The British bestseller Straw Dogs is an exciting, radical work of philosophy, which sets out to challenge our most cherished assumptions about what it means to be human. From Plato to Christianity, from the Enlightenment to Nietzsche and Marx, the Western tradition has been based on arrogant and erroneous beliefs about human beings and their place in the world. Philosophies such as liberalism and Marxism think of humankind as a species whose destiny is to transcend natural limits and conquer the (...) Earth. John Gray argues that this belief in human difference is a dangerous illusion and explores how the world and human life look once humanism has been finally abandoned. The result is an exhilarating, sometimes disturbing book that leads the reader to question our deepest-held beliefs. Will Self, in the New Statesman , called Straw Dogs his book of the year: “I read it once, I read it twice and took notes . . . I thought it that good.” “Nothing will get you thinking as much as this brilliant book” ( Sunday Telegraph ). (shrink)
Collected here in a single volume for the first time, On Liberty, Utilitarianism, Considerations on Representative Government, and The Subjection of Women show Mill applying his liberal utilitarian philosophy to a range of issues that remain vital today - issues of the nature of ethics, the scope and limits of individual liberty, the merits of and costs of democratic government, and the place of women in society. In his Introduction John Gray describes these essays as applications of Mill's doctrine of (...) the Art of Life, as set out in A System of Logic. Using the resources of recent revisionist scholarship, he shows Mill's work to be far richer and subtler than traditional interpretations allow. (shrink)
In all of its varieties, traditional liberalism is a universalist political theory. Its content is a set of principles which prescribe the best regime, the ideally best institutions, for all mankind. It may be acknowledged — as it is, by a proto-liberal such as Spinoza — that the best regime can be attained only rarely, and cannot be expected to endure for long; and that the forms its central institutions will assume in different historical and cultural milieux may vary significantly. (...) It will then be accepted that the liberal regime's role in political thought is as a regulative ideal, which political practice can hope only to approximate, subject to all the vagaries and exigencies of circumstance. Nonetheless, the content of traditional liberalism is a system of principles which function as universal norms for the critical appraisal of human institutions. In this regard, traditional liberalism — the liberalism of Locke and Kant, for example — represents a continuation of classical political rationalism, as it is found in Aristotle and Aquinas, where it also issues in principles having the attribute of universality, in that they apply ideally to all human beings. (shrink)
Value-pluralism is commonly held to support liberal political morality. This is argued by John Rawls and his school and, more instructively, by Isaiah Berlin and Joseph Raz. Against this common view it is argued that a strong version of value-pluralism and liberalism are incompatible doctrines. Some varieties of ethical pluralism are distinguished, and the claim of value-incommensurability made by strong pluralism is elucidated. The argument that liberal political morality consists of principles of right that are unaffected by the truth of (...) strong pluralism is examined and rejected. Strong pluralism is understood as the view that some goods and bads are rationally incommensurable. It is argued that if strong value-pluralism is true, then liberal political morality cannot be defended. Neither negative liberty nor individual autonomy can have general priority if it is true that the central goods specified by liberal political morality are incommensurables. This difficulty is not avoided by liberal theories that do not demand the maximization of a single value such as liberty. If strong pluralism is true, then liberal institutions are not a standard of legitimacy by reference to which all regimes are to be assessed. They are merely one variety of modus vivendi . Liberal institutions have no universal legitimacy. Yet liberal cultures are partly constituted by a belief in the universal authority of the principles which inform their practices and institutions. This belief strong pluralism subverts. Value-pluralism and liberalism are rival doctrines. The political implication of strong pluralism is not liberalism but modus vivendi . Sometimes modus vivendi is best fostered by liberal institutions. Sometimes it is best fostered by non-liberal institutions. Where the latter is true, liberals and pluralists part company. (shrink)
_Liberalisms_, a work first published in 1989, provides a coherent and comprehensive analytical guide to liberal thinking over the past century and considers the dominance of liberal thought in Anglo-American political philosophy over the past 20 years. John Gray assesses the work of all the major liberal political philosophers including J. S. Mill, Herbert Spencer, Karl Popper, F. A Hayek, John Rawls and Robert Nozick, and explores their mutual connections and differences.
