Justice: What’s The Right Thing To Do? (Harvard)

Episode 10:

The Good Citizen /
Freedom vs. Fit

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Michael Sandel: We turn to Aristotle after examining theories, modern theories of justice, that tried to detach considerations of justice and rights from questions of moral desert and virtue. Aristotle disagrees with Conte and Rawls. Aristotle argues that justice is a matter of giving people what they deserve. And the central idea of Aristotle’s theory of justice is that, in reasoning about justice and rights, we have, unavoidably, to reason about the purpose, or the end, or the Telos of social practices and institutions. Yes, justice requires giving equal things to equal persons, but the question immediately arises in any debate about justice, equal in what respect? And Aristotle says we need to fill in the answer to that question by looking to the characteristic end, or the essential nature, or the purpose of the thing we’re distributing. And so we discussed Aristotle’s example of flutes, who should get the best flutes and Aristotle’s answer was the best flute players. The best flute player should get the best flute, because that’s a way of honoring the excellence of flute playing. It’s a way of rewarding the virtue of the great flute player. What’s interesting though, and this is what we’re going to explore today, is that it’s not quite so easy to dispense with teleological reasoning when we’re thinking about social institutions and political practices. In general it’s hard to do without teleology when we’re thinking about ethics, justice, and moral argument, at least that’s Aristotle’s claim, and I would like to bring out the force in Aristotle’s claim by considering two examples. One is an example that Aristotle spends quite a bit of time discussing, the case of politics. How should political offices and honors, how should political rule be distributed? The second example is a contemporary debate about golf, and whether the Professional Golfers Association should be required to allow Casey Martin, a golfer with a disability, to ride in a golf cart. Both cases bring out a further feature of Aristotle’s teleological way of thinking about justice, and that is, that when we attend to the Telos or the purpose, sometimes we disagree and argue about what the purpose of a social practice really consists in. And when we have those disagreements, part of what’s at stake in those disagreements is not just who will get what, not just a distributive question, but also an honorific question. What qualities, what excellences of persons will be honored? Debates about purpose and Telos are often simultaneously debates about honor. Now let’s see how that works in the case of Aristotle’s account of politics. When we discuss distributive justice these days, we are mainly concerned with the distribution of income and wealth and opportunity. Aristotle took distributive justice to be mainly not about income and wealth, but about offices and honors. Who should have the right to rule? Who should be a citizen? How should political authority be distributed? Those were his questions. How did he go about answering those questions? Well, in line with his teleological account of justice, Aristotle argues that, to know how political authority should be distributed, we have first to inquire into the purpose, the point, the Telos of politics. So what is politics about and how does this help us decide who should rule? Well for Aristotle, the answer to that question is politics is about forming character, forming good character. It’s about cultivating the virtue of citizens. It’s about the good life. The end of the state, the end of the political community he tells us, in book three of the politics. It’s not mere life, it’s not economic exchange only, it’s not security only, it’s realizing the good life. That’s what politics is for according to Aristotle. Now you might worry about this. You might say, well maybe this shows us why those modern theorists of justice and of politics are right, because remember, For Kant and for Rawls, the point of politics is not to shape the moral character of citizens. It’s not to make us good. It’s to respect our freedom to choose our goods, our values, our ends, consistent with a similar liberty for others. Aristotle disagrees. Any polis, which is truly so called, and is not merely one in name, must devote itself to the end of encouraging goodness. Otherwise political association sinks into a mere alliance. Law becomes a mere covenant, a guarantor of men’s rights against one another, instead of being, as it should be, a way of life, such as we’ll make the members of a polis good and just. That’s Aristotle’s view. A polis is not an association for residents on a common site, or for the sake of preventing mutual injustice and easing exchange, Aristotle writes, the end and purpose of a polis is the good life and the institutions of social life, are means to that end. Now if that’s the purpose of politics, of the polis, then, Aristotle says, we can derive from that the principles of distributive justice. The principles that tell us who should have the greatest say, who should have the greatest measure of political authority. And what’s his answer to that question? Well those who contribute the most to an association of this character, namely an association that aims at the good, should have a greater share in political rule and in the honors in the polis, and the reason is, they are in a position to contribute most to what political community is essentially about. Well, so you can see the link that he draws between the principle of distribution for citizenship and political authority, and the purpose of politics. But why, you’ll quickly ask, why does he claim that political life, participation in politics is somehow essential to living a good life? Why isn’t it possible for people to live perfectly good lives, decent lives, moral lives, without participating in politics? Well he gives two answers to that question. He gives a partial answer, a preliminary answer, in book one of the politics, where he tells us that only by living in a polis and participating in politics do we fully realize our nature as human beings. Human beings are, by nature, meant to live in a polis. Why? It’s only in political life that we can actually exercise our distinctly human capacity for language, which Aristotle