Money, Markets and Politics

I was caught up in the financial market turmoil some year ago – well since before the ‘credit crunch’ bankrupted Northern Rock as an independent financial institution. With the demise of Lehman Brothers, the takeover of HBOS by Lloyds TSB, and AIG on the brink, I thought I’d give the matter some thought. As a rationalist, these events have spurred me to find out whether it is the possession and exercise of such immense wealth and instruments of financial leverage that drive the world, or whether it is anything more.   If it is just money that drives politics and world order, then we really are in trouble- not least because there are seismic changes in the characteristics of those who hold the levers of ‘money’. Most of our politicians are complicit in such changes and guilty of yielding to those with such intruments irrespective of ideology or moral fibre. It is almost impossible to be elected to many high offices unless one has such wealthy benefactors and bankers.

Let me start off with a paper that I was reading recently from Ethical Politics by Anitra Nelson that I think hit the ‘nail on the head’ in so many ways. For me, it compounds my view that absolute values have no place in a modern liberal democracy:

“The root of all evil” is the title Alan Macfarlane gives to a brief discussion of the social effect of money in a collection of articles on The Anthropology of Evil (Parkin, ed., 1985). Here Macfarlane briefly explores the basis of the idea that money is evil. He points to the obvious connection between money and evil demonstrated in the greed, consumerism and profiteering characteristic of capitalism. “Yet money, and all it symbolizes, is the root of all evil in a deeper sense than this,” writes Macfarlane. And he (71-2) elaborates:

“Viewed from outside the system, money can be seen to do something even more insidious. It subtly eliminates the very concept of evil. Or, rather, it makes it impossible to discriminate between good and evil…’Money’, which is a short-hand way of saying capitalistic relations, market values, trade and exchange, ushers in a world of moral confusion. This effect of money has been most obvious where a capitalistic, monetary economy has clashed with another, opposed, system. Thus it is anthropologists, who have…noted how money disrupts the moral as well as the economic world. As Burridge, for example, writes of the effect of money in Melanesia: money complicates the moral order, turning what was formerly black and white into greyness. Money, he argues, ‘…invites a complex differentiation and multiplication of the parts and qualities of man’ (Burridge 1969:45). More broadly, it is money, markets and market capitalism that eliminate absolute moralities. Not only is every moral system throughout the world equally valid, as Pascual noted, but, within every system, whatever is, is right.

I present this quote because I believe it raises an issue that is at the heart of the problem of Ethical Politics… In particular I worry about the political implications of accepting the labour theory of value. This is where I return to the Macfarlane quote, to Ethical Politics and money. The labour theory of value suggests that monetary exchange is rational in terms of socially necessary labour time. That implies an exchange of labour and the products necessary to sustain that labour giving the capitalist system rationality that I don’t believe it embodies. A bun fight theory of exchange might appear to be no theory at all, but war is war. Why is market exchange necessarily any more rational than gift exchange, love or war? Its quasi-mathematical appearance, made possible by the use of money, is a primary deception.

If the labour theory of value was correct monetary exchange might remain a useful technique to use in the transitional stage to socialism. Marx regards dispensing with the state and money as essential. But, in the same way as taking over the state was a new stage in the proletarian revolution, some have argued that monetary exchange can be adapted to socialist ends, at least temporarily. The communist experiments of the twentieth century in Russia and Cuba grappled with the difficulties of monetary exchange but never overcame them (Nelson, 2001). Especially in his early works Marx castigated the utopian socialist for their confidence in the manipulation of money to eliminate exploitation. Even though he designed his theories as a critique of their, as he saw it, muddleheaded proposals for reform, the labour theory of value has given solace to reformers following their tradition. In fact money seems to be a veil for social war; money is a weapon (Cleaver, 1979).

Ethical politics

… I have access to certain natural resources. I have some knowledge of the potential and limitations of local human and non human resources. I have mouths to feed, generations to nurture, civilisations to reproduce culturally, socially and materially. I don’t need money to evaluate these human and non human resources. I don’t need money to distribute these human and non human resources. I do not need money to (re)produce these human and non human resources. I do need commonly agreed upon social principles and processes to assess the utility of these human and non human resources, to organise the reproduction of them and to distribute them. Our job, the job of ethical politicians today, is to design non monetary forms of appropriation and distribution of material and non material resources. I believe that this will constitute the basis of a truly postmodern society featuring ecologically sustainable behaviour (ESB) and social justice. A society without myths associated with modern society regarding money. The ethical politics of a post economic universe must feature substantive grassroots democracy and ESB. There will be no pretence at neutrality but rather a conscious and conscientious effort to create a balance within and between the fulfillment of the various needs and wants of all the contenders for existence. We want a world where people deal with people and non human nature directly and collectively and care.


Bellofiore, Riccardo, “Marx after Schumpeter”, Capital and Class, # 24, Winter 1985: 60-74.
Bellofiore, Riccardo, (Ed.), Marxian Economics, a Reappraisal, Volumes I and II, London/New York, Macmillan Press/St Martin’s Press, 1998.
Cleaver, Harry, Reading Capital Politically, Brighton (Sussex), The Harvester Press, 1979.
Macfarlane, Alan, “The root of all evil”. In Parkin, David (ed.) The Anthropology of Evil, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1985: 57-76.
Nelson, Anitra, Marx’s Concept of Money: the God of Commodities, Routledge, London, 1999.
Nelson, Anitra, “The poverty of money: Marxian insights for ecological economists”, Ecological Economics, March 2001: 499-511.

Human Rights and Sentimentality

In a report from the former Bosnia some fifteen years ago1, David Rieff said “To the Serbs, the Muslims are no longer human… Muslim prisoners, lying on the ground in rows, awaiting interrogation, were driven over by a Serb guard in a small delivery van”. This theme of dehumanization recurs when Rieff says

A Muslim man in Bosanski Petrovac… [was] forced to bite off the penis of a fellow-Muslim… If you say that a man is not human, but the man looks like you and the only way to identify this devil is to make him drop his trousers – Muslim men are circumcised and Serb men are not – it is probably only a short step, psychologically, to cutting off his prick… There has never been a campaign of ethnic cleansing from which sexual sadism has gone missing.

The moral to be drawn from Rieff’s stories is that Serbian murderers and rapists do not think of themselves as violating human rights. For they are not doing these things to fellow human beings, but to Muslims. They are not being inhuman, but rather are discriminating between the true humans and the pseudohumans. They are making the same sort of distinction as the Crusaders made between humans and infidel dogs, and the Black Muslims make between humans and blue-eyed devils. The founder of my university was able both to own slaves and to think it self-evident that all men were endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. He had convinced himself that the consciousness of Blacks, like that of animals, “participate[s] more of sensation than reflection”2. Like the Serbs, Mr. Jefferson did not think of himself as violating human rights.

The Serbs take themselves to be acting in the interests of true humanity by purifying the world of pseudohumanity. In this respect, their self-image resembles that of moral philosophers who hope to cleanse the world of prejudice and superstition. This cleansing will permit us to rise above our animality by becoming, for the first time, wholly rational and thus wholly human. The Serbs, the moralists, Jefferson, and the Black Muslims all use the term “men” to mean “people like us”. They think the line between humans and animals is not simply the line between featherless bipeds and all others. They think the line divides some featherless bipeds from others: There are animals walking about in humanoid form. We and those like us are paradigm cases of humanity, but those too different from us in behavior or custom are, at best, borderline cases. As Clifford Geertz puts it, “Men’s most importunate claims to humanity are cast in the accents of group pride”3.

We in the safe, rich, democracies feel about the Serbian torturers and rapists as they feel about their Muslim victims: They are more like animals than like us. But we are not doing anything to help the Muslim women who are being gang raped or the Muslim men who are being castrated, any more than we did anything in the thirties when the Nazis were amusing themselves by torturing Jews. Here in the safe countries we find ourselves saying things like “That’s how things have always been in the Balkans”, suggesting that, unlike us, those people are used to being raped and castrated. The contempt we always feel for losers – Jews in the thirties, Muslims now – combines with our disgust at the winners’ behavior to produce the semiconscious attitude: “a plague on both your houses”. We think of the Serbs or the Nazis as animals, because ravenous beasts of prey are animals. We think of the Muslims or the Jews being herded into concentration camps as animals, because cattle are animals. Neither sort of animal is very much like us, and there seems no point in human beings getting involved in quarrels between animals.

The human-animal distinction, however, is only one of the three main ways in which we paradigmatic humans distinguish ourselves from borderline cases. A second is by invoking the distinction between adults and children. Ignorant and superstitious people, we say, are like children; they will attain true humanity only if raised up by proper education. If they seem incapable of absorbing such education, that shows they are not really the same kind of being as we educable people are. Blacks, the whites in the United States and in South Africa used to say, are like children. That is why it is appropriate to address Black males, of whatever age, as “boy”. Women, men used to say, are permanently childlike; it is therefore appropriate to spend no money on their education, and to refuse them access to power.

When it comes to women, however, there are simpler ways of excluding them from true humanity: for example, using “man” as a synonym of “human being”. As feminists have pointed out, such usages reinforce the average male’s thankfulness that he was not born a woman, as well as his fear of the ultimate degradation: feminization. The extent of the latter fear is evidenced by the particular sort of sexual sadism Rieff describes. His point that such sadism is never absent from attempts to purify the species or cleanse the territory confirms Catharine MacKinnon’s claim that, for most men, being a woman does not count as a way of being human. Being a nonmale is the third main way of being nonhuman. There are several ways of being nonmale. One is to be born without a penis; another is to have one’s penis cut or bitten off; a third is to have been penetrated by a penis. Many men who have been raped are convinced that their manhood, and thus their humanity, has been taken away. Like racists who discover they have Jewish or Black ancestry, they may commit suicide out of sheer shame, shame at no longer being the kind of featherless biped that counts as human.

Philosophers have tried to clear this mess up by spelling out what all and only the featherless bipeds have in common, thereby explaining what is essential to being human. Plato argued that there is a big difference between us and the animals, a difference worthy of respect and cultivation. He thought that human beings have a special added ingredient which puts them in a different ontological category than the brutes. Respect for this ingredient provides a reason for people to be nice to each other. Anti-Platonists like Nietzsche reply that attempts to get people to stop murdering, raping, and castrating each other are, in the long run, doomed to fail – for the real truth about human nature is that we are a uniquely nasty and dangerous kind of animal. When contemporary admirers of Plato claim that all featherless bipeds – even the stupid and childlike, even the women, even the sodomized – have the same inalienable rights, admirers of Nietzsche reply that the very idea of “inalienable human rights” is, like the idea of a special added ingredient, a laughably feeble attempt by the weaker members of the species to fend off the stronger.

As I see it, one important intellectual advance made in our century is the steady decline in interest in the quarrel between Plato and Nietzsche. There is a growing willingness to neglect the question “What is our nature?” and to substitute the question “What can we make of ourselves?”. We are much less inclined than our ancestors were to take “theories of human nature” seriously, much less inclined to take ontology or history as a guide to life. We have come to see that the only lesson of either history or anthropology is our extraordinary malleability. We are coming to think of ourselves as the flexible, protean, self-shaping, animal rather than as the rational animal or the cruel animal.

One of the shapes we have recently assumed is that of a human rights culture. I borrow the term “human rights culture” from the Argentinian jurist and philosopher Eduardo Rabossi. In an article called “Human Rights Naturalized”, Rabossi argues that philosophers should think of this culture as a new, welcome fact of the post-Holocaust world. They should stop trying to get behind or beneath this fact, stop trying to detect and defend its so-called “philosophical presuppositions”. On Rabossi’s view, philosophers like Alan Gewirth are wrong to argue that human rights cannot depend on historical facts. “My basic point”, Rabossi says, is that “the world has changed, that the human rights phenomenon renders human rights foundationalism outmoded and irrelevant”4.

Rabossi’s claim that human rights foundationalism is outmoded seems to me both true and important; it will be my principal topic in this lecture. I shall be enlarging on, and defending, Rabossi’s claim that the question whether human beings really have the rights enumerated in the Helsinki Declaration is not worth raising. In particular, I shall be defending the claim that nothing relevant to moral choice separates human beings from animals except historically contingent facts of the world, cultural facts.

This claim is sometimes called “cultural relativism” by those who indignantly reject it. One reason they reject it is that such relativism seems to them incompatible with the fact that our human rights culture, the culture with which we in this democracy identify ourselves, is morally superior to other cultures. I quite agree that ours is morally superior, but I do not think this superiority counts in favor of the existence of a universal human nature. It would only do so if we assumed that a moral claim is ill-founded if not backed up by knowledge of a distinctively human attribute. But it is not clear why “respect for human dignity” – our sense that the differences between Serb and Muslim, Christian and infidel, gay and straight, male and female should not matter – must presuppose the existence of any such attribute.

