Category Archives: ethical/political

To what Extent can we Consider Kierkegaard’s Ethics to be a Synthesis of Aristotle’s and Kant’s?

Kierkegaard formed a system of ethics based upon the notion that we ought to hold a teleological suspension of the ethical in order to enter a higher realm of morality, referred to as the religious life. The purpose of this essay to determine whether we can consider this to be a synthesis of Kant’s and Aristotle’s moral philosophy, to which I shall argue we can but only as a partial synthesis since Kierkegaard omits elements of both Kant and Aristotle.

In Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard draws out a system of ethics where we ought to move towards what he considers to be the highest virtue, faith, by means of a teleological suspension of the ethical. Before I go on further it would be best if I point out that by virtue Kierkegaard does not mean an excellence of character in the sense Aristotle does, instead the term virtue is implemented to mean something more along the lines of what we ought to have in order to be considered noble. So To avoid confusion between these two terms I shall use the term arête when referring to virtue in the Aristotelian sense.

One of the fundamentals to Kierkegaard’s ethics is that man has three modes of living; the aesthetic, the ethical and the religious. The aesthetic life is one in which we pursue a hedonistic lifestyle constantly chasing pleasure, consequently never staying with any one thing for too long. The ethical life is sometimes referred to as living in accordance with the Universal (this is done within Fear and Trembling), by which it is meant living in accordance with some form of universal moral law, such as Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Finally the religious life is one in which we have removed any sense of duty to the ethical life and become a self-legislating body which obeys only the law it gives itself in such a way that allows us to become “a relation that relates itself to itself” [Kierkegaard, SD, XI:127], by which it is meant that we become capable of reflecting upon ourselves in order to receive autonomy making us free from universal maxims as we become able to decide our own path. It is by deciding what path to take and sticking to it ‘religiously’ that Kierkegaard argues that we acquire faith, thus faith does not necessarily mean belief in a deity (although it can), but instead sticking to a decision without doubt, as Rudd states “for Kierkegaard, morality is a product of commitment” [Rudd, pg:71].

The idea of faith being the highest virtue is demonstrated through what is known as the four sub-Abrahams within Fear and Trembling [Kierkegaard, FT, pp:8-13], and later on where he states “but he who strove with God is greater than all [Kierkegaard, FT, pg:16], but it is within the third sub-Abraham that Kierkegaard reveals to us a second theme vital to the overall system…the virtue of love…we briefly see this virtue within the following passage: “when the child is to be weaned the mother is not without sorrow, that she and the child grow more…apart” [Kierkegaard, FT, pg:12], it is possible to read this passage in a way which means that love is bittersweet for even though the mother loves her baby and draws the warmth from that bond, there will be times when the same love will cause pain. Yet we ought not to abandon love because of this possibility of pain, but embrace it as it is through sacrifice that we are able to move from the ethical to the religious, via a teleological suspension of the ethical, which Rudd explains as “refusing simply to take his standards of good and evil from his society” [Rudd, pg:121].

This notion of love now needs to be explained in more detail for Kierkegaard uses love in a very specific way, one in which could be synonymous with the Confucianist virtue ren or the Greek term agape, both of which mean a universal, unconditional form of love. The notion of love is described in Works of Love where the importance of love is made explicit in the passage: “to cheat oneself out of love is the most terrible deception, it is an eternal loss for which there is no reparation, either in time or in eternity…one who is self-deceived has locked himself out and continues to lock himself out of love” [Kierkegaard, WL, pp:23-24]. Later on a description of what love is comes to us as Kierkegaard says “by its fruits one recognises the tree …in the same way love also is known by its own fruit” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:25] meaning that we do not know love in any other way than through the acts of love made by others, but more specifically it is the acts of Christian love which Kierkegaard is referring to for he states “the love of which Christianity speaks is known by its own fruit- revealing that it has within itself the truth of the eternal” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:25].

This is why it could be argued that Kierkegaard’s view of love is synonymous with ren and agape for Christian love, according to Kierkegaard, is universal “the Christian teaching is to love one’s neighbour , to love all mankind, all men, even enemies, and not to make exceptions, neither in favouritism nor in aversion” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:36] and unconditional “God you are to love in unconditional obedience, even if what he demands of you may seem to you to be your own harm” [Kierkegaard, WL, pg:36]. Hence the leap from ethical to religious is made by abandoning any universal moral laws, and/or conformities to social norms, in order to serve our own moral maxims (God, the eternal) with unconditional obedience whilst also treating all others equally for if we “love a human being more than God…this is a mockery to God – the same holds true of friendship and erotic love” [Kierkegaard, WL, Pg.36]. Therefore once we have entered the religious life we ought to show respect to every element of mankind equal to the unwavering respect we show to our self-made moral maxims otherwise we risk slipping back into the ethical or aesthetic life.

To summarise Kierkegaard’s ethics is not one of universal maxims, or a system devised to tell us how to act (unlike Kant’s), but one which tells us to choose our own path and stick by it just like we would stick to our religious faith in a deity. This does sound similar to Nietzsche’s concept of divorcing ourselves from the herd morality in order to determine our own path through life, a concept which I argue is fundamentally Aristotelian (I shall return to this later). But in order to make this movement from ethical to religious we ought to learn to love ourselves and others in equal measure for if we did not we would see no reason to unconditionally obey our moral maxims, or care for the society around us which brings us the things necessary for a life of contentment (food, water, shelter, companionship and so on). Now I shall move on to demonstrate how this model of ethics is similar to, and different from Aristotle’s in order to show how close the two systems are.

Aristotle argues that the moral hero is one who pursues happiness as happiness is the end goal in itself, “happiness on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor…for anything other than itself” [Aristotle, 1097b], which bears some semblance with Kierkegaard who in part two of Either-Or writes “the beautiful was that which has its teleology within itself” [Kierkegaard, E-II, II:245], so the ‘beautiful’ or noble agent is one who has the end goal within themselves. Kierkegaard later adds that happiness can be found within his work, his calling, for “our hero works for a living; this work is also his delight; he carries out his calling” [Kierkegaard, E-II, II:266], hence Kierkegaard, like Aristotle, believes that each agent has a function and it is by working within your function that we become heroic for “all things have a function…the good and the well is thought to reside in the function” [Aristotle, 1097b]. This claim is strengthened further when we consider Rudd’s claim that “one can only avoid the necessity of judging one’s life in moral terms by evading long-term commitments. But to live such a life is to be in despair, for a life without commitments is one without purpose” [Rudd, pg.69] . Therefore the moral agent is one who follows his commitment to his function.

However where Kierkegaard and Aristotle deviate is at the point where Aristotle holds that man has no choice over his function within society, whereas (as demonstrated above) Kierkegaard argues that we are able to decide for ourselves what function it is we are to commit to. I speak of functions, in regard to Kierkegaard, here not just as jobs but also roles and relationships following on from Rudd who states “for Kierkegaard, morality is a product of commitment to roles and relationships”. So when I talk about functions in relation to Kierkegaard I use the term is a broader sense than when in relation to Aristotle who specifically means a role within society. As a result of this we can consider the agent’s function, for Kierkegaard, is to commit to his role within the workplace (following E-II, II:266) and to commit to his relationships with his neighbours (following WL, pg.36),

Although Rudd argues that there is a more important end goal and it is this which separates the religious from the ethical, “an absolute telos…is the primary overriding task for each individual to bring him-or herself into the right relationship with God” [Rudd, pg.134]. But if we take Kierkegaard from a non-Christian perspective and equate God with the absolute good then we Rudd’s statement becomes one which means the primary end goal to bring himself into the right relationship with their own moral maxims and not a set of universal laws or socially constructed ethical code.

To summarise Kierkegaard’s system follows Aristotle in the sense that both accept that the good can be found in pursue your social roles, as this is part of the love for one’s neighbour as by fulfilling your social role you help society as a whole progress. Also by living in accordance with a self-devised system of morality we can find similarities between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, who as I stated earlier is arguably Aristotelian in essence within his moral system. Although Kierkegaard is not completely Aristotelian as there is no mention of habituating virtues, and Kierkegaard believes that social roles are not pre-ordained but freely chosen and this is where the two thinkers differ within their systems. I shall now go on to discuss Kierkegaard in relation to Kant.

Pattison argues that Kierkegaard’s system contains some links with Kant’s since “figures who remove themselves from the moral accountability of their contemporaries and act as if they are beyond good and evil…would seem to be anti-Kantian, they also, in another way give expression to another Kantian theme, the pursuit of maximum autonomy” [Pattison, pg.106], and for Kant autonomy is “the property of the will by which it is a law to itself” [Kant, 4:440]. Pattison also adds “If one sees the argument of The Critique of Practical Reason as a genuine attempt to establish the requirement of belief in God via the concept of the supreme good…the Kantian analogy is strengthened still further” [Pattison, pg. 101]. Thus Kierkegaard’s concept of moving from the ethical to the religious if seen as a notion which brings us closer to God, and since the religious life is the ultimate good for Kierkegaard, then it does show Kierkegaard to be Kantian.