understands as this capacity to deliberate about right and wrong, the just and the unjust. And so Aristotle writes in book one of the politics, that the polis, the political community, exists by nature and is prior to the individual. Not prior in time, but prior in its purpose. Human beings are not self sufficient living by themselves, outside a political community. Man who is isolated, who is unable to share in the benefits of political association, or has no need to share because he’s already self sufficient, such a person must be either a beast or a god. So we only fully realize our nature, we only unfold out human capacities when we exercise our faculty of language, which means when we deliberate with our fellow citizens about good and evil, right and wrong, just and the unjust. But why can we only exercise our capacity for language in political community, you might ask. Aristotle gives a second part, a fuller part of his answer in the Nichomachean ethics, an excerpt of which we have among the readings. And there, he explains that political deliberation, living the life of a citizen, ruling and being ruled in turn, sharing in rule all of this is necessary to virtue. Aristotle defines happiness, not as maximizing the balance of pleasure over pain, but as an activity, an activity of the soul, in accordance with virtue. And he says that every student of politics must study the soul, because shaping the soul is one of the objects of legislation and a good city. But why is it necessary to live in a good city in order to live a virtuous life? Why can’t we just learn good moral principles at home, or in a philosophy class, or from a book, live according to those principles, those rules, those precepts and leave it at that? Aristotle says, virtue isn’t acquired that way. Virtue is only something we can acquire by practicing, by exercising the virtues. It’s the kind of thing we can only learn by doing. It doesn’t come from book learning. In this respect, it’s like flute playing. You couldn’t learn how to play a musical instrument well just by reading a book about it. You have to practice, and you have to listen to other accomplished flute players. There are other practices and skills of this type. Cooking. There are cook books, but no great chef ever learns how to cook by reading a cook book only. It’s the kind of thing you only learn by doing. Joke telling is probably another example of this kind, no great comedian learns to be a comedian just by reading a book on the principles of comedy. It wouldn’t work. Now why not? What do joke telling, and cooking, and playing a musical instrument have in common, such that we can’t learn them just be grasping a precept or a rule that we might learn from a book or a lecture? What they have in common is that they’re all concerned with getting the hang of it, but also, what is it we get the hang of when we learn how to cook, or play a musical instrument, or tell jokes well? Discerning particulars. Particular features of a situation. And no rule, no precept could tell the comedian, or the cook, or the great musician how to get in the habit of, the practice of discerning the particular features of a situation. Aristotle says virtue is that way too. Now, how does this connect to politics? The only way we can acquire the virtues that constitute the good life, is to exercise the virtues to have certain habits inculcated in us, and then to engage in the practice of deliberating with citizens about the nature of the good. That’s what politics is ultimately about, the acquisition of civic virtue, of this capacity to deliberate among equals. That’s something we couldn’t get living a life alone, outside of politics. And so that’s why, in order to realize our nature, we have to engage in politics. And that’s why those who are greatest in civic virtue, like Peraclease, are the ones who properly had the greatest measure of offices and honors. So, the argument about the distribution of offices and honors has this teleological character, but also an honorific dimension because part of the point of politics is to honor people like Peraclease. It isn’t just that Peraclease should have the dominant say because he has the best judgment and that will lead to the best outcomes, to the best consequences for the citizens. That’s true, and that’s important, but a further reason people like Peraclease should have the greatest measure of offices, and honors, and political authoritys, and sway in the polis, is that part of the point of politics is to single out and honor those who possess the relevant virtue, in this case, civic virtue, civic excellence, practical wisdom, to the fullest extent. That’s the honorific dimension bound up with Aristotle’s account of politics. Here’s an example that shows the link in a contemporary controversy, the link to which Aristotle draws our attention between arguments about justice and rights on the one hand, and figuring out the Telos or the purpose of a social practice on the other. Not only that, the case of Casey Martin and his golf cart also brings out the link between the base about what the purpose of a social practice or a game is, on the one hand, and the question of what qualities should be honored, on the other. The link between teleology and honor based principles of distributive justice. Who was Casey Martin? Well, Casey Martin is a very good golfer able to compete at the highest levels of golf, but for one thing. He has a rare circulatory problem in his leg that makes it very difficult for him to walk. Not only difficult, but dangerous. And so he asked the PGA, what governs the pro tour in golf, to be able to use a golf cart when he competed in professional tournaments. PGA said no, and he sued under the American for Disabilities Act. He sued in a case that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The question the Supreme Court had to answer was, does Casey Martin have a right that the PGA provide him, allow him to use a golf cart on the tour or not? How many here think that, from a moral point of view, Casey Martin should have a right to use a golf cart? And how many think that he should not have a right to a golf cart in the tournaments? So the majority are sympathetic to Casey Martin’s right, though a substantial minority disagree. Let’s first hear from those of you who would rule against Casey Martin. Why would you not say that the PGA must give him a golf cart? Yes.