Traditionally, the name of the shared human attribute which supposedly “grounds” morality is “rationality”. Cultural relativism is associated with irrationalism because it denies the existence of morally relevant transcultural facts. To agree with Rabossi one must, indeed, be irrationalist in that sense. But one need not be irrationalist in the sense of ceasing to make one’s web of belief as coherent, and as perspicuously structured, as possible. Philosophers like myself, who think of rationality as simply the attempt at such coherence, agree with Rabossi that foundationalist projects are outmoded. We see our task as a matter of making our own culture – the human rights culture – more self-conscious and more powerful, rather than of demonstrating its superiority to other cultures by an appeal to something transcultural.

We think that the most philosophy can hope to do is summarize our culturally influenced intuitions about the right thing to do in various situations. The summary is effected by formulating a generalization from which these intuitions can be deduced, with the help of noncontroversial lemmas. That generalization is not supposed to ground our intuitions, but rather to summarize them. John Rawls’s “Difference Principle” and the U.S. Supreme Court’s construction, in recent decades, of a constitutional “right to privacy” are examples of this kind of summary. We see the formulation of such summarizing generalizations as increasing the predictability, and thus the power and efficiency, of our institutions, thereby heightening the sense of shared moral identity which brings us together in a moral community.

Foundationalist philosophers, such as Plato, Aquinas, and Kant, have hoped to provide independent support for such summarizing generalizations. They would like to infer these generalizations from further premises, premises capable of being known to be true independently of the truth of the moral intuitions which have been summarized. Such premises are supposed to justify our intuitions, by providing premises from which the content of those intuitions can be deduced. I shall lump all such premises together under the label “claims to knowledge about the nature of human beings”. In this broad sense, claims to know that our moral intuitions are recollections of the Form of the Good, or that we are the disobedient children of a loving God, or that human beings differ from other kinds of animals by having dignity rather than mere value, are all claims about human nature. So are such counterclaims as that human beings are merely vehicles for selfish genes, or merely eruptions of the will to power.

To claim such knowledge is to claim to know something which, though not itself a moral intuition, can correct moral intuitions. It is essential to this idea of moral knowledge that a whole community might come to know that most of their most salient intuitions about the right thing to do were wrong. But now suppose we ask: Is there this sort of knowledge? What kind of question is that? On the traditional view, it is a philosophical question, belonging to a branch of epistemology known as “metaethics”. But on the pragmatist view which I favor, it is a question of efficiency, of how best to grab hold of history – how best to bring about the utopia sketched by the Enlightenment. If the activities of those who attempt to achieve this sort of knowledge seem of little use in actualizing this utopia, that is a reason to think there is no such knowledge. If it seems that most of the work of changing moral intuitions is being done by manipulating our feelings rather than increasing our knowledge, that will be a reason to think that there is no knowledge of the sort which philosophers like Plato, Aquinas, and Kant hoped to acquire.

This pragmatist argument against the Platonist has the same form as an argument for cutting off payment to the priests who are performing purportedly war-winning sacrifices – an argument which says that all the real work of winning the war seems to be getting done by the generals and admirals, not to mention the foot soldiers. The argument does not say: Since there seem to be no gods, there is probably no need to support the priests. It says instead: Since there is apparently no need to support the priests, there probably are no gods. We pragmatists argue from the fact that the emergence of the human rights culture seems to owe nothing to increased moral knowledge, and everything to hearing sad and sentimental stories, to the conclusion that there is probably no knowledge of the sort Plato envisaged. We go on to argue: Since no useful work seems to be done by insisting on a purportedly ahistorical human nature, there probably is no such nature, or at least nothing in that nature that is relevant to our moral choices.

In short, my doubts about the effectiveness of appeals to moral knowledge are doubts about causal efficacy, not about epistemic status. My doubts have nothing to do with any of the theoretical questions discussed under the heading of “metaethics”, questions about the relation between facts and values, or between reason and passion, or between the cognitive and the noncognitive, or between descriptive statements and action-guiding statements. Nor do they have anything to do with questions about realism and antirealism. The difference between the moral realist and the moral antirealist seems to pragmatists to be a difference which makes no practical difference. Further, such metaethical questions presuppose the Platonic distinction between inquiry which aims at efficient problem-solving and inquiry which aims at a goal called “truth for its own sake”. That distinction collapses if one follows Dewey in thinking of all inquiry – in physics as well as in ethics – as practical problem-solving, or if one follows Peirce in seeing every belief as action-guiding5.

Even after the priests have been pensioned off, however, the memories of certain priests may still be cherished by the community – especially the memories of their prophecies. We remain profoundly grateful to philosophers like Plato and Kant, not because they discovered truths but because they prophesied cosmopolitan utopias – utopias most of whose details they may have got wrong, but utopias we might never have struggled to reach had we not heard their prophecies. As long as our ability to know, and in particular to discuss the question “What is man?” seemed the most important thing about us human beings, people like Plato and Kant accompanied utopian prophecies with claims to know something deep and important – something about the parts of the soul, or the transcendental status of the common moral consciousness. But this ability, and those questions, have, in the course of the last two hundred years, come to seem much less important. Rabossi summarizes this cultural sea change in his claim that human rights foundationalism is outmoded. In the remainder of this lecture, I shall take up the questions: Why has knowledge become much less important to our self-image than it was two hundred years ago? Why does the attempt to found culture on nature, and moral obligation on knowledge of transcultural universals, seem so much less important to us than it seemed in the Enlightenment? Why is there so little resonance, and so little point, in asking whether human beings in fact have the rights listed in the Helsinki Declaration? Why, in short, has moral philosophy become such an inconspicuous part of our culture?

A simple answer is that between Kant’s time and ours Darwin argued most of the intellectuals out of the view that human beings contain a special added ingredient. He convinced most of us that we were exceptionally talented animals, animals clever enough to take charge of our own future evolution. I think this answer is right as far as it goes, but it leads to a further question: Why did Darwin succeed, relatively speaking, so very easily? Why did he not cause the creative philosophical ferment caused by Galileo and Newton?

The revival by the New Science of the seventeenth century of a Democritean-Lucretian corpuscularian picture of nature scared Kant into inventing transcendental philosophy, inventing a brand-new kind of knowledge, which could demote the corpuscularian world picture to the status of “appearance”. Kant’s example encouraged the idea that the philosopher, as an expert on the nature and limits of knowledge, can serve as supreme cultural arbiter1. By the time of Darwin, however, this idea was already beginning to seem quaint. The historicism which dominated the intellectual world of the early nineteenth century had created an antiessentialist mood. So when Darwin came along, he fitted into the evolutionary niche which Herder and Hegel had begun to colonize. Intellectuals who populate this niche look to the future rather than to eternity. They prefer new ideas about how change can be effected to stable criteria for determining the desirability of change. They are the ones who think both Plato and Nietzsche outmoded.

The best explanation of both Darwin’s relatively easy triumph, and our own increasing willingness to substitute hope for knowledge, is that the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw, among the Europeans and Americans, an extraordinary increase in wealth, literacy, and leisure. This increase made possible an unprecedented acceleration in the rate of moral progress. Such events as the French Revolution and the ending of the trans-Atlantic slave trade prompted nineteenth-century intellectuals in the rich democracies to say: It is enough for us to know that we live in an age in which human beings can make things much better for ourselves7. We do not need to dig behind this historical fact to nonhistorical facts about what we really are.

In the two centuries since the French Revolution, we have learned that human beings are far more malleable than Plato or Kant had dreamed. The more we are impressed by this malleability, the less interested we become in questions about our ahistorical nature. The more we see a chance to recreate ourselves, the more we read Darwin not as offering one more theory about what we really are but as providing reasons why we need not ask what we really are. Nowadays, to say that we are clever animals is not to say something philosophical and pessimistic but something political and hopeful, namely: If we can work together, we can make ourselves into whatever we are clever and courageous enough to imagine ourselves becoming. This sets aside Kant’s question “What is Man?” and substitutes the question “What sort of world can we prepare for our great-grandchildren?”.

The question “What is Man?” in the sense of “What is the deep ahistorical nature of human beings?” owed its popularity to the standard answer to that question: We are the rational animal, the one which can know as well as merely feel. The residual popularity of this answer accounts for the residual popularity of Kant’s astonishing claim that sentimentality has nothing to do with morality, that there is something distinctively and transculturally human called “the sense of moral obligation” which has nothing to do with love, friendship, trust, or social solidarity. As long as we believe that, people like Rabossi are going to have a tough time convincing us that human rights foundationalism is an outmoded project.

To overcome this idea of a sui generis sense of moral obligation, it would help to stop answering the question “What makes us different from the other animals?” by saying “We can know, and they can merely feel”. We should substitute “We can feel for each other to a much greater extent than they can”. This substitution would let us disentangle Christ’s suggestion that love matters more than knowledge from the neo-Platonic suggestion that knowledge of the truth will make us free. For as long as we think that there is an ahistorical power which makes for righteousness – a power called truth, or rationality – we shall not be able to put foundationalism behind us.

The best, and probably the only, argument for putting foundationalism behind us is the one I have already suggested: It would be more efficient to do so, because it would let us concentrate our energies on manipulating sentiments, on sentimental education. That sort of education sufficiently acquaints people of different kinds with one another so that they are less tempted to think of those different from themselves as only quasi-human. The goal of this manipulation of sentiment is to expand the reference of the terms “our kind of people” and “people like us”.

All I can do to supplement this argument from increased efficiency is to offer a suggestion about how Plato managed to convince us that knowledge of universal truths mattered as much as he thought it did. Plato thought that the philosopher’s task was to answer questions like “Why should I be moral? Why is it rational to be moral? Why is it in my interest to be moral? Why is it in the interest of human beings as such to be moral?”. He thought this because he believed the best way to deal with people like Thrasymachus and Callicles was to demonstrate to them that they had an interest of which they were unaware, an interest in being rational, in acquiring self-knowledge. Plato thereby saddled us with a distinction between the true and the false self. That distinction was, by the time of Kant, transmuted into a distinction between categorical, rigid, moral obligation and flexible, empirically determinable, self-interest. Contemporary moral philosophy is still lumbered with this opposition between self-interest and morality, an opposition which makes it hard to realize that my pride in being a part of the human rights culture is no more external to my self than my desire for financial success.

It would have been better if Plato had decided, as Aristotle was to decide, that there was nothing much to be done with people like Thrasymachus and Callicles, and that the problem was how to avoid having children who would be like Thrasymachus and Callicles. By insisting that he could reeducate people who had matured without acquiring appropriate moral sentiments by invoking a higher power than sentiment, the power of reason, Plato got moral philosophy off on the wrong foot. He led moral philosophers to concentrate on the rather rare figure of the psychopath, the person who has no concern for any human being other than himself. Moral philosophy has systematically neglected the much more common case: the person whose treatment of a rather narrow range of featherless bipeds is morally impeccable, but who remains indifferent to the suffering of those outside this range, the ones he or she thinks of as pseudohumans8.

Plato set things up so that moral philosophers think they have failed unless they convince the rational egotist that he should not be an egotist – convince him by telling him about his true, unfortunately neglected, self. But the rational egotist is not the problem. The problem is the gallant and honorable Serb who sees Muslims as circumcised dogs. It is the brave soldier and good comrade who loves and is loved by his mates, but who thinks of women as dangerous, malevolent whores and bitches.

Plato thought that the way to get people to be nicer to each other was to point out what they all had in common – rationality. But it does little good to point out, to the people I have just described, that many Muslims and women are good at mathematics or engineering or jurisprudence. Resentful young Nazi toughs were quite aware that many Jews were clever and learned, but this only added to the pleasure they took in beating them up. Nor does it do much good to get such people to read Kant, and agree that one should not treat rational agents simply as means. For everything turns on who counts as a fellow human being, as a rational agent in the only relevant sense – the sense in which rational agency is synonomous with membership in our moral community.

For most white people, until very recently, most Black people did not so count. For most Christians, up until the seventeenth century or so, most heathen did not so count. For the Nazis, Jews did not so count. For most males in countries in which the average annual income is under four thousand dollars, most females still do not so count. Whenever tribal and national rivalries become important, members of rival tribes and nations will not so count. Kant’s account of the respect due to rational agents tells you that you should extend the respect you feel for people like yourself to all featherless bipeds. This is an excellent suggestion, a good formula for secularizing the Christian doctrine of the brotherhood of man. But it has never been backed up by an argument based on neutral premises, and it never will be. Outside the circle of post-Enlightenment European culture, the circle of relatively safe and secure people who have been manipulating each others’ sentiments for two hundred years, most people are simply unable to understand why membership in a biological species is supposed to suffice for membership in a moral community. This is not because they are insufficiently rational. It is, typically, because they live in a world in which it would be just too risky – indeed, would often be insanely dangerous – to let one’s sense of moral community stretch beyond one’s family, clan, or tribe.

To get whites to be nicer to Blacks, males to females, Serbs to Muslims, or straights to gays, to help our species link up into what Rabossi calls a “planetary community” dominated by a culture of human rights, it is of no use whatever to say, with Kant: Notice that what you have in common, your humanity, is more important than these trivial differences. For the people we are trying to convince will rejoin that they notice nothing of the sort. Such people are morally offended by the suggestion that they should treat someone who is not kin as if he were a brother, or a nigger as if he were white, or a queer as if he were normal, or an infidel as if she were a believer. They are offended by the suggestion that they treat people whom they do not think of as human as if they were human. When utilitarians tell them that all pleasures and pains felt by members of our biological species are equally relevant to moral deliberation, or when Kantians tell them that the ability to engage in such deliberation is sufficient for membership in the moral community, they are incredulous. They rejoin that these philosophers seem oblivious to blatantly obvious moral distinctions, distinctions any decent person will draw.

