Tag Archives: ethics

Peter Koslowski’s Ethics and Economics or Ethical Economy: A Framework for a research agenda in business ethics

This paper presents the concept of ethical economy (Wirtschaftsethik) and the relation between ethics and economics on the basis of the work of the German ethical economist Peter Koslowski. The concept of ethical economy includes three levels: micro, meso and macro levels; and it also deals with the philosophical analysis of the ethical foundations of the economy. After the discussion of these elements of the ethical economy, the paper presents some possible research topics for a research agenda about economic ethics or ethical economy.

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Do Digital Systems and Concepts in Modern Public Service Production Have a Negative Impact on Citizens as End-users?

Do digital systems and concepts in modern public service production have a negative impact on citizens as end-users? To answer this research question, we shall first present our theoretical framework ‘the institutional logics perspective’ and show how we deploy this on modern public service production. Second, we claim that digital systems and concepts develop a new institutional logic within modern public service production: the ‘digital logic’. Third, we analyze and discuss the new logic´s possible impact on citizens as end-users. Fourth, we discuss the ethical dimensions of values and ethics in relation to public service production and digitizing.

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Icelandic Journalists & the Question of Professionalism

Characteristics of a profession

The conditions that an occupation must satisfy in order to count as a profession can be debated although certain elements seem well established as parts of any definition of the concept of a profession. We will approach this topic by considering first the related, but distinct, concept of professionalism and then turning to the concept of a profession.

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Free Speech, Freedom of the Press, and the Tapestry of Lies

Those who know his work will recognize here my debt to John Pilger, journalist and documentary film-maker, who has both informed and inspired me.[1] 

 

 

On December 7, 2005, sixty-four years to the day after the Japanese attack on the American at Pearl Harbor, Harold Pinter, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, gave his Nobel Lecture, ” Art, Truth & Politics”. Here is an excerpt from that speech. “In 1958,” Pinter said, “I wrote the following:”

 

‘There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.’

 

“I believe that these assertions still make sense,” Pinter continued, “and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

 

Pinter went on to say this:

 

… language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.

 

But … the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.

.

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.[2]

 

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

 

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

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I spoke earlier about ‘a tapestry of lies’ which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a ‘totalitarian dungeon’. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

 

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

 

The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. ‘Democracy’ had prevailed.

 

But this ‘policy’ was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.

 

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

 

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.

 

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.[3] The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.[4]

 

What Pinter was talking about is nothing new. In December, 1917, between David Lloyd George, Britain’s prime minister during much of the first world war said to C. P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, “If people really knew the truth,” the prime minister said, “the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know, and can’t know.” And if you investigate war reporting, at least from the nineteenth century to the present, you will find that insofar as any country engaged in war has a public that can be reached by what we now refer to as “mass media”, that public has been lied to about war: cynically, deliberately, and over and over again.[5]

 

In weaving this tapestry of lies, the mass media—from Pravda, to the New York Times, to London’s Mirror to Þjóðviljinn (now deceased) and Morgunblaðið—have, over time and considering different examples, variously complicit. (I mention only newspapers here; but radio and television have been equally complicit. A major vector for complicity is the so-called “news services”, such as the Associated Press and Reuters, upon which other mass media largely rely for content.) Each new war provides politicians and managers with new lessons about how potential embarrassment (i.e. the revelation of truth to the public) in the media can be avoided and the media rendered complicit in weaving the tapestry of lies. In some places, as we know, the media are simply controlled by governments. But, in general, the Western media, treasuring their “press freedom” or “freedom of information”, largely control themselves and may easily be granted their freedom as they present little danger. The public is equally complicit being for the most part thoroughly uncritical insofar as it can rise above its boredom with the news: Pinter speaks of the “vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.” For this purpose, the public, by various devices, must be kept moronized, and this effort seems to have thoroughly succeeded in the United States. It has succeeded less well in Europe, and less effort has been directed to it, politicians being aware that there are limits to how far you can moronize an educated population a significant part of which consist of the still-living remnants of nations that were all-too-recently decimated by war.[6] Yet, it goes surprisingly well, and politicians can afford to wait until enough of those for whom the destruction of their nations is still a living memory to die off and let the powers that be get on with their business.

 

My audience here might ask, “OK, but what does this have to do with us? Our politicians have kept us out of wars, not pushed us into them. We do not live in a police state. We have freedom of speech here, and no one is hounded, persecuted or punished for saying whatever they want. Some of our news is censored, or self-censored, by our government or by our media themselves, but this is only light censorship, done for reasons that most of us agree with, and there are no signs that this is eroding press freedom. We don’t swallow American propaganda—or Russian, or British or Qatari—whole, as you can see from the widespread opposition here to the latest murderous suppression in Palestine and the widespread support here for a ‘yes’ vote in Scotland. Our public is pretty well educated and not entirely uncritical.”

 

All of this is true, dear friends; and it is to be hoped that we Icelanders sincerely appreciate the fact that, as far as these matters go, we live in a paradise as compared with most of the world. Yet we have not kept ourselves far enough distanced from the tapestry of lies and are vulnerable—and complicit. For we unfortunately have a weak Fourth Estate. Our media are docile, politically subservient and thus manipulated—perhaps most of all self-manipulated—and are not dedicated to what is required, at least in a supposedly democratic nation, in the way of getting truth to the public of the sort that is needed in order for the electorate to exercise rationally the power that is supposedly vested in it.

 

Although technological developments are rapidly changing things, mass media—ours and others—are, broadly speaking, conduits for four different kinds of things: news, opinion (including especially editorial opinion), entertainment, and advertising. Upon entertainment I will not comment here, although such comment would be relevant.

 

Advertising is mainly for the purpose of selling goods and services, although politicians and policies are also “sold” through advertising—witness the recent Scottish independence election. In this case, if we are to have a vigilant and independent Fourth Estate, two things must be secured: first, that advertising must not be allowed to be false, misleading or disingenuous, and second, those who advertise—and thus support the media financially, the new generation of “free” newspapers surviving entirely upon this—must not be allowed to influence news reporting. If we want a free press, or free media, these two things must be policed by the media themselves, but self-policing and self-regulation are notoriously weak in most areas where it is spoken of.[7] In any case, Icelandic media have in no way come close to meeting their responsibilities in these matters. Most of them serve particular political parties and particular lobbies and are therefore compromised in advance with regard to the policing of advertising; but in fact party-independent media do not do much better. To the extent that these two requirements are not met, media are complicit in weaving the tapestry of lies spoken of by Pinter.

 

Opinion is the area in which media are entitled to be partial to some particular set of views or mouthpieces for party politics. Yet, again, there are two things that are necessary if we are to have the kind of responsible Fourth Estate needed to serve a democracy. First, such opinion as is channeled to the public by the media may not be built upon falsehoods, misrepresentations or even upon deliberate omissions. There are many matters, even in the sciences, that are controversial or uncertain; and where opinion builds upon it, it will take on the uncertainty or controversial nature of the foundation upon which it is built. Opinion that has no foundation should not be transmitted by the media, and I do not see that freedom of opinion or freedom of expression extend inherently to it[8] although we may choose to grant them. But more pertinently, opinion whose foundation is uncertain or controversial should not be transmitted by the media under the pretense that its foundation is firm and may be taken for granted. For example, if an editor or politician speaks in favor of certain political actions or policies on the basis of the idea that “markets are self-regulating”, it should at least be made clear that this idea is not established. And if someone supports imposing sanctions on the Russian Federation in response to the shooting down of Malaysian flight MH 17, it should be made clear that has not been established that the Russians had anything to do with that tragic incident. Otherwise, the opinions transmitted are fraudulent, and the media become again complicit in weaving the tapestry of lies. In this connection, we should keep in mind that Iceland’s descent into financial crisis was in large part a media failure; and its possibility of being drawn, one way or another, into the American-NATO agenda for a European war is not negligible (a matter of which most Icelanders seem blissfully unaware.) The responsibility for not transmitting fraudulent opinion rests with the media themselves, and if they cannot control it—noting that such fraudulent opinion may come from their advertisers, political associates, editors or owners—then that invites external control. The freedom of opinion or of expression that I am sure we all support may extend to false or stupid opinion, as John Stuart Mill argued, but I cannot see that it inherently extends to fraudulent opinion.[9]

 

The second demand is that despite the fact that the media are entitled to be partial as regards opinion, there must—if we are to have a Fourth Estate that serves a democracy as it should—be a forum in the mass media for a suitable variety of opinions in controversial matters. The mass media are the vehicle through which various relevant opinions reach the public, and the publication of opinion is meant to be influential upon policymakers, legislators and the electorate. This is perfectly legitimate—indeed, required in a democracy—insofar as the influence comes from the content of the opinion laid before the public for consideration. But if the influence simply comes from the exclusion of serious contrary opinion, or from the public’s being barraged by one kind of view while opposing views are, or by using other tricks of “public relations”—terrorizing the public is currently a popular one—then this is not legitimate. It is perhaps all right for one medium to be thoroughly one-sided, but it is not all right if the national media, taken together, are thoroughly one-sided. Otherwise, national media become complicit in weaving the tapestry of lies. They certainly were in the recent Scottish independence referendum, where the views and arguments of the “yes” group were given little media presence, while the “no” group enjoyed a media barrage and a studied, anti-“yes” terror campaign conducted by leading politicians.[10] In my judgment, the Icelandic media do practically nothing to meet the first of these two demands, while the second demand is served haphazardly and superficially—the “alternatives” are generally restricted to the rather simplistic positions advanced by the political parties. Certainly, there is no systematic effort made by the Icelandic media to secure collectively what is known as “balance”, never mind intelligent balance.

 

Finally, but most importantly, nothing that is not conscientiously verified should be transmitted as news—or at least the sources and degree of verification must always be made clear. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of news media to obtain and transmit the information that “the public needs to know” in order to exercise the power that is said to reside in it in a democratic polity. Freedom of the press is not the freedom to misrepresent or distort what is reported as fact, whether by falsification, irresponsibility as to verification, by selectivity or by omission.[11] In many jurisdictions, witnesses in cases before a court are made to swear to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”, and news reporting that is not dedicated to exactly that is the principle loom on which the tapestry of lies is woven, even when the lies themselves originate from outside of the media.[12] The American President Obama gave a speech to the United Nations General Assembly the other day that as far as I can see consisted of little more than a mass of egregious lies and misrepresentations.[13] I think personally that politicians and officials should be forbidden by law to lie to the public. For serious lies, including lies of omission and misrepresentation, they should be driven, by law, from office and perhaps even imprisoned, for it is through such lies that the greatest harms to individuals, nations, and mankind come about.

 

There is of course no chance at all that legislators—our dear politicians—will ever make laws that take politicians to task for lying, but one can dream. If anyone asks whether this would be a violation of the principle of free speech, my answer is no. Let us consider for a moment some of the more important limitations on the freedom of speech. It does not license perjury. It does not license libel or slander. It does not license academic misconduct, that is, the falsification or fabrication of data or results in a scientific or scholarly report. It does not license false advertising. It does not license falsification of a tax return, application for insurance, or mortgage application; indeed it does not license any sort of fraudulent misrepresentation. It does not license identity theft. It does not license expert testimony that is purposely false or misleading or in reckless disregard of the truth (as for example the infamous report of Frederick Mishkin and Icelandic collaborators on the stability of Icelandic banks[14]). And so I maintain that it does not license political lying. Thus, in terms of “rights”, the way is open, I believe, to insist that politicians not lie (and to do something about it if they do).

 

As things stand, however, our mass media are our only protection from the lies, concealments and distortions peddled by our politicians, and the media can only protect us by exposing those lies for what they are, not by transmitting them as news. It is perfectly straightforward news to report Obama’s speech—he did give that speech—and even to reproduce it verbatim. But this is only part of that news; it needs also to be reported, and explicitly documented, that the speech consisted of lies, if it did. Politicians should not be able to transmit lies to the public—sometimes the global public—through the laziness, gullibility, incompetence or complicity of either newsmen or the media that employ them. This has to do with the ethics not only of newsmen but of the mass media as such. And it, too, could be, in principle, rightly backed up by law (as it is partially by the laws of libel). Freedom of the press does not extent to fraudulent news reporting any more than the freedom of speech extends to political lying.

 

The Icelandic media do not come out well on this score. Since most of them are in cahoots with, or manipulated by, one or another political party, they are uncritical of political lies, at least of their crony politicians. And they devote little effort to insuring non-fraudulent news reporting in any case. They are not assiduous at providing the public with the truths that it needs to know in order for Icelandic democracy to function as any kind of genuine democracy, and they are complacent in the face of all of the tricks that are pulled on the public in order to keep it in ignorance. For instance, when some “scandal” erupts in the news, as happens with upsetting frequency, the first thing that a critical reader should ask herself is, “What is going on that they don’t want me to pay attention to?” Scandal-mongering is one of the standard ways in which the reporting of news is rendered fraudulent, a diversion. Our politicians, and many of our economists, declare that “they didn’t see our financial crisis coming”, and sometimes add that no one could have done so. But even if we believe that they didn’t see it coming (which I don’t), we would all have seen it coming if the news media had done the job that they must be expected to do in a democracy. Does anyone remember the legislation that was passed from 1985 onward in order to allow the “asset stripping” of our savings banks (a project that succeeded, by the way)? Did anyone ever know about it in the first place? Was it reported? Was it discussed? Do you think that it was too complex for the average person to understand? Do you think that this kind of omission supports the democratic control of policy or is in the public interest?[15] Thus are our news media complicit in the weaving of the tapestry of lies.

 

Most of the media exist as private corporations, engaged in news reporting, opinion, advertising and entertainment with the aim of turning a profit. There are of course also state media, but they are run in much the same way as private media, not least because they draw upon the same pool of personnel. This situation may be as it should be, but the way in which the media have come to function in society and politics needs to be squarely faced and better taken into account. Like hospitals, insurance companies and courts, there are certain standards that the media must be made to meet, despite (and not least on account of) temptations that may lead them in other directions.

 

The institutional framework of the media must also be regulated so as not to undermine the demands of their meeting those standards. For instance, the media corporations should not wind up in too few hands. In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi is the controlling owner of most of the major Italian media corporations and is doubtless for that reason Italy’s most powerful politician. The U.S. media have concentrated in very few hands, and international media moguls, like Rupert Murdoch, own a large number of large media corporations globally. The few controlling owners of mass media all have their own personal and political agendas and become the non-elected controllers of national policies. The idea of a media-controlled democracy doesn’t pass the laugh test, especially when the media are themselves controlled by parties whose interests do not run with those of the public (although they can perhaps cozen the public into thinking otherwise in the short run). What I am saying here must be familiar to everyone in my audience and almost banal. Yet, nothing is done about this and the concentration of the media into an ever-smaller number of hands continues. This may seem to be less of a problem in Iceland than in some other places, but we must consider the utter dependence of the Icelandic media on a small number of outlets for all foreign news; and there is nothing in place that would prevent Rupert Murdoch from buying up all of the Icelandic private media before the end of this week.

 

In particular in Iceland, news reporting must be made to conform to the standards of truth, rather than to the interests of party politicians or to any other interests than those of supplying the public in a democratic society with the truths it needs to know in order to make up its mind and exert its influence in our struggle with the present and our course through the future. For, as George Orwell pronounced: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”[16] It would be nice to think that our media will autonomously with these standards, through a respect for democracy and an ambition for professionalism. But at any rate, we, the public, should demand this, whatever our particular political persuasions may be.

 

As far as budding journalists are concerned, I’ll close with a quotation from the famous American news anchorman, Dan Rather, when explaining in an interview taken by John Pilger why he had failed in his role as a journalist in the case of the Iraq war (the last one, now there’s a new one):

 

. . . I have said, whether those of us in journalism want to admit it or not, then, at least in some small way, fear is present in every news room in the country. A fear of losing your job, a fear of your institution – the company you work for – going out of business, the fear of being stuck with some label, “unpatriotic” or otherwise that you will have with you to your grave and beyond, the fear that there’s so much at stake for the country, that by doing what you deeply feel is your job will sometime be interference; all these things go into the mix.  But it’s very important for me to say, because I firmly believe it: I’m not the Vice-President in Charge of Excuses, and we shouldn’t have excuses. What we should do is take a really good look at that period and learn from it. And, you know, suck up our courage.[17]



[1] Invited lecture presented at the international conference, “Tjáningarfrelsi og félagsleg ábyrgð – Kenningar og útfærsla” (Freedom of Expression and Social Responsibility – Theory and Practice), held at the University of Akureyri on 29 September 2014 and arranged by the Media Studies program and the Faculty of Social Sciences. Those who know his work will recognize here my debt to John Pilger, journalist and documentary film-maker, who has both informed and inspired me.

[2] Emphasis added.

[3] These are the most powerful lines in Pinter’s speech and have been frequently quoted, not least by John Pilger.

[5] For this history, see the film by John Pilger mentioned in footnote 17, below.

[6] Some of these people, particularly the Germans, actually learned something from the Second World War, but, as I go on to indicate, the now-up-coming generations seem to be as clueless as their pre-war ancestors.

[7] Some instances in which the media have “policed” themselves have been as abusive and repressive as any government would be. See, for example, Paula Cruickshank, “42 Seconds That Sullied Helen Thomas—and New Media”, that can be found at:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2013/07/31/42_seconds_that_sullied_helen_thomas_–_and_new_media_119431.html

This article, incidentally, quotes several interesting clauses from the (U.S.) Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, the content of which I believe it would be wise for our own journalists to incorporate into their ethical code. Birgir Guðmundsson informs me that some such has been proposed but that Icelandic journalists have not been willing to adopt.

[8] In the sequel, I call this “fraudulent opinion”.

[9] There is a difference between what is false and what is falsified, or what is unsubstantiated but pretends to be substantiated.

[10] The use of media terror campaigns is well known and a standard device of politicians, as Hermann Göring famously pointed out. In an interview in his cell in Nuremberg on January 3rd, 1946, Göring said “. . . the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. . . .?[T]he people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” (emphasis added). In Scotland recently, the threat was that of financial ruin; in the Cold War, the threat was the awful, lurking Russian hordes. Today, people in California are apparently terrified of being beheaded by militant Muslims. In short, Göring knew what he was talking about. Of course, as I indicate below, the media should warn the public of genuine threats, as they often do not (as for example, the obvious and verifiable threat of the collapse of the Icelandic banks in 2008, or, earlier, the riskiness of buying DeCode stock); but they should not uncritically communicate the threats manufactured for mass consumption by politicians and demagogues.

[11] In this paper, as the reader should easily understand, I use the term “lie” as an abbreviation for all of these sorts of misrepresentation.

[12] It is perhaps important to emphasize that it is often not possible to discern the truth; and in certain cases there may be no truth to discern, although I draw the reader’s attention to the opening passages of Pinter’s Nobel speech. Obviously, the media cannot be expected to arrive at the truth in such cases. But what it can do is to inform its audience either that the truth cannot be discerned or that there may be no truth to discern. The important thing is not to represent things to be more or less evident than they are and to educate the public.

[13] Speech of 24 September 2014; full text available here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/barackobama/11119048/Full-text-of-Barack-Obamas-speech-to-the-UN-General-Assembly.html

The then-Secretary-of-State, Colin Powell, delivered an even more egregious fabrication to a plenary session of the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003, concerning Saddam Hussein’s supposed collection of “weapons of mass destruction”. The media did not do their job—it would have been easy enough to expose this fraud for what it was—and Powell’s ploy worked so well that it was doubtless an inspiration to Obama. The fraudulence of Powell’s performance has been richly documented. As for Obama’s speech, one has to assess the few kernels of information about current events that may be considered reliable, or tentatively reliable, in a morass of propaganda, channeled by the media, the like of which has been rarely seen. These few items reveal Obama’s speech to be thoroughly fraudulent.

[14] Frederic S. Mishkin and Tryggvi T. Herbertsson, “Financial Stability in Iceland” (Reykjavík: Icelandic Chamber of Commerce, 2006). The report is available at: http://www.vi.is/files/555877819Financial%20Stability%20in%20Iceland%20Screen%20Version.pdf

Warnings from competent sources—including Fitch, Merrill Lynch (rather ironically) and the Danske Bank—were coming from all directions at the time. But without having to understand any technicalities, it was clear that the banks were so highly leveraged (i.e. had issued loans that far surpassed their assets) that any small contraction in the interbank credit market (practically inevitable) would cause them instantly to collapse.

[15] The first real analysis of this process that I know of appeared not in the media but in an MA thesis in sociology by Þorvaldur Logason, Valdselítur og spilling: um spillingarorsakir hrunsins á Íslandi 2008 (University of Iceland, 2011). The Icelandic National Broadcast (RÚV) ran a short program in 2013 about the projected publication of a book (yet to be published) based upon the thesis, which is how I learned about the matter. Þorvaldur says that there was some minor media coverage around 2001-2002, which certainly passed me by. But this dangerous attempt to appropriate the assets of the savings banks should have received intensive, analytical coverage. Suppose someone thinks that Þorvaldur’s analysis and critique was mistaken. The point remains: there should have been detailed coverage and a public discussion. By 2008, it was far too late.

[16] George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four, Part 3, Chapter 2. This book, originally published in 1949, is available in many editions and is in the process of entering the public domain.

[17] Transcribed from the sound track of John Pilger’s documentary film, “The War You Don’t See” (2011). The film (along with most of Pilger’s other films) can be viewed at http://johnpilger.com/videos and is highly recommended for anyone interested in the responsibility that attaches to the freedom of the media.

On the Range or Scope of [Moral] Action

I

St Thomas Aquinas (ST IaIIæ.1.3 & ad 3) distinguishes deliberate from non-deliberate actions. Non-deliberate – to take his examples – are such automatic or semi-automatic gestures as the stroking of the beard or involuntary movements of hands or feet. We can add the involuntary and non-conscious dilation of one’s pupils in response to increased interest, the spontaneous effort to regain one’s balance or one’s instantaneous response to another’s stumble. Suchlike actions as do not “proceed from reasonable deliberation which is properly the principle of human action” he calls “acts of a man” because they occur in humans but are not chosen (note that it is possible by training to override some spontaneous responses as, for instance, trainee circus clowns train themselves to override their spontaneous effort to regain their balance.) The acts that proceed from reasonable deliberation and decision he calls “human acts.” We deliberate and decide in order to attain an end or goal. There are practical questions as to how an envisaged end is to be achieved but whether or not to choose the means, that is, the set actions judged likely to achieve the envisaged end, is not itself a practical question. Theft or embezzlement are well known means of attaining the envisaged end of gaining money; whether or not to employ them is a moral not a practical question. Whether or not, given the available technical and physical resources, one can build a bridge across a gorge is a practical question; if one cannot build the bridge the question as to whether or not to build one does not arise; if one can build the bridge that question may arise and is within the moral realm..

What I suggest here is that only and all human acts so defined constitute the moral realm. Correspondingly, the range or scope of [moral] action is the range or scope of deliberate action. A deliberate action is chosen. Some choices are, for various reasons, considerably more important than others – most will agree that the decision whether or not to get married is more important than whether or not or where to go on holiday – but no choice is outside the moral realm, and no choice, as Aristotle already made clear, is made in the abstract. All actual choices are made in the prevailing circumstances as they are understood by the person choosing. There are no abstract and no non-moral choices.

II

We are born unable to speak; we are potential but not yet actual speakers. We are infants – etymologically non-speakers. To become actual speakers we need to learn from those who can already speak. We learn our language from others – and notice that in learning our mother-tongue, we learn not only that particular language but also language; language exists only as particular languages just as birds exist only as particular species of bird. Puffins and geese are birds; but no bird is not a type or species of bird.

The twentieth century French linguist, Jean Gagnepain, in a lecture that I heard in Rennes thirty-six years ago, remarked that we learn our morals as we learn our language. As we learn our language from others, so we learn from others the moral views, the ethical code, prevailing in our community. And as we learn the prevailing code we also learn to become actually moral beings. We learn not only a particular code (a particular language) but also morality (language). We learn our morals while we learn our language and like the way we learn our language.

As we learn to speak we learn that speech can be correct or incorrect and we are coercively persuaded to speak correctly, and dissuaded from speaking incorrectly. “Correct” and “incorrect” are defined by what our teachers think. The child, however, does not know that. The child simply accepts what is taught. Think of these verbs in modern English: to sing, to bring, to fling. In the first person singular in the present tense, they are similar: I sing, I bring, I fling. In the simple or uncomposed past they not: I sang, I brought, I flung. Why those differences have emerged is a question within historical linguistics and young speakers incline to impose on their language a non-existent regularity and often say, for example, I bring, I brang, I have brung. They are taught that those regularities are mistakes but not why they are, and the young speakers are required to adopt the prevailing usage in their community. The present task is not to discuss the many and enjoyable vagaries of the very many ‘standard’ and ‘non-standard’ forms and changes in modern English, but to illustrate that in learning language, the infant learns what is correct and what is incorrect, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, what is good and what is bad. What is good is what he ought to say and do; what is bad is what ought not say or do. (Notice that to speak is to do something.) He is taught that he ought to do what he is told to do, and to refrain from doing what he is told not to do; he is told that what is to be said is “cow” and “bovine”, “pig” and “porcine”, “bird” and “avian”, “horse” and “equine” but “elephant” and “elephantine”…and the answer to the question as to why that is so is commonly simply “that is what is said” as the rules of etiquette, what Hobbes called small morals, state “what is done”. The child is an hierarchical animal and, as other hierarchical animals, accepts the authority of those who impose it upon him. (In adulthood we remain to a greater or lesser extent hierarchical animals.)

Underlying the command to do or not do, is the assumption that the child is able to do or not do what he is told. It is useless to tell someone that he ought to do or not do something that quite literally he cannot do or avoid doing. It is useless to tell someone who has been pushed out a window not to fall, or who cannot read to tell what it says is in the paper. We do not deliberate, as Aristotle already noticed, about what we think cannot be otherwise.

As the child learns to speak he also learns, through word and gesture, a large set of actions that, like speech, are distinguished into correct and incorrect; he learns the moral code of his community. He learns through persuasion and coercion so that it is easy, perhaps even inevitable, for him to learn to think of the code both as what is to be obeyed and as what defines morality. As the child grows he learns not only the code itself but also how the code is thought of. For many centuries in European culture important rules of the prevailing code were given in the Ten Commandments which, in turn, were thought of as given to Moses by God who was accepted as authorized to impose them. In the early Hebrew tradition the Law was given by God but freely and explicitly accepted by the people: “So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. The people all answered as one: ‘everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.” (The Second Book of Moses or Exodus 19:7-8) As Christianity developed in Europe from its Hebrew roots the image of Law as covenant faded and the rhetoric of command, already prominent in the Torah, perhaps particularly in the Third Book of Mosts or Leviticus, became more prominent, and the idea of morality as obedience became widespread.

The Decalogue is in two parts; the first part sets out the rules governing how the people should be with their God; the second part sets out how they should deal with one another. Reflection on the second part reveals the rules to be very ordinary rules upon the reasonably common observance of which the enduring peace of the everyday life of a community depends. Considered in that way, they are functional. But, because they were thought to be imposed by God, the rhetoric of command tended to predominate and the rules began to be thought of by some – William of Occam being the prime and influential example – to be good because commanded. So, in the Occamian tradition, the rule that one should not bear false witness against one’s neighbour is thought to be good because God had so commanded, whereas for St Thomas’ , as later for Thomas Hobbes, not to bear false witness was intrinsically good, that is, intrinsic to the character or nature of the activity, and could be discovered to be good. It was, St Thomas thought, commanded by God in the Decalogue to teach us that it was good lest we corruptly overlook or repudiate it. (The question as to whether an action was good because commanded or commanded because good was not new but, as was well known, had been raised in Plato’s Eutyphro; it is Occam’s answer and its influence that is important as it is one of the roots of modern positivism where the ruler, “that great Leviathan, that Mortall God” takes the place of the immortal God.)

III

The child who learns the moral code of his community learns that what is commanded is good but why it is thought good is not often concentrated upon and two associated ideas begin to dominate. The first is the idea of moral action as obedience to authority. The second is the idea that the the range or scope of moral action is defined by what is commanded.

As we develop into adulthood we learn more or less clearly three unsettling truths. The first is that we cannot in the end always be compelled to obey; we cannot, for example, be compelled to believe what we hold to be false, although we may be more or less successfully coerced into pretending to believe. Coercive power is great but limited. The second truth is that we begin, or may begin, to question the goodness of at least some features of the prevailing ethical code. The third and incomparably the most important is that we discover that, in the detailed circumstances of our lives, we must ask– that is, we cannot but ask– what we ought to do, and decide whether or not to do what we think we ought to do, and that while we may choose in the light of the prevailing rules but even if they have contributed greatly to our personal moral context or background they do not determine our answer, for the good is always concrete and particular; it is what is to be done now in these circumstances. We ask what we ought to do and we decide, or fail to decide, to do it. We do not choose to be, we already are, moral beings.

One who reflects on those unsettling truths may, again more or less clearly, begin to grasp, in practice more than in theory, that the range or scope of [moral] action is not defined by a code, however good, but by the question: what in the present circumstances ought I now to do? That shift in attitude is a shift to an autonomous morality that does not necessarily, indeed does not usually, and perhaps cannot utterly, repudiate the prevailing code in all respects; it is a personal and responsible attitude to it. Morality is no longer obedience to another.

Whenever I do something, I bring into the world a situation that would not otherwise have existed. The question as to what I ought to do now may, therefore, be recast: what situation ought to be brought about in the present circumstances and what contribution ought I make to bringing it about? The situation that I judge that I ought to contribute to bringing about is what St Thomas, in the question referred to, calls “the [envisaged] end”. I act in order to bring about a situation which is the “end” of my decision. Whenever I judge that I ought to bring about a situation, I give myself a moral rule; whenever I decide and act in accord with my judgment, I obey the rule that I have given myself.

The situation that I conclude ought to be brought about is what I have judged to be good. But my judgment as to what is good is not merely fallible, as are all human judgements; it may well be corrupt. Moral judgment is neither more nor less certain than factual judgment but corruption is more likely as I may allow my own perceived benefit trump others’ entitlements. Nor does my moral judgement that I to do X determine that I shall choose to do X.

IV

I end with two illustrations. The first is imaginary: I find myself in a situation in which there exists both the relevance and possibility of bearing false witness against my neighbour. I may be tempted to do so because it seems to me to be to my immediate benefit. I know that if I am successful I shall bring about a situation in which those concerned will believe the world to be other than it is. That is precisely what I intend; it is my envisaged end. Because to bear false witness is disapproved of, I can hardly avoid wondering if that is a situation that I ought to bring about but when it becomes habitual for me to lie whenever it is in my interest to do so that question fades. There is no axiom that I cannot repudiate even if sometimes, by avoiding squarely to face the question, I repudiate it only in corrupted practice. How I answer that question in the immediate and concrete circumstances, and how I habitually answer it, contributes to my developing construction of myself. How I habitually answer the question shows the kind of person that I have made myself. It becomes as it were the fragile existential moral context and axiom which is myself within which and from which I move. There exists a rule that, as St Paul wrote in Romans (13:8-10) sums up the entire Law: love your neighbour as yourself: Kærleikurinn gjörir ekki náunganum mein. Þess vegna er kærleikurinn fylling lögmálsins. (? ????? ?? ??????? ????? ??? ?????????. ??????? ??? ????? ? ?????. Love does no harm to another, therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.) But why one judges and decides to treat one’s neighbour as oneself derives not from some unavoidable axiom but from an attitude, a feeling, a way of being with others. Morality is not like a geometry where from an initial set of axioms one tries to discover the nature of an implied imagined world. A person’s fragile moral axiom is how he or she has chosen and chooses to be. Love may well do no harm to another and so fulfill the law – in Roman law (Institutes I.1.3 from Ulpian recalling Cicero) the second of the three traditional principles of justice is alterum non lædere (do not harm another). But why choose it as one’s originating moral attitude, as one’s way of being with others? The basic moral principle is not a rule however good; it is the human person him or herself who cannot avoid moral questions. The basic principle is oneself and we are present to ourselves as beings who must choose. To recall Pascal of whom Giorgio Baruchello writes in his paper at this seminar: what Pascal called the heart, the person as he or she now concretely is, is the source of choice.

The second illustration is existential; it is the situation in which we all now find ourselves. I presume that we have come here to honour and to thank Mikael as I now have the opportunity to do for over twenty years of generous friendship. there may well be other reasons that I do not know. What I do know is that each of us has some reason or reasons for being here rather than elsewhere; I do know – on the presumption that no-one has been physically coerced – that each of us has, for whatever reason, chosen to be here. The judgment that each of us individually made that it was good for him or her to come rather than to stay away is a moral judgment. The decision to act on that judgment is a [moral] choice.

The scope or range of [moral] action is, then, the scope or range of the moral questions: what ought I to do now? what kind of person ought I to be? What kind of person do I choose to be? What will I do now? My specific choices are limited to what is now possible for me; those human acts for which I can now be responsible. The range of morality is the range of responsibility.

Global Ethics in Theory and in Practice: The Case of The Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

Introduction

In recent years, ever since the intervention in Kosovo in 1999 and the failure to intervene in Rwanda in1994, much attention has been paid to the question whether either the United Nations or indeed states or alliances like NATO have either a duty or a right to intervene militarily for humanitarian reasons in countries where human rights are being violated. A landmark decision of the United Nations was the Resolution passed in 2005 on The Responsibility to Protect. The authorisation of military intervention under the clause ‘we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner … should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations’ is only a small part of a wide range of measures accepted to reduce the incidence of human rights violations. But it has attracted a large amount of critical attention.

This article does not attempt to assess the legal issues that are raised about whether the UN or states have either legal duty or legal right to engage in military intervention. Nor does it examine the kinds of criticism often made that the use of it to justify interventions is a mask for realist agendas and motives. It simply takes R2P as a convenient peg on which to hang some ethical questions concerning the justification for military humanitarian intervention. It suggests three kinds of difficulties. First, if one adopts a consequentialist way of reasoning, it is plausible to argue that such reasoning is unable to establish a case, given a sufficiently rich account of the kinds of consequences that need to be considered. Second, consequentialism does not take the right approach to the relationship between means and ends; a non-consequentialist account that recognises that the means ought to be ethically consistent with the ends pursued is to be preferred.

Third, between these two positions consideration is also given to a way of thinking which gives military intervention a prima facie ethical plausibility. It is a common human response to human suffering that is caused by other human beings to try to stop it and to believe it is one’s duty to stop it if one can, and to believe that there is more moral urgency about so doing compared with when the human suffering – maybe be just as bad – is caused by other factors, such as natural disasters, or other human practices, such as economic oppression or systemic violence. A more robust form of this argument is actually expressed in rights language when it unjustifiably privileges the preventing or stopping of the deliberate violation of human rights by other agents over the promotion of human rights and protecting human rights in the face of suffering caused by natural causes or the impacts of human institutions. I shall suggest that the plausibility of privileging responses to human ills caused deliberately by other humans is illusory. I shall focus on the rights version because on the face of it the non-consequentialist rights account may seem to make the case in a way that consequentialist thinking does not for humanitarian military intervention.

So I am going to identify three difficulties with humanitarian military intervention: first, it involves inadequate consequentialist reasoning; second it unjustifiably privileging of the duty to respond to the violation of human rights by other humans over promoting human rights fulfilment generally; and third. It fails to harmonise means with ends.

I consider these arguments from a cosmopolitan point of view, since any serious case for humanitarian intervention would appear to be based on cosmopolitan premises – though this may not always be made explicit – that it is concern for the suffering of human beings anywhere in the world that motivates it. If someone prefers an ethical case for military humanitarian intervention which is claimed not be cosmopolitan in the relevant sense, then my argument may not apply to this case.

These arguments should be seen as supplementing the kinds of just war considerations which need to be applied to any military intervention, humanitarian or otherwise, such as last resort, proportionality and non-combatant immunity.[2] How far these arguments apply to all other cases of war is an open question. Furthermore these considerations are expressed in such a way that, whilst they do not provide an absolutist ban on all military intervention, they certainly raise the moral stakes.

But the way I discuss these moral issues, which I regard as belonging to the more abstract end of normative moral theory, is only per accidens to do with the ethics of war, since they have a bearing on how we do ethics quite generally. That is, how we think of consequences, whether we think there is something special about responding to human ills caused directly by other human beings and what we think of the relationship between means and ends, all have a bearing on ethics generally, and indeed have relevance, whether or not my conclusions concerning humanitarian intervention are accepted.

Background to R2P and the cosmopolitan turn

The NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999 provoked a lot of controversy partly because of the lack of clear UN Mandate, but it certainly reflected a considerable amount of support for the idea that the international community ought to try and stop human rights violations inside countries. Such action was not simply condemned as earlier interventions had been e.g. by India in East Pakistan in 1971 and by Tanzania in Uganda in1979 because they violated the UN Charter provisions (especially Articles 2.4. and 2.7[3]) about not intervening in the internal affairs of members states without their consent.

International jurists and others devoted a lot thinking to how the UN’s position might be adjusted within an international law framework, and a report was produced by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty called Responsibility to Protect. This eventually led to the World Summit Outcome Document in 2005. This was a broader and more politically oriented document than the document of 2001. It contained three pillars of action, and it is in the third pillar that the possibility of military intervention is stated. A Report of the Secretary General on Implementing the Responsibility to Protect in 2009 gave further consideration to implementation issues.[4]

The move towards accepting the general idea of the responsibility to protect represents an important example of  a shift in thinking about the UN as having cosmopolitan goals. The UN is of course in international relations theory an example of the Westphalian model of global political relations, since it is premised on nation-states continuing to be the key actors in global affairs. It is an inter-national organisation. Nevertheless part of its rationale is to promote universal goals and improve the life-conditions of all human beings – exactly what the cosmopolitan presses for.

It may be thought that there is nothing new here since the UN right from the beginning accepted global goals, e.g. in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the subsequent Covenants of 1966. However there is a significant shift. The earlier Human Rights documents certainly asserted universal values but it was assumed that the responsibility to protect and promote human rights lay primarily within nations-states, with the international community only coming to states’ assistance with the consent of those states. What R2P represents is a recognition that the responsibility to protect human rights is a stronger one than merely assisting states.

Cosmopolitanism is stronger than global ethics as such, if global ethics is only about universal values. Certainly it is one thing to assert that there are values which are universal, that is either universally accepted or universally applicable (even if not fully accepted by all), it is quite another to assert that those responsible for protecting and promoting these rights lie outside particular states and their members. Universal value does not in itself entail transboundary responsibilities. However most people nowadays who favour global ethics do generally assume the latter. Cosmopolitanism makes it explicit.

Pogge for instance characterises cosmopolitanism as follows:

Three elements are shared by all cosmopolitan positions. First, individualism: the ultimate units of concern are human beings, or persons – rather than, say, family lines, tribes, ethnic, cultural or religious communities, nations, or states. … Second, universality: the status of ultimate unit of concern attaches to every living human being equally – not merely to some sub-set, such as men, aristocrats, Aryans, whites, or Muslims. Third, generality: this special status has global force. Persons are ultimate units of concern for everyone – not only for their compatriots, fellow religionists, or suchlike. (Pogge World Poverty and Human Rights (2002): 169)

It is the third feature – generality or global force – that is the crucial one from our point of view. So what happens to people’s rights is in principle of concern – practical action-guiding concern – to people anywhere.

