Sam Pawlett rsp at
Tue Jan 25 13:12:30 PST 2000

JKSCHW at wrote:
> Well, Honderich is a hard determinist who, as someone here pointed out,
> thinks that the incoherence of the notion of responsibility means that
> socailsim is the correct political philosophy. Anyway. H is not a major
> player, in moral philosophy much as I like the Conservatism book.

That certainly isn't because of Honderich's abilities as a philosopher and scholar. People should read his books especially Conservatism, Violence for Equality and How Free Are You? He is very sympathetic to Rawls. As you recall, he is not content with the neo-pragmatist-Edmund Burke view that "this is the way we talk" or "this is the way we have always done things so this is the way we are going to do it" especially when comes to really serious things like politics. There maybe many reasons why he isn't well known, he is left wing, he teaches in England at Birkbeck. Friends tell me he wasn't particularly helpful or friendly (in contrast to G.A. Cohen they tell me) when they met him. Roger Scruton chairs the phil dpt at Birkbeck and judging by their published stuff, he and Honderich don't get along to say the least. Scruton in his review of conservatism said "it had the tone of self-righteousness that gave rise to movements like the Khmer Rouge."

Your view (Justin) that philosophy or theory broadly speaking does not and cannot change the world is a bit cynical. I don't think the right wing would be where it is today if weren't for the efforts of their very best intellectuals like Nozick, Hayek One of the problems is that left intellectuals are deliberately excluded from the opinion forming press as well as the influential academic journals.IF theory did not have consequences in the 'real world' then the press and the journals might include left or Marxist views becoming the pluralists that they always describe themselves as. Even John Rawls doesn't get reviewed in the popular press but that is part of the anti intellectualism of American culture. Left or Marxist views are treated in the press as "whoa, look at these weird people" instead of examining the merits of the ideas and arguments themselves.

Most people derive their beliefs about morality from social practice and the popular media. The popular media in presenting its views does have a moral theory however vague lurking in the background somewhere.

Rawls doesn't discuss retribution much but he clearly believes in desert:

"It would be far better if the acts proscribed by penal statues were never done. Thus a propensity to commit such acts is a mark of bad character, and in a just society legal punishments will fall upon those who display these faults." (ToJ 315,1st ed.)

This view is in line with New Right-individualist thinking.

Here's some Nozick on responsibility/determinism:

"It strongly appears that determinism is incompatible with deserved punishment, which raises the philosophical question: given determinism, how is deserved punishment possible?... Some may think causal determinism in general provides an excuse because it shows the act is not to be attributed to a defect of character; instead the act is attributed to the causes (going back before the person was born).However, these causes need not be incompatible with the defect of character, they may act through the defect. True, there will be a causal explanation of the character defect, but there being an explanation of why something is there does not nullify its being there...Retributive punishment effects a link with correct values in those who have flouted them. He is punished for his wrongful act and he deserves punishment only if it is an act of flouting...His action constitutes a flouting of correct values; he is deserving of punishment." Philosophical Explanations p394-5

People deserve punishment only if they "flout correct values". Pretty weak position.

Sam Pawlett

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