The single central issue that divides Right and Left-how wide is the scope of personal responsibility-can be characterized in terms of the debate on this issue between John Rawls and Robert Nozick. The Right-represented by Nozick-places great emphasis on personal responsibility. They believe that people must lead their own lives and accept that their fate is largely a function of their own behavior. On the Left, people (in Rawls' phrase), 'agree to share each other's fate' on the grounds that one's fate is largely out of one's own hands. On this view there is a limited role for personal responsibility so that it makes sense for a society to be so organized that everyone will be looked after should things go badly for him or her.
1 Rawls' view can be gathered from his remarks on the way in which wages are determined in a competitive economy and the morality of this distribution: "The premiums earned by scarce natural talents, for example, are to cover costs of training and to encourage the efforts of learning as well as to direct ability to where it best furthers the common interest. The distributive shares that result do not correlate with moral worth, since the initial endowment of natural assets and the contingencies of their growth and nurture in early life are arbitrary from a moral point of view. The precept that seems intuitively to come closest to rewarding moral desert is that of distribution according to effort, or perhaps better, conscientious effort. Once again, however, it is clear that the effort a person is willing to make is influenced by his natural abilities and skills and the alternatives open to him. The better endowed are more likely, other thing equal, to strive conscientiously and there seems to be no way to discount for their greater good fortune."
2 Nozick's comment on this passage reads: "This line of argument can succeed in blocking the introduction of a person's autonomous choices and actions (and their results) only by attributing everything noteworthy about the person completely to certain sorts of 'external' factors. So denigrating a person's autonomy and prime responsibility for his actions is a risky line to take for a theory that otherwise wishes to buttress the dignity and self-respect of autonomous beings; especially for a theory that founded so much (including a theory of the good) upon persons' choices. One doubts that the unexalted picture of human beings Rawls' theory presupposes and rests upon can be made to fit together with the view of human dignity it is designed to lead to and embody.”
3 My thesis is that the issue of the scope of personal responsibility which divides the Left and the Right in politics stems from a unacknowledged disagreement about willpower thought of on both sides as a capacity we have to initiate and sustain activities (or to 'conscientiously strive"). I will argue that this disagreement is a function of each side's intuitive understanding of the source of our willpower. Briefly this disagreement amounts to the following: The Right thinks our willpower constitutes our power to act; that this power can be mustered through acts of free will; that this source of power is inexhaustible and is available to everyone; and that, therefore, responsibility for our actions is absolute. The Left thinks our willpower is dependent on the amount of drive (thought of, in Rawls' phrase, as our capacity to 'conscientiously strive') we happen to have; that the amount of drive we possess cannot be altered through acts of freewill; and that, therefore, our responsibility for our capacity to conscientiously strive is a contingent matter (i.e., again in Rawls' words: '[contingent because] the better endowed are more likely, other things equal, to strive conscientiously and there seems to be no way to discount for their greater good fortune’.
Both parties are convinced that their intuitions about the scope of human responsibility are correct The often righteous character of these convictions stems from the fact that each side implicitly believes that their intuitive 'metaphysics of human action' (their intuitive understanding of the springs of action) is correct and therefore that each side's views are firmly grounded in some basic (and obvious) feature of the human condition. As a consequence, both feel that those who oppose their view are willfully blind to a fundamental truth-hence the great gulf that divides right and left (no matter how close to the 'center' either may be). The source of the conflict I will now argue that the fundamental source of the opposition between Left and Right stems from misunderstandings about the two springs of human action 'freewill' and 'drive'. I will now set out what I believe to be the correct understanding of these two concepts. Will Following Kant, I shall take the view that our power to will freely is the power we have to act in accordance with principles that we acknowledge as obliging everyone to act in a certain way, i.e., moral principles. Thus when issues that are deemed to be moral issues arise, everyone assumes that a person can obey the relevant moral law (presented as a universalizable principle like 'never lie to escape difficulties’).
4 Now that we can obey such moral injunctions is assumed because, otherwise, there would be no point in enjoining people to obey them. Kant saw that the assumption that we can obey moral principles involves the assumption of a free will.
5 He recognized that we specifically characterize our will as a free will because we regard our power to obey or disobey a moral injunction as a power which is not dependent upon any contingencies associated with our desires, i.e., on whether I happen to want to escape difficulties or whether I happen to feel that I should stay and face the music. I follow Kant in claiming that the assumption upon which the possibility of the moral life is based is that this capacity to act in accordance with a moral principle-our free will-is distributed equally among all rational individuals.
6 By way of support for this claim we note that the widespread practice of attributing moral praise and blame only makes sense where there is this assumption of the will as a spring of action freely available to anyone who can understand the implications of the moral principle involved, i.e., any rational person. Drive I define 'drive' as our capacity to do what we have to do to develop our talents once these have been discovered, i.e., once we realize that, e.g., we enjoy playing the piano and that we have the potential to improve our ability to play if we practice regularly. (In Rawls' terminology, drive is our capacity to conscientiously strive
7 to realize our potential.) The assumption I make here is that everyone has drive in so far as they have discovered what their talent is. How these two springs of action are related on the Left and the Right It is characteristic of the Left to assume that the strength of an individual's drive (to do what they have to do to develop their talents) is distributed among individuals in accordance with the normal distribution curve (the 'bell curve'). Thus the amount of drive that you happen to have is assumed to be dependent on nature's gift and there is nothing anyone can do-through an act of will-to increase the amount of drive they happen to have. From the Left's point of view this assumption simply reflects our experience: we have all met a few individuals with plenty of drive, many others with a normal amount and a few with very little. (However, as we shall see, there is a deeper reason for these differences between individuals:
I shall argue below that the difference is dependent upon whether a person has actually discovered what their talent is.) The Right is particularly interested in 'drive' as a constituent of human action. The Right defines it as a kind of 'willingness' to strive conscientiously in order to develop your potential. Thus the Right thinks that everyone is capable of generating (i.e., is free to generate) this drive through an act of will. In order to explain the nature of the conceptual confusion which breeds this disagreement about drive and its relationship to the will it is necessary to set out those considerations which, I argue, ought to determine our understanding of the way these two springs of action, 'will' and 'drive', function in our lives.
