Last updated: 27 March 2023

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 4: Mill on

Transcript: Okay, we ended the last lecture by discussing the Utilitarian ethical theory which is that we should always act so as to bring about the greatest happiness for the greatest number, and Kant’s ethical theory that we should always act so that the rule of our action could be willed by us to be universal law, and then we raised objections to both those. Now, a further reminder is in order, and it’s very important. And it’s one of the reasons I call these “models” of moral reasoning, because I wanted to distinguish them from the real, embodied contexts in which moral conflicts come up. And one of the ways to do that is to direct an objection at Kant, and then direct one at sort of both theories, and this is one more objection for Kant then.

What happens when you are trying to will a universal principle in a situation where two principles are clearly good, and yet you can’t do them both, and one has to fall. The classic case is this… In fact, it’s not a classic case. Our moral life is filled with situations where it isn’t just right or wrong, most of us know in those cases what to do. We may not do it, but we know what we ought to do.

The really interesting cases in our moral life is where there are two things that look good, and we can’t do them both. So for example, and this is a very thin philosopher’s example, I’ll give you a thicker one later. So for example, someone comes to your door who looks like they may have worked for the CIA and says: “Where is your room mate?”. Now, it seems that you could act on the principle – a hallowed biblical commandment – “Thou shalt not lie”. Your room mate is in there, and you go: “Bill’s in there”. But you see a little, you know, bulge in the guy’s pocket, a national security patch, and you know that Bill used to be a drug smoking crazed person, so you don’t feel safe for Bill, and it seems that there is another principle, equally universalisable, that one should act so as to protect the innocent, and you know Bill is innocent. The other guy doesn’t know it, but you know it.

There are two rules, both perfectly good Kantian rules, right? Would be willing to act by them all the time, be willing to rule them both. The problem is you can’t do both, gotta pick one. So… and this is an interesting part where Utilitarian theory is, I guess, a little better. What you fall back on in that situation looks like Utilitarianism. You go, well which one of these is going to, you know, lead to the best results? And you just blithely lie to the guy, I hope, and say “Bill ain’t here”. Well, you broke Kant’s rule, but you had to break one of them. That doesn’t seem that that helps Kant’s theory, in fact it doesn’t help it at all. It doesn’t help Utilitarian theory much either though, as I am about to point out. Because both theories fail to capture real moral conflicts as they are embodied in problematic situations.

So now unfortunately, instead of referring to a movie that all of you have seen – although some of you may have seen it – I’ll refer to a book. There is actually a movie too, and a moral dilemma in the book that I think gives us a sense for this. It’s a book by John Fowles called “The Magus“. I hope some of you have read it. If you haven’t, there is also a movie with Anthony Quinn, called “The Magus” with the same moral dilemma in it, and here it is.

A mayor of a small Greek village being occupied during the Second World War by the Nazis. There are some resistance fighters in town – only three of them – but they shoot three German officers on the beach. So, the German officers decide to retaliate, and they bring into the centre of the square a thousand of the women and children of the city and put them in this little encirclement. They capture the three resistance fighters, and of course symbolically put them on three posts. Very nice. They bring the mayor out, and they give him the following choice. And you would think that a moral theory might help with this. They say: “Look. If you shoot the three in front of your town’s people, then we’ll let everybody out of the pen.

So there’s a good utilitarian thing you ought to do, right? Shoot them quick, because that’s three lives against a thousand, and the Utilitarian calculation is simple: shoot ’em for the greater good. Even though shooting them is wrong according to Kant, you do it because there is nothing else that you really can do: do it, it’s for the greater good. So the Utilitarian principle looks overwhelming in this case. On the other hand, you might have the insight that you couldn’t do it anyway, the Germans might shoot those three and the thousand, but you couldn’t do it. That would be the Kantian insight.

Now it turns out though that in our real moral lives, things are much muddier than that, because he struggles with the decision, and decides to shoot the three guys. Safest thing to try. So he goes up and he begins to shoot them, and the Germans have pulled a small trick on him. They have unloaded the rifle, so he can’t shoot them. He’ll have to club them to death.

