All posts by Guðmundur Heiðar Frímannsson

Rudolf Haller and Heiner Rutte (eds.), Otto Neurath, Gesammelte philosophische und methodologische Schriften, Band 1 (Münster: LIT Verlag, 2021) 

Otto Karl Wilhelm Neurath was a philosopher of science, sociologist, and political economist. He was born on December 10, 1882, in Vienna, Austria-Hungary (now Austria) and died on December 22, 1945, in Oxford, England. Neurath was one of the leading figures of the Vienna Circle, a group of philosophers who sought to prevent confusion rooted in unclear language and unverifiable claims by converting philosophy into “scientific philosophy,” which ought to share the bases and structures of empirical sciences’ best examples.

Neurath lived through turbulent times in the history of Europe and tried to make sense of them in some of his writings. He was a socialist and radical, the Bavarian socialist government lasting from November 1918 to May 1919 appointed him head of the Central Planning Office. This political activity led to him being expelled from his post of teaching economic theory at Heidelberg University in Germany. He was active in socialist politics in Vienna from 1921 to 1934 but after the Nazis came to power in Germany and Austria allied itself with them in 1934, he had to escape to Netherland to preserve his life and later to England where he stayed until his death.

But Neurath is not best known for his political participation but for his contribution to philosophy in the first four decades of the twentieth century. He is one of the founder members of the Vienna Circle, probably the most famous and influential group of philosophers in the first part of the twentieth century. Those considered to be members were among others, Moritz Schlick, Rudolf Carnap, Philip Frank, Hans Hahn, Herbert Feigl, Fritz Waismann, Kurt Gödel, Bertrand Russell, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. I think Alfred Ayer should be linked to this group because of the influence in England of his first book, Language, Truth, and Logic, originally published in 1936, formulating and arguing for the ideas of the Vienna Circle. Anyone acquainted with the history of philosophy knows that these men, they were all men, turned out to be some of the most prominent philosophers in the world in the twentieth century.

The members of the Vienna Circle formulated a theory of language that became very influential. It was called logical positivism, also known as logical empiricism, that emerged in the late 1920s. The central thesis of logical positivism is the verification principle (also known as the verifiability criterion of meaning), which asserts that only statements verifiable through direct observation or logical proof are meaningful in terms of conveying truth value, information, or factual content. The Vienna Circle sought to prevent confusion rooted in unclear language and unverifiable claims by converting philosophy into “scientific philosophy,” which ought to share the bases and structures of empirical sciences’ best examples, such as Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Logical positivists believed that scientific knowledge is the only kind of factual knowledge, and all traditional metaphysical doctrines are to be rejected as meaningless. They took all sciences’ basic content to be only sensory experience, and only the verifiable was scientific and thus meaningful (or cognitively meaningful), whereas the unverifiable, being unscientific, were meaningless “pseudostatements” (just emotively meaningful). Unscientific discourse, as in ethics and metaphysics, would be unfit for discourse by philosophers.

It must be admitted that this description of the central tenets of the Vienna Circle does not apply to all the members, and they had different opinions about various parts of this description. Wittgenstein, for example, never accepted this as a description of his views and famously rejected Russell’s description of his views in the latter’s introduction to Tractatus-Logico Philosophicus, Wittgenstein’s first book, and in his later work he flatly rejected the scientism involved in believing that a factual, scientific language was somehow more fundamental to other uses of language.

I believe it is true to say that nowadays very few, if any, philosophers believe these theories of language formulated by various members of the Vienna Circle. I shall name three reasons for this. First, the verification principle cannot be established by the same scientific procedures as the truth of scientific statements. Observation is not the method to confirm that principle, it needs firmer grounds. Two, the logical structures of statements about the good are the same as about observable events or characteristics of persons and things. Why should the good not have the same logical status as other properties? Why should the good not be treated as objective as other properties? We can observe how some things are good for human beings, like eating healthy food, and other things bad, like not exercising regularly. Three, research on language has progressed enormously in the twentieth century both in philosophy, linguistics, and related fields. This does not mean that we fully understand language, the differences between languages, the relation between language and mind but we know enough to reject the analysis of language by the logical positivists. Fourth, we better realise how human experience is unreliable as a direct link to reality. Experience is interpreted and determined by our concepts and hence by language and we must be wary of how reality appears to us.

Even though philosophy has developed in ways not congenial to many of Neurat’s ideas this does not apply to all his ideas. One of his most important ideas was the unity of the sciences which he discusses in some of his works in this volume. A significant development in science in the last twenty or thirty years is the movement away from strict disciplinarity and formulating interdisciplinary projects to investigate scientific questions. This is based on the realisation that the social world and the physical world are extremely complex and if we want to find good answers to important questions about reality scientist must be prepared to work together to find those answers. To name one example, lawyers are specialists in law and its interpretation, but law is also a part of a complex social world and cannot ultimately be understood if not as a part of this social world. This means that sociologists, philosophers, criminologists, and others must contribute to the full understanding of law as a social phenomenon. Interdisciplinarity does not necessarily mean the unity of the sciences but that the various disciplines are fluid and they can influence and understand each other.

Neurath’s works in this volume of his writings start in 1909 and last until 1931. They cover various subjects of interest for him, economics, logic, philosophy of science, socialism, Marxism, the labour movement, and physicalism. He writes also about Carnap, Russell and Sombart and there is a long discussion of Spengler’s ideas which I found interesting even though Spengler’s ideas are notoriously a mess.

In summary, Otto Neurath was a philosopher of science, sociologist, and political economist who made significant contributions to the philosophy of science and the Vienna Circle. His ideas were criticized by leading philosophers, but his work remains influential in the philosophy of science.




Otto Neurath Band 1, Gesammelte philosophische und methodologische Schriften, LIT Verlag, 2021, was originally published in 1981.


Dirk Booms and Peter John Higgs (eds.), Sicily: Heritage of the World (London: The British Museum, 2019)

The remarkable connection between the North and the South

Booms, D., J. Higgs. (2019). Sicily: Heritage of the World. London, The British Museum.

This journal is about the relations between the south, The Mediterranean, and the north, the Arctic, the Nordic countries and generally the northern Europe. Half of the book under review here is specifically about this relation, the Norman influence on Sicily and its institutions, starting about the year 1000 and lasting until the middle of the twelfth century. The other half is about archaeological excavations in Sicily of objects and artistic works from the period of Greek influence in Sicily lasting from the eight century BC until third century BC. The book is a result of a conference related to the exhibition, Sicily: Culture and Conquest, that opened in 2016 at the British Museum in London, giving a deep background to the exhibition.

Not having seen the exhibition at the Museum is a drawback for a reviewer of this book. When you add to it that the reviewer is not an archaeologist or a historian specialising in these periods but only an interested amateur the objective of giving a reasonable appreciation of this book and what is in it becomes a tough job but not an impossible one. The reason is that the authors in this book write clearly, are obviously knowledgeable in their areas of expertise and can convey to the reader complex issues and knowledge that is specific, detailed, and wide. There are 18 chapters in this book, 11 about the Greek influence and 7 about the Norman contribution to the culture and identity of Sicily.

The ancient Greek world is fascinating and important for European understanding of their continent and societies. It is often assumed that there is a direct link between ancient Greece and modern Europe, but this is a simplification. The Middle Ages, the influence of the Muslim culture on southern Europe, the Muslim conduct of science, have made the link to ancient Greece more complex than we often are willing to admit. Sicily was a Greek colony and was not central to the development of Greek societies and is often considered not as important as Athens or Sparta. Such views often become paradigms in research and skew our vision of what really took place because it often depends on the initial premisses what we see.

Sicily is strategically placed in the Mediterranean, a place to which people have migrated and settled and made their own in their social practices and culture. It should come as no surprise that some of the historically dominant powers in this area have colonised parts of Sicily and influenced its culture and society in various ways. Ancient Greece was one of those powers and it left a long-lasting legacy in Sicily in buildings and various types of objects that area examined in these papers. They look closely at how indigenous people reacted to Greek and Phoenician settlers and how the cultures reacted, how the mixing of cultures increased artistic and technological activity, there are reinterpretations of old finds in the light of new discoveries, how isolated marbles that are to be found in many modern museums were originally parts of groups of works that created narratives that are missing when the work is observed in isolation.