However Pattison does recognise that there are also differences between the two systems as he acknowledges the faults within Kant’s categorical imperative. The example he gives us is based upon the idea that to do only what is universalisable can result in situations which undermine the maxim which has been universalised, such as “in feeding the cat I am neglecting all the cats who may be dying even now of malnutrition” [Pattison. Pg.113], therefore ‘I ought to feed the cat’ as an universalisable maxim would be ‘I ought to feed every cat’ or ‘Everyone ought to feed the cat’. The former results in an impossible maxim since no single person could feed every cat on the planet (especially if we count every species of cat such as lions and tigers). The latter on the other hand results in everyone feeding the single cat you own which would result in the cat becoming ill through overfeeding. Thus this is why Kant’s system fails and why Kierkegaard argues that the ultimate good lies beyond the ethical and in the religious, based upon just the one imperative “helping the neighbour to love God, rather than ameliorate any concrete worldly problems” [Pattison, pg.118].

Another difference between the two systems is that Kierkegaard does not tell how to act or which rules to follow, but instead tells us that we ought to break away from the ethical systems of the herd, move beyond good and evil, and become a law onto ourselves in a movement that brings us closer to maximum autonomy. Whereas Kant explicitly tells us how to act for he says “act that use humanity always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means” [Kant, 4:429] and “I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law” [Kant, 4:402].

To conclude Kierkegaard’s system of ethics can be seen as a partial synthesis of kant’s and Aristotle’s as it contains Kant’s notion of pursuing maximum autonomy, and Aristotle’s concept of fulfilling your social roles as a way of loving your neighbour whilst being a law only unto ourselves. However Kierkegaard has not made a complete synthesis of the two as he omits the categorical imperative from Kant and the notion of habituating arête in order to pursue happiness. Arguably this would a deliberate omission since the two concepts are incompatible as Kant classes any pursuit of happiness as a hypothetical imperative as he says “the imperative that refers to the choice of means to one’s own happiness…is still always hypothetical” [Kant, 4:416].

• E-II – Either-Or Part II
• FT – Fear and Trembling
• SD – Sickness Unto Death

• WL – Works of Love


• Aristotle, (1995), ‘The Nicomachean Ethics’, in Barnes. J, The Complete Works of Aristotle (Sixth Reprint), Chichester: Princeton University Press
• Kant. I, (1998), Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (translate by Gregor.M), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
• Kierkegaard. S, (1983), Sickness unto Death (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), Princeton: Princeton University Press
• Kierkegaard. S, (1987), Either-Or Part II (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), New Jersey: Princeton University Press
• Kierkegaard. S, (2005), Fear and Trembling (translated by Hannay. A), London: Penguin Books
• Kierkegaard. S, (2009), Works of Love (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), New York: Harper-Collins
• Pattison. G, (2005), The Philosophy of Kierkegaard, Chesham: Acumen
• Rudd. A, (1993), Kierkegaard and the Limits of the Ethical, New York: Oxford University Press
• The Holy Bible (King James Version), (2000), Michigan: Zondervan


How Adolescence is Portrayed in the Media

Adolescence has become a term used by the media to mean ‘a phase the young undesirable members of society go through’; this has led to the true meaning of the word becoming confused or even replaced in everyday conversation. This new media-generated definition has helped in giving teenagers/adolescents a bad image and reputation but just how far from the truth actually is the media? Are modern adolescents really the rebellious, anti-social teens they are portrayed to be or is it just biased, over exaggeration of the media in order to sell a good story and scare the public? First it would best to start from the beginning and find the true definition of adolescence.

Adolescence comes from the Latin term adolescentia meaning ‘to grow up’ and so it should really be used to mean the phase in which children begin to mature and develop into their adult phase (either manhood or womanhood for boys and girls respectively). It is throughout this period that the youth goes through a complex period of social, psychological and biological change (usually described as puberty), they developed a tendency to shun previous parental influence in order to seek out guidance from their peer groups as a way to express themselves as mature adults and as an opportunity to learn about things their parents would condemn (drugs, pornography, alcohol .etc). This change of the location of influence creates confusion in what is right and wrong so adolescents become unaware that what others perceive as anti-social behaviour is actually not acceptable, although there is much debate around this subject.

The media at present (especially in the news) has used this teenage confusion between right and wrong as a way of generating public fear and selling a good story to the general public at the expense of the majority of adolescents who have nothing to do with the rising number (if the statistical information is anything to go by) of anti-social teenagers. The media will often report adolescents has being obsessed with or addicted pornography making claims that up to one in four regularly use the internet to view such material, they will also make claims about adolescents using other forms of modern gadgetry and technology to enhance their anti-social ways; examples including using mobiles for ‘happy slapping’, MP3 players as a enticement for mugging and playstations (or x-boxes and other game consoles) as teachers for violence. There is very little positive media portrayal of adolescence within the media and most of it seems to emerge around the time of exam results when the media focuses on the few who manage to excel at school and achieve good grades, however this is soon replaced by reports of exams getting easier and claims that young people are getting ‘dumber’ as the years go on; this year the news has recently reported on university students having to be given lessons on how to right essays due to the lack of literary skills. These negative articles in the news over cloud the sparse pockets of positive portrayal that adolescents truly deserve as it is really only a minority that cause the anti-social behaviour the media is so keen to use.
It is not only in the news, which is aimed at an adult audience, that uses a negative portrayal but also artists in the music scene aimed at the adolescent audience will also use a negative view of adolescents throughout their material as a way to sell their material. The group My Chemical Romance during their song ‘Teenagers’ show adolescents as aggressive and intimidating members of society with the lyrics “Teenagers scare the living shit outta me”. The solo artist Lily Allen also uses less subtle lyrics to get across that adolescents are anti-social in a number of tracks; in the song ‘LDN’ she sings about life in inner city London and uses the lyrics “When a kid came along to offer a hand but before she had time to accept it, hits ‘er o’er the head. Doesn’t care if she’s dead cos he’s got all ‘er jewellery an’ wallet”; suggesting that mugging is a serious issue with inner city adolescents (again if the statistical data and media is anything to go by then there is a rising problem of youth crime including mugging). In another track, Alfie, Lily Allen suggests that adolescent boys have a problem with drug abuse since the song contains the lyrics “My little brother’s in his bedroom smoking weed” and within the same verse “’He can’t be bothered cos he’s high on THC”. In the second verse she moves off the idea of drug abusing adolescents to follow a new path of what is still negative portrayal. She claims that adolescents are lazy, graffiti-artists with the lines “I can’t just sit back and watch you waste your life away”, “Get off your lazy arse” and “Surely there’s some walls out there that you can go and spray”.

So the media as a whole uses adolescence as a dumping ground for bad behavioural issues such as pornography, drug abuse, vandalism, mugging .etc as a way to improve profit and sales despite the statistical evidence that in reality it is actually only a small minority of the adolescent population that is truly responsible for all this anti-social behaviour that seems to sell so well thanks to a bit of over exaggeration and impressive vocabulary by the media. This over exaggeration of the negative has led to the majority of hard-working, honest and well behaved adolescents becoming labelled and shunned in modern society, which may hinder a healthy social development since they will be treated as social outcasts by the adult and younger population highly limiting the opportunity for social interaction and moral guidance. If this is the case then this could encourage adolescents to be anti-social members of society due the fact that they are receiving no moral guidance or social opportunity creating moral confusion and a generation of people only able to communicate with and copy the behaviour of the adolescent population.

BBC news 24 podcasts, downloaded from
Daily Star (various issues)
Daily Star Sunday (various issues)
Lily Allen, Alright Still, Regal records
My Chemical Romance, The Black Parade, Reprise records
News of the world (various issues)
The Sun (various issues)

Further reading:
Elizabeth A. Goodburn & David A. Ross, A Picture of Health: A Review & Annotated Bibliography of the Health of Young People in Developing Countries”, published by World Health Organization & UNICEF

The Implications of Freudian Theory Within Moral Philosophy

Freud is one of the key thinkers of modernity within philosophy of mind after he introduced a theory of mind, known as the psychodynamic model, based upon a divided self made up of unconscious, preconscious and conscious. This was later built upon to produce a topography of mind consisting of an unconscious Id, unconscious Ego, preconscious Ego, conscious Ego and a Superego which interacts with the other parts but is not specifically located within any of the earlier divisions of the mind. The model is usually referred to as the (human) psyche, although Freud sometimes refers to it as the psychic apparatus. The purpose of this essay is three-fold; first to explain Freud’s psychodynamic theory of mind, secondly to highlight the implications this has on the notion of free will and to determine whether or not free will is compatible with Freud’s theory. Finally to demonstrate the implications the compatibility of free will within Freud’s theory and has on moral philosophy in order to show that if Freud’s psychodynamic theory is found to be true then any feasible ethical model would have to fall upon the concepts I shall show throughout this essay. From this I shall conclude that free will is compatible with Freud’s psychodynamic and can support ethical systems based upon free will.

Before I begin with my explanation of Freud’s psychodynamic theory of mind I would like to point out that this essay is not intended to prove whether Freud is correct or not, nor is it intended to highlight any flaws within the model, although some flaws may become apparent throughout the following sections.