Now, according to these very pretty moral theories that we have been discussing, should that make any difference? Haven’t we abstracted from any difference it should make? Should it make any difference? Clearly the answer is “No, it shouldn’t”. The same calculation should apply. Just… a good utilitarian… I could club him or just shoot him. It’s a little bit harder, will take longer, but you know, same calculation. So he starts to raise the club up to hit the guy in the centre who utters the word “freedom”. The Greek word for “freedom”. He drops the rifle. The Nazis kill all the thousand, and the three.

That moral story I have related to you, not simply for its barbarism, but to show you that in embodied contexts it may not do a damn bit of good to know the rule. You may not be able – for embodied reasons – to club another human to death, even if it is the right thing to do. So that is to remind us that the moral life is complex. These theories are abstractions from the real communities, societies and systems of oppression under which we learn to follow moral rules. You have got to remember that to understand anything about politics or morality, right?

It’s that in real situations the simple rules of either one of these views; utilitarian, Kantian may not work. They may not work because you woke up that day with a toothache. In other words, life has many contingencies, and you just may not be doing the right thing one day because your face hurts too much. It may not be as dramatic, in other words, as the example from the film. But that example is supposed to – in a very striking way – remind you that the moral life is filled with ambiguities, and that the problems you may face in making a decision of that kind have a large background.

Okay, I want to stop with that, in terms of the discussion of Kant and Mill – in particular Utilitarian theories for a moment – I will return to them later, and Kantian style theories. By far, I think, the most influential of the two in our society especially when we justify public policies, are the Utilitarian principles. It’s clear to me now that our state isn’t run on Kantian principles because we treat differential groups differently, and Kant wouldn’t accept that. So then we have to have other kinds of justifications, which is that some greater good must come about, or should come about.

So I will return the critique of Utilitarianism. In the meantime though, I want to return to this “freedom” thing, which I have already introduced Kant’s concept of freedom. One might call it a very absolute concept: the kingdom of ends. Now I am going to present two others to conclude today, and I’ll get around – since I like this “freedom” thing – I’ll get around to some more of that.

The most famous account in the nineteenth century – there are two competing ones – and this is after Kant. Kant’s is earlier. One of these books I think is on most bookshelves, around universities for sure: John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty”. Many of you have probably read this, heard it referred to many times. I am going to briefly discuss this one, and I am going to distinguish two – what Sir Isaiah Berlin calls – two concepts of freedom. They are at odds with one another. The struggle between these two concepts of freedom go on within this country, and between countries.

And these concepts of freedom are not abstractions to the extent that they are rooted in the real struggle – embodied struggle – of human subjects to gain freedom. This word itself is used as a material force in the battle, if you know what I mean. When you see these struggles, you hear this word: “freedom”. It’s part of the struggle to announce it, that it’s your aim, without necessarily filling it with content, as I’ll talk about when I finish today.

Well, “On Liberty” is a famous book on freedom, and it’s a position that has been used by classical Liberals as well as people today who would call themselves Conservatives, and I’ll give you this argument very briefly, and I’ll try to give it very succinctly. “On Liberty” tries to answer the following question. Now remember, Mill is a utilitarian, okay, so there may be some tensions between him being that, which he sees as very important. But freedom, he also sees as very important. So there may be some tension in the two accounts, but we won’t worry about that for now.

In “On Liberty”, John Stuart Mill wants to do one simple thing. He wants to show us where the grounds are for the government’s legitimate interference with our liberty. Mill wants to answer the question “When can the state legitimately interfere with our liberty”. You have got to understand that Mill’s question is one of legitimacy, and not of power. Please understand the difference. The State always has the power to interfere with us. Nearly always. This isn’t about that, this is about liberty. About when does it have – not the power but – the right to do so.

So Mill comes up with a very radical principle, and it’s called the “Harm Principle”. The only legitimate ground… This is Mill’s Harm Principle. Actually he presents two, but again for the sake of being concise, we are going to discuss one I consider the most important. Mill’s Harm Principle is the following. The only legitimate ground for social coercion is to prevent harm to others, period. The Harm Principle. The only time the State can interfere with our liberty is to prevent us from harming others. That is a very wide standard indeed, because today that would shut down huge sections of it, wouldn’t it? But it is in a way a very reasonable principle, and I want to argue for it briefly.

