International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 47 15th December 2002


I. 'Freedom and Fairness' by Carmen Pavel

II. 'Who was Cyrical Joad and What Did He Contribute to Philosophy?' by
   Richard Symonds

III. Question on Cheating



Philosopher John Rawls, who has died at 82, is widely regarded as the most influential philosopher of the 20th century - a sort of John Maynard Keynes of political philosophy. He is credited with reviving political philosophy in an age of behaviorism. Because of his topical focus and the intuitive appeal of his ideas, he has left a long train of devoted followers and has significantly shaped mainstream political discourse.

Defenders of liberty, however, have good reason to question key elements of Rawls's thought.

Rawls has worked on the same idea his entire academic life, constantly developing, recasting, revising and expanding it. The centerpiece of Rawls's work is justice as fairness - the view that whatever else the institutions of a society stand for, they should primarily embody a concern with setting up a structure in which all individuals within that society are provided with a set of basic goods.

The first major embodiment of this idea is 'A Theory of Justice' (1971), which has two primary aims: one is to create a framework for thinking about morality, and second, to put forth a theory of politics based on moral considerations derived from the framework. The book provided a Kantian alternative to utilitarian moral and political theory, which was predominant at the time Rawls wrote it.

To derive his theory, he asked readers to perform a thought experiment, under a "veil of ignorance". Imagine that you are part of society but you do not know whether you are a man or a woman, rich or poor, smart or dumb. What kind of principles would you choose to guide the institutions of your society? Rawls assumed that everybody would want to play it safe and not risk being stuck at the bottom. He concluded from this that all basic rights should be distributed to everyone equally, unless unequal distribution is to the advantage of the least well off (the difference principle).

There are many important theoretical and practical difficulties with Rawls's approach, as noted by critics such as Murray Rothbard, Robert Nozick or Anthony Flew. One I will mention here. What separated Rawls from at least some varieties of utilitarianism is his emphasis on the separateness of persons. He famously said:

"Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override. For this reason justice denies that the loss of freedom for some is made right by a greater good shared by others. It does not allow that the sacrifices imposed on a few are outweighed by the larger sum of advantages enjoyed by many." [1]

The main thrust here is this: that some people have more cannot make up for other people having less. Murray Rothbard, who forcefully reinstated the Lockean principle of self-ownership, ruled out that a group of people could morally use another to further goals without the latter's consent. The same is true for Robert Nozick, with his emphasis on individual rights as side-constraints.

Rawls seems to be more concerned with our separateness as consumers. He claims that justice requires that people cannot have less than their equal share of the community's pool of resources, while Rothbard and Nozick think that people should not have less than what they are able to acquire by peacefully minding their own business. they believe that justice has something integrally to do with production, and to buttress our dignity as producers of what we bring to the table, not merely as consumers of what we take from the table. No one person or group may be sacrificed for the good of others, and this is true, contrary to Rawls, for poor and rich people alike. Rights express the inviolability of individual people, who cannot be sacrificed for a greater good, and people who happen to have more than their "assigned share" are no exception to this rule. There is no social entity on the altars of which people can be sacrificed. There are only individual people, different individual people, with their individual lives.

Responding to some of the criticism [2] sparked by his book, Rawls radically modified the structure of justification for his theory of justice in his next book, 'Political Liberalism' (1993). He sought to decouple moral and political philosophy and look instead for a justification for political principles in a shared background culture. The basic premise of this book is that the fact of reasonable pluralism - people tend to diverge when they reason about the good life - is fraught with moral significance. Modern, western societies contain individuals or groups with diverse comprehensive conceptions of the good, and uniformity is not possible without a considerable degree of coercion, which, in Rawls's view, is an evil that should be avoided.