Freud’s earlier topography of the mind consisted of unconscious, preconscious and conscious, where “the nucleus of the unconscious consists of instinctual representatives which seek to discharge their cathexis; that is to say, it consists of wishful impulses” [Freud, UC, pg:582]. The term cathexis plays a vital part in Freud’s theory and can be used to mean psychic energy. Thus the unconscious exists as a collection of impulses, each of which has a cathexis of its own and interacts by discharging the cathexis around the topography of the mind. The unconscious is also the first point of call for external stimuli once it passes through the perceptive faculties for “in the first phase the psychical act is unconscious” [Freud, UC, pg:578].

Cathexis, as stated above, can be considered as a psychic energy which allows the parts of the mind to interact with each other by discharging quantities of cathexis. Therefore Freud’s psychodynamic model can be seen as a system of sinks and flows with the unconscious, preconscious and conscious being the passive parts of the system (the sinks). And the cathexis, in its multiple forms, acting as the flows hence the dynamic part of the psychodynamic model. Cathexis can manifest as sexual impulses towards certain erogenous zones, such as the mouth or anus, which Freud argues is part of the psychosexual development of the psyche.

Once external stimulus has passed into the unconscious it then undergoes a screening process to determine whether the discharge of cathexis is safe. “if, on testing, it is rejected by the censorship it is not allowed to pass onto the second phase…if, however, it passes this testing, it enters the second phase and thenceforth belongs to the second system…the preconscious” [Freud, UC, pg:578]. The preconscious then acts as a memory bank holding any latent impulses which may be recalled by the conscious at any given point, in a way it is both conscious and unconscious as it not fully conscious but not blocked by the defence mechanism of repression, which is another vital concept for Freud. Essentially is the bridge between the unconscious-conscious schism.

Freud argues “under certain conditions…the impulse then passes into the state of repression…for the ego cannot escape from itself” [Freud, RP, pg:569], therefore repression acts as the defence mechanism which blocks the impulses which, having failed the screening process of the unconscious, prove harmful to our conscious psyche. There are also two types of repression, or at least two stages to it, “there is a primal repression…which consists in the psychical representation of the instinct being denied entrance into the conscious” [Freud, RP, pg:569], in other words the primary censorship of impulses. Then “the second stage of repression…affects mental derivatives of the repressed…or such trains of thought as originating elsewhere” [Freud, RP, pg:569], this latter act of repression censors impulses which bear some resemblance with the impulse originally censored to avoid any harm coming to the conscious.

Conscious is the remaining part of the psyche. It acts the system which contains the impulses we are aware of at a given moment in time. When we become aware of an impulse it means the impulse has discharged its cathexis from the preconscious system to the conscious. However the conscious only has a small capacity, due to the limited range of focus we possess, consequently when we become aware of another impulse the cathexis of the former is discharged back into the preconscious allowing the cathexis of the latter to be discharged into the conscious. This tripartite model of the psyche later gave way to a new topography, although still carrying these three systems, the new model had three new systems which acted as an extra layer on top of what Freud had already established.

One of these three systems is the Id which is entirely unconscious and is responsible for many of our impulses which come from two drives; Eros and Thanatos . The Id is completely egotistical as its only purpose is to achieve the actualisation of its impulses regardless of all other entities (both physical and psychical). The Id’s impulses are centred around obtaining pleasure and self-preservation for “the pleasure principle is proper to a primary method of working on the part of the mental apparatus…from the point of view of the self-preservation of the organism” [Freud, BP, pg:596].

The Eros and Thanatos drives were a late revision to Freud’s model where they replace the pleasure principle. The Eros drive takes the role of self-preservation, reproduction and directing the person towards higher states of existence. On the other hand the Thanatos drive takes the role of destroying unnecessary components of the entity and external entities which threaten the existence of itself. Or as Freud puts it “we put forward the hypothesis of a death instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate states; on the other hand, we suppose that Eros…aims at complicating life and at the same time, of course, at preserving it” [Freud, EI, pg:645]. Hence the two drives often come into conflict as one tries to destroy the self whilst the other preserves it.

In order to keep the Id under control the psyche has another system known as the Ego which spans across all three regions of the old division, “the ego is not sharply separated from the id; its lower portion merges into it. The repressed is only cut off sharply from the ego by the resistances of repression” [Freud, EI, pg:635]. The Ego, like the Id, also has a drive known as the reality principle. The reality principle acts as a balance between the external world and the discharges of cathexis from the Id, the role of this principle is to resolves conflicts between incompatible impulses by way of a compromise which is acceptable within the external world for “when two wishful impulses…appear to us incompatible…they combine to form an intermediate aim, a compromise” [Freud, UC, pg:582].

Finally there is the Superego which develops later on as a consequence of the Oedipus complex. During the Oedipus complex the Id discharges its cathexis in hope of mating with the parent/guardian of the opposite gender. The Ego denies this as the reality principle deems it inappropriate but allows a compromise by taking on the essence of the same gender parent/guardian in order to win the affections of the source of desire. This becomes the Superego which represents the moral standpoint and social beliefs of the same gender parent/guardian. The role of the Superego is to act as a further level of censorship alongside the reality principle and repression to ensure that the Id never actualises its most destructive impulses within the external world.

Now Freud’s topography of the human psyche has been explained I can begin to address the question of whether free will is compatible with the psyche. Beforehand a definition of what is meant by free will is necessary since free will is a notion which has been a matter of debate for some time, with each thinker providing his/her own definition of the term along the way. I, however, shall take free will to mean what Spinoza defines it as, “that thing is called free which exists from the necessity of its nature alone, and is determined to act by itself alone” [Spinoza, pg.2]. By this what is meant is something possesses free will if it is self-driven, as opposed to being driven by a causal nexus. In this sense we can consider the Id to be free since Freud does not offer any explanation as to why it discharges its cathexis towards objects, it simply does, and hence it appears as if the Id does so by its own free will. Following this the Ego cannot be free as it acts only in response to the Id, therefore its actions are caused by the Id and so not caused by itself and consequently not by the Ego’s free will. Then there is the Superego which constantly behaves in such a way as to get the Ego to permit the discharges of cathexis that our parent/guardian of the same gender would permit without any consideration for the other two systems, thus the Superego could also be considered to possess free will. If this is true then the greater part of the human psyche is free but our conscious choices are not, meaning we are only free to choose what we do not know we want to choose as a portion of our free choice has been repressed. However so far this has been mere speculation to determine whether this is the case or not further evidence needs to be considered.

O’Shaughnessy argues that the Ego does possess free will as “the will, in the romantic sense of mental force, is the manifestation of an ego” [O’Shaughnessy, pg.110], he also believes the Id and Superego to possess free will as “those subordinate mental processes have a life of their own, and while they move only because we set them in motion they are not mere instruments of our purposes. They do our bidding but go their own way” [O’Shaughnessy, pg.111]. This is also supported by Thalberg who says that “when we perform an erroneous action…control over the body passes from one’s ego, and its will, to an opposing counter-will” [Thalberg, pg.243], this both the Id and the Ego possess free will but they also oppose each other. This gives rise to a further problem…if our psyche consists of separate systems each capable of free choice but disagree then which system can truly be called the self? It would seem absurd to argue that I, that is my ‘self’, wants X yet simultaneously wants not-X as this goes against the law of non-contradiction, which states “it is impossible for the same thing at the same time both to be and not to be” [Aristotle, 1005b]. So in order to answer the problem of free will within Freud’s model we need to clear up the problem of the self.

Kierkegaard was puzzled by the problem of the self but gave a explanation of it within Sickness Unto Death in which it is argued that “the self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relations relating itself to itself…a human being is a synthesis…of freedom and necessity” [Kierkegaard, XI:127]. By this it may be possible to see how we can resolve the problem with regard to Freud. If we replace the term itself with the names of parts of the mental apparatus then Kierkegaard reads as follows: ‘the self is a relation that relates Id to Ego or is the relations relating Id to Ego’. In the first part the self can be equated to cathexis as it is this which relates the Id to the Ego via its being discharged between the two systems. In the second part the self can be equated to Superego as it is creating out of the individual’s relations, as demonstrated above, and the Superego relates the Id to the Ego by means of a secondary screening process for the discharges of cathexis. Therefore the self is the Superego and the psychic energy which interacts between the Id and the Ego, and since the impulses originate in both the Id (from the Eros and Thanatos drives) and the Ego (from the reality principle) then by extension the self is also the Id and the Ego making the self as Kierkegaard stated ‘a synthesis’. Yet it appears that the problem of the law of non-contradiction still remains if this is the case. This is not necessarily the case as it was previously stated that “when two wishful impulses whose aims must appear to us incompatible…they combine to form an intermediate aim, a compromise” [Freud, UC, pg:582], this allows the Id and Ego to have their own free will without breaking the law of non-contradiction. It also solves the last piece of Kierkegaard’s claim that the self is a synthesis of freedom and necessity, the freedom comes from the free will of each part of the system in conflict but the necessity comes from its necessary adherence to the law of non-contradiction. And so the self can be considered the human psyche in its entirety capable of freely choosing a number of desires yet bound by the law of non-contradiction so only the desires which are compatible with each other are permitting, whilst the others become repressed.