This will give us the means to articulate how the confusion, which leads to the disagreement of the Right with the Left on this issue is generated. The first step in this process involves Distinguishing the categorical imperative from the hypothetical imperative. If Kant's analysis of the efficacy of the will is correct, an exercise of the will can only lead to action when the rational principle-out of respect for which we act-is deemed to be universalizable, i.e., is thought to apply without exception (or categorically) to all rational agents. It can operate only in such cases because the will's power stems from the respect we feel for such a principle, a respect that is a function of our recognition that the principle applies to us as well as everyone else. We therefore recognize that if we are to act as a rational being would act, we must obey this principle. It is very important to recognize that our feeling of rational respect for a moral principle simply provides an incentive to obey it. In other word, though our respect for the law is experienced as a feeling, this feeling does not produce in us the desire to act in accordance with the principle: it simply opens up the possibility of acting in accordance with it instead of just following our desires.
8 Thus the imperative that encapsulates a universalizable rational principle is called a categorical imperative because-insofar as you consider yourself to be a rational agent-you are forced to recognize that you ought to obey it no matter what your preferences happen to be. You are morally enjoined to obey it-insofar as you profess to be a rational agent-because if you do not obey the moral law, you will have to acknowledge that you are making an exception of yourself, an exception that could not be justified to other people. Thus if you tried to exempt yourself from obeying a moral law on the grounds that you happen to have certain preferences, no one would regard that as a justification.
Of course, you have a free will and can decide to follow your preferences but if you so decide, others will blame you for this decision. The view that this moral blame is justified (the view that you ought to overcome your inclinations when the moral law demands it of you) is simply the contention that the metaphysics of human action involves the attribution to persons of a moral capacity, a capacity to freely create moral value through their actions and that exercising this capacity is supremely important because it gives human beings dignity. (No person could have dignity if he were simply a creature of desire. You can only act with dignity if you act out of respect for a principle. Thus only a rational creature can have dignity since only a rational creature can recognize a principle and thus recognize the obligation it has-as rational-to do its duty) However, the will-as our capacity to act freely where moral principles are involved-must not be confused with the capacity we have to act on those principles that are encapsulated in hypothetical imperatives. Here the will is not free in that, in order to act on a hypothetical imperative, I have to have a preference for the end towards which the imperative is directed. If I want soup (and I understand how to make it) then I will be able to follow the hypothetical imperative-the recipe-only if I want soup. I could-as an act of perversity make the soup when I did not want it, but I would have to want to be perverse in order to do so. In other words, my capacity to act upon a hypothetical imperative is not a free exercise of the will. Thus although the will is free, it cannot be exercised unless the principle in question gains our rational respect, i.e., unless we see that the principle is applicable to any rational agent. As we will see below, the Right is inclined to think that the will can be exercised in other situations and thus that personal responsibility has a wider scope than the field of morality.
The complications related to willpower that underlies the conflict between Right and the Left involve one further factor, a factor that relates to a confusion over means and ends. The confusion over means and ends I make the assumption, following Rawls, that an end for human beings involves an intrinsic satisfaction related to the development of their potential. This development is an open-ended process that brings its own reward. Rawls captures these ideas in terms of what he calls the Aristotelian principle that runs as follows: "other things being equal, human beings enjoy the exercise of their realized capacities (their innate or trained abilities), and this enjoyment increases the more the capacity is realized, or the greater its complexity."
9 There are two kinds of Means, Direct and Indirect Illustration: Suppose it has been established that you have a talent for music and in particular that you have a talent for playing the piano. You happen to have an electric piano and because you live in the Australian outback, in order to play your electric piano you have to pedal a dynamo to charge a battery whenever you want to practice. It is obvious that pedaling the dynamo does not directly enhance your capacity to play the piano. I will define pedaling the dynamo as 'work'. Work is thus an indirect means to realizing an end because it does not directly yield any satisfaction related to the realization of your piano-playing talent. The direct means to realizing the end of becoming a better piano player I define as 'practicing'. Practicing develops the talent concerned and yields satisfaction in accordance with the Aristotelian principle. Those things that I do to realize my potential, work and practicing, are both motivated by the satisfaction involved in living in accordance with the Aristotelian principle. However I would not work if I did not have to. Thus I would never pedal the dynamo any more than is required to allow me to practice. I am only able to work because I see work as the means to practicing the piano that, in turn, is the means through which I am able to enjoy the exercise of my developing skill as a piano player. The anticipation of the enjoyment tied up with exercising such a skill motivates me-gives me the drive-to pedal the dynamo and to sit down and begin practicing. Once I am into my practice session, my activities fall under the Aristotelian principle and are self-motivating, i.e., the more I practice, the better I get, the more I enjoy playing, so the more I practice, etc.