This rejoinder is not just a rhetorical device, nor is it in any way irrational. It is heartfelt. The identity of these people, the people whom we should like to convince to join our Eurocentric human rights culture, is bound up with their sense of who they are not. Most people – especially people relatively untouched by the European Enlightenment – simply do not think of themselves as, first and foremost, a human being. Instead, they think of themselves as being a certain good sort of human being – a sort defined by explicit opposition to a particularly bad sort. It is crucial for their sense of who they are that they are not an infidel, not a queer, not a woman, not an untouchable. Just insofar as they are impoverished, and as their lives are perpetually at risk, they have little else than pride in not being what they are not to sustain their self-respect. Starting with the days when the term “human being” was synonomous with “member of our tribe”, we have always thought of human beings in terms of paradigm members of the species. We have contrasted us, the real humans, with rudimentary, or perverted, or deformed examples of humanity.

We Eurocentric intellectuals like to suggest that we, the paradigm humans, have overcome this primitive parochialism by using that paradigmatic human faculty, reason. So we say that failure to concur with us is due to “prejudice”. Our use of these terms in this way may make us nod in agreement when Colin McGinn tells us, in the introduction to his recent book9, that learning to tell right from wrong is not as hard as learning French. The only obstacles to agreeing with his moral views, McGinn explains, are “prejudice, vested interest and laziness”.

One can see what McGinn means: If, like many of us, you teach students who have been brought up in the shadow of the Holocaust, brought up believing that prejudice against racial or religious groups is a terrible thing, it is not very hard to convert them to standard liberal views about abortion, gay rights, and the like. You may even get them to stop eating animals. All you have to do is convince them that all the arguments on the other side appeal to “morally irrelevant” considerations. You do this by manipulating their sentiments in such a way that they imagine themselves in the shoes of the despised and oppressed. Such students are already so nice that they are eager to define their identity in nonexclusionary terms. The only people they have trouble being nice to are the ones they consider irrational – the religious fundamentalist, the smirking rapist, or the swaggering skinhead.

Producing generations of nice, tolerant, well-off, secure, other-respecting students of this sort in all parts of the world is just what is needed – indeed all that is needed – to achieve an Enlightenment utopia. The more youngsters like this we can raise, the stronger and more global our human rights culture will become. But it is not a good idea to encourage these students to label “irrational” the intolerant people they have trouble tolerating. For that Platonic-Kantian epithet suggests that, with only a little more effort, the good and rational part of these other people’s souls could have triumphed over the bad and irrational part. It suggests that we good people know something these bad people do not know, and that it is probably their own silly fault that they do not know it. All they have to do, after all, is to think a little harder, be a little more self-conscious, a little more rational.

But the bad people’s beliefs are not more or less “irrational” than the belief that race, religion, gender, and sexual preference are all morally irrelevant – that these are all trumped by membership in the biological species. As used by moral philosophers like McGinn, the term “irrational behavior” means no more than “behavior of which we disapprove so strongly that our spade is turned when asked why we disapprove of it”. It would be better to teach our students that these bad people are no less rational, no less clearheaded, no more prejudiced, than we good people who respect otherness. The bad people’s problem is that they were not so lucky in the circumstances of their upbringing as we were. Instead of treating as irrational all those people out there who are trying to find and kill Salman Rushdie, we should treat them as deprived.

Foundationalists think of these people as deprived of truth, of moral knowledge. But it would be better – more specific, more suggestive of possible remedies – to think of them as deprived of two more concrete things: security and sympathy. By “security” I mean conditions of life sufficiently risk-free as to make one’s difference from others inessential to one’s self-respect, one’s sense of worth. These conditions have been enjoyed by Americans and Europeans – the people who dreamed up the human rights culture – much more than they have been enjoyed by anyone else. By “sympathy” I mean the sort of reaction that the Athenians had more of after seeing Aeschylus’ The Persians than before, the sort that white Americans had more of after reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin than before, the sort that we have more of after watching TV programs about the genocide in Bosnia. Security and sympathy go together, for the same reasons that peace and economic productivity go together. The tougher things are, the more you have to be afraid of, the more dangerous your situation, the less you can afford the time or effort to think about what things might be like for people with whom you do not immediately identify. Sentimental education only works on people who can relax long enough to listen.

If Rabossi and I are right in thinking human rights foundationalism outmoded, then Hume is a better advisor than Kant about how we intellectuals can hasten the coming of the Enlightenment utopia for which both men yearned. Among contemporary philosophers, the best advisor seems to me to be Annette Baier. Baier describes Hume as “the woman’s moral philosopher” because Hume held that “corrected (sometimes rule-corrected) sympathy, not law-discerning reason, is the fundamental moral capacity”10. Baier would like us to get rid of both the Platonic idea that we have a true self, and the Kantian idea that it is rational to be moral. In aid of this project, she suggests that we think of “trust” rather than “obligation” as the fundamental moral notion. This substitution would mean thinking of the spread of the human rights culture not as a matter of our becoming more aware of the requirements of the moral law, but rather as what Baier calls “a progress of sentiments”11. This progress consists in an increasing ability to see the similarities between ourselves and people very unlike us as outweighing the differences. It is the result of what I have been calling “sentimental education”. The relevant similarities are not a matter of sharing a deep true self which instantiates true humanity, but are such little, superficial, similarities as cherishing our parents and our children – similarities that do not interestingly distinguish us from many nonhuman animals.

To accept Baier’s suggestions, however, we should have to overcome our sense that sentiment is too weak a force, and that something stronger is required. This idea that reason is “stronger” than sentiment, that only an insistence on the unconditionality of moral obligation has the power to change human beings for the better, is very persistent. I think that this persistence is due mainly to a semiconscious realization that, if we hand our hopes for moral progress over to sentiment, we are in effect handing them over to condescension. For we shall be relying on those who have the power to change things – people like the rich New England abolitionists, or rich bleeding hearts like Robert Owen and Friedrich Engels – rather than on something that has power over them. We shall have to accept the fact that the fate of the women of Bosnia depends on whether TV journalists manage to do for them what Harriet Beecher Stowe did for black slaves, whether these journalists can make us, the audience back in the safe countries, feel that these women are more like us, more like real human beings, than we had realized.

To rely on the suggestions of sentiment rather than on the commands of reason is to think of powerful people gradually ceasing to oppress others, or ceasing to countenance the oppression of others, out of mere niceness, rather than out of obedience to the moral law. But it is revolting to think that our only hope for a decent society consists in softening the self-satisfied hearts of a leisure class. We want moral progress to burst up from below, rather than waiting patiently upon condescension from the top. The residual popularity of Kantian ideas of “unconditional moral obligation” – obligation imposed by deep ahistorical noncontingent forces – seems to me almost entirely due to our abhorrence for the idea that the people on top hold the future in their hands, that everything depends on them, that there is nothing more powerful to which we can appeal against them.

Like everyone else, I too should prefer a bottom-up way of achieving utopia, a quick reversal of fortune which will make the last first. But I do not think this is how utopia will in fact come into being. Nor do I think that our preference for this way lends any support to the idea that the Enlightenment project lies in the depths of every human soul. So why does this preference make us resist the thought that sentimentality may be the best weapon we have? I think Nietzsche gave the right answer to this question: We resist out of resentment. We resent the idea that we shall have to wait for the strong to turn their piggy little eyes to the suffering of the weak. We desperately hope that there is something stronger and more powerful that will hurt the strong if they do not – if not a vengeful God, then a vengeful aroused proletariat, or, at least, a vengeful superego, or, at the very least, the offended majesty of Kant’s tribunal of pure practical reason. The desperate hope for a noncontingent and powerful ally is, according to Nietzsche, the common core of Platonism, of religious insistence on divine omnipotence, and of Kantian moral philosophy12.

Nietzsche was, I think, right on the button when he offered this diagnosis. What Santayana called “supernaturalism”, the confusion of ideals and power, is all that lies behind the Kantian claim that it is not only nicer, but more rational, to include strangers within our moral community than to exclude them from it. If we agree with Nietzsche and Santayana on this point, however, we do not thereby acquire any reason to turn our backs on the Enlightenment project, as Nietzsche did. Nor do we acquire any reason to be sardonically pessimistic about the chances of this project, in the manner of admirers of Nietzsche like Santayana, Ortega, Heidegger, Strauss, and Foucault.

For even though Nietzsche was absolutely right to see Kant’s insistence on unconditionality as an expression of resentment, he was absolutely wrong to treat Christianity, and the age of the democratic revolutions, as signs of human degeneration. He and Kant, alas, shared something with each other which neither shared with Harriet Beecher Stowe – something which Iris Murdoch has called “dryness” and which Jacques Derrida has called “phallogocentrism”. The common element in the thought of both men was a desire for purity. This sort of purity consists in being not only autonomous, in command of oneself, but also in having the kind of self-conscious self-sufficiency which Sartre describes as the perfect synthesis of the in-itself and the for-itself. This synthesis could only be attained, Sartre pointed out, if one could rid oneself of everything sticky, slimy, wet, sentimental, and womanish.

Although this desire for virile purity links Plato to Kant, the desire to bring as many different kinds of people as possible into a cosmopolis links Kant to Stowe. Kant is, in the history of moral thinking, a transitional stage between the hopeless attempt to convict Thrasymachus of irrationality and the hopeful attempt to see every new featherless biped who comes along as one of us. Kant’s mistake was to think that the only way to have a modest, damped-down, nonfanatical version of Christian brotherhood after letting go of the Christian faith was to revive the themes of pre-Christian philosophical thought. He wanted to make knowledge of a core self do what can be done only by the continual refreshment and re-creation of the self, through interaction with selves as unlike itself as possible.

Kant performed the sort of awkward balancing act required in transitional periods. His project mediated between a dying rationalist tradition and a vision of a new, democratic world, the world of what Rabossi calls “the human rights phenomenon”. With the advent of this phenomenon, Kant’s balancing act has become outmoded and irrelevant. We are now in a good position to put aside the last vestiges of the ideas that human beings are distinguished by the capacity to know rather than by the capacities for friendship and intermarriage, distinguished by rigorous rationality rather than by flexible sentimentality. If we do so, we shall have dropped the idea that assured knowledge of a truth about what we have in common is a prerequisite for moral education, as well as the idea of a specifically moral motivation. If we do all these things, we shall see Kant’s Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals as a placeholder for Uncle Tom’s Cabin – a concession to the expectations of an intellectual epoch in which the quest for quasi-scientific knowledge seemed the only possible response to religious exclusionism13.

Unfortunately, many philosophers, especially in the English-speaking world, are still trying to hold on to the Platonic insistence that the principal duty of human beings is to know. That insistence was the lifeline to which Kant and Hegel thought we had to cling14. Just as German philosophers in the period between Kant and Hegel saw themselves as saving “reason” from Hume, many English-speaking philosophers now see themselves saving reason from Derrida. But with the wisdom of hindsight, and with Baier’s help, we have learned to read Hume not as a dangerously frivolous iconoclast but as the wettest, most flexible, least phallogocentric thinker of the Enlightenment. Someday, I suspect, our descendants may wish that Derrida’s contemporaries had been able to read him not as a frivolous iconoclast, but rather as a sentimental educator, another of “the women’s moral philosophers”15.

If one follows Baier’s advice one will not see it as the moral educator’s task to answer the rational egotist’s question “Why should I be moral?” but rather to answer the much more frequently posed question “Why should I care about a stranger, a person who is no kin to me, a person whose habits I find disgusting?”. The traditional answer to the latter question is “Because kinship and custom are morally irrelevant, irrelevant to the obligations imposed by the recognition of membership in the same species”. This has never been very convincing, since it begs the question at issue: whether mere species membership is, in fact, a sufficient surrogate for closer kinship. Furthermore, that answer leaves one wide open to Nietzsche’s discomfiting rejoinder: That universalistic notion, Nietzsche will sneer, would only have crossed the mind of a slave – or, perhaps, the mind of an intellectual, a priest whose self-esteem and livelihood both depend on getting the rest of us to accept a sacred, unarguable, unchallengeable paradox.

A better sort of answer is the sort of long, sad, sentimental story which begins “Because this is what it is like to be in her situation – to be far from home, among strangers”, or “Because she might become your daughter-in-law”, or “Because her mother would grieve for her”. Such stories, repeated and varied over the centuries, have induced us, the rich, safe, powerful, people, to tolerate, and even to cherish, powerless people – people whose appearance or habits or beliefs at first seemed an insult to our own moral identity, our sense of the limits of permissible human variation.