We can hardly find anything anti-liberal about this approach. But here is the punch line: since reasonable pluralism is bound to be a permanent feature of our society, we should try to devise political arrangements based on an overlapping consensus of values shared by the comprehensive views that already exist and have a high probability of being part of the social landscape in the future. Whose values are counted? What comprehensive conceptions are deemed reasonable? Only those that accept the basic premises of the western liberal-democratic tradition. Since quite of few people are comfortable with liberal democratic principle, a stable political arrangement will arise that will command the allegiance of its citizens.

Rawls runs the thought experiment of the original position again and ends up with the same two principles of justice as in his earlier book: maximum equal liberty and fair equality of opportunity, the first enjoying lexical priority.

Beyond questions about the circularity of his argument [3], more interesting is the radical new way in which Rawls conceives of political philosophy. Metaphysics, or questions about ultimate values are no longer relevant to political philosophy, as it was for most of its history, including Rawls's earlier work. Politics is characterized by epistemic abstinence, and it should now refuse to make any judgments about the truth of particular moral doctrines or comprehensive views. The criterion for the conception of justice Rawls himself proposes is no longer what is true but whether it is reasonable.

Joseph Raz, in an illuminating critique [4] of Rawls's project, sees this as a move from philosophy to practical politics, which undercuts the whole purpose of political philosophy.

The new Rawls considers that the aim of political reasoning is not to direct us to true, moral ideals but to achieve certain practical political goals (stability, social unity) through reasoning about constitutional essentials. This move has almost transformed him into a politician, interested in give and take, exploring common grounds for agreement on policies and principles, without questioning their basis or validity.

Rawls would have probably disagreed with this characterization of what his work is about, but I think Raz is correct. And, in an academic environment were you can practically hear almost all political philosophers saying, "we are all political liberals now," a concern lingers about the course Rawls set for political philosophy, by suggesting that it should be no more than a sort of bargaining politics. Principles and policies stand or fail with the general assent; their success is no longer measured by their truth, but by their majoritarian appeal.

This turn gives Rawls a chance to sneak in his favored philosophical premises, by downplaying the extent of the controversies about core values in western liberal societies. As William Galston points out in his latest book [5], Rawls refuses to conduct philosophy in classical terms, i.e. questioning the assumptions that underlie moral theories, and instead takes democracy as a point of departure. Rawls does not offer any reason to show why we should refuse non-democratic modes of governance, except that they are not widely supported by the basic elements of the background culture.

Nor is Rawls's ambition of creating a freestanding political theory a tenable one. Galston also questions the legitimacy of Rawls's new (non)foundations by pointing out that the neat separation that Rawls employs between public and non-public reasoning is hard to maintain. Freestanding, public reasons cannot be understood as detached from comprehensive views.

We do not normally think, nor should we be asked, to separate our political ideas from our comprehensive personal morality as if they are two different realms of logic or morality. The fact that constitutive values may be seen as freestanding is an illusion. The most basic of our constitutive values reflect clashing moral understandings.

What that means is either that the consensus we can reach on political matters is minimum, or none at all. In either case, we should accept this feature of our political life and strive to make the best of it. The alternative is what Rawls unsuccessfully sought to immunize his theory against: force other people to live by our own rights through coercion.

Rawls on International Justice

Having settled the question of domestic justice, Rawls moves on in 'The Law of Peoples' (1999) to define the principles of justice that should guide the behavior of political societies, or peoples as he likes to call them, in their interactions with each other. Rawls departs in some important respects from his domestic conception of justice. The most striking difference is that he does not favor distributive justice at the international level (although he has room for a limited duty of assistance).

Rawls has two concerns with the difference principle at the international level. International distributive justice is continuous and it is not targeted (it has no cutoff point). The arbitrariness of the distribution of natural resources among countries should cause no difficulty. He imagines this scenario where two countries have roughly the same amount of resources and one decides to pursue a sound economic policy, thereby increasing its wealth and the other chooses some disastrous, irresponsible economic path. In this case, Rawls claims that the country that chose a sound economic policy does not have a duty to help the other country, and the question of redistribution should not arise. Plus, he adds that resource poor countries have done well historically, so the redistribution of material resources should not even arise.