Normans arrived from the northern part of Europe, the Nordic countries, Normandy and other places, sometimes as pilgrims, sometimes as mercenaries. Some came by land from France through Iberia onto Italy, others came by “austurvegur” on boats on the rivers in Eastern Europe to the Black Sea and many becoming “væringjar” or mercenaries in Byzantium. Some of these Normans arrived in Sicily and gradually established themselves there having to fight the established authorities reigning at the time that were Muslim. Gradually the Normans became more powerful and influential. Some of the Muslims were not pleased with their absent authorities in Egypt or Ifriqiya (roughly modern Tunisia and eastern Algeria) and seem to have preferred the Normans who were present as authorities. The research presented here investigates the processes of interaction between the new rulers and the settled population and the former authorities. Other papers deal with the legacy of the Norman period even lasting to the present.

This is an interesting collection of papers on the history and development of Sicily. Anyone interested in this history would do well to read this collection of papers on various aspects of these subjects. The text is very good and informative, and the pictures add substantially to the text.

Citizenship and the emotions: The glue that keeps democratic societies together

The question I want to ask is if emotions can and do have any role in forming and regulating democratic citizenship. We can ask if emotions and feelings might have any positive role in politics in general. This is a good and reasonable question, but I want to narrow it down and approach it from the point of view of citizenship in a democratic society. This means I must give an account of citizenship in a democratic context and of feelings and emotions and how they might possibly contribute to citizenship in democracy, establish and strengthen the glue that is necessary to prevent faction and strife getting out of hand.

I guess the traditional view is that feelings and emotions are causes of strife rather than contributors to a well-functioning democracy. This view may be justified by the distinction between reason and feelings, reason being the calm voice of unity and feelings being the uncontrolled and irrational force causing disruption and chaos. But when emotions and feelings are properly analysed and understood they are not uncontrollable and irrational even though they may be resistant to the voice of reason. When everything is normal, they work in unison with reason, they are part of a well-ordered human rationality forming a whole human being. This does not mean that reason is the overarching, supreme psychological faculty that must reign and be respected but it means that emotions and feelings are part of the make-up of every human being, and they serve an important purpose in a good life just like reason.

Citizen and citizenship

A citizen is an individual located in and a member of a political entity, usually a state, the relation to the political entity is called citizenship. This must be an authoritative political entity controlling a territory because being a member of a social group like a football club does not entitle us to claim citizenship. This sort of social group is not of the right type. Being a citizen is complex and it varies from state to state, what conditions must be fulfilled for a person to become a citizen. Usually, we think of citizenship as a binary concept, either one is a citizen or not a citizen. But the world of citizenship is more complex than that. States confer citizenship on the individuals living within their territories. Two conditions for citizenship are common, if a child is born on the state´s territory it is entitled to become a citizen, if the parents are citizens of the state where a child is born it is entitled to citizenship in this state. Sometimes a state gives persons a right to stay in its territory if that person has lived for a certain number of years within its boundaries or her right to stay may be dependent on relations with a citizen or somebody who has a right to stay. Those who have a right to stay and those who have dependent rights do not usually have a right to vote, for example, and are therefore not full citizens in modern democratic states.

Being a citizen is usually limited to fully mature human beings and it varies between states when individuals become fully mature, 16 years, 18 years or even 20 years. In modern democracies being able to vote is aligned with ideas about moral maturity. So, children do not have the right to vote, and the idea is that they have not achieved the understanding necessary to know what electing a representative involves. Animals do not have a right in democratic politics and no standing as citizens and the same applies to nature. But children have interests just like animals and nature and decisions by democratic politicians can have serious consequences for them. Hence, it has been argued that these groups should be able to influence the political process however we try to bring that about. If the arguments for including these groups in the political process are successful, then the number of citizens increases and the interests that need to be considered in the political process will multiply. This is mentioned here just to point out that in modern philosophy and politics the notion of who is a citizen seems to be changing.

This leads naturally to a question about what kind of concept the concept of citizen is. It seems to me that there is a clear central example that demonstrates the accepted meaning of citizenship which is the example of the citizen of a state. Admittedly, citizenship is complex and there are examples where it is not quite clear if they are instances of citizenship or not, but this does not justify claiming that the concept of citizenship is essentially contested (Cohen & Ghosh, 2019). It is certainly contested and the scope of the meaning of the concept seems to be widening but the notion of essentially contested concepts is suspect (Kristjánsson, 2022, 1-2). I take it that citizenship is a contested concept but not essentially so and we can rationally analyse its core and discuss its boundaries, its evolution, and changes.

I think it is also important to distinguish between the concepts we use and the social arrangements and structures that develop around the referents of these concepts. It is not obvious that social structures and social arrangements affect the meaning of social terms or categories. It seems to me that the meaning of social terms like rights or citizenship is independent of social structures and arrangements even though we adopt the conferral view of social properties (Ásta, 2018, 7-9). The basic idea in the conferral view is that others confer on us social properties, being popular is a social property constituted by the attitudes of others to us. The feelings of many others towards us confer on us the property of being popular. This view of social properties does not necessarily lead to the view that social terms or social concepts change their meaning when the constitution of social properties changes, e.g. if we come to the view that social properties are response-dependent rather than conferred by others.

It is sometimes argued that the meaning of citizenship has changed when social arrangements changed, for example, when women were accepted as citizens with the same rights as men. It hardly needs saying that this acknowledgement was only the first step on a longer road to full equality with men dealing with all the structures and social arrangements that prevented women from being citizens in the same way as men. The first thing to notice is that saying the meaning of citizenship has changed because of this development is ambivalent. The meaning in the sense of the role citizenship plays in the lives of men and women who are citizens has changed, women nowadays have the same responsibilities and the same political status as men and the social arrangements preventing women from living their lives as full citizens are slowly changing. In the Nordic countries this is true and in other European countries but in other parts of the world there is a different story to be told. The second thing to notice is that this development has not changed the meaning of the concept of citizenship. The extension of the concept has widened because of this change in law and the development of the social standing of women has gradually enabled them to enjoy the benefits of citizenship. But the meaning of the concept of citizenship has not changed.

In an anarchical state with open borders it makes sense to talk about citizenship. In such a state the social arrangements for the citizens as a group would certainly be different from what we see in the nation states of the present world. In a tyranny citizenship is very different from a democracy. Despite this it seems to me in all these cases it would make sense to talk about citizens and citizenship.

My suggestion for a core meaning of the concept of citizenship is that being a citizen is a status or standing in a political entity. Being a citizen means that your residence in a territory, your being born in that territory or your having parents that live in that territory, to name some prominent examples, fulfil the conditions required by that political entity, most often a state, and your citizenship consists in a relation to that political entity. The conditions for being a citizen can vary enormously from one political entity to another, but it seems to me that in practically all the cases considered we are talking about a relation between an individual and a political entity like a state.

What does this relation involve? As should be clear by now that the content of citizenship can vary radically between one constitutional order and another. In an anarchy the content would be minimal, you only owe it to the population at large not to attempt to coerce others to perform actions they would otherwise not have performed, the freedom of each and all of us and our right to non-intervention by others must be respected by others. In a tyranny you would have obligations to follow the decisions of the state but no rights against the state, the most prominent obligation would be to obey the orders of the state and not to resist them, however evil they might be. But in the typical case the relation to the state would involve a mixture of rights and obligations, a right to protection and security, to justice, and obligations to pay taxes, follow the law and in many cases bear arms. In most constitutional orders we would expect to find a mixture of rights and obligation.

In modern democracies the mixture of rights and obligations does typically include the right to free expression of one´s views, to freedom of association and the right to participate in governing the society where you live and the obligations to pay taxes, reject violence, use evidence and truth to convince others of your views, and in some modern democracies there is an obligation to participate by voting. One thing to notice about the rights mentioned here is that they are typical human rights and most of them are included in many modern human rights contracts. It is a fundamental feature of the modern conception of human rights that they are rights of individuals, and these rights are considered to be independent of the constitutional order where the individuals live. Citizenship, as described here, is different from human rights, it is a relation between an individual and a political entity and it depends on the constitutional order of that entity how citizenship is understood, in some constitutional orders it only includes obligations, in others it includes both rights and obligations. The conditions each political entity lays down as necessary for citizenship determine who can count as a citizen and who cannot count as a citizen in that political demos or polity. Many of the concepts we use have a clear meaning and the speakers know the referents of the concept. Others do not have clear boundaries but do not cause any problems for speakers in understanding what is being talked about. The boundaries of the concept of citizenship are in many respects not clear even though the legal processes for establishing citizenship clear up the issue who is a citizen and who is not. The legal processes are social arrangements the polity in question has decided to use for clarifying who is a citizen and who is not. These legal processes can be used when non-citizens want to enter the territory being controlled by the polity. A polity with clear legal practices on who counts as a citizen can adopt an open border policy. The experience of those who are citizens and those who are not can be shaped by the social arrangements for good or ill but the distinction between the concepts citizens and non-citizens is not an automatic foundation for these arrangements.