Harm here – and this is important to understand the principle – means genuine harm. It does not mean offence. The State doesn’t have the right – according to Mill – to interfere with our liberty for offending people. In fact, for Mill, a society that interferes with our liberty simply because we offend someone doesn’t deserve the name “free”. Just doesn’t deserve it. So if it irks you that someone burns a flag, unless they throw it on your body and burn you, the state has no right to coerce it. It does not have that right. Not if you want to use the word “free” society to mean “free” society, according to Mill. So we are talking about genuine harm and not offence, okay. Now this principle has not only come under assault like I have suggested, from people like Jesse Helms, who consider all the arts since Norman Rockwell to cause genuine harm.

It’s also come under some assault – and I don’t intend to assault these potential political allies by talking about it too much – by feminists, who consider issues like pornography to be very problematic in this regard. Because on this strong account of genuine harm I am giving, war toys and pornography also don’t count as genuine harm unless someone takes playboy and whams it through your midbrain or takes a war toy and hits you with it. Because if the Harm Principle does not mean genuine harm – it means this sort of amorphous social harm – then it’s really no secure principle at all, right? Because then Jesse Helms might get elected, and God knows what he thinks might harm everyone. It might harm you watch TV, it might harm you to read a book.

So the genuine Harm Principle needs to be stated in this rather vigorous way because what it’s trying to back up, among other things are the freedoms that were won by the American revolutionaries in the Bill of Rights. The constitution itself on my historical view is a conservative counter-revolutionary document. The Bill of Rights on the other hand is what the revolutionaries got to go along with the deal. They wouldn’t go along… we fought too hard to have worse laws than the English have, we’ve got to put a Bill of Rights on it. So I come from a Bill of Rights tradition of freedom, in my own view. And I think there’s where the Harm Principle applies.

This kind of freedom admittedly leads to a society where very sick people do very sick things and we get real mad about it. The alternative is a famous slippery slope, and that’s when you start stopping them without a principle because you are offended. Even if bunches of you are offended, somebody’s got to decide. Mill’s idea is that once you give that power to anyone, you’ve lost liberty. You have lost it. It’s like getting a little bit pregnant, once you lose a little bit of it, it’s over… or being just a little bit [pregnant]. It’s over. It’s that fundamental a principle for Mill.

Now the conservative counter principle oddly enough… and I am using conservative loosely here, because this gets messed up all over the board. But a counter principle here is the Offence Principle, and you have all heard it thrown out in public debate as well. And that’s where society has a legitimate right to socially coerce people to keep them from offending others. And then that requires a further argument because such offence, and here is the famous phrase from a long gone debate: “Because such offence undermines the moral tone of society”. Well you know Mill wouldn’t have bought that, I mean, it’s too mucky. But think how often you have heard it in debate: “Well we can’t have those Mapplethorpes, if people look at them it will undermine the moral tone… Well that’s not a good argument, I am sorry. If you are in this Mill tradition of the Bill of Rights, that’s not a good argument.

Now, there is an argument in the Mill tradition that helps and that’s that we also – because we don’t have the right to coerce people – we don’t have the right to drag people down to a Mapplethorpe exhibit and cement their eyes open, and glue their face to one of Mapplethorpe’s, you know, pictures… to try to… it’s hard to do this, you know, in a general way. [crowd laughter]

Similarly, TV. And this is a very difficult argument for me now because it’s hard to know what turning off television would be like. [crowd laughter]. I mean we used to watch it, now it watches us. How do you turn it off? [crowd laughter]. But I mean Mill’s idea would be: “Well, turn it off if you don’t like it”. Now, that’s become more problematic. I really think it has. Because TV plays an enormous role in creating social reality, it is not a simple part of it. It is not a home appliance. That’s a big mistake, to think about your TV as just an appliance. I mean to use a Platonic metaphor, it is “The eye of God“. It’s in your house, and it’s scary, and it’s there. It is more real in a way, and more frightening.