Thus in order to live in accordance with the Aristotelian principle, I must work to gain the means to be able to practice which in turn will be the direct means of realizing my potential. Both Left and Right are confused in relation to the above schema of Means and Ends The Right confuses means with ends. The cliché symptom of this confusion is pursuing the goal of getting richer and richer, working harder and harder in order to: what? Certainly not to engage in that practice which would develop one's talents. Typically those on the Right do not know what their talent is and perhaps imagine it to be a talent for making money/or working hard. The cliché consequences are: a sense of the pointlessness of all this work. Thus you work hard for a living but what is living for? Thus the mistake on the Right is ignoring the relationship between work and practice. Working only makes sense (only serves our human ends) insofar as it allows us to practice, to develop our talent. A work ethic naturally evolves to fill the conceptual gap, i.e., to give meaning to a life devoted to work. The work ethic makes the indirect means of developing a talent-work-an end in itself. Those on the Left make the opposite mistake: they confuse ends with means: They think work should be the means of developing their talent whereas work is only the means to allow us to practice and thus develop our talent. Cliché symptom: the quest for meaningful work. The mistake on the Left is to imagine that work is the direct means of developing our talent. How this confusion over means and ends is related to the confusion over willpower.
We can illustrate this relationship by considering the answer to the following question: What could motivate me to work if I didn't see work as a means to an end related to that practice which would lead to the enjoyment associated with the development of my natural talents? On the Right Either I could only work-on this Aristotelian model of motivation-if I set myself empty goals. E.g., to develop my 'talent' for "watching television" or "shopping"-passive activities and displacement activities-neither of which are related to the realization of my potential. On this model, I assume without reflection that the talent I am seeking to develop is a talent to be amused. (The recognition of 'couch potato' as a mock avocation provides the exception that proves the rule. Noel Coward once acknowledged modestly that he had 'a talent to amuse' but no one would regard themselves as having and developing a talent to be amused.) Or I could motivate myself to work if I ignore such empty goals altogether and work out of a sense of duty, i.e., motivate myself to act through an exercise of my free will (The work ethic declares that simply working for its own sake creates moral value. Thus by making the moral decision to be a 'good worker ' I can draw upon an inexhaustible source of power and enjoy a satisfaction which is intrinsic to the act itself-self contentment with my own principled behavior.
Following this strategy, moral satisfaction replaces the enjoyment that comes naturally when a life is lived in accordance with the Aristotelian principle. (The good life thus has two possible modes of realization: moral and natural: I experience the goodness of the good life either as self contentment (Moral happiness) or the enjoyment of my developing talent (natural happiness). On the Left What could motivate me to work if I did not see work as the direct means to the development of my natural talents? Nothing save necessity: I will be discontented unless my work is meaningful. I will, therefore, be permanently discontented since work is never meaningful: it can never be a direct means of developing my talent. Worse still, having no idea at all where my talent lies and confusing work with the means of developing some unknown talent, I will imagine that some kind of work would be meaningful when, by definition, every kind of dynamo pedaling is intrinsically unsatisfying i.e., does not itself contribute to the development of one's talent: only practice directed at a nascent talent can do that. Thus, on the Left, everyone hankers for the life of a subsidized artist, the life of the talented pianist who can practice to her heart's content without ever having to pedal the dynamo. Given this hankering, my motivation in relation to work will be minimal since it will seem an existential imposition: something that gets between a meaningful life and myself. This cliché grumble from the Left is a function of the fact that the Left is denied the two satisfactions that are available to the Right (due to the Right's fundamental confusion, viz., taking the means for the end.) Those on the Left are denied the real moral satisfaction (self-contentment) that comes from willfully adopting the work h and they are denied the empty satisfactions that come from passive activities and displacement activities. The Left's tragedy is that they feel the force of the Aristotelian principle-develop your potential-but do not see that this cannot be done directly through work. Hence their susceptibility to the promise of new sorts of social organizations which will provide meaningful work
Summary statement of the means/ends difference between Right and Left It is the special relationship of work to flourishing (i.e., living in accordance with the Aristotelian principle) that confuses the issue and permits the Right and the Left to take different attitudes towards work: the special relationship is that work, properly understood, should always be regarded as the means to enable practice which in turn is the direct means of realizing (and enjoying) one's developing talent-in a word, flourishing. The Right somehow loses sight of the end of human existence (developing and enjoying one's talent) and consequently it fails to see that work is simply a means to enable practicing (which is the means of developing the talent concerned). As a consequence, work either becomes an end in itself, or a means to ends which are not related to the Aristotelian principle (being amused, etc.). The Left makes the mistake of thinking that work should be the direct means of developing one's talent, whereas it is, in reality, the indirect means. The Left wants all work to be meaningful ("let my avocation be my vocation" in Robert Frost's words). But work (pedaling the dynamo) can never be meaningful in this sense. We now need to review the difference between Right and Left in terms of the notion of willpower. This done, we will be in a position to explain the different attitudes of the Right and the Left towards the problem raised by work and how these attitudes are related to personal responsibility. Willpower: the Conflation on the Right The concept of "Willpower" is born from a conflation of the logic governing the use of the concepts 'will' and 'drive'. The Right conflates 'drive' and 'will' by imagining that free acts of will are responsible for the level of drive in an individual, hence the notion of willpower as a freely available and thus inexhaustible means of augmenting an individual's drive.
Since it is part of the logic of the will-as free-that it is equally distributed among rational individuals, it becomes a mystery for the Right that people seem to have different amounts of willpower, and the mystery is acknowledged 'blindly' by exhortations (addressed to those who have lesser amounts of this power) to increase their willpower (i.e., drive) by an act of willpower (a free act of their will). The confusion of the logic of will and drive surfaces in this talk of bootstrapping and further manifests itself in all the 'magical' rhetoric which is the stock-in-trade of the innocent charlatans who package and sell techniques for increasing your willpower by acts of willpower. I call them 'innocent' to draw attention to the fact that the will can operate as a spring of action if the principle involved is believed
10 to be universalizable. The fact that it is not actually universalizable does not affect the power of the will to act in accordance with the principle. The will is empowered out of a rational respect for the universalizability of the principle, so that if you mistakenly believe that a principle is universalizable when it is not, you will still be able to act in accordance with it, whatever your inclinations may be.