Democracy has been the dominant social order in many parts of the world for over a century and spread all over the globe in the last decades of the twentieth century and the first two decades of the twenty first. Yet its prospects are not good, oligarchy and tyranny are on the rise in the world and violence and destructive tendencies like populism are gaining ground in established democracies. Economic growth is no longer a pacifier for democratic orders because it has serious negative consequences for the natural world and democratic governments are more reluctant to redistribute increased personal and social wealth. These developments in modern democracies raise many questions and one of the more important ones is about citizenship: What is the role of the citizen in a democracy? When confronting this question, we must address the fact that democracy is in some ways a special case in the varieties of the constitutional orders. Usually, the major threat to the established order is the possibility of faction, dissension or even revolt. In an oligarchy or tyranny this problem is dealt with by imprisoning those disagreeing with the authorities or even killing them. But it is a basic fact about democracy that it encourages differences of opinions, we expect that every citizen can form her own opinion and voice it if she pleases. This can easily lead to heated discussions, deep differences of opinion and social unrest, in extreme cases to revolts or revolutions. This is a consequence of the rights of democratic citizens, they have the right to form their own opinions and express them, they have the right to establish any associations they want, even revolutionary ones, if they operate within the rules of the democratic order. This raises the question what holds democracies together, how can they survive if it is part of their structure to encourage divisions of these sorts? One way of investigating this is to ask: How should we understand democratic citizenship? Do feelings and emotions contribute to democratic citizenship? Answers to these questions might throw light on how democracies survive turbulent times and can be more resilient than tyrannies and oligarchies.

There are various ways of understanding democratic citizenship. First, it needs pointing out that the basic idea in democracy is that the political power is rooted in the will of the citizens. The obvious question about this statement is: How do the citizens express their will? There are different ways of doing that, talking publicly at meetings, writing articles in newspapers, creating podcasts, or expressing your opinions on social media. In normal times those expressing their views should not have to worry about their lives, jobs, or careers if their views are within reasonable bounds. But the expression of views in media of whichever type does not create a general will of the citizens. We need a more formal procedure for enabling the general will to form. We might create a forum for rational discussion of all interested citizens and aim for unanimity about an issue being discussed at the end. We might conduct an election about a particular issue or a general election in which political parties took part. These two types of elections are the most common methods to try to figure out the general will of the citizens. All the possibilities mentioned here are imperfect ways of figuring out the general will. Rational discussion about one proposal is a lengthy way of forming the general will and there is no guarantee it will lead to a definite conclusion. Elections about issues simplify complex matters, usually we are asked to say yes or no to a specific issue, and political parties offer a mix of views and attitudes to citizens and citizens may find it difficult to figure out where they stand and what to choose.

How should a citizen make up her mind when deciding how to vote? I think it is fair to say that no modern democracy is possible without voting, any polity that says it is democratic but never votes on anything may not be contradicting itself, but it is saying something that in practice does not seem to be possible. So, it is reasonable to ask how a citizen in a democracy should make up her mind when deciding to vote.

One way of trying to understand how a citizen should conduct herself as part of the power base of democracy is to use her reason and think of herself as guided by self-interest. The basic idea is then that when all citizens have made up their minds about an issue or how to vote in an election then we get a rational collective decision based on the rational evaluation of the self-interest of every citizen. There is no denying that this model of citizens and their behaviour can be a powerful explanatory tool. But it has its problems. First, it is only a model, citizens make up their minds on various grounds, some on self-interested ones, others on other-interested ones. Second, one of the logical consequences of this model is that the citizen cannot have a rational reason to vote, the costs of trying to understand issues and going to vote always outweigh the possible benefits to the self-interested citizen. This means that the citizen never or hardly ever has a motive to vote and a strong motive to be ignorant of the public issues in her polity. Third, if it is only self-interest that is in play in public decisions there is no way to discern the importance of public issues except by counting votes. This is highly counterintuitive. I suggest that we put this model of the citizen aside.

I think we should start by some assumptions that can be reasonably made about most citizens in modern democracies. The first assumption is that people who live in a democracy share a way of living together. The reason is that democracy is a way of living together, not only in the sense of living close to each other as we do in cities, but in the sense that we are asked to take part in common practices to take common decisions, a central feature of democracy. In the common liberal order of modern democracies, we might want to say that we are offered to take part even though there are actual liberal states requiring citizens to vote, for example. But it is much more common to consider the citizens free to vote rather than obliged to vote. But I think it is reasonable to say that they are asked to take part in democratic practices like voting because democracies die if the citizens are unwilling to take part in important democratic practices like voting. The second assumption is that the citizens come to the democratic practices endowed with different skills, viewpoints, and knowledge. The democratic order has some obligations to its citizens such as securing education for them enabling them to take part in the democratic practices and to have something to offer on the economic market of modern democracies. But just as importantly these various points of view and different knowledge are valuable for democracy and need to be reflected in the democratic processes. The third assumption is that it is reasonable to expect a modern democracy to support a welfare system for the citizens, this can be realised in very different ways in the context of modern nation states. The fourth assumption is that citizens can be sked to take part in public discussions that are conducted for the citizens to inform and enlighten them. They need to approach these democratic practices with an open mind, not in the sense that they must be willing to change their opinions when discussing with others but willing to take the views and interests of others into account.

These four assumptions are intended to flesh out certain conditions necessary for modern democracy. They are not meant to be a fully-fledged theory of democracy. My reason for introducing these assumptions is to throw some light on what can be expected of citizens in modern democracies and what it is that can make democracy a stable order, what keeps democracies together, even though it encourages citizens to express their views and act on them if the occasion arises. This starting point of democracy seems more likely to lead to faction and strife than a stable social order.

In modern social theories social capital is believed to contribute to the stability of democracy. The idea of social capital was first formulated by Bourdieu and Robert Putnam (1993; Siisiäinen, 2000). Putnam´s idea includes trust between citizens, social support, membership of free associations, common language and common culture. If these things are in place, we can expect an integrative network of relations to form between citizens enabling democratic society to function well. Putnam´s concept of social capital is helpful to understand the background of a well-functioning democracy. The important parts for us here are trust and social support. Trust is something that you earn by your words and your actions showing that you take others´ points of view into account and you are careful not to harm them or their interests. Social support is either something the citizens do or contribute to or the polity supplies. It creates conditions for friendly interactions between citizens and friendly communication. We might say that these two things along with others create solidarity in a polity.

But solidarity, what is that? Solidarity is a fellow feeling based on common attitudes or interests of citizens. In any modern democracy the citizens have different and varied interests, sometimes they are opposed to the interests of others, sometimes not. Sometimes opposed interests develop into class struggles that can be dangerous for democracy. It is not the case that democracy cannot tolerate conflicts and friction; they are natural parts of modern democracy, but there are certain limits to how democratic conflicts can be conducted. A certain amount of coercion can be tolerated if it is based on legitimate interests but as soon as it leads to physical injuries or death it has crossed reasonable limits. But hard struggles among groups in democracies do not normally damage democratic solidarity.

I hope these explanations have illuminated what it means to say that democracy is a way of living together.

Emotions and democracy

Solidarity is certainly a feeling and an attitude, and they are on display in certain democratic practices. It was pointed out earlier that democracy is a way of living together in the sense that we must take part in collective actions if democracy is to work. This means that any citizen must interact with other citizens, communicate, and discuss with them the points at issue, agree and disagree, and attempt to conclude what is fair and just and the majority supports. We must ask how do we do this? We do this by obtaining information about the issue, evaluating the possible resolutions of the issue by taking part in the discussion or at least by forming an opinion for ourselves about the issue. In doing that we use as best we can our abilities to think critically and our feelings and emotions. It is a general truth about human beings that they are endowed with feelings and emotions and with intellectual abilities and reason. It is sometimes assumed that feelings and emotions are independent of reason and are regularly contrary to reason, the view that they are necessarily irrational has a long history. But the theoretical view of feelings and emotions has been changing and it is generally accepted that reason and emotions are connected, and emotions are rational in the sense, for example, when we are afraid, we are afraid of something that might be dangerous to us. Emotions can be rational in the sense of representing the world correctly and in the sense of motivating our response to the danger at hand (Scarantino, & de Sousa, 2021). It is not relevant in the context of this essay to discuss emotions and their rationality in depth but because they are an inevitable part of our cognitive make-up they must be considered when discussing political issues and how we conduct our lives in democracy. Living with others in democracy is living with the emotions of others.

