interests

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Wed Apr 12 09:02:06 MDT 1995


In the following Lisa Rogers says that talk about interests--what's good
for you--threatens to justify paternalism. I think this is a mistake.
Paternalism, forcing people to do what's good for them because it is good
for them--depends logically on the notion of interests, bvecause there has
to be something which is good for them for the idea to make sense. But
saying that there is such a thing does not even begin to justify making
people do it. It is quite possible to hold that people have interests
which they do not recognize and that it is morally wrong to force them to
satisfy their interests. This is in fact the position of the most famous
non-paternalist of all time, John Stuart Mill. Mill, as a happiness
utilitarian, is an objectivist about interests. He also claims that
maximizing happiness requires nonpaternalism.

It's possible to argue with people that something is good for them without
trying to impose it on them. I think this is in fact the position, whether
by practical default or moral conviction, of socialists in America. We try
to persuade workers and others that socialism is in their interests. Does
Lisa really want them run from us?

Nonpaternalism itself should not go unexamined. I agree with some version
of it, but not as a reflex. I think a lot of people object to paternalism
because they think that when people impose on others for "their own good"
it's not really for their own good, but for that of those who impose. This
is not in fact paternalism, since people aren't being made to do what's
good for them, but for others. That's exploitation. What's wrong with
really truly making people do what's good for them? You might think it is
unlikely that people ever will avoid the opportunity to exploit others if
they have the chance, i.e., that the problem isn't with paternalism
itself, but with our inability to really be paternalistic. That's OK, but
it still isn't an objection to paternalism. Mill's argument against
paternalism, to makje a long story short, is epistemological. People, he
says, are best placed to find out about what's in their own interests. But
is that true? A third argument against paternalism is that choice _is_ in
people's interests, whatever they do with it. I like this argument myself,
but it faces obvious problems.

Anyway, the issues of interrests and paternalism should be strictly
seperated. they are not internally related, at least from the interest
side.

--Justin Schwartz


On Tue, 11 Apr 1995, lisa rogers wrote:

> Thanks for the contribution, John, you make some good points, seriously,
> BUT...
> at first read I thought you were against paternalism, and then at the end
> you sound a bit paternalistic...
>
> Which is it?  (John just gave me a jumping off point for a peeve.)
>
> Paternalism and my dislike for it are some of the reasons that I am
> questioning the usage of the term "interests".  I'm glad to find that
> others also think it problematic.
>
> Isn't it this idea, that "the little people" don't know what's good for
> them, that is used by the powerful of all sorts (even by some so-called
> socialists of the past) to justify secrecy and elitism?
>
> Not that I think every little skin-head is right, or anything like that -
> maybe I just don't like the paternalism that I disagree with.  Now if I were
> put in charge, I'm sure I know what would be good for everyone.....
>
> Later, I will get around to saying more about what I think guides each
> one's view of one's self-interest.  Right now, I'm just bristling a bit,
> and I'm sure I'm not the only one whose hackles raise at the prospect of
> somebody else telling them that they don't know what's good for them.
>
> I paraphrase Mark Twain:  If anyone tells you "it's for your own good"
> just turn around and run away as fast as you can.
>
> Lisa Rogers
>
>
> On Mon, 10 Apr 1995, jwalker wrote:
>
> >
> > Of course, once you accept that we don't always know what's in our
> > interest, it becomes possible that others could know our interests better
> > than we do.  Which is how paternalism is often justified -- those to be
> > paternalized just don't see what's in their interests, perhaps due to
> > decades of being buried under mountains of capitalist (or
> > patriarchal, etc.) propaganda.
> >
> > I think the language of interests is important, in part because it
> > provides one possible way of saying what's wrong with various systems of
> > oppression, and so why we should oppose them.  It's wrong for women to be
> > oppressed because it's not in women's interest to live under conditions
> > of oppression, whether or not women recognize this.  Similarly with the
> > working class.
> >
> > Cheers
> >
> > John D. Walker
> > jwalker at email.unc.edu
> >
> >
>
>
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