International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   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



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 illusion.

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 experience.

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




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 Jonathan.

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 years.

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 delusion.

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,]



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:---). 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
   social theory."
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
   human good."
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) disadvantage.

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 geographic location.

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 alternatives.

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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