Romancing The Stones-Your Day In The Barrel: A Few Links On Roger Scruton & The Lottery

Roger Scruton discusses being recently misrepresented in the pages of a major publication, effectively purging him from an unpaid government architectural committee job.

So it is:

Tim Hunt was a witch.   Larry Summers, briefly became a witch.

Come to think of it, Charles Murray and the Middlebury College administrator he rode in on:  Definitely witches:

On a semi-related note, a reader points out that a major flaw in utilitarian logic (attached to probably the most comprehensive moral liberal philosophy thought and written) might find some expression in Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery.

Dear Reader, I’m not entirely persuaded while skimming Jackson’s story. The townsfolk didn’t necessarily have stated reasons for their collective act, other than ‘this is the way we’ve always done things.’  That’s kind of the point, which is to say people don’t always have have good points for long-established traditions, but many rocks do.

The people claiming sound reasons and empirical evidence for creating national seatbelt laws to save the lives of X number of citizens had, well, a lot of empirical evidence.  One visualization technique, as I understand it, to aid in this particular critique of utilitarian logic involves building a machine in the town square, which will, with good evidence, save about twenty lives a year.

The problem is you’ve got to feed one person into it every year.

This machine is working for other towns, though.  In fact, it’s so important it’s become law for all towns.  Regional machines will be necessary.  Have you guys visited The Machine in D.C.?

Thousands saved.

Come to think of it, maybe I could see the selection process being somewhat akin to what occurred in The Lottery.  People haven’t changed much and most of the village elders run on how well The Machine is run.

It’s just a new tradition.

Sound logic?

See the previous post.The Intellectual Cowardice Of The Crowd-Charles Murray At Middlebury College

Charles Murray’s Account Of The Middlebury College Affair

Link To Roger Scruton’s First Of Three Charles Test Lectures Hosted By Princeton University

From The Internet Encyclopedia Of Knowledge: Immanuel Kant And Utilitarianism

Repost-From Bloggingheads: Robert Wright And Robert P George Discuss Natural Law

Full diavlog here.

Mentioned:  Natural Law Theory (Greeks and Romans…Aquinas) Utilitarianism, Mill’s Harm Principle, Kant’s potential relation to Natural Law Theory and his deontologism)….

Where I very much agree:  George’s acknowledgment that there may be no fundamental way to determine, in the aggregate, the utilitarian maxim.

***As to politics and man, and political philosophy, the people most convinced of their reasons and their own moral and ideological lights, often seem the ones most attracted to power and influence.

Make a chair, a seat of scope and influence, and all the wrong sorts seem to gather around eventually, quite certain they should be the ones sitting down.  The decent, and what’s decent in people can easily become subjects.

Addition:  Has George made the case for natural law…that morality is somehow a law…and connected to nature and that which is beyond us?

Who has the moral legitimacy to be in charge?

On This Site:  Somehow, the idea of philosopher-kings, and a group of men who’ve left the cave, only to venture back in guiding everyone with their reason is a little problematic for me.  It was that whole gold/silver/bronze thing…and seeing all the problems of the ‘intellectuals’ and ‘vanguard’ these past few centuries… Sunday Quotation: From the Cambridge Companion To Plato-T.H. Irwin’s “Plato: The intellectual Background’

What are some dangers of the projects of reason in the wake of the Enlightenment, or stretching post-Enlightenment reason into a replacement for God, tradition, and Natural Law: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”Trolley Problems, Utilitarian Logic, Liberty, Self-Defense & Property

Leo Strauss tried to tackle that problem, among others with the reason/revelation distinction, did he succeed? How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

What are some of the arguments for building a secular structure…or at least for deeper equality through the laws: : Repost: Martha Nussbaum Channels Roger Williams In The New Republic: The First Founder…From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum

Trolley Problems, Utilitarian Logic, Liberty, Self-Defense & Property

As originally linked:

From Darwinian Conservatism-‘Trolleyology & Rawlsian Moral Grammar

For a Kantian utilitarian like Singer, the relevant moral principle in the trolley problem–that five deaths are worse than one death–is the same in both cases, and therefore Singer would pull the switch and push the fat man. For Singer, the 10% of the people who would push the fat man are rightly following pure moral reason, while the other 90% are allowing their emotions to override their reason, because from the viewpoint of pure reason, there is no morally relevant difference between the two cases.’

How far will utilitarian logic go?

A few more links:  From ‘Trolley Problems:’

‘Then too, according to many accounts of self-defense, the right self-defense entrains the right of “other-defense”; so that if someone is permitted to defend themselves against an action then others are likewise permitted to intervene to help them prevent it. Perhaps, when folks express qualms about pushing the Fat Man they are sensitive to the fact that it may be permissible for third parties to forcibly restrain them.

Or, maybe, folks see a moral difference between, on the one hand, saving the lives of five people and, on the other, forcing someone else to save those lives.’

