Market and Morals - University of Waterloo

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Transcript Market and Morals - University of Waterloo

Plato 427-347 B.C.
Plato 427-347 B.C.
Raphael: The School of Athens (painted ca. 1509)
Plato’s Republic
Sept. 18 & 20: Plato’s Republic, beginning:
• Opening discussion of Justice
• In the dialogue, Socrates searches for a “definition” (of ‘justice’ especially)
• - Well - what is a ‘definition’?
• Provisional answer:
• Definitions tell us what it is about the thing to which a term applies that makes it
correct to call those things by that name
• -- ‘those things’ is ambiguous:
• (a) those particular things? [e.g., Melvin Smith]
• (b) or, that kind of things? [e.g., men (or, humans) in general]
Proper Names vs. General Terms
(1) Terms designating individuals are proper names
They are “defined” by ostension (pointing)
(2) Terms designating an indefinite number of individual things are general
We can’t define those by (simply) pointing.
- But we do somehow attach common meanings
How do we do it?
Such terms typically signify a property or characteristic (or, a clump of
Definitions in the case of such terms in common use spell out or analyze the
meanings of those terms
Which is to say, they tell us which properties are signified by them in the
common language.
General Terms in Ordinary Language
How do speakers A and B come to signify the same property by a given term?
[Why is this a problem? Because we each have our own minds, our own perceptions.
If a word, in a given mind, is intended by that user to refer to property P, what is to
guarantee that a similar-sounding word is intended by the next user to mean the same
That somehow we manage to do this seems fairly obvious ... but that doesn’t answer
the question!
(Philosophers have had many ideas about this. We’ll see (later…) that Plato did, too)
Meaning and Definition
What is the relation between meaning and definition?
[let ‘A’, ‘B’, stand for persons; ‘W’ stands for any particular word]
We say that speaker A “knows the meaning of word W” if
(1) A reliably uses and applies W
Another way of “knowing the meaning” is being able to define:
(2) A can correctly define W
A can define W when A can produce a verbal formula which correctly
specifies the properties that W designates.
- These are not the same! We can be wrong (or at a loss) about (2) even
though we know W in sense (1)
Three Types of Definition
(1) “reportive”
(2) “stipulative”
(3) “theoretical”
With (1): we are trying to state what the word already does mean
(or - some would say: what it “really” means - what it means in the common
language we speak)
Attempts to define in sense (1) can be wrong. We don’t necessarily know how
to define even very familiar words (such as ‘good’ or ‘know’!)
With (2), we just lay down a definition: “I hereby define ‘Phi’ to mean “suchand-such”
These can’t be “wrong” but they can be useful or misleading or pointless …
Third Type of Definition:
(3) “theoretical”
With (3), we go beyond language. A theoretical definition supplies an account
or explanation of what it is about. It implies certain general facts about the
e.g. ‘Water’ = ‘H2O’
Does water mean H2O? No.
(Plato knew the meaning of ‘water’ but never heard of H2O. Even so, water
really is H2O.)
Theoretical definitions require science - homework!
Which means they aren’t exactly “definitions” in the strict sense...
** Socrates asks for definitions
What kind was he looking for? (1) for sure; perhaps also (3)
[not (2). Why not?? ...]
Now: let’s call the answers he gets from his companions in response
proposed definitions
** He tests these proposed definitions by identifying cases (C) which would
be captured by them, but which W does not apply to after all.
** This shows the purported definition to be in error
-> The test is intersubjective: everyone present agrees that C is not W
[What would happen if we didn’t agree? - an interesting question!
- Why should we think that we will agree?
- Because we succeed in communicating with each other. Without common
meanings, we couldn’t do that.
-Humpty Dumpty non grata!]
** Note: Agreement on meanings does not imply agreement on theories or
claims about the world or about what is valuable ...
Suppose John and Mary disagree whether Peter is tall
Both agree that to be tall, you have to be more than six feet high
But John thinks that Peter is less than that, Mary more.
- this could be resolved by measurement.
- (can discussions of justice be resolved in that way? A good question!)
Suppose Mary had claimed that anything over 5’6” is “tall” while John claims
you have to be at least 6’ to be “tall”
We would then have a verbal difference.
(and it would be a nuisance…!)
We must be on the lookout for verbal differences among philosophers, or
anyone discussing abstract questions ….
Plato’s Republic: First proposals:
D1. Cephalus: Justice is telling the truth and paying one’s debts
Is this a good definition?