To sum up what has just been said the self is a synthesis of Id, Ego and Superego relating to each other via the psychic energy of cathexis. Secondly each of the three systems contains its own free will but is bound by the law of non-contradiction so are determined to compromise whenever two opposing wills come into conflict. To put it another way we are free to do as we please so long as we do not contradict the actions and choices which have gone before, hence Freud’s model is compatible with soft determinism, also known as compatibilism.

But what is compatibilism? Compatibilism can be described as a solution to the free will problem as it allows free will to be compatible with determinism, thus enabling us to be held morally responsible for our actions even they we had no actual choice over what action we were to take [SP]. By actual choice I mean one that is chosen freely without any constraints on our choosing, as opposed to a perceived choice which is freely chosen from within a range of options from within a set of constraints. The former would be the exercise of total free will, libertarianism. The latter is the exercise of free will bound by pre-determined criteria, compatibilism. For example an actual choice is being able to choose between a cup of tea or a glass of fizzy pop whereas a perceived choice is being able to choose between the two but only being able to choose the cup of tea as every time this choice has occurred before you have desired the tea over the fizzy pop. Now it has been established what compatibilism is it can be discussed at which ethical systems work alongside Freud’s model.

Socratic ethics is built upon the notion that no man freely does evil they only do evil acts through ignorance, thus cannot be held morally responsible as it is stated within the Apology “you have discovered that bad people always have a bad effect…upon their nearest neighbours. Am I so hopelessly ignorant as not even to realize that…because nothing else would make me commit this grave offense intentionally” [Plato, 25e] and because the evil act was not committed intentionally Socrates claims “I cannot fairly be held responsible, since I have never promised” [Plato, 33b]. This would appear, at first, to be acceptable since evil desires are repressed into the unconscious, as demonstrated above, therefore become unknown to us so if we do act in an evil way it is because our unconscious has overpowered the Ego making us act in a way in which we were not aware of.

This view has been supported by some thinkers such as Sagan who argued “If reason were not fused with libidinal energy- the desires to love and create order- it would remain impotent against the destructive drive…without Eros, reason has as much commitment to morality and an orderly social life as a stick of dynamite” [Sagan, pg:139]. What Sagan refers to here when she uses the term reason could arguably be the Ego as it follows the reality principle, hence can be seen as the rational agent within the system ensuring the Id’s selfish desires are compatible with the external world. This would mean that the Ego and the Eros drive work in tandem to subdue our inner evil derived from the Thanatos drive. However there may be a hidden layer to the dynamite metaphor used by Sagan suggesting something beyond the initial reading which argues that an Ego without the Eros drive to support it cannot be adequate enough to stop the destructive desires of the Id. Dynamite can be used as a tool for good, as well as bad, as it can destroy objects with explosive force yet with that same destructive force act as a means to a greater end. For example when dynamite is employed within quarries so that marble (or some other mineral) can be excavated and used to construct monuments elsewhere. Therefore by using dynamite in her analogy there may be an implicit claim that an Ego working on its own can freely choose to work with the Thanatos drive or work against it. Only when combined with the Eros drive does the Ego lose this actual choice and replaces it with a perceived choice. Further supporting the notion that the psyche is one designed upon compatibilism. And because every psyche comes with the Eros drive, it is not something created later on as opposed to the Superego, and then the Ego can only ever be capable of actual choice if there is some fault within the psyche weakening the Eros drive, or strengthening the Thanatos drive. In either case evil can only be freely and intentionally committed by the psychologically abnormal as they are the only ones capable of being aware of their actions, following what was said above about Socratic ethics.

This idea is strengthened further by the idea that the Superego is the basis for morality within in the psyche as “he (Freud) consistently used the designation superego for the large psychical entity and assign it three basic functions: self-observation, conscience and maintaining the ego” [Sagan, pg:5], and it is conscience which makes us feel guilt when we have evil desires or act in a way which is socially perceived as evil. Consequently it is the conscience which aims at directing our choices towards the morally good, thus we are free to choose how to act but will only act in such a way as our conscience allows again feeding back into the notion of a psyche built upon compatibility.

Furthermore if we have a damaged psyche, one in which we failed to move beyond the Oedipus complex, thus not being able to construct a fully functioning Superego, then we become psychologically abnormal and therefore incapable of guilt and remorse which removes the limitations of our actions giving us the capacity of actual choice, or at least a wider range of options within our perceived choice. Hence evil can only intentionally be done through psychological abnormality for no normal psyche would permit the destructive desires of the Id to get through; a compromise would always be made. This is supported by Pears who argues “someone has reasons for judging a particular course of action best and yet he yields to the temptation to do something else. If he yields intentionally and freely, this counts as akrasia; not being in command of oneself” [Pears, pg:264] and if one is not in control of oneself then society commonly deems them as possessing some form of psychological abnormality.

In conclusion Freud’s psychodynamic model of the human psyche is one built upon compatibilism, when the psyche is functioning normally, in which case the agent will only ever act in such a way as is socially perceived as being morally good, for the Superego was created out of the social norms held by the parents during the time of Oedipus complex as demonstrated above. However should the psyche become damaged in any of the three ways mention, that is a weakening of the Eros drive, a strengthening of the Thanatos drive, or an absence/weakening of the Superego, then the psyche becomes imbalanced and therefore abnormal in which case the psyche becomes built upon libertarianism, hence capable of actual choice and perceived choice. Only then is the agent capable of evil which they can be held morally responsible for.

• BP- Beyond the Pleasure Principle
• EI- The Ego and the Id
• RP- Repression
• SP- Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy Online
• UC- The Unconscious

• Aristotle, (2004), Metaphysics (translated by Lawson-Tancred. H), London: Penguin Classics
• Freud. S, (1995), ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, in Gay. P, The Freud Reader, London: Vintage
• Freud. S, (1995), ‘Repression’, in Gay. P, The Freud Reader, London: Vintage
• Freud. S, (1995), ‘The Ego and the Id’, in Gay. P, The Freud Reader, London: Vintage
• Freud. S, (1995), ‘Unconscious, in Gay. P, The Freud Reader, London: Vintage
• Kierkegaard. S, (1983), The Sickness unto Death (translated by Hong. E and Hong. H), Princeton: Princeton University Press
• O’Shaughnessy. B, (1982), ‘The Id and the Thinking Process’, in Hopkins. J and Wollheim. R, Philosophical Essays on Freud, Bath: Cambridge University Press
• Pears. D, (1982), ‘Motivated Irrationality, Freudian Theory and Cognitive Dissonance’, in Hopkins. J and Wollheim. R, Philosophical Essays on Freud, Bath: Cambridge University Press
• Plato, (1954), The Last Days of Socrates the Apology; Crito; Phaedo (translated by Tredennick. H), London: Penguin Books
• Sagan. E, (1977), Freud, Women and Morality: The Psychology of Good and Evil, New York: Basic Books
• Spinoza. B, (1996), Ethics (translated by Curley. E), London: Penguin Books
• Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy Online, (accessed at 12:55 03/04/11)
• Thalberg. I, (1982), ‘Freud’s Anatomies of the Self’, in Hopkins. J and Wollheim. R, Philosophical Essays on Freud, Bath: Cambridge University Press

Democracy…or Oligarchy?

Election day

Another chance for the plebeian classes to steal legitimated power
Out from the clutches of the elite for a brief moment in time
Only to have it once more torn from its bosom
And to be ignored for another year.

Meanwhile those wielding the sword of real power
Those fat-cat members of the corporate bourgeoisie
Buy up those with legitimated power
Corrupting the plebs’ elected mouthpiece
Just so they can increase their share of real power.

This is democracy.

The illusionary rule of a nation,
Ruled by a state,
Brought by the corporation.

How Ideas Sometimes go Astray.

What do you called a blind deer?

No idea.

Sorry to start off with that terrible pun but thought I’d try and inject a little light humour to start off the entry with, seemed a good idea at the time. And that is just it. ‘Seemed like a good idea at the time’ it is these workings of mind which can often lead to somewhat unsatisfactory or undesired consequences.

The French Revolution for example. An idea of socio-political reform designed to help level the playing field between the French aristocracy and the peasant classes beneath who suffered in poverty compared to their counterparts who dined on the finest of foods, quenched their thirst on exquisite wines and lived lavishly in sheer luxury.

Yet this well intended idea of introducing a greater sense of equality ended up being a bloody era in France’s history as Madame La Guillotine was drafted in to remove the heads of the aristocracy.

This triggered the French aristocracy to have the idea of fleeing France, in fear of their lives, and seeking refuge in Britain. Meanwhile British aristocrats were appalled by the revolution and had the idea of helping French aristocrats get out of their homeland and set up over in Britain.

Thus an idea designed to bring about equality, ended up triggering ideas between two nations which brought about a sense of fraternity between two nations famed for sense of hostility against each another. Funny how one idea to promote equality between one nations people actually ended up bringing about an improvment in diplomatic relations between two nations full of hatred…an consequence unforseen and unitended by the initial idea of the French Revolution.

