Friday, August 12, 2011

With A Blank Slate

"A being of higher faculties requires more to make him happy, is capable probably of more acute suffering...than one of an inferior type; but in spite of these liabilities, he can never really wish to sink into what he feels to be a lower grade of existence." - John Stuart Mill

"It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a food satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their side of the question." - Also John Stuart Mill

I've gotten to the point in Justice--which arrives about halfway through nearly every nonfiction book I read-- at which I stop reading and begin skimming. Kant's thoughts, as described by the author, are...dense.

However, one of the sections that I did read thoroughly was the one about how to make fair laws.

John Rawls (who inhabits the chapter after Kant) discards utilitarianism and libertarianism and suggests that if people were able to forget everything about themselves--economic status, gender, religion, etc.-- for a few hours, we'd be able to make laws that really were fair for everyone--or at least fair enough that we wouldn't mind being on the losing end.

You want to have social programs just in case you wind up as one of the poor people. You want religious freedom in case you're one of the minorities. You want tolerance in case you're one of the ones not being tolerated. Self-interest doesn't involve bias anymore, because we don't know which possible self we're supposed to be interested in.

And I like that. (Psst. Congress! Come listen to Rawls!)

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