Cosmopolitans have good reason to welcome the general idea behind R2P, since it is quite an example of the cosmopolitan idea of transboundary responsibility. So it may seem natural that cosmopolitans would welcome the idea of military intervention to stop human rights violations – from a cosmopolitan point of view such military action would seem justified in a way that many military actions would not. Indeed there is no reason why a cosmopolitan might not endorse such military intervention. Cosmopolitanism in itself does not point to one position or another position; it depends on the detailed ethical norms accepted and how one reads the consequences of actions. What follows is a particular interpretation of cosmopolitanism.

There is a further interpretative issue which needs stating: how strong is this transboundary obligation? Cosmopolitanism may be presented in a strong sense: we ought to do all that we can to promote human well-being anywhere, by avoiding harming others, by helping them positively and through opposing harm done by others. Cosmopolitanism may be presented in a weaker sense: beyond the sphere of reasonable self-interest, care for particular others and other affiliations, one has significant obligations to be concerned with the well-being of others including others anywhere in the world, by avoiding harming them, by helping them positively and through opposing harm done by others.

The above formulations bring out a consequentialist feature of cosmopolitanism: cosmopolitanism is about promoting good consequences in the world in various ways. This does not mean that a cosmopolitan is a consequentialist in the full-blown form taken by some ethical theories like utilitarianism. It may be that other moral norms e.g. about justice or how we do things (the means) are important as well, as we shall see. But there is no doubt that cosmopolitanism is oriented towards the question ‘how can we create a better world for all?’ so the question ‘what kinds of actions should we perform as cosmopolitans?’ turns to a large extent on the question ‘what kinds of action will indeed advance human well-being in the world?’ And it is to this aspect of cosmopolitan thinking that I turn first. Clearly advocates of military humanitarian intervention believe that it will achieve some good or a greater good than not doing so.

Critiquing this assumption, to which we turn first, cuts across the question whether one adopts a strong or a weak view of the extent of obligation. Whichever view one takes, the problem we identify arises. Even if one thought theoretically that the stronger view ought to be accepted and applied, the reality is in any case that the representatives of states, insofar as they are motivated by cosmopolitan considerations at all, will only accept the weaker thesis. So the practical question is: to the extent we think we ought to act for the good of others in the world generally, is military intervention the appropriate way of realising that goal?

Problems with cosmopolitan consequentialist reasoning

There are actually three types of problem with cosmopolitan consequentialist reasoning justifying military intervention: it has too narrow a focus; it fails to see that the use of force is counterproductive; and it is inconsistent with the ethics of the means. The last objection, which I consider later is of cure a rejection of a simple consequentialist way of ethical reasoning. But the first two constitute internal criticisms: that is, even if you accept that considering the best outcomes is all that matters ethically, the reasoning is unlikely to be successful. These problems as I noted earlier arise whether one takes cosmopolitanism in a strong sense or in a weak sense.

What if states were to do everything in their power (strong version) to promote good/reduce evil (or promote human rights), or (weak version), to the extent that they ought to be concerned with the good of humanity generally, were to promote the best balance of good over bad outcomes?

Military intervention has in fact to survive two consequentialist tests: First, is it counterproductive? Second, in the general spread of things to be done, is it the best use of resources (finance, infrastructure capacity, expertise etc.)? First there is the general argument familiar to anti-war theorists that violence begets violence usually, and that even when there appear to be short-term successes, the longer-term consequences may be more be negative, both is respect to the fact that the conclusions of wars often sow the seeds of future conflicts, and in respect to the fact that the resort to war perpetuates a culture in which the resort to war is seen as an acceptable way of solving conflicts. Henry Ballou the 19th pacifist vividly catalogues human woes perpetuated by the resort to war.[5] Three recent interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, all partly justified by humanitarian considerations, hardly paint a picture pointing in the opposite direction.

But the point I want to focus on is a rather different one. Even if the resort to war (or more accurately a reasonable assessment of a decision to go to war) survived the first test, it needs to face the question: in the general spread of things to be done, is it the best use of resources? That is, if one took a genuinely cosmopolitan approach to what would advance human well-being most successfully, would one focus on coercive intervention, or rather on a whole range of other measures to promote human rights fulfilment? There are several considerations that favour the latter approach.

Generally speaking cooperative strategies are more effective than coercive strategies; apart from wasted energy involved in confrontation and in coercing many who are unwilling and oppose what one is doing, using military force of course involves killing and maiming people and destroying property and infrastructure central to human development. The alternatives of not just greater and better quality of aid but changes in the international and economic order that lead to less inequality are likely to be more productive to human well-being. Apart from the immediate benefits of better development programmes, the result will be that the occasions for armed conflict are reduced. If we take cosmopolitanism seriously it should be concerned not merely with tackling extreme poverty because extreme poverty undermines human well-being but also promoting the general conditions of peace, since lack of peace in the form of violence or war undermines human well-being in different but equally significant ways. (In practice of course violence and poverty are often causally linked.) This duty to promote the conditions of peace anywhere I have called ‘cosmopolitan pacificism’.[6] As an aspects of this it seems pretty clear, if one reasons consistently as a cosmopolitan, that maximum efforts to promote human well-being include reducing both the current levels of armaments and the arms trade: as Noel-Baker once said ‘the arms race is killing’ (because of the diversion of resources from live-saving and other socially useful activities).[7] The proliferation of arms through the arms trade is a major factor in widespread military violence, and from a cosmopolitan point of view the idea of profit-making in the manufacture of arms is ethically questionable.

The general point here is that a consistent cosmopolitan who wishes to do what helps people anywhere achieve well-being and avoid what impedes it is unlikely to favour military intervention, both because there are so many other things to be done and because as an effective use of whatever resources one is prepared to commit to a better world, the military use of resources scores low. So even if a cosmopolitan consequentialism were accepted, it is doubtful if consequentialist reasoning works in favour of military intervention.

But it is in fact inadequate theoretically because of two features of ethical thinking that ought to be incorporated into a cosmopolitan theory, namely that we need an adequate theory of global justice and human rights, and a proper account of the relationship between means and ends. Cosmopolitanism should be seen as a theory not merely about promoting human well-being anywhere (including avoiding harming people and helping people harmed in various ways), it is about doing these things justly with a proper respect for human rights and about observing certain moral norms concerned with how things are done. In saying that these other parts of cosmopolitan thinking are important, I am not suggesting that all cosmopolitans think this; rather this is my preferred account of g cosmopolitanism.

Justice and Human Rights

My point about justice and rights can be introduced via a consideration of an argument that quite independently of the consequentialist argument we considered, suggests that military intervention is justified. There is a special obligation of justice to stop the injustices done to others by third parties. Even if it was not good from a consequentialist point of view, it might still be the right thing to do. This might be seen as a corollary of the more familiar case of a country coming to the aid of an ally that was attacked. However whether or not coming to the military aid of an ally is justified, it involves special features, and I do not pretend to consider them (though I should note that from a cosmopolitan point of view, the answer is not self-evident).

The general case of intervening to stop injustice or to prevent (the continuation of) human rights violations may seem like a peculiarly strong claim of justice or a special implication of talking about rights being actively violated by other human beings. But this is only because it is contrasted with and privileged over whatever else justice or concern for human rights might require of us from a cosmopolitan point of view. I suggest that a proper regard of what justice and human rights might require does not privilege such intervention, and so one source of the appeal of military intervention is removed. When one adds the thought that such intervention fail the earlier consequentialist test, then the case lapses.

I continue the discussion by looking at human rights in particular. An anti-consequentialist may then say: surely there is something about rights that requires the privileging of responding to the violation of human rights? Surely that takes priority over the general promotion of human rights fulfilment? Arguably this is not the case. This indeed is the key issue: is ‘A ought to stop others violating the rights of others’  parallel to ‘A ought not to violate the rights of others’? Or it is parallel to ‘A ought to help others fulfil their human rights whatever the cause of their rights not being unfulfilled’? It looks parallel to the first because they are both about violating rights. But in fact it is like the second because it is about our response to the failure to realise rights. In both cases we are not doing any violating. Indeed ‘A ought to stop others violating the rights of others’ is a special application of ‘A ought to help others fulfil their human rights whatever the cause of their rights not being unfulfilled’. Once this is understood, we need to consider what kinds of response are most appropriate, and we are back to the general considerations I mentioned earlier.

What however about the objection: how can we let people die or suffer at the hands of others when we could intervene and stop it (or reduce it)? The reply is: how can we let people die when we could intervene in all sorts of ways, whether because of natural causes or because of systemic human causes? We do let people die and suffer in both kinds of case, and when we do intervene in one way or other, we do so in a highly selective and limited way. Of course from a cosmopolitan point of view, generally speaking we ought to be more willing than we usually are to take appropriate action to promote or tackle the impediments to human rights fulfilment. It does not follow from this that we ought to engage in all the different kinds of intervention there are – as that would include justifying military intervention – but rather that what we ought to do should be effective and not counterproductive. All these considerations shows is that if we were simply wrong to let others die at the hand of others, then it would be simply wrong to let other die when we could intervene in all sort of other ways. Even the most generous of supporters of charities should acknowledge that they do not do all that they could.

In any case, if we accept (as most moral theorists would acknowledge) that it is more important to avoid harming people/violating their rights than to help them (to realise their rights), then any story that emphasises rights fulfilment should place an emphasis on that. It may be thought that it is easy to avoid harming people/violating their rights. But in fact if one recognises all the complicated and indirect ways in we may be contributing towards harming others (e.g. being part of economic systems that harm, having a large environmental footprint), it will be apparent that there is plenty to do to reduce our negative impacts, before we zoom in on one particular kind of response to human rights violation by others. This is not to suggest that we do not do appropriate positive things to help in the world – far from it – but it helps to make the appropriate response to human rights an immensely complicated one, and saves us from a ‘holier than thou’ attitude that since we – people in the rich North –are not harming people, we are entitled to impose our solutions elsewhere.

Means and ends

Another kind of reason why military intervention is morally problematic turns on the nature of the relationship between means and ends. A saying of Gandhi’s much quoted by Quakers reads: ‘The means are the ends in the making’, and this captures what I want to suggest, which is that the means we take should reflect the value(s) in the ends we are promoting. If we promote human rights we should do so by respecting human rights in the actions we take to that end and so on. In fact this quotation has two interpretations which whilst expressed differently come to much the same general insight. First there is what may be called an existential/metaphysical claim: our real ends are already revealed in the means we take. If I pursue my ends by deceit then I intend deceit/I am the kind of person who wills deceit in the world. Second, there is a normative claim: my means ought to be consistent with the ends I am pursuing: I ought not to pursue justice unjustly, promote peace unpeacefully etc. (if one were to put it in a quasi-Kantian formulation one might say ‘So act that your means are value-consistent with your ends’!)

Clearly in the case of humanitarian intervention action is taken to promote human rights or restore a just peace which involves violence and the violation of human rights in the process. This looks like a simple pacifist objection to the use of force which would apply to all kinds of organised violence, but I present it as a more general ethical test about the alignment of means to ends. A simple statement of the pacifist position often invites the statement of the non-pacifist position – end of story. What this higher level normative principle does is open up a reflection about how satisfactory the pursuit of ends is, if it involves serous departures from the values embedded in what we are trying to bring about. It is different from a pacifist position in three respects: it is about all the values we accept and express, not one value; it is about the relationship between means and ends, whereas pacifism is, at least generally, about the wrongness of killing, irrespective of what our ends might be; it is more open to a non-absolutist interpretation than pacifism is, at least as it is usually presented. It could indeed be treated as an absolutist principle, but it would be very difficult to live by completely. It is more useful as an ethical standard for assessing the ethical quality of our acts. If we accept its force we recognise in a general way that there is something unsatisfactory about courses of action which involve failing to live up to the values promoted. In the real world there may be circumstances where it is important to do so and indeed the right thing to do is to take means that are in tension with the end pursued. But it provides a test of how civilised a society has become. This of course is a persuasive definition of what being civilised means, but it does seem that to the extent to which its norm has been internalised and the extent to which in most normal circumstances it is seen as guiding moral decisions is one test of moral progress.

Cosmopolitanism is also, one can argue, a mark of progress in expanding the circle of whom one takes morally seriously. So there is a cosmopolitan twist to the argument about humanitarian intervention. This point about the consonance of means and ends should be particularly relevant to the understanding of a cosmopolitan ethic, and hence to what kinds of action it recommends. It is after all a civilising project.

Notes

 


[1] This article was originally given as a lecture at the conference in honour of Mikael Karlsson on 19th April 2013 in Akureyri. The idea for it came in response to a lecture I heard in January 2013 in Aberdeen when Alexandra Buskie, from UNA UK, gave a lecture on the Responsibility to Protect.

[2] See Dower, N., The Ethics of War and Peace, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009.

[3] The UN Articles read:

2.4 All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

2.7 Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII. (UN, The Charter, New York, 1945)

[4] For more detail see http://www.who.int/hiv/universalaccess2010/worldsummit.pdf and http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/adviser/responsibility.shtml, and Buskie, A., ‘The Responsibility to Protect and the prevention of mass atrocities’, UNA-UK, 3, Whitehall Court, London, February 2013. I include the analysis she presented of the three pillars:

“Each individual state has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means.”

“the international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help states to exercise this responsibility”…”we also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to helping States build capacity to protect their populations … and to assist those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out”

“the international community…also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means…to help protect populations…we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner…should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations”

 

[5] Ballou, A. (1866), ‘Christian non-resistance’ in S. Lynd (ed.), Nonviolence in America: a Documentary History, NY: Grove Press, p.31. Quoted in Wasserstrom, R. (1970), ‘On the morality of war: a preliminary enquiry’, in Wasserstrom, R. (ed.), (1970), War and Morality, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co.

[6] Dower, N., The Ethics of War and Peace, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009.

[7] Noel-Baker, Ph. (1958), The Arms Race, London: Atlanta Books.

Introductory note

 

This was the last symposium of our circle in a cycle of six symposia devoted to the discussion of ethics in cosmopolitan world society. We had selected the special theme of good governance for this workshop and the title Good Governance and Cosmopolitanism.

The headlines for the discussion of the topic of good governance were the following: What is good governance in a changing world of cosmopolitanism and globalization? What is the relation between network governance and good governance? How can we contribute to the democratization of governance within international institutions, political systems, civil society organizations and private businesses? The study group focused on the theory and practice of good governance in a historical, philosophical, managerial and international perspective.

 

We also elaborated additional discussions of theories and empirical sociological work about a variety of ethical problems arising in areas such as human responsibility towards the environment, international diplomacy and administrative bureaucracy. In connection with them, we continued our general discussions about democracy as a concept, its justification in jurisprudence and the relation between ethics, law and democracy. Here we also continued our general discussion on the classical theme of morality and the ethical life, in particular with emphasis on critical theory.

 

Indeed the study group worked also on the continued examination of the paradoxes, dilemmas and tensions in recent debates about ethical, political and social values in contemporary cosmopolitan societies, furthering the research pursued by its members over the past few years. With the papers presented in this special issue you have some examples of the content and output of these discussions. We are thankful to their participants in the working circle 3 in the Nordic Summer University for their constructive comments and contributions to the debates and work of the study circle. 

Cruelty and Austerity. Philip Hallie’s Categories of Ethical Thought and Today’s Greek Tragedy

Quels crimes ? Quelle faute ont commis ces enfants sur le sein maternel écrasés et sanglants ?

(Voltaire, Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne, 1756)

Cruelty

As 20th-century scholarship about cruelty is concerned, Philip Hallie’s research is possibly the most extensive. Working for many years as an ethicist at Wesleyan University, Hallie wrote no less than three books on this largely neglected topic, the most famous of which being Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, published in 1979. In this book, Hallie recounts and discusses how the inhabitants of Le-Chambon-sur-Lignon, a small village in South-eastern France, protected more than six thousand Jewish refugees from fascist persecution during the 1940s. The inhabitants were led by the local Protestant pastor, André Trocmé, who believed firmly that, albeit extremely risky, such a line of conduct was the only justifiable one, i.e. in line with the morals dictated by the Christian faith.

In his many works on cruelty, Hallie defines this term in somewhat different ways, such as “the infliction of ruin, whatever the motives” (1969: 14), “the slow crushing and grinding of a human being by other human beings” (1979/1985: 2) and “the activity of hurting sentient beings” (1992: 229). Besides, echoing Saint Augustine’s classical distinction between natural and human evil, Hallie distinguishes between the “fatal cruelties” caused by nature and the “violent cruelty” caused by humans (1969: 5-6). Violent human cruelty is distinguished further into “sadistic” and “practical”: the former is “self-gratifying”; the latter is instrumental, i.e. cruelty qua means to ulterior ends (1969: 22-24). Concerning “practical” cruelty, Hallie adds to the picture the subtler form of “implicit” or “indirect” cruelty, which arises because of sheer “indifference or distraction” to the pain that has been caused, rather than because ofanyexplicit violence or direct “intention to hurt” (1969: 13-14 & 29-31). “Implicit” and “indirect” cruelty can grow in time and mutate into “institutionalized cruelty” (1981/1989: 11), i.e. a persistent pattern of humiliation that can often endure over many years or generations, and yet is downplayed by the perpetrator as well as the victim, both of whom take it for granted and may even justify it by appealing to the laws of science, the natural order, or religiously sanctioned traditions.

In addition to these distinctions among different forms of cruelty, all of which would appear to be evil, Hallie (1969) offers a puzzling reflection on some types of cruelty that might be better not to avoid altogether, for their disappearance could generate more harm than their continuation. For one, the processes of individual “growth” and maturation can be horribly painful and, in all honesty, “cruel”, but Hallie (1969) thinks that they are a most valuable component of the long and tortuous road that leads to higher human fulfilment (55). Then he considers the artistic insights and particularly the disclosure of sorrowful truths that can be obtained through in terrorem techniques, as well as many other aesthetic forms of elation, including “sexual” ones, that cruelty is capable of bringing about (41). On top of that, Hallie (1969) admits that cruelty may be a necessary evil in the public sphere, since “responsive” cruelty is entailed by the national and international systems of law and order; although such a “responsive cruelty” can be mitigated, it cannot be avoided entirely (33). Finally, Hallie (1969) notes how cruelty can be brought about in the name of altruism, happiness and justice, since “substantial maiming” can derive from “wanting the best and doing the worst” (15-20). For all these reasons, he deems cruelty to constitute a “paradox” (1969: book title): we may well regard cruelty as one of the most horrible things in life, perhaps even the worst thing we can do, yet we cannot and may not want to rid ourselves of it completely.

Hallie (1969) offers us what is to date the richest philosophical study on the paradoxical character of cruelty. As I discussed years ago (cf. Baruchello 2010), this is one of the five broad conceptions of cruelty that can be retrieved in the history of Western thought, the other four being: (I) “Cruelty… as a quintessentially human vice affecting specific individuals” such as “persons involved in punitive contexts, e.g. courtrooms, schools, armies”, that show no propensity for “clemency” (172-73); (II) “Cruelty” as “sadism”, namely “a malaise of the soul”, possibly “the result of a poor, incompetent or broken mind, which reduces the humanity of its carrier and makes her closer to wild animals” (173-74; emphasis removed); (III) “cruelty as harm to be avoided”, as exemplified most notably by “[t]he champions of the European Enlightenment” and a long string of successive “political and legal reformers” (174-75; emphasis removed); and (IV) cruelty as something good, whether instrumentally or intrinsically, as exemplified respectively by Machiavelli’s acceptance of extremely evil means (e.g. war) for good ends (e.g. the State’s stability) and Sade’s glorification of our natural propensity to violence.

No univocal interpretation of “cruel” and “cruelty” applies to the five conceptions listed above, especially if we consider the fact that they are themselves only broad categories applicable to a large variety of more or less refined reflections on cruelty that started with Seneca’s De clementia and have continued up to Michael Trice’s 2011 theological work entitled Encountering Cruelty (the present paper is actually a preparatory work for a larger reflection on the unacceptable cruelty of austerity from a Christian perspective). In my past research (cf. Baruchello 2010), I identify seven frequent connoting elements for what is deemed “cruel”, which amount to little else than family resemblances among usages of a term that is deployed very frequently, defined very rarely and, even so, conceived of in different ways, as the five broad conceptions just mentioned bear witness to.

Still, taken together, these connoting elements and broad conceptions chart a vast realm of linguistic expressions located inter alia in the fields of philosophy, theology, politics, economics, social theory, psychology, jurisprudence and literature. Referring to my own 2010 work, the seven connoting elements are (171-72; emphases removed):

1.Pain: Whether only physical or also psychological, serious or minimal, justified or unjustified, cruelty implies pain

2.Excess: Whether of pain as such or of its usages to acceptable ends (e.g. penal sanctions), or of our hopes in a tolerable life, or of our abilities to understand reality, cruelty eventually steps “beyond”—acceptability, tolerability, comprehensibility

3.Roles: Whether directly or indirectly established, cruelty requires the roles of victim and perpetrator, even when the latter is institutional, impersonal or unknown

4.Power: It is only by means of power differential that the roles of victim and perpetrator can be established

5.Mens rea: Whether delighted in or indifferent to the pain inflicted, the perpetrator possesses a culpable mental attitude. Interestingly, when tackling impersonal and institutional perpetrators, several thinkers have personified the universe or the State

6.Evil: Cruelty is a species of evil. Even when conceived of as good, it is either an instrumental evil or an apparent evil, the goodness of which must be revealed and justified

7.Paradox: Cruelty horrifies and, at the same time, fascinates. This is just one of the many contradictions contained within cruelty, which can be aptly described as paradoxical. The array of diverse conceptions collected below further substantiates this point

Keeping cruelty’s shifting semantic area in mind, let us focus nonetheless upon Hallie’s (1969) claim that cruelty can be: (A) practical, in the sense of being a means to an end and not an end in itself; (B) implicit, in the sense that it is not a manifest attribute of the end being pursued; and (C) indirect, in the sense that it results from the choice of means by which the end at hand is pursued. As such, cruelty can inform complex forms of social agency in which much dread, destruction, deprivation, loss of dignity and life are visible, and yet in which no explicit violence, no patent intention to hurt, no delight in other people’s misery and no non-human constriction can be discerned.

Austerity

The austerity policies that have been implemented in a number of countries since the collapse of deregulated private finance in the year 2008 can be regarded as contemporary examples of practical, implicit and indirect cruelty. I believe that this can be shown by addressing a representative case, namely that of Greece, where leading constitutional lawyer Giorgos Kasimatis (2010: Foreword, 2nd par.) writes:

The Loan Agreements (the Loan Facility Agreement; the Memorandum of Understanding between Greece and the Euro-area Member States and the agreement with the IMF for the Participation of Greece in the European Financial Stabilization Mechanism to the purpose of obtaining the approval of a Stand-by arrangement by the International Monetary Fund) form a system of international treaties the likes of which… the cruelty of the terms and the extent of breach of fundamental legal rights and principles… have never been enacted in the heart of Europe and the European completion; not since the World War II. (emphasis added)

Constitutional lawyers are not renown for their rhetorical flamboyancy or heated prose. So, where does Kasimatis’ “cruelty” come from? In the 100 pages of the Loan Agreements of May 2010, annexes included, no mention whatsoever is made of cruelty, pain or suffering as the stated aims of the signed agreement, not even as a salient characteristic of the chosen means of implementation. Any possible ruin, crushing, grinding and hurting of victims is nowhere remarked upon in the document, although it is conceded that provisions must be made to protect “the minimum earners” and compensate “the most vulnerable… for possible adverse impact of policies” that include, inter alia: layoffs of public employees; “pension” and “wage bill reductions”; decreased job security; and lessened provision of public services and “social security benefits” (54)—i.e. policies that, combined together, are liable to weaken “social cohesion”, cause “poverty” and shrink “employment” (54). The intermediate and ultimate aims stated in the agreements are the granting of loans “in conjunction with the funding from the International Monetary Fund” (3), to be duly repaid according to the schedule specified in the document, so as to “correct fiscal and external imbalances and [therefore] restore confidence” that alone is said to make “growth… buoyant” and let “the economy… emerge… in better shape than before [i.e.] with higher growth and employment.” (52; emphasis added)

These three ultimate aims—buoyant growth, an economy in better shape and a higher rate of employment—are said to be the expected and projected result of the “economic and financial policies” (51) listed in the agreements, which express grave concern for “the recent deterioration in market sentiment” (54) and recommend ways to re-hearten it, such as: “fiscal adjustment” by novel and “special taxes” (53-4); reducing “incomes and social security” provision—old-age pensions included—so as to make them “sustainable” vis-à-vis the new debt obligations of the State (53); increased supervision over the banking system during a forecast “period of lower growth” (53); reforming “ambitious[ly]” the Greek “public sector” to “modernize” it by reducing its size and funding though “oriented to providing better services to its citizens” (53-4); making local “labor markets more efficient and flexible” (53); withdrawing the public role “in domestic industries” (53) and managing or owning a large variety of “assets” (59); reforming the “health sector” (55); sustaining a “safety net for the financial system” (58); reducing “minimum entry level wages” and “employment protection” levels (58); and “facilitate greater use of part-time work” (59). The details for the implementation of these policies are spelled out qua “specific economic policy conditionality” (69) for the disbursement of funds and make it clear that “elderly people”, “workers in heavy and arduous professions”, recipients of “disability pensions”, “social security, hospitals”, “existing social programmes” (73-4) and the recipients of “unemployment benefits” (79) are to bear a share of the burden towards debt repayment.

Given the conditionality and the policies specified in the agreements, it does not take much to infer that much pain, both physical and psychological, has been bestowed upon the Greek population or a conspicuous portion of it. The signatories themselves admit in the documents that the immediate effects of the measures specified therein are likely to be a “growth” that is not “buoyant” (52) and that the expected and projected positive outcomes would take place in the “future” (54), though nowhere it is said when exactly that will take place. Similarly, it does not require much imagination to realise that all this pain has exceeded the pain that most Greek citizens would have been likely to encounter in their life under normal circumstances. In point of fact, these policies have been implemented within the context of considerable diplomatic and economic pressure both at the international level (e.g. public indictments of the Greek government and citizens at large by representatives of the French and German governments, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund; cf. Alktenhead, 2012) and at the national level (e.g. street riots, general strikes and public demonstrations quenched by police force; cf. Smith, 2011). There have been, in other words, perpetrators, both at the national and international levels, who have used their power in order to have these policies and conditionality implemented despite popular protests and, above all, the visible ruin, crushing, grinding and hurting of victims leading to these protests. The perpetrators have intended to pursue the policies listed in the agreements in spite of all this ruin, crushing, grinding and hurting. Evidently, such a cruelty was either not their main concern, or not sufficient enough a concern to stop them in their pursuit.

It can be argued whether the ruin, crushing, grinding and hurting, in short, the cruelty of these policies was a necessary, bitter medicine; or a deserved punishment for prior errors (i.e. a form of “responsive” cruelty); or a failed attempt to do good. What cannot be argued, however, is that there was no cruelty. That is where Kasimatis’ “cruelty” comes from. As the italicised words in the comments above flag out, all the connoting elements are at play here, including that of paradox, for the declared ends of these policies have not only failed to materialise, but have been made more difficult to achieve, as the successive amendments to the loan agreements of 2010 have eventually revealed (cf. Blanchard & Leigh, 2013). Today, the Greek economy shows no sign of buoyancy, the shape of its economy is among the worst in the EU and the rate of unemployment among the highest (cf. IMF, 2013).

The bitter medicine has sorted no positive effect, at least as the declared aims of the May 2010 Loan Agreements are concerned. On the contrary, there has been a plethora of nefarious side-effects, such as: a sudden suicide spike, especially amongst men (Kentikelenis et al., 2011); a considerable increase in mental illnesses (Economou et al., 2012; Faresjö et al., 2013) and infectious diseases like HIV, TB and malaria (Stuckler & Basu, 2013); and higher infant mortality (Stuckler & Basu, 2013). If it ever was a form of “responsive” cruelty, the punishment has indeed reached “the most vulnerable”, i.e. children, who cannot be deemed responsible for any pre-crisis errors made by the adults, of whom only some could be regarded as legally, politically or morally guilty. In essence, were we even to admit the possibility of this cruelty being “responsive”, it would constitute nonetheless a case of collective punishment. In short, if any genuine good was ever intended as the main aim, such a good has become harder and harder to come by, to the point that leading IMF economists have admitted that, not unlike former experiences in the developing world (Stiglitz, 2002), the austerity policies originally recommended for Greece have failed the test of reality (Blanchard & Leigh, 2013).

Paradoxical is also the fact that, while such dramatic side-effects materialised, special credit lines and liquidity injections have been operated repeatedly by the European Central Bank (ECB) in order to safeguard the viability of the Continent’s largest private banks, while no special intervention of this kind has been made in order to sustain, say, healthcare provision to Greek children (cf. Reuters, 2013). As the language of the 2010 Loan Agreements would read, the ECB has provided funds for the “safety net of the financial system”, which feeds on money that is not spent on meeting genuine life needs (McMurtry, 2013), but has provided none earmarked for the safety net of the Greek children, whose life needs are being met less and less (Stuckler & Basu, 2013). “Lifelines”, as they are called in the financial world, have been thrown to private banks, their managers and shareholders; nothing comparable has been done for the Greek children, who needed them in no metaphorical way, i.e. in order to live (cf. McMurtry, 2013).

Conclusion

Given the evidence above, I believe that it can be reasonably stated that austerity policies like those witnessed in Greece constitute a token of cruelty in its social manifestation, as this can be conceived of thanks to Hallie’s categories of ethical thought. There have been the infliction of ruin, the slow crushing and grinding of human beings, the hurting of sentient beings—all as a means to an end that does not focus upon the ruin, the crushing, the grinding and the hurting as such, and yet brings them about inevitably and remains de facto indifferent to them, for the ruin, the crushing, the grinding and the hurting are allowed to continue and the end is not abandoned or the means revised.

 

 

References

Alktenhead, D. (2012, May 25) “Christine Lagarde: can the head of the IMF save the euro?”, The Guardian, available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/may/25/christine-lagarde-imf-euro

Aquinas, T. (1264-75/1947), Summa Theologica, Einsiedeln: Benzinger Verlag. [English translation by he Fathers of the English Dominican Province available at: http://www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/FP.html]

Baruchello, G. (2002) Understanding Cruelty: From Dante to Rorty, PhD Thesis, Guelph: University of Guelph, Department of Philosophy. [Abstract published in Gateway. An Academic Journal on the Web, Winter 2002-2003, available at: http://grad.usask.ca/gateway/abs_Baruchello-win_02.pdf]

Baruchello, G. (2010) “No Pain, No Gain. The Understanding of Cruelty in Western Philosophy and Some Reflections on Personhood”, Filozofia 65(2): 170-83.

Blanchard, O. & Leigh, D. (2013) “Growth Forecast Errors and Fiscal Multipliers”, IMF Working Paper ref. WP/13/1, available at: http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/wp/2013/wp1301.pdf

Economou, M., Madianos, M., Peppou, L.E., Theleritis, C. & Stefanis, C.N. (2012) “Suicidality and the Economic Crisis in Greece”, Lancet 380: 337.?

Faresjö, Å., Theodorsson, E., Chatziarzenis, M., Sapouna, V., Claesson, H.-P., Koppner, J. & Faresjö, T. (2013) “Higher Perceived Stress but Lower Cortisol Levels Found among Young Greek Adults Living in a Stressful Social Environment in Comparison with Swedish Young Adults” PLoS ONE 8(9): e73828. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0073828.

Hallie, P.P. (1979/1985) Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon, and How Goodness Happened There, New York: Harper & Row.

Hallie, P.P. (1969) The Paradox of Cruelty, Middletown: Wesleyan University Press.

Hallie, P.P. (1981/1989) “From Cruelty to Goodness” in Sommers, C. & Sommers, F. (eds.) Vice and Virtue in Everyday Life, San Diego: Harcourt College Publishers, 9-24.

Hallie, P.P. (1992) “Cruelty” in Becker, L.C. (ed.) Encyclopaedia of Ethics, New York: Garland, 229-31.

IMF (2013), “Greece: Ex Post Evaluation of Exceptional Access under the 2010 Stand-By Arrangement” IMF Country Report No. 13/156, available at: http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2013/cr13156.pdf

Kasimatis, G. (2010) “The Loan Agreement between the Hellenic Republic, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund” [Research paper prepared for Athens Bar Association, English translation by Vryna, S.G. available at: http://www.kassimatisdimokratia.gr/index.php/law-science/item/129-the-loan-agreements-between-the-hellenic-republic-the-european-union-and-the-international-monetary-fund]

Kentikelenis, A., Karanikolos, M., Papanicolas, I., Basu, S., McKee, M. & Stuckler, D. (2011), “Health Effects of Financial Crisis: Omens of a Greek Tragedy” Lancet 378: 1457– 1458.?

McMurtry, J. (2013), The Cancer Stage of Capitalism, 2nd ed., London: Pluto.

Montesquieu (1748/1949) The Spirit of the Laws, English translation by Nugent, T., New York: Hafner.

Nietzsche, F. (1881/1911) The Dawn of Day, English translation by McFarland Kennedy, J., New York: Macmillan. 

Nietzsche, F. (1908/1911) Ecce Homo, English translation by Ludovici, A.M., New York: Macmillan.

Reuters (2013, September 13) “Bankers call for third LTRO”, Reuters, available at: http://www.reuters.com/assets/print?aid=USL5N0H820C20130912

Smith, A. (1776/1904) An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, London: Meuthen, available at: http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN1.html

Smith, H. (2011, July 1) “Greek police face investigation after protest violence”, The Guardian, available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jul/01/greek-police-investigation-protest-violence

Stiglitz, J.E. (2002) Globalization and Its Discontents. New York: Norton.

Stuckler, D. & Basu, S. (2013) The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, London: Allen Lane.

Trice, M. (2011) Encountering Cruelty: The Fracture of the Human Heart, Leiden: Brill.

Vv. (2010) The Loan Agreements (or The Loan Agreements between the Hellenic Republic, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund) [Formerly confidential governmental and inter-governmental documentation, distributed to the participants in the conference “Sovereign debt and fundamental social rights”, organised by the International Association of Constitutional Law and held in Athens, Greece, June 28-29, 2013]

 

Responsibility to Nature? Hans Jonas and Environmental Ethics

 

The experience of the increasing climate changes on the earth has given rise to gloomy predictions about the development of the entire biosphere in general and to questions about the continuing existence of biological species, in particular mankind, on earth. Since the advanced technology of western civilisation is undoubtedly – at least to some extent – the cause of the substantial changes that seem to threaten the ecological balance, man´s carelessness with nature has not only become a significant matter on the world political agenda, it has also stimulated research in the development of sustainable technological solutions. Not least, it has caused a variety of philosophical reflections on man’s fundamental relation to nature, man’s place in the cosmos. From a religious Christian perspective it has been questioned whether man’s unique position in creation implied a relation of dominion over nature or whether god has assigned to man the role of an administer of the created world. However, secularization has displaced the church from the administration of societal affairs, and this has led to the view that there is no ethical aspect of man’s use of nature but only more or less favourable consequences. Continue reading Responsibility to Nature? Hans Jonas and Environmental Ethics

A note on the papers from the winter symposium of the Nordic Summer University held in Akureyri, Iceland, March, 1st-3rd 2013

 

 

Among the themes tackled at the symposium there was one that gained special prominence, namely the sociological study of contemporary ethics, given that different papers presented and discussed current sociological theories and empirical sociological work about practical ethical issues. This theme revolved in particular around the foundations of ethical values in today’s societies and focused upon some developments in Scandinavia, such as the Protestant ethics of the environment and the ethical challenges arising from ongoing scientific research.

 

Another important issue debated at the symposium was the foundation of the ethics of capitalism, in particular in relation to the current crisis of the global capitalist system. In this context we discussed the relation between ethics and economics and the possibility of developing an ethics of the common good in the capitalist system.

 

Further, the symposium included different papers on democracy and ethics within the context of critical political philosophy. This also extended to the debate about the relation between ethics, law and democracy, conceived from the perspective of different influential social and political philosophers.

 

Concerning the Arctic theme, the discussion focussed upon select aspects of the many environmental, ethical, political and legal issues facing the Arctic region today. We had in particular a discussion of the new Icelandic constitution and the challenges that Iceland faces as a member of the Arctic community.

 

In this special issue we have collected some of the papers from this wonderful meeting, which benefitted from intense and thought-provoking discussions. We hope that the reader will be able to feel the same enthusiasm as the participants did during the two days of presentations and discussions.

Ethical Challenges Facing Greenland in the Present Era of Globalization: Towards Global Responsibility

 

 

Introduction: Ethics and the Arctic

Recently, the developments of ethics and politics in the Arctic region have again become an issue for international discussion. One main issue is the problem of climate change and sustainability of the Arctic region. This problem is linked to the issue of exploitation of natural resources in the Arctic region, not at least in Greenland. Indeed, the general issue is how we should define ethics of the environment and sustainability as a general principle for the Arctic region. It is important to discuss what is at stake and how we define the problem in relation to the different participating stakeholders.

  Continue reading Ethical Challenges Facing Greenland in the Present Era of Globalization: Towards Global Responsibility

Levinas on dying – An interpretation of Edvard Munch’s The Death of Marat II (1907)

Edvard Munch made in total four oil-paintings on canvas of Marat. The one I am looking at is The death of Marat II(1907) – it is named number M 4 in the catalogue of The Munch Museum in Oslo. The painting is also part of the Google Art Project and available online here: http://www.googleartproject.com/collection/the-munch-museum-oslo/artwork/the-death-of-marat-ii-edvard-munch/469025/

 

Introduction

Levinas’ thinking on death can be described as a phenomenological examination where the subject’s relation to the Other, the subject’s emotions suffering, sorrow and pain and the conditions solitude and loneliness are examined. But before going into all this something should be said about the role of the Other (person) in Levinas’ overall philosophy. Towards the end of his first major work Totality and Infinity from 1961, Levinas describes the Other with some examples: as a brother, as a stranger and as the poor.[i] Levinas explains that the Other presents himself as an equal to the subject. In meeting the Other the Other’s face calls the subject to responsibility. In meeting the Other not only the subject’s freedom is put into question, the meeting calls the subject to responsibility. With a focus on the Others face one could suspect the face disclose an inward world that the Other carries inside in Levinas’ philosophy, but it does not, rather the face “…calls to me above and beyond the given that speech already puts in common among us.[ii]” The Other’s face calls the subject above and beyond speech. In Levinas thinking every social relation leads back to the presentation of the Other like a shunt “…to the same without the intermediary of any image or sign, solely by the expression of the face.[iii]” In his thinking on death Levinas’ focuses both on the subject’s own death and the death of the Other, but not on the subject’s experience of loss when someone dies. Levinas begins with the subject’s proximity to the Other in his understanding of death. As an example of dying, Levinas refers to a scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I find this turn to Shakespeare amazing and will try to understand the relation between death, suffering and loneliness so important in Levinas’ thinking by looking into another work of art, one not referred to by Levinas. What I in the following more precisely would like to do is to use Levinas thinking on death as a key for interpreting Edvard Munch’s painting The Death of Marat II (The Murderess) 1907. Levinas exemplifies dying by using Macbeth, and exemplifies the Other as a brother, a stranger and the poor. I believe Levinas chose his examples with great care. But instead of dwelling on these characters in the following I will use the painting of Marat when trying to understand his thinking on death.