From the comments:

‘This is why I’ve always used the trolley problem simply as an illustrative guide, one which clearly points out the difference between comission and omission. The point about utilitarianism is not that it gets the answer to this particular problem wrong, but rather that it cannot make sense of this distinction. -‘

From another post at on property:  The Origins Of Property II, which finds the typical Hobbes-Locke-Nozick libertarian defense of private property inadequate:

‘An “absolutist” about property rights is someone who says that — freezing or not—it is morally impermissible for the hiker to use the cabin without the owner’s permission and that if the owner had been around he would have been within his rights to kick the hiker out to die in the snow or shoot him like a common burglar. Because the hiker violates the owner’s property rights he is morally obliged to pay the owner compensation in full for all damage done –

I had an interesting discussion with a Kantian about the coming abolition of property rights…

A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy..A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche ConnectionDinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy

Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

From The Internet Encyclopedia Of Knowledge: Immanuel Kant And Utilitarianism

Full entry here.

A very good overview (as clear as I’ve seen it).


What about a Utilitarianism that would throw that Dutch cartoonist to his fate, or Salman Rushdie to his?

“It would be possible, for instance, to justify sacrificing one individual for the benefits of others if the utilitarian calculations promise more benefit.”

You likely can’t accept Kant’s solution, though, without exploring where such ideas stem from in this thinking…his transcendental idealism.

To act in pursuit of happiness is arbitrary and subjective, and is no more moral than acting on the basis of greed, or selfishness. All three emanate from subjective, non-rational grounds. The danger of utilitarianism lies in its embracing of baser instincts, while rejecting the indispensable role of reason and freedom in our actions.”

The embracing of baser instincts usually comes with its attendant idealism.  However, it can also have some political and social benefits…and here in America we have a kind of avoidance of some forms idealism or at least moral realism enough to potentially avoid the greater hazards of such idealism (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is not Truth, Justice and Peace)…

Addition:  Perhaps it’s good to keep Kant separate from judgments about American democracy and the traditions that have created and sustained it.  In other words, perhaps through Kant it’s easy to let a certain idealism (religious?) into one’s thinking that can be quite destructive of American democracy.  Is it a particularly German idealism?  Does it make one swing darkly to the right?

Perhaps I’m just corrupting Kant and dragging him out of the metaphysical/philosophical realm for my own purposes.

Another Addition:  As a reader points out, utilatarianism may stem from the depths of Kant, or the attempt to create a sufficiently abstract moral law.  Is that the same as a scientific law?  Freedom and morality?

See these posts, and if you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them:  Kantian Metaphysics and J.S. Mill’s UtilitarianismDaniel Deudney on BloggingheadsMore On Daniel Deudney’s Bounding Power, Roger Scruton on Kant: A Response To Hume?

From The American Conservative: Going Off The Rawls–David Gordon On John Rawls

Full article here.

David Gordon offers a surprisingly deep analysis of some of John Rawls’s ideas.

Perhaps classical liberalism and utilitarianism would be a good antidote to much of the far left’s current excesses (gender equity ideologues, radical feminists, racial theorists, pseudo and real Marxists). Martha Nussbaum (wikipedia) seems busy along this vein.   Yet utilitariansm, as Rawls realized, has its limits:

“Some people’s interests, or even lives, can be sacrificed if doing so will maximize total satisfaction. Suppose executing the Danish cartoonists will appease a Muslim mob, and that doing so increases total satisfaction. A utilitarian would have to endorse the execution. As Rawls says, “there is a sense in which classical utilitarianism fails to take seriously the distinction between persons.”

On the other hand, individualism has its limits as well.   According to Rawls there still has to be some common ground which we all share…

“Rawls thinks that everyone, regardless of his plan of life or conception of the good, will want certain “primary goods.” These include rights and liberties, powers and opportunities, income and wealth, and self-respect.”

So how do you define these “primary goods?’ and balance both equality and individualism?  Rawls offers his difference principle (there should be no differences except those that can be justified on grounds of efficiency), as well as his idea of public reason .  Gordon isn’t too impressed:

“[public reason]…consists of principles that everyone, regardless of his conception of the good, will have cause to accept.”

“His final position was that you could mention your private views as long as you also had an argument from public reason to support your stand.”

We are all familiar with the idea that there are common public ideas that we have to accept, or at least pay heed to.  Yet, Gordon seems to ask:   Do we want a theory like this one to be the arbiter of those ideas?

John Rawls His Life and Theory of Justice

by Miller Info Commons

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Kantian Metaphysics and J.S. Mill’s Utilitarianism

As to the last post on Allan Bloom, if there are potential dangers in a Nietzschean reading on the Greeks, surely there are dangers in mixing Kantian metaphysics with politics?

In part, synthesizing Kantian metaphysics with political science is what Daniel Deudney has done in his book Bounding Power (addressed to Republicans), and he’s come up with some deep moral thinking and practical advice in an arena of global politics where greater depth is always needed.  However, there is also a certain idealism I’m extremely wary of.

Kant’s metaphysics is successful enough but his political philosophy isn’t that impressive to me, especially in light of the success of our forefathers and British philosophers like John Locke.  The moral imperative doesn’t work so well “on the ground. ”

In fact, I’ve suggested some ideas for those of us frustated with the current state of liberal ideas, or at least how they might benefit from a return to Mill and a more classical liberalism/utilitarianism.

Perhaps it’s wise to keep the two separate: Kant’s metaphysics and a functioning, American utilitarianism.

Thanks for reading, your comments are welcome.

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