The question then becomes what role do emotions play in democratic practices and deliberations? The emotions play the cognitive role of representing the world and they are especially sensitive to the moral qualities of situations and issues. This perceptual function is in turn a key to the motivating role of emotions. There is an historical model available to us of reason and emotions including how they play out in politics. This is Aristotle´s virtue theory. In the last part of this essay, I will concentrate on Aristotle´s views.

Aristotle´s key idea is that all emotions are infused with reason, all emotions represent reality, and they motivate actions. They are closely involved with the intellectual virtue practical wisdom or phronesis which does not control emotions by suppressing them but by making them parts of our virtues. This means that emotions tend to guide us towards actions that are good or are fitting in any situation. If our moral education has been successful emotions are sufficient to hit upon the right or appropriate action. But in difficult situations where emotions point us in different directions and virtues clash phronesis decides on the right or appropriate action.

There are two ideas about citizens in Aristotle´s work that are important in this context. The first is his idea that friendship is the glue of societies (Aristotle, 2014), the second is his idea that when the citizens come together, they are wiser than all citizens are alone (Aristotle, 1996). I shall discuss them in turn.

As I mentioned before there are certain social practices and social structures that contribute to the good functioning of modern democracy. Aristotle had a similar idea. He says in his Nichomachean ethics (2014, 1155a23-29):

“Friendship seems also to hold cities together, and lawgivers to care more about it than about justice; for concord seems to be something like friendship, and this is what they aim at most of all, while taking special pains to eliminate civil conflict as something hostile. And when people are friends, they have no need of justice, while when they are just, they need friendship as well; and the highest form of justice seems to be a matter of friendship.”

The idea that friendship holds societies together may strike us moderns as fanciful, inappropriate, not helpful. It seems to me that the reason for this is that we think of friendship as a relation between people we know, family and those we are well acquainted with. Modern societies are so large that it is impossible for an individual to know every citizen personally, this applies even in a small society like Iceland. Hence, friendship has no place in explaining how modern democratic societies arrange their democratic ways of living together, how they are more than a collection of individuals, a community.

This would be a too hasty rejection of Aristotle´s view of friendship. The meaning of his Greek word for friendship, philia, is much broader than our modern notion of friendship. Its scope is not limited to our close family and acquaintances but can include a much larger group of people, even all the citizens of a Greek polis, including thousands of people. This is the term Aristotle uses and adds that concord which lawgivers aim at most of all is something like friendship and civil conflict is something hostile to the polis and concord helps to eliminate that. If we interpret Aristotle´s philia as fellow feeling, civic friendship, when discussing the political context of the polity, then there does seem to be a truth in what he says. When democratic authorities treat their citizens well and protect their security and welfare this helps to establish a stable society and causes general satisfaction among the polity. Yet, in democracy dissident voices are always to be expected but they do not cause any problems or strife unless there is an issue addressed that is controversial. But the controversy, if it arises, is not among strangers but among citizens who are friends, a group that has social capital that should ensure that any controversy will not develop into destructive strife. There seems to be a caring attitude among citizens of the same polity. In some modern democracies this caring attitude seems to be lacking and causing all sorts of problems for them, sometimes so deep that democratic practices become difficult, even impossible (Dworkin, 2006).

There is more to Aristotle´s concept of friendship than it being a relation among citizens. Friendship is also a moral virtue. Aristotle´s notion of virtue brings with it most of the key elements in his moral theory. Each moral virtue has its typical middle and extremes and friendship is no different (Aristotle, 2014, 1126b11-1127a13). One extreme is obsequiousness or flattery, the tendency to praise everything and never to obstruct or object to what the other says to avoid causing discomfort or pain. The opposite extreme is the one who objects to and obstructs everything her interlocutor says and thinks nothing of the pain she might be causing. This extreme is called belligerence or bad temper. The mean has no name, but it involves the agent accepting the right things in the right way and reject them likewise, this seems to be praiseworthy and “most like friendship” and the person exhibiting these characteristics seems to be a good friend. The good friend aims for what is noble in her interactions with her friends, so whenever it is noble to add to the pleasure of her friend she does so and whenever her friend says ignoble things or wants to perform ignoble actions she objects and obstructs. She acts in this way because that is how her character is.

This is the virtue of friendship but like all the other moral virtues it brings with it feelings, emotions, and reason. Emotions and feelings in friendship revolve around our friends, the relationship with our friends is the typical object of the virtue of friendship and the feelings of love and care are the attitudes central to friendship. Good upbringing is necessary to make the emotions aim at what is good and noble and reason or phronesis is a part of all the moral virtues deciding when a doubt arises which emotion is appropriate in the context in question.

What this means in general for emotions and feelings in politics is that the feelings must be based on something we know, and they need to be appropriate to the object. Uncontrolled outbursts of strong feelings are to be discouraged, not because they are never appropriate, but because they can easily have consequences that are worse than the original cause of the emotional outbursts. In our modern lives lived in the social media it has become nearly impossible in many instances to find out if the original cause of anger, for instance, is a fact or a fake. The Aristotelian virtue of moderation is one of the most important virtues in modern politics and he thinks that the notion of the good man and the good citizen coincide in some respect (Johnson, 1984). But how does Aristotle think about friendship in our roles as citizens?

Friendship and modern democracy

Aristotle distinguishes between three types of friendship (Aristotle, 2014, 1156a6-9), friendship for utility, friendship for pleasure and true friendship or character friendship. Friendship for utility is based on how useful people can be to each other either in supplying goods for each other or services. Friendship for pleasure involves friends being pleasant to each other. Both these types of friendship change when the circumstances of the friends change, they do not outlast the pleasure or utility the friendship is based on, if they stop the friendship stops. But character friendship is long lasting because the friends aim to do whatever is good for their friend rather then what is useful or pleasant for her. Aristotle thinks that friendship of this last kind is rare “because people of this kind are few” (Aristotle, 2014, 1156b25-26). People who are fully morally mature are not many according to Aristotle and hence character friendship does not occur often, friendship for utility and pleasure are more frequent.

Aristotle thinks that civic friendship holds cities together and that concord seems like friendship as it says in the quotation cited earlier. I suggest that if friendship is to serve this function in a state it must be long lasting, like character friendship, but it will also be like friendship for utility because the state offers its citizens important goods like peace, security and welfare that are necessary for a good life, these goods are useful for every citizen. Civic friendship is long lasting, useful and requires strong loyalty, the state is worthy of love, and it reciprocates the love of the citizens by aiming to make them good (Aristotle, 2014, 1155b28-33). Civic friendship does not seem to fit into any of the three types Aristotle discerns. Character friendship is long lasting, but its maintenance costs are high, its devotion and intimacy require much time (Kristjánsson, 2022, 40). Civic friendship is long lasting if it is to serve the role Aristotle wants it to serve and it is time consuming, citizens in a democracy must spend considerable time on the affairs of state in peace time and this completes the good life, and it requires a strong sense of obligation and devotion if the polis goes to war. Civic friendship can require the ultimate sacrifice of your life in times of war. The Greek city states in ancient times relied on their male population to defend its territory and to conquer and destroy other states. War was a regular feature of both male and female lives in ancient times as it still is in many parts of the modern world. Even though many modern armies are professional institutions the citizens are often obliged to enter the army if the political authorities judge it necessary. So, if civic friendship is keeping societies together as Aristotle believed then it can require the ultimate sacrifice of the citizens now as it did in ancient times. This makes it different from the other types that Aristotle identifies.

It is not my intention to write an essay on how to explain Aristotle´s notion of friendship, especially civic friendship, and how it is related to virtue, but I wanted to show how Aristotle´s civic friendship opens up the possibility of a role for emotions and feelings in responding to political events and actions and how emotions and feeling can contribute to the cohesiveness of society. This way of approaching the role of feelings in modern democratic life goes against the current because most of the time feelings are believed to be a destructive force in politics. The reason for this is that strong feelings easily lead to strife and deep disagreements in politics. It is also the case that unscrupulous politicians use emotive issues to stir up strong feelings that lead people to go into the streets and cause serious unrest that the police must settle. There is another reason for this repugnance of emotions in politics, it is the belief that emotions are somehow necessarily irrational. So strong emotions are taken to indicate the absence of reason. This tendency in modern public life should be resisted.