11 The Conflation on the Left The Left conflates the two concepts in a quite different way imagining that willpower is constituted by drive alone and that, therefore, acts stemming from the exercise of willpower are dependent upon the amount of willpower i.e., drive, a person happens to have. Willpower is thus not a freely available (i.e., inexhaustible) means of augmenting our drive. Since, on this view willpower is constituted by drive alone-there are therefore no free acts of will involved in the exercise of willpower-and since it is assumed that drive is unequally distributed among individuals-it is no mystery for the Left that some people can exercise their willpower to more effect than others: they just have more drive. But, as a consequence, no one can be exhorted to increase their willpower through an act of will since that would amount to asking them to exercise their willpower (drive) when they lack the willpower (drive) to do so. This consequences of this conflation on the Left reveal themselves very clearly when we consider one of the issues that divide the Right from the Left, their attitude towards work as this is exemplified in the crisis induced by sudden unemployment. Responding to the challenge of sudden unemployment. An assumption accepted by Aristotle is that, as an adult, I have the intellectual capacity to form a rational life plan-the capacity to appropriately match means to ends.
Thus I have the intellectual capacity to understand the Aristotelian principle and how it relates to my status as a human being. In a nutshell, this means that I have the intellectual capacity to understand that, if I want to enjoy my life, I ought to develop my latent talents and that-given the conditions outside the Garden of Eden-I must work (pedal the dynamo)-in order to be able to practice-in order to develop my talent and enjoy its exercise. Accepting this, how the Right and Left respond to the challenge of sudden unemployment is determined by the two factors which we have been considering: 1) their particular conflations of 'will' and 'drive' and 2) their understanding of the Aristotelian principle and how this relates to work.
Needless to say, the two considerations are interrelated Recall that the basic difference between Right and Left with regard to the Aristotelian principle is as follows: The Right loses sight of the end (developing and enjoying one's talent) because it fails to see that work is simply a means to enable that practice which is the direct means of developing the talent concerned. As a consequence, work either becomes an end in itself, or a means to ends that are not related to the Aristotelian principle (e.g., entertainment). The Left makes the mistake of thinking that work should be the direct means of developing a talent, whereas it is, in reality, the indirect means. The Left thus wants all work to be meaningful but work is never meaningful in this sense. Because, for the Right, work is not directly related to an end, it does not matter what work a person does. The Right, therefore, regard it as obvious that people should be very flexible when faced with sudden unemployment. By contrast, the Left regards work as avocational: they think it should be the direct means to the development of one's talents. As a consequence they think it important that people should be employed in 'suitable work' (work suited to the development of their talents).
Applying this to the example of becoming unemployed The Right is correct in its belief that it is our rational duty to readjust our plan of life to fresh circumstances but what they do not explicitly recognize is that this readjustment will be psychologically possible (we will have the drive to readjust) only if the new work offered to us puts us in a position to live in accordance with the Aristotelian principle. So the Right would be correct in thinking that everyone can readjust since all that is involved is a rational assessment of what possibilities-for obtaining the means to realizing one's potential-remain open. The Right's injunction to be flexible is no more than a reminder that a rational reappraisal of the fit between work related-capacities and available opportunities is possible and that we have the intellectual capacity to make this reappraisal.
Moreover, the Right makes two assumptions about our society that make the Right's attitude seem reasonable: how we spend our time when we are not working is our business and is not important. Talent realization is thus effectively relegated to the status of pursuing 'a hobby'. Given these assumptions, how you earn your living should be a matter of indifference to you: ergo, you should be flexible: a willingness to retrain, to shift locations, etc., are, therefore, rational expectations for society to have with reference to individuals who lack work. However, because the Left relates work directly (instead of indirectly) to the realization of one's talents, they think that to ask a person to change their job is like asking them to change their particular talent, a psychological impossibility. This is why the Left are uneasy about demanding that workers be flexible.
They have assumed that in the course of working the individual has come to enjoy the realization of various talents and can therefore only properly be re-employed in a job that 'suits' them. First conclusion with reference to the differences between Right and Left illustrated by the problem of unemployment The Right is seen as being (morally) tough because the Right expects everyone to be rational: to have a clear grasp of the reality principle (i.e. match your capacities for work to the available opportunities). They expect people to recognize that they have a duty to act in accordance with their rational appraisal of their situation. To do otherwise is regarded as morally wrong. The Right thus envisions the response to sudden unemployment as a challenge to our will, i.e., a moral challenge that everyone (as free) can meet.
Thus you might have developed an inclination to do a certain kind of work but your duty (to earn a living) obligates you to work at whatever job is available, whether you feel so inclined or not. Just as there are no insuperable psychological barriers to moral activity, so no one can claim that they are psychologically incapable of readjusting to fresh circumstances i.e., of being flexible: indeed they have a personal responsibility, i.e., a moral responsibility to be flexible. The Left is seen as being (morally) soft because it regards the capacity to readjust, to take a new job, as psychologically difficult because we cannot see it as a means to realizing our potential. Morally soft because, from the perspective of the Right, where work is not seen as means to the realization of talent (as it is by the Left), our inclinations with regard to a certain sort of work cannot be regarded as excuses for not doing our duty (working to earn a living).