 

Suffering 

Despites the before mentioned fundamental proximity, Levinas holds that every human individual stands in a distance to other individuals and exists in solitude. Levinas describes existential solitude as one of the human individuals’ ways of being, but do not address the Robinsonade neither the problem of other minds in modern philosophy.[iv] Instead he thinks that the subject in its existence is isolated and might experience solitude as a consequence of isolation, and relates existential solitude to suffering, sorrow and pain. To Levinas suffering is the mode of being closest to death and an end of existential solitude, not because suffering can end in death, but because existential solitude is unbearable. This unbearableness represents by darkness in Levinas’ thinking – suffering is outside of all light, as he says. Death is unknown and cannot take place in in the light. Death is like a hollow and will always be unknown and surrounded by darkness. For the subject death is like a mystery, and the subject cannot relate to death as if death was something inside of himself. At the same time the subject’s relation to death is part of the subject’s relation to the Other, in Levinas’ thinking, and with this understanding he separates from thinkers he otherwise got familiarities to – and disagrees with – as Heidegger, Sartre and Kierkegaard. They all think that death gets into the selfhood of the subject and individuates it.[v] For Levinas it is the relation to the Other – the infinite responsibility – that is comparable to the subject’s relation to death. To him the subject relates to death as something on the outside of itself, as something never graspable, and through suffering, sorrow and pain the subject for himself and in himself make proximity to death graspable. This proximity to death in pain and suffering need not be the subject’s own, also the Others pain and suffering might do proximity to death graspable to the subject.

Levinas narrows his position by saying that the suffering and pain he wants to address in relation to death is physical, and not what he calls a moral pain. On moral pain he says that it is possible to remain dignity and innocence while suffer and simultaneously be free. Physical pain he relates to loneliness and says that suffering is not fully exposed in what we are shown through our suffering. One part of the suffering is veiled, and in a definite sense not known to us. This part of the suffering represents something outside of the subject and remains in darkness. Neither the physical nor the moral pain holds the clarity of the factual.       In his thinking Levinas associates light to joy, involvement and all attachment. Every reachable and absorbed object that can become knowledge got light.  Objects of sensation and emotion might tread into the light, while death and suffering remain in darkness. This lack of light should not be seen as a negation, as he says, but expresses that death is unknowable. Levinas tries to drag the concepts suffering, sorrow and pain closer to the subject’s reality in his thinking. Through the insight that death itself is not suffering or pain Levinas points to the relations between these concepts and the unknown darkness they got in common. There are some important differences between these concepts. Levinas holds that death will always be the future for the subject; that it is never here. Our inability to grasp death means that what he calls the end of the subject’s virility and heroism are out of reach too. Levinas illustrates a moment of death with a scene from Macbeth. It is the scene where Macbeth realize that the end is near; the moment when Wood comes marching. This makes Macbeth tell Macduff about his malediction, and Levinas sees this scene as the end of Macbeth’s virility and heroism. Levinas’ reference to this scene in Macbeth made me want to find another work of art to try to interpret here.

 

Dying on canvas

I will try to understand Levinas’ thinking on death while doing an interpretation of Edvard Munch’s painting of Marat. Generally we can say that Munch’s paintings often show personifications of abstract ideas through conceptualizations of emotions like love, loneliness, shame, anxiety and jealousy. Munch had a great talent for this, and this is why I thought of his paintings while reading Levinas; their availability of emotional expression. But I want to achieve another goal as well. I want to find out if another work of art than the one Levinas himself points to might give some insights to his thinking on death. Levinas uses Macbeth. I would like to see if another example might be possible. To me it seems like Levinas is making some kind of indirect explanations when he uses Macbeth as an example. Simply put it seems like dying becomes heroic because of Macbeth the hero. One could ask if not even Macbeth even in the chosen scene holds other additional characteristics than virility and heroism. Overall we find many scenes, and painting, about dying and in using one not mentioned by Levinas I want to dig a bit deeper into his thinking of death. It is not given that the painting suits Levinas thinking the way Macbeth does, but I hope an interpretation of the painting seen in relation to Levinas thinking might give new insights.

Munch painted a murder, and the picture of the murdered and the murderer gives an opportunity to reflect on death. In death Levinas finds darkness, he describes the dying persons suffering and solitude. I want to look for this in Munch’s painting. Munch made the painting while staying in Warnemünde in 1907. Warnemünde was a sleepy port at Germany’s northern coast. The theme of all his paintings from there is his own earlier experiences as in so many of his paintings. Munch himself experienced great loss in his early years. As 15 years old he had lost both his sister and his mother, and many of his best known paintings shows their sickness and dying. The factual starting point for the paintings of Marat and Corday is an episode with a gun. Munch shot his own hand in the turbulence around leaving Tulla Larsen to whom he was related the years 1898 – 1902. It should be said that the shooting episode never threatened the life of neither Tulla Larsen nor himself. If we take all the paintings that Munch made in Warnemünde into consideration it might be said that they express some specific negative emotion in all their commonness.[vi] With powerful and clearly marked vertical, but also some horizontal strokes Munch builds up plains in these pictures, and to great extend in my chosen picture of Marat and Corday. He’s strokes gives a small hypnotic effect. In his thinking on death Levinas describes, as mentioned, emotions he says got a common ground and a relation to death. In Munch’s paintings from the early twentieth century, and to a large extent the pictures he showed at his exhibition in Prague in 1905, a bit before staying at Warnemünde, Munch focused on painting his own emotions and experiences.[vii] In The Death of Marat II (The Murderess), 1907, we find the well-known characters from the French revolution, Corday and Marat. Marat became a well-known motive through Jacques-Louis David’s famous painting from 1793, and Corday became a well-known person by killing Marat. David dwells with Marat’s suffering in his painting. An understanding of his murder Corday’s action is hard to find. She is not part of David’s painting.

But in Munch’s painting we can see how Corday stands as if she likens a column in the room after her killing of Marat. Munch has placed Marat on his bed. Corday does not look aggressive where she stands in the foreground of the picture. To me it seems like some kind of inner silence that has sunken into her. Over Marat’s face lays a shadow. The darkness in the green area over his head contrasts the light falling on Corday, and in the paintings overall composition the laying Marat makes a contrast the standing Corday so that the two characters balances the painting. Munch painted Corday so that her feet are pointing a little bit outwards. It does not look like she rests on her feet. On the contrary it seems like she strives upwards in the vertical axis of the picture. The area to the left of her got a blue color, slightly brighter than the rest of the blue beside her. Corday looks downwards. It says that Corday fooled Marat by giving him names of the Girondins, and that the names were Corday’s excuse for visiting Marat with assassination as a hidden agenda. Corday came from a royalist family and fooled Marat to believe that she wanted to betray the Girondins. During the case against her after the killing resulting in her death she argued she prevented Marat from getting 100.000 Girondins killed. But in fact Marat had no such power. Marat supported the Sans-Culottes and was much of their link to the Jacobins. Munch’s painting should be seen as symbolic, but I think that this historical background is important for understanding this much used motif. Levinas, in his thinking, says that death is something hidden and unknown, something dwelling in darkness. A painting on the other hand is very direct and even displaying. When I look at Munch’s painting of Marat and Corday I get a feeling as if I have seen something that one in fear turns away from. I find the painting demonstrative, like an opening to something hidden and veiled that Munch drags out into the light; the murder Corday should be seen. The light falls on her body.

Marat lays dead in the background kept out from us the living by Corday who stands in the foreground. Can we find any guilt or regret in Corday? It says that Corday surprised Marat and strokes him right in the heart. In Levinas philosophy we got the imperative “Thou shalt not kill” as the first premise, the grounding premise. Levinas would probably not have any sympathy or understanding to offer Corday, but reject and condemn her action in accord with his starting point – our infinite responsibility to the Other.[viii] Levinas condemns all violence and every murder. In an interview from 1993 he points out very clearly that the core of justice is the demand never to regard the Other as mean,[ix] like we know this position from Kant’s categorical imperative. The death of the Other affects me into my identity as a responsible I, according to Levinas. It affects my, as he says, not-substantial identity and my endless responsibility. The death of the Other affects my identity as me. This is neither a second-hand experience nor a privileged death experience. It changes the subject in itself, it repeals the subject as the same, creates repealing into the subjects own self.  The subject’s self is no longer the same, as he says. And in thoughts like these Levinas narrows Heidegger’s view on death. Heidegger says that being-towards-death got an anxiety leading Dasein into proper (eigentlich) being. Dasein gets into a reflection of its selfhood. But Levinas thinks that the subject’s affinity for the death of the Other and its meaningfulness is stronger than any anxiety, and precisely this is what Levinas find missing in Heidegger’s approach. For Levinas the death of the Other is a message with a meaning that changes the subject. It is not an experience for the subject, but an exceeding that change the subject’s relation to itself. For the subject it seems like an influence, but at the same time as passivity, it is like an influence of something incomparable. The death of the Other is the influence of something not present, something more intimate than any intimacy, as he says.[x] If we should take these insights with us back to Munch’s painting, we would have to look for guilt or regret in Corday. But it seems like Corday has reached some kind of silence standing in the foreground of the picture surrounded by light, and it does not look like regret.

 

Murder in Levinas’ Philosophy

A sequence of time can be read into Munch’s painting. Marat lies behind Corday standing in foreground. As foreground one could say that Corday somehow gathers a future, a present and a past. The scene Munch painted is the aftermath of the killing. In my impression we get a propensity regarding the killing, as in the present. We know of the peaceful past when Marat was alone in his home. Seen in relation to the title The Death of Marat II (The Murderess) we have to regard the picture as the titles future. For at the canvas Marat is already dead. Another way reading a dimension of time into the painting is to say that Marat by lying in the background of Corday, is left behind her and can be seen as past to her. Corday seeks out of the picture, upwards and into the light with Marat placed behind her. The action of killing is a now, and what we see is at the aftermath of this present. Corday stands in the room looking tranquilly. In this way the painting captures actions where Corday through Munch’s title and composition becomes part of the three mentioned situations.

Death will always be the future, Levinas says, as he points out that death is never the present – as long as the subject lives death is future. Levinas’ does also think that death marks the end of the subject’s virility and heroism, as with Macbeth. But in addition to time and the absence thereof we got the existential solitude in dying according to Levinas; the subject’s loneliness and suffering, sorrow and pain. Trying to interpret the painting according to Levinas thinking, one have to ask if it is reasonable in any sense to say about Corday that she is experiencing existential solitude? Her calmness after the murder might give us an impression like these, but she murdered Marat, fooled him, was his enemy, so the reason for her eventually solitude is her own action; her killing. And what I have described as an inner silence, that in my view her closed expression, her closed eyes and her closed moth gives an understanding of, does not give the impression that she is suffering, in pain or sorrow, and most importantly; she is alive. So could it be wiser to search for an existential solitude, for loneliness and suffering, sorrow and pain in Marat? Before moving on to Marat something more should be said about murder according to Levinas thinking.

Surely the death of Marat cannot be seen in any other way than the death of an individual, but Levinas’ finds a universal aspect as well in his thinking on murder. On murder Levinas holds that we in the passion for it approach death as nothingness, and that the spontaneous intentionality of this aims at annihilation. In murder of the Other we identify death with nothingness.[xi] But, as he says, this nothingness present itself as a sort of impossibility, for the Other cannot present himself as Other outside of my conscience, and inside of my conscience the Others face expresses my moral impossibility of annihilating him. This impossibility looks at me from the eyes I want to extinguish, and therefor Levinas consider the annihilation in murder as a purely relative annihilation. And in this it seems most plausible to consider the Other inside of the murder’s own conscience as something particular. Further, Levinas says that my own death cannot be deduced from the death of the others by analogy, but is inscribed in the fear I can have for my being, and my fear of violence, because what I am exposed to in death is absolute violence, like a murder in the night.[xii]

Levinas’ thinking on the loneliness actualized in relation to death and pain is rightly not only the dying subject’s but also the Other’s, and even though Levinas is not addressing murder in this context here, I would like to hold on to Marat for a while. For Levinas Macbeth becomes an example of how death is the end of a person’s virility and heroism. What I want to do is investigate if Marat can exemplify Levinas’ view of death, eventually Corday, or Munch’s painting as a whole. Marat is dead, his face has a shadow and is surrounded by a dark green color, and Corday is alive and stands in the foreground and the light falls over her. Levinas says that death is like a hollow and cannot take place in the light. Death got some of the qualities of darkness, and it seems like Levinas holds that death got particularity in common with loneliness and solitude. To Levinas suffering, sorrow, pain, solitude and loneliness got proximity to death. Some of the qualities of the darkness surrounding death are attached to them, and this is what Levinas calls the unknown. Levinas holds that the subject in its existence is isolated and might experience unbearable existential solitude, and it is this state of solitude he relates to sorrow, suffering and pain. This suffering got a quality ungraspable for the subject and it is precisely this quality that is part of death, as he says. Levinas holds that it is possible to come closer to an understanding of the darkness in death through an understanding of the death of the Other. The way of doing this is by seeing how the others suffering, sorrow and pain relates to death, as he says. For David the suffering is the main topic when painting Marat, but Munch’s painting is different. When Munch did his painting the death of Marat was a well-established motif, and Marat’s suffering often expressed in paintings and sculptures. Did Munch paint Marat’s pain, sorrow and suffering, his loneliness and existential solitude? At the canvas Marat’s feet are pointing inwards further into the background of the painting away from the one looking at it. In this respect Marat is by himself and can be considered lonely, but on the other hand; Marat accepted Corday’s visit before she killed him, and it seems strange to consider Marat as solitude. Eventually we can understand solitude in a more abstract way – as a part of dying. We can consider that dying creates an existential loneliness and solitude. We must at least state that Marat by being murdered has been in pain and has suffered.

 

The Other’s suffering and death

There are two points underlying the subject’s relation to death that need to be addressed. The first is about duration: Levinas holds that for the subject death will always be the future. The second is about time: Levinas holds that the isolated subject does not relate to time, but that time should be seen as a part of the subject’s relation to the Other.[xiii] Levinas writes about a dimension of time when describing the relation to the Other in his second main work Otherwise than being or beyond Essence from 1974. Here he says that the proximity between the subject and the Other opens up a distance of diachrony.[xiv] The diachrony opens up as a result of the fact that the subject and the Other do not share a past in common. Levinas calls this difference in past the subject’s non-indifference with the Other.  The diachrony points to the infinite responsibility for the Other, and even though this does not explain why the isolated subject does not relate to time, it does tell how time is part of the relationship with the other in Levinas thinking.

Death and knowledge seems to be antagonists in Levinas thinking. Levinas says that knowledge holds some of the qualities of the light, by eating what is unique and outstanding.[xv] One reason for this is that knowledge is something universal contrasting the particularity of the subject in its existential loneliness. Levinas writes: “It [the subject] finds itself enchained, overwhelmed, and in some way passive. Death is in this sense the limit of idealism.”[xvi] Moreover death’s very existence is made of alterity; the subject’s solitude is not confirmed by death but broken by it, as he says, and this is the reason why the subject’s relation to the Other got aspects of the subject’s relation to death in it. We recognize the Other as resembling us, but exterior to us; the relationship with the other is a relationship with a mystery. The Other’s entire being is constituted by its exteriority to us and by its alterity. On the death of the Other Levinas writes:

 

“In the totality of the historiographer the death of the other is an end, the point at which the separated being is cast into totality, and at which, consequently, dying, can be passed through and past, the point from which the separated being will continue by virtue of the heritage his existence had amassed… What “still remains” is totally different from the future that one welcomes, that one projects forth and in a certain measure draws from oneself. For a being to whom everything happens in conformity with projects death is an absolute event, absolutely a posteriori, open to no power, not even to negation… the non-reference to the common time of history means that mortal existence unfolds in a dimension that does not run parallel to the time of history and is not situated with respect to this time as an absolute.”[xvii]

 

Levinas uses Macbeth to illustrate the subject’s time and experience in dying. Macbeth understands that he is going to die. Wood who comes marching is really powerful, and Macbeth says: “Ring the alarm-bell!…” To Levinas this exemplifies how death marks the subject’s limit of suffering and also the limit of the subject’s heroism and virility. Macbeth knows that he will lose the battle. Levinas sees his will to fight the one overpowering him as something virile and heroic. To this it might be remarked that not all dying is heroic and virile. We could point to Corday who does not think of Marat that she killed as a hero, and that we sometimes will find differences in perspectives on the one dying. Levinas tells that death got a future, but that this future is not the dying subject’s future. To the dying subject death is passivity.

At the canvas Marat’s face lay in the shadow, he looks death and peaceful. But the sheet of the bed is bloody, and the one arm of his hangs listless down against the floor. Levinas says that death makes the subject’s activity to passivity, and that death shares this ability with suffering. Marat has been in pain, suffered and now he is dead. He lies passively on his bed. Munch has placed him so that his body point inwards into the picture, like he’s moving into death and darkness away from us looking, away from Corday.

To me it seems implausible to look for an understanding of death in Corday whom murdered Marat. In Levinas thinking we might get insights on death in the death of the Other, but as mentioned Levinas regards murder as a relative annihilation and says that the face of the Other will still be in the murders conscience. Therefore it seems more promising to look at Marat himself in Munch’s painting, and leave Corday behind. Marat’s suffering is not the main theme of Munch’s painting, but seen as the Other in Levinas’ thinking it must be Munch’s ability to express Marat’s suffering, sorrow and pain, his loneliness and solitude that makes the death of Marat – as the Other according to Levinas – graspable for us looking at the painting. But even though this might give us some insights on dying Levinas describes our knowledge as light and death as something unknown, hollow and dark. Light and knowledge are something general in Levinas philosophy, something that reduces both darkness and particularity. Therefore, by getting knowledge you are at the same time reducing the particular by making what you examine – death – general. If we are given insights by looking at the painting it is by an understanding of Marat’s suffering. To Levinas suffering is the mode of being closest to death. The understanding must be seen as an understanding of something particular; as the death of Marat and not dying in general. Through the proximity to the Other we grasp something about death by looking at the dying Marat at the canvas, and what we see in this hollow and unknown darkness is, according to Levinas, a part of Marat’s suffering that belongs to death and that Marat himself does not recognize. To Levinas this insight is not an experience for the one looking at the painting but an exceeding that changes the subject’s relation to itself.

 

NOTES

[i]   Emmanuel Levinas(1969):          Totality an Infinity    Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, page 212 – 214

[ii]   Emmanuel Levinas(1969):          Totality an Infinity    Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, page 212.

[iii]   Emmanuel Levinas(1969):         Totality an Infinity    Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, page 213.

[iv]    This presentation of Levinas thinking on death builds to large extends on the third of the four lectures       Levinas gave at Collège philosophique de Jean Wahl in Paris in 1946 and 1947. Emmanuel Levinas (1987): Time and the Other. Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, pp.67-79, for the theme solitude see page 42 ff.

[v]    Martin Heidegger (1962):          Being and Time.               Oxford: Blackwell. § 49, page 292.

[vi]   Sissel Biørnstad (ed.) (1999):    Munch og Warnemünde.  Oslo: Munch-museet Labyrinth Press, page 51.

[vii]  Sissel Biørnstad (ed.) (1999):    Munch og Warnemünde.  Oslo: Munch-museet Labyrinth Press, page 123.

[viii]    Emmanuel Levinas (1969):       Totality and Infinity.         Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, page 199.

[ix]     Jodalen og Vetlesen (1997):      Closeness an ethics.         Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, page 54.

[x]    Emmanuel Levinas (2000):       God, Death, and Time.     California: Standford University Press, page 12.

[xi]   Emmanuel Levinas (1969):        Totality and Infinity.         Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, page 232.

[xii]    Emmanuel Levinas (1969): Totality and Infinity.               Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, page 233–235.   Stanley Cavell points to a similar point regarding violence and the singular Other in Levinas’ thinking in his essay “What is the scandal of skepticism?” in his Philosophy the day after tomorrow, Harvard University Press 2005, page 145, but his references to Levinas’ oeuvre are others than mine.

 

[xiii]    Emmanuel Levinas (1987):       Time and the Other.         Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, page 39, 57.

[xiv]      Emmanuel Levinas (1974):     Otherwise than being…   London: Kluwer Academic publishers, page 89.

[xv]    Emmanuel Levinas (1987):       Time and the Other.         Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, page 65.

[xvi]   Emmanuel Levinas (1987):       Time and the Other.         Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, page 71.

[xvii]  Emmanuel Levinas (1969):       Totality and Infinity.         Pittsburg: Duquesne University Press, page 56.

Winning the War of the World

Not even prophets like Chris Hedges decode it. Journalists are trained not to. Not even moral philosophers question the system worship masked as ‘the free market”. Freedom means no accountability to human and world life, while competition means competing to externalize all costs onto the lives of citizens and environments. The value driver behind it all is no more questioned than the Almighty. It can do no wrong. But one underlying lock-step of false equations propels this unnamed war on the world through its mutations and metastases:

Rationality = Self-Maximizing Choice

= Always More Money-Value for the Self is Good

= Self-Multiplying Sequences of Ever More Money to the Top as the Ruling Growth System

= All Else is Disposable Means to this Multiplying Pathogenic Growth

 

My 15-year study, The Cancer Stage of Capitalism: From Crisis to Cure diagnoses this ruling value mechanism as cancerous. It is, in short, a deregulated self-multiplication of transnational money sequences accountable to nothing but their own multiplication with no committed life functions. With the Hayek-Reagan-Thatcher crusade to reverse the history of the world into a moronic ‘free market’ and ‘conservative values’, the march was on. Marxists would not engage this Great Reversal on moral grounds because morality was believed to be only ruling class ideology. This left no value ground to stand on. From the transnational victory of corporate world rule from 1991 on, reversals of social states were portrayed as ‘market miracles’ whatever the results for people’s lives. ‘The magic of the market’ was the new world religion, ‘the end of history’. The mass media were  consolidated into one collective corporate organ across cities and borders. Death squads erased community opposition in the South. The academy was and is still defunded to serve the global corporate market and commodity development.

The nations of the world are all ‘restructured’  to be subordinate functions to the supreme moral goal of transforming humanity and the world into ever more private commodities and profits. Society itself s does not exist to this ruling value mechanism. Its logic of growth is totalitarian and malignant to the marrow. More precisely, deregulated global corporate money sequences abolish by treaties and wars all barriers whatever to their free multiplying growth through all that exists whatever the destruction of natural and social life support systems. My work has been to decode this globally life-invading value system. Predictably the diagnosis is taboo to mention in the press, however confirmed by the facts and predictions. No social disorder allows its ruling program to be publicly unmasked. Thus the malignant value code marches on. Alarm bells at the degenerate symptoms increase, but policies of solution only extend the system further and deeper. Life-value economics is as unspeakable as the fatal disorder itself.

 

The Essential First Step in Winning the War of the World is Comprehension of It

The essential first step in winning the war of the world is comprehension of it. Only system analysis can lay bare the underlying value program, but it is avoided. The sciences do not study values and specialize in domains of self-referential meaning. Journalists report facts, spectacles and impressions, but not the underlying values governing them. Philosophers seldom analyse the ruling value system of the societies within they live from social habit and fear. In the age of instant culture, value-system comprehension does not sell. Together these blocks of normalized avoidance make the value code selecting for all the degenerate trends invisible to us. As in immune system failure, the life host fails to recognise the disorder devouring it.

Lacking any unifying framework of comprehension, people are lost. Thus when millions rise in the Occupy Wall Street movement, there is no diagnosis or policy demand. Although Wall Street had indisputably defrauded masses and had failed to its knees broke, no policy shift arose – not even public control of the public money infusing the system cancer, $16 trillion dollars by Senate  count in the U.S. alone – thanks to the heroic Bernie Sanders. Nor was there movement for a needed public mortgage system – even after the private system had perpetrated the biggest fraud in history, indebted tens of millions into ruin and collapsed the economies of the West in irreversible debt. The lost alternative of public banking on which the U.S. revolution was founded, Lincoln won the war of Union, North Dakota has had 100 years of debt-free prosperity, the West itself managed the 1939-45 war and post-war years to unprecedented full employment, and first Japan and now China wins in productive investment – all is  amnesiac in the West.

Fast forward to today, and the underlying system cancer advances on. The financial giants causing the 2008 Crash are bigger and richer in criminal impunity. They speculate with publicly supplied trillions on food and water futures. They control even Rio + 20 as the life-ground catastrophe they finance explodes on one front after another. Transfused with endlessly with more public money to bleed and indebt the world dry, the money-printing system metastasizes further – now occupying the once prosperous social democracies of the European Union with public money bled out of peoples’ lives and life bases to private banks with no limit . Refusing any regulatory limits, converting pensions into more stockmarket feeding troughs, investing nothing as youth unemployment and debt spike ever higher – where does it all end? It ends when public money and human rights stop being fed to the failed system. It ends when commodity cycles of destructive waste are stopped. It ends at the base of the disorder when the 97%-counterfeiting of debt and credit by private financial institutions is publicly controlled.

 

Economic Doctrine Allows Money-Cancer System Free Reign

Neo-economic theory is a pseudo-science. Its defining postulates are unfalsifiable by facts. All organic, social and ecological life requirements are absurdly assumed away. Infinite demand on finite resources is presupposed as sustainable. Mechanical reversibility of everything is taken for granted. Whatever does not fit the doctrine is rejected. Endlessly self-maximizing atomic selves are believed to necessitate the best of all possible worlds by the market’s invisible hand.  

Is this not a fanatic religion? Supra-human laws dictate commands across peoples. No deadly consequences lower certitude in the miracles of the market God. Even when the ruling value mechanism visibly depredates the very life bases of the world, the only reforms are to globalize it further. Corporate-lawyer treaties coined in secret rule as the new laws of nations, while hostile zones are subjected to covert forces sponsoring civil wars, as promised in 2001 – Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Syria Iraq, and now the Ukraine as I write.  All is believed in and pursued as a world crusade, even if fascists lead it. One supreme goal governs underneath bizarre beliefs –  multiplying growth of transnational money-sequences at ever higher velocities and volumes with no life limits tolerated. This is the moral DNA of the ruling value mechanism. In theory, it is expressed well by University of Chicago professor and godfather of the U.S. National Security Council, Leo Strauss, who wrote in his canonical Natural Right and History (p. 60): “limitless capital accumulation” is “a moral duty and perhaps the highest moral duty”.  On the ground, Strauss’s patron, David Rockefeller, expressed the moral-political program more concretely at the turning point in 1991, “A supranational sovereignty of an intellectual elite and bankers is surely preferable to the national auto-determination practiced in past centuries”.  The promises are kept. There is no binding regulation to protect any life carrying capacity on earth from the loot-and-pollute bank money system in the years since.

Many blame capitalism, but unlike classical capitalism this mechanism is not driven by productive force development. It is driven by transnational money-sequence multiplication with no productive standard which despoils more means of life than it produces. It eliminates the working class itself. The ruling idea that the system is peerlessly productive is increasingly contradicted by far more life goods disappearing than are created. Something much more sinister is afoot.  The social and natural life bases by which the human species evolves are reversed and overrun. Yet not even the opposition defines what ultimately counts – humanity’s universal life necessities themselves. The meaning of ‘the economy’ itself – to produce and distribute life goods otherwise in short supply through generational time – is lost. While the very air humanity breathes is going more toxic and acidic, the contradiction to ‘productive growth’ is unseen. As the waters of the world are simultaneously destroyed, the dots are not joined. Even as there are mass extinctions of species, youth without futures, and irreversible debt servitude of the world, all is well if ‘more growth is returning to the system’ which causes all of them. That at the same time the earth’s very soil cover taking tens of millions of years to evolve is simultaneously mined, acidified, salinated, degraded and exhausted as forest and mineral covers are stripped from one continent to the other are not connected into common meaning. The ruling value mechanism devours the life substance of humanity and the earth, but remains assumed as ever ‘more productive’ even by angry unions. 

Well at least, someone might reply, climate warming has been recognized by a blue-ribbon economic panel, Britain’s Stern Review, as “the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen”. This is a step towards rational observation. But even with a UN panel of over-1600 scientists on the case, there is no connection to the other basic life carrying capacities driven towards collapse by the same organizing value mechanism. No secret is more unspoken. So more rights to pollute and profit are instituted, and the climates and hydrological cycles spiral to more deadly extremes. “The world’s poor suffer first and most”, Lord Stern also rightly observes, but this fits the reigning value mechanism. Those without money do not exist.

 

Unmasking the Ruling Code of Value Driving the War on Life  

Let us summarize. Behind every step of the Great Reversal lie failures of knowledge and value understanding: (1) failure to diagnose the regulating value mechanism at work; (2) failure to connect across the domains of life despoliation as predictable from the system’s blind money-sequence multiplication; (3) failure to define or demand any public policies against its feeding on life support systems with public treasure; (4) failure to recognise any life-value principle or the life ground of the economy itself.

This knowledge black-out is understandable once one recognises that the vaunted “knowledge economy” has no criterion from the start. All it means is what can be controlled, sold or manipulated to grow the ruling value mechanism. Pause on that general fact. This is why true knowledge is now so often denied or attacked as “uncompetitive’.  Look for exceptions to this spread of the ruling money-value mechanism into the very capacities of human understanding.  Diagnosis of this disorder is the knowledge most needed, but unspeakable. Who even now recognises that ‘new efficiencies’, ‘reforms’ and ‘cost cutting’ are always attacks on people’s lives, means of life and life functions?  Who connects across the one-way falls of life standards and regulations, public science and testing, agrarian communities and lands, workers’ rights and unions, social infrastructures and protections, and social life security while money demand multiplies out of control at the top? Who names the innermost ruling code driving all – whatever protects or enable human and ecological life is eliminated as a barrier to private money-sequence multiplication. This is the source code of the cancer system. It explains why transnational corporate, equity and bank profits grow to ever new records as the world’s majorities are dispossessed. It explains why social and natural life-carrying capacities are despoiled across continents.  The war on life is built in.

The ideals of “freedom”, “democracy”, and “economic growth” are thus reversed in the name of them. The big lies become so automatic that few notice them– for example as I write, food-stamp slashes reducing 47 million hungry U.S. people below $1.40 a meal and $90 less a month for life necessities “protects the most vulnerable Americans” (President Obama, Jan. 29, 2014). There is a recourse against lies which is as old as the species. Humanity’s deciding evolutionary advantage is that knowledge wins in the end. Above all knowledge evolves through recognition of how life is enabled or disabled by material conditions and social rules. For example, the binding abolition of the most profitable commodity of world trade ever, human slaves, won. Knowledge won again from the 1929 Crash and subsequent World War when the collective life security of peoples evolved by known facts and social policies more in 30 years than in the prior twenty-five centuries.  

The missing link for this long life-and-death struggle is the life value code. We do not know it because we are without a reference body in a vast ocean of self-maximizing money-sequences for which the goods are only what sell for private profit. A life-ground and compass almost emerged after 1945 when peoples recognised how ruling delusions of self-maximizing fanaticism almost destroyed civilisation. Learning from the greatest war and depression in history, societies forged binding international covenants for collective life security and free human development. Universal education, health, and income security infrastructures were publicly formed across societies. But no unifying life-value code underlying them was found. In absence of any sound life base of understanding to re-ground in, the Great Reversal from 1980 on has gone from one extreme of life-blindness to the next with endless lies of better days to come – even as there is ever more joblessness, meaningless employment, deprivation of more majorities, commodity diseases across the globe, debt servitude chaining the futures of peoples, and deepening ecodidal trends advancing one way with the system’s growth. Locked into the ruling frame of thinking, people blame humanity for the catastrophe unfolding even as the demands of the ruling value mechanism have been imposed every step by a secretly negotiated and adjudicated transnational corporate system backed by global armed force, financial sabotage and embargo, and limitless lies. From secret codification by corporate lawyers of treaties overriding constitutions to free looting of human and natural life-carrying capacities across borders, ever more money-sequence ‘investor’ rights are prescribed and multiplied across nations. Those who resist are ‘against competition’ or ‘terrorists’. Reverse projection rules.

An absurd metaphysic is assumed throughout. The economy’s provision of goods through time mutates to ‘laws of supply and demand’ that are fatuous caricatures of both. Demand is never people’s needs or necessity. It is private money demand minted by private banks without the legal tender to back it to indebt people and gamble on their future means of life. ‘Supply’ is not the life means people require to survive and flourish. It is ever more priced commodities for profit promoting more human and ecological ill-being across continents. The supreme moral value of the system is then equated to its opposite as well. Freedom = freedom for private money demand only = in proportion to the amount controlled = ever less freedom for those with less of it = no right to life for those without it.  

When mass uprooting, joblessness and misery follow, more reverse meaning is proclaimed. “Uplifted out of poverty” headlines proliferate over a money-gain equal to the cost of a coffee for subsistence farmers who have been forced into city slums without any means of natural and communal life support left. Peoples are too distracted by competitions for vast prizes to notice. The global struggle for life is displaced by ever more contest spectacles as global mass-marketing sites – the meaning now of ‘sport’.  But behind the perpetually revolving mirrors, the meaning is taboo. People may see “greed of the rich”, but not that greed is the global system’s r driver at every level. “More productivity”   is liked across classes, but who sees that it only means less cost per unit of profitable commodities bringing more life waste and destruction. Workers and left thinkers may no more want to see this than the corporate press.

The meaning of ‘the free market’ itself is reversed. Over centuries it has meant the opposite of the global corporate system – public places of local life goods, all exchanged for legal tender, featuring real foods and crafts, no mass conditioning ads, no debt servitude, no dominance of transnational money-sequences, no throwaway packages and waste, no lobbies controlling government, no invisible head offices pulling puppet strings, and no bribery controlling supply and demand. Yet the free market like the real economy is overwhelmed. There are only more absentee money sequences with no required life functions or accountability to the communities and life conditions they competitively bleed. The enemy is undefined. The common life capital it attacks is unknown. But the life and death choice cannot be made without knowing both.  

 

The Life-Value Turn as the Next Stage of Civilisation

Reality hides in the language of the past. So ‘capitalism’ is blamed by critics when real capital is, in fact, destroyed every step. Journals report ‘global wealth has soared 68% in 10 years’. But life wealth is devoured as fast as the money-sequence system can grow.  Always the underlying life ground  is lost beneath the competitive self-multiplication of money demand invading all that exists. With no life value anchor and compass, the degenerate trends only deepen beneath reference body to recognise them. I have spent most of my life as a professional philosopher on the problem of life value and social value systems. Although the sane may agree life value is what ultimately matters, nothing has been less understood.  People called ‘pro-life’ usurp the woman’s body in the name of fundamentalist religions. Nations absurdly assume that ‘standard of living’ is measured by the private money spent. Animal rights theory has no criterion to tell the life value of a snail from a person. ‘Life sciences’ sacrifice billions of animal lives a year for private money-value gain. ‘New and better technology’ has no life-value standard to decide better from worse.  

Life value is the missing base. But there are as many proxies for life value as there are values. Specialist domains like physiotherapy and medicine recognise life-value in organic functions, but without principled meaning to apply to wider life systems. In general, life value ignorance defines the age. This is how the greatest of all fatal confusions has mutated: that money-sequence growth = life value growth. Just as the multiplying grotesque cells eating the life-host alive are not recognised on the micro level, so too on the social level. Thus tidal bank notes of bets, credit and debt without legal tender drive ‘financialization’ across the planet. They must loot life and life bases to keep growing without inflation as trillions of new dollars are printed without life function. Endless slashing of life goods in wages, benefits, social security, pensions and environmental protections result, as money-demand powers multiply at the top. This is why endless bonuses for financial failure, stripping of the middle classes and the poor, squandering of public wealth on rich corporations – the list can go on – are demanded as U.S.-led wars for resources, lands and corporate markets never stop and taxes on the rich are reversed. All is predictable once the cancer system is diagnosed.  

 

An ultimate question arises. What is the ground of response to this ruling value mechanism which cumulatively plunders human and other life to feed itself?  We know the ultimate ground is life value. But what is life value? To roll thirty years of research now in three UNESCO volumes – the objective standard and measure can be defined in three steps:   

 

(1)           all value whatever is life value,

(2)           good versus bad  equals the extent to which  life is more coherently enabled versus disabled,

(3)           by greater/lesser ranges or capacities of thought, felt being and action through time.

 

Visions of world peace, the classless flourishing of peoples, a planetary ecology in which humanity is its conscious understanding – all such ideals express this underlying life code of value.  But “who decides?” skeptics ask. No-one decides because gains and losses in life capacity are as objective as the laws of biology and medicine. Anything is better or worse by the greater or lesser range of life capacities it enables. This value code is built into evolution itself. It is no more a matter of opinion than people’s life necessities are: that without which life capacities are always reduced. The ruling value mechanism is the polar opposite. It attacks life and life conditions everywhere as ‘externalities’ to its self-multiplying growth. Because this growth is assumed to be life value, however, the greatest value reversal in history goes unseen.

 

The three-step life code of value provides the generic value compass and base which has been missing. It is objective because it is true independent of anyone’s perception of it. It has unlimited validity because there is no exception to it (which is testable by searching for one). It is presupposed in value judgements – as you can observe when these judgements are defended. Life value is also universalizable because all values derive their worth from it. Finally life value is sovereign because it trumps any other value in cases of conflict. All are testable generalizations.

 

But what of measure of more or less life value? Life value is measurable in degrees by greater/lesser capacities of thought, felt being and action shown through time – for example, how much life capacities gain or lose by nourishing versus junk foods. Today the macro trends are in one-way loss of life capacities. Knowledge is the exception. It forms the way stations of life understanding passed onto others and subsequent generations across epochs, the distinguishing life capacity of our species. But even knowledge is threatened by corporate rights against its dissemination at the same time as there is mass propagation of public lies. New electronic communication capacities without corporate control still win the war by the greatest civil community development in history. But the life-and-death fields of invasion by the ruling money-value mechanism are not decoded – the money tides of hit-and-run buying and selling of lands and currencies across the world, free and growing use of ecocidal extraction methods, life-starving hours, wages and no benefits in global dispossession of workers’ century-long gains, one way global growths of disease commodities and lethal arms trading, oil-guzzling and air-polluting noise vehicles of multiplying kinds, big oil and big pharma looting of public lands and health dollars growing business on ill effects, a world-wide pension raid for corporate-stock gains at the life cost of hundreds of millions of people, and most invisibly, full-spectrum assault on humanity’s thinking and feeling sides of living itself – the zombie effect.  

