Monday April 9 , 2012
Our last week together…
Marx famously postulated that a “fully developed communist society would be
- Neither just, nor unjust, but beyond justice.
(This thesis is closely related to Hobbes’s philosophy…)
What is justice? What does it mean to say that X is unjust….
“It is just to render to each his due”
“DUE” implies something stronger than “merely a good idea”
1 Retributive justice regulates proportionate response to crime proven by lawful
evidence, so that punishment is justly imposed and considered as morally-correct
and fully deserved.
Compensatory Justice has to do with compensation for historical wrongs.
Restorative Justice is concerned not so much with retribution and punishment as
with (a) making the victim whole and (b) reintegrating the offender into society.
This approach frequently brings an offender and a victim together, so that the
offender can better understand the effect his/her offense had on the victim.
(eg. Truth and reconciliation hearings in South Africa.)
Distributive justice is directed at the proper allocation of things between different
David Hume: Very famous formulation of the ‘circumstances of justice’
-Hume’s principles have to do primarily with distributive justice:
Consider a commodity like air. There is no shortage; it is abundant, therefore, no
principles of justice pertain to it.
Now consider the same commodity, but now under different circumstances:
suddenly, because scarcity has become pertinent, principles of justice now apply.
“If every man had a tender regard for another, or if nature supplied abundantly all
our wants and desires, that the jealousy of interest, which justice supposes, could no
longer have place; nor would there be any occasion for those distinctions and limits
of property and possession, which at the present are in use among mankind.”
2 - Another key point in Hume’s passage is that the very notions of ownership
and property would also disappear if the circumstances of justice were
overcome particularly the scarcity condition.
What would be the point of claiming as “yours” an amount of a commodity,
X, that was abundant?
It sounds incoherent.
“The first man who, having enclosed a piece of land, took it into his head to say ‘This
is mine,’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of
civil society. The human race would have been spared endless crimes, wars,
murders, and horrors if someone had pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and
cried out to his fellow men, ‘Do not listen to this imposter! You are lost of you forget
that the fruits of the earth belong to everyone, and the earth to no one”.
(Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality)
Why Marx thought that a fully developed communist society would be beyond
If the means of production were owned publicly, we would all aim for what Marx
and Engels call:
3 Private production aims at profit; producing too much leads to lower prices, thus
leading to less profits.
If demand is steady, and supply is too high = price goes down.
Hence, privately owned means of production cannot escape the circumstances of
Publicly owned means of production would maximize production:
We know we need the stuff, and so, publicly, we would aim to produce as much of it
The closing words of the communist manifesto:
“Only then can a society inscribe upon its banners: To each according to his needs,
from each according to his abilities.”
This aspect of Marx’s thought is interesting because it’s worth considering the
extent to which capitalism is a system built precisely on the Hobbesian assumption
of scarcity – and therefore private property that Marx thinks we can and should
Remember that the Hobbesian state of nature is the same sort of competition (much
more violent, of course) as is a capitalist market.
Capitalism is a form of competition; only with scarce resources does a form of this
competition even make sense.
Can everyone see how in circumstances of abundance, how capitalist
competition is incoherent?
An interesting Marxian thought:
What does it suggest, then, that the same conditions that make justice
necessary, are the ones that make capitalism possible?
4 - Capitalist circumstances turn us into egoistic people; but socialist
circumstances, he argued, would promote fellow feeling, benevolence, and
Unlike Hobbes, who seems to think that we are by nature self-interested individuals
seeking for ourselves the best life we can Marx is saying that economic
circumstances (if they were remade in the correct way) would unleash for us
“the true community of men” a benevolent, cooperative, socialist,
The community from which the worker is isolated by his own labor is
life itself, physical and mental life, human morality, human activity,
human enjoyment, human nature. Human nature is the true
community of men. (Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program)
5 Let’s look for closely at how Marx believes that capitalism corrupts ou