Tommy: Since the inception of golf, because it’s been part of the sport, it’s now intrinsically part of golf, walking the course. And thus, because intrinsic to golf, I’d argue not being able to walk the course is not being able to perform an aspect of the sport which is necessary to performing at a professional level.

Michael Sandel: Good. Stay there for a minute. What’s your name?

Tommy: Tommy.

Michael Sandel: Are you a golfer, by the way, Tom?

Tommy: Ah, well, not so much, but yeah, a little bit.

Michael Sandel: Are there any, are there any golfers here, I mean real golfers?

Tommy: Thank you professor, that’s was…

Michael Sandel: No, no, I’m just taking your word for it. Who, are there, is there someone here on the golf team? Yes? Tell us your name and, ah, tell us what you think.

Michael: Ah, my name is Michael, and I usually take a cart, so probably the wrong, probably the wrong person to ask.

Michael Sandel: Is that why your hand went up slowly when I…

Michael: Yes.

Michael Sandel: Alright. Umm, but Tom is saying, let’s, ah, Tom said a minute ago, that at least at the professional level, walking the course is essential to the game. Do you agree?

Michael: I would, yes.

Michael Sandel: You do? Then why do you take a cart? And you call yourself a golfer? No. I’m, no, no, no, no, I’m kidding, I’m kidding. What, what do you, what do you say to that?

Michael: I, I, when I have walked the course, it, it does add tremendously to the, to the game. Makes it a lot harder, it really does.

Michael Sandel: Yeah? Aright, let’s, let’s hear Michael and Tom’s, stay there, let’s hear from people who, ah, say that he should have a right to a golf cart. Why? Who’s prepared to defend that position? Yes.

Riva: Well I think the PGA should definitely be required, umm, to give him a golf cart, because they argue in the decision that it’s not just a matter of, he’s not, not experiencing fatigue for him, he’s still walking about a mile. The cart can’t go everywhere with him. Umm, and in that mile he’s still experiencing more fatigue and pain than a healthy player would. So it’s not as if you’re removing the disadvantage.

Michael Sandel: What’s your name?

Riva: Riva.

Michael Sandel: Riva, what do you say to Tom’s point that walking the course is essential to the game? It would be as if, ah, a disabled player could play in the NBA, ah, but not have to , ah, run up and down the court.

Riva: Well I think there are two, umm, two responses to that. First, I don’t think it’s, it’s essential to the game, umm, ‘cause most golfers who play, usually recreationally, don’t play with a cart, and on several…

Michael Sandel: Like Michael, like Michael.

Riva: And ah, and several of the tours, umm, you can play with a cart. On the senior PGA tour, on the NIKE tour, umm, and a lot of the college events, and those events are just as competitive and just as high level as the PGA tour. So really it’s just a matter of selective reasoning if you argue it as, umm, a important part of the sport. But, even if it is, he still does have to walk, he plays golf standing up. It’s not as if he’s playing golf from a wheelchair.

Michael Sandel: Alright. Ah, who, who else?

David: Alright. I think the whole point of a competition, is that it calls out the best, you know, from the second best or from the third best, and when we’re talking about the national level, we’re talking about, you know, the highest of the highest, and I think the, what they’re, ah, arguing about here is the purpose of competition. And I, I think in the sake of competition, you can’t change the rules.

Michael Sandel: So the purpose of the competition includes walking. That’s an essential, you agree with Tom, what’s your name?

David: David.