Aristotle demonstrates how feelings and emotions shape our perception of the moral qualities of the context of our actions and through this perception influence what we think and how we respond and act. The key insight is that emotions and feelings are not free floating, irrational entities that can be stirred when someone thinks it appropriate. There must be a story about something bad or unjust to cause anger among the citizens. Poverty or bad treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers often evokes strong feelings in European countries, police violence and killing of innocent citizens causes strong reaction in other countries like USA and Iran. If this is what really happened, it is entirely rational and reasonable to express strong feelings publicly. The problem for demonstrators is to take care that people are not hurt, and only limited damage caused. This can be difficult, if not impossible, to control in a large group. Often there are persons taking part in the demonstration that are not interested in the issue being objected to but just want to cause trouble. Often it is the sheer number of people taking part that make it impossible to control. All this is a fact of life for anyone taking part in protests in modern democracies. If we look at this from the point of view of Aristotle´s theory of civic friendship, then these responses are rational in so far as they are a response to an injustice because it is the role of civic friends to tell the authorities if they are either planning or performing ignoble acts and causing injustice to innocent people.

Problems for reason and emotions in modern democracy

I do not want to minimize the role of reason in modern democracies. Rational deliberations among experts, politicians and citizens are necessary for any democracy if it is to govern itself well and establish a good context for the lives of its citizens. The experts share their specialist knowledge with the politicians and the citizens and suggest some of the logical inferences to be drawn from the established knowledge. They must also point out weaknesses in the established knowledge and how they must be avoided or taken care of. The citizens with the politicians must decide what to do based on the best knowledge but most often in modern democracies the representatives decide what to do. They are not experts but as a group, citizens and the representatives or just the representatives, are well placed to decide on the general aims, and also on what to do because “the many are better judges than a single man of music and poetry; for some understand one part, and some another, and among them they understand the whole” (Aristotle, 1996, 76, 1281b7-9). This seems to imply that the citizens can be in the position of judging an issue and coming to a conclusion about it based on the best argument, i.e., rational deliberation among citizens is possible and it could serve this epistemic function in ancient Athens. Many modern political theorists believe that rational deliberation is possible among citizens, and it can possibly serve the same function in modern democracies as in Athens. If it is the representatives who are deliberating in preparation for taking a good decision, they must represent the whole of citizens (Anderson, 2006).

But there are two facts that seem to tell against this. The first is that in modern democratic politics you cannot trust either the citizens or the representatives to respect the truth and conduct their deliberations on what the truth is, not even on what they think the truth is, because deliberate lying has become a commonplace in political discussions. Political cultures vary in this respect, some are more corrupt than others. The second point is that intellectual division of labour in politics is an inevitable fact of modern societies, so knowledge and skill is distributed unequally but citizens are considered equal in democracies and the aim must be that their influence on some decisions should be equal. But if rational deliberation and judgement ought to track the best argument and approach the truth then it seems that those in the know, the experts, should carry more weight in coming to a rational conclusion than the ordinary citizen. She is likely to misunderstand the key issues and not appreciate the most important facts and come to a view that does not track the best argument. Experts do not always agree and when two groups of experts argue their case for the citizens it is probable that they do not understand the issue fully and hence their judgements do not track the best argument. The same applies to representatives who must decide on a lot of issues on which they have no specialist knowledge. If their judgements track the best argument, it may be fortunate coincidence rather than a clear understanding of the concepts, inferences, and facts of the case (Christiano, 1996, 123-127). It is more likely that their judgements do not track the best argument and the best view of what is true and therefore the decision will not be the right one producing the best consequences. These two facts of modern democracies conspire against the possible epistemic benefits of rational deliberations of the many and the wise.

Taking part in rational deliberations engages the emotions and feelings of the citizens. Rationality is not the only thing that matters because the motivation for taking part is stronger if the feelings are engaged. If your point of view does not carry the day in the deliberation and you end up in the minority you must always evaluate your arguments, your inferences, your presentation, and the truth of your point of view. The question must be: Did I lose because I was wrong or did I lose because of something else? Your losing does not necessarily mean you were wrong even though Rousseau thought so. If you believe you were wrong about some major matter your opinions change, but this does not necessarily mean that your emotions and feelings change as well. It seems that Aristotle did not realise that emotions and feelings might behave differently from opinions and judgements and the Stoics opposed his ideas on the ground that feelings and emotions were uncontrollable and had a life of their own and Aristotle was wrong about their moderation (Sherman, 1997, pp. 101-102). Emotions and feelings are more recalcitrant to change than opinions and this can cause problems for citizens in their lives, but it seems to me wrong to say that they are uncontrollable. Aristotle was right in saying that emotions and feeling are parts of our rational mental make-up and respond to events and facts in the world and are an important part of a well-rounded happy life.

It is well to remember that Aristotle argued that education should be public and the same for all (Curren, 2000). Public, rational deliberation on the common good requires that the citizens are equipped to take part in and profit from such deliberation. In his time, as in ours, education is a key condition for any citizen enabling her to execute her duties as a citizen. Enabling pupils to read and write were foundational parts of education in ancient Greece just as it is in our modern time. Illiteracy has now become a much more serious liability than in Aristotle´s time because the volume of information is much bigger and most of it is put in writing. It is practically impossible for anyone who is illiterate to participate in public life in the modern world. Education shapes our mental life including our emotions and feelings and enables them to relate to the world in ways closed to the uneducated. Education moderates the emotions by illuminating the complexity of the world and the differences of viewpoints. Reason grows with education just like emotions and feelings do. Citizenship is subject to the influence of emotions and feelings and if the constitution is democratic, education is necessary to strengthen and preserve the democracy.


I wanted to answer the question: What is or should be the role of feelings and emotions in modern democracy? I have argued that the concept of citizenship has a meaning and is contested. It is essentially a relation between an individual and a political authority and in a democracy all political power is derived from the citizens. Citizenship can be considered a relation like friendship as Aristotle argued especially in the light of the necessity of social capital in modern democracies. Citizens are human beings governed by feeling and reason shaped by social trust and fellow feeling towards other citizens. Feelings are a natural fact of human life; in a good life they should be infused with reason and can and should be controlled in the common life of democracy. But feelings, like reason, must deal with corruptions in modern democracies like the lack of commitment to truth



Anderson, E. (2006). The epistemology of democracy. Episteme, 3(1-2), 8-22.

Aristotle. (2014). Nicomachean ethics. (Translated and edited by Roger Crisp.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Aristotle. (1996). Politics and the constitution of Athens. (S. Everson ed., revised student edition.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ásta. (2018). Categories we live by: The construction of sex, gender, race, and other social categories. New York: Oxford University Press.

Christiano, T. (1996). The rule of the many. Fundamental issues in democratic theory. Boulder: Westview Press.

Cohen, E. F. & Ghosh, C. (2019). Citizenship. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Curren, R. R. (2000). Aristotle on the necessity of public education. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Ltd.

Dworkin, R. (2006). Is democraccy possible here? Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Johnson, C. (1984). Who is Aristotle´s citizen? Phronesis, 29(1), 73-90.

Kristjánsson, K. (2022). Friendship for virtue. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Putnam, R. (1993). Making democracy work: Civic traditions in modern Italy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Scarantino, A. & de Sousa, R. (Summer 2021 Edition). Emotion. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Sherman, N. (1997). Making a necessity of virtue. Aristotle and Kant on virtue. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Siisiäinen, M. (2000). Two Concepts of Social Capital: Bourdieu vs. Putnam. Paper presented at ISTR Fourth International Conference “The Third Sector: For What and for Whom?” Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.


Jacob Dahl Rendtorff, Moral Blindness in Business. A Social Theory of Evil in Organizations (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)

The market as an organization of economic interactions and as an idea governing our thoughts about the economy is both more complex than is usually accepted, and more limited. In this century, and in the last, economists and other theoreticians developed the market as an idea capable of explaining human interactions in general rather than just economic interactions. This has had unfortunate effects in our thinking.

One is that some started believing that homo economicus was a real person, not realizing that actual human beings are more complex than theoretical constructions assuming full information and perfect rationality. Another is that the easy presumption gradually gained widespread recognition whereby the State was the problem in the economy, while the free market was the solution to practically everything. Both these effects have turned out to be wildly misleading. On the one hand, human beings are more unpredictable and complex than theoretical constructions. On the other hand, in many instances, the State is the solution to social and economic problems, not the free market.

Jacob Dahl Rendtorff has written three interesting books on business ethics. The latest one, reviewed here, is on moral blindness in business. The idea, it seems to me, is to construct a narrative explaining moral evil in business. The way he goes about it is by taking his cue from Hannah Arendt and her analysis of moral blindness in her discussion of the Eichmann trials in Jerusalem in 1961. Arendt is one of the most influential political philosophers from the middle of the last century. She was a German, a Jew, who fled the Nazi State in Germany and ultimately made it to the USA. She was an early theorist about totalitarianism, but probably she is most famous for her description and analysis of Eichmann at his trial.