 

Where we might ask do the transnational money-sequences not destructively invade the evolved fields of life of humanity and fellow species? The movement is by exponentially multiplying money-sequences eating away at the margins of every private transaction, public funding, life exchange and substance within and across borders. Consider all the bites every moment across business and exchange sites – before and beyond the ‘carrying trade’ in exploiting lower interest in one country to flood another with the cheaper money advantage, beyond the trillions in derivatives betting every day, beyond the raids on sovereign currencies and bonds without tax or regulation. On the local level, hardly a shop, a buyer, a builder, a home-dweller, anybody who lives today is not invaded by the same financial mechanism with ever more rights to demand at every exchange site with no function while enforcement is paid by the public being stripped by it. The apparently free credit-card system, for example, imposes a 2% charge to the seller for sales at a hidden 33% annual debt-charge rate, before the debt predation of poorer consumers begins. There is no end to the invisible lines of life devouring demands now deeply into higher learning and public health themselves while destroying workforces and companies overnight by hostile takeovers, bid-up mergers, asset strippings, capital flights, and straight-on funding of civil wars and destabilizations from which fire prices and dominant positions are extracted. Ruining societies is the medium of metastases. How else would a cancer system behave? 

 

The world-choosing choice begins with what you buy. Clearly for example eating, selling or supplying junk foods is objectively bad to the measure that it disables human life and produces global epidemics of obesity, heart failure, cancer and diabetes. Yet even economic ‘science’ calls them all ‘goods’ whatever the rising disease effects. Simultaneously violence entertainments flood public airwaves and play-spaces before the same consumers – most avidly the young – with images of humanity being killed, tortured, injured and humiliated. As the sugar-salt-lard concoctions are ladled into bloodstreams and throwaways clog the earth`s circulatory channels at the same time, we begin to see the multiplying destructive occupation of the fields of life and life substance as built into these runaways growths and their ‘goods’. Life capacities at every level are attacked as ‘market freedom’. Only life-value ground and measure can penetrate the disease mechanism none define – to addictively disable human life capacities for more transnational money-sequences through ever more lives from infancy onwards.  Where is there exception to the pattern?  Life-activity-replacing motors and commercial games in multiplying life occupation, endless unneeded and non-recycled conveniences locking into habits of life, political-junkie election images and spectacles where the truth is what sells corporate lines and candidates, and commercial internet and television hooks everywhere in front of which children spend 11 waking hours. Which of any of these is not geared to addict consumers to compulsive consumption against life capacity development? Which does not input toxic wastes into the circulatory flows of ecosystems at the same time? But all is optimal for the ruling economic model for which life and society are reduced to atomic desiring machines propelling more money demand to money controllers as the nature of the growth the official world calls for..  

 

The moving line of the true war of liberation begins with what we are able to control, our own lives. Consider your own life, what you know best.  Every value you enjoy, lose or gain has a bottom line – its life capital, what enables life to reproduce and grow rather than degrade and stagnate through time. We defend it and our health by buying life goods and nothing else. The turning point is as old as physical and cultural evolution. Every human advance is by knowing what enables life from what does not. Collective life advance is transmitting this life-and-death knowledge across selves, space-time and generations. The life value code holds across cultures. But the universal life goods and necessities are not even known. Their meaning is obscured everywhere, but are exactly definable. Life goods are always that without which life capacities decline and die. All real needs are known by this criterion. Every human life suffers and degenerates towards disease and death without breathable and unpolluted air, clean water and waste cycles, nourishing food and drink, protective living space, supportive love, healthcare when needed, a life-coherent environment, symbolic interaction, and meaningful work to perform. All are measurable in sufficiency across cases. (author note: a systematic explanation is available by google of “Universal Human Life Necessities”). Yet all universal human life needs and capacities are attacked, polluted or perverted by the ruling value mechanism in product, process and lobby demand across the world. Yet where are the universal life needs named and  connected against the malignant growth system spreading through ever more nodes?

 

Not zero growth, but zero bad growth is the way. A real economy by definition regulates for these universal life necessities and against toxic junk, and individuals would not buy 99% of corporate commodities if they did. Victory or loss in the war of the world lies in how we live.. So why does anyone buy such commodities? System addiction is how it grows, and knowledge of life goods versus bads is the through-line of the good life and human evolution itself. What deeper motivation could there be? I like others have long lived without corporate-ad television, regular private auto or gas-vehicle use, any junk food or beverage, any throwaway  item, any new fashion or commodity not more life enabling than the old, or business with big private banks –  selecting solely for life goods at the local level. The organizing principle is the spirit of the Tao-te Ching and the free autonomy of the wise. It is as old as the good life. The life-code formula is clear: minimal market demand to enable life capacities to flourish. This value imperative defines transformation to true economy and liberates life wherever it moves.

 

Collective Life Capital as the Common Value Ground and Measure Across Divisions

We know the war of the world can be won. The plague addiction to corporate cigarettes has been conquered by 30-50% of the developed world’s population. This shows how the life code can select against habituated system harms of the most compulsive kind, and everyone live better the more it is done.  At the personal level, it begins with zero-base accounting with money demand only justified by life-enabling gain. Yet for collective life goods, we do not have a principled ground and measure. Collective life capital does not exist in public or expert meaning. Any common life interest or agency at all is excluded unless it promotes profits. The implications are fatal but unseen. Collective provision of the universal human life necessities that have evolved by long social organization and human evolution are blinkered out of the ruling value mechanism. It sees only mechanical ‘growth’ by commodity sales and profits. Everything that makes a society civilised or liveable is blinkered out – common water and sewage systems for all, free movement pathways and life spaces without cost to use, public libraries with unpriced books and films, non-profit healthcare and disease-prevention by public institution, public income security from disemployment, old age and disability, life-protective laws including sufficient minimum wages and environmental regulations, primary to higher education without multiplying debts, and family housing, food and means of life assistance for children without parental money. Yet all these are defunded or eliminated to pay debt-services to private banks and grow business, with the IMF to the Tea Party leading the charge as ‘new efficiencies’ and ‘savings’.

 

From this built-in erasure of common life ground, the hollowing out of collective life goods  proceeds without any feedback correction. Public wealth is privatized at every level to feed corporate money sequences. Thus fed with endless giant tax and subsidy hand-outs and deregulations to invade further, the demands of the ruling value mechanism multiply further. The collective life base to steer by and regulate does not exist. For example, when Amartya Sen titles his Nobel Laureate monograph “Social Choice”, even he can get no further than atomic aggregates of individual preferences. No collective life goods in themselves are conceivable within the market paradigm. When another progressive economist, Elinor Ostrom, wins the Nobel Prize for Economics years later for her book, Governing the Commons: The Evolution and Institution of Collective Action, she is trapped within the same paradigm. No principle of common life interest or agency beyond mutual self advantage can be conceived. “The commons” and “collective action” are posted on the cover, but no civil commons or agency is seen from universal health care to a public bicycle path. Common life bases can no more compute through the ruling prism than the collective actions required to provide them.  

In fact, the underlying problem is ancient. We have lacked a common life-ground since the genocides of first peoples began. It is a very ancient blind spot which has become increasingly fatal with all-powerful technologies of destruction and the deranged money-value code driving them. The eco-genocidal streak goes deep – from the old-testament tribal god command to exterminate all other peoples in Palestine to, millennia later, the first peoples in the New World saying to their modern invaders: “When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.” Even “life, liberty and freedom” in the US Constitution reduces to the commerce clause and corporate rights by Supreme Court interpretation. Abdication of life responsibility is built into the-system. The Global Market God rules, and the common life interest and its agency do not exist to it.  

How are we to ground beneath this life-blind paradigm whose global mutations threaten evolved life on earth? In the end, the organizing principle crosses the lines of death itself – the life code of value at the collective level. But this common life interest is usurped in its very name. That is why, for example, the young can be killed in masses and arms budgets bankrupt U.S. public sectors  to enrich Big Oil, or people’s homes can be expropriated for private developers as ‘the public interest’ and ‘eminent domain’.  This is the dark side of history, one oppressor rule after another. But the collective life interest is the true bottom line of legitimate governance. The proof is in the conditions of its definition. It must be consistent with the life carrying capacities of all through time. It must be open to life-enabling change. It must go deeper than family, gender, and culture differences. It must include past as well as future generations. It must supersede the ruinous man/nature, economy/environment splits and individual/society duality of interests. It must realize the Three R’s of ecological literacy to be life coherent. It must bridge the past to the present to the future as one process to steer development beyond the holocausts of history. It must embody the economic principles of efficiency, productivity and innovation in life-serving form. It must make all freedom responsible to its life conditions of possibility. It must embed the life bases of all as supreme so it cannot in principle go wrong. 

 

Such a moral code seems impossible. Every demand of the ruling value mechanism is structured against it. Opposing ideologies do not find its common life base. Postmodernism and relativism deny any universal principle of value except the actually ruling one. Political policies are confined to what serves the corporate market system. Issue politics rule fixated on sexual preferences. There is no common life ground recognized or life-value compass to steer by. Collective life capital re-grounds us. It is the life base of the common interest – that without which humanity’s life capacities degrade and die. It is the bridging concept across the ‘the economy-environment’ division as well as cross present and future generations. It is the true meaning of economic necessity and the sole substance of growth and development. In all, collective life capital transcends all divisions by impartial principles that cannot go wrong: (1) a unifying life value regulator enabling all, (2) a generic life-value measure to tell greater from lesser by margins of capacity loss or gain in any case, (3) production of more life value capacity through generational time, (4) cumulative life gain as the organizing goal of the process throughout, (5) the more coherently inclusive in enabling life the better. In this way, the common interest is provided an exact progressive meaning, and collective agency is built into its inner logic of life progression.       

 

Conversely, whatever person, group or system destroys common life capital is objectively evil to the extent of life capacity destruction through time – for example, corporate U.S. oil wars or leisure vehicles destroying natural life. Advancing collective life capital, in contrast, is what “make the world a better place” means. It could be by cures to diseases, more ecological methods, life infrastructure building, advancing knowledge, new ways of seeing, or life-protective laws. All more inclusively enable life without loss and cumulative gain. No real progress is ever made without satisfying this logic of value.  Feeling with across species and tribes, for example, may bind many of us in this room. So too even more so advancing life-coherent knowledge and visual comprehension, as Peter’s films do. The understanding and feeling sides of life keep extending despite death and moral numbing by the ruling value mechanism. Public knowledge via the Internet commons wins against corporate media silencing and propaganda. We see here the underlying struggle across the fields of life. The rising and falling of life capital base and compass can in fact be found in every social policy, decision or movement that goes right or goes wrong. There is no exception. The war of the world is everywhere, and so is our task of life commons awareness and building.

 

This is not hope without substance. The common life interest is already built into our lives over millennia without our knowing it – the ‘civil commons’ of language, collective water sources and sewage, common safety regimes, shared pathways everywhere, community health rules and healing sites, and everyday life-enabling knowledge institutions at every level – all collective life capital formations that keep advancing beneath notice despite and through diseases and wars. Unseen too is that all are more threatened now by the ruling value mechanism than ever before.   The defining general meaning is all social constructs which enable universal access to life goods. This too is no utopian ideal. It is the measure of true development across all cultures before and after our lives – from environmental economy to universal libraries and education to public water and waste cycles to life-serving laws before which all are equal. These are all forms of collective capital in continuous development without loss and cumulative gain but all are attacked bite by bite by the multiplying money-sequence system now out of control.

The collective life capital developments that are needed now are many, but can be crystallized into three system shifts in general:

(1) public banking for credit and investment in individual and collective life capital growth,

(2) ecological quotas for all consumption of non-renewable energies and materials,

(3) citizen income security guaranteed in return for life-enabling hours of public service.

 

Movements of masses to demand them completes knowledge in public action.

 

Under the ruling value mechanism today, in contrast, evolved life on earth is under totalizing attack. 95% of all gains go to 1% with no required life function, while 95% of the world’s life support capacities are pillaged by life-blind money-sequences.. Yet life-value steering is easier than not. Norway for example has led the world in holding onto and advancing its common life capital bases through the system sickness, and emergent Latin America is implicitly building collective life capital deciders from decades of death-squad and foreign money-sequence ruin. Before the Great Reversal, societies everywhere were becoming governed by public policy patterns of similar kinds  – national recovery of control over public owned resources, progressive taxation, public banking and investment, and policy-led elimination of structural depredation of the poor and the environment.  All are methods of collective life capital formation inclusively enabling the lives of individuals across time. “Inclusiveness” is a concept much invoked today, but not with the life capital bases and compass required in the real world.

 

Let us overview the condition we face. Once upon a time in the distant past, capitalist organization under public control mass-produced healthy food, clothing and utensil commodities despite brutally exploitative methods.  There was a long painful taming of it over 200 years, and then the Great Reversal from 1980 on usurped progressive social development at every level possible. Since then, the private transnational money-sequence system has been increasingly deregulated to competitively multiply and override all life carrying capacities as its supreme goal – propelling endless wars, public and public sector debt slavery, mass disemployment and majority dispossession for obscene riches. This is the global cancer system which occupied states subsidize, enforce and grow as fast as they can – stripping the soils and forests, poisoning the waters, disemploying peoples and producing disease-causing junks in ever greater volumes. Re-grounding in common life capital, however, exposes every disorder and directs solution to it – the long missing base and measure of ‘the moral science’. It re-sets evolutionary theory itself in which only selfish gene multiplication counts – the biological correlative of the self-multiplying money mechanism. Self-maximizing game theory dominates both and military doctrine, justice and moral analysis besides. Yet common life capital bases are excluded from all of them as the lost life-ground and reference body of our capsizing planetary condition.  

 

New ‘natural’ and ‘social capital’ categories may seem to assist us here. But they now only repeat the vicious circle. ‘Natural capital’ is what can be exploited for more money. ‘Human capital’ is more future private money-demand for its owner. ‘Social capital’ is lower transaction costs for profit. ‘Physical capital’ follows suit. Life capital remains without a name. Collective life capital does not exist. All must be steered back into conserving and producing life goods rather than destroying them, the ultimate policy imperative of the world. The public authority, policies, subsidies and right to issue sovereign money now lavished upon the life-destructive mutations of private money capital thus end without a shot fired. They are now so dependent on counterfeit money-sequences, treaty edicts, public hand-outs and resources that they cannot go a day without them. The public needs only to reclaim them, not to take a thing. .

 

“Let the Market decide!” all money interests cry. This ruling superstition is more barbaric than any before – essentially, ever more for those with more money to suck the lifeblood of humanity and the earth dry.  Its  ruling delusion is that the best of all possible worlds must follow by the invisible hand. In fact, a deregulated global chaos of private transnational money-sequences exponentially multiply while the world of life capital and goods is cumulatively destroyed. The life capital alternative is self-evident once seen. It grounds in common life capital – life wealth that produces more without loss and new gains for successive generations. Its moral logic is, in fact, the through-line of all human development since language and the cooperative provision of means of life. Unlike the global market of atomically self-maximizing corporations devouring the world for more private profit extraction without end in the delusion that an unseen hand directs all to the best of all possible worlds, collective life capital steers across divisions by an objective and universal life-value base and measure in exact progression which cannot  as life-coherent go wrong. Ecological capital and knowledge capital are its baselines of value compass and coordination across life capital domains, and the unifying principle of all is already implicit in the architecture of modern human thought.

 

All that is lacking is life value, ground and measure. They connect life, the ultimate onto-ethical concept, to capital, the ultimate concept of political economy: and so by transitivity, to law, human rights, sustainability and intergenerational equity. The meaning is clear. Valid law is a collective life capital formation providing the rules to live by that coherently protect and enable life.  Human rights are instituted claims of all to what enables their life capacities to be realised as human. Sustainability is of collective life capital, or it is a fraud. Intergenerational equity is access to collective life capital across generational time without loss, or it is a lie. Throughout we see a missing life base presupposed but not yet conscious or defined. Throughout we see that the ruling money-sequence value mechanism is incompetent to comprehend it. Building without loss and for better life across generations is what is ultimately worthwhile. No-one might deny it, but ignorant usurpation of its meaning is what rules. All universally life-enabling progressions of human evolution and history to now are the result of its implicit understanding. You cannot take a clean breath, meet a child safely, enjoy a drink of water, without their support from the past. The warped streak of epics and histories of power is opposite, but even state mass murderers and Wall Street bankers think that they are improving the world – the primary delusion which received theory rationalizes so that few understand.  

 

The lost life-ground is already implicit in healthy lives. Our organic fitness and powers, our depth and breadth of knowledge acquisition, our abilities to perform productive tasks of needed kinds, and most of all our sustained intent to create more life wealth without loss and cumulative gain are the generic parameters of a life code already built into us as human. More than ever we know the plague is ruling, and “the 1% and the 99%” expresses it. But a real economic law holds beneath opinions and times. Public investment in common life capital capacities is the only allocation that works over time.  We know this from America and Canada before their falls, Germany, Japan, Korea after 1950, and the post-1945 age of social life standards across the world. It has been proven again despite sabotages, coups and financial strangulations in Latin America after 1999. The unseen enemy is borderless money sequences with ever more rights. The missing map is diagnosis of the ruling value cancer. The missing link is the life-capital economy all breathe and move by. The war of the world today is won by knowledge action.   

 

It is the age of forgetting everything,

It is the age of remembering all.

It is the age of competing to death,

It is the age of our coming together.

It is the age of ignorance and falling apart,

It is the age of more knowing more than ever.

It is the age of losing all that lives,

It is the age of finding common life ground.

It is the age of ever more commodity diseases,

It is the age of choosing world life.

It is the age of sleepwalk

to catastrophe,

It is the age of awakening

to shared life meaning.

It is the age when capital destroys the world.

It is the age when life capital wins.

 

 

 

Responsibility and Capitalism. A Phenomenological Way to Approach the Economic Crisis

1. Capitalism as the economic expression of onto-theology

 

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages[2].

 

The words of Adam Smith, originally used to justify liberalist economy, presently sound like an act of accusation. Classic capitalism encourages pure egotism, relying on an ‘invisible hand’[3], which should promote the public interest together with the individual one. However, the hand of the market is not invisible, is pitiless. Capitalism in nothing but a pursuit of money, of more and more money. Then, as time goes by, wealth accrues in the hands of fewer and fewer people[4]. Marx already predicted the concentration of capital as a necessary consequence of free competition. However, he could not predict the birth of financial capitalism. Neo-liberalism spread over Western countries, leading to financialization, that is ‘the increasing role of financial motives, financial markets, financial actors and financial institutions in the operation of the domestic and international economies’[5].

 

 

While classic capitalism links money to production, financial capitalism is based on uncertainty[6]. Money increases or decreases according to the Stock Exchange prices. Since they are unpredictable, people could gain or lose fortunes in a day: a risky investment is nothing but gambling. In this way, the concentration of capital in a few hands comes faster. Those who are not successful go broke and damage other people: bankers and brokers lose the money of whole companies and families, shopkeepers and businessmen close their activities and dismiss people who work for them. There are not only employers and workers who pay the price, but also small capitalists. Unemployment increases and consumes decrease. In this way, even production decreases and the system itself collapses.

 

This is a devastating situation, depending not so much on the structure of the system, as on its moving principle. Capitalism, in its classic definition, should stimulate production and consuming, appealing to individual interest. But the course of egotism is one-way: it aims to individual affluence, regardless of its impact on the others.

 

Capitalist economic systems are characterized by the private ownership of property and the consensual exchange of goods and services in a free market.[7]

 

According to this recent definition, common both to classic and financial capitalism, egotism reveals to be their driving force. The expression ‘private ownership’ refers to individual possession and power, while ‘free market’ indicates liberty of action.

 

Philosophically speaking, capitalism is nothing but the economic expression of onto-theology. Exactly like the Ego of Western philosophy[8], it is regardless of the Other. The theoretical I subjects everything to its structures and the practical I cares only about its freedom. In the economic case, the Ego subdues the Other to the main category of capitalism, that is profit. The practical consequence of this philosophical statement is that an indiscriminate pursuit of money causes the exploitation of environment, animals and people. The Ego prevails on the Other, but would be powerless without Him. Profit has to be made at the expense of somebody, who cannot be too weak, otherwise he will die or become a slave. The free market disappears without a certain balance: money can circulate only among people who produce, work, and consume. This is why, if the Ego takes too much power, then will lose everything.

 

The current economic crisis could be seen as a critical moment when, philosophically speaking, the I is capable of annihilating the Other. The next step would be the following: a few people with a high concentration of money, laying down the law to the majority and spoiling the environment of its resources.

 

There are two solutions to avoid this disaster: the first is destroying capitalism and adopting another economic model, communism for instance; the second is putting limits to capitalism itself. The former corresponds, in philosophy, to the annihilation of both the I and the Other, and to the birth of an anonymous subject; the latter would be the introduction of a different relation between identity and alterity, that is responsibility. If neglecting ethics is destroying capitalism, adopting ethics will save it.

 

 

2. A general lack of ethics

 

The present economic crisis is the symptom of a disease. Capitalism could be seen as a living organism, whose childhood, adolescence and youth were quite healthy. Some temporary illnesses, as the crisis of 1929 and the post-war situation, did not destroy it. Capitalism is, at the moment, in its maturity. After a fast and flourishing growth, it took a definite shape: at the top there are the investors (individuals, private and public institutions), who finance with their money the whole system; they fund producers and providers of services, who distribute their products and services through mediators and sellers; in order to produce, sell and put in operation, a great amount of manpower (workers and employees) is necessary; at the end, there are the consumers, who buy products and services. Every element of capitalism has to work correctly, like the organs in a living system. If one of them has problems, it affects the other elements and the system collapses.

 

Capitalism is presently affected by a disease and is in great danger. The most acute stage passed away, but the organism is not regaining its health. First of all, it is necessary to identify the illness and the affected parts of the organism. Fortunately, the diagnosis is not difficult: the crisis started from financial institutions and companies (Lehman Brothers and Bernard Madoff Investment Securities, for instance). Their collapse created a sudden lack of money and damaged producers, providers and money savers in general. In this way, there were indirectly affected also mediators, sellers, workers and employees, who saw their revenues decreasing or vanishing. And, since every member of the system is a consumer, products and services were bought to a lesser extent. The crisis of consumption caused, on the other hand, a new crisis of production and service-providing[9]. It is a vicious circle generating a gap between the majority of people, who progressively lose their wealth, and a few people, who hold money and power. This gap already exists, but is becoming greater and greater.

 

The crisis is due, primarily, to the heads of financial capitalism, but it would be a mistake to blame only them. There are also other people who are responsible in a similar way, people who hold a great amount of money and power: executives and owners of national and multinational companies, big traders and mediators. In Italy it happened, for instance, that Calisto Tanzi, President of the food company Parmalat, was guilty of bankruptcy fraud and criminal association. His immoral policy, nourished by the connivance of some politicians and bankers, led to the ruin of a great number of investors. The bankruptcy happened in 2003, four years before the collapse of the subprime mortgage market in the United States. Then the current crisis came, as a product of a diffused malpractice. When powerful people do not behave in a responsible way, they create a great damage to society. The crisis is not the disease of capitalism, but a serious symptom of it: the disease is what produced the crisis itself, that is a general lack of ethics.

 

Before giving a definition of what ‘lack of ethics’ means, it is necessary to define ethics itself. Capitalism is seen, in this paper, as the economic expression of the Ego of onto-theology. According to Levinas, the guiding principles of the Western I are intentionality and freedom: the former is a grasp of what is external to the subject; the latter is the ability to act through free will. Levinas takes position against Husserl, the father of phenomenology and of conscience as intentionality[10]. Even if his criticism could be considered exaggerated (Husserl had no intention to theorize a ‘tyrannical subject’[11]), the author of ‘Totality and Infinity’ is extraordinary in delineating ethics.

 

Morality is not added to the preoccupations of the I, so as to order them or to have them judged; it calls in question, and puts at a distance from itself, the I itself […]. The “vision” of the face as face is a certain mode of sojourning in a home, or […] a certain form of economic life. No human or interhuman relationship can be enacted outside of economy; no face can be approached with empty hands and closed home. Recollection in a home open to the Other –hospitality – is the concrete and initial fact of human recollection and separation[12].

 

Levinas points out the ‘separation’ between the Ego and the Other: the latter is not an alter-ego, another subject, but someone radically different. The other person is irreducible to the Ego. Notwithstanding this separation, there is an original relation between them: the subject approaches the other person in a particular ‘economic’ way. Since ‘economy’ means ‘management of a household’ (from the Greek words oikos, ‘house’, and nomos, ‘law’ or ‘rule’), every relation with something or somebody has to do with interiority. While the objects are included in the domestic dimension of the subject (as nourishment, tools or furniture), the other person cannot be grasped. The interhuman relationship is hospitality, is opening one own’s doors to the other.

 

According to Levinas, ethics is not only reception, but also responsibility. The identity of the subject is orientated to the alterity of the other, ‘without a prior commitment’[13]. Responsibility precedes freedom, it is independent from every choice. One is responsible of the other ‘despite oneself’[14], thus nobody can avoid responsibility.

 

From the economic point of view, it is a very important principle: it is not based on what one ‘chooses’ to do, but on what one ‘is’. Applying Levinas’ statements to capitalism, one could say the following: if one ‘is’ richer and more powerful, then one ‘will be’ more responsible, despite one’s choices. It does not mean that freedom is not important, but that responsibility founds freedom. Responsibility is the moving principle of ethics, while freedom is what makes it concrete. Behaviour depends on free will, which acts ‘according to’ or ‘against’ responsibility. This is the reason why a single action or a whole behaviour is responsible or irresponsible. Shortly, if ethics is based on responsibility, then moral activity will be responsible and immoral activity irresponsible.

 

Adapting Levinas’ phenomenology to economic analysis, one could state the following: intentionality and freedom exactly correspond to the ‘private ownership’ and ‘free market’ of capitalism. They are based on egotism and on an instrumental relation to the other. If egotism coincides, in capitalism, with obtaining profit, the other will be seen as a mean to make money. This relation to the other is absolutely unethical. Ethics, instead, is moved by responsibility and sees the other as the main addressee of action.

 

However, Levinas’ thought is too radical to be concretely applied: according to him, the subject should give itself unconditionally, because it is guilty from time immemorial[15]. Levinas’ ethics is oriented to non-reciprocity and, economically speaking, it is inapplicable. In order to move the market, a balance between one’s needs and the others’ needs is necessary. It would be better, in this case, to follow Ricoeur’s reciprocal ethics: one should see ‘oneself as another’, that is an intimate implication of otherness in identity[16]. Ethics requires both an original relation to the other (Levinas) and a practical bi-directional attitude (Ricoeur).  

 

The Golden Rule and the imperative of the respect owed to persons do not simply have the same field of exercise, they also have the same aim: to establish reciprocity wherever there is a lack of reciprocity[17].

 

The keyword is ‘respect’: respect of every person as the aim of morality, respect of oneself and the other in the same amount (it recalls the Christian principle ‘love your neighbour as yourself’[18]). ‘Reciprocal’ does not mean ‘claiming something in exchange’, since the logic of ‘exchange’ is based on egotism. Reciprocity is seen as a bi-directional respect, towards oneself and towards the other.

 

At this point, if ethical behaviour is respectful, unethical behaviour will be disrespectful. Unethical behaviour could be defined as a certain number of actions, fulfilling one’s aims and directly damaging (or putting in danger) the other. ‘Directly’ means that there could also be indirect consequences of one’s own action, not imputable to the agent. Unethical behaviour means betraying one’s responsibility towards the other. Phenomenology usually considers the other as ‘the other person’, but human actions do not effect only people. The other could be a human being, as well as an animal or the environment. They cannot do anything ‘in exchange’, but it does not matter, since reciprocity, in this case, does not involve exchange.

 

A concrete example of what unethical behaviour means is given by various bankers in the United States and United Kingdom. During the economic crisis, they violated ethics in this way: through ‘deception’ and ‘half truths given to authorities’ (lying), ‘violation of securities legislation’ and ‘allegations of fraud’, ‘misleading balance sheets’, promoting an ‘excessive bonus culture’, ‘ignoring internal corporate risk controls’, ‘conflict of interest’, ‘undue short-terminism’, ‘excessive risk-taking’, ‘callousness towards impoverished home owners’, ‘over-concentration of economic power by large banks’[19].

 

These actions are directly imputable to bankers, who violated both ethics and law. In this way, they caused a great damage to society, especially when financial institutions collapsed. Having an over-concentration of economic power gave an enormous amount of responsibility to the bankers, who used it, paradoxically, to escape responsibility itself.

 

Marx thought that the crisis of capitalism depended on over-production and concentration of money in a few hands[20]. The evolution of capitalism through financialization, together with globalization, changed the economic situation. The current crisis is not due to over-production, but to an indiscriminate pursuit of money. Capitalism is in danger not for its dialectical movement, but for a lack of ethics. The moving principle of ethics is responsibility, so ‘lack of ethics’ means ‘violation of responsibility’. Moreover, everyone is responsible of oneself and other people, and more power means more responsibility. For this reason, a lack of ethics is worst in powerful people than in common ones, because the consequences are more serious. An ethical revolution is then necessary and has to involve, primarily, the higher levels of the economic system.

 

 

3. A Phenomenological perspective on ethical revolution

 

An ethical revolution could be considered from several points of view. In this paper, a phenomenological perspective is adopted. ‘Phenomenology’ is here considered as an equivalent of ‘egology’: everything is considered, perceived, and felt ‘in first person’, from the point of view of the subject. On the ethical side, it has some interesting consequences. First of all, phenomenology claims an original responsibility towards the other.

 

The knot tied in subjectivity, which when subjectivity becomes a consciousness of being is still attested to in questioning, signifies an allegiance of the same to the other, imposed before any exhibition of the other, preliminary to all consciousness […]. This allegiance will be described as responsibility of the same for the other, as a response to his proximity before any question[21].

 

Ethics does not ‘proceed’ from consciousness, but ‘precedes’ it. The human subject has a moral character, so that he cannot avoid responsibility. The latter is part of his ontological (Levinas writes ‘pre-ontological’[22]) constitution. The subject is introduced, from its birth, in a relational world. When it lives distant from people, it is related with animals and nature. Loneliness is nothing but an abstraction. Using Sartre’s words, ‘the fact of the other is incontestable and touches me to the heart’[23]. Human beings are then relational (not only social) beings. The way in which they interact is based on responsibility. From the economic point of view, it is very important, because it implies the following: no one can avoid responsibility towards the other. An economic subject is responsible of the strategy chosen, of its application, and of its consequences. Violating responsibility implies paying for one’s own mistakes.

 

A second consequence of a phenomenological perspective is the singularity of both the ego and the other. Every subject has a common core[24], typical of human knowledge, perception, and feeling, but a concrete ego is absolutely unique. Moreover, it relates to an other who is absolutely unique as well.

 

Reason presupposes these singularities or particularities, not as individuals open to conceptualization, or divesting themselves of their particularity so as to find themselves to be identical, but precisely as interlocutors, irreplaceable beings, unique in their genus, faces[25].

 

Ethics refers to singular beings, either subjects and addressees. Every ego is different and relates to a different other. From the ethical point of view, no one can be replaced in assuming responsibility. Every person, here and now, is called to an original relation to the other. This relation does not consist in universal principles, belonging to universal subjects, and applied to universal addressees. Phenomenology does not theorize either norms, or rules. It does not matter ‘what’ the subject does (‘this act’, ‘that act’), but ‘how’ it does it (‘respecting’ or ‘not respecting’ the other). An ethical behaviour is that which follows one’s original responsibility towards one’s concrete neighbour.

 

In capitalism, it means that every single member of the system (executive, trader, worker, employee, customer) is not responsible for what the others do, but for what he or she does. The amount of responsibility is greater according to the amount of money and power one has. If, for instance, an employee behaves in a bad way towards a customer, he or she will have to pay for his or her single action. If an executive adopts an irresponsible strategy, he or she will have to pay not only for the action, but also for all that follows. In the case of people with great power, a single mistake has many consequences and involves many people.

 

Thirdly, phenomenology avoids two kinds of danger: anonymity and alienation. The uniqueness of both the ego and the other preserves them from the tyranny of universality. From the philosophical point of view, the singular avoids a subordination to the Same (or Being, or Spirit)[26]. In economy, it gets away from Hegel’s ethical State and Marx’s socialism. The difference between the former and the latter is that Idealism maintains private property, while communism abolishes it. In both cases, the ‘good’ of individuals is established by State institutions, which manipulate everything, from the economy to private life[27]. Equality is guaranteed, but at the price of making individuals anonymous beings.

 

Phenomenology also helps against alienation. In this case, it is better to adopt Ricoeur’s version: the thought of Husserl is inclined to alienate the other (‘all that which holds for myself holds, as I know, for all other human beings’[28]), while Levinas risks to alienate the subject (‘the-one-for-the-other goes to the extent of the-one-being-hostage-for-the-other[29]). According to Ricoeur, oneself is seen as another, implying respect on both sides.

 

This ethical principle is necessary to heal the plague of capitalism, that is the alienation of a part of the system. Marx thinks that there are only two classes, oppressors and oppressed. The former are capitalists, the latter proletarians. Workers are alienated by owners of companies, who make profit with the exploitation of proletarian labour[30]. However, financial capitalism is characterized by a more complex structure. Alienation usually concerns the parts of the system who own less money: workers, employees and small businessmen, for instance. Phenomenology leads, in its ethical and reciprocal form, to a balance between stronger and weaker members of the system.

 

Ethical capitalism, that is capitalism passing through ethical revolution, is a third way between communism and classic/financial capitalism. The former reduces all subjects to anonymity, the latter is a source of alienation. Phenomenology theorizes uniqueness (Levinas) and reciprocity (Ricoeur) between the ego and the other.

 

Fourthly, a phenomenological perspective warns against a pseudo-ethical behaviour. ‘Being ethical’ does not mean ‘having an ethical coat’. There are companies who put ‘something ethical’ in their product or in their policy, in order to attract investor, partners or customers. For example, an enterprise produces part of its eggs, breeding hens in open air. In this way, it attracts people who are sensitive to the living condition of animals. These customers will pay a higher price to buy this kind of eggs. However, there are also people who are content if hens are not in cages, even if they are bred indoor. And there are customers who do not care about animal conditions, but only about price. The latter will buy eggs produced by hens bred in batteries. This is exactly the case of the Italian company AIA:[31] its executives understood that better conditions for animals attract more customers. But the company is not moved by ethical reasons, otherwise it would limit the whole production to free-range eggs. Companies like AIA purely act for profit.

 

If the purpose of a behaviour is other than ethical, such a behaviour will be not really ethical. However, a moral appearance is useful to make money: being good pays. An ethical film enhances profit, even if the substance is unethical. First of all, not all the people are sensitive to moral behaviour, because most of them rather prefer to avoid an immoral behaviour. Secondly, they pay willingly an higher price up to a certain threshold (30%, 50% of sustainable production, for instance). This threshold is not clearly determinable and is different case by case.[32] This is why companies do something ethical, as much as it does not hinder profit.

 

Phenomenology rejects such a kind of behaviour. ‘Being ethical’ means ‘acting responsibly’. When a company follows a moral conduct, it does not limit itself to some good actions. Ethics is neither charitable, nor instrumental. An ethical producer of eggs, for instance, breeds chicken in open air, provides them with healthy food, leaves them space enough to live comfortably, heals them when they are sick, avoids to raise too many hens if good conditions cannot be guaranteed. This kind of behaviour is ethical because it respects both customers and animals: it provides buyers with eggs of the best quality and, at the same time, allows chicken to have a good life. This kind of behaviour is, philosophically speaking, oriented towards the other.

 

If moral behaviour is, on the contrary, money-oriented, it will not be moral at all. Since current capitalism aims to profit, it meets ethics only by accident. Ethics is usually a limitation to profit: the “obsessive materialism which capitalist economy promote is one of the weaknesses of capitalism when it is considered from an ethical point of view”[33]. An ethical behaviour is not necessarily ascetical and includes material goods and pleasures: in order to avoid alienation, the ego has to preserve itself. Capitalism does not purely promote self-preservation, but an indiscriminate pursuit of materialism. As the economic expression of onto-theology, capitalism is ruled by egotism.

 

Phenomenology goes beyond the tyranny of the Same, of the universal subject, of indiscriminate property and freedom. Stating the importance of ethics, of original responsibility, of uniqueness, phenomenology does not destroy the subject, but makes it ‘singular’. Definitely, it has to renounce to its tyrannical power, but not to itself. What is here suggested is not to alienate the ego in behalf of the other. Building one’s own identity is necessary to self-preservation and, moreover, to have ‘something to give’. If the subject is alienated, it cannot offer anything to the other. Ethics should not imply a fission of one’s identity[34], but an equilibrated inclination to giving.

 

The economic consequence of such a perspective is not the end of capitalism. If capitalism is based on egotism and egotism is ‘partially’ preserved by phenomenology, then capitalism will be ‘partially’ preserved by phenomenology. Phenomenology does not accept capitalism in its current form, because it is ‘wholly’ based on egotism, that is indiscriminate freedom and property. However, it accepts a different form of capitalism, which is only ‘partially’ ruled by egotism. This new kind of system is called ‘ethical capitalism’ and is based on respectful freedom and property.

 

Defining what is and what is not ‘respectful’ is the most difficult task to accomplish, due to the open character of phenomenology. Phenomenology is not a normative system, but a perspective. For this reason, it does not suggest a precise behaviour, but a different way to approach the world. Classic and financial capitalism are based on individual interest; ethical capitalism is based on responsibility. One’s freedom and property are not destroyed or ‘limited’ by the other’s freedom and property. One’s freedom and property is directed both to self-preservation and preservation of the other, that is the environment and its inhabitants. Ethical capitalism is not self-oriented, but other-oriented: it is directed both to the other and to the self as another. Responsibility is opposed to alienation, because it is bi-directional. This is why a responsible behaviour, on large scale, could save capitalism from its gaps and from its ruin.

 


[1] Cf. Hein, E., The Macroeconomics of Finance-dominated Capitalism and its Crisis, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2012, p. 1.

[2] Smith, A., The Glasgow edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith, vol. 2a, edited by R.H. Cambell and A.S. Skinner, Oxford: Claredon Press, 1976, pp. 26–7.

[3] Cf. ibid.,  p. 456.

[4] ‘It is concentration of capitals already formed, destruction of their individual independence, expropriation of capitalist by capitalist, transformation of many small into few large capitals’ (Marx, K., Capital [Cap.], Volume 1, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1954, p. 586).

[5] Epstein, G. A., ‘Introduction: Financialization and the World Economy’, in Epstein, G. A. (ed.), Financialization and the World Economy, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2005, p. 3.

[6] In 1938, George Edwards already individuated finance as an element of instability: the current form of capitalism converts real equity in financial one. Edwards was even afraid of a conspiracy by financial institutions. See Edwards, G. W., The Evolution of Finance Capitalism, London: Longmans Green, 1938.