But this argument, which granted is correct, strikes at the foundation of Rawls's own system, as David Gordon perceptively pointed out in his review [6] of the book. If resources do not determine whether countries fare well in time, why should they determine how individuals do? Why do we still need domestic redistribution, which is continuous and has no cutoff point, no target? Presumably we can imagine a scenario (and there are plenty real-life stories) where two individuals start with the same amount of money, one of them spending it wisely and the other one wasting it all.

Why should this scenario not carry the same type of import for domestic distributive justice? Why should we continue to provide the uninspired spender with continuous material support? It seems that in the light of what Rawls has to say about international distribution, we have no good reason. In the words of David Gordon, "Rawls's effort to halt his difference principle at society's borders fails".

Boundaries of Thought

One assumption underlies all of Rawls's moral and political philosophy, a central moral thesis that links individuals to their political communities: people are committed to share in one another's fate. The moral basis of political communities reflects a shared understanding of political obligation, of rights and duties. Consequently, political institutions can and should reflect values beyond a mere modus vivendi (political cooperation motivated simply by self-interest), like the difference principle.

This also explains partly why Rawls thinks that individuals have different moral duties toward fellow citizens than toward people from political societies other than their own.

Most of us find ourselves lumped in political societies with others we do not know, cannot identify with, and we feel no duty towards them beyond simple civility.

Why the boundaries of political philosophy seem to map the boundaries of communities, and not more (the whole world) or less (the individual person or the family) is unclear and Rawls himself does not provide any grounds for the moral relevance of bounded communities. Moreover, the actual geographical boundaries of many states have historically been drawn quite arbitrarily, and those who might have cared for each other and who were part of naturally evolving communities have been separated in different countries. Why should those people be forced to share in anyone's fate?

If we value communities, we value them because we choose to belong and identify with the people they contain. And even if we affectively identify with the members of our community, it still remains an open question what kinds of duties we are supposed to have vis-a-vis them. Moral identification is not enough to ground the duties that Rawls thinks we have toward our fellow countrymen.

Rawls will be remembered for the egalitarian ideal of justice as fairness, developed within the medium of analytical political philosophy, in a manner that is detached from history and economics. These are the features of his thought that make him a hero among contemporary political philosophers, but an unlikely champion of freedom.

Notwithstanding, Rawls's theory remains a formidable competitor for the theories proposed by classical liberals and libertarians. Because he has shaped the main conversation in political philosophy, true liberals need to take on his powerful legacy if only to better understand and strengthen the positions they are defending.


[1] John Rawls, 'A Theory of Justice', Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971, pp. 3-4.

[2] Although Rawls was very charitable to his critics in general, making substantial concessions to liberals and communitarians in revised versions of his books, he never responded to the libertarian counter-arguments. 'Political Liberalism', for instance, contains no reference to Robert Nozick, one of his most prominent libertarian critics and his colleague at Harvard.

[3] He starts out by assuming liberal democratic principles and he ends up proposing two as the basis of a public account of justice.

[4] Joseph Raz, "Facing Diversity: The Case of Epistemic Abstinence", 'Philosophy and Public Affairs'. 19 (1), (Winter 1990), p.11.

[5] William A. Galston, 'Liberal Pluralism: The Implications of Value Pluralism for Political Theory and Practice', Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 40-41.

[6] The piece to which I am referring appeared in 'The Mises Review' and it is available at http:--- .

(c) Carmen Pavel



Carmen Pavel is a Ph.D. candidate in political philosophy at Brown University.

This article was originally posted on the 6th December at http:---. It is reproduced here by kind permission of the author.

