take Mr. Flood's point that the term "charity", when properly
employed, really ought to imply a necessarily voluntary act. Even though the
dictionary and common usage do not mandate the necessity. In the case of the
wheel-chair ramps, then, I should perhaps have more correctly described the
funds expended as an involuntary redistribution of my maintenance fees. Thus
invoking the analysis by Prof. Wolff.
On the other hand, as Mr. Flood and I both agree, once I have expressly and
voluntarily agreed to the Condominium Contract, I am also bound by its fine
print. And the fine print of my Condominium Contract granted the Condominium
Board the right to make decisions on my behalf and spend my maintenance fees
however they chose. Strictly speaking, therefore, the redistribution of my
maintenance fees was not involuntary. So I suppose the wheel-chair ramps were
neither charity, nor redistribution? More on this as we go.
Yet, even if charity by Condo Boards is rare, and even if the decision on
wheel-chair ramps discussed above was not reached for charitable reasons, it
might have been. Because explicit charity is permitted by the Condominium
Contract. As Mr. Flood agrees -- "there is no violation of fiduciary trust if
the majority of the board members vote in favor of a charitable venture". So
regardless of Mr. Flood's reservations about voluntary charity and collective
decision making, I could only consider such a decision by the Board to
constitute a "collective decision to be charitable".
I notice that Mr. Flood expresses some reservations about my use of the term
"collective decision making". I am curious as to the term that Mr. Flood would
use to describe the management processes of a Condominium Board. Here is a
group of elected representatives making decisions that will govern the actions
of the rest of the electorate, and the distribution of the funds collected from
that electorate. The same sort of decision making would exist in any voluntary
collection of people gathered together for mutual benefit as long as some sort
of non-unanimous democratic governing process is employed.
A group of six co-workers gather to go out for lunch. Where to go? Majority
rules. The six go to a spot that two do not like. Collective decision making.
And the majority imposes its will on the minority.
A large group of members of an international social club gather for their
annual convention. A smaller group of representatives are elected by
geographically delimited sub-groups of those attending. The group of
representatives makes decisions on the coming year's social programs and how
and where the next convention is to be held. Collective decision making. And
the collective decisions are imposed on the majority.
One might argue that the decisions involved are not "imposed" because there is
no force involved, and the individual members are free to opt out at any point.
Yet they are indeed imposed in the sense that continued participation in the
group, and continued enjoyment of the benefits of group membership, is
conditional on the fact that one pay the additional costs of the decisions
I suggest that force need not be involved in such impositions. For some members
of the group (those not in agreement with the decisions reached), there are
certainly additional costs being levied on continued membership. Although not
prohibited (and in fact explicitly permitted) by the contract of membership in
the group, such decisions change the costs of membership "on the fly" as it
were with an "after the fact" flavor to it. First, sign the contract of
membership -- making all the appropriate cost-benefit calculations to see it if
is worth the cost -- and then we'll change the costs and benefits on you. If
this is not "imposition", then perhaps Mr. Flood can suggest a more suitable
It is in this sense that I said in my previous note -- "Collective decision
making is necessary anywhere people live in [voluntary] 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?"
Nor am I suggesting by these questions that "the group" (or "society") is an
agent apart from its members. Yet "the group" as represented by the members
operating its decision making process, does face these additional moral issues
that individual members, as members, do not. Any individual fulfilling the role
of collective decision making for the group, faces the additional moral dilemma
of discerning what (if anything) would be moral for the group as a whole that
would be immoral for an individual acting alone? Or vice versa?
Group membership fulfills an important need for most people. Is it morally
acceptable for the governing representatives of the group to levy additional
costs on the rest of the membership merely because they (the governing
representatives) deem it appropriate? Regardless of the fine print in the
contract of membership, is it morally acceptable for the governing
representatives to change the terms of the contract after the fact in a way
that may conflict with many members' individual best interests?
Mr. Flood is quite correct that I am of two minds about an "implied social
contract". But (hardly surprisingly) I do not believe that I am equivocating in
the use of the word "contract". I will certainly agree that the word "contract"
designates a concept that involves express voluntary mutual agreement among the
parties to the agreement for an exchange of values. But the term "social
contract" has been in general use for quite some time. (I seem to recall
that Hobbes was the first to actually coin the term. I would be pleased to be
corrected on this, if my memory serves me ill.) The words "social contract"
designates a concept that involves an implied (rather than express) voluntary
mutual agreement among the parties to the (possibly hypothetical) agreement for
an exchange of (social) values. And further, that all residents of a particular
social jurisdiction are assumed to be parties to the agreement.
