Chapter 10 : Political Philosophy
Individual versus Group Interest
there are a variety of theories on government.
There are a variety of Political Philosophies. Each offers it view on how it is that government is to hold
and exercise power over individuals.
Each operates within a more general view of how it is that society
ought to be regulated. Each
has what Plato would term an “Ideal Model”.
According to that model government acts.
One of the ways in which governments must act is to resolve the
conflicts that arise in every society between the interests that
individuals have in their own welfare and happiness and the interest that
the group as a whole has in its welfare.
In any society there is a natural tension between the
interests of individuals and the interest of the group as a whole.
There is a conflict between what individuals want and what serves
their interests and what is needed for the welfare, safety and security of
the entire group. Government
needs to moderate that conflict. Depending on the type of view that is operative concerning
the nature of the social arrangement and the nature of government, the
conflict will be resolved in favor of one or the other sets of interests.
1. Individuals may believe that they have the right
to smoke tobacco. The group
or society as a whole has an interest in preserving its heath and well
being. How is the conflict to
be resolved? In different
societies there are different resolutions.
In those favoring individualism there may be a great amount of
freedom and a great reluctance on the part of government to restrict the
liberties of individuals even when they are placing the welfare of others
in jeopardy. In other
societies that favor the common good over that of individuals there is
less reluctance on the part of that government to intervene in the
personal lives of individuals in order to preserve the common welfare and
provide for the common good.
2. Individuals have an interest in preserving their
earnings and using them as hey see fit.
In most countries the government takes a portion of those earnings
through taxation and distributes the goods and services purchased with
those funds as the government thinks best to provide for the more general
3. Individuals may want to ride in their automobiles
without wearing a seat belt. Society
acts to protect itself from foolish behavior that threatens the common
welfare. Government enacts
laws requiring the use of seatbelts in order to reduce the number of
accidents in which the drivers are injured and become so impaired that
society must provide for their medical and physical care for the rest of
4. Individuals have an interest in self-protection,
sporting pleasure, or hunting and so want to have guns and handguns.
Society has an interest in reducing injuries and deaths caused by
the use of such devices as weapons involved in crimes or accidents.
In some countries government has acted for the common welfare and
has prohibited private ownership of such devices.
There are many other examples of such conflicts.
If you consider some of the social topics of greatest interest and
concern today you will probably find this basic conflict involved in it in
some way. In the USA in 2001
consider the topics of the government’s tax surplus and what is to be
done with it or education and whether or not to allow for vouchers for
parents to use in selecting a school.
Both of these topics involve individual interest against that of
The topics involved with Social and Political Philosophy are far from being uninteresting or unimportant. The theories of philosophers who discuss such topics are far from being of no concern to that of society. The ideas of philosophers on these matters have led directly or indirectly to revolutions and legislation and many social and political activities in all nations of the world.
A great problem facing the USA and the world at this time that involves the conflict between individual and group interests is the growing enormity of the inequality in wealth and income. Ideas concerning distributive justice and forms of government that would provide for such justice will be involved in the settlement of this conflict.
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