To people who, like Plato and Kant, believe in a philosophically ascertainable truth about what it is to be a human being, the good work remains incomplete as long as we have not answered the question “Yes, but am I under a moral obligation to her?”. To people like Hume and Baier, it is a mark of intellectual immaturity to raise that question. But we shall go on asking that question as long as we agree with Plato that it is our ability to know that makes us human.

Plato wrote quite a long time ago, in a time when we intellectuals had to pretend to be successors to the priests, had to pretend to know something rather esoteric. Hume did his best to josh us out of that pretense. Baier, who seems to me both the most original and the most useful of contemporary moral philosophers, is still trying to josh us out of it. I think Baier may eventually succeed, for she has the history of the last two hundred years of moral progress on her side. These two centuries are most easily understood not as a period of deepening understanding of the nature of rationality or of morality, but rather as one in which there occurred an astonishingly rapid progress of sentiments, in which it has become much easier for us to be moved to action by sad and sentimental stories.

This progress has brought us to a moment in human history in which it is plausible for Rabossi to say that the human rights phenomenon is a “fact of the world”. This phenomenon may be just a blip. But it may mark the beginning of a time in which gang rape brings forth as strong a response when it happens to women as when it happens to men, or when it happens to foreigners as when it happens to people like us.

1. “Letter from Bosnia”, New Yorker, November 23, 1992, 82-95.

2. “Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection. To this must be ascribed their disposition to sleep when abstracted from their diversions, and unemployed in labor. An animal whose body is at rest, and who does not reflect must be disposed to sleep of course”. Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on Virginia”, Writings, ed. Lipscomb and Bergh (Washington, D.C.: 1905),1:194.

3. Geertz, “Thick Description” in his The Interpretation of Culture (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 22.

4. Rabossi also says that he does not wish to question “the idea of a rational foundation of morality”. I am not sure why he does not. Rabossi may perhaps mean that in the past – for example, at the time of Kant – this idea still made a kind of sense, but it makes sense no longer. That, at any rate, is my own view. Kant wrote in a period when the only alternative to religion seemed to be something like science. In such a period, inventing a pseudoscience called “the system of transcendental philosophy” – setting the stage for the show-stopping climax in which one pulls moral obligation out of a transcendental hat – might plausibly seem the only way of saving morality from the hedonists on one side and the priests on the other.

5. The present state of metaethical discussion is admirably summarized in Stephen Darwall, Allan Gibbard, and Peter Railton, “Toward Fin de Siècle Ethics: Some Trends”, The Philosophical Review 101 (1992): 115-89. This comprehensive and judicious article takes for granted that there is a problem about “vindicating the objectivity of morality” (127), that there is an interesting question as to whether morals is “cognitive” or “non-cognitive”, that we need to figure out whether we have a “cognitive capacity” to detect moral properties (148), and that these matters can be dealt with ahistorically.

When these authors consider historicist writers such as Alasdair MacIntyre and Bernard Williams, they conclude that they are “[meta]théoriciens malgré eux” who share the authors’ own “desire to understand morality, its preconditions and its prospects” (183). They make little effort to come to terms with suggestions that there may be no ahistorical entity called “morality” to be understood. The final paragraph of the paper does suggest that it might be helpful if moral philosophers knew more anthropology, or psychology, or history. But the penultimate paragraph makes clear that, with or without such assists, “contemporary metaethics moves ahead, and positions gain in complexity and sophistication”.

It is instructive, I think, to compare this article with Annette Baier’s “Some Thoughts On How We Moral Philosophers Live Now”, The Monist 67 (1984): 490. Baier suggests that moral philosophers should “at least occasionally, like Socrates, consider why the rest of society should not merely tolerate but subsidize our activity”. She goes on to ask, “Is the large proportional increase of professional philosophers and moral philosophers a good thing, morally speaking? Even if it scarcely amounts to a plague of gadflies, it may amount to a nuisance of owls”. The kind of metaphilosophical and historical self-consciousness and self-doubt displayed by Baier seems to me badly needed, but it is conspicuously absent in Philosophy in Review (the centennial issue of The Philosophical Review in which “Toward Fin de Siècle Ethics” appears). The contributors to this issue are convinced that the increasing sophistication of a philosophical subdiscipline is enough to demonstrate its social utility, and are entirely unimpressed by murmurs of “decadent scholasticism”.

6. Fichte’s Vocation of Man is a useful reminder of the need that was felt, circa 1800, for a cognitive discipline called philosophy that would rescue utopian hope from natural science. It is hard to think of an analogous book written in reaction to Darwin. Those who couldn’t stand what Darwin was saying tended to go straight back past the Enlightenment to traditional religious faith. The unsubtle, unphilosophical opposition, in nineteenth-century Britain and France, between science and faith suggests that most intellectuals had become unable to believe that philosophy might produce some sort of superknowledge, knowledge that might trump the results of physical and biological inquiry.

7. Some contemporary intellectuals, especially in France and Germany, take it as obvious that the Holocaust made it clear that the hopes for human freedom which arose in the nineteenth century are obsolete – that at the end of the twentieth century we postmodernists know that the Enlightenment project is doomed. But even these intellectuals, in their less preachy and sententious moments, do their best to further that project. So they should, for nobody has come up with a better one. It does not diminish the memory of the Holocaust to say that our response to it should not be a claim to have gained a new understanding of human nature or of human history, but rather a willingness to pick ourselves up and try again.

8. Nietzsche was right to remind us that “these same men who, amongst themselves, are so strictly constrained by custom, worship, ritual gratitude and by mutual surveillance and jealousy, who are so resourceful in consideration, tenderness, loyalty, pride and friendship, when once they step outside their circle become little better than uncaged beasts of prey”. The Genealogy of Morals, trans. Golffing (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1956), 174.

9. Colin McGinn, Moral Literacy: or, How to Do the Right Thing (London: Duckworth, 1992), 16.

10. Baier, “Hume, the Women’s Moral Theorist?”, in Eva Kittay and Diana Meyers, eds., Women and Moral Theory (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1987), 40.

11. Baier’s book on Hume is entitled A Progress of Sentiments: Reflections on Hume’s Treatise (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991). Baier’s view of the inadequacy of most attempts by contemporary moral philosophers to break with Kant comes out most clearly when she characterizes Allan Gibbard (in his book Wise Choices, Apt Feelings) as focusing “on the feelings that a patriarchal religion has bequeathed to us”, and says that “Hume would judge Gibbard to be, as a moral philosopher, basically a divine disguised as a fellow expressivist” (312).

12. Nietzsche’s diagnosis is reinforced by Elizabeth Anscombe’s famous argument that atheists are not entitled to the term “moral obligation”.

13. See Jane Tompkins, Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction, 17901860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), for a treatment of the sentimental novel that chimes with the point I am trying to make here. In her chapter on Stowe, Tompkins says that she is asking the reader “to set aside some familiar categories for evaluating fiction – stylistic intricacy, psychological subtlety, epistemological complexity – and to see the sentimental novel not as an artifice of eternity answerable to certain formal criteria and to certain psychological and philosophical concerns, but as a political enterprise, halfway between sermon and social theory, that both codifies and attempts to mold the values of its time” (126).

The contrast that Tompkins draws between authors like Stowe and “male authors such as Thoreau, Whitman and Melville, who are celebrated as models of intellectual daring and honesty” (124), parallels the contrast I tried to draw between public utility and private perfection in my Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989). I see Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Moby Dick as equally brilliant achievements, achievements that we should not attempt to rank hierarchically, because they serve such different purposes. Arguing about which is the better novel is like arguing about which is the superior philosophical treatise: Mill’s On Liberty or Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments.

14. Technically, of course, Kant denied knowledge in order to make room for moral faith. But what is transcendental moral philosophy if not the assurance that the noncognitive imperative delivered via the common moral consciousness shows the existence of a “fact of reason” – a fact about what it is to be a human being, a rational agent, a being that is something more than a bundle of spatio-temporal determinations? Kant was never able to explain how transcendental knowledge could be knowledge, but he was never able to give up the attempt to claim such knowledge.

On the German project of defending reason against Hume, see Fred Beiser, The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy From Kant to Fichte (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987).

15. I have discussed the relation between Derrida and feminism in “Deconstruction; Ideology and Feminism: A Pragmatist View”, forthcoming in Hypatia, and also in my reply to Alexander Nehamas in Lire Rorty (Paris: éclat, 1992). Richard Bernstein is, I think, basically right in reading Derrida as a moralist, even though Thomas McCarthy is also right in saying that “deconstruction” is of no political use.

Richard Rorty, Belgrade Circle Journal.

Xenophobia, Homophobia, Psychology, Politics


We, at the European Rationalist, rarely stray into areas of immediate political concern. However, the recent controversy surrounding Dr Rowan Willams related to his call for parts of Sharia law to be recognised in the UK gives us all an insight into the dynamics of present society and culture. Whilst we encourage peoples of all faiths to abandon irrational belief (indeed, we encourage the abandonment of faith), the considered case Dr Williams makes for inclusion of all peoples in our apparently open and progressive liberal society has to be the least painful way forward. Society can only evolve so fast, and it is clear that many people feel that this suggestion is absolutely nuts. The strain in society is at a level that many people have started to show knee-jerk reactions. I have always found Dr Williams to make suggestions that provoke soul-searching. If one reads what he has said in full, it is indeed thought-provoking. As long as we push for laws that genuinely show no religious preference we should be fine. I am reminded about an article that I read some time ago related to Homophobia, Religion, and Psychology that I think covers many of the same aspects as this debate. From the viewpoint of progressive rational debate, the fact that the Archbishop said what he said is a tremendous credit to the Anglican Christian and English community.

For those that are interested in reading what the Archbishop said, we reproduce his talk in PDF format here:

Islam in English Law: Civil and Religious Law in England – lecture by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams
From Lambeth Palace, 7 February 2008.

Homophobia, the term for inflammatory remarks about homosexuals, can be more aptly described as “the socialized state of fear, threat, aversion, prejudice, and irrational hatred of the feelings of same-sex attraction” (Smith 88). In the following paragraphs, we will examine studies that focus the effects that religion and psychology can have upon homophobia. In general, there is a positive correlation between religious authoritarianism and homophobia. What we will try to add to the studies – using elaborations of ideas from Sigmund Freud and Erich Fromm – is an answer to questions like the following: What does this have to do with psychology? Why should the average person care about this? What can we do to reverse homophobia?

Much of the studies that we found deal with two factors – religious fundamentalism and right-wing authoritarianism – that make for a strong correlation for homophobia. The first, an article by Bruce Hunsberger, examines the first of these two facets of religious belief. Religious fundamentalism is defined as “the belief that there is one set of religious teachings that clearly contains the fundamental, basic, intrinsic essential inerrant truth about humanity and deity” (Hunsberger 5). The basic idea is that people who are religious fundamentalists believe that their way is the only true way, and that they must fight against all who oppose it. In the case of Hunsberger’s study, religious fundamentalism was positively correlated with homophobia, in both of the two areas in which the tests were conducted, Ghana and Canada.

In the case of this study, there could be many reasons for the relationship between religious fundamentalism and homophobia. Hunsberger concludes that, when men come from same-sex schools, homophobia among religious fundamentalists increases; when women from same-sex schools are evaluated, however, the result is a decrease in homophobia (8).

Now we must go further and provide some psychological insight into this finding…this yearning for solidarity, according to Fromm, extends to “the tribe, the nation, the race, the state, the social class, [and] political parties,” and becomes “the roots of nationalism and racism, which in turn are symptoms of man’s inability to experience others and himself as free human beings” (81). If we extend this idea even further, we can begin to understand the relationship between religious fundamentalism and homophobia. By this definition, one’s religion would become part of things such as the tribe or nation; and homophobia would become just another word for such hatred as nationalism and racism.

In the book Overcoming Heterosexism and Homophobia, Warren J. Blumenfeld creates a link between homophobia and anti-Semitism. He states that, throughout history, dominant groups represent target groups “in a variety of ways in order to maintain control or mastery” (Blumenfeld 131). He also gives the example of the Employment Discrimination Act, which grants rights to gays and lesbians. Some people, he says, oppose it on the grounds that gay people are using their status as a victim as a way to obtain special privileges. This logic infuriated people such as Senator Paul Wellston, who said it is “precisely the kind of argument that has been made . . . in behalf of the worst kind of discrimination against Jewish people” (Blumenfeld). The point here is that there are many types of incestuous groups. In making a connection between homophobia and anti-Semitism, we can start to disassemble the hatred.

The second article to address is entitled “Homophobia, Irrationality, and Christian Ideology: Does a Relationship Exist?” The authors of the article, Caroll Plugge-Foust and George Strickland, found a positive correlation between both Christian ideology and irrational beliefs with the Homophobia Scale (2). Here the idea is that homophobia is based on an irrational hatred, as we stated in the first sentence of this section. The religious ideas are the same as the first study. The most important part of this study is the use of Ellis’ Irrational Beliefs Scale. This scale contains eleven items dealing with beliefs common in U.S. culture that, if endorsed by the taker, would indicate a neurosis (Plugge-Foust 7). The study did, in fact, find that there is a correlation between irrational beliefs and homophobia as well as Christian ideology and homophobia (Plugge-Foust 9).