Michael Sandel: The Supreme Court Ruled that the PGA did have to accommodate to Casey Martin, and they did it on grounds, that Riva mentioned, that walking isn’t really part of, an essential part of the game. They cited testimony saying that walking the court consumes no more calories than you get eating a Big Mac. That’s what walking is in golf. According to the majority, Scalia was in dissent, Justice Scalia agreed with David. He said, there is no purpose. It’s not, and it’s certainly not for courts to figure out the essential purpose of golf. Golf, like any game, is strictly for amusement, and if there’s a group that wants to have one version of the game, they can have that version of the game. And the market can decide whether people are amused, and like, and show up for that, watch the television broadcasts. Scalia's dissent was an anti-Aristotelian dissent because, notice two things about the argument. First, we’re thrust into a discussion about what the essential nature, or purpose, or Telos of golf really is. Does it include walking? And, here’s something I think is rumbling beneath the surface of this debate, whether walking partly determines whether golf is really an athletic competition. After all, the ball sits still, you have to put it in a hole that’s, is it more like basketball, baseball and football, golf, an athletic competition, or is it more like billiards? The ball sits still there too, you could be out of shape and succeed. It involves skill, but not athletic skill. Could it be, that those profession golfers who excel at golf, have a stake in golf being honored and recognized as an athletic event, not just a game of skill like billiards? And if that’s what’s at stake, then we have a debate about the purpose, the teleological dimension, and also a debate about honor. What virtues, really, does the game of golf honor and recognize? Two questions to which Aristotle directs our attention. We’ll continue on this case next time.


Student: What, what’s strange and, seem paradoxical to me about Aristotle’s viewpoint, is that, if you walk like a pirate and you talk like a pirate, you shouldn’t be an investment banker, because that’s, that’s not what you’re inherently supposed to do. You have a peg leg and an eye patch and a disgruntled disposition, you know, ah, you should be on a pirate ship on the high seas. Umm, so, he doesn’t, his, ah…

Michael Sandel: Some would say, some would say that the distinction between the two vocations is not as clear as you suggest.

Michael Sandel: When we ended last time we were talking about whether Casey Martin has a right to ride in a golf cart in the PGA tournaments. And it’s worth remembering how we got into this debate and what’s at stake for an understanding of political philosophy. Remember, we were looking at Aristotle’s theory of justice, and one way of describing his approach to justice, we’ve called it teleological, teleological because he says to allocate rights, we first have to figure out the purpose, or the end, of a social practice in question. Another way of describing Aristotle’s account of justice, is that justice is, for him, a matter of fit. It’s a matter of fitting persons, with their virtues and excellences, to the appropriate roles. Now, I want to finish our discussion about Casey Martin and his claim for a golf cart, and then go back to one more consequential application in Aristotle, namely the question of slavery. What do you think about Casey Martin’s request? Should there be an accommodation or not, given the nature of the game and of the tournament and its purposes? Isn’t it discrimination if he’s not provided the golf cart as an accommodation、say some. Others reply, no if he got a cart it would be unfair to the other golfers because they exert themselves, become winded, fatigued walking the course. That’s where we left it. What about the fairness argument? OK, Jenny.

Jenny: My question was why doesn’t the PGA just make the option of a cart available to all golfers? Umm, from our readings, I learned that there are many golf tournaments other than the PGA where using of carts is not prohibited, and for something like the Senior’s Tournament, it’s even allowed and encouraged. So why doesn’t the PGA just do that?

Michael Sandel: Let everybody use a cart.

Jenny: Or give everyone the option of using a cart and let them pick, so the traditionalists can say, well I still choose to walk the course, but I do that knowing I will be more tired at the end than the people that took the cart.

Michael Sandel: Good. Alright, so what about Jenny’s solution? For the sake of fairness, don’t give Casey Martin an advantage, if indeed there is an advantage to riding in a cart, let everyone who wants to, use a cart. Is everyone happy with that solution? Does it put to rest this whole dilemma? Who has an answer for Jenny?

Da: As was brought up last time if you do that, you, you kind of ruin some of the spirit of golf as a lot of people like to see it. If you let everybody take a cart, umm, even though it gives everybody the same playing field, now, it sort of makes golf less of an athletic game like you pointed out last class. It’s just like, umm, if someone decides to go into another sport, and they want an advantage, like if you have swimming, and then you say, OK, he wants to flippers, so why don’t we just allow everyone to have flippers when swimming?