[7] Bishop, J. D., ‘Ethics and Capitalism. A Guide to the Issues’, in Bishop, J. D. (ed.), Ethics and Capitalism, University of Toronto Press Incorporated: Toronto-Buffalo-London, 2000, p. 4.

[8] ‘Ontology as first philosophy is a philosophy of power’ (Levinas E., Totality and Infinity: an Essay on Exteriority [TI], Duquesne: Pittsburgh, 1969, p. 9).

[9] For a specific description of this mechanisms, see Hein 2012.

[10] Levinas criticizes the thought of Husserl in several writings. Cf., for example, TI, pp. 109-110, 121-126; Id., Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence [OB], Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1981, pp. 8, 33, 63-66; Id., Discovering Essence With Husserl, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1998, pp. 74-75, 124-126, 176-177.

[11] Husserl considers the Other as an Ego-subject, but neither identical, nor subject to the Ego. ‘Each has its place from which he sees the physical things present; and, accordingly, each has different physical-things appearances. Also, for each of the fields of actual perception, actual memory, etc., are different, leaving aside the fact that intersubjectively common objects of consciousness in those field are intended to as to having different modes, different manners of apprehension, different degrees of clarity, and so forth’ (Husserl, E., Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, First Book  [Ideas I], The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982, pp. 55-56).

[12] TI, p. 172.

[13] OB, p. 153.

[14] Ibid., pp. 51, 54-56, 74.

[15] Ibid., pp. 26, 51, 87.

[16] Cf. Ricoeur, P., Oneself as Another, University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1992, p. 3.

[17] Ibid., p. 225.

[18] Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27.

[19] Thomas, R., ‘Ethics – or the Lack of Ethis – in the Global Financial Crisis 2007-2010’, in Rosamund M. Thomas (ed.), Business Ethics, Cambridge: Ethics International Press, 2011, p. 75.

[20] Cf. Cap., p. 587.

[21] OB, pp. 25-26.

[22] Ibid., pp. 43-44, 78.

[23] Sartre, J.-P-, Being and Nothingness. An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, New York: Philosophical Library, 1956, p. 367. Even if Sartre is better known as an existentialist, Being and Nothingness can be considered as a phenomenological masterwork. Anyway, the constitutive inter-subjectivity of human beings was first stated by Heidegger, according to which ‘being-in-the-world’ (in-der-Welt-sein) is also ‘being-with’ (Mit-sein). Cf. Heidegger, M., Being and Time, State University of New York Press: Albany, 1996, p. 112.

[24] The phenomenological epoché, theorized by Husserl, searches for a pure consciousness, abstracting from the concrete Ego-subjects. ‘It therefore remains as the “phenomenological residuum,” as a region of being which is of essential necessity quite unique and which can indeed become the field of a science of a novel kind: phenomenology’ (Ideas I, pp. 65-66).

[25] TI, p. 252.

[26] Cf. TI, pp. 46-47, 143, 269-271.

[27] Cf. Hegel, G. W. F., Elements of the Philosophy of Right, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, §§ 257-258; Marx, K.- Engels, F., The Communist Manifesto [Manifesto], New York: Russell and Russell, 1963, Chap. 2. According to Hegel, the State is the reality of reason and will, which coincides with individual freedom. According to Marx, communism implies centralization of credit, means of communication, production and education in the hands of the State. Both authors theorize, in order to guarantee equality, a strong Statism.

[28] Ideas I, p. 55.

[29] OB, p. 141.

[30] Cf. Manifesto, pp. 25-26; Marx, K., Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, New York: International Publishers, 1964, pp. 108-111.

[31] Products numbered B5110, for instance, come from hens farming to barn, while B5114 are free-range eggs. The other products come from hens bred in batteries. This is why, in 2001, AIA was condemned by the Italian Antitrust. The company showed on its egg-packages images of hens eating on lawns and the proposition ‘uova fresche allevate a terra’ (‘fresh eggs bred ashore’). It could led customers to think that they were free-range eggs, while hens were crowded into big barns (intensive livestock farming).

[32] Cf. Trudel, R.- Cotte, J., ‘Does It Pay To Be Good?’, MIT Sloan Management Review, vol. 50, 2, 2009, pp. 66-68.

[33] Groarke, L., ‘Can Capitalism Save Itself? Some Ruminations on the Fate of Capitalism’, in Bishop 2000, p. 204.

[34] Cf. OB, pp. 49, 104, 141, 180, 185. 

 

Federico Sollazzo, Totalitarismo, democrazia, etica pubblica. Scritti di filosofia morale, filosofia politica, etica (Rome: Aracne, 2011)

In the first part, Sollazzo tracks recent evolutions in the theoretical and historical understanding of social and political control of human collectivities, such as: (1) “totalitarianism” (17) in the work of Vaclav Havel and his mentor Jan Patocka; (2) “system” (20) in that by Herbert Marcuse; (3) “terror” (25) in Max Horkheimer’s; (4) “stereotyped reasoning” (28) in Theodor Adorno’s; (5) “rationality deficit” (28) in Juergen Habermas’; (6) “empire” (30) in Michael Hardt’s and Antonio Negri’s (30); (7) and “culture” according to Pier Paolo Pasolini (34). This initial section is followed by an exposition of the philosophical anthropology of three great minds of the 20th century, namely Arnold Gehlen, Helmuth Plessner and Max Scheler. A common theme is retrieved in their thought about human nature and the human condition, that is, the uniqueness of humankind’s inextricable admixture of biological and psychical elements, which allow the human being to be part of nature as well as to transcend it through its “peculiar” (43) intellectual—for the first two authors—and spiritual—for the third—abilities. The ensuing chapter stresses the crucial role played by the species-wide biological and emotional make-up in providing a valid ground for the establishment of credibly universal philosophical anthropology and ethics. Remarkable is the attention paid to the notion of vital “needs” (47) as a stark and straightforward reminder of our common humanity. The field of ethics is further explored in a chapter devoted to communitarianism as a representative reaction to utilitarian individualism, which fails to acknowledge the deeply interpersonal preconditions for any meaningful human existence.

 

In the second part, Sollazzo explores the issue of totalitarianism with special reference to the seminal work of Hannah Arendt and her ability to perceive the totalitarian threat of numb conformism in modern mass cultures, and not just in the key examples of totalitarian regimes, namely Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. This line of analysis is deepened by means of a discussion of the notion of “bio-power” (84) and of different conceptions of totalitarianism beyond Arendt’s one, such as Marcuse’s, Horkeimer’s and Neumann’s. Sollazzo then returns to Arendt’s work and her study of the anonymous, grey “model citizen” (108) of modern societies, who is incapable of challenging the received views of her socio-political community and participates dutifully in whatever life-destructive systemic horror such received views may entail. This study is followed by a reflection on genuine democracy as Alexis de Tocqueville and Arendt would have it, so that model citizens be not as incapable of Socratic critical reflection as previously discussed. Considerations on democracy are furthered by a presentation of Karl Popper’s ideal of democracy as open society and his profound distrust for any “utopian engineering” (135) that may prevent tolerant coexistence of different worldviews in peaceful conversation with one another. Adorno, Norberto Bobbio and Zagrebelsky are then utiklised to criticise Popper’s seemingly wilful blindness to the darker areas of actual democratic communities, such as techno-scientific “chains” (150) to free human agency, dehumanising “mass conformism” (150), economic “commodification” (150) of human relations—including political ones—and “political apathy” (153). Zagrebelsky’s work is also utilised to assess the issues of social justice and human rights in allegedly democratic societies, whose enduring and entrenched inequalities fail regularly large sectors of the population.

 

The third part of the book opens with a survey of the so-called “rehabilitation of practical reason” in the German-speaking philosophical world of the 1960s and 1970s, especially with reference to Hans-Georg Gadamer and Habermas. The threat to social cohesion and human well-being emerging from pseudo-rational individualism is presented and then addressed in a chapter on leading libertarian thinkers, such as Robert Nozick and Friedrich Hayek. Bobbio and John Rawls are introduced and presented as attempts to rectify from within the liberal tradition the many weaknesses and blind spots of several libertarian stances. Communitarianism is addressed subsequently as an attempt to rectify them too, though this time from without the liberal tradition. Ferdinand Toennies, Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre are the pivotal references in this context. Amartya Sen is used eventually to propose a tolerant, pluralist form of communitarianism that describes cultural identities as inherently diverse, “always in fieri” (212) and analogous to an ever-shifting mosaic requiring the person’s free consent and critical self-reflection. The theme of a species-wide ground for life-enhancing social and political self-organisation is brought back in a chapter devoted to Hans Jonas and his call for human ethical responsibility vis-à-vis the planetary environment, which human ingenuity and techno-scientific advances are threatening as never before in human history. The final chapter outlines the understanding of human alterity in the works by Emmanuel Lévinas, Paul Ricoeur and Jacques Derrida.

 

The book is most erudite and shows how well-versed the author is in the works and terminology of the many thinkers that he cites and presents to the reader. Still, after reading the book, it is not clear what the author wished to accomplish with it, apart from charting a number of interesting issues and related reflections by famous thinkers. In short, the book has no clear thesis to offer. Also, the critical assessment of the thinkers tackled in the book varies considerably, thus a few thinkers are duly presented and equally criticised for what Sollazzo argues to be their theoretical weaknesses (e.g. Jonas), whilst others are just outlined and never criticised (e.g. Havel) or timidly rebuked in a few footnotes (e.g. Arendt). By this lack of critical evenness and courage, Sollazzo comes across as sharing claims by some of the thinkers that he refers to (e.g. Arendt’s negative assessment of the modern political emphasis upon human biological necessity) that do not sit well with those of other thinkers that he includes in his book (e.g. Jonas’ call for immediate global ethical responsibility in the face of the modern techno-scientific threat to the continuation of biological life on Earth). Analogously, it is not clear whether some rare yet conspicuously superficial analyses, such as the one that he provides about human rights (159-65), should be ascribed to him or to the thinkers that he makes use of therein. Specifically, as human rights are concerned, they are reduced to the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, which is claimed to be “universal, modern and Western” (163), as though there had never been thereafter any advancement, such as the actually binding sister covenants on civil and political rights on the one hand, and economic social and cultural rights on the other; or the pronunciations of the related United Nations’ human rights committes. Finally, the book would have benefitted from an analytical index and a bibliography.

 

Conference Papers from the Winter Symposium “Towards a New Ethical Imagination: Political and social values in a cosmopolitan world society”, Turku, Finland, 10-12 February 2012

 

The winter meeting took place at the University of Turku in Finland, 10-12 February 2012. We had different themes for our discussion.

The first theme was about “Recognition, freedom, dignity and social battles for justice in intercultural democratic society”. This theme consisted in the analysis of the concept of recognition in relation to the recent discussions on societal ethics, politics and justice. The workshop examined recognition and identity struggles that have emerged around the world as a result of post-secular society. We discussed this both in the theoretical perspective, such as philosophical, sociological and political views, and in the empirical perspective as well. The workshop looked at the cultural and social consequences of globalization and it dealt with proposals for world justice as a response to this. We focused on different battles of recognition and considered how recognition can be institutionalized under the condition of democracy.

In particular we discussed the latest work of Axel Honneth about freedom, recognition, institution and justice: Das Recht der Frieheit (Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2011). Honneth has changed his focus from recognition to the problem of how freedom can be institutionalized in a modern bourgeois capitalist society. This could also be called the problem of how a societal ethics could be constituted.

The model for Honneth is Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Hegel has, as it is well known, tried, as a critique of Kant, to conceptualize the institutionalization of freedom in modern society. It was interesting to bring Hegel’s discussion into play, not least his Wirkungsgeschichte or significant influence on later philosophical, political and sociological discussions of Sittlichkeit or Ethical Life, and its forms of institution in modern society.

The second theme of the meeting was “Environmental Ethics: Climate change and justice in the context of globalization of capitalism”. This part of the workshop dealt with environmental dilemmas due to the global environmental crisis. We debated climate change issues in the perspective of proposals for a new economy and we asserted how we should consider the climate change issue in relation to topics of identity struggles and poverty in developing countries.

The third theme of the meeting was the “Foundations of ethics”. Here we continued our ongoing discussions concerning possible foundations of ethical theory. Since the group started in 2010, it has been focusing on discourse ethics and ethics and closeness. The theme for the meeting in Turku involved discussions of consequentialism and utilitarianism as an ethical theory, but also broader themes about bioethics and environmental ethics were elaborated.

Finally, we had some papers that addressed the open theme of ethics in relation the general purpose of the study group.

As an overall theme, we investigate ethical and social values in a cosmopolitan world society. We examine the paradoxes, dilemmas and tensions appeared in recent debates about ethical, political and social values in contemporary societies. We can observe that ethical problems have been increasingly a central problem in public debates in Nordic societies and in the international community. Both political decisions and daily practices in public institutions and private business organizations are increasingly faced with ethical problems and issues. Moreover, there are more and more problems and practices where ethical issues are central themes and where ethical reflection is a central theme. This tendency has been very present in: the relation between democracy and administration; the obligations of business corporations in relation to profit maximization and economic efficiency; public and private management and governance; health issues; the relation to the environment and the use of natural resources; the social obligations and responsibilities towards global poverty, democracy and environmental problems. Every discussion over the prioritization of the social use of resources has, today, to be oriented towards different ethical dilemmas, problems and paradoxes of different kinds with very far reaching implications for the life of people in society and nature.

Indeed, we had a very fruitful meeting in Turku and we would indeed like to thank warmly Professor Juha Räikkä from the Philosophy department at Turku University who supervised the local organization. Moreover, we would also like to thank the participants in this symposium for their interesting contributions to the general discussions of our study group.

Axel Honneth: The law of freedom – Institutionalization of freedom in modern societies – A reconstruction and some remarks

 

 

Introduction: A theory of institutionalization of freedom

I understand Honneth’s book Das Recht der Freiheit (Suhrkamp 2011) as an argument for human freedom and autonomy in modern society that is based on a normative interpretation of legal, moral and social institutionalization of freedom in modern societies. In this sense Honneth’s book represents a re-interpretation and application of G.W.F Hegel’s concept of Freiheit als Sittlichkeit der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft. I would argue that the central theme of the book is the description of processes of institutionalization that lead to the emergence of freedom as the most important legal, moral and social value of the modern society.

 

The book begins with a presentation of Honneth’s method that can be characterized as a kind of normative sociology or sociological philosophy in the sense that he characterizes theory of justice as analysis of society. The method is based on “normative reconstruction” of the basis of the social institutions of liberal democracy. Here we can say that the starting point is closer to the later Habermas’ idea of facticity and validity and to the later Rawls’ idea of overlapping consensus than it is to the more idealist and metaphysical positions proposed by these authors in their early works (p. 21). Honneth describes the prevailing norms of justice and morality of freedom in liberal democracies of the Western world with Hegel’s philosophy of rights as points of inspiration. Normative reconstruction also means reconstruction of the legal and moral legitimacy of the institutions of liberal democracy. Normative reconstruction leads to an analysis of the social reality of liberal democracies. The idea is to describe the institutionalized conditions of normativity. The premises for this are: 1) Social reproduction of a society is determined by the shared universal values of such a society; 2) Justice cannot be understood independently of these generally shared values and ideals; 3) The plurality of these values and ideas can be found in the social practices of this society that must be distilled out of the society; 4) This leads to the understanding of the Sittlichen institutions and practices of this society (p. 30). This concept of justice is to be considered as a post-traditional concept of Sittlichkeit in society.

 

Honneth begins by considering the historical conditions of the emergence of the values and ideals of justice of modern society (p. 35). Important for the emergence of modern society is the idea of individual autonomy and authenticity as the meaning of life. Individual freedom has replaced collective conceptions of the good. Honneth sees the focus on autonomy and self-determination as essential to modernity. In particular we can speak about a negative, a reflective and a social conception of freedom that express a differentiation of the concept due to the complexity of modern society. Negative freedom is linked to the philosophy of the social contract coming from Hobbes. But we also find this concept of negative freedom in Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist philosophy and finally in Nozick’s his philosophy of the social contract. Honneth argues that this concept is not enough to constitute the goals for the subject, because something must be presupposed. Therefore the reflective and the social conception of freedom become important. The reflective concept implies that the free individual can determine rationally his or her actions. This is based on a distinction between heteronymous and autonomic action. Rousseau and Kant are representatives of this conception. Autonomy and self-realization according to the idea of rationality are important dimensions of this concept, which forgets however the institutional dimension of freedom that we find in the social concept of freedom. This concept of freedom goes beyond the individual concepts of freedom in Habermas and Apel and goes back to the concept of freedom in Hegel’s philosophy of right. Mutual recognition in social institutions is an important part of this idea of freedom (p. 85). This is what Hegel calls the mutual institutions of mutual recognition. In this context, the central aspect of Honneth’s argument is Hegel’s concept of recognition of freedom as essential to the institutions of liberty in the modern society that are realized not only in the state, but also in the market and in civil society. Honneth gives a detailed account of the concepts of recognition and institutions at the basis of Hegel’s concept of law and justice as emerging as a part of the social institutions of the “Sittlichkeit of society” (p. 85-118).

 

On the basis of this discussion of Hegel, Honneth is able to present his own conception of “democratic Sittlichkeit” as essential to the institutions of freedom in modern liberal societies (p. 199) . Here Honneth understands his theory of democratic freedom as a theory of the legitimacy of the social order. He researches into the institutionalizations of values and conceptions of justice in liberal democracies where the value of freedom and equality through recognition become integrated in the institutional spheres of action in society. In this sense the idea of freedom is essential to justice and we can use this concept of universal freedom and recognition as a defense for correction of social pathologies and deviances in relation to the generally accepted normative ideas of freedom and justice. In this, through the research on the conditions for freedom and justice, the normative ideas of the democratic Sittlichkeit are explained.

 

On this basis Honneth discusses the possibility of freedom (p. 129) in relation to law and ethics. He begins with the presentation of the concept of legal freedom. This freedom is the condition of collective autonomy in civil society’s cooperation and also for democratic decision-making based on collective autonomy. The ethical idea of legal freedom is the effort to ensure private autonomy. In this sense legal freedom is understood as individual freedom. Honneth defines legal freedom on the basis of Hegel’s concept of personal rights (p. 134). Hegel proposed a system of positive rights in modernity. With Hannah Arendt we can refer to legal personhood as “protective mask” of the individual. The law of freedom implies this development of the legal rights of the subject. Subjective and negative rights are essential for the freedom of individual action, as suggested by Mill in his defense of the rights of belief, opinion and freedom of expression. This category of subjective rights includes rights of freedom and of participatory rights as the foundation of democratic communication and decision-making. However, it is also a limit to this idea of freedom that it is built on private autonomy and rights defined by its negative character. It is true that the law shall protect personal autonomy and freedom, but this is not enough – behind this lies the development of a society built on communal practices and cooperation in civil society (p. 156). 

 

Indeed, Honneth is well aware of the social pathologies of legal freedom in modern society. Social pathology is defined as something that emerges when people don’t understand the meaning of social norms of freedom and law and here we can speak about social pathologies. These pathologies can be people who misuse the system and ignore the rationality of subjective rights. They use the law to promote their own interest. This happens for example in the increasing tendency of legalization of the human life world and of life communities. This dynamics of the social pathology can for example be found in the movie with Dustin Hoffman Kramer vs. Kramer, where a divorce ends in a bitter fight about the custody of the child in court. The pathology is that the life world is ignored and the legalization of human affairs becomes an end in itself and we experience alienation and misunderstanding of the significance of moral freedom (p. 172).

 

Honneth describes the institutionalization of moral freedom in modern society as closely related to the institutionalization of legal freedom. Originally morality was the regulation of desire and a sort of rationalization of life in nature. Morality can be said to constitute the intersubjective limitations on actions. Moral autonomy comes from the idea of self-determination, as discussed in Rousseau and Kant. The Kantian idea of moral freedom is built on the concept of moral autonomy. This implies that human beings should strive to be moral persons and valued by others as moral persons. Respect and recognition of human dignity in the social life world is an essential dimension of this concept of morality (p. 181). To have dignity is not only due to intrinsic dignity as being created in the image of God, but indeed also a social dignity to which the individual him- or herself is important. Dignity can be defined as linked to the moral self-definition and self- creation of individuals with good moral identity. Kirstine Korsgaard has in this context defined the Kantian approach as an approach to the building and construction of one’s own practical identity. What are important are not only the categorical imperatives but indeed also the practical identity of the subject. To have a moral identity is to have a moral aim with your own life where you take responsibility for your own humanity. Self-legislation and moral autonomy in the Kantian sense means to take responsibility for your own life as the moral self-legislator of your life.

 

Habermas contributes to this discussion by emphasizing the importance of the moral socialization process. Legal freedom is interpreted through social freedom. Here we have the institutionalization of moral freedom in modern societies. We can refer to a cultural idea of moral in post-traditional societies where the cultural institutionalization of freedom is a part of this institutionalization of recognition. This process is a communicative and dialogical process where there is an on-going public discussion about conceptions of dignity and appropriate intersubjective moral norms in civil society.

 

Like his description of the legal social pathologies Honneth also describes the social pathologies of morality. Here we can observe a focus on personal absolute morality in contrast to intersubjective norms. The pathologies of morality could for example be the moralism of personal autonomy, where the duty to follow a certain kind of universalism means that the individual fails to take into account the social context (p. 209). This kind of focus on personal autonomy leads to rigid morals where the moral conception can lead to personal moral self-destruction. This is for example described in the novels of Henry James where the will to do good is in danger of leading to self-destruction (p. 212). Here personal autonomy leads to bad moralism and ignorance of social conditions of recognition and dignity. A similar pathology can be found in the moralist political extremism of terrorism, for example in the position of Ulrike Meinhof, who adopted a personal leftist moralism as the justification of her terrorist actions.

 

On the basis of this reconstruction of the foundations of freedom Honneth goes on to describe the reality of freedom in democratic liberal democracies. The reconstruction of the social life practice as based on recognition and personal autonomy in moral decision-making has to be demonstrated as being institutionalized as patterns of social action in different aspects of society. Honneth distinguishes between three important spheres of institutionalization of the norms of freedom and moral autonomy: 1) friends, love and family relations; 2) market relations; 3) relations in the political community. The intersubjective dimensions in these different groups illustrate different determinations of decisions based on freedom in the different institutions of society.

 

Honneth emphasizes that personal relations between friends and love relations in personal relations and in the family are based on freedom rather than on paternalism or pre-established social norms and hierarchies. Although it is considered informal, friendship may be conceived as social institution today. There is a difference between the ancient and modern concept of friendship, because friendship today is build on mutual affection without interest. Friendship is based on the romantic concept of the free encounter between friends. As an institution friendship can be said to illustrate the institutionalization of common ideas of community in a common normative structure. Even though it is based on freedom and mutual affection we can now say that friendship based on freedom has become an important institution in modern society.

 

With regard to love and intimacy, freedom is also considered an essential concept. Honneth argues that we can perceive the institutionalization of the principle of romantic love as the basis for intimate encounters. We are free to make our intimate connections and these are built on our own moral responsibility. Autonomous morality and freedom are proposed as the basis for sexual relations. The relations are based on love and freedom and the emergence of all kinds of couples or singles show this principle of freedom as essential in modernity.

 

The principle of free sexual relations has had an impact on the concept of the family where the encounter of man and women is also based on social freedom and the family as such is today becoming a place of social freedom. The family is now a place for individual self-realization. We see the emergence of different forms of constructed families that to a large extent are built on principles of free self-realization. Equality rather than authority is an important principle for organizing the family. Equality in families is indicated by the fact that the relation between man and woman is built on partnership between father and mother. Also recognition plays a much bigger role in the relations between children and parents in a situation where people live longer and mutual recognition between generations is emerging. In this sense moral autonomy plays a great importance in the social roles of family members. We see the institutionalization of a much more democratic family built on freedom and moral responsibility. This is a family based on mutual cooperation, love and recognition in contrast to a family based on authoritarianism and paternalism.

 

We can, according to Honneth, also see the emergence of the new law and morality of freedom if we look at the economic market. Honneth argues that the economic market also contributes to the institutionalization of social freedom in the capitalist economy. Honneth wants to provide a normative reconstruction of the contribution to social freedom of the market economy. He goes back to Adam Smith and takes up his problem about the morality of the market. The problem is how the market can be said to mediate social action. Here we can consider the market freedom as an extension of social freedom in the spheres of consumption and production. However, the question is whether this is an error in capitalism – a subversive doctrine that leads to the dissolution of capitalism.

 

Honneth defines capitalism and its markets as free economic exchange of goods and services. Historically speaking it was the legal subject (most of the time a man with property) who had the right to exchange in the market. The basis for behavior in the market was strategic utility maximization and calculation of cost/benefits. According to Honneth, both Hegel and Durkheim tried to investigate the normative dimensions of the capitalist system in order to go beyond that system and propose a new economic order with another value-orientation of the economic institutions. Honneth finds a paradox in this line of question that ask the questions about why the market should refer to pre-market norms when the market is about individual utility and utility maximization. The answer of Honneth is that intersubjective norms govern the market when we consider the market from the point of view of normative institutionalism, where morality is considered to be a part of the economic exchange. Honneth refers to Polanyi and Parsons to explain this dimension of the market economy. The question is “What is the Sittlichkeit of the Market System?” (p. 343) Such question have occupied the communitarian philosopher Etizioni and the German economist Hirsch and they search for the capacity of coordinating social action within the economy itself and contribute to legitimacy of the market system in society. With the focus on the principles of social cooperation it the market, Honneth wants to overcome Marx’s negative concept of capitalism and give a normative reconstruction of the concept of freedom within the market economy in liberal society.

 

Honneth focuses on the sphere of consumption and in particular the development of consumer culture where the market receives legitimation from the norms of the consumers. In fact, the culture of consumption can be seen as a medium for recognition, whilst the moral reaction of the consumers to corporations has an impact on the corporations. Honneth emphasizes that today the capitalist system requires its legitimacy from the consumer and these new conditions of consumption and production contribute to the legitimacy of the market through the consumer. We see how globalization of the market is realized through mass consumption and we see the emergence of morally and legally responsible critical consumers, what we can call “the consumer citizen” (p. 377). This critical consumer is aware of the necessity of having respect for human dignity (p. 377). At the same time reference to consumer citizens may be able to incorporate the critique of consumer society, since there is a struggle for recognition and a possible mutual recognition implied in the moral economy between seller and consumer where they struggle for the realization of the mutual legitimate recognition (p. 381). So Honneth emphasizes that the principles of legitimation are implicit in the consumer market. There is a search for ideal perfectibility regarding consumption built into the individual and corporations have to respond to this in order to get legitimacy. Moreover the consumer citizen takes up the criticism of mass consumption (Adorno, Arendt) and act critically in relation to this. In contributing to establishment of international institutions the consumer citizen also pushes for the establishment of national and international institutions that contribute to the moralization the economy.

 

After this normative reconstruction of market mediated consumption Honneth looks at the labor market. He reminds us that work was important for Hegel in his Philosophy of Right. Honneth also considers work and the labor market as central for the emergence of a moral economy. The capitalist organization of work has historically implied manipulation and oppression of the workers. Then they organized themselves in workers movement and organized struggle for recognition and social freedom on the labor market. This fight for social freedom implies a struggle for cooperation and recognition in the labor market (p. 431). The organization of workers in trade unions is an important dimension for establishing freedom in the capitalist system. It is important to humanize the work in this world. In particular, democratic organization of the economy and of business can contribute to this. Honneth argues that social freedom in the organizational sphere of corporations and business is dependent on the struggle for recognition by the workers. It is important to contribute to this humanization of work. Since the 1970s there has however been a neoliberal rationalization and technification of the capitalist system and workers have more to fight for in order to achieve freedom in the organized capitalism of the Western world. Here, all kinds of organizations, for example trade unions or welfare organizations, can contribute to the mutual recognition. In particular transnational unions in times of globalization are important for creating freedom in a civilization of capitalism.

 

The final section of the book presents the reality of democratic will formation in liberal democracies in a historical perspective. Honneth focuses on democratic public spheres, the democratic legal state and political culture. He begins by emphasizing that the potentiality of public deliberation in a free public sphere is essential to understand the reality of freedom in a modern society. Since the French revolution and the enlightenment this has been essential for creating social freedom in the public sphere. Deliberative decision making in a public sphere is an essential legitimation principle of a liberal democracy. We can say that we have experienced the social institutionalization of principles of democracy through the emergence of the free public sphere in Western democracies. Here equality of citizens and liberal rights of freedom based on the constitution are essential for creating a democratic public sphere. The morality of citizens is created through the institutionalization of social and democratic public spheres and debates. The normative idea of social freedom is a result of a democratic public sphere (p. 500). Public exchange of opinion is essential for this democratic public sphere in modern society. As Arendt and Habermas have shown, the media are important for democratic politics. Communicative freedom and the deliberative public sphere contribute to exchange of opinion and different points of view. With Habermas we can emphasize the importance of having both a national and international public sphere. With the new media and digital divide and the development of the internet we face, however, both possibilities and possible limitations of democratic freedom in open and free public spheres.

 

The democratic legal state built on the rule of law implies the realization of social liberty. The rule of law is a reflexive dimension of the state. The state is a reflexive notion and the democratic state was conceived as the opposite of National Socialism. This state is based on the legitimation by the people’s sovereignty in democratic legislation processes. Constitutional states follow specific norms of Sittlichkeit with a reflexive distance to the democratic legal state. The normative self-understanding of the European states implies a reaction against totalitarianism and in particular the rule of law against Hitler. In particular, we can talk about totalitarianism as the opposite to democracy. The universal declaration of human rights that was very modern even for modern democracy was established as a counter-reaction to the totalitarian regimes of the Second World War. We can also talk about the tension between nationalism and the rule of law in the Rechtsstaat or the tension between nationalism and people’s democracy. The concept by Habermas about Verfassungspatriotismus has been proposed to deal with this topic.

 

Finally Honneth discusses the concept of political culture as essential to the reality of the Rechtsstaat. Political culture is the reality of the realization of freedom in a democratic society. This institutionalization of the rule of law of the Rechtsstaat today also has an international dimension in the sense that the political public sphere, for example in the EU goes beyond the national borders towards the international community.

 

Some critical remarks to Honneth’s theory of the liberal state follow.

How should we evaluate his approach to the institutionalization of freedom in modern society? I will now propose three critical remarks for discussion.

 

The first remark concerns Honneth’s method of analysis. This method is very promising and I think that this constitutes the real novelty of the book. The focus on institutions and institutionalization is very important to make the bridge between philosophy and the social sciences. Moreover, I agree that this approach is very important for the definition of the relation between ethics and law in modern democratic states. However, it may be argued that this approach has already been worked out before. This is for example the case in Ricoeur’s work One-Self-as-Another from 2002, where the concept of institution as inspired by Hegel is a central concept. Ricoeur has an advantage with regard to Honneth because Ricoeur is able to introduce the concept of the good life that is not really there in Honneth’s approach. Ricoeur talks about “the good life for and with the other in just institutions”. Moreover there is no reference to the whole tradition of institutional theory within the social sciences in Honneth’s book. This is sad because then we don’t really have the dialogue between philosophical institutionalism and other kinds of institutionalisms. Moreover, it may be argued that the kind of combination of normative and descriptive analysis that Honneth proposes makes it difficult to advance any real argument of normative ethical, legal or political theory. In fact, this book is not so much a normative argument as a presentation of some lines of development in modern society. As such the book is confronted with competing arguments, as for example the Danish professor of political science Ove Kaj Petersen with his book about the recent developments of the state from welfare state to competition state in the book Konkurencestaten (the competition state). Why is the story that Honneth presents more compelling than the more negative story that is presented by Ove Kaj Pedersen? Here we need better and more advanced argument.

 

The proposal of the theory of law and morals may be conceived as the strongest part of the book. However, we can also propose some critical questions to this theory. In particular, we can address the substance of the theory that focuses so much on individual rights. I may be argued that it is not individual rights that are so important in the Rechtsstaat but rather democracy as community. It is not clear how this focus on individual rights makes the move from negative freedom to positive freedom. Indeed, it may be argued that the concept of rights may destroy the possibility of really founding a political community based on shared interests in the good. What Honneth seems to propose seems to be a very liberal theory that does not really correspond with his Hegelian starting point. Moreover, we may criticize his use of Kant to define the basis of his approach to the morality of freedom. It seems very idealistic to presuppose that people today act according to the moral law when they create their identity. Rather, we may refer to existentialist or postmodern concepts of identity, which seem much closer to the reality of life in the modern state and correspond to the elimination of politics in favor of individual rights. I cannot see that Honneth really achieves his point by reintroducing the Kantian concept of morality as a case of identity. In fact, Honneth’s position also becomes nearly neo-liberal, because so much emphasis is laid on individual rights rather to present the common good in the Res Publica as important. Here I also think that Ricoeur’s concept of the good life with and for the other in just institutions gives the communitarian elements of analysis that we really need to make Honneth’s argument convincing.

 

When we deal with the reality of freedom in modern society there are many problems in the book. The analysis of the spheres of recognition in the family seem to forget all the power relations that still persist in society and a Foucauldian approach to the family would be able to show many contradictions of the freedom of individuals in the family. Moreover, there are many critical questions to ask in relation to Honneth’s analysis of romantic love as the basis of intimacy. There may also be the manipulation of individual through forcing them to be free. As Rousseau says “L’homme est libre mais partout il est en fer”.

 

Moreover, the analysis of economic life and freedom in the market is far from convincing, although the general intention of moralizing the economy is very important. Honneth has understood the necessity of rethinking the capitalist economy in the perspective of virtues and ethics, but his Marxist basis of analysis and the prejudices of critical theory make it impossible for him to take the final step and understand the real emancipator elements of the idea of the moral economy. Here we should look at the whole basis for ethical interaction in the economy and, taking the Weberian perspective of looking at the ideal values of economic exchange, make it possible to understand much more of the functions of the moral economy. Honneth mentions the work of Etizioni on this point but he does not get into deeper analysis of much more recent literature on business ethics and corporate social responsibility and this makes his analysis rather general and not very innovative in relation to the recent debates in business ethics and management ethics.

 

Honneth has a good argument for the political consumer and legitimacy of consumption but he does not include recent literature in business ethics and institutions and therefore he does not really contribute something new or relevant. To propose unions as the basis for political freedom in the workplace also seems to be not very new in today’s discussions. Much more detailed analysis is needed here. For example of the interactions between unions and top management and how they contribute to develop stakeholder management in large corporations.

 

Indeed, in his final discussions of the deliberative politics and the importance of critical public space as essential for a democratic political culture, I can hardly see that Honneth presents anything new in comparison with Habermas. In fact we may argue that Honneth is much too positive to the reality of this political culture and that he does not take into account the many recent distortions of that culture. However, the critical remarks on the internet and the digital divide and democracy show a certain awareness of the important contradiction of democracy in the present context of society.

 

Reference

Axel Honneth: Das Recht der Freiheit. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2011.

 

Beyond Subjectivity. Levinas, Kierkegaard and the Absolute Other

 

However, since the thinkers both passed away, there are two possibilities: to side with one of them, thus criticizing the other, or to analyze their writings, in order to individuate analogies and differences from a third perspective. I would be a very bad lawyer, so I prefer to be a peace officer, opting for the second choice. I will show that, notwithstanding the deep divergences separating Levinas and Kierkegaard, there are also clear points in common, that the former (and perhaps even the latter) would never have admitted. The tension of subjectivity beyond itself, toward Infinity, will be the key point of their encounter.

1. The refusal of impersonal totality

First of all, Levinas and Kierkegaard are thinkers of singularity. Their philosophical reflection starts with a critique to Hegel and to the universal Spirit. The latter manifests itself in history, knowledge and ethics. The so-called Totality involves all the aspect of human life, considering individuals as parts of a greater plan, the immanent becoming of the Spirit toward the highest awareness of Itself.1 Each man is considered as a necessary, but only functional element of a super-individual entity, whose norms rule thinking and action.

Kierkegaard strongly lashes out against Hegel and his oblivion of singularity. It does not mean that the former denies the existence of universal principles of knowledge and ethics. As a matter of fact, societies are ruled by norms that everyone is expected to follow. One of these norms is the respect of human life, especially of the members of one’s family.

When Abraham, in Fear and Trembling, is commanded by God to kill his own son, he falls into a deep crisis.

There is no higher expression for the ethical in Abraham’s life than that the father shall love the son. The ethical in the sense of moral is entirely beside the point. Insofar as the universal was present, it was cryptically in Isaac, hidden, so to speak, in Isaac’s loins, and must cry out with Isaac’s mouth: Do not do this, you are destroying everything.2

Abraham knows that the sacrifice of Isaac means both a transgression of Jewish ethics and an unbearable suffering for the lost of his only child. God wants His gift back, without giving any reason. Abraham, a man of faith, obeys to the divine command and prepares his son for the sacrifice. His knife is ready to get dirty of his own blood. God then decides to hold the hand of the patriarch, who has proved his obedience enough.

Notwithstanding the reassuring epilogue, Abraham makes his choice for God’s sake and despite ethics. Silentio, Kierkegaard’s pseudonym in Fear and Trembling, justifies this decision as the highest expression of singularity. Faith is defined as a paradoxical push, according to which “the single individual is higher than the universal” and “determines his relation to the universal by his relation to the absolute, not his relation to absolute by his relation to the universal”3.

The highness of singularity is then due to its relation to the Absolute. Totality and God are the two extremes among which the individual takes place. To follow the former or the latter is due to a choice.4 The weight of each alternative is different: faith requires a leap, an act of courage and will directed to the highest task of a human being, ethics is a renounce to a real subjectivity. Shortly, the utmost duty of a person is to become singular, which requires one to be a believer.

Even if Silentio does not understand the movements of faith, because he does not experience them, he sees them through other men’s actions. The example of Abraham, and of other knights of faith, is the expression of a path toward infinity and real happiness.5 Silentio, talking about the story of the patriarch, admits the impossibility to know the secret of his interiority. He describes the experience of another man, without understanding it, without grasping the relation between the latter and God. Here two important aspects come out: the first is the irreducibility of an individual to another, the second is the uniqueness of the relation to Infinity.

Levinas seems to forget both when he criticizes Kierkegaard in Difficult Freedom and Proper Names. He denies every commitment of the latter with Jewish philosophy. First of all, the concept of faith as a leap, as a decision of free will, has to be excluded. Judaism believes in the Torah, in the law belonging to the religious tradition.6 Secondly, Levinas reproaches Kierkegaard to put religion above ethics. According to the former, the latter is guilty of the amoralism of Nietzsche and other contemporary thinkers, who philosophize with the hammer, regardless of everything.7

Defining ethics as belonging to Totality means confusing the tyranny of the Same with the one-for-the-other, the pre-original push of first philosophy. If the faith was an act of freedom, it would be considered prior to responsibility. And the latter is, in Levinas’ thought, the principal feature of ethics.