Now while the Right never asks what the point of living is (and so never connects the idea of working with the realization of those talents which give a point to living) the Left is obsessed with this issue of the meaningfulness of work (the idea that there ought to be a direct relationship between work and the realization of one's talent). This difference is reflected in the indifference-even hostility-of the Right to the Arts community and the fascination that this community has for the Left. The Left sees in artists, people whose 'work' (the practice of their art) is directly related to the realization of their talents.
The subsidies to the Arts favored by the Left are the way in which the pedaling of the dynamo (work proper) can be avoided altogether so that there can be full-time flourishing in the artistic community. The Right feels instinctively that there is something morally wrong about a community that enjoys its 'work' (practicing) and resents having to work-pedaling the dynamo. The hapless programs of the Right and the Left to deal with youth unemployment can also be characterized in these terms. For a young person-who has no clear idea of what his personal flourishing is to amount to (his talent remains unknown to him), the prospect of any work is going to seem meaningless (it cannot be clear to what end it is a means) and therefore irksome. (Youth are intuitively aware of the truth of the Aristotelian principle.) The Right can only motivate such a person starkly by trying to make living on the dole more unpleasant than working for a living. The Left encourages further education in the hopes that the youth will find work which they enjoy doing but, of course, dynamo pedaling is never enjoyable.
Summary On the Left The Left is keen on individual flourishing: they have a clear idea about the Aristotelian principle as it relates to individual lives. They want people to realize their potential where this means realizing their unique potential, their genius. However, they are confused about the relationship between the conscientious striving that is the means to this end (e.g., practicing the piano) and the work (pedaling the dynamo) that must be done to obtain the means that will make this conscientious striving possible. Note: the Left's desire that all work should be meaningful is a symptom of this confusion: it is really the desire that the means to flourishing should be directly related to the end. Thus they want a situation in which no one pedals a dynamo, but instead each person practices all day long.
The confusion here lies in imagining that no one need pedal a dynamo. On the Right The Right focuses on the individual's responsibility to work in order to earn a living. They are less sure about the point of living. Because they emphasize the means rather than the end, the means to this end (work- pedaling the dynamo) tends to become an end in itself. This emphasis creates a work ethic that redirects the drive (which is our power to conscientiously strive to realize our potential) to the work that should be simply the means to obtain what is needed in order to conscientiously strive (to develop our potential). This confusion of means with ends produces either an abnormal workaholic personality blind to the possibilities of flourishing or an alienated worker whose failure to live in accordance with the Aristotelian principle is compensated by a consumer society dominated by the entertainment industry which strives to give meaning to his life.
Conclusion The confusion on the Right is more destructive than that on the Left because, at worst, the Left can only be accused of being impractical (of not recognizing the need for some dynamo pedaling). But the Right is guilty of a conceptual confusion of means with ends that has disastrous consequences: empty lives full of 'stuff'.
The Solution The solution is to remove the confusion on both sides. To remind the Left that the dynamo will have to be pedaled by everyone for some proportion of their time and to point out to the Right that work (pedaling the dynamo) cannot be an end in itself. The basic shape of an unconfused society Clearing up the confusion about means and ends begins with an education system whose primary responsibility is to discover the genius (latent talent) in each individual. This would provide each person with a sense of direction that fits that individual and thus maximize the efficiency of her drive, her power to conscientiously strive to realize her particular genius. The economy would be organized to provide primary goods.
12 (the means we need in order to be able to conscientiously strive whatever our talent might be). The organizing principle would be that no one should spend any longer working than is deemed necessary for providing her with the means to conscientiously strive (practice).
13 Speculation As well as discovering each person's genius there would be an additional and quite distinct educational focus on job training (learning in what way you would be best suited to pedal the dynamo). The difference between these two branches of education, discovering your talent and job training would be explicit. Self-respect, the most important of the primary goods, would be fostered by the system's emphasis on uncovering the genius of each individual. The need to be entertained and amused due to the lack of development of one's own talent would disappear. People would be much more interesting to each other: instead of asking you what work you do for a living, I would ask you what your individual genius turned out to be. The consumer society would disappear: who would be interested in obtaining things which were irrelevant as means to the conscientious striving which allows for the realization of his genius? We would be off the economic treadmill that makes growth (more primary goods) an end in itself. We would only produce as much as we need to allow us to flourish. And this might prove to be quite minimal since the means necessary to cultivate our talents may not amount to much.
In any case the level of work would always be related to the end it indirectly serves. A test case: Our duty to educate our children, i.e., to help them discover what their unique talent may be An assumption directly related to the Aristotelian principle is that everyone has a natural drive to realize his potential (develop his talents once these talents have been discovered).
The reason behind the Left's assumption that some people seem to have more drive than others is, I suspect, simply a function of the fact that-given the way society is presently organized-a few people have actually discovered what their latent talents are and thus how much enjoyment is to be found in their development. The rest have not discovered their particular talent and thus 'lack drive'. (Perhaps there are people with no latent talents-and a fortiori, no drive-but it seems unlikely.) Now if everyone has this drive as their birthright-insofar as we assume that everyone has a latent talent (or two)-then it is tempting to declare that: "Everyone ought to realize their potential".
This declaration might be dubbed the 'ontological imperative' (since it relates to how a person ought to be) and its universal application "everyone" gives it a moral flavor. The source of its moral flavor can be understood from the following consideration: the mark of a moral principle (e.g., 'Never lie to escape difficulties') is that its opposite-when universalized-leads to a contradiction. As Kant puts it: "For supposing it to be a universal law that everyone when he thinks himself in a difficulty should be able to promise whatever he pleases, with the purpose of not keeping his promise, the promise itself would become impossible, as well as the end one might have in view in it, since no one would consider that anything was promised to him, but would ridicule all such statement as vain pretenses.”