John Rawls died peacefully at his home in Lexington, Massachussets on 24 November. He was 81. John Rawls was James Bryant Conant University Professor Emeritus at Harvard. A brief obituary can be found at http:---. (Note to Philos-L from Leif Wenar)



In response to a copy of November press release from Richard Symonds publicizing the planned 2003 South Stoke Festival of Thought (see 'Philosophy Pathways' Issue 32, 19th May 2002) I invited Mr Symonds to answer my question, 'Who was Cyril Joad and what did he contribute to Philosophy?' In a series of e-mails Mr Symonds responded at far too great a length to include in the 'Ask a Philosopher' pages. Joad is a much-maligned philosopher. In 'A Hundred Years of Philosophy' (2nd ed. 1966) John Passmore writes about Joad's 1929 book 'Matter, Life and Value':

"Within a seam-bursting eclecticism, Russell, Bergson and Plato had somehow all to make room for themselves, as the representatives, respectively, of matter, life and value. The result was a conglomeration of considerable popular appeal but little philosophical consequence. The fact remains that Joad - an invigoratingly polemical broadcaster, essayist and lecturer at a time when the ideal of 'good taste' was threatening to destroy personality - represented 'philosophy' to a large segment of the British public. What this proves, either about philosophy or about the British public, I should not care to say" ('A Hundred Years of Philosophy' p. 278).

In other words, Joad was a radio and television celebrity whom the British public mistook for a 'philosopher'. Mr Symonds does not agree, and has sought to set the record straight...



Dr. Cyril Joad (1891-1953) (Teacher, Philosopher, Writer, Broadcaster, Outcast) is best remembered, if remembered at all, as the wartime Brains Trust 'Professor' with the famous catchphrase "It all depends what you mean by...", who popularized philosophy for millions, and "quickened the sluggish mind of the nation" (London Evening Standard, 1953).

C.E.M. Joad published over 70 books in this country, nearly 30 in America, over 80 Papers, and countless newspaper and magazine articles. He was Head of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London for 23 years, until his death in 1953, aged 61.

Cyril Edwin Mitchinson Joad (CEMJ) was a very gifted, but very fallible, human being. His private life appears to be 'a disaster area', and celebrity hubris ended with a nemesis in 1948. His popularity and reputation were destroyed by Winston Churchill in 'Gathering Storm', by the media in a train ticket 'scandal', and by the cruel humiliations of Bertrand Russell, and his professional disciples. Joad was sacked from the BBC, and the chances of a Peerage from Clement Attlee, or a Professorship at Birkbeck, were lost.

Cyril Joad's life and work can be usefully divided into three main phases - its beginning, middle and end - each of which can be sub-divided into 3 main areas:

Joad the Political Philosopher, Pacifist and Atheist

     (a) "The Diary of a Dead Officer". Edited by CEMJ in 1919
     (re: war poet and friend, Arthur Graeme West).
     (b) Federation of Progressive Societies and Individuals,
     F.P.S.I. (1933).
     (c) The 1933 Oxford Union Debate "That under no
     circumstances will we fight for King and Country". [Joad
     proposed the motion and won the debate, an event which was
     later cited by Churchill as one of the reasons for Hitler's
     belief that Britain would never go to war.]
Joad the Wartime Celebrity Philosopher and Brains Trust Man of Reason

     (a) The BBC Brains Trust (1941-1948).
     (b) 'Teach Yourself Philosophy' (1944).
     (c) The fare-dodging scandal (1948).[Joad was successfully
     prosecuted for failing to buy a train ticket.]

Joad the Moral Philosopher and Man of Faith

     (a) The 1950 Oxford Union Debate "That this house regrets
     the influence exercised by the US as the dominant power
     among the democratic nations", with the young Robin day
     (b) 'Shaw and Society' (1953).
     (c) 'Recovery of Belief' (1952) and posthumous 'Folly Farm'

It is primarily to the third phase we must look, for an answer the second part of the question.

Joad also made an original contribution to philosophy; that of Christian Philosophy - a contribution almost entirely disregarded in the late 20th Century. Cyril Joad said in 1943: "If you object that Christ was not a philosopher, I can only beg you to wait until you know as much philosophy as I do before venturing to contradict."

Joad wrote 'The Recovery of Belief - A Restatement of Christian Philosophy', a year before his death. In this, he clearly explains with great originality, his Christian 'Transcendence- Immanence' Theory of the Universe.

