PHIL 332:  Discussion Questions on Smith and Kant

 

            1.  Value of Consent.  All of the philosophers we have read have used the idea of consent or agreement to explain the either the source or the legitimacy (or both) of government power.  But there are two very different ways of understanding the significance of consent: 

            (a) consequentialist value of consent:  Consent/agreement are means to promoting utility. Explain why Adam Smith's theory of economic exchange is an example of a consequentialist theory.  Which other philosophers whom we have read, if any, seem to have a consequentialist view of the value of consent?

            (b) nonconsequentialist value of consent.  Immanuel Kant is the most famous proponent of a nonconsequentialist theory of the value of consent.  According to Kant, what kind of consent legitimizes a government?  Why does Kant believe that government legitimacy cannot be based on utility (or happiness or well-being)?  Which other philosophers whom we have read, if any, seem to have a nonconsequentialist view of the value of consent?

 

            2.  Invisible Hand Explanations of progress in history.  What is an invisible hand explanation?  Consider the following two explanations of progress in history:
            (a) The Wealth Maximization View of History.  History is a selection process that favors wealth maximization.  Capitalist economies with free markets are a social adaptation that has been selected for, because when individuals act to promote their own interests in a capitalist economy with free markets, more wealth is produced than in any other social system.  Even if human beings were devils (i.e., rationally self-interested, with no moral motivation), capitalist economies with free markets would be selected for. (This view is often attributed to Adam Smith, but it is a mistake to attribute it to him.  See his Theory or Moral Sentiments for his moral views.)  How would you argue that this view of history is true?  How would you argue that wealth maximization is a morally acceptable goal for a society?

            (b) The Kantian View of History.  History is a selection process that favors republican governments that guarantee individual rights.  Even if human beings were devils, so long as they were intelligent devils, they would eventually develop republican governments that guarantee individual rights, including rights to freedom of expression and freedom of religion and rights against paternalism.  How does this position differ from (a) above?  How would you argue for this view of history?  How would you argue that republican governments that guarantee individual rights are a morally acceptable form of government?

            Which, if any, of (a) or (b) is the view of history that you are most sympathetic to? 

 

            3.  Kant and paternalism.  Kant's nonconsequentialist case for liberty rights requires him to hold that it is not possible that citizens would consent to paternalistic limitations on their liberty.  (a) Make the strongest argument you can in support of Kant's position.  (b) Make the strongest argument you can against his position. 

 

            4.  Executive Power.  Compare Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant on the following questions:  (a) Do laws apply to the executive or the head of state?  (b) Are there any moral constraints on the executive or the head of state in the exercise of their powers?  (c) Do the citizens have a right to rebel or any other rights against the executive or head of state?