She originally wrote articles for the New Yorker about the criminal process that, later on, became a famous book. One of the things that struck her was how ordinary Eichmann was. He was not a moral monster, like Gorgias or Thrasymachus, or a racist, like a white supremacist. Yet, he believed that he was an ordinary man, doing his duty, following legitimate orders, and putting them into practice as best as he could. He was not an official who followed through his commands himself, but he left it to others to do what he had told them to do. Even though he went to the concentration camps, it is not clear if he ever saw what happened to the Jewish victims whose transportation to them he had made possible.

The moral blindness that Arendt detected in Eichmann was his inability to put himself into another’s shoes and the inability to think for himself about the moral legitimacy of the aims of the systems that he too put into operation. He organized the transport system from all over Germany, and from other countries as well, that moved the Jews to the concentration camps. He organized and was present at the Wannsee conference when this “Endlösung” for the Jews was conceived, and he knew from the beginning what all his work was about (p. 62).

What is remarkable about him is his ordinariness, how he seems to be a typical faceless bureaucrat, skilled at putting orders into practice but not worrying about the effects on those who had to suffer the consequences. It seems to me that this is the essence of moral evil as it is understood in this book. This analysis has a number of logical consequences that Arendt pursued, such as that moral disasters, even those of the magnitude of the “Endlösung” of the Nazi regime, could happen to anyone of us, or that the Nazi campaign was not a unique event that was nearly unfathomable because of its evil, but a result of human weaknesses that all of us might be subject to.

Rendtorff uses this analysis of Arendt’s and applies it thoroughly to modern businesses. He argues that modern organizations are subject to the same temptations and human frailties that operated in the Nazi system. Modern corporations that solely aim at securing profit for the owners can easily succumb to the same temptations as the Nazi bureaucracy did. You do not have to be a specialist in modern business ethics to know instances of moral weakness and moral evil. Just think of businesses that are run in such a way that, once or twice a year, a member of their staff is ostentatiously fired in order to keep the others in the staff on their toes. This is an example of moral evil in practice. The interests and dedication of the staff are irrelevant, if you can put fear into their souls; so, they do not object to anything that is asked of them and stick to their work.

Rendtorff is very knowledgeable about Arendt’s political philosophy and he discusses various issues that are relevant to what he wants to say, such as the modern understanding of evil. But it is puzzling to me that he does not discuss the difference between a totalitarian state and a democratic state incorporating a free market, in which the modern corporations operate. There is a major difference between the domination by the State of the whole society, as in a totalitarian system, and the limited government that can be observed in modern states. It is only when you assume that modern corporations do not understand that the very notion of the free market is a moral notion, that you get the weakness and immorality typical of a totalitarian bureaucracy. The important difference between modern democracies and the Nazi State is that the workers, in modern democracies, always have the option of leaving and looking for work elsewhere, however hard as this step may be in practice. This is morally important. Also, there are infelicities of language on nearly every page of the book. The publisher should have made sure of a good proof-reading.

These imperfections aside, this is an interesting book and a serious contribution to a real problem in the running of modern corporations.

Jacob Dahl Rendtorff, Cosmopolitan Business Ethics. Towards a Global Ethos of Management (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018)

Is ethics for business an oxymoron?

The role of the free market has from the beginning in the eighteenth century been contested. Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, is often interpreted as an advocate of an amoral free market regulated only by self-interest. He famously said in his work The Wealth of Nationsthat it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the baker or the brewer that we expect our dinner but from their self-love or self-interest. This has been taken to imply that the major incentive or the major driving force of the free market is not the goodness of our heart but our self-interest, the strong desire to profit. If the desire for profit reigns supreme in all our economic activity all moral requirements become problematic in this sphere. If self-interest is the only or the most effective reason driving us in the economy then moral requirements become hindrances, they prevent us from profiting as much as we possibly can.

It needs to be said that this is not the way Smith himself thought of the free market. It was clear to him that moral requirements are a necessary feature of a free market. But he clearly believed that the free market did not work through the idea of the common good, the brewer did not provide his services because he believed he was contributing to the public good. He seems to believe that this was not an effective way to organise the free market. Self-interest was a much more effective way.

This way of conceiving economic activity has been problematic from the beginning. The first socialists believed that the major problem about the free market was that it should serve society as a whole, not only its participants. What they saw in front of their eyes in the first decades of the nineteenth century was that some people were becoming enormously rich while others survived in poverty and the rich were actually becoming richer because those who worked in their mills or other places of industry got meagre pay just enabling them to scrape by, not enough to live a reasonably good life. Karl Marx famously criticised the free market and saw no other way out of the problems he found than to overcome it, to get rid of the free market altogether and argued that the common good should guide all our actions. This has not proved to be a good solution to the problem of how we should coordinate our economic interactions. So we are stuck with the free market and constantly have to evaluate its benefits and drawbacks.

Jacob Dahl Rendtorff has written a book about business morality. His main idea is that businesses are not amoral agents in a free market pursuing profit regardless of anything else. They should be thought of as citizens in a republic with at least some, maybe all, of the obligations as real-life citizens. This is a pretty radical idea, especially in this day and age. The last decade has not only seen how the financial system, an important part of the free market, has collapsed in many countries and those in charge of the executive part of the state decided to pump enormous sums of money into the system to keep it alive. The reason why the financial system collapsed was irresponsible behaviour of the bankers, often clearly criminal. Unfortunately, the bankers have not been prosecuted and put into prison except in Iceland and even though they were among the worst of the lot I do not think they were the worst. Later the Panama papers were published demonstrating that vast numbers of people in business are just plain thieves hiding their money in tax havens to avoid paying taxes. The same applies to the international organisations themselves that move their income around ending up paying maybe 1-2% income tax. The third serious problem with international business is the free ride of the chief executive officers ripping off the organisations for their own benefit being paid millions of euros each year and there is no constraint within the business organisations on this behaviour in the boards or in special income committees keeping a lid on the pay rises of CEOs. This has resulted in the top executives earning 100 to 200 times the median pay in the market while it was maybe 5 to 10 times more forty/fifty years ago. There is no moral justification for increasing this difference and there is no reasonable argument for doing this based on better efficiency of the organisations themselves. So, all in all, the free market has not been a showcase of moral decency in the last 20/30 years and a substantial part of it has behaved like a band of gangsters. It is a reasonable question if ethics has anything to do with business, that it is not amoral but downright immoral or criminal.

It must be said that those working in business do not consider themselves as criminals or immoral agents. I guess this applies to most businesses. So we should keep the immoralities in perspective. The faults of the free market mentioned above are not the general rule even though the pay divide seems to be becoming general. But the important fact is that the free market is a part of the larger society and it should be so organised that it serves the common good. This means that it comes within the purview of morality. And it is important to understand how we should think about the free market and the businesses operating on it as moral agents. Rendtorff offers us a good guide to do just that.

He argues for corporate social responsibility which is more than following the law, it requires the firm to realise and put into practice its understanding of its moral responsibility. In this case it is its responsibility to its customers, it must produce products that can be sold on the market, it has obligations to its own society and it is to be expected that it contributes to its society beyond paying out its dividend to its shareholders. Its employees should not be forgotten either. One question about moral responsibility is who is morally responsible for the firm´s actions, the organisation itself or the executives that actually took the decisions leading to the action. The idea that the firm is a citizen requires that the firm or organisation is a moral person. Stating this is not to argue that the firm is a moral person. Rendtorff bites the bullet and accepts the notion of collective intentionality as describing the organisation based on the corporate-internal-decision-making-structure. This means that there are certain things in place in the organisation that make it possible to meaningfully say that it is a morally responsible agent, things such as value driven management and ethical structures. If these things are in place then it can be argued, as far as I can see, that the organisation is a moral person and hence can be considered a citizen. It should be said that this is not a nice knockdown argument as Alice in wonderland would have it but it is a serious candidate for an argument for this conclusion.

In addition, Rendtorff argues that the corporate citizen has cosmopolitan duties. It seems to me that this is natural because globalisation has been driven mostly by the interests of businesses. The author covers a lot of ground in this book, discusses issues like sustainability, stakeholder management and ethical accounting to name three. What I found most valuable and most interesting was his description and discussion of business ethics in Germany. This is, as he points out, a tradition unknown in the English-speaking world but it is socially valuable. All in all, this book is a substantial contribution to business ethics in English.

