Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles When we finished last time, we were looking at John Stuart Mill's attempt to reply to the critics of Bentham's utilitarianism. In his book utilitarianism, Mill tries to show that critics to the contrary it is possible within the utilitarian framework to distinguish between higher and lower pleasures. It is possible to make qualitative distinctions of worth and we tested that idea with the Simpsons and the Shakespeare excerpts. And the results of our experiment seem to call into question Mill's distinction because a great many of you reported that you prefer the Simpsons but that you still consider Shakespeare to be the higher or the worthier pleasure. That's the dilemma with which our experiment confronts Mill. What about Mill's attempt to account for the especially weighty character of individual rights and justice in chapter five of utilitarianism. He wants to say that individual rights are worthy of special respect. In fact, he goes so far as to say that justice is the most sacred part and the most incomparably binding part of morality. But the same challenge could be put to this part of Mill's defense. Why is justice the chief part and the most binding part of our morality? Well, he says because in the long run, if we do justice and if we respect rights, society as a whole will be better off in the long run. Well, what about that? What if we have a case where making an exception and violating individual rights actually will make people better off in the long run? Is it all right then to use people? And there is a further objection that could be raised against Mill's case for justice and rights. Suppose the utilitarian calculus in the long run works out as he says it will such that respecting people's rights is a way of making everybody better off in the long run. Is that the right reason? Is that the only reason to respect people? If the doctor goes in and yanks the organs from the healthy patient who came in for a checkup to save five lives, there would be adverse effects in the long run. Eventually, people would learn about this and would stop going in for checkups. Is it the right reason? Is the only reason that you as a doctor won't yank the organs out of the healthy patient that you think, well, if I use him in this way, in the long run more lives would be lost? Or is there another reason having to do with intrinsic respect for the person as an individual? And if that reason matters and it's not so clear that even Mill's utilitarianism can take account of it, fully to examine these two worries or objections, to Mill's defense we need to push further. And we need to ask in the case of higher or worthier pleasures are there theories of the good life that can provide independent moral standards for the worth of pleasure? If so, what do they look like? That's one question. In the case of justice and rights, if we suspect that Mill is implicitly leaning on notions of human dignity or respect for person that are not strictly speaking utilitarian, we need to look to see whether there are some stronger theories of rights that can explain the intuition which even Mill shares, the intuition that the reason for respecting individuals and not using them goes beyond even utility in the long run. Today, we turn to one of those strong theories of rights. Strong theories of right say individuals matter not just as instruments to be used for a larger social purpose or for the sake of maximizing utility, individuals are separate beings with separate lives worthy of respect. And so it's a mistake, according to strong theories of rights, it's a mistake to think about justice or law by just adding up preferences and values. The strong rights theory we turn to today is libertarianism. Libertarianism takes individual rights seriously. It's called libertarianism because it says the fundamental individual right is the right to liberty precisely because we are separate individual beings. We're not available to any use that the society might desire or devise precisely because we are individual separate human beings. We have a fundamental right to liberty, and that means a right to choose freely, to live our lives as we please provided we respect other people's rights to do the same. That's the fundamental idea. Robert Nozick, one of the libertarian philosophers we read for this course, puts it this way: Individuals have rights. So strong and far reaching are these rights that they raise the question of what, if anything, the state may do. So what does libertarianism say about the role of government or of the state? Well, there are three things that most modern states do that on the libertarian theory of rights are illegitimate or unjust. One of them is paternalist legislation. That's passing laws that protect people from themselves, seatbelt laws, for example, or motorcycle helmet laws. The libertarian says it may be a good thing if people wear seatbelts but that should be up to them and the state, the government, has no business coercing them, us, to wear seatbelts by law. It's coercion, so no paternalist legislation, number one. Number two, no morals legislation. Many laws try to promote the virtue of citizens or try to give expression to the moral values of the society as a whole. Libertarian say that's also a violation of the right to liberty. Take the example of, well, a classic example of legislation authored in the name of promoting morality traditionally have been laws that prevent sexual intimacy between gays and lesbians. The libertarian says nobody else is harmed, nobody else's rights are violated, so the state should get out of the business entirely of trying to promote virtue or to enact morals legislation. And the third kind of law or policy that is ruled out on the libertarian philosophy is any taxation or other policy that serves the purpose of redistributing income or wealth from the rich to the poor. Redistribution is a... if you think about it, says the libertarian is a kind of coercion. What it amounts