Now there is a kind of contradiction involved in the idea of acting in accordance with the opposite of the ontological imperative ("No one should develop their potential, i.e., flourish"). Given that you have the potential to flourish you ought to realize it, otherwise, you are somehow going against your nature as a human being and this would be, in an ontological sense, self-contradictory. Certainly it would be self-contradictory to strive not to flourish-you would find yourself flourishing as a non-flourisher. Perhaps you could simply do nothing but this, again, involves a contradiction-in the sense of constituting a limiting case, the case in which you act by not acting. However, such an ontological 'sin of omission' would somehow have to just happen to you since there is nothing that you can do to do nothing.
Now although it is this self-contradictory feature that gives the ontological imperative its moral flavor, it is not a moral imperative. We can be sure of this because acting in accordance with this imperative is not simply a matter of freely exercising our will. We can see what pursuing such an activity actually depends upon when the ontological imperative is spelled out in its true form as a hypothetical imperative: "If you want to enjoy your life you ought to develop your potential". (We don't usually cast the imperative in this way because it is simply assumed that everyone wants to enjoy their life and so the 'if' clause is elided.) When we recast the ontological imperative in this way we can see that it is not a moral imperative because acting in accordance with it is not dependant upon a free act of the will.
I have to want to enjoy my life in order to recognize that I ought to develop my potential and that the ontological imperative applies to me. But ought I to develop my potential whether I want to or not? Do I have a duty to myself to do so? To see how we can actually raise this question-as if it were a moral question-we must consider the ages of the people involved to see how this determines whether individuals can acknowledge the moral force of the ontological imperative in such a way that the will is able come into play. The Right's confusion on this point The Right could, quite naturally, mistake the ontological imperative for a categorical imperative.
They can do so because the ontological imperative 'Flourish!'(for short) applies to everyone as a matter of contingent fact, the fact being that they all have some latent talents and it is a safe assumption that everyone would want to enjoy the exercise of their realized talents once these had been discovered. The Right thus reads the ontological imperative as follows: "Everyone has a native capacity to flourish: therefore, everyone ought to flourish-whatever their inclination might be" and it is thus put forward as if it were a principle in accordance with which we could act by exercising our will.
Thus the Right would regard it as one's duty to flourish. However, doing one's duty necessarily involves exercising the will freely out of a rational respect for a universalizable principle without reference to one's inclinations. We assume that no child could have a rational respect for the principle involved. Therefore, the will has no role to play as a spring of action in so far as natural flourishing is concerned. (It is instead assumed that children will flourish naturally if conditions are favorable.) Thus no child could be regarded as being aware that they have a duty to flourish. So the Right must be wrong about the moral character of the ontological imperative so far as children are concerned The Left's understanding of the moral status of the ontological imperative The Left does not confuse the ontological imperative with the categorical imperative. It recognizes that the ontological imperative is a hypothetical imperative that, as a matter of fact, applies to everyone (since everyone has potential and everyone wants to enjoy the exercise of his or her developed potential).
However, what the Left recognizes clearly is that it is not the duty of the individual to develop her potential, rather it is the duty of the community to provide those conditions which will reveal to the individual what her latent talents are. (Once the talent is revealed the individual will have the drive to develop it-given the truth of Aristotelian principle.) This duty to the child can be recognized as a duty with a moral flavor by the members of the community because it is based on a principle-"(If you15 want each generation in your society to flourish), so organize society that each person will be educated in such a way as to discover their latent talents"16-a principle which may well be opposed to the passing inclinations of the adults who are responsible for fulfilling this obligation17. Because education is such an important issue (the ontological imperative cannot be followed without it) it cannot be allowed to remain simply a personal moral issue, i.e., the child's fate as a flourisher must not be dependent upon whether their parents are dutiful (and succeed in putting the child's education ahead of the satisfaction of their passing inclinations). This means that the parents' moral obligation must be replaced by a collective or political obligation that will safeguard the nation's children against parents who do not fulfill their obligation.
18 Both Left and Right acknowledge this political obligation.
However, the way in which they acknowledge this obligation can (again) be distinguished by the notion of personal responsibility. The Left believes the responsibility should be the State's because some parents are unreliable and no child should get a second-class start in life due to feckless parents. The Right agrees but still wants all parents to be allowed to take responsibility for their own child's education and thus fulfill their personal moral obligation to be a responsible parent. To allow for this possibility it advocates a voucher system. Under this set-up, morally responsible parents can give their children a head start in life by sending them to better schools.
The Right wants parents (via vouchers) to be able to exercise their freedom of choice (and thus have the opportunity-the extra scope-to create moral value by being responsible). The Left instead wants justice-a fair shake for every child with no advantage to be derived from contingencies associated with the sense of responsibility or lack of it on the part of individual parents. This raises a nice point: creating moral values (by being responsible) should never involve the sacrifice of other people and the Right always contend that they do not sacrifice the children of the Left when they send their own children to better schools. The public school system must therefore be deemed by the Right to be adequate to its task (of allowing all children to realize the ontological imperative).
Yet the Left feels that the two-tiered system that a voucher system inevitably creates (in the short run at least) is morally wrong because it is not fair. It is not fair because of what Rawls calls 'the circumstances of justice’
19: He points out that there are limited resources in any society and if they are not distributed fairly then some will have an advantage at the expense of others. They see that the Right's claim not to be sacrificing anyone in the pursuit of a better education for their child as simply not in accordance with the circumstances of justice that prevail. Thus the children of the Left would be better off-so far as their education was concerned-if the children of the Right were not using up more than their fair share of the resources available.