So I leave you with this question. Was it worth the assasination of the French aristocrats via the guillotine in order to bring about this positive movement in diplomatic relations? Or would have been better off to allow the bourgeisie to grind the French peasent classes underfoot and allow Anglo-French relations to reamin hostile?

Madness: Unreason or Beyond Reason?

The concept of madness is one that has been around in one form or another since antiquity, however exactly what is meant by the term mad has never been laid down instead it has changed with each passing era. In some it has been the height of wisdom in others a disease on humanity’s reason, but despite the term mad being relatively new its characteristics have been around for millennia. By analysing madness from a genealogical viewpoint it should become clear that madness is less real than we first assume it to be, it is in actuality a mechanism used by institutions power to separate a conceived ‘norm’ of society from the remainder in a bid to increase their power and control over societies. Therefore madness is neither a heightened form of wisdom, nor a diminished form, but simply a tool for segregation. As already mentioned this is to be argued from a genealogical viewpoint so to begin let us first look at how madness was perceived during antiquity.

Within antiquity there was no concept of the term madness nevertheless the traits usually associated with madness still existed within society. Ancient Greece had its ‘mad’ placed within temples of worship, segregated from the rest of society, where they would be sought out for their divine wisdom. A number of these oracles existed, although the best known one is that of Delphi, the Oracle was considered to be a women, known as the Pythia (a form of high priestess), whose wisdom transcended Earth as she “was chosen to speak, as a possessed medium, for Apollo, the God of prophecy”[1], in other words she heard the voice of the gods, a trait which is often associated with the schizophrenic. Hence we can see even in this early age that the segregation of the mad occurred and it was the integrated institution of the city-state and religion which was responsible for the separation of the norm and the wise.

This view of madness as being a form of wisdom inspired by the gods continued on throughout the Roman era as soothsayers and state-augurs were held in heavy esteem for their prophecies, although both the Greek oracles and Roman soothsayers often presented their wisdom in cryptic messages, such as the famous one claimed to have been said to Julius Caesar “Beware the ides of March!”[2]. In the same way the Greek Oracles were employed by the state so too were the soothsayers, so they too were products of the institution although were integrated more within society than their Greek counterparts. In modernity such cryptic messages are often posited to be the wisdom of the drunkard and therefore ought to be disregarded as nonsense, a mirror image of the Ancient view. Now we have established of the position of madness within antiquity it is time to look at its position during the medieval and early-modern periods where Christian institutions and the Occult took madness into its next stage of evolution.      

Prymus notes that the Middle Ages was a period of significant change when regarding the view of madness as the previous mystical beliefs came into conflict with a new religious order, the rise of Christendom. Both sides still held “the common characteristics of madness…to be signs of a veiled wisdom”[3], although they regularly came into conflict with each other as the two spheres of institutionalised power clashed.

On the one side there was the old mysticism which remained in the form of the Occult and Paganism where Druids replaced the oracles and soothsayers, and new tools of divination came into existence such as tarot cards. One of the more important cards in the tarot deck is The Fool which can be used as either a symbol whereby it “represents ideas…which endeavour to transcend Earth”[4], thus a higher form of wisdom, or “if badly dignified, folly, eccentricity, even mania”[5], an irrational form of wisdom. The Fool could also be used to directly represent the person asking the question to the deck’s interpreter, hence the person was claimed to be a madman bearing either intellect or mania depending on the fall of the card in relation to the others, although the interpretation of the fall was left to the discretion of the interpreter so madness was still the mechanism used by institutions to control sections of society.

The other institution of power during this period, vital to understanding the concept of madness, is the Christian Church. Prymus claims that “the transformation from insanity as veiled wisdom to madness…begins with Christian views of the…human inability to comprehend the reason of God…those who come too close to such understanding will be driven insane”[6]. What can be said about Christianity is it tried to alienate those who practised the Occult methods by teaching in The Bible that such methods were the work of The Devil, for it says in the book of Deuteronomy “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch.”[7], however this view of divination, prophecy and witchcraft as being madness and a plague on humanity was not a one-dimensional view since it was permissible to suffer from hallucinations, both visual and auditory, and be regarded as speaking the word of God, and consequently the highest possible form of wisdom. There are numerous occasions when the schizophrenic have been esteemed for their madness during the height of Christendom, for example Saint Joan of Arc who led the French to war after hearing God speak to her. So it can be argued that there was a divide between institutions of power and their view of madness during this period, however both sides held a dualistic view as to what madness was allowing them to redefine it when necessary. This dualistic interpretation of madness died out during the Enlightenment when madness was seen largely as a disease on humanity rationality. 

From the seventeenth century, and to some extent for the following two centuries, Europe saw a transformation of how power was used by institutions, Foucault documented these changes in his works in which two texts are of great significance; Discipline and Punish following the story of the prison, and Madness and Civilisation following the story of the asylum. The message behind both is clear, power is used by institutions to divide and control sections of society by means of labelling them with terms such as; mad, criminal and normal[8]. It is here that the concept of madness becomes real.

Foucault points out to us that the Enlightenment era was the age of ‘The Great Confinement’ where an established norm was held and anyone who deviated from it, in any way, was to be segregated from society for these abnormalities were “aspects of evil that have such a power of contagion…that any publicity multiplies them”[9], in other words madness was a plague which needed containing before man’s rationality was corrupted. The mad during this period were, once diagnosed, placed into asylums on which it had been said “one thing is clear: the Hôpital Général is not a medical establishment. It is rather a sort of semi judicial structure”[10]. So Foucault argued that madness had been invented during the Enlightenment as a means of controlling those whose behaviour differed from the norm, when in fact there was nothing medically wrong with them. Foucault himself even pointed this out by stating, when talking about the mind of a madman, “the marvellous logic of the mind which seems to mock that of the logicians because it resembles it so exactly, or rather because it is exactly the same”[11]. This view of madness as that which does not follow the norm has lasted, to some degree, into modernity and it is modernity which shall be the next point of focus.             

Finally we come to modernity where the term madness has become quite broad in its scope as “we often call folks crazy when we simply find their behaviour odd”[12], so madness needs to have no medical background it only needs to be considered different from the established norm. Some of the Enlightenment’s medical view has remained since “the therapeutics of madness…whose chief concern was to sever or to ‘correct’ continued to develop”[13] in a number of guises including psychodynamic psychology, developed by Freud and Jung.

There have also been attempts to return back to the mysticism of antiquity and The Middle Ages, often referred to as new age movements, which like the druids, mystics and witches of the old regime who were condemned as mad by the influential institutions of their day, so too are the druids, mystics and witches of modernity to some lesser and greater degree. Nonetheless these new age movements have helped to highlight a point brought up by Foucault, “madness fascinates because it is knowledge. It is knowledge…of a difficult, hermetic, esoteric learning”[14] said to be associated with the wisdom of the cosmos, nature or higher entities depending on which institution you happen to find yourself within.

So it seems that modernity holds a broad spectral view of madness where it serves as both unreason and wisdom which is beyond reason, as well as everything in between so long as it differs from a perceived normality imposed by an institution of power which on occasion come into conflict for “it has become popular for psychiatrists to assume…witches were unfortunate women who ‘fell ill’ with ‘mental illness’[15]. This point has been noticed by Szasz who said “anything and everything…based on no matter what norm…agoraphobia… homosexuality…divorce…crime, art, undesired political leadership, participation in social affairs or withdrawal from such participation – all these things and many more are now said to be symptoms of mental illness”[16].

It seems to be then that madness is not something which can be regarded simply as unreason or wisdom which goes beyond reason for it depends upon the institution of power you happen to find yourself in. This suggests that there is no such thing as madness, and from this mental illness, the whole concept is down to imposed suggestions by those at the head of power within the institution. “During Charcot’s lifetime…it was suggested…that the phenomena of hysteria were due to suggestion…a charge that has since been fully substantiated”[17], this has been supported by Szasz, Foucault and Laing, amongst others, in a movement known as the anti-psychiatry movement.    

Laing argued that madness was a concept devised by others in an attempt to control and correct those who went against the norm by stating in his book The Divided Self “the technical vocabulary currently used to describe psychiatric patients is that it consist of words which split man up”[18] allowing the normal to be segregated from the mad. He also noticed that within the institution of psychiatry the guidelines for what were considered normal where not properly defined as “the textbook ‘signs’ of schizophrenia vary from hospital to hospital”[19], suggesting two things; firstly that institutions can be broken down into micro-institutions who are able to redefine normality to suit their localised needs, and secondly that there is no such thing as madness, it is a man-made construction. This may provide an answer as to why the term had never been used until the time of The Great Confinement previously mentioned.

Further support for the notion that madness is an imposed conception used by institutions to exercise their power over society in order to retain some sense of normality comes from Szasz who claims “we construct – and then ourselves come to believe in –various types of mental illnesses”[20]. In other words once we have been picked out by society as abnormal by our “failure to learn or comply with imitative rules”[21] then institutions place conceptions upon us, each with its own name and label, which we then absorb into our identity and subconsciously act within whatever framework is expected of our associated label having the belief that we have been told we are X so we must be X, and if I am X then I must act in the way an X would.