Joad's Christian Theory of the Nature of Values

Joad adhered to the 'philosophia perennis', which affirms that Values are Objective not Subjective, and can reduce themselves to Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

These three Values are "OBJECTIVE in the sense that they are found by the human mind - found as 'given' in things - and not projected into things or contributed to them by our own minds, and ULTIMATE, in the sense that whatever we value can be shown to be valued because of the relation of the thing valued to some one or other of the three Values. Thus, while other things are valued as means to one or other of these three, they are valued as ends in themselves.

"Moreover, these Values are not just arbitrary, pieces of cosmic furniture lying about, as it were, in the universe without explanation, coherence or connection, but are revelations of a unity that underlies them; are, in fact, the ways in which God reveals Himself to man. Hence, those human activities which consist in, or which arise out of, the pursuit of Truth, the cultivation of moral goodness, or the creation and enjoyment of Beauty, are such that we cannot help but value and revere them."

"What we call the Values - and it is under this term that the Forms may, I think, be most appropriately referred to in respect of their most outstanding manifestations, as Truth, Goodness and Beauty - are the modes of God's revelation of His Nature to man. For if this is indeed the case, the revelation must be regarded as the IMMANENCE of a TRANSCENDENT Being in a medium which, though it manifests, is itself other than, the Being manifested. Now, we cannot, I suggest, expect to achieve a 'know-how' of the mode of manifestation of a Divine Being ..."

The Cartesian Mind-Body Problem and Joad's Christian Mind-Body-Soul Theory.

Joad believed that the relation between Mind and Body (Brain) is "indescribable" because it is "incomprehensible", and therefore rejects the Cartesian 'Mind-Body' Theory. He puts forward an alternative Christian 'Mind-Body-Soul' Theory.

"The Mind is, it is clear, constantly interacting with the Body and Brain, yet all attempts to envisage the mode of this interaction have been lamentable failures. I venture to develop, in an admittedly purely speculative direction, the hypothesis that there is included, in the make-up of the human personality, a timeless element. The traditional division of the human being is not twofold into mind and body, but threefold into mind, body and soul (or spirit). I suggest that this (threefold) division may approximate more closely to the truth than any other."

Classic Joad on the difficulty of philosophy

"Philosophy is an exceedingly difficult subject, and most books on philosophy are unintelligible to most intelligent people. This is partly, but not wholly, due to the difficulty of the subject matter, which, being the universe, is not surprisingly complex and obscure. There is no reason, at least I know of none, why the universe should necessarily be intelligible to the mind of a twentieth-century human being, and I...remind him how late a comer he is upon the cosmic scene, and how recently he has begun to think...

"If we put the past of life at one hundred years, then the past human life works out at about a month, and of human civilisation (giving the most generous interpretation to the term "civilisation") at about one-and-three-quarter hours. On the same time-scale, the future of "civilisation" - that is to say, the future during which it may be supposed that man will continue to think - is about one hundred thousand years.

"By any reckoning, then, the human mind is very young, and it is not to be expected that it should, as yet, understand very much of the world in which it finds itself. Indeed, there is a sense in which the more we know, the more we become aware of the extent of our ignorance. Suppose, for example, that we think of knowledge as a little lighted patch, the area of the known, set in a sea of environing darkness, the limitless area of the unknown. Then, the more we enlarge the area of the lighted patch, the area of the known, the more also we enlarge the area of contact with the environing darkness of the unknown. In philosophy, then, as in daily life, cocksureness is a function of ignorance, and dunces step in where sages fear to tread. The wise man is he who realises his limitations."

Joad on the function of philosophy

"It is the business of philosophy, as I conceive it, to seek to understand the nature of the universe as a whole, not, as do the sciences, some special department of it, but the whole bag of tricks to which the moral feelings of the Puritan, the herd instinct of the man in the street, the religious consciousness of the saint, the aesthetic enjoyment of the artist, the history of the human race and its contemporary follies, no less than the latest discoveries of science, contribute.