Therefore those on the Right use the children of the Left as a means of gaining an advantage for their own children and in doing so they break the moral law (by using people simply as a means).
20 The Left's misunderstanding of 'drive' explained What the Left recognizes is that, if this obligation to educate is not fulfilled by society, then those individuals who have not been helped to discover their latent talents (due to the moral failure of their parents) will have been deprived of the drive-the power to strive conscientiously-that naturally serves to spur the development of a given talent once it has been discovered. This provides the explanation of the 'deeper reason' for 'natural' differences in the strength of an individual's drive mentioned above: 'It is also commonly assumed [by the Left] that the strength of an individual's drive (to do what they have to do to satisfy of their preferences) is distributed among individuals in accordance with . . . the bell curve.' The idea that drive is a differentiating feature (which is distributed in accordance with the bell curve) is the mistake that the Left is prone to in this area. If we accept the Aristotelian principle, then we would presume that, as a matter of fact, everyone has exactly as much drive as they need (to realize their potential) once their talent has been discovered.
To presume otherwise would amount to presuming that some people enjoy the exercise of their realized capacities more than others and so have a greater motivation to develop their talents. Thus if I say I enjoy dancing but not as much as my wife and that that explains why she has more drive (practices more), we are invited to suppose that she is a more accomplished dancer because she is just somehow gifted hedonically-she enjoys the exercise of her realized capacities more than I do. Instead I will assume that the capacity to conscientiously strive is equally distributed and that the apparent difference (in the capacity to strive conscientiously) between individuals is just a function of their early luck in discovering their particular talent.
If I am right about this, it would explain why so many interviews with great flourishers ("How did you come to be what you are today?") boil down to accounts of various contingencies (e.g., the presence of a mentor, at the right time and place) which served to reveal to the flourishers what their latent talent was and allowed for the fostering of its development. (I have never heard a great flourisher explain her eminence by saying: "I attribute my success to the brute fact that I had more drive than other people".) Naturally there are differences between people (e.g., intelligence, physical coordination, etc.,) which account for the differential flourishings of the same talent in different individuals but-given the truth of the Aristotelian principle-these differences are not functions of a differential distribution of drive.
Conclusion We have now seen how both the Right and the Left are confused. The Right tends to think that the extra drive possessed by the superior flourishers is attributable to their free acts of will-their determination to realize their potential. The Left is inclined to think that the drive of the superior flourishers is just a natural asset like their intelligence and that some people just have more drive than others. But I submit that Aristotle is right here: our capacity to conscientiously strive is a function of the enjoyment we derive from the exercise of our developing talents and its availability (the availability of our capacity to conscientiously strive) is a direct consequence of the anticipation of further enjoyment.
The correct metaphysics of a person therefore recognizes the fact that anticipation of the further enjoyment of your developing talents is the factor which provides just the amount of drive you require to continue the upward spiral of development and enjoyment. Now, if this account were true, imagine the case in which a person's latent talent had not been discovered in the course of his education. He must work to live but what is he living for? The relationship between the means (his work) and the end (the realization of his latent talent) is opaque to him (since he is ignorant of his talent). As a consequence, his work seems irksome and pointless since it cannot be viewed as a means to something he wants (apart from 'living' in the sense of staying alive).
He has no motivation to work because he has no sense of what his work is a means to. (Our piano player has this sense when he pedals the dynamo, an action he can regard as a means to being able to practice which is the direct means of developing that talent whose exercise he enjoys-all in accordance with the Aristotelian principle.) Without this sense of to what end his work is a means, the worker's ability to continue to work would have to be based on motives that were not related to the enjoyment of his developing talents. When he tries to motivate himself he may find that he is working so that he can 'watch television' (which is 'code' for 'whatever you are inclined to do to merely pass the time when you are not working'), hardly a realization of his latent talent.
Thus, if an individual's talent remains latent he is doomed to work, apparently in order to be able to be 'entertained' so as to fill the void which should (given the ontological imperative) be filled by the development of his latent talent if he but knew what it was.
22 In fact, in such a case, the ontological imperative is being flouted and the consequence is the deep unhappiness that is inherent in living an un- (Aristotelian)principled life.
23 Often, to actually keep going, the alienated worker must take a moral attitude towards his work: he must work as if it were his duty. He must cultivate, to some degree, the workaholic personality that makes the means serve as an end in itself due to the fact that he has never discovered what his latent talent actually is.24 Interesting final thought In real life the pendulum swings back and forth between the right nd the left it does so because the intolerable implications of their assumptions become evident only when they are carried past a certain stage eg the implications of mitigating the effects of the natural lottery freezes behaviour as we attempt to calculate the contingencies. On the right the effects of laissez faire in terms of unhappiness for the less talented eventually force us to back away from this alternative
1 The view is set forth in Rawls' book: A Theory of Justice, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1972,
2 Op cit. p.311-12
3 Anarchy, State and Utopia, Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1974, p. 214
4 By comparison, a principle like 'always lie in order to escape difficulties' is not universalizable because we have to acknowledge (when we think about it) that if everyone obeyed it no one would be able to lie successfully since no one would be believed when they tried to act in accordance with this principle.
5 "For how a law [a moral principle] in itself can be the direct determining ground of the will (which is the essence of morality) is an insoluble problem for the human reason. It is identical with the problem of how a free will is possible." Critique of Practical Reason, translated by L.W. Beck, Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, Indianapolis, 1956, p. 75
6 This capacity distinguishes us from animals. Cf. McDowell's remark: "And it is important that the freedom I claim they [animals] lack is precisely Kantian spontaneity, the freedom that consists in potentially reflective responsiveness to putative norms of reason." John McDowell, Mind and World, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1966, p. 182.