In any case that makes us wonder about whether we could maintain the genuine Harm Principle or not. But the major way in which this principle has been attacked is because this principle – “Genuine Harm” – makes a distinction between self regarding actions: those that only affect me, and other regarding actions: those that affect other folks. That distinction is where people try to attack the Harm Principle. Because some people argue there is no such thing as purely self regarding actions.

For example, by Mill’s analysis, if someone wants to be a druggie and has a good enough supply of drugs that they don’t run out and harm others, because if they do that then they violate the principle. But if you are a druggie and you want to sit around all your life and do drugs, that’s a purely, on Mill’s account, self regarding action, and the State has no business stopping you. On the other hand, if you want to go out and shoot up the neighbourhood click-click-click-click-click, hit all the kiddies, get your face, you know, usually a swarthy one, in one of Barbara Bush’s commercials that will later appear in some Republican presidential ad. If you want to go out and do that, you have violated the Harm Principle.

Now here’s the possible objection to Mill’s principle. Is it really true that there are self regarding actions? Or isn’t it true that the junkie, in his relations with others – which he hardly could separate himself from totally – isn’t going to have effects that will lead to genuine harm. So there is room for debate over the Harm Principle. My own inclination is to stick with it. I mean, that’s my inclination. The Harm Principle though, you need to understand, is very important to the way that our society understands its legal codes, and some of our best justices have appealed to it over and over.

The two principles – I want to mention them again – that stand in the way of it, or at dispute with it. One is the Offence Principle I have already mentioned. The other is a principle of Paternalism. And it’s a principle that I have to admit – given my political proclivities I have to admit it, it’s okay – that the liberal tradition at least in its earlier incarnations was guilty of. And that’s the Paternalism Principle. Which is we can interfere with people for their own good. That also is inconsistent with Mill, because on Mill’s view of liberty, the best judge of your own good is you.

Which would have led, if you had believed a Mill style liberty argument, and combined it with an argument I am about to make in a minute, you would have had an elegant public policy for dealing with poverty. And that’s to close down a multi-trillion dollar bureaucracy and give poor people money. Under the principle that free people will know better how to spend their money than others know how to spend it for them.

And since what makes poor people poor is that they don’t have money, it seems remarkably elegant to solve the problem by giving it to them. It is so remarkably and shockingly elegant, all it would do is reduce the population of this city by one half. I mean that’s all it would… [take]. And they could go live somewhere else, right? There would be more room to walk around the parks and stuff. No joke, I mean if that’s poverty – not having money – reducing it would be giving money. And the only counter argument must come from this spirit of Paternalism. That means someone must know better than they do how to spend it. Again, on Mill’s grounds that’s not a very good account of liberty.

Now let me give some dimensions to the Harm Principle and then I am through with Mill’s account of Liberty, even though we will return to it if you would like. The Harm Principle has some dimensions that Mill discusses. Harm to others, I have already mentioned, is genuine harm. Mill discusses harm to self. Mill doesn’t seem to have a good argument against suicide, okay. Doesn’t seem to. If anything is a self regarding action, that might look like one, you know. That’s it, I am out of it, don’t worry about it. Especially if you leave enough insurance to handle it, right, it doesn’t… and if you have a suicide thing [cover]… anyway.

Well, the way that that’s been handled in the Mill tradition is that social coercion can be used there if it can be shown that the person engaging in the action… that their decision is encumbered. And it’s important that we don’t make that a fuzzy principle. By encumbered decision, we mean these examples I have been using, like a potential suicide, a drug addict, or someone who is a head banger. You know, a psychotic who is a head banger. Then, even though they are only harming themselves, even by Mill’s principles, later “Millians” have admitted that we – that the state – might have the right if their decision is clearly encumbered. But you have to be careful, because you’ll get some conservative on the abortion issue arguing that no woman could choose there, because under that emotional stress her decision is encumbered. No, that’s wrong. Mill’s encumbered principle means really encumbered: crazy, dog drunk, that kind of thing. Not, you know, “I am upset today, so I can’t be free”, no, you’ve got to be really out of it okay.

