Chapter 9 : Social Philosophy
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The debate between liberals and conservatives
is quite active in contemporary society.
How much you pay in taxes of all types is the outcome of that
ongoing debate. There are
many other ways in which the ideas associated with those social and
political views have consequences in the lives of all members of society.
It is important to have some idea of the meaning of those terms and
the ideas associated with those movements.
Today the term 'liberal' has come to be
associated with a variety of principles, concepts and programs. Liberals are often associated with ideas related to a WELFARE
STATE and a system of taxes, subsidies, deductions, payments, regulations,
restrictions, permissions, refunds, entitlements and other such ideas and
programs. The term was not
always so associated.
Liberal meant to "liberate" or
"free" and as applied to social questions meant that individuals
should be as free from interference from the government as possible.
There were and remain a number of theories that are based upon
placing a very high value on human AUTONOMY, freedom or liberty.
In social affairs it was taken to mean that individuals were to
remain free to pursue their own interests and to work and to keep the
results of their labor, that individuals had a right to property and to
pursuit of what would make the happy. The ideas of the Utilitarians, Bentham and the Mills,
contributed heavily to this view of how social life ought to be arranged.
Along with it came the idea that government should not interfere
with individual’s earnings and with businesses.
There was the idea of Laissez- Faire economics.
These ideas were supportive of capitalism.
Many of these ideas are linked to what are
called "conservatives" in contemporary American society.
Among the most radical defenders of this view
has been Ayn Rand and her ideas which are titled:
Her views oppose state
regulations as a form of collective interference.
She is opposed to socialism and to all forms of collectivism and
the Marxist ideal of taking from each according to ability and providing
to each according to need
By Peter W. Hauer
LIBERALISM- This view holds that the division of social product is best left
to impersonal, efficient, decentralized workings of free market.
It is based on a number of assumptions including that people act
out of enlightened self-interest and that they are not only autonomous
agents but also prudent rational agents.
In contemporary American
society many liberals came to argue for more government intervention and
their ideas came to be accepted by legislators and by the Supreme Court,
when the Court sustained one act of New Deal legislation after another,
asserting that individual citizens must be protected against overpowering
economic groups and from disasters they have not brought on themselves.
More and more laws were passed to provide for old-age and survivors
insurance, unemployment insurance, federal control of various financial
interests, minimum wages, supervision of agricultural production, and the
right of labor unions to organize and bargain collectively. This all
amounted to a radical change from the original ideas of European Liberals
on the role of government.
Despite the metamorphosis
in the philosophy of liberalism since the mid-19th century, almost all
modern liberals agree that their common objective is enlargement of the
individual's opportunity to realize full potentialities.
This has become a hallmark of liberalism today.
This is an idea consonant with the ideas of John Rawls.
most widely discussed theory of distributive justice in the past
three decades has been that proposed by John Rawls in his seminal work, A
Theory of Justice. (Rawls 1971) Rawls proposes the following two
principles of justice:
(1) Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive
total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of
liberty for all.
(2) Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that
they are both:
(a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, consistent
with the just savings principle, and
(b) attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions
of fair equality of opportunity.
Rawls’ ideas are quite supportive of the
notion of a welfare state. Why is it that people are thought to have a
right to what they have not worked to earn for themselves?
Why is it that there is a law hat requires those who do work to
provide for those who do not work or are unable to work? We find the answers to those questions in the works of those
who defend the welfare state.
Argument in favor of WELFARE
STATE by Robert E. Goodin
Reasons for Welfare:The Political Theory of the Welfare State
Goodin passionately and cogently defends the welfare state from current
attacks by the New Right. But he contends that the welfare state finds
false friends in those on the Old Left who would justify it as a hesitant
first step toward some larger, ideally just form of society. Reasons for
Welfare, in contrast, offers a defense of the minimal welfare state
substantially independent of any such broader commitments, and at the same
time better able to withstand challenges from the New Right's moralistic
political economy. This defense of the existence of the welfare state is
discussed, flanked by criticism of Old Left and New Right arguments that
is both acute and devastating.
the author's view, those possessing discretionary control over resources
that they require best justify the welfare state as a device for
protecting needy--and hence vulnerable--members of society against the
risk of exploitation. Its task is to protect the interests of those not in
a position to protect themselves. Communitarian or egalitarian ideals may
lead us to move beyond the welfare state as thus conceived and justified.
Moving beyond it, however, does not invalidate the arguments for
constantly maintaining at least the minimal protections necessary for
vulnerable members of society. There exists Special Obligations that are
voluntary and Strong Obligations, such as with family, that are
non-voluntary. These Strong
Obligations are based upon vulnerabilities of others. Family and others
assist the vulnerable through voluntary charity, however, STATE (WELFARE)
as “backup to the backup” assists the vulnerable and in this manner
the vulnerable are dependent on the STATE. Therefore it is possible to vest that vulnerable person with
legal ENTITLEMENT to assistance.
Today we appear to have reversed associations with many of
the ideas originally associated with the terms “liberal” and
These ideas are now associated with the groups that are
bearing the opposite titles so that, for example, liberals are arguing for
more government restrictions and provisions and the taxes to support those
programs which protect people from themselves and from others.
The questions of who gets to say what the laws will be and what the government will do is taken up under the heading of "Political Philosophy" and that is the subject of the next chapter.
END OF CHAPTER
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