"He looks for a clue to guide him through the labyrinth, for a system wherewith to classify, or a purpose in terms of which to make meaningful. Has the universe, for example, any design, or is it merely a fortuitous concourse of atoms? Is mind a fundamental feature of the universe, in terms of which we are ultimately to interpret the rest, or is it a mere accident, an eddy in the primeval slime, doomed one day to finish its pointless journey with as little noise and significance as it began it? Are good and evil real and ultimate principles existing independently of men, or are they merely the names we give to the things of which we happen to approve and to disapprove?"

(c) Richard Symonds 2002




     I was gonna go to class, before I got high.
     I could have cheated and I could have passed,
     but I got high.
     I'm taking it next semester, and I know why.
    'Cause I got high, because I got high, because
     I got high...

     Afroman 'I Got High' (2002 Chart hit)

On the 5th December, a question was submitted to 'Ask a Philosopher' which I reproduce here. The questioner asked me to withold his/ her name and e-mail address. We agreed on the name 'Louise'.


What I regard as cheating is considered OK by many American university students - one survey revealed that as many as 75% of the interviewed students had purchased essays, term papers or even their masters theses from other writers, usually through online "paper mills", instead of doing their own work. One student responded to the question Why do you cheat? by saying "If you're not cheating, you're not trying.

As a non-cheating student in classes as large as 400 students, I can vouch for the difficulty of competing against students whose written work is done by professionals and whose exams and classes are taken by paid substitutes. They get better grades, look smarter on school records and get better opportunities for jobs as the "A" students. Professors don't bother to make themselves available to students or to get to know them, so they have no way of knowing that many of their "best" students got their grades by cheating.

These papers cost a lot of money, but cost is irrelevant to students who use Daddy's charge cards to pay for them, stay in party mode and assign their education to writers and sit-ins. I do not see that they really lose out. They do not care whether they are educated, they want to make money and hang with people like themselves, and they will graduate with far more social advantages than I will, swotting away while they cruise the clubs and make the connections that will get them the best paying jobs. I'm sure they will continue to cheat at their jobs by using insider information and paying underlings to do all their work for them as they take the credit for it. They will have better grades and no doubt get into better grad schools after they get tutoring for GMAT exams or even get access to tests, and present their references as top of the class pupils with good social connections.

I am bitter and struggling for my grades and wish I could find a way to rationalize cheating, because it seems I am being a sucker by not doing it.

They say it doesn't matter if they cheat to get through required courses that they'll never use, (like Ethics, haha.) What is your take on this cheating epidemic? It is not only common in University, but also in lower schools, where 75% of seventh grade students had cheated, and 63% of sixth grade students, according to a Duke University study. Professors do it too! One east coast professor was allowed to continue teaching after being caught lying to his Vietnam History of the War classes about his (non)experience fighting in Vietnam, or the several historians and writers who have been caught presenting plagiarized material as their own work in books, or the journalist who made up his own "sources" to quote. I know one cheating professor who even used old, forgotten dissertations in his newly published book and presented the work as his own, because I worked for him!

Is there a new philosophy that makes cheating laudable because it is so prevalent and because there is no benefit to not doing it except a feeling (useless) of virtue? I can't say that I recall anything much from my courses, even ones I got excellent grades in only a year ago, so it's not as if I am so much better educated than cheaters are.

They all act as though cheating is an out of date concept and practical results are everything. I feel as if I am adhering to some outmoded philosophy (not religious - I was brought up Unitarian) that works to my ultimate disadvantage yet I can't seem to let go of it. Please comment, this disturbs me every time I see a fellow student sitting in the U. pub while I am flogging myself toward the library. It is ruining my educational experience, plus there are not very many fascinating minds to connect with. My University is ranked in the top 5 in the U.S. - it's not as if this is happening where it won't affect the future, but then look at the President - did he really have what it takes to get to, let alone through Yale? I wonder.

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