The second, I mean the third… there’s harm to others, harm to self… Another dimension that I haven’t mentioned yet is very important to see. And this is one where I think Mill, and later people in his tradition have given up too much. And that’s that our freedoms can be curtailed if they interfere with the freedoms of others. Not just genuine harm, but if our freedoms interfere with other people’s freedoms. Now, while I will admit that that can sometimes happen, I think that the use of that argument against Mill’s strong principle has been largely invidious. That means, you know, you’ve got the Secretary of State and his hand picked audience of 8000 people all cheering and yelling, and one person shouts and they throw him out because he is interfering with the 8000 people’s right to free speech. Well that’s Mill backwards, because Mill had this idea in order to protect the rights, not of everybody who agrees, because you don’t need your rights protected.

If you are in a room full of 100 people and 90 of them agree on something, they don’t need their rights protected on that issue, right? Because they all agree. It’s the four or five lunatics that may have something creative and new to add to the discussion without which you can’t have democracy, and without which this principle, you know, won’t flourish. And I hate to mention it, but it’s not different than Chairman Mao’s principle. Let a thousand schools of though contend, let a thousand flowers bloom, I mean… the idea is that even the most whacko ideas, in a free society, get heard.

And that’s a deeply American principle too. I mean, Thoreau argued that anyone who was more right than his neighbours was a majority of one already. The truth is not majoritarian. True things are true for the simple and tautological reason that they are true. And votes don’t count. George Bush can get 98 votes… percent… and it don’t mean he’s right, or that he’s telling the truth. It won’t mean that, because truth is… you don’t vote on it… it’s not a voting matter. True things are true because they are true, not because people believe them, even if overwhelming numbers believe them. Okay that’s all on Mill for now.

Mill’s account of freedom has become very famous, and it’s had a very salutary impact in political theory, but it has a profound limitation. And this has been pointed out by Sir Isaiah Berlin and others. It is an account of what Berlin calls “negative freedom” only. In other words, it is an account of freedom from constraint, but… it has nothing to say about this incredibly important dimension of freedom: freedom to, or “enabling freedom”, see. There is a difference between freedom from constraint, and freedom to. Well, the first one: freedom from is “negative freedom”, the second: freedom to, is positive… You can take those as value neutral words, I mean, Berlin did. They are two different traditions of talking about liberty.

Freedom to, “enabling freedom” is best introduced – and I’ll hold up another book – a good discussion of it is in Marx’s “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts“, but Voltaire and others have discussed positive freedom, so it’s not just Marx, but other people too… and I intend to. The need for a concept of positive freedom – not to overcome Mill’s important principle, but to supplement it – seems to me obvious. Because here is a dimension of freedom that Mill’s argument won’t handle.

It’s summed up in the famous French joke: “The rich and the poor are equally free to sleep under the bridges at night”. One suspects such a concept of freedom is very poverty stricken. I do. I think that’s a very thin notion. Like I think the notion of “volunteer” is a very thin notion. McDonalds, Jail. High percentages in both. Drugs in the street, the army, volunteer. Very thin notion of volunteer. Freedom, to mean something, has to have a positive component. A component that enables you to exercise your rights.

The right of free speech is no good if you haven’t been enabled by education to talk well, and to speak and find a place to speak. The right to travel freely is no good if you don’t have a car. And even simple rights, like the right to survive – forget pursue happiness – just [the right] to survive. That right, which ought to be a right. You know, by “ought”, I am appealing to Kantian insights. Which ought to be a right. Even that right can’t be secured if you don’t have enough money for a hamburger at least, or a Baby Ruth or whatever.

So, clearly there is a need for a principle of positive freedom that enables people to do something. Let me make the distinction clear again. As far as I know there are no laws or juridical rules that constrain me from owning Mobil Oil, being best friends with Mel Gibson, or dating Kathleen Turner. However, I am missing some of the enabling conditions. [crowd laughter]. I don’t have enough money to buy the oil, I am a little too short and fat, you know, to be a friend of Mel’s… and Kathleen Turner is out of the question. [crowd laughter]

But, the point is very important, and especially if we are going to bandy this word “democracy” and “freedom”… these words around. Because you can’t have a free society that doesn’t have positive freedoms for people… that doesn’t enable them to exercise freedoms. Has to be more… a thicker notion.