Subjectivity is in that responsibility and only irreducible subjectivity can assume a responsibility. That is what constitute the ethical. 8

Levinas does not agree with the concept of ethics expressed by Silentio in Fear and Trembling and proposes another view, which is not in contrast with religion. The author of Difficult Freedom is right in underlining the differences between Jewish tradition and Kierkegaard’s thought, but he seems to ignore what the latter writes in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript.

Here another pseudonym, Climacus, expresses his concept of ethics. If becoming a subject is the highest duty of a human being, as it was said before, it is what both ethics and religion ask him. While objective thought, and totality, demand the individual to become an observer, giving birth to an impersonal ethics, subjective thought does not claim to grasp external truth but inner one. Ethics is present everywhere God is, in the historical process as in the secret of inwardness.9 However, the individual cannot have a perfect knowledge of the former as he has of the latter. According to both ethics and religion, the man has to become a subject.

Therefore, says the ethical, dare, dare to renounce everything, including this loftily pretentious and yet delusive intercourse with world-historical contemplation; dare to become nothing at all, to become a particular individual, of whom God requires everything, without your being relieved of the necessity of being enthusiastic; behold, that is the venture! But then you will also have gained that God cannot in all eternity get rid of you, for only in the ethical is your eternal consciousness; behold, that is the reward! 10

Even if Levinas has read the Concluding Unscientific Postscript, criticizing the “becoming subject” of the individual,11 he does not consider that religion here agrees with ethics. He seems to ignore that Kierkegaard always writes through pseudonyms and that every pseudonym has a singular perspective, which never coincides with the perspective of another pseudonym. This is why Silentio and Climacus have different views of ethics and religion. What Climacus says seems to be more detailed and, perhaps, similar to Kierkegaard’s thought: he underlines the difference between objective and subjective ethics. While the former expresses totality, the latter belongs to singularity.

Subjective ethics is very close to Levinas’ one, since the individual is seen in his uniqueness of election. He emancipates from totality and objectivity, looking for his principles in relation to God, to Infinity. The criticism of Hegelian thought is strong both in Levinas and Kierkegaard, thus leading to singularity and to a responsibility which cannot be transferred to anyone else.

The philosophers both contest the absorption of the Other in the Same and state the necessity of an individual ethical answer. They are, generally, against every impersonal system, even if Levinas does not recognize this aspect in Kierkegaard’s thinking. Accusing the latter of violence and amoralism seems really unjustified.12

Anyway, Levinas is not always severe with his predecessor. He appreciates Kierkegaard’s scepticism towards objective truth and the immanence of thought. Actually, in the Postscript, Climacus points out the limits of disciplines as mathematics or history, which are inevitably incomplete and make the subject accidental. Becoming an observer deprives the latter of its individuality, whose existence is wholly indifferent.13 Levinas makes the same criticism to Husserl’s intentionality, which sees the ego as an impersonal “who”. The immanence of thought, the sleep of il y a (“there is”), is the greatest alienation for a human being. He becomes an individual only when he is independent from theoretical activity.14

Being subjective is thus a necessary task for both philosophers. It implies a separation from universal knowledge and, furthermore, a relation to absolute alterity. Kierkegaard states that subjective truth involves a passion of the infinite. What really matters is not the correspondence between the thought and the object, that is the idea of God and God Himself. Subjective thought is focused on inwardness, on the relation between God and the ego. Subjective truth is nothing else than faith. Objectively, it is a paradox and implies uncertainty.15 However, Kierkegaard gives it the highest value and Levinas clearly appreciates it.

Thus Kierkegaard brings something absolutely new to European philosophy: the possibility of attaining truth through the ever-recurrent inner rending of doubt, which is not only an invitation to verify evidence, but a part of evidence itself. I think that Kierkegaard’s philosophical novelty is in his idea of belief. Belief is not, for him, an imperfect knowledge of truth, a truth without certainty, a degradation of knowledge.16

Doubt implies a continuous retreat from certainty, presumed by the right sciences and historical knowledge. It pushes toward the pursuit of something else, whose existence is not proved. Doubt is inseparable from belief, from subjective truth. Objectively, it is an expression of an imperfect knowledge, while, subjectively, it is the expression of truth itself. The uncertainty of the latter implies justification, or even silence.17 The choice of “Silentio” as a pseudonym for Fear and Trembling reflects the impossibility of Abraham to communicate his behaviour to his people. Subjective truth is an individual experience, requiring a relation with an absolute and unknowable alterity.

The uncertainty of faith does not imply either degradation or negativity. The same can be said about the idea of God in Levinas’ philosophy. In Totality and Infinity, the Infinite in the finite causes a breach in theoretic intentionality, overflowing every concept. Human thought is imperfect, because it is incapable of containing God. It does not mean that the perfect (infinite) is a negation of the imperfect (finite), but that the perfect transcends the imperfect. The idea of Infinity is then positive: it is not a lack of relation, but a relation to the absolutely distant.18

This relation, according to both Kierkegaard and Levinas, cannot be expressed with an objective knowledge. Turning to transcendence means separating from universal thought and becoming a subject. Furthermore, recognizing one’s own individuality means, at the same time, recognizing the irreducibility of the other person.

Even if the philosophers agree on this general statement, there are some differences separating them. While Kierkegaard is more concerned for the subject, Levinas gives priority to the other. According to the former, truth is subjectivity because it is focused on individual experience: “that every human being is such an entity existing for himself, is a truth I cannot too often repeat”19. It implies that one is able to know one’s inwardness, one’s own existence, but is unable to grasp alterity.20 The irreducibility of the subject is the condition of the irreducibility of the other.

The author of Totality and Infinity thinks in the opposite way: the irreducibility of the other is prior to the individuation of the self. While Kierkegaard focuses only on the separation of the ego from totality, Levinas has two concerns: the individuation of the subject and the irreducibility of the other to the violence of the ego. Thinking through intentionality and acting through free will are means of power on the other person. This is why Levinas puts responsibility before freedom and the other before the self.21

The subject, in Kierkegaard, follows its own will: the leap of faith is an act of freedom. It does not mean that life involves egoism, since the other person is important. The relation to God does not make sense without a commitment to the neighbour.22 Levinas does not say that the subject is not free, but that responsibility precedes will. At this point, the subject is considered in a passive acceptation (“subject to”), not as an “I”, but as a “me”.23

The priority of the other on the self is what differentiates Levinas from Kierkegaard. That aside, they both refuse impersonal totality, conceived as a theoretical and/or ethical system. They also assert the relation to Infinity as a modality of subjective uniqueness, that leads to recognize the irreducibility of the other person.

2. The irreducibility of the Infinite

Another point in common between Levinas and Kierkegaard is the view of Infinity itself. It coincides with God, who is absolutely Other and distant from the subject.

Precisely because there is the absolute difference between God and man, man expresses himself most perfectly when he absolutely expresses the difference. 24

Kierkegaard’s thought is extraordinary. This sentence places him in the middle of Christian tradition and contemporary philosophy. The author of Fear and Trembling never hides his protestant culture and concern for the life of faith. Anyway, his thought is not strictly theological, but primarily existential. The relation to Infinity, apart from its religious meaning, gives the highest sense to individual life. It does not matter if God exists or not, if He is a supreme being or something else. This is a concern of observers, of objective thinkers. What is really important is the relation between the subject and the divine, the finite and the infinite. Turning to transcendence, to the absolutely Other, is the only way for the individual to be itself. God is distant and irreducible to the subject, but, at the same time, extremely close. Dealing with infinity means dealing with one’s inwardness, with one’s utmost secret (Deus in interiore homine).

This secret cannot be communicated, only justified or expressed with silence. Saying the difference means exactly this: going beyond thought and language, thus facing incomprehension. The only way to express difference is manifesting Infinity in a finite existence.

Becoming subjective means becoming an extraordinary being, in the middle of worldly immanence and divine transcendence.25 The individual is called by God to follow a vocation in everyday life, to be a witness of His will. It implies going against the universal systems of thought and ethics, against an established order, to affirm individuality and follow what is asked to inwardness.

Notwithstanding the impossibility to grasp Infinity, the finite being answers to its call. The relation between the two goes beyond ontology and leads to ethics (not the universal one, but the one following religion). Infinity manifests itself through the evidence of a singular existence, so that the latter is, at the same time, the object of transcendence and the condition for its incarnation.26 There is a sort of exchange between Infinity and a finite being: the latter gives space to the former through transfiguration, while the former knows itself through the gaze of absolute alterity.27 Transfiguration (Forklarelse) is not an explanation (Forklaring), but an expression without words, recalled by the witness of faith.

The separation between man and God, that initially causes anxiety and a sense of alienation, becomes a push towards one’s own existence. When Abraham raises the knife over Isaac, he is answering to the divine call, even if he does not understand it. Leaving aside his people’s ethics and his sadness for the lost of the only child, he directs his free will toward the will of God. Abraham expresses Infinity through a finite action. And, when his hand is drawn back by a new command, he rejoices. He has obeyed and, at the same time, his son is alive. The epilogue of the story gives sense to the choice of Abraham: only through the paradox of the patriarch’s action the goodness of God is revealed. The passion for divinity, that pushes the individual toward an incomprehensible choice, leads to transfiguration. Infinity is expressed through the existence of a finite being.

Even according to Levinas, the distance between the finite and the infinite is overwhelming, though the latter is inside the former. The subject is separated from God and lives an independent life. It does not need anything else, but feels a tension inside. The relation between the finite and the infinite is Desire, which is not directed to fulfilment, but to absolute alterity.

Desire is absolute if the desiring being is mortal and the Desired invisible. Invisibility does not denote an absence in relation; it implies relations with what is not given, of which there is no idea. Vision is an adequation of the idea with the thing, a comprehension that encompasses. Non-adequation does not denote a simple negation or an obscurity of the idea, but – beyond the light and the night, beyond the knowledge measuring beings – the inordinateness of Desire. Desire is desire for the absolutely other. 28

This tension towards the absolutely Other is primarily affective. It goes beyond the limits of thought and the adequation of the object to its idea. The Desire of Infinity originally belongs to subjectivity, which is affected by transcendence in an exceptional way. It is the trace of absence, of otherwise than being. It is called illeity (from the latin ille, “he”) and is nothing else but the mark of an original creation. It cannot be grasped by thought, because it goes beyond ontology and does not imply the existence of the creator. It is a semantic ambiguity, what unsays itself without negating. The trace of Infinity cannot thus be represented, since there is nothing in common between the subject and God.29 Levinas’ concept of transcendence refuses theology and every interpretation of the man as representing God. The affective relation to an absolute alterity, paradoxical and impossible to be explained in words, thus unites both Levinas and Kierkegaard.

However, the former does not agree with the latter, when he describes the nature of the metaphysical desire. First of all, it has nothing to do with need or passion. The subject feels a tension to Infinity when its separation is complete: the ego is wholly atheist and its material needs are satisfied by the external world (“without separation there would not have been truth; there would have been only being”30). The Desire of God is not looking for fulfilment, but pushes the subject to ethics. The command of Infinity indicates the other person as the addressee of moral action and establishes freedom on responsibility.31

Levinas’ desire of Infinity is thus very different from Kierkegaard’s passion of Infinity. First of all, the latter has its root in anxiety, the former in responsibility. The revelation of God strikes Levinas’ subject when it is quiet and satisfied, pushing it towards the other person. Kierkegaard’s individual, instead, is troubled by doubt and looks for the unity with Infinity. Secondly, Kierkegaard’s passion is oriented towards activity, Levinas’ desire to passivity. Even if they are both sources of morality, the former is based on freedom, the latter on responsibility, which precedes freedom itself.

Shortly, the infinite is, according to both the thinkers, absolutely different from the finite. The latter is moved by the desire of the former, even if the authors do not agree on its nature: the tension is active and passionate for Kierkegaard, passive and responsible for Levinas. However, the desire of Infinity leads, according to both, to the ethical/religious behaviour.

3. From the absolute Other to the singular other

The desire of Infinity is that which primarily constitutes the subject. However, according to Levinas and Kierkegaard, it is not enough for the fulfilment of individual existence. Being subjective means, at the same time, put in practice one’s tension to ethics, whose direction is indicated by the divine command. The relation to the absolute Other thus leads to the relation to the singular other.

Levinas accuses Kierkegaard of transcending the ethical stage and ignoring the other person for the sake of religion.32 He seems not to have read the Works of Love, where the neighbour is essential for the life of faith: “the single individual is committed in the debt of love to other people”33. Stating the irreducibility of the subject and of the other person is not enough for Kierkegaard. It could lead to an egoistic life, where the relation to Infinity would be purely ascetical. The love towards the other person, instead, is a commitment that cannot be avoided.

Levinas is the philosopher of alterity par excellence, since the relation to the other, both singular and absolute, is constitutive of the subject. And this relation implies a radical view, that is the impossibility for the I to exercise its power on the other person. Even if the latter can be partially reduced to phenomenality or submitted to freedom, there is something escaping the grasp of the ego. When the subject is wholly constituted as separated, the other person reveals, through the Face, the command of Infinity.

Freedom is then inhibited, not as countered by a resistance, but as arbitrary, guilty, and timid; but in its guilt it rises to responsibility. […] The relation with the Other as a relation with his transcendence – the relation with the Other who puts in question the brutal spontaneity of one’s immanent destiny – introduces into me what was not in me.34

Immanence is considered brutal, because it submits the individual to the anonymity of Totality. The violence of thought and freedom are nothing but expressions of the tyranny of the Same. The encounter with the other person makes the subject aware not only of its own individuality (already discovered in the atheistic separation), but even of its own uniqueness. The transcendence of the Face is a transfiguration, not an incarnation, of the transcendence of God. The call of Infinity indicates the other person as the addressee of ethics, pushing the subject to responsibility. The latter cannot be assumed by anybody else, it is the sign of a uniqueness in election. The transcendence undoes the deepest core of the ego with an unavoidable assignation.35

Ethico-religious life is then directed by the divine call to the other person. Both Levinas and Kierkegaard see absolute alterity as directed towards singular alterity. It is a threefold relation, whose terms are the subject, God and the other person. However, the two thinkers have different views about its modality.

Kierkegaard thinks of the subject as directly relating to God, who is the very link between the self and the other: “in love for the neighbor, God is the middle term. Love God is above all else; then you also love the neighbor and in the neighbor every human being.”36 There is not any mediation between the finite and the infinite. Paradoxically, the mediation is between the finite ego and the finite other. The relation to Infinity is then primary, the real condition of the encounter with the other person.

Levinas thinks exactly in the opposite way. Even if the infinite is in the finite as a trace of creation, one has to meet the other to be aware of illeity. The middle term is, in this case, not God, but the other person.37 Singular alterity is the place where absolute alterity reveals itself. The call to responsibility happens simultaneously to the encounter of the Face. The phenomenal dimension of the other man refers to what transcends phenomenon itself. The paradox is that, without seeing the finite, it is impossible to relate to Infinity. Kierkegaard and Levinas describe the threefold relation among the subject, God and the other in two opposite, but equally paradoxical ways: according to the former, the finite needs the infinite to relate to the finite, according to the latter, the finite needs the finite to relate to the infinite.

Other differences between the two philosophers concern their general view on the subject and on the other. These poles are both important, but, as it was stated before, Kierkegaard gives priority to the former, Levinas to the latter. The author of Totality and Infinity takes the risk of alienating the subject, while his predecessor tends to fall into solipsism.

In Fear and Trembling, for instance, subjectivity experiences its vocation without being understood. Abraham, going against the ethics of his people, feels a tension between his behaviour and the external judgement. Kierkegaard’s knight of faith cannot help but feel a deep solitude.

His behaviour leads him to detach himself from the system of needs of his community, in order to follow his vocation. He is extraordinary and, for this reason, runs the risk of being misunderstood. The “tribunal of the world” condemns his actions, which are oriented to please the “tribunal of God”.38 And, since the former is always there and the latter does not need him, the individual is always on the verge of falling into the abyss of nothing.

What has been said about ethico-religious behaviour is valid also for subjective thinking, well described in the Postscript.

The reflection of inwardness is the subjective thinker’s double reflection. In thinking, he thinks the universal, but as existing in this thinking, as assimilating this in his inwardness, he becomes more and more subjectively isolated.39

The risk of solitude is then unavoidable. Even if the individual thinks to universality, he is not an abstract entity. He is a singular and concrete being, whose thought cannot be separated from his existence. It does not imply subjectivism, because the truth of an object does not depend from the belief of the subject. It is possible to have a general concept of how a human being thinks, since it is a matter of observation. The latter implies the possibility of communication and is not submitted to anxiety or other emotional states. This saves Kierkegaard’s philosophy from the extremes of solipsism, subjectivism and irrationality.40 However, subjective truth is more important than objective one. The highest task of a human being is not becoming an observer, but becoming subjective: one has to focus primarily on the relation between oneself and the object, that depends on the perception of one’s own inwardness.

Levinas, on his side, is worried about the violence of subjective thought and freedom. This is why he develops an asymmetrical ethics and puts the other above the I. The latter is called by the Infinite to a pre-original and unavoidable responsibility. This election makes the subject wholly unique, but is connected to a risk of alienation.

The subject in responsibility is alienated in the depths of its identity with an alienation that does not empty the same of its identity, but constrains it to it, with an unimpeachable assignation, constrains it to it as no one else, where no one could replace it.41

In Otherwise Than Being, the very core of the subject is undone by the other, who is inside the ego as ipseity. It is an expression of Levinas’ mature thought, where ethics is took to an extreme and identity is destroyed from inside. In Totality and Infinity, instead, the risk of alienation is avoided, because ipseity is still a nucleus of genuine egoism.42

Levinas, as much as he strives to save the subject from alienation, gives way to it in his mature thought. Kierkegaard, on the other side, is able not to fall in solipsism, but is on the edge of a cliff. Focusing on the subject or on the other leads the two thinkers to opposite forms of extremism. Notwithstanding this and the modal differences, they are united by a threefold view of the relation between the finite and the infinite: the subject (finite) relates to God (infinite), who leads it toward the other person (finite).

4. A lifelong suffering

The last aspect of the relation between the infinite and the finite in Levinas and Kierkegaard is an unavoidable suffering of the subject. The latter, in its tension towards God, cannot help but experience a pathos, inextricably connected to the conscience of its own limits.

Individual existence is, according to Kierkegaard, a synthesis of the finite and the infinite. It is the place where transcendence reveals itself through the actions of an exceptional singularity. The subject is thus in the middle between its own needs as a worldly entity and the tension to go beyond the systems regulating these needs and their satisfaction. Becoming subjective means living in this world and striving for another world. The individual who follows his vocation knows already what his priority is: he has to renounce to satisfy his needs, when they hinder the pursuit of eternal happiness.43

It is not a matter of doing something and avoiding something else. The tension to Infinity is not only a limit to hedonism or to universal ethical life. It completely changes the existence of an individual, orienting it to that which is always there. A finite need disappears according to the subjective mood or to its satisfaction, while Infinity is eternal. It does not matter if it exists in an ontological sense, because it is constitutive of the individual and transcends his inwardness.

The choice of a religious life, of following “that which is always there”, causes an unavoidable pathos.

But suffering as the essential expression for existential pathos means that suffering is real, or that the reality of the suffering constitutes the existential pathos; and by the reality of the suffering is meant its persistence as essential for the pathetic relationship to an eternal happiness. It follows that the suffering is not deceptively recalled, nor does the individual transcend it, which constitutes a retreat from the task […] Viewed religiously, it is necessary […] to comprehend the suffering and to remain in it, so that reflection is directed upon the suffering and not away from it.44

The reality of suffering implies the persistence of the tension to Infinity. God is constitutively inside the individual, but following His will is a choice. Who pursues eternal happiness cannot avoid suffering and has to remain in it. The voluntary component of Kierkegaard’s philosophy is here strongly evident.

Levinas’ thought, on the other side, refuses the power of free will in relation to Infinity.

But giving has a meaning only as a tearing from oneself despite oneself, and not only without me. And to be torn from oneself despite oneself has meaning only as a being torn from the complacency in oneself characteristic of enjoyment, snatching the bread from one’s mouth. […] Signification, the-one-for-the-other, has meaning only among beings of flesh and blood.45

The suffering of the subject does not depend on a choice, but happens “despite oneself” and comes from one’s original constitution. Being sensible means being permeated by the other in the fibres of one’s own skin. The divine command, which urges upon responsibility for the other person, is directed to the spoliation of one’s flesh. There is no distinction between body and soul: the man, as a sensitive being, is affected by the enjoyment of its pleasure and, at the same time, by the indigence of the other person.

Suffering is then involuntary in Levinas and voluntary in Kierkegaard. However, both agree on considering pain as constitutive of the relation to Infinity and ethical life. The individual who follows the divine command puts aside the satisfaction of his needs, in order to give himself to the other person.

The reason for suffering is the same in Levinas and Kierkegaard. What really separates them is its aim. Accepting pain of one’s existence makes sense only if oriented to afterlife, writes Kierkegaard. The pursuit of eternal happiness is the reason of renouncing to one’s need and pleasures. According to Levinas, on the other side, it does not matter if there is life after death. Responsibility has to be undertook despite any other reason.46

However, there is no certainty of an eternal happiness, neither in Kierkegaard nor in Levinas. According to the former, it is an orientation toward Infinity, a relational modality, according to the latter it has nothing to do with responsibility. They both theorize a life of possibility, of uncertainty and doubt, which, paradoxically, has a higher value than objective truth.

Levinas recognizes the positivity of possibility in Kierkegaard,47 even if he does not acknowledge the existence of a religious ethics in the Postscript. As it was stated before, Climacus distinguishes universal morality from subjective one: the former constitutes a dogmatic system, while the latter is inconclusive and ongoing. The tension to God, driving force of religious ethics, does not lead to the certainty of beatitude, but at least deploys its possibility.

Levinas and Kierkegaard, notwithstanding some differences, agree in stating the singularity of the subject, which primarily explicates itself in relation to Infinity. The absolute difference between man and God hinders whatsoever objective certainty, but it does not make it less important. To face Infinity inside oneself is inevitable and leads to the realization of one’s own existence. What is more, the divine command indicates the other person as its real addressee. Life means giving oneself to singular alterity. However, in spite of a correct ethical behaviour, striving for Infinity is connected with suffering.

An intense and almost unbearable pain, involving the body and the soul, accompanies the subject until the end of its life. Levinas and Kierkegaard both assert the inevitability of suffering, due to a uniqueness in election. Individual existence is where God reveals Himself and shows the way of giving. This path never ends, until life stops, until worldly existence gives space to a new existence, or, if faith is meaningless, to nothing else (the anxiety over doubt never ends). Subjectivity, despite its finiteness, infinitely strives for what goes beyond.

 

1 Cf. Hegel G. W. F., Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. by Miller A. V., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977, §§ 793, 805, 808.

2 Kierkegaard S., Fear and Trembling (FT), in Fear and Trembling/Repetition, ed. and trans. by Hong H. V. and Hong E. H., Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983, p. 59.

3 Ibid., p. 70.

4 According to Pojman, the leap of faith is an act of pure free will (cf. Pojman L., Religious Belief and the Will, London : Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986, pp. 143-8), while Sagi asserts that it has its root in existence (cf. Sagi A., Kierkegaard, Religion and Existence. The Voyage of the Self, Amsterdam-Atlanta: Rodopi B. V., 2000, p. 41).

5 Cf. FT, p. 33-9.

6 Cf. Levinas E., Difficult Freedom (DF), trans. by Hand S., London: The Athlone Press, 1990, p. 144.

7 Cf. DF, p. 117; Id., “Existence and Ethics”, in Proper Names (PN), trans. by Smith M. B., London: The Athlone Press, 1996, pp. 72-3; Id., “A propos of Kierkegaard vivant”, in op. cit., p. 76.

8 Cf. PN, p. 73.

9 Cf. Kierkegaard S., Concluding Unscientific Postscript (CUP), trans. by Swenson D. F., London: Humphrey Milford Oxford University Press, 1941, pp. 118-23.

10 Ibid., pp. 133-4.

11 Cf. PN, p. 76.

12 Cf. Simmons Aaron J. – Wood D., “Introduction: Good Fences May Not Make Good Neighbours After all”, in Simmons Aaron J. – Wood D. (eds.), Kierkegaard and Levinas: ethics, politics, and religion, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008, p. 2; Westphal M., “The Many Faces of Levinas as a Reader of Kierkegaard”, in op. cit., pp. 22-5, 32-9. According to Simmons, Levinas criticism of Kierkegaard is due to the influence of Jean Wahl (cf. Simmons A. J., “Existential Appropriation: The Influence of Jean Wahl on Levinas’s Reading of Kierkegaard”, in op. cit., pp. 51-67).

13 Cf. CUP, pp. 175-9.

14 Cf. Levinas E., Totality and Infinity: an Essay on Exteriority (TI), Duquesne: Pittsburgh, 1969, p. 119.

15 Cf. CUP, pp. 181-2.

16 PN, p. 77.

17 Cf. Simmons Aaron J. – Wood D., op. cit., p. 3; Simmons A. J., op. cit., pp. 48-9.

18 Cf. TI, pp. 24-5, 41.

19 CUP, p. 169.

20 This is even the presupposition of Kierkegaard’s deconstructive readers, who are against logocentric and one-way interpretations. Cf. Jegstrup E., “Introduction”, in Jegstrup E. (ed.), The New Kierkegaard, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004, pp. 1-2.

21 Cf. TI, pp. 21-7, 203-4; Id., Otherwise Than Being or Beyond Essence (OB), Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1981, pp. 15, 19-20, 88, 114-5, 138-9. Cf. also Janiaud J., Singularité et responsabilité. Kierkegaard, Simone Weil, Levinas, Paris: Honoré Champion, 2006, pp. 311-4.

22 Cf. Kierkegaard S., Works of Love (WOL), ed. and trans. by Hong H. V. and Hong E. H., Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995, p. 190. Cf. also Westphal M., op. cit., pp. 25-32.

23 Cf. OB, pp. 15-6, 50-6, 72-5, 142. Cf. also Llewelyn J., “Who or What or Whot”, in Simmons Aaron J. – Wood D. (eds.), op. cit., p. 72; Lellouche R., Difficile Levinas. Peut-on ne pas être levinassien ?, Paris-Tel Aviv : Editions de l’éclat, 2006, pp. 81-3.

24 CUP, p. 412.

25 Cf. Janiaud J., op. cit., pp. 155, 158.

26 Cf. Sagi A., op. cit., p. 134.

27 Cf. Podmore S. D., Kierkegaard and the Self Before God : Anatomy of the Abyss, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011, pp. xii-xiii, 180.

28 TI, p. 34.

29 Cf. OB, pp. 12-3, 151-2; TI, p. 104. On metaphysical Desire, cf. Ciaramelli F., “Levinas e la fenomenologia del desiderio”, in Moscato A. (ed.), Levinas. Filosofia e trascendenza, Genova: Marietti, 1992, pp. 144-58; Baccarini E., Lévinas. Soggettività e Infinito, Roma: Studium, 1985, pp. 40, 46-7. Lellouche defines it as a hetero-affection (cf. Lellouche R., op. cit., pp. 86-7). About the semantic ambiguity and non-representativeness of Infinity, cf. Baccarini E., op. cit., pp. 30-8; Chalier C., La trace de l’Infini. Emmanuel Levinas et la source hébraïque, Paris : Cerf, 2002, pp. 65-73 ; Moscato A., “Semantica della trascendenza. Note critiche su E. Levinas”, in Moscato A. (ed.), op. cit., pp. 58-9, 73-8; Plourde S., Emmanuel Lévinas. Altérité et responsabilité, Paris : Cerf, 1996, pp. 136-7 ; Rolland J., Parcours de l’autrement, Paris : PUF, 2000, pp. 1-2. According to Visker, the intrigue of the Infinite is anything but il y a, where the subject, being one-for-the-other, loses its individuality (cf. Visker R., Truth and Singularity. Taking Foucault into Phenomenology, Dordrecht-Boston-London: Kluwer, 1999, pp. 236-7, 241-6, 265-72).

30 TI, p. 60.

31 Cf. TI, pp. 50, 203-4. Cf. also Chalier C., op. cit., pp. 44-8, 56-60; Plourde S., op. cit., pp. 19-21; Petitdemange G., “Au dehors : les enjeux de l’alterité chez Emmanuel Lévinas”, in A. Münster (ed.), La différence comme non-indifférence. Éthique et altérité chez Emmanuel Lévinas, Paris : Kimé, 1995, pp. 30-2 ; Rolland J., op. cit., pp. 111-4. According to Westphal, Levinas’ transcendence is traumatic because it destabilizes the inwardness of the subject (cf. M. Westphal, “The Trauma of Transcendence as Heteronomous Intersubjectivity”, in M. M. Olivetti (ed.), Intersubjectivité et théologie philosophique, Padova : CEDAM, 2001, pp. 92-8).

32 Cf. PN, pp. 76-7.

33 WOL, p. 190.

34 TI, p. 203.

35 Cf. ibid., p. 279; OB, pp. 141-2.

36 WOL, p. 58. Cf. also ibid., p. 108. Gibbs points out that the alterity of the other person is mediated by the alterity of God (cf. Gibbs R., “I or You: The Dash of Ethics”, in Jegstrup E. (ed.), op. cit., p. 146). Seeskin states that the transcendence of Kierkegaard’s God is anonymous and excludes every form of dialogue (cf. Seeskin K., Jewish Philosophy in a Secular Age, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990, p. 134).

37 OB, p. 12. Cf. also Haar M., “L’obsession de l’autre. L’éthique comme traumatisme”, Cahiers de l’Herne : Lévinas 1991, pp. 444-5; Plourde S., op. cit., pp. 119-24; Rolland J., op. cit., pp. 106-9; Westphal M., “The Many Faces of Levinas as a Reader of Kierkegaard”, op. cit., p. 24.

38 Cf. Janiaud J., op. cit., pp. 191, 197, 308-10.

39 CUP, p. 61.

40 Cf. Gouwens D. J., Kierkegaard as religious thinker, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 49-53, 56.

41 OB, pp. 141-2.

42 Cf. TI, pp. 39, 44, 60, 117-8, 208, 277-9.

43 Cf. CUP, p. 350-3. According to Sagi, the voyage to Infinity and to the self are the same, since obeying to God’s will means realizing one’s own existence. Notwithstanding its weakness in understanding Infinity, the subject has the strenght to follow it. (cf. Sagi A., op. cit., p. 16, 147).

44 Ibid., pp. 396-7.

45 OB, p. 74. Unlike Westphal, Lellouche defines Levinas’ ethics as traumatic because it coincides with suffering (cf. Lellouche R., op. cit., pp. 54-7, 70-1).

46 Cf. OB, pp. 6, 117.

47 Cf. Sheil P., Kierkegaard and Levinas. The Subjunctive Mood, Farnham: Ashgate, 2010, pp. 4, 144-5.

The idea of University in a Cosmopolitan Perspective

 

1.Introduction
My focus here will be on the university. I do not so much have the Danish Copenhagen Business School (CBS) or MIT in Boston in mind as other big universities, both in Denmark and abroad. It is perhaps precisely because the universities called business schools have business as their main focus that they have been able to integrate humanistic disciplines without severe criticism from outside. In Denmark, for example, the threat against the humanities is much stronger in universities such as Copenhagen University, Aarhus University and the University of Southern Denmark than at CBS. Abroad we witness attacks on philosophy similar to the one we witnessed at the Danish School of Education at Aarhus University in 2010, only the attacks are worse. In Hungary, for example, in the fall of 2010, the new director of the philosophical institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, nominated by the new conservative government that also tried to enslave the press, has dismissed four philosophers and disqualified 15 out of 23 colleagues as “professionally unsuitable” (in German translation: fachlich ungeeignet). In addition, a police investigation has been initiated against the famous philosopher Agnes Heller and the vice-president of the Philosophical Society, Mihaly Vajda, for having received financial support from the former government. In England, a Centre for European Philosophy at the University of Middlesex in London was closed in the spring of 2010, and later on transferred to Kingston University. Moreover, in the spring of 2011, the Philosophy department at the university of Keele was threatened to be closed, but was prolonged for the next year after strong international protests.

For sure, this is only the top of the iceberg. Programs in the humanities disappear or are reduced in many universities today, and there is a worldwide serious threat to the humanities in the universities and scientific academies. In addition, many universities are increasingly turning into management institutions. In light of these tendencies, a fundamental question arises: What is a good university? Since a university is an institution, let us first consider the even more fundamental question: What is a good institution?

2. The ideas of an institution

Paul Ricœur defines the idea of an institution in his book Oneself as Another as “the good life with and for others, in just institutions.”1 What does he mean by “just institutions”? For Ricœur just institutions are neither about face-to-face relationships, nor about being submitted to domination. Rather, they allude to communities where everybody in principle is on an equal footing with everyone else. Justice consists in the fact that we recognize each other’s equal rights. Here Ricœur refers to the distinction elaborated by Hannah Arendt between power-in-common and domination. The latter goes back to Max Weber’s idea in Economy and Society that the relation of domination, Herrschaft, distinguishes the political institution of the State from all other institutions. Characteristic for this relation is that it separates the governing from the governed, and is based on a monopoly of violence. However, according to Arendt, the power-in-common is different. As she says in her most famous work, The Human Condition, power-in-common stems directly from the category of action and is “the only activity that goes on directly between men without the intermediary of things and matter” and so “correspond[s] to the human condition of plurality”.2

To Ricœur this concept of plurality is important if we want to understand the just institution, because it “suggests the extension of interhuman relations to all those who are left outside of the face-to-face encounter of an “I” and a “you” and remain third parties”3. This third party is always “the inclusive middle term within the plurality that constitutes power”, and will never be face in the sense of Emanuel Levinas: the other whom I encounter. It is anonymous in the literal sense of the term, having no name. While its power is fragile, “since it exists only as long as people act together and vanishes when they disperse”4, this fragility “is not the raw and naked vulnerability of mortals as such but the second order fragility of institutions and of all the human affairs gravitating around them.”5

However, Ricœur agrees with Arendt that this action in concert is invisible, “because it is so extensively covered over by relations of domination, and that it is brought to light only when it is about to be destroyed, laying the field open for violence”.6 Moreover, “this is why this constitutive element can be discerned only in its discontinuous irruptions onto the public stage when history is its most tumultuous.”7 Here Ricœur might think of what happened when the Youth revolt broke out in ‘68. Nevertheless, he seems convinced that however weak it may be “it is power, as wanting to live and acting together, that brings to the ethical aim the point of application of its indispensable third dimension: justice”.

The idea of justice is here both a vision of the good life and a demand for a social order, a distributive operation that is not only economic, but also concerns the apportionment of roles, task and advantages and disadvantages. What is just is “between the good and the legal”.8 In other words, “a consideration of the institution is part of the ethical aim in its full scope”.9

Another keyword here is equality. As Ricœur declares, “equality, however it is modulated, is to life in institutions what solicitude is in interpersonal relations”.10 He concludes: “Because of this, the sense of justice takes nothing away from solicitude; the sense of justice presupposes it, to the extent that it holds persons to be irreplaceable. Justice in turn adds to solicitude, to the extent that the field of application of equality is all of humanity”.11

I believe Arendt and Ricœur are right in claiming that we must distinguish between domination built on violence, on the one hand, and power of common action built on a ordered plurality, on the other. A system of domination is not simply identical to a just institution, the latter of which is action-in-concert according to common rules. It follows that although in practice there is no pure action-in-common without its inclusion in a system of domination, a criticism of an institution for being purely repressive and unjust must rely on the impossibility of the members of the institution to find a minimum (or too little) of themselves acting therein. It must rely on the impossibility of recognizing in them their own participation in a common action. Thus, in this regard we can say that an institution in which we cannot find ourselves or too little of ourselves is an unjust institution.

3. The University crises in ‘68 and now

As examples of institutions, Ricœur mentions “people, nation, region and so forth”,12 (p. 194), but according to Arendt, they comprise much more. Institutions are what she calls “political bodies”, and must include every action in concert inside a people, a nation and the like.13 Consequently, every educational body in a society is an institution. From this perspective, when Ricœur writes about the university in the sixties, he writes about an institution, and the critique he directs at the French university system is precisely that it can no longer fulfil the condition of an institution where its members can see themselves as acting in common.

In the preface to a book on Concepts of the University, Ricœur> describes the sociological background of the youth revolt in ‘68 at the universities.14 He mentions the fact that universities at the time had developed into enormous institutions that had to educate a mass of students, which was very expensive for the society at large. On the one hand, the state could not spend money on students without demanding useful results in return. On the other, students could not accept to spend their time in these institutions without demanding personal development. In other words, the political power wanted to gain some goods for society by their investment in the universities, whereas the students wanted to act in common with teachers and each other in order to obtain both knowledge and culture for their personal and social life. Ricœur sees in this conflict a contradiction between two demands placed on a modern university. It should be a liberal university, i.e., an institution of research allowing criticism and testing of new ideas, something that would be impossible if governing authorities would prescribe the goals of the research. And, it should prepare the students for the qualifications that the society needs for its production and administration.

This contradiction, which in the sixties brought the universities into a deep crisis, is not very different from the contradiction that we experience today, in the society in general and the universities in particular. It is a contradiction between the demand of the universities to explore the material and social reality and ‘tell the truth’, on the one side, and the demand that they through research and education help to qualify researchers and students for the competition on the world market, on the other. Indeed, in light of the similarities of the two situations, we might learn something by considering what Ricœur has to say about the aforementioned contradiction. He proposes three measures for overcoming the crisis:

First, Ricœur proposes a reform of the universities that avoids both the constraints of pure utility and the destructive rejection of organizations. This renewed liberal university shall both permit free research and integrate researchers in the society, so that they can participate in a responsible way in the scientific, cultural, technological and spiritual adventure of our time.

Second, he imagines a reform that can give the students access to participation in the governance of the universities. Professors, assistants and students should be able to share their activities in discussions about the orientation, development and sanction of studies. Ricœur knew that such an educational relationship would be difficult because of its asymmetrical character, viz. because its aim is to apply the competence and experience of the teacher in the learning process. However, he believed that “the student brings something: talents and tastes, acquired knowledge and parallel knowledge, and particularly a wish of personal accomplishment that only partly can be satisfied by instruction, job training and the acquisition of a culture for leisure.15 Thus, by his or her partial contribution to the student’s project of accomplishment, the teacher still learns. According to Ricœur, he is “really taught by his students and receives from them the opportunity and the permission to realize his own desire for cognition and knowledge. This is the reason why one must even say – to paraphrase Aristotle – that education is the shared act of the master and the student.”16 Moreover, convinced of the idea that the university is the only institution in the modern society in which the most critical thinking can be expressed, Ricœur even imagines that this shared action, if it becomes successful in the universities, might be a model for the society as a whole. It may assist in demolishing its authoritarian institutions.

Third, he pictures a reform accommodating what he calls “zones of transparency between the university institution and the extra-university world”, which are self-governing, creating a connection between the university culture and the non-university culture. Indeed, universities face a non-university culture in the form of everything from advertising, songs in different media and movies, to pure propaganda. This culture is what most people live by in the leisure-time permitted by modern industrial work. Therefore, it is the task of researchers not only to be critical in their own domain of research, but also of the cultural activities outside the world of research. By the same token, criticism should not be one-way communication, according to Ricœur. Rather, universities should also be listening to criticism from non-university, such as from artists and businesspeople, etc.