What could this mean? This article deals with both the religious and psychological aspects of homophobia, so there is less to elaborate upon. But, for the sake of our argument, let’s elaborate anyway. Fromm, again in the book Psychoanalysis and Religion, touches upon the idea of irrational thinking. He gives the example of a Stalinist:

We talk to an intelligent Stalinist who exhibits a great capacity to make use of his reason in many areas of thought. When we come to discuss Stalinism with him, however, we are suddenly confronted with a closed system of thought, the only function of which is to prove that his allegiance to Stalinism is in line with and not contradictory to reason (Fromm 57)

Again, we can extend Fromm’s thoughts. Since this is simply an example, one can say the same thing about the positive correlation between irrational thinking and homophobia: The homophobic person who is otherwise rational can exhibit great amounts of irrationality when talking about his or her feelings toward homosexuals.

The third article we will discuss is entitled “Religiosity, Authoritarianism, and Homophobia: A Multidimensional Approach,” by Wayne W. Wilkinson. Instead of using fundamentalism or irrationality as a basis for homophobia, Wilkinson uses the term right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), defined as “a sociopolitical construct characterized by submission to recognized authorities and the social norms established by those authorities, and hostility toward groups seen as violating these norms” (57). By this definition, RWA is not very much different than religious fundamentalism. Both are characterized by the idea that the group to which the person belongs is right, with the underlying assumption that anyone else is wrong.

The findings of the third study contrast with the first. In this case, people scored low in RWA; they also scored low in homophobia (Wilkinson 63). The most striking part of the study is these people did not view their world as a “dangerous place typified by ‘menacing outsiders’ threatening the established norms” (Wilkinson 63). Most likely, this schema is the reason for the low levels of homophobia. There are many things to think about regarding this third study. First, the students were from a higher socioeconomic background than those from the first study. We will not dwell on this aspect, but there could be a relationship there. Second, Wilkinson concludes that the low level of RWA – or, as he states, authoritarian self-righteousness – may have led the group to withhold the _expression of positive views of gays, such as granting them the same rights as everyone else (64). In other words, they lack the ability to claim moral authority so much that they do not even want to say what should be done to counteract homophobia. These findings, of course, are a good thing; and they are also an excellent way to finish our evaluations of research.

We have talked about Erich Fromm in this part of our project in order to do make our point clearer. Fromm most certainly addresses authoritarian religion. In his view, the authoritarian type of religion – whatever type it may be – leads humans to make the types of errors in judgment that we have talked about regarding homophobia. One of these views is the belief of the absolute truth of one’s beliefs, which leads to incestuous thoughts of nationalism, racism, and, as we have explained, homophobia. Another distortion of authoritarian religion is irrationality. Like the case of Stalinism, people can be rational in all aspects of their life, except when it comes to their attitudes toward homosexuals. Thus far, we have left out the most important part of Fromm’s argument: the humanistic aspect of religion. What does this mean, exactly? We have already seen the humanistic side of religion in this project. The individuals who scored low on the RWA test are examples of this care for man. They know the dangers of hatred such as homophobia. Instead of trying to describe Fromm’s thesis, we will close this part of our project with his own words:

Beyond the attitude of wonder and of concern there is a third element in religious experience, the one which is most clearly exhibited and described by the mystics. It is an attitude of oneness not only in oneself, not only with one’s fellow man, but with all life and, beyond that, with the universe (Fromm 95)



Works Cited

Blumenfeld, Warren J. “Homophobia and Anti-Semitism: Making the Links.” Overcoming Heterosexism and Homophobia: Strategies that Work. Sears, James T. and Williams, Walter L. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997. 131-140. This essay deals with the ways in which anti-Semitism and homophobia are interconnected. The article starts with a quote from Senator Paul Wellstone in which he decries discrimination against homosexuals, using the argument that it is the same as discriminating against Jews. The essay then describes ways that you can create ice-breaking activities to dispel myths about both gays and Jews.

Fromm, Erich. Psychoanalysis and Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978. Fromm, in this book, outlines the two types of religion – humanistic and authoritarian – under which, in his opinion, all major religions fall. He also speaks of the methods of incestuous behavior that carry over into society, such as racism and nationalism.

Hunsberger, Bruce; Owusu, Vida; and Duck, Robert. “Religion and Prejudice in Ghana and Canada: Religious Fundamentalism, Right-Wing Authoritarianism, and Attitudes Toward Homosexuals and Women.” International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 9 (1999): 181-195. The studies conducted are the same, just in two different places, in order to contrast or compare each of them. What they found is that, in both places, religious fundamentalism was positively correlated with homophobia; right-wing authoritarianism was positively correlated with negative attitudes toward women, and was therefore moot for this paper. They also found that when men go to same-sex schools, their attitudes toward gays worsen; for women, they get better.

Plugge-Foust, Caroll; and Strickland, George. “Homophobia, Irrationality, and Christian Ideology: Does a Relationship Exist?” Journal of Sex Education and Therapy 25 (2000): 240-245. This study investigated the relationship between homophobia, irrational beliefs, and religious ideology. The sample consisted of about 150 students, who anonymously and voluntarily completed Ellis’ Irrational Beliefs Scale, the Homophobia Scale, and the Doctrinal Label Scale of the Christian Ideology. The study showed a positive correlation between homophobia and irrational beliefs. Conservative Christian ideology was the best predictor of homophobia.

Wilkinson, Wayne W. “Religiosity, Authoritarianism, and Homophobia: A Multidimensional Approach.” The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 14 (2004): 55-67. This study investigated the relationship between religiosity, right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), and homophobia. In contrast to the other two articles, RWA (or just plain religious ideology) was low in the test-takers, which made for a low amount of homophobia. In fact, the researcher concludes that the participants felt positively about homosexuals, but were afraid to voice their opinion out of fear of sounding too moral.

Homophobia, Religion, and Psychology, Andrew Keller



Letter to the Politicians

I recently went and gave a talk at a modern comprehensive about what it means to be a rationalist and how that differs from being an atheist or a person of faith. I got quite a few letters back, including the following one from a girl that is just 12⅓. I thought that it merited the attention of all (European) Rationalists. The language is a bit strong in some places, but it shows the tremendous resentment that many (young) people feel and show towards the corruption of European politics.


Dear Mr Blair,

People talk about the great sea change from the sleaze and political corruption that you ushered in. You went by what people thought was honest, integrity and a new vision.

I am 12 years old, and I was born just about when you became the Prime Minister and lead the Labour Party to victory. I have started to understand something about politics now. I wanted to be a great person and save the planet – perhaps even become a great leader. I have my views on ethics and morality. Until recently, I wanted to be everything that you appeared to be.

You stood alone when all around you were telling that you were wrong. You were convinced about your faith and about the steadfast relationship with the American Political elite.

You sent our troops into Iraq. You refused to talk about your faith in case people thought you were a bit nutty. You refused to come out openly with your convictions in case they collided with the expectations that people may have had of you.

Unlike you with your Father in heavens, I am a committed rationalist like my father on earth. I do not hear any voices that you seem to have heard together with your friend, George Bush.

Having thought about what you said and what you have done, I have come to the following incontrovertible conclusion. You were a psychopath. You said things that enabled you to hold on to power at whatever cost. Your faith was as fragile as your reasoning and words – your public change of your faith was only announced when it would have no impact. You read the intelligence reports that only furthered your prejudices, and you incorporated as much sleaze in your politics as the best of them.  You furthered the interests of your close friends at the expense of impartiality and meritocracy. You made Great Britain an insignificant and political convenience of the United States of America. My opinion of politics and of you as a leader is the same as that of a judge for a convicted criminal. I understand that politics can be dirty, but you’ve brought the name of political policy of our country to the same level as sewers. You stink, and so does everything that you touch and do. I am a non-believer, but I hope you rot in the hell of your faith. Your ego and self-conceited nature has made mockery of the lives of so many innocent peoples who have sacrificed their lives for their countries; and you took these lives as a tribute to you stupidity and your God.

I hope that our leaders in the future will listen to evidence and reason rather than mysterious voices. I hope that they will be honest rather than just pretending to be so. It will take a great deal for someone like me to start believing that being in a position of power can be consistent with honesty, integrity, and a deliverable vision.

Yours forever disillusioned,
[Name withheld by the editor to ensure privacy of the child]



Models of Democracy

There are major differences between the way many of us would like societies to function and their current function and form. Indeed, at the founding of this society, my main thrust was to look at processes that we can ‘rationally’ use to get away from a purely GDP-driven world dynamics. It is worth a quick look at the current model of democracy that we live in. For those that want a more basic introduction, please see a previous article and  The Challenge of Democracy.

The competitive élitist and the pluralist models of democracy were conceived between the end of the XIX century and the first half of the XX. The latter wouldn’t have been born without the former, in that obviously bearing similarities with it, and didn’t stop to develop into neo-pluralism until recent decades, in that marking significant differences with competitive élitism and even pluralism itself in its original form.

The aim of this discussion will be to elaborate on these similarities and differences. In doing so, before reaching conclusions it seems appropriate to summarise the two models with the help of the philosophers, sociologists and economists who best represent them: among élitists, Gaetano Mosca (1858-1941), Max Weber (1846-1920) and Joseph Alois Schumpeter (1883-1950); and among pluralists Robert Dahl (1915-).

According to the competitive élitist theory, every political system is ruled by a political élite or élites. It was Sicilian social scientist Gaetano Mosca who first introduced this model, along with his fellow Italian contemporary sociologist, neo-Machiavellian Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), whose work was later developed by Schumpeter and Dahl into the pluralist model. Mosca defined democracy as a system in which competing élites are formally chosen or rejected by electors. However, he was convinced that members of Parliament were not actually elected by the people, but rather by their friends who arranged for them to be elected.

This is, in short, Mosca’s concept of élitism, a competition heavily relying on the nature of an organisation (the “friends”) which is nothing less than the bureaucracy described by one of the founding father of sociology, Max Weber, in what is perhaps his most important theory. Weber was the first to introduce the idea that modern political systems are becoming more and more similar among them because they all endure a process of bureaucratisation.

Bureaucracy’s special features include storing information on a vast scale and the fragmentation of functions according to the specialised abilities of experts. In this respect it is worth to recall the work of Roberto Michels (1876-1936), another Italian sociologist, who developed Weber’s thoughts on bureaucracy into the “Iron Law of Oligarchy”: if a form of organisation is necessary for effective action in society, that organisation unavoidably demands a bureaucracy and those bureaucracies, again unavoidably, concentrate power at the summit of a hierarchy, where few people control information, communication and finances. It is a fascinating theory about the civil servants controlling a given organisation ignore or distort the wishes of its membership. It basically is a development of Weber’s account of bureaucracy, and to Weber we go back in our discussion.

Another interesting theory derived from Weber’s work and relevant to our discussion on élitist bureaucracy is that on the “convergence thesis”, claiming that systems apparently very different such as those of the Soviet Union and the United States become increasingly similar because of the expansion of bureaucracy. This is a concept shared by Schumpeter in analysing how the huge size of modern industry determines a convergence between socialism and capitalism because of the need of bureaucratic management in both models of society.

Schumpeter’s pessimistic view of democracy (he didn’t trust humans as being able to act rationally) was that the ordinary citizen should not have any further role in the decision-making process other than taking part in periodic elections to choose between political parties, one or other team of competing leaders. In reinterpreting democracy as a system in which rival élites of party leaders vied for power through election, Schumpeter was to become the link between Weber and Dahl (see below), between the competitive élitist and the pluralist models.

Indeed, his thought could well be seen as the common ground between the two models of democracy we are examining here: we begin to see what in my opinion is the most important similarity between the competitive élitist and the pluralist model (which follows): differently from previous models such as, for example, the Marxist one, they do not tend to describe what would be the best model, nor to construct an example of what they wish to be the model, but they rather take a photograph of the existing model. As David Held explains in his Models of democracy:

Like Weber and Schumpeter, their [the pluralists’] goal was to be “realistic” and “objective” in the face of all those thinkers who asserted particular ideals without due attention to the circumstances in which they found themselves. Since the pluralists’ critique of such thinkers is similar in many respects to the critical treatment offered by Montesquieu, Madison, Mill, Weber and Schumpeter, the focus below will be on the pluralists’ positive understanding of democracy.

Among the many pluralist thinkers, each with his version of the pluralist model, Held chooses as the most representative a political scientist, Robert Dahl, who has in the last five decades dominated the international discussion on democracy for making its definition closer to the Western political system by developing the idea of polyarchy.

The root of this word is Greek, meaning the rule of the many, rather than the rule of the people as in democracy. It is a concept invented in order to describe the conditions of modern democracies, in which society is managed by interest and pressure groups with common goals and the government merely plays the role of mediator among them.

By studying the dynamics of power and influence in small American communities, Dahl came to the conclusion that a pluralist political system has several centres of power and sources of authority, rather than a single regulator. The government shares power with several other entities such as trade unions, industrial associations and business organisations, the administrative bureaucracy, interest groups and pressure groups (based on gender, class, religion, ethnicity…), and non-governmental organisations lobbying for the environment, human rights and civil liberties, etc.