Now the debate would come on: how thick does the notion have to be? You know. Well, for Marx, as you know, infamously, and he’s supposed to be dead wrong… it’s supposed to be so thick that “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need“. Which is a principle, as you may have noticed, that people that work for the Bechtel Corporation observe among each other… Seriously.

You know, I hate to sound like a Commie, but the ruling class treat each other like good socialist buddies. They don’t much let each other get in trouble. Back each other up. They don’t let each other go broke. Continental Bank can’t go broke, but you can. Bankruptcy courts are filled with folks… so they seem to have… there’s kind of a socialism there. It’s almost a Brotherhood. Brotherhood is not really a sexist word, because it’s the right word. It’s descriptive. It’s kind of a brotherhood. Well, a whole civil society in which people aided one another in that way would be great if voluntary. This was of course going to be one of Reagan’s ideas… a great thing. We’ll have everybody do it with a telethon, or something. I always use telethons as a kind of a joke, you know… Poor people? Have a telethon. I mean, it’s a Hollywood solution.

Okay now, to a third… Actually, I haven’t discussed in detail Marx’s theory of freedom, but it grows… Or his view of freedom, because he doesn’t really… he’s not a philosopher, he doesn’t really have a view of it. He has a critique of the other view. Of the negative one. Hegel has a fuller view, and I am going to mention his very quickly.

For Hegel, freedom is more like a placeholder word. Let me try to explain what I mean by that. For Hegel, freedom is so important that it is the meaning and the point of human history in general. That if one asks about the bible: “Quickly, what’s it about?”, someone will go “The devil did it”, right? And that’s a quick account of the plot. Then if you ask Hegel quickly about history, Hegel will go: “It’s about how freedom wins”.

Hegel’s account of freedom is more sophisticated in a way than any I have given you up until now, because it is deeply historical. Here’s what I mean by that. In any given historical epoch, Hegel says: “Show me the obstacles that Human beings saw in their path to realising their concrete goals and the overcoming of those obstacles will receive the name Freedom”.

Now, the nice thing about that concept of freedom is it is a free concept of it, which means it allows each generation to pursue freedom’s goals, maybe reformulating them anew. All I have done is backtrack to the 19th Century, contrast positive and negative freedom… tried to do that. But the Hegelian concept is historical and reminds us that when we formulate these goals… you know, they are the work of each new group that comes along in the struggle for freedom.

For Hegel, freedom isn’t either external or internal or positive or negative. Freedom is not something which people have, to quote Alasdair MacIntyre on Hegel’s view of freedom: “It’s not something that people have. It is what they are”. When they don’t have it, they aren’t. And that doesn’t mean they disappear, it means they are not human without it.

And so, in Hegel, I think that for many satisfying reasons – and that’s why I am doing it here today – there are many satisfying reasons to bring the official history of ethics to a close with Hegel. In other words, Hegel’s view is kind of like the last trump. It says: you give me the best moral views that go out of your community, the limitations they face, wherever you happen to be and whenever they are, and the struggle to overcome those things, with those goals, that’s freedom. And I think that will give us… I agree with MacIntyre, that gives us the most satisfying view because it’s the most historical, and it also reminds us that there is no eternal idea of freedom, but only the struggle for freedom. Which is consistent with Martin Luther King’s remarks, because while he made remarks about freedom, the struggle for his kinds of freedoms and other people’s struggles as well. Rosa Parks, among others. Where struggles for certain direct freedoms that were the overcoming of concrete limitations of a given time and place.

So the challenge of freedom will be to find the new boundaries, and how to break them down. That is what freedom will be about. Well, it’s a scary concept of freedom, because it’s been glossed in the following way by Engels, who quotes Goethe’s “Faust” and says that: “The principle of freedom here is that all that exists deserves to perish”. Which as you know is what Mephistopheles says in Faust. But it’s meant in a kind of funny way, in other words: “All that exists has not yet lived up to freedom, so it deserves to change, to perish, to give way to something more free”. So there is a little bit of sympathy for the devil in Hegel’s account, and I don’t mind that being the case.