Certainly, there is much philosophical debate on the validity of such an
implied agreement. Rawls, for example, employs a rather fragile notion of
double hypotheticals to validate his idea of the social contract. To
paraphrase his analysis, he asks "Do I agree to be bound by contracts made by
my idealized surrogate?" Once I have answered "Yes" (of course hypothetically;
there is no actual survey contemplated) to this framing question, then "Do I
agree to be bound to the demands of whatever system of social arrangements (the
Social Contract) my idealized surrogate would explicitly and voluntarily agree
to?" (again hypothetically). Although well argued by Rawls (and others), this
is not an approach that I find comfortable. But it does at least demonstrate
that there are in fact two separate but closely related concepts in play here
-- not an equivocation on the concept of "contract".
In a condominium corporation, residents elect representatives to a "governing
board". That governing board then enacts rules that apply to all the residents
living within the relevant jurisdiction, and guide the actions of all the
agents hired to enact those rules. There are frame-work rules that govern how
votes are to be managed, the scope of responsibility of the elected
representatives, and the ways in which the decisions made by the governing
board can be enforced.
In a modern western representative democracy, citizens elect representatives to
a "governing board". That governing board then enacts rules that apply to all
the residents living within the relevant jurisdiction, and guide the actions of
all the agents hired to enact those rules. There are frame-work rules that
govern how votes are to be managed, the scope of responsibility of the elected
representatives, and the ways in which the decisions made by the governing
board can be enforced.
Even though I agree with Mr. Flood that there is certainly a world of
difference between a modern western representative democracy and a condominium
board, there are also a lot of similarities. Sufficiently so, in my own
opinion, to be worthy of some further analysis. I am therefore quite
disappointed that Mr. Flood would suggest "[i]f anyone thinks that the ladies
and gentlemen who wield redistributory power are related to taxpayers as
fiduciaries to principles, philosophy cannot help him." It would seem to me, at
this point in my studies, that it is not demonstrated that redistribution
necessarily requires forcible acquisition of the funds being redistributed. Nor
that our elected representatives do not in fact have the fiduciary
responsibilities to the electorate that some statues suggest that they do.
Mr. Flood seems to focus primarily on the degree to which his participation in
two governing organizations is explicitly voluntary. In the case of a
democratically elected government, he does not feel that his participation is
properly voluntary. Even though he agrees his residence within the relevant
jurisdiction is voluntary, he has not been given the opportunity to reach an
express voluntary mutual agreement with the other residents of his current
jurisdiction. Whereas in a condominium corporation, his express voluntary
participation to the mutual agreement is demonstrated by his signature on the
condominium contract. (And while a signature does not a contract make, it is in
this case sufficient basis upon which to assume that Mr. Flood's agreement to
the Condominium Contract was indeed an express voluntary agreement.)
In a very interesting example, Mr. Flood mentions that tickets for sporting
events often contain in their fine print a "package deal" of conditions. And
that purchasing the ticket is taken as express voluntary agreement to the
contract, including all of the conditions in the "package deal". I think that
this example has some interesting ramifications that perhaps Mr. Flood did not
consider when he suggested it.
One of the consequences I find most interesting is that Mr. Flood apparently
does not require a conscious intent to agree to a particular set of contract
details as a prerequisite to there being a contract (including those details)
in force. If I have purchased a ticket, I am considered as having exercised an
express voluntary commitment to a mutual agreement among the parties for an
exchange of particular values. Even if I am not aware of the details of the
contract, or all of the values being exchanged, even if I have not made a
conscious evaluation that there will indeed be mutual gain. ("Ignorance is no
Just by peacefully and voluntarily purchasing a baseball ticket Mr. Flood
suggests I can be assumed to have agreed to the contract -- even if I am
unaware of some the details, and would really prefer to not accept some of the
conditions. According to Mr. Flood, a "relevant test of contract is whether an
interpersonal relationship is formed peacefully". Combining this test with
consequences of the ticket example would easily allow me to regard Mr. Flood's
voluntary and peaceful choice to remain within a particular jurisdiction as an
express voluntary commitment to a particular "social contract". In parallel
with the ticket example, just by peacefully and voluntarily choosing to remain
in a particular jurisdiction, I can assume that Mr. Flood has agreed to the
social contract -- even if he is unaware of some the details, and would really
prefer to not accept some of the conditions.