Another original feature of pluralist theory derived from the study of community power is that a low rate of participation in democratic process is not necessarily regrettable. On the contrary, apathy in political involvement could even be seen as healthy in meaning trust by the people in those who govern them, while history shows that excessive participation often coincided with undesirable phenomena like fanaticism in Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and communist Soviet Union.

David Truman (1913-2003), who shares with Dahl one of the longest ever memberships of the American Political Science Association, adds to the theory the explanation on how stability can be achieved in such a dispersive decision-making system: actually, “only the highly routinized governmental activities show any stability”, he writes in The Governmental Process, while organised interest groups may only play segments of the whole structure, each of them being too weak to impose its “Tyranny” (a concept of society fragmentation that Truman owes to Madison).

Pluralists like Dahl and Truman agreed with Schumpeter that the distinctive feature of democracies is the method of selection of politicians, but here ends the similarity and begins the difference: in fact, they broadened Schumpeter’s and Weber’s ideas to apply them to a multiplicity of social actors, using the same conceptual framework to show how the concentration of political power in the hands of competing élites was not inevitable.

What follows is a summary of other similarities and differences that I have noticed between the two models, in David Held’s presentation of them.

Both models find their principle of justification in the need to obstruct the emergence of exceedingly powerful political factions and leadership.
Among their key features, the two models share the principle of a healthy electoral competition between rival political élites and at least two parties.
Again among their key features, both models value the independence of a well-trained bureaucracy as a fourth pillar along the classical tripartition of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary (and the system of checks to balance their powers).

On an eminently philosophical dimension, pluralist Dahl maintains that the legitimacy of a political system ought to originate from “the depths of political culture”, while according to Schumpeter the simple acceptance of a competitive electoral system means a belief in its legitimacy.
Analogously, together with fellow pluralists Dahl insisted that democracy is firmly berthed in the harbour of society’s consensus, hence no politician would be successful in leaving a lasting impression unless in tune with a nation’s political culture; on the other hand, before him Schumpeter stressed instead the profound impact on democratic politics made by the direction given by competing (and competent) élites.
Last in this list, but probably the most noteworthy, is a feature of polyarchy limpidly explained by Held:
The democratic character of a regime is secured by the existence of multiple groups or multiple minorities. Indeed, Dahl argued that democracy can be defined by “minorities government”. For the value of the democratic process lies in rule by “multiple minority oppositions”, rather than in the establishment of the “sovereignty of the majority”. Weber’s and Schumpeter’s scepticism about the concept of popular sovereignty was justified, albeit for reasons different from those they themselves gave.

In conclusion, and as an attempt to answer the assessment’s second question, on which of the examined models I consider to provide the more convincing picture of contemporary democracy, it is quite obvious to point at the more recent and developed model, in its neo-pluralist version, because it is easy to recognise in it an important element which in our era of globalisation we have grown used to: the increasing influence of corporate capitalism over the other actors of pluralism. This represents another difference between the competitive élitist model and pluralism in its newer, neo-pluralist variant. Neo-pluralist author Charles Lindblom (1918-) writes:

Because public functions in the market system rest in the hands of businessmen, it follows that jobs, prices, production, growth, the standard of living, and the economic security of everyone all rest in their hands. Consequently, government officials cannot be indifferent to how well business performs its functions. Depression, inflation, or other economic disasters can bring down a government. A major function of government, therefore, is to see to it that businessmen perform their tasks.

Therefore, a government will follow a political agenda that is polarised towards corporate business, causing erosion of parliamentary politics and the marginalisation of those excluded from the political agenda itself. This is, in extreme synthesis, what neo-pluralism represents or, better say, what neo-pluralism differentiates itself from earlier pluralism. It is somehow ironic, although hardly surprising in consideration of the foreseeable counterattack of conservative forces, that the dissolution of pluralism into crystallised schools of neo-pluralist thought was the consequence of the 1968 social movement and the political polarisation subsequent to it, for it was precisely the 1968-69 social unrest in Europe and North America to highlight all the limits of a pluralist theory which reached its climax of popularity between the 1950s and the 1960s.

Neo-pluralist thinkers adjusted their theories. For example, in spite of being an admirer of free market economy, Lindblom himself grew increasingly uncomfortable in respect of the asymmetries of power that he witnessed in favour of big corporate business. Remedies to this unbalance are to be found in the future models of democracy which David Held delineates in conclusion of his book – democratic autonomy and cosmopolitan democracy – but are not the subject of this essay.

The competitive élitist and the pluralist models 
by Londradical

Neurology and Law

Imagine this futuristic courtroom scene. The defence barrister stands up, and pointing to his client in the dock, makes this plea: “The case against Mr X must be dismissed. He cannot be held responsible for smashing Mr Y’s face into a pulp. He is not guilty, it was his brain that did it. Blame not Mr X, but his overactive amygdala.”

The legal profession in America is taking an increasing interest in neuroscience. There is a flourishing academic discipline of “neurolaw” and neurolawyers are penetrating the legal system. Vanderbilt University recently opened a $27 million neuroimaging centre and hopes to enrol students in a programme in the law and neuroscience. In the courts, as in the trial of serial rapist and murderer Bobby Joe Long, brain-scan evidence is being invoked in support of pleas of diminished responsibility. The idea is abroad that developments in neuroscience – in particular the observation of activity in the living brain, using techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging – have shown us that we are not as free, or as accountable for our actions, as we traditionally thought.

Defence lawyers are licking their lips at the possibility of (to use law professor Jeffrey Rosen’s succinct phrase) placing “the brain on the stand” to take the rap on behalf of the client. Though they failed to cut much ice in Long’s case, arguments that blame lies not with the defendant but with his overactive amygdala (supposedly responsible for aggressive emotions) or his underactive frontal lobes (supposedly responsible for inhibiting the expression of such emotions) are being deployed with increasing frequency. If our brains are in charge, and bad behaviour is due to them, our attitude to criminal responsibility, to punishment (the balance between rehabilitation and retribution) and to preventive detention of individuals thought to have criminal tendencies may all have to change.

Before we invest millions in “neurolaw” centres, however, we need to remind ourselves that observations of brain activity in the laboratory can explain very few things about us. We have no neural explanation for: sensations; the differences between sensations; the way our consciousness coheres at any particular time and over time; our relationship to an explicit past and an explicit future; our sense of being a self; and our awareness of other people as having minds like ourselves. All of these are involved in ordinary, waking behaviour. The confident assertion that “his brain made him do it”, except in well-attested cases – such as the automatisms associated with certain forms of epilepsy or the disinhibited behaviour that may follow severe brain injury – therefore goes beyond our current knowledge or understanding.

Those who blame the brain should be challenged as to why they stop at the brain when they seek the causes of bad behaviour. Since the brain is a physical object, it is wired into nature at large. “My brain made me do it” must mean (ultimately) that “The Big Bang” made me do it. Neuro-determinism quickly slides into determinism tout court.

And there is a contradiction built into the plea of neuromitigation. The claim “my brain made me do it” suggests that I am not my brain; even that my brain is some kind of alien force. One of the founding notions of neurolaw, however, is that the person is the brain. If I were my brain, then “My brain made me do it” would boil down to “I made me do it” and that would hardly get me off the hook. And yet, if I am not identical with my brain, why should a brain make me do anything? Why should this impersonal bit of matter single me out?

The brain is, of course, the final common pathway of all actions. You can’t do much without a brain. Decapitation is, in most instances, associated with a decline in IQ.

Nevertheless, there is a difference between events that owe their origin to the stand-alone brain – for example the twitching associated with an epileptic fit – and actions that do not. While we do not hold someone responsible for an epileptic fit, we do hold them responsible for driving against medical advice and causing a fatal crash. The global excuse “my brain made me do it” would reduce life to a condition of status epilepticus.

In practice, most brain-blamers are not prepared to deny everyone’s responsibility for anything and everything. While the brain is blamed for actions that attract moral disapprobation or legal sanction, people do not normally pass responsibility on to their brains for good actions or for neutral actions such as pouring a cup of tea or just getting up for a stretch after a long sit down. When asked why he is defending a particular client, a barrister is unlikely to say: “My brain made me do it, your honour.” This pick-and-mix neuro-determinism is grounds for treating a plea of “neuro-mitigation” with caution.

So we still retain the distinction between events such as epileptic fits that can be attributed to brain activity and those that we attribute to persons who are more than mere neural activity. Deciding on the boundaries of our responsibility for events in which we are implicated cannot be handed over to neuroscientists examining the activity of the isolated brain in the laboratory. As Stephen Morse, a professor of law, has reminded us, it is people, not brains, who commit crimes and “neuroscience . . . can never identify the mysterious point at which people should be excused responsibility for their actions”. That moral, legal question must be answered not in laboratories but in courtrooms and legislatures.

Meanwhile, the neuromitigation of blame has to be treated with suspicion except in those instances where there is unambiguous evidence of grossly abnormal brain function or abnormal mental function due to clearcut illness that may have its origin in brain disease. Our knowledge of the relationship between brain and consciousness, brain and self, and brain and agency is so weak and so conceptually confused that the appeal to neuroscience in the law courts, the police station or anywhere else is premature and usually inappropriate. And, I would suggest, it will remain both premature and inappropriate. Neurolaw is just another branch of neuromythology.


Why blame me? It was all my brain’s fault
The dubious rise of ‘neurolaw’ Raymond Tallis

The Times Oct 24, 2007

Political Ideologies – Introduction

Over the next few weeks we’ll look at political systems and ideologies. This should enable the reader to better understand the democracies we live. We’ll start off with the basics and then move on to special interest groups and the sensitive issues surrounding corruption of various political systems, including our own.  

What is Politics?

Politics is the process by which groups of people make decisions. It is the authoritative allocation of values. Although the term is generally applied to behavior within governments, politics is observed in all human group interactions, including corporate, academic, and religious institutions.

In its most basic form, politics consists of “social relations involving authority or power”. In practice, the term refers to the regulation and government of a nation-state or other political unit, and to the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply government policy.

In a broader sense, any situation involving power, or any maneouvring in order to enhance one’s power or status within a group, may be described as politics (e.g. office politics). This form of politics “is most associated with a struggle for ascendancy among groups having different priorities and power relations.”

Political science (also political studies) is the study of political behavior and examines the acquisition and application of power. Related areas of study include political philosophy, which seeks a rationale for politics and an ethic of public behavior, and public administration, which examines the practices of governance.

Why Study Political Ideologies?

The answer to this question is quite simple. Students of politics are concerned about and interested in the various principles of that intellectual discipline. It may never be known conclusively whether humans alone are capable of formulating and then utilizing abstract ideas to govern their behavior. None can dispute however that ideas about politics constitute a most important element in that realm.

Nelson Mandella, imprisoned for twenty years for his advocacy of racial equality in South Africa, was possessed of an idea about politics. The leader of the 1979 Revolution in Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini, planned for years during his exile near Paris, to return to his homeland with a plan of purification and change to a pure Islamic state. College students joining together in a march to protest college policies regarding ROTC programs have some motivating idea behind their actions.

While ideas are not in and of themselves ideologies, they are part of the raw material needed to produce a full fledged ideology. As will be seen below ideologies have special qualities that set them apart from other political entities. When combined with other factors such as effective leadership, persuasive rationale’, timely development, and popular appeal political ideology goes a considerable distance in the direction of comprehending things political. Nature of Political Ideologies Ideas have been called “immaculate perceptions” of an imperfect reality. This may also be applicable to the concept of political ideologies.

At least from the time of Classical Greece to the present thoughtful individuals have attempted to devise concepts regarding the nature of politics. These ideas have concerned political reality as it is perceived (descriptive observations), as it ought to be (normative observations), and some have gone so far as to suggest methods for altering reality in order to achieve the desired goal (prescriptive observations). Aristotle attempted to describe the political structures that existed in his era by constructing a trichotomy of types with two variations of each:

  1. Rule by the Few – aristocracy /oligarchy
  2. Rule by the Many – polity/democracy
  3. Rule by One – monarchy/tyranny.

This rudimentary but astute design constitutes a set of concepts regarding politics but falls short of what is termed “ideology.”

Whereas ideas about politics may range from the simple to the extraordinarily complex, ideologies occupy a special niche of these “immaculate perceptions.” At their very core ideologies offer a means to understand, explain and to change political reality. There are, in other words, descriptive, prescriptive, and normative elements in political ideologies.

Sometimes hidden within these elements are assumptions about the fundamental nature of human beings, their proper relationship to one another, the ultimate destiny and purpose of life itself, man kind’s place in the grand scheme of things, the existence of principles of justice beyond those created by man, and in general stated or unstated presumptions of a most basic nature. Discovering, analyzing and challenging these elements of ideologies will enable the thoughtful student an opportunity to discover within him/her self values and beliefs that were theretofore only dimly realized.