(1) counter-example: it is wrong to return his weapons to a man gone (criminally)
(2) This seems to be a list, rather than a definition
(3) It is both too wide:
#(1) shows both:
(a) some payments are not just - so it’s too wide;
(b) and too narrow: many things besides lying and debt-nonpaying are unjust
(Aren’t they?? Or can this be maintained….? If so, how? … )
Plato’s Republic: First proposals (continued):
D2. Polemarchus: Justice is “giving every man his due”
Problems (in addition to what Plato says):
(1) The definition may be circular:
- maybe what’s morally due to someone = what we owe him as a matter of
> But that’s what we’re here to find out!
(2) In any case, it’s vague -- as Plato’s subsequent discussion shows.
[all words are more or less vague. But this one seems too vague …
- We would need a more precise theory here, about what has to be the case when
people are “due” something]
D3. Justice is “helping friends and harming enemies”
‘helping’ = ‘doing good for’ (‘benefiting’)
3a. Is justice an “art” (like, say, medicine)?
If so, which specific benefits does it confer on its subjects?
The trouble is that justice doesn’t seem to be an “art” in that sense…
3b. Socrates says: He who can keep money safe would be good at stealing it
-> So, the just man is “a kind of thief”!
Dirty pool! The fact that you can do x doesn’t imply that you do do x.
[He’s probably kidding …]
3c. What if we make a mistake?
Jones, whom we thought an enemy, turns out to be a friend. So, does justice
requires us to harm our friends in this case??
[note: we don’t harm them under that description. If I think Jones my enemy and
harm him accordingly, it is because I believe he is not my friend - I don’t
believe I am “harming a friend”]
3d. In what does helping consist?
Socrates’ answer: “making them better people”
-> So, harming enemies would make them worse people
That can’t be right!
Same ambiguity as in Crito: helping them might make them wealthier,
healthier, or more pleased, without making them morally better
-> i.e., ‘better off’ ≠ ‘better, period’
[if ‘better, period, means anything ... does it?
At any rate, it doesn’t mean the same as morally better]
3e. is it always just to help friends and to harm enemies?
[Plato shows that it is not…
We don’t want to help a friend do wrong
We don’t want to harm an enemy when the enemy is doing good ...
3f. can’t we be just or unjust to people who are neither friends nor enemies?
[Plato doesn’t raise this one]
[Polemarchus says that our friends are good people, enemies bad ones.
But our friends may not always be so, and plenty of non-friends can be good.
[Note: must our “enemies” be morally bad?
Our rivals need not be, certainly ...]
D4. Justice is benefiting good people, harming bad ones ...
Question: Should we do evil to evil people, good to good ones?
Again as in Crito, Socrates holds that we should never do evil at all
[with the same ambiguity, which we’ve been through - remember?]
General question: what does justice have to do with
a) Friendship
- or with
b) Being “good”?
- good how?
-- being a nice guy?
-- being good at chess?
-- being morally good?(most likely)
-- being good at being just (of course! - but, of course, useless)
There are things we ought to do for our friends and not others; things we ought
not to do to friends even if we may do them to others
Are there things we ought to do for good people generally? And bad ones?
[praise and blame are the obvious things. But does justice consist in this??]
Justice and Power: the exchanges with
D5. Thrasymachus proposes: “Justice is the interest of the stronger party”
Question: is this genuinely meant as a definition?
[remember our distinctions about types of definition]
1) Does T. really mean to hold that what we mean when we say that x is just is
that x is in the interest of the stronger party?
- Do we mean this?
- No.
We can be strong but wrong, or weak but right.
- can’t we?
2) Is he just laying down an arbitrary definition?
(like Humpty Dumpty, who says about definitions, “It’s just a matter of who’s
master, that’s all!”)
- but that would be pointless [think about it!]
3) Or, is something else going on?
Surely, yes ...
Justice and Power (continued)
Here’s a thought about how to understand T’s thesis:
1. By ‘strong’ T. doesn’t mean big muscles
So, Strong how?
Answer: Politically strong
2. The politically strong make the laws
3. [suppose] Justice is obeying the laws
4. But, why do the strong make the laws they do?
T’s answer: to benefit themselves
(note: not to benefit us!)
5. “Justice is what’s in the interest of the stronger party”
Justice and Power (continued)
Is Thrasymachus right?
Question: why should we obey the laws?
If it’s
1) just because they are the laws; And, if
2) they really are made in the ruler’s interest,
Then apparently he is right:
-> 3) we ought to do what’s in the ruler’s interest
Of course, this would be an extensional truth
That is: the act we ought to do is of type F; but it turns out that things that are F are
also G! - so, the act we ought to do is in fact G
-> But what we’re looking for is not just extensional equivalence, but the “essence”
of justice
Is it basic to the idea of law that they are in the ruler’s interest?