That "taxing entities ring our planet, [so] there is little short-term hope of
finding refuge from taxation" should not be a relevant consideration. One would
also search in vain for a Condominium Corporation that did not levy (and in some
opinions -- mismanage) maintenance fees. And I would imagine that the contract
printed on the back of a sports ticket is pretty standard as well. If one wants
to go the ball park to see the game, one has to accept the "package deal". The
lack of alternative jurisdictions may perhaps say more about the nature of
taxation (or maintenance fees, or commercial sporting events) than it does
about its moral status.
I therefore feel that Mr. Flood's "friend" Vinny, and the local bully are
rather poor analogies for the relationship between Mr. Flood and "The State".
Whatever else it may be, "The State", as embodied by all of its elected
representatives with all of their hired agents, is not in the protection racket
business. Moreover, there is a wide discrepancy between what "The State"
should do according to whatever agreements do pertain to its operations, and
the actual behaviors of its personnel. The "fine print" of the social contract,
after all, amasses to quite a tonnage of legal discourse in each relevant
jurisdiction. I doubt if anyone can be said to be fully aware of the contents
of this "package deal".
Now I know that Mr. Flood maintains that "The State" is not a club to which we
owe dues, and that it is not a Condominium Board whose managers are the
fiduciary trustees of the owners at whose pleasure they sit. However, the
elected representatives of the various levels of government do indeed sit at
Mr. Flood's pleasure (at least in law, if not in practice). And there are many
statutes in numerous jurisdictions suggesting (if not explicitly establishing)
the fiduciary responsibility of those representatives to the electorate. And
the social gathering of people who reside in my geographic locale, if not in
Mr. Floods', do indeed function as a social club in many respects. So while I
completely empathize with Mr. Flood's objections to the existence and
performance of "The State" in its various current manifestations, I do find his
simple assertions unconvincing. The parallels between "The State" and a Condo
Board are too great to dismiss out of hand. And the difference that Mr. Flood
emphasizes -- the use of force -- remains unpersuasive.
Mr. Flood has already agreed that a Condo Board can be morally justified in
drawing upon coercion to enforce the terms of the Condo Contract. If it can be
established that there does exist a "social contract", then Mr. Flood's elected
representatives and their hired agents would likewise be morally justified in
drawing upon coercion to enforce the terms of that contract.
It is a minor point, but it is factually incorrect to say that "the State has
no resources it did not acquire by force or the threat thereof". In my country,
as well as Mr. Flood's, the hired agents of elected representatives run many
"fee for service" operations. The funds generated by such operations may not
now constitute much of total government revenues, but the potential is there
for a much greater expansion of this source of funds.
Mr. Flood receives a great deal of value from his elected representatives and
their hired agents. If calculated on a fee-for-service basis, I am sure that a
reasonable portion of the taxes Mr. Flood pays would be rendered as service
fees for things he would willingly choose to pay for (roads, police, etc.). The
total value he does now receive may not, in Mr. Flood's analysis (or mine for
that matter), come anywhere close to balancing the fees now paid. But then, as
with the Condo Board and the Social Club, it is written into the fine print of
the contract that the governing board has the privilege to calculate the fees
owed and spend the funds received in any way they find suitable. The membership
(always assuming the debatable and possibly hypothetical voluntary agreement to
the "social contract") has little recourse if they object. And the governing
board has the moral right to employ force to enforce the terms of the contract.
It might be well argued that any disagreement over the actions of the governing
board is an issue that should be raised with our elected representatives -- who
many statutes do suggest are supposed to be our fiduciary agents, and are in
explicit law supposed to be responsible to us the electorate for the behavior
of their hired agents.
Which brings us back to the original moral question that started this brouhaha.
Obviously, Mr. Flood and I disapprove of the manner in which our elected
representatives are performing their assigned functions. Yet we are also quite
obviously in the minority. So, even if we assume that there is such a thing as
a "social contract", to what extent is the majority morally justified in
imposing costs on the minority? After all, even if there is a "social contract"
in force, the majority is employing coercion to collect the properly calculated
maintenance fees from a minority that disputes the priorities on which those
fees are employed.
Contrariwise, to what extent are we, the disagreeing minority, justified in
practicing breach of contract in our efforts to express our disapproval of the
decisions of the majority? As Mr. Flood so accurately points out, the option of
"opting out" -- picking up and moving on to another ball game with more amenable
rules -- does not exist for all practical purposes. We have little option but to
deal with the management board of our Condo Corporation / Social Club /
Government as and where we find ourselves.