Of equal importance is the developed ability to thoughtfully critique ideologies that otherwise might go by the wayside without being understood correctly. Characteristics of Political Ideologies Political ideologies have a number of characteristics that distinguish them from other related concepts. At the outset they constitute a rather comprehensive set of interrelated views on the nature of politics both as it is and as it should be.

As with most, if not all, human concepts, ideologies are derived from perceptions about reality and quite often from opinions about perceived problems in the human condition. It is perhaps in the nature of a significant number of human beings to be continuously dissatisfied with existent conditions. For some the answers to noted injustices lie in the relationship of mankind to God or to some other entity larger than ourselves. For others the faults are found not in the stars but in ourselves. These are the ones who may then devise political ideologies.

Frequently an ideology is initially the product of a single individual working in splendid isolation. Perhaps the best known if not a perfect example of this would be Karl Marx working for years in the archives of the London Museum. His observations led him to the conclusion that great injustices (and ultimately historical imbalances) existed that were inevitably doomed to destruction by the inexorable forces present in human society, particularly found in the process called dialectic materialism and economic determinism. Seldom, it seems, are ideologies initially produced as a consequence of group effort. It must be recognized however that the product of one person’s thoughtful reflections on the political dimensions of the human condition necessarily encompass and build on the work of preceding commentators.

Marx’s debt to the Hegelian dialectic is widely recognized. Hegel’s own intellectual advancements were based in considerable measure on traditions of Aristotelianism present in German intellectual traditions for centuries.

The second characteristic of political ideologies has already been suggested: they are produced by intellectual elites. Only those individuals with the necessary interests and skills (intellectual and communicative) are capable of devising comprehensive analyses of politics. Although any particular ideology may be modified and more completely developed with the involvement of many people over considerable periods of time, there is more often than not a single individual who may be correctly viewed as the founder if not the ultimate creator of that ideology.

Invariably the ideas of this creative individual are published in some form and disseminated among other potentially sympathetic individuals. On occasion, such as in the development of Nazism, rhetorical development may precede written elaboration. Adolph Hitler did not put on paper his hate filled views until some four years after the Nazi party had commenced its campaign to achieve power in post-World War I Germany. Dissemination and propagation of the ideology among the mass population constitutes a most important third element in political ideologies, at least of those that become forces in the world.

As long as an ideology remains only of interest to a very few intellectuals, it is unlikely to become an agent of great change in society. At this point an ideology becomes attached to what may be called a “movement.” Movements in politics by definition involve large numbers of people. These numbers seldom constitute a majority of the adult population but may involve millions of people at one time or another.

Feminism, as an example, is viewed by some as an ideology and by others as a movement. It may also be seen as an amalgam of each. It should be noted however that there have been instances when a social theory that had political implications became accepted by both political and intellectual elites but had no wide spread public following nevertheless produced important governmental policies For example, what was termed “Social Darwinism” did in the United States have very significant policy implications for the United States Supreme Court in a variety of its decisions in the latter part of the 19th Century. Despite the fact that “Social Darwinism” was never propagated widely among any large numbers of people and certainly did not become a “movement” it did provide intellectual justification for a “hands off” or laissez faire array of policies of United States governments.

Contrary to popular belief political ideologies are not fixed or static but are subject to changes, sometimes of a fundamental nature. “Revisionism” may be viewed as a curse by purists or as necessary refinements by those recognizing the imperfections in the original idea. Changes may be resultant from reasoned critiques of the initial set of concepts or they may flow from the clash of the initial concepts with a reality that simply cannot be reconciled with the ideology.

Lenin, for example, was forced by the reality of the continuation of the capitalistic states to devise the theory of imperialism as the final stage of capitalism. This “modification” of Marx was an attempt to explain why the initial predictions of continuing accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few and increasingly intolerable poverty for the workers did not come about in the manner that Marx indicated. Similarly Mao Zedong found it imperative to adapt Marx to the special conditions in China in order to utilize communist ideology in that setting. A fifth trait of ideologies concerns their susceptibility to oversimplification and distortion.

Political concepts often times are quite complex and require, if they are to be understood thoroughly, extensive study, thoughtful qualifications, limited application, time frame containment and a host of other delimiters. For those who wish to use the ideology as a vehicle to obtain change in politics and society these “fine points” may be impediments to obtaining popular support. In the name of political expediency slogans may replace concepts, rallying cries may drown out qualifications, and what emerges is far from the essence of the original set of ideas.

This distortion of the original ideology brings forth the final characteristic needing elaboration. This concerns the relationship of ideology to the political movement that frequently develops as a consequence of the ideology itself. This extension of an ideology into the realm of political action gives a whole new dimension to the original set of concepts. At this point the ideology becomes a powerful motivator of individual and group behavior. The oversimplifications and distortions mentioned above enable movement leaders to develop emotional appeal for the goals of the ideology. This emotional commitment on the part of members of the movement is a powerful force of change in the world of politics.

Eric Hoffer, in his eminently readable and insightful book THE TRUE BELIEVER spot lighted how belief in a cause may produce one of the most formidable and elemental powers in human affairs: the fanatic. Such “true believers” in the cause, in the movement, in the ideas have no reason whatsoever to leave undone anything that would produce the desired end. Their property, their very lives (and those of anyone else) are all of secondary importance to the CAUSE.

The role of leadership is critical in this phase of the transformation of an ideology into a movement. Often the individual or individuals who were responsible for the ideology find themselves supplanted by firebrands, organizers, and spellbinding speakers who pay lip service to the founders but care little for the ratio decidendi in the concepts so dear to those who made the initial intellectual contributions. Lenin is reported to have once asserted that what communism meant for the Soviet Union was a means to rapid industrialization and its attending political/military/economic power. It has been noted with probable accuracy that Marx would have been surprised and possibly appalled at the manner in which his concepts of Communism had been implemented by Lenin, Stalin, the Khimer Rouge and other individuals and groups claiming the mantle of Communist.

The characteristics of political ideologies may be summarized by noting their following traits. They are:

  1. a coherent set of views on politics
  2. produced by intellectual elites 
  3. dissemination among the mass population
  4. subject to alteration 
  5. susceptible to distortion and oversimplification
  6. powerful motivators of human behavior
  7. manipulated by political movement leaders

Having now examined some of the more important aspects of political ideologies in general, a review of selected examples is in order. Those chosen here represent the primary ideological developments in the political realm but by no means constitute the whole of the spectrum. First there will be considered what have traditionally been referred to as “moderate” ideologies. Following this will be the more “extreme” varieties and then an overview of unfolding political viewpoints that may evolve into full blown ideologies.


Law Enforcement, Ethics, Intellectual Integrity

The paper deals with the importance of police ethics and integrity in contemporary policing. It first describes the field of applied ethics in general. It explains the basis for the structure of professional moral obligations, briefly depicts the core imperatives of applied ethics and describes the process of moral reasoning. It then defines police ethics, discusses the reasons for its relative underdevelopment, and delineates its future development in three interrelated directions:  (a) applying the principles of applied ethics to police profession; (b) establishing standards of ethical conduct in policing; and (c) defining the means and content of education and training in police ethics.  Next, it discusses the organisational environment that is conductive to police ethics and elaborates on the concept of integrity. The paper concludes that police ethics and integrity are of critical importance in the professionalisation of policing and the best antidotes to police corruption, brutality, neglect of human rights, and other forms of police deviance.


For all professionals in the field of police and security studies, it has become obvious that we are witnessing a paradigm shift. While we cannot expect this shift to result in a uniform approach to policing everywhere in the world, we can assume that all the various approaches will be based on the same set of assumptions of modern policing, namely the community involvement, a proactive approach that emphasizes prevention, professionalism, innovation, and problem-solving, and an integrated view of criminal justice (Pagon, 1998).  In this process, policing is getting closer to professionalisation , a change long advocated by police scholars. As several authors (e.g., Hahn, 1998; Vicchio, 1997; Murphy, 1996; Fry & Berkes, 1983) point out, aspirations by the police to become professionalized either create or at least re-emphasize several requirements, such as wide latitude of discretion, higher educational requirements, higher standards of professional conduct, and self-regulation.  At the same time, however, we have witnessed countless accounts of police brutality and abuse of authority, some of them making the headlines, and others taking place outside the public eye. In some countries, police corruption has already reached epidemic proportions. It is obvious that corruption, brutality, and other forms of police deviance go against the above-mentioned efforts for police professionalisation and community involvement.

The community cannot trust nor attribute a professional status to deviant police officers. No wonder then, that modern police organisations all over the world are fighting police deviance, trying to achieve proper conduct of their members. However, according to Sykes (1993), a brief history of these efforts to enhance police accountability reveals that they relied on rules and punishment. “Although each of these reform efforts had an impact, the sum total fell short of providing assurances that they were adequate and serious incidents continued… In short, the various rule-based systems of accountability seem insufficient if officers hold different values or there is a subculture which nurture values different from the ideals of democratic policing” (p.2). The author believes the answer lies in approaches based on ethics, where accountability rests more on individual responsibility than it does on external controls and threatened punishment.

It has become obvious that only the properly educated and trained police officers are able to respond adequately to moral and ethical dilemmas of their profession. Only a police officer who is able to solve these dilemmas appropriately can perform his duties professionally and to the benefit of the community. In doing so, he cannot rely solely on his intuition and experience.  Not only he has to be well acquainted with the principles of police ethics and trained in moral reasoning and ethical decision-making, he also needs clear standards of ethical conduct in his profession.

In this article, I will try to show that a proper development of police ethics and integrity is one of the most important steps toward professionalisation of policing, and one of the most powerful antidotes to police deviance and neglect of human rights by the police. To introduce the field of police ethics, however, I first have to describe the field of applied ethics in general.


Police ethics is a branch of applied normative, ethics. The most well known branches of applied ethics are medical and business ethics. The link between ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ is what makes applied ethics different from philosophical ethics. Applied ethics is the field that holds ethical theory accountable to practice and professional practice accountable to theory.  Therefore, the philosophers should not dictate to professionals the norms that are supposed to govern their professional practice, without a very thorough knowledge of that practice. On the other hand, the professionals have to understand that their experience and intuition are insufficient for defensible judgment, and that all their constraints do not exempt their decisions from ethical scrutiny (Newton, Internet).

Newton (Internet) believes that if ethics is about human beings, we should be able to determine the structure of our moral obligations from three basic, simple, readily observable facts about human beings:

·         People are embodied. They exist in time and space and are subject to physical laws. They have needs that must be satisfied if they are to survive. They must control the physical environment to satisfy those needs.  Failure to do so leads to pain and suffering. The implication for ethics is that the relief of that suffering and the satisfaction of those needs should be out first concern, giving rise to duties of compassion, non-maleficence, and beneficence.

·         People are social. Whatever problems they have with their physical environment, they have to solve them in groups, which creates a new set of problems. They must cope with a social environment as well as the physical one. The social environment produces two further needs: for a social structure to coordinate social efforts, and for means of communication. The implication for ethics is that we must take account of each other in all our actions. We have obligations to the group in general and to other members of the group of particular.

·         People are rational. People are able to consider abstract concepts, use language, and think in terms of categories, classes and rules. Because people are rational, they can make rational choices, they are autonomous moral agents. They can also realize that they could have done it differently, so they can feel guilty and remorse and assume responsibility for their choices. Rationality’s implication for ethics is that we have a duty to respect this freedom of choice.

From these facts about human nature, the author derives three fundamental premises or imperatives of applied ethics (Newton, Internet): 

·         Beneficence. This imperative, central to any profession, holds that the professionals must take care of, or look out for the interest of, the client.  Beneficence has several sub-imperatives conjoined in it: first, to do no harm, second, to prevent harm or protect from harm, and third, to serve the interests or happiness of the client.

·         Respect for persons. The command to respect the autonomy and dignity of the individuals with whom we deal, to attend to their reasons and honour their self-regarding choices, is the command underlying all of our interpersonal dealings. In professional relationships, however, it also limits the boundaries of professional beneficence. The professional’s expertise may tell him that the client’s best interests will be served by certain services that the professional is able to provide; it may even tell him that the client needs, on pain of loss of life or liberty, certain of his services.  But if the client chooses not to avail himself of them, and only his own interests are concerned, the professional may not impose those services on the client.

·         Justice. This imperative demands that the professional look past both art and client, and take responsibility for the effect of professional practice in the society as a whole. In every profession or practice, we can find examples of injustice. For example, in medicine, the rich get immediate and adequate care and the poor get late and inadequate care. The demand of justice upon the professionals is that they work within their professional associations, and in their individual practices, to blunt the effects of injustice in their fields. The professional who ignores this demand fails to fulfil all the duties of professional status.

Because these imperatives are logically independent, they can be (and often are) in conflict. Yet, as Newton says, we may not abolish one or another; we cannot even prioritize them, which leads her to conclude that applied ethics is not the science of easy answers. As professionals are struggling to solve moral and ethical dilemmas, the engage in the process of moral reasoning. There are different forms of moral reasoning (Newton, Internet): the first is consequentialist (or utilitarian or teleological) reasoning, in which ends are identified as good (i.e. values) and means are selected that will lead to those ends; the second is non-consequentialist (or deontological) reasoning, in which rules are accepted as good and acts are judged right or otherwise according to their conformity to those rules; finally. The third is virtue-based (or ontological) reasoning, in which the type of person one is (i.e., his character), and the type of moral community one belongs to, determines the obligations to act.