Ulf Blossing, Gunn Imsen & Lejf Moos (eds.), The Nordic Education Model. ‘A School for All’ Encounters Neo-Liberal Policy (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014)

The Nordic countries are a special case in the global context. In a world dominated by economic criteria for all things they seem to disprove that ideology. Their economies run smoothly and are efficient, the living standards are high and yet they sustain a welfare state that provides for some of the most important needs of any citizen, such as the need for medical care in case of serious sickness, the need for education to enable the citizens to function as well informed citizens in democracies, as knowledgeable employees in their jobs and as well balanced human beings.

Continue reading Ulf Blossing, Gunn Imsen & Lejf Moos (eds.), The Nordic Education Model. ‘A School for All’ Encounters Neo-Liberal Policy (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014)

Jón Ólafsson (ed.), Lýðræðistilraunir. Ísland í hruni og endurreisn [Democratic experiments. Iceland in collapse and renaissance] (Reykjavík: Háskólaútgáfan, 2014)


The indications are that the costs are 44% of Iceland’s GDP, meaning that it is internationally the third costliest financial collapse ever (Luc Laeven og Fabian Valencia. 2013. Systemic Banking Crises Database. IMF Economic Review, 61, pp. 225-270). The series of events leading to the collapse and what has happened afterwards has had serious consequences for Icelandic society and government. The most obvious sign of these consequences is that trust levels within Icelandic society have declined. The banks enjoy least trust of all Icelandic institutions, as is to be expected, as only 10.2% of Icelanders said in October 2014, six years after the financial collapse, that they trust Icelandic banks (MMR Market and Media Research). Just 12.8% trust Alþingi, the Icelandic Parliament, according to the same source.


One of the consequences of the financial collapse was that in 2009 the Icelandic republic had the first left-wing government in its history, i.e. since it was established in 1944. This government had to deal with all the most serious consequences of the financial collapse. On top of that, it tried to engineer changes to important Icelandic social institutions like the fishing quota system, which has been controversial since its inception in 1983, and the Icelandic constitution. The reasons behind the changes to the quota system were based on justice and fair allocation of natural resources. The reasons behind changing the constitution were not as clear, but it seems to me that the best construal of them is that the attempt to change the constitution was a confidence-building measure, an attempt to reconstruct the most important legal document of the republic´s legal system and secure general trust in governmental institutions. According to the same survey firm as referred to above, the legal system as a whole enjoyed the trust of 28.9% last November, but in November 2013 the same measurement was 38.1% and in October 2009 the trust in the legal system as a whole in Iceland was 36.5%. There is no reason to read too deep a meaning into these measurements, but they are some indication that the preparation, writing and rejection of the draft constitution have not affected public trust in the legal system. Some may think that we can infer from this that the whole affair surrounding the drafting of a new constitution was in vain. But this may be too hasty.


What actually happened in this process? First, there were public protests against the sitting government ending in its fall in early 2009. Second, after the general election in 2009, the first left-wing government in the history of the Icelandic republic was established. The prime minister of that government had long been of the opinion that the constitution needed revision. Third, some general meetings were arranged early in 2009, trying to find out which were the most important values of Icelanders. The government organised a similar meeting in early 2010 to figure out those values that should govern the revision of the constitution. Fourth, the government established a committee gathering data and evaluating various ideas about such a revision, thus preparing the work of a constitutional assembly. Fifth, the government decided that an assembly should be elected by the general public to write a new constitution or revise parts of the existing one. Sixth, the election to the constitutional assembly was declared null and void by the Icelandic Supreme Court after a legal challenge. The government decided then to establish a constitutional committee with the same mission and the same individuals as voted onto the assembly. Seventh, the constitutional committee delivered in four months a draft of a new constitution. This draft was never assented to twice by the majority parliament with a general election in between, as it must do according to the rules laid down by the present constitution.


This book is a collection of essays in Icelandic about this whole process and other democratic experiments in Iceland’s recent years. It is written by two Icelandic authors and six international authorities on democracy and democratic developments. Jón Ólafsson edits the book and writes an introduction describing the development of the constitutional project and other democratic experiments in Iceland. James Fishkin analyses some of the processes that took place in the constitutional preparation and the drafting of the new one, and he evaluates to what extent deliberation and rational discussion were features of them. His conclusion is that neither the general meetings nor the constitutional committee reflected the general population and we should be careful about drawing any conclusion about the views of the meetings and the committee coinciding with the views of the population as a whole. He is also critical of the lack of rational discussion both in the preparations and the drafting of the new constitution.


Hélène Landemore examines the process of preparing and writing a new constitution in Iceland from an epistemological point of view. She is interested in: how the constitutional committee dealt with the problem of writing a constitution; and how it used “crowdsourcing”, meaning the competence and the intelligence of the general public, especially in writing the draft of the new constitution. She is critical of the role of experts in writing and editing the draft of the new constitution; she believes that the process had serious drawbacks, as she thinks that the general public and its representatives are capable of writing a constitution upon the condition that as many as possible take part in the process. She believes that the current Icelandic method for establishing a change to the present constitution or adopting a new one is too restrictive. Tom Ginsburg and Zachary Elkins approach the preparations and process of writing the draft of the new Icelandic constitution from a comparative point of view. They review various views of transparency in such a process, as well as the role of experts. They are, like the other experts writing in this book, favourable to the opening up of the process for preparing and writing a constitution and the government process in general, but they realise that there is no simple solution or simple recipe for a constitutional process, in Iceland or anywhere else. Thus, they ask the difficult question: If the new constitution was the result of a grassroots movement, why was it so easy to stop it in parliament? Why were those parties that opposed the new constitution elected as the new parliamentary majority in 2013? There is no simple answer to that question and there are two appendices to their article that are informative and interesting.


Paolo Spade and Giovanni Allegretti write about novelties in democracy or new initiatives in democracy, especially participatory financial budgeting as practised in a number of Brazilian cities. They explore the connection between these new initiatives and the new possibilities that have opened up on the net. They realise that these connections are complex and they can easily become counterproductive from the point of view of participation, if not used carefully. Democratic experiments in other places are drawn into the discussion such as Portugal, Germany and the United States, and in Reykjavík, Iceland. This is not directly relevant to the process around the constitution but the discussion broadens the picture of new initiatives in democracy. The last article is by Kristinn Már Ársælsson and is an overview of democratic initiatives in Iceland in the years 2009-2013, i.e. the years of the first left-wing government of the Icelandic republic. These include the preparation and the writing of the draft constitution, plus two national referenda on the Icesave agreements between the Icelandic government and the British and Dutch governments. These referenda were engineered by the refusal of the Icelandic president to sign two laws supported by the majority of parliament. In both cases the general public voted against these laws. These were the first national referenda since 1944, when it was decided to establish a republic. He also discusses the initiatives taken by the city council in Reykjavík.


All these articles are interesting, make important points and throw light on the events that have taken place in Iceland in the last five years. This is of particular value for a small society like Iceland, because very few people outside the country can understand what happens here and why. Icelandic scientists are a part of their own society and sometimes find it difficult to analyse what actually happens. The critical distance of foreign scientists can bring benefits.


This distance has its drawbacks too. This is clear from the discussion of the constitutional process. There is no attempt to relate it to the political culture in Iceland. What is most interesting about this process, which elected a constitutional assembly from members of the general public, is also a major break with the Icelandic tradition of politicians and legal experts discussing and drafting changes to the constitution. Part of this tradition is that all the major parties have had to agree to the changes put forward. Even though this is not literally true of all the changes proposed, it is true of most of them. This has guaranteed that the changes proposed and consented to in parliament before it is resolved, are consented too unchanged in the newly elected parliament. This threshold to changes to the constitution has not proved to be serious or impossible in the Icelandic context. Changes have regularly been made to the Icelandic constitution. It is not fashionable nowadays to take Icelandic political culture seriously, since its vices rather than its virtues have been more prominent in recent years, but it seems to me that one of the reasons working against the new constitution was that there were serious political disagreements about it. Pushing it through parliament would have been a serious break with the national consensus tradition. You may not think very much of this tradition, but it is an historical fact; besides, traditions in political cultures have to be reckoned with.

Hannele Niemi, Auli Toom and Arto Kallioniemi (eds.), Miracle of Education. The Principles and Practices of Teaching and Learning in Finnish Schools (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2012)

It is difficult for societies, just like individuals, to stay in the same place for a long time: they either thrive or decay. The thrift or decay can have many forms and many causes, one of them being neglect of their children and education. In modern societies, this need to regenerate and renew is just as necessary as in any ancient society, but now we have a different way of dealing with it.