to is theft by the state or by the majority, if we're talking about a democracy, from people who happen to do very well and earn a lot of money. Now, Nozick and other libertarians allow that there can be a minimal state that taxes people for the sake of what everybody needs, the national defense, police force, judicial system to enforce contracts and property rights, but that's it. Now, I want to get your reactions to this third feature of the libertarian view. I want to see who among you agree with that idea and who disagree and why. But just to make it concrete and to see what's at stake, consider the distribution of wealth in the United States. United States is among the most inegalitarian society as far as the distribution of wealth of all the advanced democracies. Now, is this just or unjust? Well, what does the libertarian say? Libertarian says you can't know just from the facts I've just given you. You can't know whether that distribution is just or unjust. You can't know just by looking at a pattern or a distribution or result whether it's just or unjust. You have to know how it came to be. You can't just look at the end stage or the result. You have to look at two principles. The first he calls justice in acquisition or in initial holdings. And what that means simply is did people get the things they used to make their money fairly? So we need to know was there justice in the initial holdings? Did they steal the land or the factory or the goods that enabled them to make all that money? If not, if they were entitled to whatever it was that enabled them to gather the wealth, the first principle is matched. The second principle is did the distribution arise from the operation of free consent, people buying and trading on the market? As you can see, the libertarian idea of justice corresponds to a free market conception of justice provided people got what they used fairly, didn't steal it, and provided the distribution results from the free choice of individual's buying and selling things, the distribution is just. And if not, it's unjust. So let's, in order to fix ideas for this discussion, take an actual example. Who's the wealthiest person in the United States... wealthiest person in the world? Bill Gates. It is. That's right. Here he is. You'd be happy, too. Now, what's his net worth? Anybody have any idea? That's a big number. During the Clinton years, remember there was a controversy donors? Big campaign contributors were invited to stay overnight in the Lincoln bedroom at the White House? I think if you've contributed twenty five thousand dollars or above, someone figured out at the median contribution that got you invited to stay a night in the Lincoln bedroom, Bill Gates could afford to stay in the Lincoln bedroom every night for the next sixty six thousand years. Somebody else figured out, how much does he get paid on an hourly basis? And so they figured out, since he began Microsoft, I suppose he worked, what 14 hours per day, reasonable guess, and you calculate this net wealth, it turns out that his rate of pay is over 150 dollars, not per hour, not per minute 150 dollars, more than 150 dollars per second which means that if on his way to the office, Gates noticed a hundred dollar bill on the street, it wouldn't be worth his time to stop and pick it up. Now, most of you will say someone that wealthy surely we can tax them to meet the pressing needs of people who lack in education or lack enough to eat or lack decent housing. They need it more than he does. And if you were a utilitarian, what would you do? What tax policy would you have? You'd redistribute in a flash, wouldn't you? Because you would know being a good utilitarian that taking some, a small amount, he'd scarcely going to notice it, but it will make a huge improvement in the lives and in the welfare of those at the bottom. But remember, the libertarian theory says we can't just add up an aggregate preferences and satisfactions that way. We have to respect persons and if he earned that money fairly without violating anybody else's rights in accordance with the two principles of justice in acquisition and in justice in transfer, then it would be wrong, it would be a form of coercion to take it away. Michael Jordan is not as wealthy as Bill Gates but he did pretty well for himself. You wanna see Michael Jordan. There he is. His income alone in one year was 31 million dollars and then he made another 47 million dollars in endorsements for a Nike and other companies. So his income was, in one year, $78 million. To require him to pay, let's say, a third of his earnings to the government to support good causes like food and health care and housing and education for the poor, that's coercion, that's unjust. That violates his rights. And that's why redistribution is wrong. Now, how many agree with that argument, agree with the libertarian argument that redistribution for the sake of trying to help the poor is wrong? And how many disagree with that argument? All right, let's begin with those who disagree. What's wrong with the libertarian case against redistribution? Yes. I think these people like Michael Jordan have received we're talking about working within a society and they receive a larger gift from the society and they have a larger obligation in return to give that through redistribution, you know, you can say that Michael Jordan may work just as hard as some who works, you know, doing laundry 12 hours, 14 hours a day, but he's receiving more. I don't think it's fair to say that, you know, it's all on him, on his, you know, inherent, you know, hard work. All right, let's hear from defenders of libertarianism. Why would it be wrong in principle to tax the rich to help the poor? Go ahead. My name is Joe and I collect skateboards. I've since bought a hundred skateboards. I live in a society of a hundred people. I'm the only one with skateboards. Suddenly, everyone decides they want a skateboard. They come to my house, they take my they take 99 of my skateboards. I think that is unjust.