While it would be satisfying to end with Hegel’s account of freedom, I must say that starting tomorrow I am going to switch the course of these accounts of human conduct. Because now I have brought you up to the 19th Century following various models of human conduct until we got to that most peculiar kind of human conduct, the struggle to be free. Which obviously I have placed a very high value on. Now why did I do that? Because, for me, it trumps the others. Whatever your project; to build a character of a certain kind, to be virtuous in a certain way, or to act in a certain way, you can’t do it if you are not free. In that sense, freedom is the trump card in social and political life. In other words, in everything that you want to pursue, of all these various ways and modes of living I have discussed today, freedom is an enabling thing to do it. I mean, it will either enable or block you, whether you are free to do it.

You may be forced to act as though you are free, but to really get there you have to really overcome obstacles. That’s the concrete part of it. It’s why it is very important to remember that. And so actually with today’s lecture, in a way, the sort of official philosophy part ends with Hegel and we will move on to a transition from philosophy proper – where we discuss, you know, ethical theories – to a discussion of human beings as they find themselves in societies, political institutions, homes, clubs, families, and bars. In other words, folks and how they are going to get by. We need to understand that that kind of account is not mundane or beneath the level of academics or theory. It’s very important. As I say, it is the condition for the possibility of higher orders of talk.

All they represent – the university system – all it represents in this regard is a very high level development of the intellectual division of labour until it is divided into such small segments that only eight people can talk to eight other people. So, to sort of drop beneath that level is not to drop into something mundane and uninteresting, but is to get down where very interesting things happen. I mean with Hegel, I agree that the most extraordinary thing… Tomorrow, as we start discussing the really deviant philosophers… However, I would like to end with a note from Marx, and just a little note for where we are going. All of the things I have offered today come under the heading of interpretations of human conduct as they have been developed historically. Now I have given rejoinders about the limitations of the account I have given. In other words it’s hemmed in by certain things that I think will be clearer tomorrow.

But to quote the 11th thesis on Feuerbach by Marx, a very important point to remember – and especially as a philosopher – is that the philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point however is to change it. It’s very interesting to interpret freedom in various ways, but that’s not the point. The point is to actually walk another step down freedom’s highway, so your kids can walk another step down it. If we are still bothering to have them. Given… you know… certain other scenarios about the future. Blade Runner for example. Might decide not to have kids, don’t want them to be cyborgs… I mean, you know… there are reasons people might not have children today.

But no, the point is that now we are going to look at a different kind of philosopher. The ones we will discuss tomorrow will include Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, and a little bit of Kierkegaard too, thrown in. And we are going to discuss these people because they begin to question the desire and the drive that was sort of behind philosophy in the first place. So in a certain sense, to the degree they discuss philosophy at all, it’s as meta-philosophers. In other words, they look at philosophy in the way I do. As one cultural institution among others. You know, I mean it’s not a master science of what the world really means. Because there isn’t one. Neither is religion. There is no master discourse like that. If anyone has one, you’ve got a lot better product to sell than anyone I know. Go meet Shirley MacLaine, make five billion dollars in California.

That isn’t… You don’t come to philosophy – especially today – in this sort of post-philosophical atmosphere. Not for consolation. Not a good place to come for consolation. The older religions are for that. It’s not a good place, around some just loon like me, to come in order to have your… the things you believe… justified. Unless you have real strange beliefs. And it’s also sort of a warning that it’s dangerous to believe – especially from someone that will present the picture I will tomorrow – what I say. More important that you critically examine what you think. I mean that’s the point. At least I hope it will be the point. Because, you know, sometimes I don’t even care what I say. That must be wrong. Didn’t think about it long enough. So, it always makes me uncomfortable when seeing anyone taking notes… because I don’t! I don’t think that what I say is that important. So remember to be critical. If I am up here saying: “Criticise Authority!”, a real bad feeling is the Monty Python joke, right? “Criticise Authority”. [crowd laughter]

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