-- [no…. ]
Note also: this would hardly show that we have a moral obligation to do what’s in the
ruler’s interest....
Justice and Power (continued)
Another Platonic excursion: can rulers make mistakes?
Suppose that Ruler R makes Law L in R’s interest
But - suppose L isn’t in his interest - he goofed!
Then obeying the law won’t be in the “interest of the strong”!
What are we supposed to do now?
[either: do what R says and thus frustrate his interests; or promote his interests, but
disobey his orders...]
But: does this show that justice is not the “interest of the stronger party”?
It shows a general problem that affects normative inquiries of all kinds - the problem
of human error.
Mistakes (continued)
The “general problem that affects normative inquiries of all kinds”:
We aren’t perfect!
Suppose we ought to do X
Suppose that, unbeknownst to us,
doing x -> Doing y
And we should not do y.
So: when we think we are doing what we ought, we will be in fact doing what we
ought not
Comment: Tough cookies!
Rough solution: we give credit for trying; we see whether the ignorance in question
was our fault or not.
If not, we excuse the doing of y
- and, we hope we learn to avoid this particular problem in future…
- - What else can we do??
Mistakes (continued) - Thrasymachus’ gambit
Socrates asks: what if the Ruler makes a mistake?
Thrasymachus tries again: strictly speaking, he proposes,
a ruler, insofar as he is a ruler, makes no mistakes.
-> “Strict” Definitions and Essentialism
What is a “strict” usage?
It involves attending strictly, or exclusively, to the features mentioned in the definition,
and not considering extraneous possibilities.
But is the possibility of making a mistake “extraneous”?
An analogy: batting
Does the batter, insofar as he is a batter (strictly speaking!) always hit the ball?
- No. The batter, as such, is trying to hit the ball
(But suppose he always misses! …)
So: is the king, strictly speaking, one who rules without mistakes?
- No. He is the one who is appointed in order to try to avoid mistakes, but nobody
expects perfection…
What are rulers for?
- Whom should rulers, qua rulers, be trying to benefit?
[note: ‘qua’ = ‘as’ - an F does x qua F if F does x insofar as, or by virtue of being, an F]
-> Thrasymachus’s claim:
Kings qua Kings rule in the interest of the King!
The purpose of ruling is to make as much money and exert as much power over
people as you can.
Thrasymachus is for Kleptocracy!
He holds that smart people “look after Number One”
- So if you’re a King, you’ll use the powers of the throne to benefit yourself
-> Socrates’ claim:
Kings qua Kings rule in the interest of their subjects
-- Who’s right??
- Question: What is the “True Function” of Rulers?
Thrasymachus seems to think that it’s to make as much money and exert as much
power over people as you can.
Thrasymachus’s Argument:
1) rulers are people
2) people act in their own self-interest
3) their interest is to make as much money as possible
4) in the case of ruling, you get this by extracting it from the People
5) So, you should tax them maximally, etc.
Socrates’ argument for the alternative analysis of the proper function of Ruling:
1. The general purpose of any “art” or profession is to achieve its specific
aim: health from doctors, etc.
- Doctors doctor in the interests of their patients
- Mariners navigate in the interest of the passengers
In general, Practitioners of any art practice in the interest of the art’s “subjects”
2. In their perfect form, when they make no mistakes, arts aim at the good of
their subjects
3. Ruling is an art
4. The arts (of ruling, etc.) themselves are the “stronger party”; their subject is
always the “weaker party”
5. Therefore, the arts they practice advance the interest of the weaker party
-> Moral: True rulers, like true doctors, rule in the interest of their
subjects, not of themselves
Rulers rule for the good of their subjects (not themselves!)
Two questions about Socrates’ argument:
(1): Has Plato been too restrictive in his choice of examples of “arts”? Take
the art of assassination: clearly it is an art, after all -- it can be done well or
badly. But you have to stretch it awfully thin to maintain that it’s “good”
for its “subject”.
- Even the shepherd is a mixed case: he takes care of the sheep, yes - but in
order that they’ll taste better or supply us with better wool; at least the first
of these is not obviously for the good of the sheep ....
Under the circumstances, the question now seems to be this: Is the art of
governing more like that of the doctor? Or of the assassin?
Or is it, perhaps, neutral as between benefiting the ruler himself or his
Question (2) concerns who’s right ....
Who’s right?
I offer here a judgment on the linguistic point.
Answer: Neither!
Rulers qua rulers, rule.
Some of them rule justly, some of them rule unjustly some of them rule cleverly, some stupidly
Some well, some badly
But what makes it true that they are rulers is simply that they are in the position of
rulers - they are exerting the powers of rulers.