Consequently the concept of madness is strengthened as it becomes ingrained into our schemas and cognition of the world, or as Foucault puts it “the discursive movement of reason reasoning with itself, and which addresses madness as error”[22]. Once this self-cognition and acceptance has been established we fall under the control of institutions, and therefore more susceptible to their power which is exercised over us through disciplinary mechanisms[23]. Szasz and Foucault argue that these labels, disciplinary mechanisms and to some extent even our actions belong to the institutions as “the names and hence the values…depend on the rules of the system…that we use…all systems are made by people”[24].    

To conclude madness cannot be simply defined as either unreason or beyond reason, instead it needs to be looked at from a different viewpoint. If we look at madness as a man-made conception rather than a medical phenomenon then we come to see that madness is a shape-shifting term used by institutions of power to segregate and control sections of society who fail to comply with their imposed normality. This view of madness has existed since antiquity and since then it has been evolving into the complex network of disciplinary institutions we have in the modern western world.   


  • Foucault. M, 1991, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, London: Penguin
  •  Foucault. M, 2001, Madness and Civilization, Abingdon: Routledge
  • Laing. R, 1969, The Divided Self, London: The Camelot Press Ltd
  • Prymus. K, 2009, ‘Kefka, Nietzsche, Foucault: Madness and Nihilism in Final Fantasy VI’, in Beaulieu. M & Blahuta. J, ‘Final Fantasy and Philosophy the Ultimate Walkthrough’, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc, pp 20-33
  •  Robichaud. C, 2008, ‘The Joker’s Wild: Can we Hold the Clown Prince Morally Responsible?’, in Arp. R & White. M, Batman and Philosophy, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, pp 70-85
  •  Szasz. T, 1981, The Myth of Mental Illness, St Albans: Granada Publishing Ltd
  • The Holy Bible (King James Version), 2000, Michigan: Zondervan
  • ·Wasserman. J, 1978, Instructions for Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot Deck, New York: Noble Offset Printers

[2] Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2, 15–19

[3] Prymus. K, Kefka, Nietzsche, Foucault: Madness and Nihilism in Final Fantasy VI, Pg. 23

[4] Wasserman. J, Instructions for Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot Deck. Pg. 6

[5] Ibid

[6] Prymus. K, Kefka, Nietzsche, Foucault: Madness and Nihilism in Final Fantasy VI, pp 23-24

[7] Deuteronomy 18:10

[8] Further discussion of this position can be found in both of the mentioned texts by Foucault

[9] Foucault. M, Madness and Civilisation, Pg. 63

[10] Ibid, Pg. 37

[11] Ibid, Pg. 89

[12] Robichaud. C, The Joker’s Wild: Can we Hold the Clown prince Morally Repsonsible?, Pg.73

[13] Foucault. M, Madness and Civilisation, Pg. 151

[14] Ibid, Pg. 18

[15] Szasz. T, The Myth of Mental Illness, Pg. 191

[16] Ibid, Pg. 58

[17] Ibid, Pg. 46

[18] Laing. R, The Divided Self, Pg. 17

[19] Ibid, Pg. 35

[20] Szasz. T, The Myth of Mental Illness, Pg. 125

[21] Ibid, Pg.166

[22] Foucault. M, Madness and Civilisation, Pg. 174

[23] See Foucault’s  Discipline and Punish  for more detail on this

[24] Szasz. T, The Myth of Mental Illness, Pg.55

The Ethical Dilemmas of Time Travel … Relationships

Given that time travel is an actual possibility for the sake of this argument I would like to broach the subject of relationships.

Lets imagine that our time-traveller; Mr.X; embarks on a relationship witha stunning young blonde; Miss.Y;  from London in the month of May 2013, now it turns out things didn’t exactly work out between them (insert whichever reason you want here).

After some travelling around in the 15th century to get over the breakup he returns to May 2013 and finds himself in a London bar where he meets a brunette in her thirties; lets call her Miss.Z; and tries again at having a relationship believing the time is right to let go and move on after the Miss.Y incident.

Unfortunatly whilst Mr. X is out of town…and in fact of the time zone…Miss.Y and Miss. Z happen to meet up and discuss their new boyfriends…turns out they work together in the same office block and decided to lunch together that day. They soon come to realise that Mr.X is in fact seeing both Miss. Y and Miss. Z simultaneously. But is he two-timing?

Well to answer this we must first realise that what we are talking about is a problem involving three seperate time streams. First is Mr.X’s where he has gone from being single, in a monogonous realtionship with Miss. Y, break up wtih Miss. Y, single again, in a monogonous realtionship with Miss. Z. In his time stream at no point has in been with both Miss. Y and Miss Z simultaneously so within his time stream he has not cheated on either of them.

Let’s now examine Miss.Y’s perspective she has gone from single to in a realtionship with Mr.X, find out he is in a relationship with Miss. Z, break up with Mr.X, single. So it seems to her he has wronged her by seeing her workmate whilst seeing her.

Finally there is the viewpoint of Miss.Z to take into account. Miss.Z’s time stream shows her going from single, in a relationship with Mr.X, discovery of Mr.X dating Miss.Y. Again Miss.Z has every reason to believe Mr.X has not been as faithful as he thinks he has.

So has Mr.X really been two-timing? Or does the fact that his time stream proves he has never dated both simultaneously let him off the hook?

It would appear that Mr.X is both two-timing and not two-timing simultaneously. Yet even taking this stance proves its own problems, the most obvious of which being that it breaks Aristotle’s famous law…that of non-contradiction. The law of non-contradiction states in its third form (its logical form as opposed to its ontological or psychological forms) “The most secure of all beliefs is that mutually contradictory statements cannot be jointly true” [Aristotle, ‘Metaphysics’, 1011b]. So in order to resolve this problem we must accept one of the following:

  1. Mr.X is two-timing
  2. Mr.X is not two-timing

Seeing as we cannot hold both the primary problem rears its head once more. Has Mr.X really been two-timing? Or did Aristotle, in devising his law, fail to realise that there could be some examples where it is necessary to hold contradictory statements can both be true simultaneously?


Does Utopian Thinking do More Harm than Good?

Utopia, a perfect society. This is a concept that has interested philosophers, politicians and general people for a long time. A place where there would be no problems and that we would all live in peace. Where nothing matters except ones happiness. But does a place like this cause more damage than the good it creates? Or is it a possible world that helps us, and government act accountable for its actions?

Does this utopia come from a time before, or a time yet to be reached. In a Judaeo-Christian religion there was once a place, when God creates the world for man, there is the Garden of Eden. And after the great fall of man, we may one day return to this paradise. A perfect paradise that provides for man, and where man only has to look after this land. Again in the fourth century BCE there is mention of a utopia from Plato, where he describes a world, where philosophers were allowed to rule as dictators over a subservient demos, as mentioned in his works, “The Republic”.

More recently, Thomas More’s book named, “Utopia”, he outlines a utopian world, and even goes as far as to draw a map to what this looks like.  A world with no private property, as this would mean that other would not be excluded. As Macpherson’s said, “the right not to exclude others”. So that no one person has right over another and that all is equal.

Another man to think in a way of a utopia was Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Kant argues ways in which we may achieve a type of utopia. He saw that there are things which we can do, and things we should do. He saw it that human nature took an easy way out a lot of the time. But ideally we should do the right things. “Ought implies can”. If we ought to do something, then we can do it. And more importantly, if morally right, we should do it. All of this was to try to achieve the idea of a, kingdom of ends. “So act as if you were through your maxim a law-making member of a kingdom of ends.” Kant saw that in the perfect world, we may not all be equal, but should all live by equal morals. By this means we would not have the problem if someone is doing right to wrong, but rather, if we are all doing right, or all doing wrong. In this utopian type world we would be able to be better men, and try to strive for higher pleasures.

Utopians however can be divided up into sections. This is due to the way in which we each view the world. However tow of the major groups would be the political utopians, and the social utopians. Kant’s type of Kingdom of Ends, is a political and moral utopia, where as More’s utopia is Social. Where all of us are equal, have equal status, and equal being.  Both of these types of utopias a weakness to them, and if used incorrectly may lead away from the idea that they are trying to portray.

Social utopians are based upon the idea of everyone being equal, where there truly is a sense of community and justice. However Marx brings about the argument that justice is a remedial virtue, and ultimatily in a utopia, there would be no crime, as we would not want something that we do not as other would not have it either. And we would all be equally provided for, and have the same amount. The problem here is that this leads to communism. And as Charles Darwin stated, the strongest survive and human nature would then make us want to achieve the best. There would be jealousy and the need to try to get higher. We would not be able to settle for what we have, and one man could become a dictator and enforcedly control us, leading to oppression. This would take away our freedom, and surely a key principle of a utopia would be that of freedom. But the likes of Robert Owen believed that the environment that we are bought up in would lead to the man that we grow up to be. So if we lived in a rational system of society we would be able to live in a utopia, but this would have to be on a what we need to survive community, and that community working together to provide their needs. Robert Owen (1771-1858) even went as far to set up small scale communities to see if the possibility of utopianism could serve as a system to live by. A problem is that in the modern world, small scale communities are forced to become larger communities in order to survive. Capitalism and profit based companies have suffocated small communities, and use them to provide cheap labour.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), saw that the problem was the idea of capitalism. He believed in a mutualism, mutualist socialism, and a socio-political creed that may also be called anarchism. He saw the need for a non profitable society that was self governed. He saw that there should be a small scale of ownership over “possessions” in order for there to be a vital source of independence. The problem here lies that if we own a small bit of possessions, human nature would make us envy others that own more or just the want for more. And in an anarchy society there would be no one to govern the people, leading to a general breakdown of society.