Michael Sandel: And what would that do to the Olympic swimming competition, if people were free to use, Jenny, and here we better let Jenny reply to this, Da says, it would sort of spoil the spirit of the athletic competition, as if in Olympic swimming, you let anyone who wanted to, swim with flippers. Alright, Jenny, what do you say to Da? It would spoil the spirit of it.

Jenny: You are also ruining the spirit of golf by not letting people who are really passionate about the game, and very good at it, compete, simply because of an aspect of golf, which is not, the main point of golf is that you use this club to make strokes and hit it into a hole. I’m sorry, I’m not a golfer, but that’s basically my, the gist of the game from what I see it. And I was reading the PGA versus Casey Martin decision, that was one of the sentence that they said was, because walking the course is not an inherent part of golf, only swinging the club is.

Michael Sandel: Good. So, Jenny replies to Da, well, it isn’t really essential anyhow to walk the course, so we’re back to the purpose.

Jenny: I mean, I’m sure there are, like, wheelchair basketball, there are certain, umm, different kind, competitions that can be made for people who may only be able to use their arms.

Michael Sandel: Right. Yes. Michael, what do you think?

Michael: Then, you just said there’s stuff like wheel, wheelchair basketball, where, if you can’t play basketball, there’s another option. I think there’s other options than the PGA tour, but the PGA tour is like the, it’s, it’s the best, it’s the pinnacle, and you have to have certain requirements fulfilled to perform.

Michael Sandel: Alright, Michael you want to, say to Casey Martin, you go, there is a, such a thing as the Special Olympics, for those who are disabled. Go play in the golf, golfing version of the Special Olympics. That’s what you would say Michael.

Michael: Yeah. I think that walking is part of the sport of golf, and Casey Martin, you know, he can’t, if he can’t walk the course then I don’t think he should play in the PGA.