This volume brings together J.S. Mills On Liberty and a selection of important essays by such eminent scholars as Isaiah Berlin, Alan Ryan, John Rees, C.L. Ten and Richard Wollheim. As well as providing authoritative commentary upon On Liberty , the essays reflect a broader debate about the philosophical foundations of Mill's liberalism, particularly the question of the connection betweenMill's professed utilitarianism and his commitment to individual liberty. Introduced and edited by John Gray and G.W. Smith, the book will be (...) of interest to students of Mill, to ethical and political philosophers and to anyone interested in the contemporary status of liberalism. (shrink)
In a series of important papers, G.A. Cohen has developed a forceful argument for the claim that workers are rendered unfree by capitalist institutions. His argument poses a powerful challenge to those who think that capitalist institutions best promote freedom. Yet, formidable as it is, Cohen's argument can be shown to be flawed at several crucial points. It is not one argument, but three at least, and one of the goals of my criticism of Cohen on this question is to (...) distinguish and assess the various separate lines of reasoning that together make up his case for the unfreedom under capitalism of workers as a class. Cohen argues of workers that they are rendered unfree by the institution of private property on which the capitalist system depends, that they suffer a form of collective unfreedom under capitalism, and that they are forced to sell their labor power under capitalism. (shrink)
Using various official sources, the article explores competing conceptions of the 'under- achieving ' school which have been operationalised in recent years. It suggests that there have been multiple, potentially conflicting definitions in policy discourse to which recent innovations have merely added a further layer of complexity. Using a simple conceptual framework comparing judgements made within 'standards' and 'progress' frameworks for evaluating schools' performance, it highlights the very limited range of conditions where judgements made within one tradition would complement those (...) made within the other. As the educational system begins to turn increasingly to use of so-called 'value-added' approaches as a way forward, the implications of these analyses for policy development, particularly in relation to the alleviation of social and educational disadvantage, are considered. (shrink)
It is a commonplace of academic conventional wisdom that Marxian theory is not to be judged by the historical experience of actually existing socialist societies. The reasons given in support of this view are familiar enough, but let us rehearse them. Born in adversity, encircled by hostile powers, burdened with the necessity of defending themselves against foreign enemies and with the massive task of educating backward and reactionary populations, the revolutionary socialist governments of this century were each of them denied (...) any real opportunity to implement Marxian socialism in its authentic form. Nowhere has socialism come to power as Marx expected it would – on the back of the organized proletariat of an advanced capitalist society. For this reason, the historical experience of the past sixty years can have no final authority in the assessment of Marxian theory. The failings of Marxist regimes – their domination by bureaucratic elites, their economic crises, their repression of popular movements and of intellectual freedoms, and their dependency on imports of Western technology and capital – are all to be explained as historical contingencies which in no way threaten the validity of Marx's central conceptions. It is not that Marxian socialism has been tried and found wanting but, rather, that it has never been tried. (shrink)
For more than three decades judgements of schools' quality have been dominated by the frameworks, developed by members of Her Majesty's Inspectorate (HMI). This article reviews the approaches employed in the national survey conducted for the Plowden Committee, subsequent surveys undertaken by HMI during the seventies and eighties and the changes brought about by the advent of the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) in the early nineties. The frameworks employed appear to have changed from one decade to the next, (...) sometimes subtly, at other times more radically. Overall, such changes have been sufficiently major for it to be difficult, if not impossible, to make anything other than the broadest statements about changes in the state and quality of the nation's schooling over time. (shrink)
It is argued that the moral theory undergirding J.S. Mill''s argumentin On Liberty is a species of perfectionism rather than any kind of utilitarianism. The conception of human flourishing that itinvokes is one in which the goods of personal autonomy and individualityare central. If this conception is to be more than the expression ofa particular cultural ideal it needs the support of an empiricallyplausible view of human nature and a defensible interpretation ofhistory. Neither of these can be found in Mill. (...) Six traditionalcriticisms of Mill''s argument are assessed. It is concluded thatin addition to depending on implausible claims about human natureand history Mill''s conception of the good contains disablingincommensurabilities. It is argued that these difficulties andincommensurabilities plague later liberal thinkers such as IsaiahBerlin and Joseph Raz who have sought to ground liberalism in avalue-pluralist ethical theory. No thinker in Mill''s liberal posterity has been able to demonstrate the universal authority of liberal ideals. (shrink)
Calculation of the mean of an observable in quantum mechanics is typically assumed to require that the state vector be in the domain of the corresponding self-adjoint operator or for a mixed state that the operator times the density matrix be in the trace class. We remind the reader that these assumptions are unnecessary. We state what is actually needed to calculate the mean of an observable as well as its variance.