In order to find out what they ought to be doing, we need a different kind of
The sheer meanings of words won’t cut it!
There’s a difference between a moral principle and a definition
Definitions enable us to communicate clearly
They don’t tell us what to say!
Political Science vs. Political Philosophy (1)
Further thoughts on Thrasymachus Thrasymachus’ case rests on two claims about people:
a) They are moved by self-interest
b) Rationality consists in promoting that interest
Both are very plausible claims
Is Thrasymachus trying to be “realistic”?
- Yes
Is he right?
- Maybe…
Or at least, a lot of kings do behave the way Thrasymachus claims is rational
- It doesn’t follow that he’s right about what they ought to be doing ...
- It does follow that we have a problem about Governments.
Political Science: aims to describe the way government works.
- People in general do what they are interested in
- So do governments - that’s a plausible view
But ... are rulers necessarily actuated by self-interest? [next slide --> ]
Political Science vs. Political Philosophy (1)
But are rulers necessarily actuated by self-interest?
• The view that they necessarily are stems from a view about people
• That view is called Egoism
• It says that people are always moved by self-interest
• What is “self-interest” though?
• This is a tricky subject.... As always, we need a distinction:
Truth: people are necessarily moved by their interests
(not somebody else’s.... !) This is obvious.
(1) But “self-interest” is an interest in oneself
These are the interests that are definable without mentioning other people
Hunger, e.g.: a desire for food in one’s own stomach
(2) People often have other interests: e.g., a parent’s interest in her children;
or philanthropists, who want to do good things for others ...
So, it does not follow from the fact that rulers are people that they rule in selfinterest
It does follow that they rule from interests that they have
- But which will those be?
Political Science vs. Political Philosophy (1)
further re: Are rulers necessarily actuated by self-interest?
-> Answer: No.
But, are they likely to be?
-> Answer: Yes.
Everyone has self-interests (if not, they wouldn’t survive long!)
But most people have other interests as well
Do we have a choice about which interests we’ll act on?
Good question!
(1) we will act on our “strongest” interest, yes - but which is that?
• Not necessarily self-interest. People often sacrifice their lives for others.
(Is this irrational? Maybe not....)
(2) How do we decide which is our strongest interest?
- is this rational? (not clear)
- does it need to be? No. We just act, on the interest that is strongest at the time - whether we’ve thought about it or not.
• But we can think about it!
Interesting question: Can we change our interests by thinking about
(a) we can find out facts that make us act differently - because they show us that
the actions we thought would promote our interests don’t do so after all
(b) but can we change our basic interests?
-- to be continued!
Political Science vs. Political Philosophy (2)
The question for philosophy is this: Ought we to go along with the rules laid down
by “the strong”?
Or, should we resist?
- three levels of resistance:
a) We ignore the rules
b) We disobey them when it serves our interests to do so
c) We disobey them when they seem wrong, however it serves our interest
Note: when we do obey the laws, it can either be because:
a) it’s just a habit, we don’t think about it
b) They seem like pretty good laws, so why not? Or
c) Even if not, we fear the consequences (police, etc.) if we don’t.
Regarding (c): this is a reason of self-interest, not morality
- How high a price should we pay for justice??
- That’s a tough, but real question
The first (and main) job is to find out when the the rulers are wrong, if ever …
Question: is the ruler right just because he is the ruler?
• It’s easy to see why the ruler would want you to think so!
• A tough ruler will probably get his way.
• But still, what should we do??
The view that Thrasymachus seemed to be supporting is that it is just to obey the
strong, simply because they’re strong.
That view looks extremely implausible.
• More plausible is: it is prudent to obey the strong.
(After all, they can hit you!)
• But does that make it right?
Not obviously!
Suppose we say: it is right because the authority who enforces the law is legitimate
- But, what if he isn’t?
- What is meant by ‘legitimate’? some options:
- (1) he got in legally (e.g., constitutionally)
- (2) The status of ruler is just, no matter how he got in
-- If (2), why?
- (3) Do we have to add: and the constitution in question is just?
- [If we don’t, why don’t we??]
- Provisionally, we’d better assume that (3) is necessary
Which opens a large can of worms....
Justice and the Gang of Thieves
If Thrasymachus is right, we can expect governments to be thieves
Socrates claims that even among thieves, justice is necessary.
Suppose that no thief could trust any of his henchmen to do their parts in a group
Few such heists would ever work!
It seems that, internally anyway, the rational thief will be just
Will the same argument work for society generally??
[That is: can we find out what society is trying to do, and then note that it won’t do it
as well if it lacks justice?]
That’s an important question! …
[which we won’t try to answer here - yet…]