Ricœur saw in many ways the youth revolt in the universities as a legitimate revolt against an unjust institution in which the students cannot find themselves. Thus, he sees it as a “cultural revolution” against a system of domination, i.e. a system without space for action-in-common. First, it is a revolt against capitalism, not only because it fails in creating social justice, but because it has succeeded all too well in seducing people by its inhuman project of quantitative well-being. Secondly, it is a revolt against the bureaucracy, not only because it is heavy and ineffective, but because it transforms people into slaves to powers, structures and hierarchical relationships. Finally, Ricœur sees it as a revolt against the “nihilism of a society that, like a cancerous tissue has no other goal than growth; a revolt facing a society of non-sense”.17 Simultaneously, however, it is a revolt that “intended to promote creation of goods, ideas and values rather than their consummation”.18

This is the background to Ricœur’s famous declaration that “it is necessary to remain revolutionary when making reform”.19 And in the seventies, many universities were in fact reformed more or less according to the ideas that Ricœur had formulated so clearly. However, perhaps because there was in the youth of that time too little understanding of the necessity of universities as stable institutions extreme individualism and anarchism often brought the reforms to fail.20

Today we are back in a situation where universities suffer from a contradiction between search for academic freedom for researchers, teachers and students, on the one hand, and political domination through the demand for market utility, on the other. Moreover, today it is not so much the mass of students that destabilize the universities as the mass of bureaucrats, the latter of which transfer the university system into a colossus with feet of clay. Therefore, when students and teachers in our days cannot find themselves in their universities it is because they are often confronted with mega-schools in the form of top-governed management institutions. While they could find themselves in a liberal university, where students and professors in learning and research could experience participation in common action, they cannot find themselves in the management system of domination and repression into which our universities are now increasingly transformed.

4. The Humboldt model

We should recall that the idea of the university, which exists under so bad conditions today, is more than two hundred years old. In 1798, Immanuel Kant described in his book The Conflict of the Faculties, the relationship between the four faculties belonging to university in his time, including that of theology, law, medicine and philosophy. He describes the first three of these as “the higher faculties”. They are considered very useful for the government, but not free. The only entirely free faculty is “the lower faculty” of philosophy (later called the faculty of humanities). Kant believes that although there will always be a conflict between the faculties that are considered useful for the government and the faculty of philosophy which aims at truth, the higher faculties and the lower faculty may in the end move closer to each other. He concludes by saying that “it could well happen that the last would someday become the first (the lower faculty would be the higher) – not indeed in authority, but in counselling the authority (the government). For the government may find the freedom of the philosophy faculty, and the increased insight gained from its freedom, a better means for achieving its ends than its own absolute authority.”21

Interestingly, this was exactly what happened a few years later. In 1810, the linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt as minister of education in Prussia created a new university in Berlin and reformed the whole educational system. In the new university, the faculty of philosophy became the higher faculty and a philosopher, J.G. Fichte, became its first rector in 1811, later on to be replaced by another philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel. Its goal was the general cultivation, allgemeine Bildung, of the individual. Objective knowledge was from now on to be combined with subjective formation (Bildung) of each individual and, as Humboldt said, with “the moral culture of the nation” (die moralische Kultur der Nation).22 The Humboldt model expressed the idea of the humanities, and in particular of philosophy, as the leading sciences. It is this idea that today is seriously challenged by the notion of the management university.

The question is what we can do to oppose this pseudo-university. First, we can analyse its condition, which apparently justifies the end of the Humboldt era. Thereafter, we can show how the inner contradiction of the management university sooner or later must raise a demand for another university, which, according to the dream of Kant, is both allowed to telling the truth and being highly useful for society.

5. Analyses of the condition

The condition for the establishment of the management university was already exposed by Jean-François Lyotard in 1979. In his book The postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (translated into English in 1984), he described the developed societies of his time in terms of ‘the postmodern condition’. This postmodernism does not imply a new cultivation integrating the sciences in a new way while still preserving the humanities as an essential part of the whole, but rather opposes the very focus on cultivation in order to replace it by what Lyotard calls ‘performativity’. Lyotard’s diagnosis was that more and more research and education would be justified by their performativity.23 The term ‘performativity’ was new both in French and in English when the book was published, but it relates to ‘performance’ and means efficiency in the performance.

Lyotard’s analysis is, I would claim, more true today than when he presented it. In the beginning of the 21st century we witness how the educational systems, first in the United States and later in many other countries, are increasingly turned into one single end, that of performativity. Nowadays it is common to speak about efficiency, a goal which is possible to measure by tests, including national and public tests in schools, and stimulate by means of competition between classes and schools.

6. The inner contradiction of the Competition State

Now, if you ask the question ‘why performativity?’, the answer is ‘because of the necessary competition on the world market’. The Danish political scientist Ove Kaj Pedersen is right in claiming that today the idea of the welfare state is increasingly replaced by the idea of ‘the state of competition’. In his view, the welfare state, in which everybody should be respected as an irreplaceable individual, could not be realized because it was too expensive. Further, it was not able to prevent the weakest from being dominated by the strongest and, consequently, could not assure that everybody was protected by the same rights within a democratic system. Instead, it has become necessary to accept that everybody is an egoist, because this egoism is useful in the competition that has become the condition of all social life.24

What follows from this is that the task of the educational systems in schools and universities is redefined. It is less an education to democracy and social justice and more an education to national and international competition. Moreover, schools and universities are now obliged to enter into competition with each other and with other agents on the market to which they “sell knowledge”. In this competition, human sciences, and in particular philosophy, have apparently no raison d’être. Human sciences and critical philosophy more than any other discipline is considered useless and even dangerous for competition. For this reason, the state of competition suffers from an inner contradiction that is no less serious than the inner contradiction of the welfare state, namely, that it undermines by itself the social cohesion that is supposed to make it acceptable to everybody. In this state, people do not believe in the democratic education of citizens and do not feel responsible for the common good. Everybody can follow his or her interest within the frames defined by those in charge. In addition, belonging to this ideology is the presumption that great leaders are able to disregard their personal interests and establish the social coherence by their control of every common activity. It follows that only they have the task of thinking and acting for the common good. But the question is: how can such altruistic leaders be found amongst the people who have only learnt to think of their own interests and not about the common good? It seems unimaginable.

This is the contradiction: the state of competition, which is supposed to work without people being educated to take care of the common good and mutually recognize the rights of each other, nevertheless needs such an education in order to find good leaders amongst them and justify the destitution of bad leaders. Moreover, it must establish democratic elections and control of the leaders. In other words, the state of competition simultaneously rejects democracy and needs it. The criticism we can and must insist upon is therefore that no society that needs a social and moral coherence can do without education in democracy, and that society therefore must submit the competition to a democratic co-determination.

7. Democracy and cosmopolitanism

This insight is stressed by Martha C. Nussbaum in her recent book Not for profit: Why democracy needs humanities. She calls for a fight against the growing contempt for the humanities in universities and school systems. Nussbaum argues that this contempt results in the youth acquiring less and less knowledge about the ideas that are necessary in order to develop into democrats, i.e. autonomous and critical but also realistic citizens who recognize the values of a life together with others – not only national fellow citizens, but also foreigners from other parts of the world. This is exactly what they do not learn, Nussbaum argues, if they only learn how to get material profit and how to be most efficient on the world market. Instead, they have to learn that “a strong economy is a means to human ends, not an end in itself”, since “most of us would not choose to live in a prosperous nation, that had ceased to be democratic.”25 They have to learn to be responsible persons and to respect others as having equal rights independently of colour, religion, sex, and so on, and to assess what is good and bad for one’s own country as a whole as well as the kind of role it may play jointly with other countries and people in an increasingly complex globalized world.

Nussbaum advocates an education for cosmopolitan citizenship and points in a chapter entitled “Citizens of the World” to the fact that “we live in a world in which people face one another across gulfs of geography, language and nationality. More than at anytime in the past, she says, we all depend on people we have never seen, and they depend on us. The problems we need to solve – economic, environmental, religious and political – are global in their scope.”26 But if we shall handle them, we must involve “the contributions of history, geography, the interdisciplinary studies of culture, the history of law and political systems, and the study of religion – all interacting with one another.”27

According to Lyotard, grand narratives no longer work in the justification or understanding of society. However, this is no longer true. It might be true when it comes to grand stories that were used to legitimize authoritarian regimes such as the narratives of Nazism and Stalinism. However, Nussbaum is right when claiming that today “we need world history and global understanding for reasons that go beyond what is required to understand our own nation.”28 In other words, we need a cosmopolitan story of our world as basis of our universities.

 

1 Oneself as Another, The University of Chicago Press, 1992, p. 172, The English translator has put brackets round ‘good life’, because Ricœur puts brackets round “la vie bonne” in the French text in order to indicate that it does not mean “la bonne vie” which is ‘the pleasant life’, but that is an ethical and more precisely an Aristotelian philosophical concept. In English it is common to use the term as a philosophical expression so it does not need to be put in brackets.

2 Hannah Arendt: The human Condition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1958, p. 7.

3 Oneself as Another, p. 195.

4 Ibid., p. 196

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid., p. 197.

7 Ibid.

8 Paul Ricœur: « Le juste entre le légal et le bon » in Lectures 1, 1991, Seuil, Paris, pp. 176 – 195 (not translated into English).

9 Oneself as Another, p. 201.

10 Ibid., p. 202.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid., p. 9.

13 The Human Condition, p. 9.

14 Paul Ricœur : ”Trois ripostes à la crise universitaire”, in Conceptions de l’Université, eds. Jacques Drèze et Jean Debelle, Editions Universitaires, Paris, 1969; published in Le Monde 17.1.1969

15 Lectures 1, p. 382.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid.

18 Paul Ricœur: ”Réforme et révolution dans l’Université”, Lectures 1, p.380.

19 Paul Ricœur: ”Réforme et révolution dans l’Université”, Lectures 1, p. 381.

20 Ricœur himself was very disappointed by this development in France, and he never again wrote about a reform of universities, see P. Kemp: “Ricoeur and education: Ricoeur’s implied philosophy of education” in Ricoeur across the disciplines, ed. by Scott Davidson. Continuum, New York, 2010, p. 181-194.

21 Immanuel Kant: The conflict of the Faculties/ Der Sreit der Fakultäten [bilingual edition], translated by Mary J. Gregor, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1979, p. 59.

22 Wilhelm von Humboldt: Über die innere und äussere Organisation der höheren wissenschaftlichen Anstalten in Berlin” in Schriften zur Politik und zum Bildungswesen, Wissenschaftlische Buchgesellschaft, Darmstandt, 1964, p. 255.

23 Jean-François Lyotard: La condition postmoderne, Rapport sur le savoir, Les Editions de Minuit, Paris, 1979, Chapters 11 and 12 (English translation: The Postmodern Condition, Report on Knowledge, Manchester University Press, Manchesater, 1984, chapter 11 and 12).

24 Ove K. Pedersen : Konkurrence Staten, Hans Reitzels forlag, Copenhagen, 2011.

25 Martha C. Nussbaum: Not for profit. Why democracy needs humanities, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, p. 10-11.

26 Ibid., p. 79-80.

27 Ibid., p. 86-87.

28 Ibid. . p. 81-82.

Maurice Hamington and Maureen Sander-Staudt (eds.) Applying Care Ethics to Business (Dordrecht: Springer, 2011)

In her discussion she emphasised that women saw morality differently, were more occupied with their own situation, their relations to actual people around them, and how scholars and scientists should treat actual people in actual situations rather than just general rules for ethical reactions to events, persons, attitudes. This type of morality she called an ethic of care. In these thirty years since the publication of her book, care ethics have developed as a distinct view in ethics and might now even be counted as a major theory. Various authors have contributed to this development and if I should only name two, I think that Nel Noddings and Michael Slote should be mentioned.

Care ethics defines itself by starting with the fact that human beings are relational creatures meaning that they cannot develop and mature as human beings unless their relations to other human beings are normal. It is a moral fact of major importance that human beings are dependent beings and it is by and through their relations with other humans that they achieve moral maturity. Their moral sense develops as well by understanding the role of value of these relations and they become morally salient for it. This is not true just about female moral agents, but also about male moral agents.

It should come as no surprise that the central concept of this type of ethics, care, has already received various interpretations, and that the distinction between caring for and caring about has been clarified. It is fairly natural to expect that care ethics applies to intimate private life and it is easy to see how it can be broadened out to other areas, such as the health care system and education. Nodding has applied the care ethics to education convincingly and received support and wide following.

I admit that I have not been an enthusiastic supporter of this new trend in ethics. Care ethics seems naturally to flow into moral particularism, the idea that there are no general moral facts and hence no moral principles or moral laws; all we have is our moral sense, our ability to pick up moral characteristics in particular, embodied situations, and as our moral experience grows our moral sense becomes more skilled in discerning the moral characteristics. This seems to me to be implied by much of what is said about care ethics in this collection of essays. I do not want to doubt or argue for the merits of moral particularism, but if you want to believe it you must be prepared to argue for it, give good reasons for believing it. Much of what is said in these essays about other theories in ethics, such as consequentialism or deontology, is stereotyped with limited analysis and no feeling for the strengths of these theories. Sometimes it is as if it were an obvious truth that one should do away with general truths in ethics and limit oneself only to situational analyses and accept that there is no way to generalise about two situations where there are two different agents. But the fact that there are two agents in the same situation does not rule out the possibility that a general principle applies to both. It is also true to say that depriving you of all general principles makes it difficult if not impossible to decide in cases where limited goods have to be distributed among different agents. So there are serious questions to be asked about care ethics as it is laid out in these pages.

This does not preclude that there are many interesting analyses achieved here and a number of serious points about ethics in business. Applying care ethics in business is not the obvious choice from various ethical theories, it appears as a “Virginia Slim” ethic for women in business, as one of the authors puts it, not very promising and even a downright non-starter. But the authors succeed in arguing for a place for care ethics in thinking about ethics in business. It really is a serious contender for our attention in analysing and thinking about morality in the marketplace and its corporate agents. I think it is rightly pointed out that many influential theorists and politicians have believed that business and markets were somehow amoral, not constrained by the normal moral rules that we have to take into account in our everyday lives. But this is false. If anything should stare us in our face from the international tumult and collapse in global markets in 2008 and 2009, it is that markets and the corporate agents must act morally if markets are to be viable in the long run. This does not mean that it will be easy to affect this change in the players on the market because many of the largest ones, even though they had to accept large sums from public purses, still believe that they should go on as if nothing had happened.

The book is divided into four parts. The first part is called justice, distribution and economics and the papers address issues such as an overview of care ethic for organizations, an analysis of markets in terms of care ethics, a look at Adam Smith´s theory of the economy in terms of care ethic and an argument based on the care ethic for rejecting the free market. The second part is named corporate decision making and there are articles about stakeholder theory, the role of care ethics in corporate decision making and unintended consequences. The third part is about case studies and the authors discuss the enforcement of immigration in the workplace and care ethics, the possible role of care ethics in corporate competition and the exploitation of the homeless in TV series. The fourth and last part is about corporate culture and how the care ethic can contribute to the quality of that culture.

In many ways this is an interesting collection of articles, if for no other reason than that care ethic and business seem an unlikely match a priori. But the care ethic proves to be surprisingly resilient in the world of money, manhood and profits.

Garrett Barden and Tim Murphy. Law and Justice in Community (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)

The authors state at the beginning that they reject the idea that humans somehow are independent of each other and at some stage consent to becoming members of society; this is usually presented either as an actual historical fact or a conditional requirement on any public decision or as an idea of reason in Kant. The authors think of human beings as naturally social meaning that living in society comes naturally to humans and it is misleading or downright false to think that the primary fact about them is that they are separate individuals that at some stage decide to form a society. Society is part of human life from time immemorial and from the time that any human being is born she is a part of society; she would not stand a chance if she did not have a family to nurture her until she could provide for herself. A family is a social institution. From an evolutionary point of view many developed animals form groups where patterns of behaviour emerge from which human society may have developed. The point is that the question how or when human society was invented does not arise; human society was not invented, it is a basic, internal fact about human life.

One thing the authors discuss is the story behind Grágás (grey goose), the first written Icelandic law book. In 1117 the Icelandic parliament, Alþingi, decided that the law should be written down and published. Alþingi had been established in 930 and for nearly two centuries the laws were recited there during the weeks in late June when the parliament was sitting. It took three years to recite the laws in full so one third was recited every year; they were not all recited annually as it says on p. 1 in the book. Now the question is what is going on from the point of view of the law in this process from the settlement of Iceland in late ninth century AD, in 930 when the parliament was established, and the law recited until it was written down in the winter of 1117-1118? How should we account for this development of the law? The authors´ idea is that in any society there is something that might be called a living law which is not judge made law, positive law, in a sense state law, but the living law is the judgements and choices that people in any society make and become gradually accepted and approved in that society when they recur time and again. This process of gradually creating the living law is not formal in any sense, there is no formal debate or decree that establishes this law but it creates habits, practices, customs and mutual expectations that establish the jural relationships in that community. There is no sharp distinction between a legal realm and a moral realm. It is part of what the authors call “the communal law” or “the communal moral law” p. 3-4). So the living law is a moral tradition. Any moral tradition is such that some parts of it are implicit, others are explicit, and it is not possible to codify fully a moral tradition; there is no way that it is possible to write down all the moral rules and practices that make up a moral tradition. Historically the living law of any community is not written down, but it is a defining feature of the community and establishes entitlements which evolve through the interactions of people living together dealing with the jural demands that this imposes on them. Some of the entitlements may be written down when the communal sense of justice provides a basis for formulated law. Written laws can be either natural or conventional but according to these authors they are not understood as new laws imposed on the community, but are parts of the living law that emerges within the developing communal moral context. So the account to be given of Icelandic law until it was written down in 1117-18 is that at first it grew out of the concerns that the new environment in Iceland created, the judgements and choices of the inhabitants about their own lives and how they resolved their disputes, establishing mutual expectations, a sense of justice and jural relationships and social institutions like Alþingi. Ultimately this leads to the writing down of the law, but it does not mean that being written down created in any sense new laws, rather it was part of the living law of the community and had developed out of it.

This is a very interesting view of the origin of Grágás. I guess there may be differing opinions about how it squares with all the historical accounts that have been preserved about the development of Icelandic law until it was written down. But it is persuasive. This theory of the development of law is intended by the authors as a general account of how law develops and how various parts of the living law are related, so it should apply to any system of laws we care to examine at least in the European tradition. Their theory is also descriptive, it aims to explain law as a social phenomenon in terms of its function in human affairs. They avoid all normative assumptions in their theory. The third important feature of the theory argued for and applied in this book is a number of distinctions that are used throughout the book between the natural and the conventional, the internal and the external, the intrinsic and the extrinsic. I am not sure that the authors would be willing to call this a theory, but rather a method they use to figure out what is just.

The authors discuss many of the most important topics in modern jurisprudence such as justice, natural and conventional, ownership, law, force of law, natural law, justice and the trading order, to name some of them. There is no way in a short review to give the flavour of the analysis of these different issues but I want to mention one: justice and the trading order. This area is of great importance to modern societies and has been extensively analysed and theorised in various academic disciplines. One obvious question is whether there is anything to be gained from analysing the trading order from the Aristotelian perspective of the authors. The answer is yes; there is surprisingly much to be gained from doing so. The trading order is where reciprocal justice is the proper justice. The authors start by suggesting that “in the trading order free exchanges are reciprocally just.” (p. 91). They make another plausible assumption that it is only in the context of exchange and the trading order that reciprocal justice exists. The trading order exists only as a part of a wider, more complex social order and is constantly influenced by this wider order. Hence, there is no trading order governed only by reciprocal justice. The authors contend that if a trading order has developed one must first understand how it works to figure out what legislation is necessary. They also argue that it is a difficult question of fact whether the trading order can be centrally managed. It is the considered opinion of the authors that a trading order cannot be centrally managed. They are careful to point out that it does not follow from this that the trading order cannot cause all sorts of social problems that must be dealt with and that there are those who cannot sustain their lives by trading. The idea is that these are not problems of the trading order but must be dealt with by other means. The central idea of the trading order is that the two or more persons who want to trade must always be free not to for the exchange to be just. Any legislation and management, central or otherwise, of the trading order must respect this fact. It seems that any central management aiming to control correct the result of the innumerable exchanges of the trading order becomes problematic given these assumptions.

In modern political philosophy normative issues are contentious and important. Aristotelian political philosophy has not shied away from normative assumptions and issues. It is very informative to see the Aristotelian way of analysing political and jurisprudential problems working from different premises than is ordinarily done. This book is both radical and traditional and it is splendidly argued. It deserves to be widely read and to be influential.

Jacob Dahl Rendtorff, Responsibility, Ethics and Legitimacy of Corporations (Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School Press, 2009)

The book has five parts, each building on the previous one and progressively going from general to particular. So, after the introduction, we find a section on globalization, value-driven management and business ethics. Then we find a section on business ethics and corporate social responsibility in different fields of business. Part 4 deals with legal and political developments and the challenges to global business ethics. The book culminates in part 5, describing and prescribing policy proposals for corporate strategy and the basic ethical principles for business ethics and corporate citizenship.

Rendtorff has a dialectic style, presenting an argument and its counterargument basically for all topics covered. This makes the 500-page-book dynamic and a pleasant reading.

The theories of business ethics are multiple, some more sophisticated than others. They range from a theory of profit maximization — where the firm or corporation is not an autonomous entity but the result of contractual obligations among individuals, — to a theory of corporate citizenship — where the firm/corporation is a non-human person with moral capacity and therefore responsibility toward others, including the environment and the community in which it operates, which can extend globally.

The adherence to ethical principles or ethical codes can be instrumental as well as a goal in itself. By engaging in ethical behaviors or socially responsible activities, firms may be more profitable. Employees will be happier and more productive in a morally supportive environment and customers with strong moral/social preferences will prefer dealing with firms that share the same goals and commitments. On the other hand, the meaning of a successful ethical code or responsible citizenship depends on actually believing in it, believing that is a goal in and of itself, rather than a mare marketing ploy.

I believe the questions Rendtorff asks, implicitly and explicitly, are immensely important and difficult, if not impossible, to answer. In my eyes this is the value of his contribution, in addition to extensively cover the current literature.

Rendtorff explicitly presents some potential tensions between profit motives and ethics motives, between stockholders and shareholders and between different stakeholders. Especially toward the end of the volume, when he describes the global corporation and its responsibilities, he hints at potential tensions, if not even clashes, between different ethical standards across different cultures.

Some of the questions that emerge from this book could be, for example: How does a theory of business ethics and corporate responsibility relate to economic theories spring off experimental results where subjects seems to indicate that income maximization may not be the sole motivational force in their behavior? What if a formal commitment to ethics and/or citizenship crowds out the more natural sense of fairness, as it is shown happening in many economic experiments?  How can we distinguish a firm that adopts an ethical code for moral reasons from one that adopts it for instrumental reasons? Under what conditions can a firm be ethical even if it is driven by profit maximization? What if profit maximization generates, unintentionally, more ethical results than an ethical motive? What if, as it is sometimes said, ‘hell is paved with good intentions’ and an ethical motive generates unethical consequences? What happens when the goals of autonomy, dignity, integrity, and vulnerability that a firm should have generate (unintended) consequences that destroy or undermine the autonomy, dignity, and integrity of some individuals? What if, to protect the natural environment from a disrupting pesticide such as the DDT, we let the mosquitoes carrying malaria live, and spread and cause the death of millions of people? What if, to protect the beautiful elephants, we are forbidden from killing them when they roam on the fields of African farmers, leaving them without crops, that is condemning them to starvation and death for malnutrition? What if, to protect the dignity and the jobs of some manufacturing workers in the West, we close down sweatshops in southeast Asia, preventing children from working in a factory and sending them to the next best source of income—prostitution?  What if, to stay within the West, a firm with strong ethical beliefs, grounded in religious beliefs, fires or refuses to hire a gay individual?

The questions Rendtorff asks, explicitly or implicitly, are relevant questions for both the development of this young discipline which has already made so much progress, and for the development of a better understanding of how we can live peacefully and prosper in a world where individuals and businesses can do what they are meant to do and do it in the best possible way.

After the Financial Crisis: The Ethics and Economics Debate Revisited

 

 

Introduction

In this sense the problem of the relation between ethics and economics in business concerns the concept of economic action and the role of ethical responsibility in economics.[i] The debate about economic rationality and political philosophy depends on the problem whether there can be something like a common good or social justice for all members of society. From the standpoint of mainstream economics we can say that this problem is a problem about how to deal efficiently with limited resources. In this sense we may argue that neoclassical economic theory is a system of thought that seeks to deal  rationally with the problem of sacrifice, that is the problem of who, how or what society should sacrifice in order to seek optimal and efficient use of resources.[ii] With the separation of economics from political philosophy, economics has become the rational use of resources based on the principle of the rational profit maximization of homo œconomics.

Accordingly, the idea of economic rationality depends on the concept of economic action.[iii] This concept is marked by interplay between individualism and altruism and personal responsibility for economic actions. The idea of an ethical correction of economic action implies a critical attitude to the concept of self-interest as the basis for economic action. It is argued that economic calculation should exclusively be based on individual utility maximization but include an altruistic concern for the common good and for other human individuals. In the perspective of such an ethical correction of economics we think of the economic actor as an individual, who makes an economic calculation which is extended to include the responsibility for other human beings and society integrating economic calculation in well-founded moral norms and ethical customs of society. In the following, I want to address this issue in five parts 1) Ethics in economic history 2) The neoliberal concept of economics 3) Welfare economics and the criticism of neo-classical concepts of rationality 4) Ethics within economics 5) Economic anthropology and the foundations of rationality. 

1. Ethics in economic history

Looking at the relation between business and ethics in the perspective of economic history, we can see that the idea of the rational profit-maximizing individual based on self-interest is a newcomer for understanding economics.[iv] Although we find preliminaries of the concept in the classical materialist philosophy of Epicurus, it is only with the modern economic thinkers of the 16th and 17th century, in combination with the emergence of an autonomous capitalist economy based on efficiency and utility, that this view of economic actors becomes predominant. The concept of the political and social neutrality of the market has emerged in this context of independent economic markets. In classical political economy market action was conceived in the perspective of political community. Aristotle argued, for example, that wealth and money are not goods that man seeks for their own value but rather as a means to obtain the good life in community.[v] And Thomas Aquinas developed the doctrine of the “just price” in which economic exchange relations were based on respect for the natural law and political justice in society.[vi]

Even though he was the founder of the modern economic doctrines of self-interests and the invisible hand, a similar conception of economy as science of the good for community can be found in the works of Adam Smith.[vii] In the Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) Smith seems to argue that the relation between persons and other mutual moral sentiments are the basis for economic action. Self-interest is only one among the human virtues and of the natural inclinations of human nature. Therefore, even Smith argued that utility maximization has to be seen in the perspective of other virtues like generosity and justice.[viii] And therefore rational economic calculation is founded on a broader view of human nature than the idea of “economic man”, which has become predominant in neoclassical economics.

At the same time, with Adam Smith we can perceive the beginning of the emancipation of economics from moral philosophy. With the emergence of the modern individual it has been possible to find a concept of rational action with is totally based on individual self-love and egoism.[ix] Smith was inspired by the provocative work of the Bernard Mandeville who, with his book the Fable of the bees, announced the new foundations of the modern concept of economic rationality, based on the idea of “private vices, public benefits”.[x] Smith integrated this view as the foundation of his concept of economic action in the Wealth of Nations from 1776. With this point of view, we can argue that Smith was very important for the degradation of economic action to personal preferences and self-interests of homo œconomicus. Economics is a private affair and the state has only the very limited function to protect the liberty and rights to exercise personal choices of the individuals in society. Therefore, it is very enigmatic how Smith could combine the belief in self-interest with the analysis of morality and the possible sympathy of human beings with one another in the Theory of our Moral Sentiments.[xi] Smith seems to argue that the broader social relation between persons and other mutual moral sentiments can be the basis for economic action. However, we should remember that sympathy in the perspective of Smith is analyzed as a part of the sensibility of the individual.[xii] Sympathy does, however, not come from egoism or selfishness, for the subject feels an inclination towards another. Accordingly, self-interest seems to be only one among the human virtues and of the natural inclinations of human nature.

Therefore, as already stated, even Smith argued that utility maximization has to be seen in the perspective of other virtues like generosity and justice.[xiii] And therefore rational economic calculation is founded on a broader view of human nature than of the idea of “economic man”, which has become predominant in neoclassical economics. However, it may be argued that Smith did not solve the tensions between egoism and altruism implicit with his view of the economic subject. Because of his emphasis on self-interest Smith cannot really integrate the sympathy for the other in his theory and therein remains a tragic tension between homo œconomicus and sympathy for the other. Moral judgment is captured between egoistic economic rationality and the passions and emotions for the other.[xiv] In fact, the idea of the invisible hand shows the heart of the tension because the concern for community is removed from the individual to the mysterious divine force of the invisible hand.[xv] It is only through the sympathy of the others that the individual requires sympathy for his or her self as based on self-interest.

In the perspective of the history of political economy we can argue that economics originally was viewed as a moral science, not as a mechanical natural science, but as a part of the art of “good government”. According to Amartya Sen, among others, this view of economics has been forgotten in modern economics, which is more interested in the engineering problems of economic efficiency than in ethical and political problems of rights and social achievement.[xvi] This tradition includes classical authors like Ricardo and Malthus and is continued by the neoclassical tradition of Leon Walras and Jevons and developed by authors like Alfred Marshall in his Principles of Economics[xvii], which focuses exclusively on individual utility and seems to forget the importance of concerns for the common good in economic theory. Due to this concentration on self-interest, economic theory, the idea of economic rationality is exposed to a strong tension with deontological constraints on economic markets based on protection of rights, interest and freedoms of other human beings.[xviii] According to this view, the concepts of well-being and rationality in neoclassical economic thought must be considered in accordance with ethical principles. We should look more closely on the ethical aspect of human motivation and integrate questions of the good life in economics. Therefore, without disregarding all the important insights of descriptive positive economy, we may argue for a normative view of economic theory in saying that business ethics is providing us with the “missing link” between traditional “political economy” and micro-economic rationality.

In order to provide such a link between ethics and economic rationality, we have to look closer on the foundations of the neoclassical tradition in political economy, its view of economic rationality and its ethical implications. The neoclassical concept of rationality implies an unlimited conception of rationality according to which economic agents have unlimited competencies of decision making in order to maximize personal self-interest within an exogenous space of possibilities.[xix]

2. The neoliberal concept of economics

The conception of political economy within neoliberal thought can be conceived as a generalization of the economic concept of self-interest and economic rationality to be the basis for organizing society and social justice. According to a liberal like Hayek, free competition among individuals in the market within ethical custom is the best argument for human happiness and luck.[xx] It may be argued that economic equality cannot be viewed as important at competitive markets based on economic freedom. Neoclassical economic thought privileges the pursuit of self-interest and implies the view of human beings as competitive natures. Property rights liberalism does not imply any principles of equality as the basis for economic markets because economic freedom is essential to property rights. It is argued to be paternalistic to limit human freedom by rules of justice on economic markets. Radical libertarians and some liberals are indeed somewhat critical to the deontological perspective, because it implies moral restrictions on personal liberty.

Hayek links this argument for the unlimited economic rationality of the market with a criticism of the proposal to use the state actively to establish social justice in modern society. Such justice would be somewhat the same as socialism and Hayek thinks that there is no meaning in the idea of planned social justice.[xxi] Human beings do not have the perspective of the invisible hand but they are always situated in a culture and history where they live by the human capacity of learning by trail error and imitation. Hayek criticizes the idea of a planned social justice from an epistemological point of view. We cannot rationally construct social rules, we can only use our faculty of imitation. We can only follow specific patterns by tacit recognition of meaning and of imitation of others. Freedom is what the individual does with what society has done with him or her.[xxii] It is the freedom of the situated individual to act in a given social condition. Hayek approaches economic and ethics from the point of view of methodological individualism. Human beings are responsible for their society, but they cannot fully know what the result of their actions is and they have no control over the collective level of society, which is much more complex than the level of individual action.

The level of society can in this context be conceived as a complex cybernetic system that human beings cannot control. Society that is created by individuals is more complex than the individuals and we cannot conceive the system in its complexity. Human beings act in society but society goes beyond their reason and they cannot conceive society. Society is more complex and even contradictory. The social order is a spontaneous order that no-one really wanted to be like that. The spontaneous order can be conceived as a kind of reinterpretation of the idea of the invisible hand. Social order is established between a natural order and an artificial order. The abstract order is a result of the increasing complexity of cultural evolution. The social world is a result of a large evolutionary process like the process of evolution of the natural world described by Darwin. There are no general laws of evolution. We are in an open society, the society of individual freedom as proposed by Adam Smith. There is selection of the most efficient rules in evolution. They depend on information and efficiency. Utility and calculation of lives is the instrument of evolution. The market is the essence of the evolution of this spontaneous order. The market is the foundation of social organization, auto-development, division of work and efficiency in evolution. Hayek develops an information theory of price. They are signals not instruments of distribution of wealth. It is not possible to calculate price from the collective point of view. The market is becoming meta-tradition of all economic traditions. It is competition that makes progress in the economic market. Information is the essence of the economic development in the market. Competition makes people act rationally according to efficiency in the market.

We can observe such a utilitarian justification of liberty and justice in Hayek’s economic theory.[xxiii] Externalization and self-transcendence are a liberating alienation of the individual. You have to leave yourself to the forces of the market and to forget social justice, because you cannot control society anyway. The individual is requested to act in conformity with the rules of the spontaneous social order of which it is a part. Justice cannot be planned but it is a concept that is generated by the spontaneous social order. Property rights are the rights of personal freedom. And imitation is the basis for the personal development of individuals and for their social and economic self-regulation. Selection out of path-dependence plays an enormous role in social evolution. The markets results are without ethics. They are blind. Social politics breaks with the connection between individual and the market.[xxiv]

We also find this idea of the ethical consequences of self-interested individual action in Hayek’s philosophy of the “spontaneous order” of economic and social development. During evolution based on interaction among self-interested individuals those practices which are based on individual freedom and rational choice of the most efficient alternative will, in the long run, contribute to social betterment. And indeed better legal and moral systems will be a result of this spontaneous order. Fair competition and healthy economic institutions will, in an economic system based on fair competition, contribute to a better society. In this perspective the idea of competition includes an ethical dimension of fairness and transparency contributing to the spontaneous order of society. Social orders are spontaneous. No-one can control them. Hayek seems to want to establish the good and just society on the contingency of social spontaneity and social affairs.[xxv] But this is really an argument against any attempt to formulate a rational foundation of the political constraints of actions of individuals and corporations. According to the invisible hand and to the idea of the spontaneous order, the market should have the right to exist as a free human institution, because this is the guarantee of development of society. Thus, economic action should be based on the supremacy of free individual decision making and on open economic markets with as little government intervention as possible. It is the result of the liberal concept of economics that economic rationality should be liberated on its own and ethics should only be introduced as an external limitation of economics when it goes beyond the acceptable requirements of economic rationality, by, for example, not respecting the rules of fair competition on free and open markets. 

The ideal of perfect competition in Hayek’s thought and neoclassical economics presupposes the rights of individuals to make their own rational choices in economic markets. This view of economics can be argued to be based on the presuppositions of perfect competition, rational independent decision-making, a perfect market, a homogenous product, many competing sellers and free possibilities of entry/exit into economic markets. It is presupposed that the firm consists of one rational individual rather than a group or coalition of individuals. The firm is a category of the individual and a production unit in order to provide goods to be exchanged on economic markets.[xxvi]

In the view of neoclassical economy ethics is regarded as external limitations of the market. Ethics is not integrated in economic decision-making but useful to ensure free economic action in the markets. Economics refuses to integrate external values in economic rationality. Therefore I would argue that the only ethics present in this doctrine is the ethics of competition, which is to maximize self-interest and personal preference maximization. A promise of total opportunistic and selfish action is a handshake, as some has characterized this ethics of competition. In this way ethics seems to be an exogenous element of social action at the limits of economic rationality. However, a presupposition is that the conditions of fair competition and perfect markets should be accepted by all participants in economic competition, which is restricted by the rules of the game, for example property rights and contract law. A generous interpretation of the thought of Smith and Hayek may be that the ideas of the invisible hand and spontaneous order are attempts to integrate a concept of the common good in liberalism. From this optimistic perspective, liberalism always goes beyond pure egoism because self-interest is supposed to somehow serve the general interest. Although such an interpretation may be closer to the original moral intent of liberal philosophy, it is a point of view, which seems to have been more or less forgotten in the economic self-understanding of neoclassical economics that isolates the concern for the good from the concept of economic analysis.

Moreover, even though they heavily disagree with neoclassical economic theory, some other paradigms of economics – for example game-theory and agency theory – seem to share the same view of the separation between ethics and economics and the idea of egoistic rational utility-maximizing individuals as the ideal protagonist of economic action. They prioritize the individualistic approach as the basis for economic action rather than considering economics from the point of view of society as a totality in search for a common good.

Game theory contributes to solving an important problem in neoclassical economic theory – the problem about harmonious equilibrium leading to monopoly, which is contradictory to the ideal of perfect competition.[xxvii] In order to avoid static harmony, game theory operates with “non-cooperative games” as the ideal of economic interaction. According to the economic mathematician John Forbes Nash a situation of equilibrium is the case where every participant in the game chooses a strategy, which is the best response to compete with the strategies of the other. Perfect equilibrium in non-cooperative game theory is a combination of strategies, where no player has reasons to choose another strategy to improve pay-off.[xxviii] Indeed, this theory of competition presupposes external limitations on markets and firm behavior. The players have to play within certain rules and they have to share the same concept of rationality considering economic actors as self-interested utility maximizers.

A similar view of the economic man may be said to be present in agency-theory building on rational individual agents acting in firms in order to maximize their own interests. In agency theory corporations are primarily viewed as instruments and devices to maximize profits.[xxix] And we may even mention some views of the economic man in transaction cost economics, arguing that if we look at men “as they really are” we are likely to meet not only self-interested utility maximizers, but potentially opportunistic individuals, who, even though they are not rational in any ideal sense, in their daily actions, with limited knowledge, are likely to follow a non-ideal strategy of personal utility maximization.[xxx] Even though transaction cost theories argue for the importance of governance structures and agree that cooperation, personal honor and integrity matter,[xxxi] this institutional economics regards self-interest as the primary motive for action.