7 See the quoted paragraph referred to in note one
8 See Chapter Three of the Critique of Practical Reason for Kant's careful explanation of respect as an incentive of the will.
9 (A Theory of Justice, p. 426)
10 See footnote six The availability of this power to act on the part of believers provides an the explanation of the biblical injunction; "Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." (Mark 9, 23).
Fanaticism is the phenomenon of acting on an un-universalizable principle in the belief that it is universalizable. Such a capacity always exhibits itself as righteousness. The Right is guilty of this sort of fanaticism insofar as it treats contingently universal hypothetical imperatives (Flourish!) as categorical imperatives. But because the Right confuses flourishing with working (means with ends) their 'moral' imperative becomes 'Work!', hence the 'work ethic' where work is an end in itself.
On the extreme left the same phenomenon occurs: a Hero of the Soviet Union was someone who exceeded her quota of work. The difference between the Right and the extreme Left lies in the idea that on the extreme Left, such a feat would not have been regarded as the flourishing of the individual since an individual could only flourish, at one remove, so to speak, by contributing to the flourishing of the State. The horrid conceptual mistake in this latter case was to cast the individual as a means to the flourishing of an abstract entity, something which, by definition, cannot be the kind of thing to which the Aristotelian principle is applicable: a State cannot enjoy the exercise of its developing talent and hence cannot flourish.
12 " . . . suppose that the basic structure of society distributes certain primary goods, that is, things that every rational man is presumed to want. These goods normally have a use whatever a person's rational plan of life. For simplicity, assume that the chief primary goods at the disposition of society are rights and liberties, powers and opportunities, income and wealth [and] self respect." J Rawls, A Theory of Justice, p62
13 Rawls makes the point in two sentences in a discussion of why persons in the original position would choose the maximin strategy: "The person choosing has a conception of the good such that he cares very little, if anything, for what he might gain above the minimum stipend that he can, in fact be sure of by following the maximin rule. It is not worthwhile for him to take any chance for the sake of further advantage especially when it may turn out that he loses much that is important to him." p. 154 In other words enough is as good as a feast: I would only work enough to allow me to develop my talent - realize my conception of the good. Further work would be a waste of precious time that could be spent practicing.
14 I. Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1949, p. 40
15 The assumption here is that it would be inconsistent to want this in your own case but not believe that others would also want it in theirs, i.e., you might not care about whether other people flourished but you have no reason to believe that others would not care about themselves. So the 'you' who wants each individual in each generation to flourish is a rational 'you', a 'you' that has been universalized.
16 Its paternalistic character is based on the obvious fact that children cannot be regarded as capable of discovering their latent talents without appropriate guidance but would clearly wish that others did this for them if they were in a position to rationally assess their situation. See A Theory of Justice page 209
17 In your own case-as a child-you never have any passing inclinations not to flourish, i.e., if conditions are favorable you will want to flourish. In other words I am assuming that the hypothetical imperative that constitutes the ontological imperative is contingently universalized: every child, as a matter of fact, wants to flourish. However, although every rational adult could be expected to agree in principle about the crucial importance of providing favorable conditions for all children to flourish, in practice an adult's own inclinations may tempt her in such a way that she fails to fulfill her obligations to her children. In a certain sense, therefore, our duty to our children is too important to be left dependent upon the 'personal responsibility ' of individual parents, a point the Left sees clearly and the Right only grudgingly.
18 The next 'political' step would be the recognition of an obligation on the part of the international community to ensure that all children are educated properly.
19 See A Theory of Justice, p. 126ff
20 This is why, traditionally, the acid test for politicians of the Left in Britain was whether they would send their child to a public, i.e., private school. If they were committed to the Left, they knew that they should not, but given the fact that the state school system was not as good as the private system they were being asked to sacrifice their children's futures to be true to their own principles - a classic moral dilemma.
21 See note one
22 This is situation that, since Hegel/Marx, has been captured by the notion of a person's being 'alienated' by the nature of his work. However, the Marxian analysis misses the point. It assumes that work would be fine if it were meaningful. But work (dynamo pedaling) can never be meaningful in itself (in the way that practicing a piano can be meaningful) because work is not directly related to the end that it serves to realize.
23 It is a sad judgment on any society when a huge entertainment industry (in fact, our world's leading industry) is involved in the business of creating ways (and through marketing, generating appropriate inclinations) to pass the time for people who never found out what their latent talent was. (Think of shopping as entertainment and the surprising claim that the world's largest industry is the entertainment industry becomes quite plausible). By contrast, for those who did find out what their talent was, there is never a problem about how to pass the time.
24 Perhaps the standard justification for a person's spending their precious time working is the idea of raising a family as the end to which work is the means, a kind of sacrifice of ones' own unrealized possibilities for the realization of those of another. But such a 'justification' is just a stopgap: after all if I raised my kids just so that they could raise theirs, etc., etc., the 'means/ends' relationship that justifies my work-my sacrifice -would lose its coherence. The ontological imperative demands that one realize one's talents and the demand cannot be fulfilled by avoiding the issue through postponing such a realization to the next generation or the one after that. The 'empty nest' syndrome illustrates the fact that raising a family was not the realization of a latent talent and hence was ontologically dissatisfying for the individual. The ideal, of course, is that each generation prepares the next for the realization of its individual talents, so that no one has to 'disobey' the ontological imperative for the sake of another. (The consequences of this 'disobedience' are a favorite theme in literature where an ontologically disappointed parent attempts to realize their latent talent vicariously through a child (e.g., the stage mother).