Modern societies have without exception developed an educational system to deal with the problem of upbringing and education of the young and to renew these societies. This simple fact tells us that division of labour in modern times requires that specialists in education need to work with children and adolescents to make them fit for the modernity that awaits them. The simple truths we could once learn at our mothers´ knees are not what modernity requires.

Any education and educational system must fulfil at least three functions: it must prepare the young for living in a society (and nowadays this means that they must learn to live in a democracy); it must prepare them for living in a capitalist economy (meaning that they must acquire skills suitable for that kind of economy enabling them to get a job that is such that somebody is willing to pay for the services provided or goods produced); and lastly education must prepare the young to live well, to live in families dealing with intimate relations, having their own families, to enjoy the course and direction their lives have taken and even have a feeling that there is a meaning within their lives. This is a tall order and I am not sure if there are many educational systems serving all these functions.

One of those that come close to it is certainly the Finnish educational system. In international comparative research Finnish students are among the best in whatever is measured: mathematical skills, scientific literacy, reading literacy. Among the member countries of OECD they nearly always come at the top. It also seems that there is widespread consensus among the Finns themselves about the educational system, which indicates that they believe that it serves them and their society well. It cannot be an aim of an educational system to come out on top in international comparative research, but if it serves its children and in general its society well and comes out on top in international comparison, then that is quite an achievement.


This book is about the Finnish educational system, its features, structure and principles. The authors emphasise many features of it that are interesting indeed in an international perspective. They describe a well-functioning system that aims to form well-rounded individuals, morally and emotionally mature, and well advanced cognitively. Yet the system is not competitively driven, there are no national exams that students have to complete at regular intervals, there is no national inspectorate of schools, and teachers are autonomous in their decisions about their methods in teaching within the limits set by each school and by the national curriculum. These features go against the grain, at least in the Anglo-Saxon context, because there the trend has been towards more accountability to the political authorities through increased testing, competition between schools and discriminating pay scales for teachers who achieve results.

In the light of their achievements in international comparisons, it is natural to ask if there is anything special that might explain the Finnish miracle. How do we account for it? For one, the Finns have emphasised equality in their school system and it shows in the results. Those who do best are similar from most of the countries measured, but what makes a difference for the Finns is that those who are weaker also do well, lifting the general score for Finland. It is also the case that differences between schools are negligent, account only for 8% of the variation in the scores. There is a gender gap in reading, girls doing better than boys by 55 points, the largest difference between girls and boys in all OECD countries. There is a difference between the two language groups, Finnish and Swedish, but those who speak Swedish in Finland do considerably better that Swedes in Sweden. The Finnish state only spends averagely on education, Finnish pupils get the third fewest lessons from the age of 7 to the age of 14, the average number of students per teacher in the OECD countries is 16 but 11.4 in Finland, and the average class size in Finland is 20.1 students, the sixth lowest. Teachers have to complete a master´s degree to get a qualification as a teacher; studying for a degree in teaching is very popular and the universities only accept 10-15% of those who apply. Teaching is a high-status profession in Finnish society. On the whole it seems that Finnish teachers are cautious in their approach to their teaching and trust the well-tested rather than the innovative, relying heavily, for example, on textbooks in the natural sciences.

This book is divided into four sections. The first is about the general frame within which the educational system as a whole operates in Finland. The second concentrates on special features of the whole system, such as the emphasis on equity and excellence and how evaluation is mostly used formatively, how the national curriculum is structured and the research orientation in teachers´ work. The third part is on the subjects taught in Finnish schools covering all of them, not just those that have been used in international comparisons. The last part is on future directions for the system, discussing drama education as a part of arts education in the future, ICT in schools, the links between public institutions e.g. museums and schools, and LUMA (the project to bring science to everyone). It is very interesting to see how carefully Finnish teachers planned the use of ICT, realising that the most important thing was to figure out how you want to use these new machines. It is also striking that the Finnish students, who are so skilled in scientific literacy, score very low on interest in the natural sciences and therefore it was decided to establish the LUMA project.


If you want to become acquainted with the Finnish system of education this book is a good place to start. It is a sympathetic approach and very informative. It also gives the reader a flavour of the strong and varied academic research tradition in education and teacher training in Finland.

Brian Lucey, Charles Larkin and Constantin Gurdgiev (eds.) What if Ireland defaults? (Dublin: Orpen Press, 2012)



There is a story to be told about this turn of events; both a general story about crises in the capitalist system, including this particular crisis, and also about how the crises have unfolded in particular countries. When I talk about crisis in this review I am not referring to the Euro crisis but to the banking crisis.


It is worth pointing out at the beginning of this review that it is a significant fact that a number of countries have avoided this crisis even though they have been affected by it as, I guess, every country in Europe at least has been. The Scandinavian countries, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland have been able to avoid this crisis and the same applies to Canada. Finland has adopted the Euro and is having problems because of it, but all the four Scandinavian countries had learnt their lesson from their banking crisis in the early 1990s and managed to avoid all the pitfalls in the time leading up to the banking collapse in the autumn 2008. The key issue seems to have been a close monitoring of their banking systems and a tough management of the system by the state. It seems to me that the role of the state is probably the most important issue in this crisis. In the decade leading up to 2008 it seems to have become an accepted orthodoxy that somehow the market system needed only a minimum of regulation and was self-perpetuating. If there is any fairly clear lesson to be learnt from this crisis it is that this orthodoxy is a myth. The state is the most important institution for a well-functioning market, not because the state should regulate every minute detail of the market, but because the state must put in place a good legal framework, close monitoring and the willingness of the institutions to use those powers supplied by the state to control the financial market.


The other option is to leave the financial system to its fate in the market, so that the banks and other financial institutions can collapse and become bankrupt like any other business. It is an interesting fact that no government in Europe or North-America was willing to do this. There are various reasons for this but the two most important ones seem to me to be:


(a) First, the risk of contagion, meaning that when one financial institution falls the confidence in the others falls sharply, so that a bank that is in no way insolvent can suddenly become so because people do not trust it any longer. This does not happen in other markets: If a building firm collapses other building firms are not in danger of collapsing and the same does seem to apply generally to the manufacturing industry. What is so special about banks? The reason why financial businesses are not in this position is because they rely so heavily on trust in their operations. A bank is not like a library where money is stacked on every shelf, because the money that you put into your account the bank lends to somebody else, who is willing to pay the interest the bank asks for. So at any time there is only a tiny portion in the bank of the money people have put into it. If there is a run on the bank, it cannot pay all the owners of current accounts their money, even if it is in perfect order. That is the basic reason why we need central banks, banks that lend to other banks, when for some reason or other their own money does not suffice.


(b) The second one seems to me to be the fact that banks have become so important for the everyday life of ordinary members of the public that no government can leave the bank system alone. The smooth running of the banking system has become a matter of security for the public and government is responsible for public security. If government is found wanting in public security this can easily lead to public unrest. This fact, that is, the centrality of the banking system in the life of the members of the modern public is usually overlooked when examining the financial crisis and its importance. 


This book explores what would happen if Ireland defaulted, did not pay any of its debts, only paid some, or paid most of them but not all. It seems to be the case that it will in all probability be impossible for the Irish state to pay all of its debt, because the Irish state decided to underwrite all of the debts of its banking system when it was grinding to a halt. This has had the consequence that public debt in Ireland is so large that it prevents the growth of the economy. Also, since Ireland decided to take up the Euro, it does not have the option of devaluing its own currency. So all roads to renewed profitability are paved with serious difficulties. This does not mean that it is impossible, but it will take a long time. The default of a sovereign state is not the same as the bankruptcy of a large business. It is much more complicated and serious, especially for the citizens of that state. All this is examined in this book.


The book is in four parts. The first part is general, where the authors explore research done on crises and contagion and there is a description of the problems facing Ireland and the possibilities the state has in its public finances. The second part consists of four essays on various aspects of the Irish financial crisis. It will probably have to restructure its debt and this will have to be selectively done; the public debt is analysed and it is discussed if the Irish state will be able to finance its public debt on the market when it returns there or whether the interest rate that the market requires will be unsustainable. One essay explores how Ireland´s problems are connected to the problems of the Euro. The third part collects five reflections on financial crises in other countries: Russia, Iceland, Argentina and New York. The fourth part is a collection of essays from various Irish perspectives on the debt and possible default of the Irish state.


This is an important book that deserves to be widely read. Every essay adds something to the panorama and at the end the reader is in a better position to evaluate the possibilities. The viewpoints are clearly expressed and well argued and even though acronyms are to be expected in this field of research they are kept to a minimum and should not prevent understanding of the issues. The arguments expressed here have relevance for many states in Europe at present.





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.