We can say that we are confronted with an instrumental concept of economic rationality, which is presupposed in the systems of neoliberal and neoclassical economics rather than explicitly argued for. But why consider self-interest as the only motive for economic action when we know that real people also are motivated by a plurality of values and ethical choices?[xxxii] A plausible answer could be that economics is viewed not as a science applied to a specific realm of being, but rather as a general set of assumptions and tools that can be applied as a fundamental method in all aspects of human life, including ethics, which is only justified insofar as it allows such an economic methodology to work as freely as possible. The foundation of this concept of economics is the anthropology of the individual as maximizing self-interest and individual preferences – even under conditions of bounded rationality and finitude of voluntary reflectivity. The concept of the common good does not play any important role in this concept of economic action where the drivers of economic activities are not social institutions with common values but the interests of individual utility maximers.

3. Welfare economics and the criticism of neo-classical concepts of rationality

In fact, looking closely on the concept of welfare economics we can criticize the focus on a pure economic concept of rationality as foundation of political economy, as it is the case in neoclassical and neoliberal thought. In contrast to the neoclassical liberal model focusing on individual maximization, welfare economics works with macro-economic choices in relation to society as a whole. Welfare economics works with the concept of personal preferences as foundation of economic theories and economic models. This concept of rationality emerged out of the separation of ethics and economics that developed with the emergence of modern economic sciences. Welfare economics constitutes a normative theory of maximizing of personal preferences.[xxxiii] Specifically, the rational theory of welfare economics in macro- and micro-economics is a normative theory of maximization of preferences in conditions of risk and uncertainty rather than a descriptive theory of factual economic conditions. In welfare economics this theory is used as the basis for economic action in order to determine results with the most efficient economic outcome. This economic theory of rationality does not operate with a substantial theory of rationality. We cannot determine the content of each individual preference and their may even be irrational preferences. Therefore economic theory is based on a formal theory of individual actions as basis for determining the outcome of economic action.

Within this context, Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. MacPherson argue that there is not necessarily an absolute separation between economics and ethics. In fact rational decisions according to preferences are in the end tested according to moral concepts of minimal goodness. When economic actors like the World Bank develops economic plans or proposals like dumping waste from the Western world onto developing countries, such a proposal is in the end not only evaluated according to economic rationality, but also all other things being equal considered from the point of view of minimal goodness or ethical value. We may argue that it is a presupposition of economic theory that it should be a good thing to satisfy personal preferences of an individual. This concept of goodness behind the economic rationality of welfare economics can be illustrated by the concept of Pareto-optimality, which means that an economic situation has achieved Pareto-optimality when it is impossible to improve a condition of one individual without making others worse off. Dumping garbage in the developing countries may improve the situation in the Western world, but it is does not lead to any improvement of the living conditions in the developing world and it therefore does not fulfill the conditions of minimal goodness of ethical actions.

However, welfare economics shares the presuppositions of liberal economics by emphasizing that free competition is an important condition of free economic choices of individual actors. The ideal of free competition as the basis of efficient economic action is shared by most welfare economists. Moreover, welfare economics also shares with liberal economics the idea that satisfaction of rational preferences is the foundation of economic decision-making. Indeed, this is also based on the idea of minimal goodness or ethical evaluation of the economic choices as the basis for decisions in macro economics. This concept of preferences in national economics may be said to imply that individuals are supposed to be rational and well-informed and their preferences are also supposed not to be odd and totally un-ethical.[xxxiv] In this sense the idea of minimal goodness or ethical acceptability may be conceived to be a condition and a minimal presupposition in the welfare economic conception of individual preferences.[xxxv]

We may say that welfare economics must presuppose the ethical awareness of economists in order to be acceptable as an economic theory. The counterargument from neo-liberal or neoclassical points of view is sometimes that economists cannot be ethical because ethical constraints would destroy the requirements of free competition. It is falsely supposed that there is a close relation between free competition and immorality. But this may not be the case and it may even be better for a company or public authorities to be moral than immoral in order to ensure long term sustainability and cost limitation of the institution.[xxxvi] From this point of view the critical skeptics have not really demonstrated that there is a close connection between free competition and immorality. Still welfare economists cannot have their theory of rationality without looking at the possible moral limits and consequences of their actions. In this sense we can argue that ethical evaluation has to be an internal aspect of economic theory in welfare economics.

However, this does not mean that there is a clear relation between economic rationality and ethics. Rational action may in some cases be moral, but in other cases it cannot be said to be acceptable from the point of view of ethics. But, from another point of view, rational preferences in welfare economics may not always be individual preferences. The concept of rationality in welfare economics can be based on altruistic concerns and it is not necessary to exclude altruism a priori from economic models in welfare economics. Indeed, welfare economists have argued that moral norms and virtues have had positive impacts on economic development, for example a code of ethics in business makes economic action more reliable and it contributes to increase economic welfare.[xxxvii] However, there may also be moral norms that are inefficient from an economic point of view and in cases where they are not even justified from an ethical point of view, for example when we perceive discrimination or suppression of employees, it may be justified not to accept these norms within economic theory. So from the point of view of welfare economics moral norms of economic actors may have an impact on economics even though there may be no direct link between conceptions of moral deontology or moral duty and economic efficiency or rationality. This means that although individuals may have meta-preferences which outlaw actual supposed preferences, there is no direct link between economic rationality and ethics.[xxxviii]

 

4. Ethics within economics

Common to the ideas of neo-classical theory and welfare economics is the idea of a close connection between ethical rationality and economic rationality. Some even argue that there is an internal ethical dimension of economics and even that it is possible to define what can be considered as valid ethical behavior out of economic reason.[xxxix] The issue is what economics can help to say about the good life and how economics as a moral science may contribute to a better society. According to the Austrian economists like Karl Menger, Ludwig Von Mises and to some degree Hayek, economics may be considered as a kind of “praxeology”, a normative science of practical reason, based on universal categories of human action and helping to realize the human good.[xl] They proposed a rationalistic and interpretative paradigm of economics in which it was argued that economics could be based on synthetic a priori principles. Also there is much convergence between utilitarian ethics and traditional views of normative economics. Economics is viewed as the science of calculation of efficiency, profit and maximization of personal and common human preferences.

In so far as institutional organization theory is founded on ideas of self-interest and efficiency in maximization of profits it seems to presuppose some kind of utilitarian ethics. But this is utilitarianism with strong emphasis on personal and egoistic interests. Indeed this is the case with neoclassical economics and we have seen how the concept of human beings as self-interested and potentially opportunistic actors has been taken over by theories of economic organization like transaction costs economics and agency theory. Transaction cost economics considers firms as contractual relationships among individuals who seek to maximize self-interest and the fight against opportunism on the basis of lawful behavior within contracts can be considered as a defense of an ethics of good governance and high performance in efficient economizing market institutions.[xli] Agency theory focuses on economic property rights as the basis for economic behavior.[xlii] When we propose an ethics of welfare economics we are not only looking at the firm in the light of micro-economics but we also consider the organization as integrated in larger social and political systems.[xliii] We want to state that individual instrumental economic reason has significance only within the framework of ethics subordinating individual goals to the common interest of a community.

In opposition to this view we have to admit that there may be many important aspects of economic principles of self-interest and rational action that can help to shape ethics. Orthodox economists argue that efficient allocation of scarce resources is based on minimal governmental and legal intervention and that free actors are the best to know how to respect the norms of the market and ethical custom of society.[xliv] As mentioned, major economists like Adam Smith and Milton Friedman, but also John Stuart Mill believed that the economic rationality of seeking self-interest and profit maximization in economic markets contained on its own an important form of rationality whereby everyone who  seeks to fulfill his own interest will contribute to the common good. Business ethics cannot ignore this ethics of the market, which can contribute to an original form of ethics, given within the rules of market economy, yet sensitive to the common good of society.

According to what may be called the cost-benefit efficiency view of economic ethics, free economic action in economic markets is the best way to deal with scarce resources.[xlv] This view may have two formulations. The former stresses the role of the state in giving dynamics to economics, whereas the latter stresses that the autonomy of the private sector is the most efficient way to allocate scarce resources. Economic actors are characterized by responsible and conscious use of scarce resources. In essence, economics is about efficiency and the prudent use of resources. Moreover, organizational action should be profitable. According to economic rationality we cannot ignore the bottom-line of income and expenditures for the success of business action. Economics is about creating value and maximization of profits in terms of individual or social wealth and utility.  Economics is the science of efficiency and utility for society and economic action is about ensuring the most efficient way to deal with scarce resources.

Additionally, economics can also be regarded from the perspective of social development. Utility theory is based on Pareto-optimality (that is a situation of economic arrangements where a change of the situation cannot make the situation better for some without making it worse for others). [xlvi] Welfare-economists stress the role of the state in such situations while libertarians consider that the free market gives the best optimality.[xlvii] Thus economics is considered as the science of how to compare and weigh different goods of society and allocate scarce resources most efficiently. Economic action is about how to contribute to creating wealth on markets and thereby create wealth in society. It is advisable to contribute to economic goods within the basic rules and ethical principles of society. And it would not be just not to respect the laws and principles of economics when acting on economic markets. Economic action based on utility contributes to maximization of efficiency within limits of respect for basic rights.

An important aspect of such a concept of economic ethics is the already mentioned idea of the “invisible hand” from Adam Smith, stating that if everyone acts according to his own interest respecting the rules of fair competition on economic markets, society will flourish and individual self-interested action will be a contribution to the common good. As we have described, we also find this idea of the ethical consequences of individual self-interested action in Hayek’s philosophy of the “spontaneous order” of economic and social development. During evolution based on interaction among self-interested individuals those practices which are based on individual freedom and rational choice of the most efficient alternative, will in the long run contribute to social betterment.[xlviii] And indeed better legal and moral systems will be a result of this spontaneous order. Fair competition and healthy economic institutions will in an economic system based on fair competition contribute to a better society. In this perspective the idea of competition includes an ethical dimension of fairness and transparency contributing to the spontaneous order of society.

If we conceive economics as implying a particular ethical rationality we may therefore consider how economic institutions contribute to ethics. The ethics of economics in institutional arrangements is the promotion of rational self-interest and fair competition as an instrument for economic progress. As John Dienhart acknowledges, according to the institutional view of economics, markets are considered as “ethical engines”.[xlix] The aspect of economizing that we have discussed, may very well be considered as a part of economic institutions as ethical engines. However, the concept of economic rationality is broader and more pluralistic than the view of fair economic markets as exclusively based on the pursuit of self-interest.

Thus, we can distinguish between an internal and an external approach to ethics and economics. According to the external approach economic rationality is based on self-interest and there is complete separation between ethics and economics.[l] Economic engines can help us to attain ethical values, but economics as such is neutral. However, there seems to be an ethics implied in economic rationality. So we can argue for an internal approach according to which ethics is not only considered as external limitations to economics but rather as a part of economics. But the internal approach does not necessarily have to rely on a utilitarian and neo-classical concept of economic ethics. Rather we can have a pluralistic approach to the ethical values that have an impact on economic action. Thus, ethics is to be considered as an internal aspect of economic institutions, for there is an ethical dimension to economic concepts like property, risk-reward structures, information and competition. This implies that we should have an institutional approach to economics emphasizing that institutions determine economic action.[li] The constitutive rules and principles of economic markets based on property, risk-reward structures, information and competition include certain ethical ideas which are the conditions for development of economic systems. Douglass North has for example shown how the act of promising is a condition for good contracts that in turn conditions predictions of future economic action.[lii]

When we deal with the institutional aspects of property rights, risk-reward structures, information and competitive relationships we may say that the internal ethics of the economics of fair markets is about how to organize scarce resources in economic systems in a fair way. To respect property rights is viewed as the foundation of the economic system and a part of fair competition is not to question basic property rights. Adam Smith and after him most libertarian economists have for example always been saying that property rights should be considered as the foundation of the economic order.[liii] We may say that our use and definitions of property rights in the center of corporations are not only based on considerations about self-interest, but rather on a combination between consequentialist and teleological considerations. External intervention is necessary when basic rights are not respected in economic transactions on economic markets. This is the case when we encounter widespread corruption with regard to property rights in economic systems.

Concerning contracts we can emphasize some implicit ethical values that are required to be fulfilled in economic interactions. This is evident when some transaction cost theorists have stated that governance structures to avoid opportunism as well as confidence and promise-keeping matter for economic interaction.[liv] With regard to information we may also encounter certain ethical principles within economic interactions. Correct and reliable information is a condition for trustful relations of economic action on different economic markets. It is a requirement for good contracts that they are based on reliable information. 

The principles of fair and healthy competition may indeed also be an important aspect of the ethical principles of competitive markets.[lv] Norms about monopolistic practices constitute internal limitations of economic interactions. It is a widespread belief that monopolistic action is at the limits of economic systems and possibly of economic behavior as such in liberal economic markets.

If we analyze the ethics of transaction costs economics it may be argued that a contract view of the firm is not sufficient to conceptualize the ethical dimensions of organizations. Organizations are not only universes of micro-contracts but are based on values that function as organizational goals for corporate behavior. Transaction cost economics addresses ethical problems in organizations when it discusses problems of opportunistic behavior with regard to information, agency and liability of individuals, but it cannot explain loyal and altruistic behavior in organizations. It may be true that organizations try to control organizational behavior and ensure efficiency in competition by setting up institutional infrastructures based on contracts.[lvi] But the question is if this really is sufficient to understand cases of lack of opportunistic behavior in organizations?

With Herbert Simon we can argue that transaction cost economics cannot explain why people identify with organizations and feel much more committed that what is required from the perspective of self-interest.[lvii] Authority-employee relationships and motivation cannot be understood as incomplete contracts, but rather as based on the goals and values of the organization as implicit premises for decisions. Employee motivation is therefore not only based on economic incentives but also on loyalty to the goals of the organization. Moreover, organizations should not only be understood as micro-markets of competitive contracts, but rather as instruments for coordination of human action, which facilitate action on economic markets.[lviii] In such a goal-based view, the rationality of utility based on the “economic man” cannot be the only explanation of the function of organizations on economic markets but goal-oriented and community-based behavior is a much more important aspect of organizational action. However, within new institutional theory we can perceive an orientation towards integration of different aspects of rationality when dealing with economic institutions.[lix] Therefore it may be possible to find a sort of convergence between a goal-based and a contract-based view of organizations.

From this initiative to deduce ethics out of economics we may conclude that ethics is not always external but also sometimes implicit in economic rationality. We can say that ethical aspects of economics are based on the values of the basic concepts of economic systems. We can point to organization of market structures and the most important concepts of economic markets: “Property, risk-reward relationships, information and competition”.[lx] The system of these concepts is not neutral but cannot but implies ethical values. These values are not only based on economic efficiency but include a plurality of ethical rationality reflecting individual goals, organizational values and community values. Moreover, economic organizations are not only determined by self-interested individuals acting according to utility values but the ethical values of economic organizations are more complex and they also include personal values of individual members of organizations.[lxi] However, the plurality of values also implies great tension between traditional economic values of utility and self-interest with community values based on an ethical view of the economy.

5. Economic anthropology and the foundations of rationality 

The debate about the relation of economics to ethics and politics centers on the view of economic anthropology and on the motives for action of human individuals. With welfare economics, we already were able to propose a more complex view on concepts of preferences and economic rationality.  As mentioned common criticisms of the idea self-interest of economic actors argue that human beings are not egoistic utility maximizes but belong to human communities and social cultures where concerns for the common good cannot be excluded from understanding motives for economic action.[lxii] Moreover, neoclassical presuppositions of ideal situations of economic action are conceived to be very far from the conditions of action in concrete social contexts of economic life.

Arguments for a broader ethical foundation of economic action state that economic anthropology is characterized by a tension between egoism and altruism.[lxiii] Some authors argue that wise economic action implies reciprocity and concern for other human beings.[lxiv] Therefore, self-interest is never the only motive for economic agency. In opposition to such a social view on economic action economists like Gary Becker have defended altruism as an advanced form of individual utility maximization.[lxv] Becker advances the so called “Rotten Kid Theorem” stating that people acting altruistically do so in order to improve their self-interest – like the child who behaves nicely in order to get a great reward from his or her parents.[lxvi] In this perspective strategies of cooperation and sympathy are only forms of advanced self-interest recognizing the importance of truth-telling, promise and contract keeping for future collaboration and exchange. This argument has been fully developed by Axelrod who, in his book The Evolution of Cooperation (1984), states that cooperative behavior can be founded on individual maximization of utility because in cooperative strategies in the long run will benefit individuals more than opportunistic strategies.[lxvii]

As we saw in the discussion of welfare economics fundamental preferences are not always egoistic and maximization does not always have to be based on individual profit maximization. In fact, an important development of welfare economics in the direction of corporate citizenship, business ethics and corporate social responsibility is to show that the economic subject is not exclusively to be conceived as an atomistic preference maximizer, but can be said to have altruistic preferences at the fundamental level of economic anthropology. We may say that the “economic man” should be accomplished by a “social man” or rather that individuals are characterized by a structure of double preferences where individual preferences are also related to other persons. Christian Arnsperger gives us support for this argument by considering the French anthropological tradition coming from Marcel Mauss and the concept of responsibility in the phenomenology of Emmanuel Lévinas as possible criticisms of the liberal and neoliberal restriction of economic subjects to be “atomist monads” of individualist profit maximization.[lxviii]

With this approach we use the French tradition of anthropology to illuminate the concept of economic subjectivity. With his Essai sur le don. Forme et Raison de l’échange dans les sociétés archaiques from 1924 Mauss analyzes the anthropological foundations of the concept of exchange.[lxix] The main point is that the reduction of all exchange to economic exchange does not capture the anthropological basis of exchange which really is a condition of social integration. By doing an archeological analysis of the origins of exchange Mauss can help to understand the foundations of modern social institutions. By analyzing the concept of exchange Mauss shows that the original concept of the gift is in sharp contrast with the neoclassical concept of economic exchange. In fact by looking at the triadic structure of giving-receiving and giving back (donner-recevoir-rendre) we can see how exchange is a condition of social interaction indicating exchange as a form of social integration between human beings.[lxx] This is illustrated by the phenomenon of Potlatch that was practiced by Indians in Vancouver and Alaska.[lxxi] Potlatch was a form of aggressive gift leading to a fight of giving (prestations totales de type agonistiques) between adversaries, where the winner was the one who could contribute with the largest gift. In Polynesia, exchanges of gifts were a part of important and symbolic events in society, for example religious ceremonies. In this context the gift had a religious content and to receive something from other persons was to receive parts of a symbolic substance, for example as divine mediation between giver and receiver. Today, in contrast to economic exchange, the gift still has parts of such significance. However, in the metaphysics of the gift exchange is not reduced to an economic calculation of preferences but it is linked to spiritual relations between individuals, and even when we deal with economic transactions this spiritual dimension is a part of the exchange. A gift includes an obligation both from those who receive and give the gift and in some situations this also includes the obligation to return with expression of recognition and gratitude. In the ancient mythology of India, God is defined as divine generosity of giving the world to the human beings and in the archaic Germanic societies the gift was related to intimate social relations, a symbolic and sometimes spiritual instrument of integration between different groups of society

Mauss argues that modern society still contains elements of this original concept of the gift.[lxxii] In economics and trade the interactions are often characterized by expectations of mutual satisfaction between buyer and seller and it is presupposed that the relation of exchange is based on reciprocity and recognition. Moreover, our concepts of generosity are defined as a transgression of the ordinary concepts of exchange.. According to Mauss, the modern idea of the economic subject that has emerged with the neoclassical liberal traditions may be conceived as a sort of alienation of the original concept of the gift. Although we still live by the metaphysics of the gift in modern society, we have developed an economic system where the gift has been forgotten in favor of the concept of methodological individualism of individual profit maximizers.[lxxiii] However, there are many phenomena that show the limits of this concept of social interaction, for example social security in the welfare state, corporate philanthropy, charity movements, and also gift giving for different kinds of ceremonies. Mauss is regretting that the economic concept of exchange as personal maximization is replacing the spiritual and generosity-based aspects of the gift. In neoclassical economics the maxim of mutual exchange that is based on the idea that all give as much as they received, has been replaced by individual preference maximization.

Mauss’ anthropological concept of exchange helps us to question the liberal concept of economic maximization. This economic concept of exchange must be considered in the perspective of our social life and it is limited when we want to understand all relevant aspects of human motivation. Mauss helps us to formulate a more complex concept of economic exchange linking economics to altruistic motives as well as concepts of giving and receiving, thus linking economic markets to social life. From an ethical point of view, human subjects are not only “profit maximizers”, but in their giving and receiving they are always linked to logics of social integration, which is also an important aspect of economic interaction.

The central insight of Mauss is that economic anthropology cannot solely be based on the concept of individual preference maximizer, but that economic interaction presupposes a social concern of mutual social interdependence of economic actors. Moreover, this concept of society presupposes a broader conception of the human self than the one which is proposed by neoclassical economics.  In fact we can say that the mutual relations of giving-receiving-returning is not external to the market, but rather the real truth of the market, because the market presupposes mutual dependence and mutual relations between economic actors.[lxxiv] With Christian Arnsperger we may propose a “methodological altruism” to accomplish methodological individualism of profit maximization.[lxxv] In this context the concepts of altruism of Becker and Axelrod do not take account of what altruism really is.[lxxvi] They are begging the question of altruism because they only want to count for altruism in terms of enlightened egoism. Rather, altruism is based on the essentially social character of the market involving basic conditions for the exchange relation as described by Marcel Mauss. Instead of the foundation in the monadic subject of mathematical, axiomatic economics, we have to acknowledge the relation between economic theories to the moral sciences. Economic theory cannot abstract from the morality of exchange, because exchange after all is a social event. With the focus on anthropology we have learned that it is possible to accomplish methodological individualism with a methodological altruism that also accounts for possible altruistic preferences in the economic subject and furthermore acknowledges the importance of ethical evaluation of economic preferences and of economic motives.

Emmanuel Lévinas helps to enlarge the ethical foundation for this altruistic approach to economic anthropology. Lévinas proposes a phenomenology of the intimate encounter of the other human being as the basis for our view of human motivation.[lxxvii] The encounter of the other human being is an infinite demand of responsibility and self-sacrifice. This concern for the other is the basis for social relations. The reciprocity with the other should not be defined as a relation of “alter ego”, but rather the other is someone fundamentally different from me. In the perspective of Lévinas the fundamental respect for the other as other is the foundation of ethical relations and this concern for “the other as other” precedes the relation of economic egoistic exchange. The ethical relation is more fundamental than economic relations and this ethical ideal of respect for the other as other is the foundation and condition of possibility for economic exchange.[lxxviii] Therefore, Lévinas says that ethics precedes reciprocity as mutual recognition and altruism as enlarged self-interest.

The criticism of the atomistic economic subject that is revealed by the analysis of Mauss is supported by Lévinas’ ethical anthropology, which situates economic action as secondary to the fundamental human responsibility for “the otherness of the other” as revelation of what is the innermost purpose of human action.[lxxix] This implies that economic action is embedded in larger social structures and economic rationality cannot be separated from ethical and political rationality. Christian Arnspenger suggests that Lévinas’ phenomenological description of individual subjectivity as implying a fundamental responsibility for the other shows that the logic of the gift is a possibility of individual choice that precedes “every constitution of subjectivity as purely autonomous”.[lxxx] We may say that this ethics of otherness constitutes the fundamental openness for generosity that precedes the economic account for particular preferences. Lévinas emphasizes that responsibility is the most fundamental constitution of subjectivity and it this sense we may say that ethical subjectivity is more fundamental than the economic subject of neo-classical and neo-liberal economic theory. [lxxxi]

This view on the relation between economics and ethics helps us to understand that individual rational maximization can never be fully isolated from the idea of ethical subjectivity as fundamentally responsible for other human beings. The ontology of economics and the reach of economic method based upon sheer individual maximization cannot be conceived as all-encompassing and absolute, given that economic rationality is secondary to political and ethical reciprocity. From such a point of view economic decision-making should have external restrictions in the laws of political justice and the ethical principles based on fundamental principles of human existence. Economic reason is submitted to responsible subjectivity who, when evaluating economic preferences, cannot avoid asking questions about the ethical ideas of universal moral rules, the search for justice in the political community, and considerations of community welfare.

In the perspective of the philosophy of Lévinas we may say that responsibility for the other human being conditions the legitimacy of economic action.[lxxxii] Moreover, viewed from the ideals of political community, responsibility is not only an intimate relation with the other but should be extended in time and space to society as a whole. This is the argument of the German philosophy Hans Jonas, who thinks that responsibility does not only concern present human activities but should be extended globally in time and space and include the future of humanity.[lxxxiii]

However, such an integration of ethics and politics in economic rationality is not without a price, because basic economic considerations are considered as relative to ethical principles.[lxxxiv] Concepts of efficiency, utility, production, demand, consumption, accumulations of goods, property are not considered as intrinsic values, but as only valid insofar as they do not violate basic ethical principles or contradict our moral values. Ethical and political limitations of economic action propose an ethics of responsibility as the basis for social regulation of economic action.

Conclusion

What we can learn from this analysis of economic rationality as linked to social conditions of exchange and to the responsibilities of ethical subjectivity is not that business decisions are exclusively ethical or economic in any ideal sense, but rather that it is always possible that decision-making will be dependant on a kind of “mixed rationality” including elements from both economic and ethical rationality, as well as other fields like politics and law. But in a deeper sense, we can also conceive business ethics as the foundation of decision-making in corporations, because business ethics is not only about economic means and rationality but also about the social and political goals of economic behavior. Yet how to define this political and ethical rationality as basis for economic action?

We can emphasize the fact that it follows from subjective ethical responsibility that economic rationality can never be justified without good ethical reasons. In fact this is not only supported by economic anthropology, but also within welfare economics, which relies on the concept of individual preference maximization, i.e. the same homo œconomicus of the neoclassical tradition, but does not exclude ethical evaluation of proposals for maximization. Indeed, it is a great advantage of welfare economics, somewhat in contrast to neoclassical economics, that it does not separate ethics from economic rationality but rather recognizes that theory of economic rationality should always be justified from the point of view of ethics. It is very important that economists accept this ethical constraint on economic action even when they do not agree upon what ethical reasons should be used to justify particular economic actions.

We may say that such a kind of normativity implies that we conceive the concepts of wants, utility (pleasure), competition, freedom to consume in neoclassical economics in tension with social values like needs, self-actualization, cooperation, freedom to growth, and self-realization through work as a potential good. These ideas may be considered as what is necessary in order to promote of justice as the basic structure of society. It is, in the perspective of business ethics, the aim of business institutions to be founded on a close link between ethics and economics in the sense that economic rationality is based on good and well-founded ethical reasons and arguments.

Endnotes:


[i] François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001.

[ii] Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 39-40.

[iii] Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, 1987.

[iv] Henri Dennis: Historie de la pensée économique, Thémis, PUF, Paris 1966, pp. 7-91.

[v] Aristotle: Politics, book 1, chap 9.

[vi] Thomas Aquinas : Somme Théologique II. Henri Dennis: Historie de la pensée économique, Thémis, PUF, Paris 1966, pp. 74-75 and p. 83.

[vii] Adam Smith: The Theory of the Moral Sentiments, (1759), Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2002. Patricia Werhane: Adam Smith and his Legacy for Modern Capitalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1991.

[viii] Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, 1987, pp. 22-23.

[ix] Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 77.

[x] Bernard Mandeville: The fable of the bees, Pelican classics, London 1970.

[xi] Adam Smith: The Theory of the Moral Sentiments, (1759), Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2002. Patricia Werhane: Adam Smith and his Legacy for Modern Capitalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1991. Werhane formulates the tension between benevolence and egoism in the following way “Rather in the Theory of moral sentiments Smith critizises any moral theory that derives its basis for moral judgments merely from self-interest and equally, questions any moral theory that derives these judgments solely from benevolence. Distinguishing passions from interests, Smith argues that human beings are not motivated merely by selfish passions, but that both prudence and benevolence are virtues of the self-directed and social interests, and the basic virtue is justice” (Werhane, 1991 p. 13).

[xii] Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 84

[xiii] Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, 1987, pp. 22-23.

[xiv] Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 84.

[xv] Ibid. p. 94.

[xvi] Ibid. p. 6.

[xvii] Alfred Marshall: Principles of Economics, 8th ed. MacMillan, 1920.

[xviii] Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, 1987, p.15.

[xix] Christian Knudsen: Økonomisk metodologi II, Jurist og Økonomforbundets forlag, København 1995.

[xx] F.A. Hayek: Law, legislation and liberty. A new statement of the liberal principles of justice and political economy, including Vol 1: Rules and order, Vol 2: The mirage of social justice, Vol 3: The political order of a free people, Routledge, (1983), London 1998.

[xxi] F.A. Hayek : The Road to Serfdom (1944), Routledge Paperbacks, London 1997, p. 66-69.

[xxii] Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p 247.

[xxiii] F.A. Hayek: Law, legislation and liberty. A new statement of the liberal principles of justice and political economy, including Vol 1: Rules and order, Vol 2: The mirage of social justice, Vol 3: The political order of a free people, Routledge, (1983), London 1998.

[xxiv] F.A. Hayek: Law, legislation and liberty. A new statement of the liberal principles of justice and political economy, including Vol 1: Rules and order, Vol 2: The mirage of social justice, Vol 3: The political order of a free people, Routledge, (1983), London 1998. Jean-Pierre Dupy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 284

[xxv] F.A. Hayek: Law, legislation and liberty. A new statement of the liberal principles of justice and political economy, including Vol 1: Rules and order, Vol 2: The mirage of social justice, Vol 3: The political order of a free people, Routledge, (1983), London 1998. Jean-Pierre Dupy: Liberalisme et justice sociale, Paris, Pluriel, 1992, p. 291.

[xxvi] Christian Knudsen: Økonomisk metodologi II, Jurist og Økonomforbundets forlag, København 1995, p. 66. Knudsen refers to David Kreps: A Course in Microeconomic Theory, Harvester Wheatsheaf, London and New York 1990.

[xxvii] Christian Knudsen: Økonomisk metodologi II, Jurist og Økonomforbundets forlag, København 1995, p. 88. Knudsen refers to the article about the theories of cooperative and non-cooperative game theory by Eric van Damme & J.W.: Weibull: “Equlibrium in strategic interaction: The contribution of J.C. Harsanyi, John F. Nash, and Reinhart Selten” in Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Vol. 97, pp. 15-40.

[xxviii] Christian Knudsen: Økonomisk metodologi II, Jurist og Økonomforbundets forlag, København 1995, 96.

[xxix] Michael Jensen: “A Theory of the Firm, governance, residual claims and organizational forms”, Harvard University Press, dec 2000 and The Journal of Financial Economics 1976.

[xxx] Oliver Williamson: The Economic Institutions of Capitalism, The Free Press, New York, 1989.

[xxxi] Ibid. p. 63.

[xxxii] Amartya Sen: On Ethics and Economics, Blackwell Publishers, Massachusetts, USA, 1987, pp. 19-20.

[xxxiii] Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. MacPherson: Economic Analysis and Moral Philosophy, Cambridge University Press Cambridge 1996, Swedish Translation, Studenttliteratur, Lund 2001.

[xxxiv] Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. MacPherson: Economic Analysis and Moral Philosophy, Cambridge University Press Cambridge 1996. Swedish Translation, Studenttliteratur, Lund 2001, p. 64.

[xxxv]Ibid., p. 66.

[xxxvi] Ibid, p. 68.

[xxxvii] Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. MacPherson: refers to Kenneth Arrow (1974) for this point of view.

[xxxviii] Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. MacPherson: Economic Analysis and Moral Philosophy, Cambridge University Press Cambridge 1996. Swedish Translation, Studenttliteratur, Lund 2001, p.  87.

[xxxix] See for example John Broom: Ethics out of Economics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1999. Broom even thinks that ethics and politics should learn a lot from economics. However, Broom seems to work within the utilitarian tradition of welfare economics and it is not clear whether he would speak for the neoclassical view of the necessity of a market without legal and political restrictions. Broom’s views seem to impose rather strict limitations on economic markets in comparison with the radical libertarianism of Robert Nozick and also with Milton Friedman, who both argue for an ethics implicit in economic markets.

[xl] François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001, p. 120.

[xli] Oliver Williamson: The Economic Institutions of Capitalism, The Free Press, New York 1989, p 129.

[xlii] Michael Jensen: “A Theory of the Firm, governance, residual claims and organizational forms”, Harvard University Press, dec 2000 and The Journal of Financial Economics 1976.

[xliii] Christian Knudsen: Økonomisk metodologi II, Jurist og Økonomforbundets forlag, København 1995., p. 262.

[xliv] Diane L. Swanson: ”Business Ethics and Economics” in A Companion to Business Ethics, Blackwell Companions to Philosophy, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford 2002. (pp. 207-217), p. 210.

[xlv] Ibid. p. 211.

[xlvi] Ibid. p. 210.

[xlvii] I.M.D Little: Ethics, economics and politics. Principles of public policy, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2002.

[xlviii] In fact, there are many arguments for corporate social responsibility and corporate citizenship that rely on economic concepts of self-interests. These arguments are based on the idea of the invisible hand and strategic action of self-interest as leading to the common good. This approach argues that it is possible to use concepts from game theory in order to justify action for corporate citizenship from a strategic perspective. Accordingly, altruistic action for the common good may be justified in terms of satisfaction of egoistic preferences.

[xlix] John W. Dienhart: Business, Institutions and Ethics. A Text with Cases and Readings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 145.

[l] Ibid. p. 146.

[li] See Walter W. Powell and Paul J. DiMaggio:The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London 1991., p. 293ff.

[lii] John W. Dienhart: Business, Institutions and Ethics. A Text with Cases and Readings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 149.

[liii] Ibid..

[liv] Oliver Williamson: The Economic Institutions of Capitalism, The Free Press, New York, 1989, p 63.

[lv] See for example Milton Friedman’s discussions of healty markets in Capitalism and Freedom, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1962.

[lvi] John W. Dienhart: Business, Institutions and Ethics. A Text with Cases and Readings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 177.

[lvii] Herbert Simon: ”Organizations and markets”. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 5; 3 (1995), pp. 273-293.

[lviii] John W. Dienhart: Business, Institutions and Ethics. A Text with Cases and Readings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 180.

[lix] Walter W. Powell and Paul J. DiMaggio: The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London 1991.

[lx] John W. Dienhart: Business, Institutions and Ethics. A Text with Cases and Readings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 182.

[lxi] Ibid. p. 182

[lxii] François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001, p. 299.

[lxiii] Ibid. p. 152.

[lxiv] Amartya Etizioni: The Moral Dimension. Towards a New Economics, Collier Macmillan, New York 1988.

[lxv] Gary S. Becker: Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis, with Special Reference to Education, University of Chicago Press (1964), Chicago 1993.

[lxvi] Gary S. Becker: Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis, with Special Reference to Education, University of Chicago Press (1964), Chicago 1993. See also François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001.,p. 164.

[lxvii] Robert Axelrod: The Evolution of Cooperation, Basic Books, New York 1984.

[lxviii] Christian Arnsperger: “Mauss et l´éthique du don: Les enjeux d’un altruisme méthodologique” in Revue du Mauss, Éthique et économie. L’impossible (re) marriage? No. 15. La découverte/Mauss, Paris 2000. p. 99.

[lxix] Marcel Mauss: “Essai sur le don”, In Sociologie et Anthropologie, PUF, Paris 1950.

[lxx] Marcel Hénaff: Le prix de la vérité. Le don, l’argent, la philosophie, Le Seuil Paris 2002. In this book we find a very profound development of theme of the gift. The problem is whether it is possible to unite gift and exchange. Since Socrates a particular philosophical tradition has been reluctant to allowing this, arguing that a philosopher could not sell his knowledge without reducing the gift of truth to exchange and thereby making it illegitimate. However, there is also another current accepting a link between gift and exchange, which is for example expressed in the philosophy of Montesquieu, who argued that trade implied unification of nations and Max Weber who in a certain sense can be said to reply to the theme of the gift with his idea of the Protestant ethics. However, from our point of view these discussions emphasize that the economic exchange is not something isolated, but a case of general human exchange based on reciprocity and recognition. Economic exchange, therefore, cannot be isolated from general human practices and economics must indeed be treated and conceived as a social practice. Economics cannot be separated from the social exchange processes of gift and return even though money seems to neutralize the exchange relation.

[lxxi] Marcel Mauss: “Essai sur le don”, In Sociologie et Anthropologie, PUF, Paris 1950.

[lxxii] Marcel Mauss: “Essai sur le don”, In Sociologie et Anthropologie, PUF, Paris 1950.

[lxxiii] Marcel Mauss: “Essai sur le don”, In Sociologie et Anthropologie, PUF, Paris 1950.

[lxxiv] Christian Arnsperger: “Mauss et l´éthique du don: Les enjeux d’un altruisme méthodologique” in Revue du Mauss, Éthique et économie. L’impossible (re) marriage? No. 15. La découverte/Mauss, Paris 2000.

[lxxv] Christian Arnsperger: “Mauss et l´éthique du don: Les enjeux d’un altruisme méthodologique” in Revue du Mauss, Éthique et économie. L’impossible (re) marriage? No. 15. La découverte/Mauss, Paris 2000. p. 104

[lxxvi] François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001.,p. 164.

[lxxvii] Emmanuel Lévinas:. Totalité et infini, Essai sur l’extéorité, M. Nijhoff, La Haye, 1961. François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements ’anthropologique, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001.,p. 159.

[lxxviii] Emmanuel Lévinas:. Totalité et infini, Essai sur l’extéorité, M. Nijhoff, La Haye, 1961.

[lxxix] Christian Arnsperger:  “Homo Oeconomicus, Social Order and the Ethics of Otherness“ in Ethical Perspectives, Vol 9.

[lxxx] Christian Arnsperger: “Mauss et l´éthique du don: Les enjeux d’un altruisme méthodologique” in Revue du Mauss, Éthique et économie. L’impossible (re) marriage? No. 15. La découverte/Mauss, Paris 2000. p. 113.

[lxxxi] The critical reader may insist that Lévinas cannot be used in such a way as to argue for the primacy of ethics over economics. Such an approach would state that the phenomenology of the other implies a negative reaction to the instrumentalism of economic exchange and an ethics of situational ethical demand on the individual that goes beyond economic exchange. I agree with that, but this is indeed also a good argument for the primacy of ethics in the reciprocal relation of social exchange between human beings. Accordingly, ethical responsibility is a primary constitutive element of human existence. See for exemple Emmanuel Lévinas: L’humanisme de l’autre homme, Paris Gallimard 1972, p. 82-83: ”Par cette susceptibilité, le sujet est responsable de sa responsabilité, incapable de s’y soustraire sans garder la trace de sa désertion. Il est responsabilité avant d’être intentionnalité. See Christian Arnsperger: “Mauss et l´éthique du don: Les enjeux d’un altruisme méthodologique” in Revue du Mauss, Éthique et économie. L’impossible (re) marriage? No. 15. La découverte/Mauss, Paris 2000. p. 114.

[lxxxii] Ibid.

[lxxxiii] Hans Jonas: Das Prinzip Verantwortung,  Insel Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1979.

[lxxxiv]François-Régis Mahieu: Éthique économique, fondements anthropologiques, Bibliotheque du développement, L’Harmattan, Paris 2001., p. 168.