‘Feuerbach resolves the religious essence into the human essence. But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of social relations.’ It is a common belief, shared both by Marxists and by critics of Marxism, that differences in the interpretation of this statement have important implications for the assessment of Marx's system of ideas. How we read it will affect our view of the unity of Marx's thought and of the (...) continuity of its development over his lifetime, and it will bear crucially on our appraisal of the epistemological status—metaphysical, scientific or mythopoeic—of the various elements of the Marxian system. Among Marxists, members of the Frankfurt School have emphasized the paternity of Marxian metaphysical humanism in Hegel's conception of man as a self-creating being, while Althusser and his disciples have seen in the extrusion from Marx's later work of any such ‘anthropomorphic’ notion a guarantee of the scientific character of his historical materialism. Among Marx's liberal critics, it is widely agreed that he espoused an essentialist view of man and, often enough, it is thought that this alone is sufficient to disqualify his system from scientific status. No consensus exists, however, as to the cognitive standing of the several components of Marx's thought. That agreement should be lacking as to the place in it of a conception of human nature is hardly surprising. Different construals of the role of a view of man will reflect divergent commitments, not only in the philosophy and methodology of social and historical inquiry, but in moral and political thought as well. (shrink)
A TRADITIONAL VIEW OF UTILITY AND RIGHTS According to a conventional view, no project could be more hopelessly misconceived than the enterprise of attempting a utilitarian derivation of fundamental rights. We are all familiar – too familiar, perhaps – with the arguments that support this conventional view, but let us review them anyway. We may begin by recalling that, whereas the defining value of utilitarianism – pleasure, happiness or welfare – contains no mention of the dignity or autonomy of human (...) beings, it is this value which utilitarianism in all its standard forms invokes as the criterion of right action. Worse, insofar as utilitarian policy must have as its goal the maximization of welfare conceived as an aggregate summed over the utilities of everyone affected, legal and political utilitarianism seems bound to have a collectivist bias, trading on the dangerous fiction of a social entity and ignoring the distinctness of separate selves with their several incommensurable claims. It seems that, if individuals can appear in the utilitarian calculus at all, it will only be as ciphers, abstract place-holders for units of welfare. For, as an aggregative value, utility must be indifferent to distribution, and insensitive to the preeminently distributive considerations marked by claims about rights. So, if whatever has utility can be broken down into units or elements which are subject to measurement or at least comparison by a common standard, then it will always be possible that a very great loss of welfare for one man or a few men can be justified if it produces a great many small increments of welfare for a vast multitude of men. (shrink)
For virtually all the major schools of Western opinion, the collapse of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union, between 1989 and 1991, represents a triumph of Western values, ideas, and institutions. If, for triumphal conservatives, the events of late 1989 encompassed an endorsement of “democratic capitalism” that augured “the end of history,” for liberal and social democrats they could be understood as the repudiation by the peoples of the former Soviet bloc of Marxism-Leninism in all (...) its varieties, and the reemergence of a humanist socialism that was free of Bolshevik deformation. The structure of political and economic institutions appropriate to the transition from post-Communism in the Soviet bloc to genuine civil society was, accordingly, modeled on Western exemplars—the example of Anglo-American democratic capitalism, of Swedish social democracy, or of the German social market economy— or on various modish Western academic conceptions, long abandoned in the Soviet and post-Soviet worlds, such as market socialism. No prominent school of thought in the West doubted that the dissolution of Communist power was part of a process of Westernization in which contemporary Western ideas and institutions could and would successfully be exported to the former Communist societies. None questioned the idea that, somewhere in the repertoire of Western theory and practice, there was a model for conducting the transition from the bankrupt institutions of socialist central planning, incorporated into the structure of a totalitarian state, to market institutions and a liberal democratic state. Least of all did anyone question the desirability, or the possibility, of reconstituting economic and political institutions on Western models, in most parts of the former Soviet bloc. (shrink)