Personally, reflecting my "two minds" position, I find the alternative of an
existing "social contract" just as unsatisfactory as the alternative of no
"social contract". If there is such a thing as a social contract, then my
elected representatives and their hired agents are fully justified in employing
coercion to enforce the terms of the contract. And they are equally free to
change those terms on the fly and after the fact, calculate the fees owed
however they please, and allocate the funds they receive without my permission
or awareness. Alternatively, if there is no social contract, then we citizens
have no moral obligation to participate or cooperate in the actions of our
elected governments. The actions of our elected representatives and their hired
agents are (as Mr. Flood argues) the moral equivalent of theft -- against which
we citizens are morally justified in employing any defensive force we consider
necessary. Neither alternative is satisfactory to me.
Whether I like it or not, as individuals me and mine will flourish much more
successfully for a much longer foreseeable future if we gather in groups and
cooperate with our fellows. In order to cooperate in groups, and achieve a
better future for me and mine, there must necessarily be some form of group
management. There must be some form of deciding on group priorities, and
coordinating a multitude of individual efforts towards the attainment of those
group priorities. The advantages of group cooperation will not happen in a
vacuum, and will not happen out of chaos.
Given that there has to be some form of group management, there will inevitably
be some form of tax collection, and the allocation of those resources towards
the achievement of group priorities. The benefits of living in groups will not
be attained, if group priorities cannot be determined and worked towards.
The question, given the current state of reality, is not whether such group
cooperation could be organized on the basis of express voluntary agreements to
contracts. (Obviously, it could.) The question is whether there is already a
voluntarily agreed to contract in place that governs the organization of the
cooperating groups that already exist.
And given that such cooperating groups do in fact exist, the moral question
becomes whether there are things that the group can morally do as a whole that
the individual ought not do as an individual. Or vice versa. To what extent is
the majority morally justified in levying costs not approved of by the minority?
1. Flood, Anthony, "Contracts, Coercion, and Condo Boards: A Reply to Stuart
Burns", Philosophy Pathways, No 61, 29 June 2003.
2. Wolff, Professor Jonathan, "Four Forms of Redistribution", Philosophy
Pathways, No 53, 9 March 2003.
3. Wolff, Professor Jonathan, "The Message of Redistribution: Disadvantage,
Public Policy, and the Human Good".
4. Burns, Stuart, "Redistributionism: Comments on the Recent Debate",
Philosophy Pathways, No 60, 15 June 2003.
5. "CONTRACT (noun) a. An agreement between two or more parties, especially one
that is written and enforceable by law. b. The writing or document containing
such an agreement." (Excerpted from The American Heritage Dictionary of the
English Language, Third Edition (c) 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation.)
6. See 'Other References' below.
7. Rawls, John, .A Theory of Justice'. Harvard University Press, 1971.
8. I should probably make quite clear here that I am referring to modern
so-called "Western" representative democracies when I say this. Certainly,
there are numerous other forms of jurisdictions extant that are very much in
the protection racket business.
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Cudd, Ann, "Contractarianism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring
2003 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
D'Agostino, Fred, "Contemporary Approaches to the Social Contract", The
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2003 Edition), Edward N. Zalta
(c) Stuart Burns 2003
III. ONLINE COURSES FROM OXFORD, STANFORD AND YALE UNIVERSITIES
The Alliance for Lifelong Learning (AllLearn) is a not-for-profit distance
learning venture between Oxford, Stanford, and Yale Universities and was formed
in September 2000 to provide the highest quality, college level online courses
and educational offerings to alumni of these three institutions as well as to
other adult learners.
AllLearn delivers a rich catalogue of arts and sciences courses authored by
faculty from our member universities. Each course is taught by an expert
instructor skilled in providing insight into the subject matter as well as in
guiding students through the online educational experience. Students can read,
think, and learn at their own pace-and according to their own schedule-while
sharing a common course-taking experience with other like-minded individuals.
The particular courses I thought may be of interest to your web visitors and
"Great Political Thinkers: Plato through Machiavelli/ Hobbes through Marx"
Understanding the nature of politics, from its antecedents
to its many, and varied, schools of thought.
"The Intellectual Making of the Modern World" (Yale)
Explore the sources of the world-transforming intellectual
movement that continues to shape our thoughts and lives
"A Philosophy of our Time" (Oxford)
How can we function in a world without a common morality?
Perhaps answers can be obtained from the teachings of Isaiah
Berlin -- find out why some have called him the greatest
moral philosopher of the 20th century.
For full catalogue and pricing information, please click on the following URL:
Distance and Online Learning Project Officer
University of Oxford
Office of Distance and Online Learning
Suite 2, Littlegate House, 16/17 St Ebbes
Oxford OX1 1PT, UK
Tel: (01865 2) 86966
Fax: (01865 2) 86963
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