Utopianism also falls short in a political theory. This is because it can lead to a totalitarianism system, mainly being of the fascist kind. One example is that of Hitler’s Germany. Where a Germany that was failing after the First World War was reborn under Hitler’s terror and ethnic cleansing. This led to Hitler believing in a super race of people, and killing millions in the name of this ideal. The reason behind utopian can slip into a totalitarianism is because one person, or peoples, views are enforced on others, and often are tricked by government by the use of propaganda, fear, persecution and taking away of freedoms from the people. And then by enforcing this ideal onto the young. Utopianism think has also declined because of the birth of post-modernism and conservatism. This is because they have helped us in losing faith in progress and helped in a falling from grace.

So does the idea of utopia cause more harm than good? Well in religion it certainly helps in building a good society. Unlike what Richard Darwkins believes that religion is a “mene” (similar to a gene in DNA, but past in culture and society), the idea of a utopia when we die given that we live good life and help others has helped the western civilised world reach where it is today. But in some fascist regimes such as Hitler’s Germany, the ideals of one man has caused there to be great problems. These lead away from utopias, and more towards dystopias. The conservatives argue that a utopia is only reachable if we act as rational being, but well, love, emotion, and hatred, all proof that we are far from rational beings.

Perhaps Kant had it right, that we should try to act morally, and act as if living in a utopia. Then we cannot reach one, if not as a society, then as an individual.

Or perhaps Plato had an ideal way when he said that we should find our place in society. One man to follow this view was F. H. Bradley (1846-1924), who wrote, “…we have found the end, we have found self realisation, duty, and happiness in one – yes, we have found ourselves when we have found our station and its duties, our functions as an organ of the social organism”. Bradley believed that in order to find ourselves we need to find where we belong in society and do our duty. This view is completely opposite to Kant, where Kant says do it from yourself, and then if we all do it, we will find the kingdom of ends, Bradley says that we should do it for each other and then we will reach harmony.

I think that utopian thinking does not cause damage, but the fill full meant of one man’s dreams does. But then again, the word utopia, might suggest that it is impossible to find, fool’s gold, as it can mean both, good place and no place, by using the Greek words for each. Perhaps it is simply an idea, to live by and nothing more. Human nature and the natural world show us that there is no perfection. As Plato states in his forms.

*This article was written by The Paladin one of my colleagues here at ‘Only Fools Tread Where the Wise Fear‘*

Is Rawls’ Theory of Social Justice Feasible?

Justice is one of the most contested principles in political theory; however the theory of justice proposed by the American political philosopher John Rawls has come to be one of the most influential theories of the present day. By first explaining the ideas behind the theory, such as the initial position and the difference principle, then putting Rawlsian justice under scrutiny we shall come to discover an understanding of Rawlsian justice as well as realise that despite being a desirable theory for the modern political era it is undesirable and unfeasible for a post-modern political era.

Rawls begins his theory by first pointing out what role justice has to play within the political sphere, his posits justice with the role as “a set of principles…required for choosing among the various social arrangements which determine this division of…distributive shares. These principles are the principles of social justice…they define the appropriate distribution of the benefits and burdens of social cooperation”[1].  Or in short Rawls sees (social) justice as the underlying system for deciding how best society should be arranged so that resources can be distributed in a fair manner. Miller adds another dimension to this by claiming “justice is more than simply a virtue…it is fundamental to the institutions of a mass of individuals into a political community”[2]. By combining the two we can say that the role of justice is to turn individuals into a community by establishing a system whereby resources and burdens are shared out fairly amongst all members of the community.

Before Rawls then goes on to explain his theory of justice he firsts argues that for such a system to be completely fair to all involved it must be devised from what he calls the ‘initial position’ as “the principles of justice for the basic structure of society…are the principles that free and rational persons…would accept in an initial position”[3]. The initial position is something which cannot be actualised in reality a point Rawls acknowledges as he refers to it as “a purely hypothetical situation”[4], in which we each must imagine ourselves as being in a blank state so that “no one knows his place in society, his class…or social status, nor…his fortune in the distribution of natural assets”[5] to ensure “the principles are chosen behind a veil of ignorance.”[6] Once we have placed ourselves behind this veil of ignorance and are imagining ourselves as featureless, talentless shadows moving within a system yet to be implemented we can then begin devising the set of principles and laws which will keep the system fully functioning without being unduly unfair to any particular individuals or group within the whole community, the principles Rawls argues we would all decide upon boil down to two main concepts.

The first of these of these two principles is often referred to as ‘the principle of basic freedoms’ in this principle, which Rawls posits as being the most important and therefore should not yield to the other principle under any circumstance, “the basic liberties…are political…these liberties are to be equal by the first principle”[7]. These basic freedoms, as already mentioned, are political freedoms such as freedom of speech, freedom to vote in a system where each vote is counted as one and no more than one, amongst others. At first it may seem like Rawls has become side-tracked by establishing a principle of political justice in what is meant to be a system of social justice, however Rawls is justified in doing so as he argues “it seems…acceptable that no one should be advantaged or disadvantaged by natural fortune”[8], hence in order for any theory of social justice to work it must first secure that all individuals are covered by an equal distribution of political freedoms so that those of higher social status are able to manipulate and exploit those lowering down the ladder.

The second principle is broken into tow parts with the first being referred to as ‘the principle of equality of opportunity’ which means that the “positions of authority and responsibility must be accessible to all”[9], although this comes in as a second part to the second principle it is often taken to be prior to the second, known as ‘the difference principle’ which goes as thus; “the distribution of wealth and income need not be equal, it must be to everyone’s advantage”[10]. These two principles go together forming one basic notion, that all positions are to be made open to everyone and we each have an equal opportunity to obtain these positions followed by any differences in the distribution of resources which emerge over time must be to the advantage of all otherwise they are unjust and must be rectified. Not only does this then fairly distribute wealth and income but also power, authority and reasonability (in Rawls’ opinion), devising a theory of social justice which offers political justice a fair distribution of all social resources not just wealth and income.

In a number of the systems currently in place in today’s world Rawls’ principle of equality of opportunity is in effect as Kymlicka points out “the prevailing justification for economic distribution…is based on…’equality of opportunity’…it is acceptable to pay someone $100,000 when the national average is $20,000 if there was fair equality of opportunity.”[11] Where Rawlsian justice differs from the current model is the fact that the model in place supports a meritocratic society based upon a principle of just deserts in which “it is fair for individuals to have unequal shares of social goods if…inequalities are earned and deserved by the individual”[12], however we can see that the current model doesn’t always work, one example being those who have worked hard to obtain high grades at school are still not always able to obtain placements in universities because of their background; an attribute assigned by luck not merit; thus the idea of equal opportunity is not as stable as first appears. Rawls argues against systems working upon this unfair principle of equal opportunity as he claims that unequal distribution of wealth can only be fair if the benefits given to those higher up the ladder benefit those lower down the ladder, but which system is better? We cannot simply say the current one must be otherwise another would have be implemented by now without sufficient evidence to back the claim as this would be a logical fallacy. However by looking at Kohlberg’s theory of moral development we may be able to find a way of arguing which of the systems is more desirable.

Kohlberg originally devised his theory to map out the moral development of individuals throughout their lives, but it can be used to chart the moral development of societies and political communities over time as a way of determining which systems are most desirable in terms of morality. Kohlberg came to realise that many of the systems in place today are grounded upon stage four moralities with some elements of stage five moralities[13]. Thus modern society is grounded upon what Kohlberg calls ‘conventional morality’[14]. It can be argued that since politics is now moving into an age of post-modernism then we should be moving into ‘post-conventional morality’ grounded upon stage five and stage six moralities. By looking at Rawls’ theory of justice it seems to be one that is to be implemented on a universal level as it effects all peoples equally without exception which suggests Rawlsian justice is a stage six model of morality, exceeding the current stage of morality we are currently in, this being the case then Rawlsian justice is a very desirable theory but we are not yet able to achieve it until we have made further progress with our development as rational, moral agents. Hence despite being desirable it is, at present, not a feasible theory.