Michael Sandel: Alright, good. Thank you very much for that exchange. What comes out of this exchange that goes back to Aristotle’s theory of justice? Well one thing is the question, is walking an essential part of golf? And the very fact that deciding whether there is a right for Casey Martin that the PGA must respect, seems to depend, as Aristotle suggests it must, on debating and resolving the question, is walking essential to the game of golf? That’s one moral of the story. But there’s a second moral to the story, from an Aristotelian point of view, what’s at stake here, this is the second Aristotelian stake in this debate, is honor. Casey Martin wants the accommodations so that he can compete for the honor of winning the best tournaments. Now, why is it that the professional golfers, the great golfers testified in this case, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Kite, in the readings, against letting him use a cart. And they, I suspect, would be equally vehement, Jenny, in opposing your suggestion of letting everyone ride a cart, and this goes back, in a way, to Da’s point, how to put this gently? Professional golfers are sensitive about whether their sport is really a sport. Because if everyone rode around in a cart, or could, then it would become clear, or clearer depending on your point of view, that golf is not really an athletic competition, but rather a game. A game of skill, but not a sport. And so, not only the question of debating the purpose, the teleological feature, but also from the standpoint of viewing debates about the purpose of golf, what’s essential to golf. Those debates, Aristotle suggests, inevitably are also debates about the allocation of honor, because part of the purpose of golf is not just to amuse spectators, Scalia's wrong about that from Aristotle’s point of view. It’s not just to provide entertainment, it’s not just to make people happy, it’s not an, a mere amusement, It’s honoring, it’s rewarding, it’s recognizing a certain kind of athletic excellence, at least those who have achieved the highest honors, have a powerful stake in maintaining that view. Now, some of you took the position, the Scalia position. This is an incredibly difficult and silly question, Scalia said. What is the essential nature of golf? It’s not the kind of thing that the United States Supreme Court is equipped to decide, or should decide. That’s Scalia. But he only says that because he takes a very strong, and as it happens, a very anti-Aristotelian position on what a game is. "It is the very nature of a game to have no object", no point, "except amusement", says Scalia. "That is what distinguishes games", he says, "from productive activity". You can just imagine what kind of sports fan Scalia must be. And so he says, it’s impossible to say that any of a game’s arbitrary rules is essential, and then he quotes Mark Twain’s disparaging remark about golf. He says, many consider walking to be the central feature of golf, hence Mark Twain’s classic criticism of the sport, “a good walk spoiled.” But Scalia misses an important feature of games, and the arguments about rights and fairness that arise from games. When he casts games, sports, athletic competitions, as solely for the sake of amusement, as solely a utilitarian activity. But an Aristotelian view of sports says, no it’s not just about amusement, real sports, real athletic events are also about appreciation. Not just amusement. And people who follow sports, and care about sports, and play sports, know this, which is another way of saying there’s a difference between a sports and a mere spectacle. And the difference is, that a sport is a practice that calls forth, and honors, and prizes certain excellences, certain virtues, and the people who appreciate those virtues are the true fans, the informed fans, and for them, watching the sport is not mere amusement, but that means that it’s always possible to make sense of a debate about what feature of a sport is essential to it. We can make sense of these arguments, never mind the question whether the court should decide, the PGA in its own internal deliberations can make sense of that debate, which is why they cared very much about their view, insisting on their view that walking, and exertion, and fatigue are essential, not peripheral parts of sport. Well, this is all to illustrate the teleological and the honorific feature of the base about rights, which Aristotle says we need to take account of in thinking about justice. Now, I want to begin for us to consider whether Aristotle’s theory of justice is right or wrong, whether it’s persuasive or unpersuasive. I want to get your thoughts about that, but I want to anticipate one obvious and important objection, if justice is about fit, fitting persons to roles. Matching virtues to the appropriate honors and recognition. If that’s what justice is, does it leave room for freedom? And this is one of the main objections to Aristotle’s teleological account of justice. If certain roles, social roles, are fitting or appropriate to me, where does that leave my right to choose my social roles, my life purposes for myself? What room does teleology leave for freedom? And in fact, they remember, Rawls rejects teleological account of justice, because he says that teleological theories of justice threaten the equal basic rights of citizens. So let’s, let’s begin to examine whether Aristotle is right, and in particular, whether it, his teleological way of thinking about justice is at odds with freedom. Now one obvious reason to worry, is Aristotle’s defense of slavery. He defends slavery, which existed as an institution in the Athens of his day. Well, what is his defense of slavery? Two things, two conditions have to be met for slavery to be justice. First, it has to be necessary. And Aristotle says, at least in our society, slavery is necessary. Why is it necessary? If there are to be citizens who are freed from manual, and menial and household chores, to go to the assembly, to deliberate about politics, there have to be some who look after those menial tasks, the mere necessities of life. He says, unless you could invent, in some science fiction, a technological fix, then there are going to be those that have to do the hard, and difficult, and menial labor if there are to be citizens deliberating about the good, and realizing their nature. So slavery is necessary for the life of the polis, for there to be open to citizens, the life of deliberation, or argument, practical wisdom, but there’s a further condition that has to be met. Slavery has not only to be necessary for the community as a whole to function, but it also has to be the case, remember the criterion of fit, is also has to be the case that there are some people for whom being a slave is the just or the fitting or the appropriate condition. Now, Aristotle agrees that, by his own standards both of those conditions must be met, must be true if slavery is to be just, and then, in a deplorable passage, he says, well it is true that there are some people who are fit by nature, who are cut out to be slaves. These are people who differ from ordinary people in the same way that the body differs from the soul. These are people who are meant to be ruled, and for them, their nature is best realized if they are slaves. They can recognize reason in others, but they can’t partake of it, they can’t exercise it. And somehow we can know this. Now, Aristotle must have know that there was something dodgy, something strange about this claim, because he quickly acknowledges that those people who disagree may have a point. And what those who disagree point out is, that there are a lot of people in Athens who are slaves, not because they were born to be slaves or fit to be slaves, but because they were captured, they were losers in a war. And so, Aristotle admits that, as practiced in ancient Athens, slavery didn’t necessarily line up with who actually is fit or born to be a slave, because some actual slaves just were slaves by bad luck, by being captured in a war. And on Aristotle’s own account, even if it’s necessary to have slavery for the sake of this, of citizenship, it’s unjust if people who aren’t properly slaves, are cast in that role. There is a misfit. Aristotle recognizes that slavery for those who aren’t fit for the task is a kind of coercion, the reason slavery is wrong is not because it’s coerced, coercion is an indicator that it’s wrong because it’s not natural. If you have to coerce someone into a role, that’s a pretty good indication that they don’t belong there. That that role isn’t fitting for them. And Aristotle recognized this. So all of this is to say, the example of slavery, Aristotle’s defense of it, doesn’t show that there’s anything wrong in principle with teleological argument or with the idea of justice as fit between persons and roles, because it’s perfectly possible, within Aristotle’s own terms, to explain what’s wrong with this application, this practical application that he made of his theory. I want to turn to the larger challenge to Aristotle in the name of freedom, but before I do that, I want to see what people think of Aristotle’s account of justice as fit, his teleological way of reasoning about justice, and the honorific dimension of rights and of distributive justice that emerged in our discussion of flutes, and politics, and golf. Questions of clarification about Aristotle, or objections to his overall account? Yes.