Miller accepts that “one principle of just distribution…is equality”[15] but also acknowledges “there is a long tradition that holds that helping the needy is a matter of charity”[16]. It is often accepted that Rawlsian justice is a justice according to needs theory where those worse off (the needy) require more then the better off for equality to prevail as “a ‘need’ is a necessity; it demands satisfaction…for this reason, needs are often regarded as ‘basic’ to human beings”[17] but should these basic needs be satisfied out of duty or through charity? “The need criterion thus implies that those in the prosperous West have a moral obligation to relieve suffering and starvation in other parts of the world”[18] as “to allow people…to be hungry, thirsty, homeless, sick or to live in fear, when the resources exist to make them otherwise is immoral”[19], therefore it is implied that justice according to need is a stage six morality according to Kohlberg[20]. However in the United Kingdom (UK) this duty is implemented by taxation of its citizens to fund a National Health Service (NHS) so that wealth is passed from the better off to the worse off allowing an equal amount of medical care to be available to each individual. Although the theory behind the NHS is commendable in practise it does fall down as certain groups such as smokers, the clinically obese and elderly tend to use up more than their ‘fair share’ of medical resources whilst contributing less than their ‘fair share’ of tax towards its costs, thus to have a system according to needs is not feasible as needs become a “kind of black hole into which all of society’s resources are likely to disappear”[21] in the name of equality.

Another reason as to why justice according to needs, and therefore, Rawlsian justice is not feasible is because needs are not an objective ground to base a theory of justice upon since “needs…depend on what is expected in the society someone inhabits”[22], by this argument then Rawls’ theory despite being seen as stage six morality theory in actuality falls short making it a level five morality theory at best, hardly any better than the current level four/five [23]sphere we currently move in nonetheless it still ranks higher on the scale and therefore is still desirable. Yet “if needs exist they are in fact conditioned by the historical, social and cultural context in which they arise” [24]so that what is a need in one part of the world will not be a need in another part of the world, for example in the UK’s maritime climate the citizens ‘needs’ require protection from a rapidly changing condition of the atmosphere whereas in Siberia’s sub-arctic climate the citizens ‘needs’ require protection from freezing temperatures. Therefore it can be argued that justice according to needs is feasible for the modern era of politics where focus was on the national level but as politics shifts into a post-modern era where the global supersedes the national justice according to needs ought to be replaced with an alternative theory. Otherwise justice will fail as an objective ground for what counts as a ‘need’ can not be achieved on a global scale.

To conclude Rawls’ interpretation of justice according to needs is one which appeals to the modern political era as being a desirable theory but as it has been shown it is not one that is feasible. Furthermore as politics shifts into a post-modern era justice according to needs is not only unfeasible but it also becomes undesirable as it contains no objective grounding making the concept of ‘needs’ completely arbitrary, allowing inequality to spread unduly as some nation-states harvest more social resources than others, in a way which can already be seen in today’s world where the developed countries own half of the world’s wealth[25] at the expense of developing countries.

 Appendix I

Fig 1: Kohlberg’s scale of moral development based upon information from and

  • Stage 1 – Hedonistic Morality (what is right = what serves your base instincts)
  • Stage 2 – Egotistic Morality (what is right = looking after oneself)
  • Stage 3 – Teleological morality (what is right = excelling within one’s social  function)
  • Stage 4 – Utilitarian Morality (what is right = what serves the greater good)
  • Stage 5 – Social Contract Morality (what is right = protecting social cohesion and peace)
  • Stage 6 – Universal Morality (what is right = protecting & obeying an objective code of conduct)
  • Stage 7 – Trancendental Morality (what is right = moving beyond an established objective code of conduct)


[1] Rawls. J, A Theory of Justice, 1999, pg.4

[2] Miller. D, Political Philosophy a Very Short Introduction, 2003, pg.74

[3] Rawls. J, A Theory of Justice, 1999, pg.10

[4] Ibid, pg.11

[5] Ibid, pg.11

[6] Ibid, pg.11

[7] Ibid, pg.53

[8] Ibid, pg.16

[9] Ibid, pg.53

[10] Ibid, pg.53

[11] Kymlicka. W, Contemporary Political Philosophy (2nd Edition), 2002, pg.57

[12] Ibid, pg. 58

[14] Ibid

[15] Miller. D, Political Philosophy a Very Short Introduction, 2003, pg.80

[16] Ibid, pg.81

[17] Heywood. A, Political Theory (3rd Edition), 2004, pg.295

[18] Ibid, pg.296

[19] Ibid, pg.296

[20] See appendix I

[21] Miller. D, Political Philosophy a Very Short Introduction, 2003, pg.81

[22] Ibid, pg.82

[24] Heywood. A, Political Philosophy (3rd Edition), 2004, pg.297

Has liberalism attached too much importance to individual liberty at the expense of other values?

There is debate over the issue that individual liberty (our little personal bubble so to speak) as become the thing we must preserve even if it means that we should sacrifice other values such as; morality, justice or the greater good. This issue has risen out of the movement of western society towards a liberalist position when it comes to tackling political issues. We can still see in modern society that some eastern cultures including China, North Korea and Russia are more willing to submit their individual liberty to a supreme leader in order to retain equality, justice (that is a justice that seems to fit the system and maybe not the justice we are thinking of) and the greater good for society, so it isn’t necessary for us to be liberal so why do we choose to follow this school of thought? What advantages does having individual freedom grant us that outweighs other important values?

It would be useful to begin by first defining what we mean when talking about liberalism. Liberalism is as the name suggests the political ideology that supports liberty (freedom). It strongly holds the idea that liberties as an individual and as a society are needed. These liberties include those such as; liberty from certain authoritarian laws, liberty from state intervention and liberty from economic control (money being an object that controls our actions and not a product of them). Another liberal idea is that progress should be supported and preserving history is close to tyranny as it limits our liberties.

So why is liberty such an important thing to have? What things does it allow us to do that are so great? First of all it allows us to live by the heart, following our desires by granting us the liberty to travel to any far, exotic land we wish to do so; liberty to express ourselves in speech or written form without fear of persecution (unlike those who suffered under the hands of Hitler’s Nazi state); liberty to practise any religion or belief we wish (unlike the Muslims and Jews by the Spanish and Roman inquisitions of Renaissance Europe). These are the advantages that western society support so strongly that they are willing to abandon other values in the name of liberalism since it allows us to reach happiness through answering our desires. But the main debate is over whether placing so much importance on individual liberty in place of other values is actually healthy or are we moving away from an ideal state where morality and justice are ignored?

As great as liberalism sounds in promising us happiness through liberty it does contain its flaws. One of them includes the inconsistency in whether we should preserve individual Liberty under Mill’s harm principle. According to the harm principle the state should only ever interfere with individual liberty if our action(s) is going to cause harm to another, so in the case of drunken men demanding beer at the local tavern it is completely acceptable for the law to step in and say “sorry you’ve had too much already we are now stripping you of your liberty to enjoy a beer until you sober up.”, this is because drunken men are quite capable of starting a violent dispute with an innocent member of the public causing significant physical harm.

However Mill doesn’t make explicit as to whether offence also counts as a form of harm so if someone shouts at the top of their voice “Oi fish face!” to someone across the room would cause them offence and emotional harm but according to the vagueness of the principle that offender is still allowed to retain his liberty.

Devlin questions this claiming that public offence should be avoided as well as physical harm as it goes against morality, a value the law has been put in place to preserve. As the offence causes pain and not happiness it is an immoral act and should therefore be forbidden but for the liberal it should be permitted in order to retain our personal liberty of speech. This means that liberalism is placing liberty over morality and is willing to allow morality to be dismissed if it limits liberty.

The well known political philosopher Marx also had his opinions on whether liberalism goes to far with individual liberty. He claims that if we let liberalism continue then we are setting up a false equality where we may all have the same liberties but all of us may not be free to enjoy them, hence our liberty and equality is merely an illusion. Liberalism as mentioned earlier encourages progress so it supports a capitalist approach to life, unless we are talking about communist-liberalism but for now we shall remain with general liberalism. Under capitalist thinking those who make the most progress are allowed to make the most money whereas those with the least skill and make very little progress are to become poor and gain little economic power. Marx comments on how this develops a hierarchal system for society destroying equality, a value many people in western society would hold dear as it allows them to bet treated fairly and not discriminated on account of race, class, gender et cetera. Also if others are gaining more money than others not only is it destroying equality but it is also eating away the balance of liberty since we all have the right to travel but only those with money are entitled to enjoy it under law, because by law anything not paid for legitimately is theft which would be immoral under Kant’s theory of universalisability. Again not only do we now have a system where we are unequal, but also either immoral (if we are allowed to steal a flight to another country) or unfree (if we are forced by law to pay for the flight but cannot due to the little progress we make in society).

To conclude we can see that liberalism, despite it enticing promise of equality through individual liberty from the law and the state, actually leads us astray from the ideal state. It destroys morality by allowing us to pursue acts of offensive behaviour, violence and theft in order to preserve individual liberty. Under an immoral state there would be little need for law, which is a tool to support justice and so justice as well as morality would soon crumble. Also its emphasis on progress undermines its idea of equality eating away at another value many western societies see vital for the ideal state as it stops discrimination and assists justice alongside law. So we can now see that the advantages are merely rose-tinted lenses and the truth is that liberalism places too much emphasis on individual liberty, and liberty in general, thus other vital values for an ideal state are ignored leading towards a possible decline into an anarchistic regime.

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