Student: My objection to, ah, Aristotle is he wants to match, ah, a person to a role, and, you know, if you walk like a pirate, and you talk like a pirate, you know, you should be a pirate, and, and that is what is right. Umm, and, so, what, what’s strange and, seem paradoxical to me about Aristotle’s viewpoint, is that, if you walk like a pirate, and you talk like a pirate, you shouldn’t be an investment banker, because that’s, that’s not what you inherently supposed to do. You have a peg leg and an eye patch and a disgruntled disposition, you know, ah, you should be on a pirate ship on the high seas. Umm, so, he doesn’t, his, ah…

Michael Sandel: Some would say, some would say that the distinction between the two vocations is not as clear as you suggest. Alright, but that’s good. I take the point. Yes. Go ahead.

Mary-Kate: It just seems to ignore individual rights. So I might be the perfect janitor in the whole world, and I can do that job the most efficiently out of anybody that exists right now, but I might not want to do that, I might want to do any other number of pursuits, and it seems to say that that isn’t really a good option for me.

Michael Sandel: Alright, and what’s your name?

Mary-Kate: Mary-Kate.

Michael Sandel: Good. Alright. Let’s, ah, let’s, take a couple more. Yes.

Patrick: I think that the golf cart exchange sort of brought up what, ah, is my main objection, umm, to this teleological mode of reasoning. I mean, Michael, I think that was your name, right? Believes that walking is an inherent part of golf. Myself, I believe that walking in not an inherent part of golf. And I feel that no matter how long we debate this particular point of contention, we’re never going to reach an accord. The teleological framework of reasoning, I believe, doesn’t really allow us to come to any sort of agreement.

Michael Sandel: Alright, and what’s your name?

Patrick: Patrick.

Michael Sandel: Patrick. Alright, let me try to address this set of objections to Aristotle. Let me start with Patrick’s. It’s an important objection. We had a debate about whether walking is essential to golf, and even in so seemingly trivial, or at least contained the cases, that we couldn’t agree. How can we possibly hope to agree when the stakes are higher, and when we’re debating the fundamental purposes or ends of political community? And so if we can’t agree on what the ends, or the goods of our shared public life consist in, how can we base justice and rights on some notion of what the end, or the purpose, or the good consists in? That’s an important objection. So much so, that much modern political theory takes that takes that worry about disagreement over the good as it’s starting point, and concludes that justice, and rights, and constitutions should not be based on any particular conception of the good or the purposes of political life, but should instead provide a framework of rights that leaves people free to choose their conceptions of the good, their own conceptions of the purposes of life. Now, Mary-Kate said, what if a person is very well suited to having a certain role, like the role of being a janitor, but wants something else, wants to reach higher, wants to choose another way of life? So that goes back to this question about freedom. If we take our bearing as persons from roles that are said to fit our nature, shouldn’t it at least be up to us to decide what those roles are? In fact, shouldn’t it be up to us to define what roles are suitable to us? And that’s going to take us back to the confrontation between Aristotle on the one hand, and Kant and Rawls on the other. Kant and Rawls think Patrick has a point. They say, precisely because people disagree in pluralist societies about the nature of the good life, we shouldn’t try to base justice on any particular answer to that question. So they reject teleology, they reject the idea of tie, tying justice to some conception of the good. What’s at stake in the debate about teleology, say Rawlsian and Kantian liberals, is this, if you tie justice to a particular conception of the good, if you see justice as a matter of fit between a person and his or her roles, you don’t leave room for freedom. And to be free is to be independent of any particular roles, or traditions, or conventions that may be handed down by my parents or my society. So in order to decide, as between these two broad traditions, whether Aristotle is right, or whether Kant and Rawls are right, we need to investigate whether the right is prior to the good, question one. And we need to investigate what it means to be a free person, a free moral agent. Does freedom require that I stand toward my roles, my ends, and my purposes as an agent of choice, or as someone trying to discover what my nature really is? Two big questions and we’ll take them up next time.

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