The described core of applied ethics does not specify, for each profession, how the imperatives should reflect in the professional practice, and what are the values and virtues of that particular profession. These should differ depending on the function of the profession in the community. That is why we need branches of applied ethics, tailored to individual professions. So, let us take a look at police ethics.


Police ethics applies the above-described principles to the field of policing.  Compared to medical or business ethics, police ethics is relatively underdeveloped. There are several reasons for this, the major ones being the paramilitary philosophy of policing and misunderstanding of the need for police ethics (Paragon, 2000).
First, within the paramilitary philosophy of policing, police officers are assigned the role of executors of orders from their supervisors. They are not supposed to question those orders, so there is not much need for moral deliberations. The basic virtue of police officers within this framework is obedience. Police leadership, on the other hand, is either not accountable to anyone (since they are setting their own goals and can always tailor the statistics to fit their needs) or they are accountable only to the party in power, with which they are in a symbiotic relationship. It is not surprising that police ethics does not thrive in such a context.

Second, some practitioners are mislead by a belief that as far as police officers perform their work strictly by the law, they need no police ethics. Proponents of this view also deny police officers the right of discretion. Unfortunately, when one is faced with a moral or ethical dilemma, the laws prove themselves to b of little use. As Newton (Internet) puts it, “our first job…in all fields of practice, is to distinguish, in every context, between the demands of law and the demands of ethics – between the danger the danger of being sued, prosecuted, jailed or defrocked, and the much subtler, but more pervasive danger of being systematically and cruelly wrong. One of our first lessons was that we must think beyond the law and teach nervous professionals to do the same.”

With the rise of the new philosophy of policing (i.e. community policing and problem-oriented policing) and with the acceptance of police discretion as a necessary part of police work, the importance of police ethics is gaining acceptance. Nowadays it is hard to find a curriculum at a police academy or a program in police studies at a university that does not include a subject of police ethics. At the same time, the number of police agencies with a department, task force, or a committee on police ethics is rapidly increasing.  The majority of police agencies also have adopted a code of police ethics, in a more or less articulated form.
But, as I have already mentioned, police ethics is still at the beginning of its development. A lot of courses on ‘police ethics’ are mainly dealing with philosophical ethics, while the word ‘police’ in the name simply means that police officers or studies of police studies are the target group of the course.  Therefore, I will outline the direction of the future development of police ethics.

Following the postulates of applied ethics, the described development should be achieved by the joint efforts of police scholars (i.e., theoretians) and police practitioners. This development should take place in three interrelated directions (Pagon, 2000): (a) applying the principles of applied ethics to police profession; (b) establishing standards of ethical conduct in policing; and (c) defining the means and content of education and training in police ethics. This development, of course, has to parallel other efforts for implementing contemporary philosophy and forms of policing and for professionalisation of police work, including the increased educational requirements for the police.  Let us now take a brief look at the proposed directions for the development of police ethics.

a)        Applying the principles of applied ethics to police profession

The above-described principles of applied ethics have to be tailored to the needs of police profession, based on the nature of police work and the function of the police in society. There are three main tasks to be achieved in this context.

First, the basic imperatives (i.e., beneficence, respect for persons, justice) have to be ‘translated’ to police language and specified. What does beneficence mean in dealing with people who committed crimes or misdemeanours? What does it mean in dealing with victims and other persons who suffered a loss? Who is ‘the client’ of police work? Individuals? The community? The state? What exactly does respect for persons mean in carrying out the police duties? How does the imperative of justice reflect in applying police discretion? Also, the most common conflicts among basic imperatives in policing have to be identified, so we could discuss them and prepare some guidelines.

Second, the core values of policing need to be specified. Policing, as any other rational activity, is directed toward achievement of a certain state or goals.  These desired states and goals represent values. Not only every society has a somewhat different system of values, they may also differ for each individual.  Police ethics has to specify and rank the impost important values of policing, which will then guide the police officers’ teleological moral reasoning. Such ranking would not imply that other values are not important; it would just add clarity in ethical decision-making in policing. For example, let us say that a police officer, using teleological reasoning, determines that one particular course of action would lead to increased wealth of a certain individual, while the different course of action would lead to increased equality of the people involved. Although both the wealth and equality are values, a hierarchy of values would enable the police officer to opt for equality. While the choice is obvious in this example, how about a choice between freedom and safety?  Respect for human rights and health?

Third, police ethics need to specify the core virtues of policing. While there are commonly accepted virtues such as temperance, courage, prudence, justice, charity, kindness, patience, forgiveness, modesty, etc. we have to – just like in every other profession – decide which are the virtues most important for police officers, based on the function of the police in society. In doing so, we have to accommodate the above-described changes in philosophy of policing, which caused some ‘traditional’ police virtues (such as obedience, uncritical loyalty, authoritativeness) to become obsolete. In police literature, we can find some descriptions of police virtues, which can serve as a good starting point.  Vicchio (1997) believes that if the goals of police organisation are to be met, the following virtues must be required of police officers: prudence, trust, effacement of self-interest, courage, intellectual honesty, justice and being cognizant of other alternatives that might be taken. Delattre (1996) describes the importance of the following virtues for police officers: honesty, trustworthiness, justice, fairness, compassion, temperance, courage, wisdom and integrity.

b) Establishing standards of ethical conduct in policing

Expectations regarding ethical conduct have the greatest impact upon actual behaviour if they are not simply assumed, but clearly and unambiguously communicated. Based on the imperatives, values, and virtues of policy profession, police ethics has to establish clear and unambiguous standards of ethical conduct in policing. A code of police ethics is very important within this context. It contains a set of clear, specific statements, expressing in unambiguous terms the moral principles and the kind of conduct that police profession demands of its members. The code has to be a product of interaction between police ethicists and practitioners, based on agreed-upon definitions of police imperatives, values and virtues. While the research shows that the mere existence of the code of ethics positively influences employees’ ethical behaviour (Ruch & Crawford, 1991), the police management has to devote a lot of attention to the implementation of this code.

c) Defining the means and content of education and training in police ethics

Defining the means and content of education and training in police ethics is also a task that has to be accomplished by a joint effort of police ethicists and practitioners. We have to keep in mind that listening to one lecture on police ethics or skimming through some literature on the topic will not make police officers moral nor their behaviour ethical. A lot of time and effort need to be put into education and training in police ethics, before police officers – when faced with a moral problem, ethical or moral dilemma – will automatically consider all the alternatives available to them; will not make decisions based on prejudice or impulsively; will submit their decisions to reason and change them, if such a change seems reasonable; and will give equal consideration to the rights, interests, and choices of all parties to the situation in question.  Furthermore, as Delattre(1996) points out, even the mastery of the process of moral reasoning and decision-making does not, by itself, guarantee ethical conduct, nor do all of the situations require moral reasoning and deliberation.  An individual has to have good character (i.e., appropriate virtues) to be motivated for ethical behaviour. This realization makes two additional requirements for police ethics training. First, in addition to teaching moral reasoning and decision-making, training has to emphasize and develop virtues characteristic of police profession. Second, the task of ethical training should also be the development of moral habits, so the police officers would behave ethically out of habit in all those situations, which do not present a moral problem, ethical or moral dilemma, so they do not require moral deliberation and reasoning.

So, the task of police ethics education is to teach the principles of applied ethics in general and police ethics in particular. It has to cover the imperatives, values and virtues of policing, the process of moral reasoning and decision-making, moral problems, and in policing, the code of police ethics, and the process of code implementation. Vital topics are also strategies for managing ethical behaviour in police organisation and ethics training and education.

The tasks of police ethics training are: (a) enable the students to recognize moral problems and moral or ethical dilemmas; (b)train the students for the process of moral reasoning and decision-making; © emphasize and develop the virtues necessary for police profession, hence developing the students’ moral character; (d) develop moral habits of the students.  The development of police ethics, including education and training, will not achieve its purpose, unless all organisational processes, especially the behaviour of police managers and the top management of the organisation, support and encourage ethical conduct of all the members.


If police officers experience inconsistent behaviour from their supervisors, preferential treatment of some officers and/or citizens, solidarity with, and cover-ups for, the officers who violate standards of their profession, they will sooner or later become cynical regarding the value and appropriateness of ethical conduct in their organisation. One cannot expect a cynical police officer to be motivated to adhere to the rules of ethical behaviour (Pagon, 1993).

The research showed the importance of moral climate in organisation for the behaviour of individual members. Experiments revealed, in schools and prisons, that changing organisational processes, such as policies and procedures, could create a positive moral atmosphere that then contributed to improvements in individual moral development and moral judgment, as well as to reduction in cheating, stealing and similar anti-social acts (Kohlberg, 1984). Investigations of organisational effects on moral conduct in business firms appear to support these observations. Firms demonstrating exemplary business practice attest to the value of creating a positive moral atmosphere for encouraging ethical behaviour and maintaining the firm’s reputation. Conversely, the organisational environment can also promote unethical and criminal conduct in business firms (Cohen, 1995). Researchers have also demonstrated that organisational factors, such as reward systems, norms and culture, and codes of conduct can significantly decrease the prevalence of unethical behaviour in organisational contexts (Brass, Butterfield, & Skaggs, 1998).

Cohen (1995) defines moral climate as shared perceptions of prevailing organisational norms for addressing issues with a moral component. These issues include (a) identifying moral problems, (b) choosing criteria for resolving moral conflicts, and © evaluating the moral correctness of outcomes that ensue from organisational decisions. Since climate is a function of how employees collectively perceive and interpret these and other elements of the work setting, climate can be thought of as an intervening variable. As such it provides the necessary perceptual link between organisational processes and employee behaviour. According to the author, there are five dimensions that interact to determine the moral climate in the organisation: goal emphasis (prevailing norms for selecting organisation goals), means emphasis (prevailing norms for determining how organisational goals should be attained), reward orientation (prevailing norms regarding how performance is rewarded), task support (prevailing norms regarding how resources are located to perform specific tasks). And socio-emotional support (prevailing norms regarding the type of relationships expected in the firm).

It becomes obvious that police supervisors and top management are responsible creating a positive moral climate within the police. The literature on corporate strategy, organisational transformation, business ethics and corporate social contract provides support for a claim that moral climate in the organisation emerges mainly from the way in which key organisational processes transmit managerial expectations about moral behaviour – the way employees should handle issues such as responsibility, equity, or serving the interests of stakeholders (Cohen, 1995). Therefore, police managers’ expectations about moral behaviour of their subordinates will significantly influence moral climate of a particular police organisation or agency.

In the context of discussing ethical behaviour in police organisation, we should also stress the importance of social relationships within the organisation.  Organisational actors are embedded within a network of relationships. These ongoing social relationships provide the constraints and opportunities that in combination with characteristics of individuals, issues, and organisations, may help explain ethical or unethical behaviour in organisations (Brass, Butterfield & Skaggs, 1998).

Social network researchers bring to our attention several factors that might influence ethical or unethical behaviour of organisational members, such as strength of relationships (in terms of frequency, reciprocity, emotional intensity, and intimacy); negative relationships; multiplicity of relationships; asymmetric relationships; status inequality; structure of relationships; structural holes; centrality; density; cliques social contagion; and conspiracies.  The constraints and opportunities provided by relationships may be most predictive of unethical behaviour when personal characteristics, issues, and organisational factors present moderate or weak constraints or unethical behaviour (Brass, Butterfield, & Skaggs, 1998).
Another important issue that influences ethical behaviour is trust among organisational members. McAllister (1955) distinguishes two main dimensions of trust:

(a)      cognition-based trust, which relies on appraisals of others’ professional competence and reliability;

(b) affect or emotion-based trust, which is present when people feel save to share their private feelings and personal difficulties, knowing that the other party would respond constructively and caringly. 

Emotion-based trust has been found to be more essential to effective coordination efforts in organisations. This emotion-based trust incorporates the virtue of benevolence, which refers to an altruistic concern for the welfare of others and is devoid of egocentric motives (Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, (1995).  In police settings, we could extend this notion of trust to include trust between the police and the community.
It is important to note that all of the above-described factors interact with each other in predicting ethical or unethical behaviours. Let us take trust as an example. In an organisation with strong moral climate, composed of individuals of good character, and with dense social networks, it is safe to assume that high level of trust will promote ethical behaviour. In such organisations, people who trust others (both cognitively and emotionally) and feel trusted by them will be reluctant to violate this trust by engaging in unethical behaviour. On the other hand, if the moral climate is low, social networks are loose, with a lot of structural holes and many cliques, it is very likely that high level of trust within a deviant clique will promote unethical behaviour. In this case, people who trust other clique members and feel trusted by them will be reluctant to violate this trust by giving up their own unethical behaviour or even by reporting on other members’ unethical behaviour.

Therefore, to set a climate conductive to ethical behaviour in police organisation, police managers have to consider all of the above factors. To summarize, they have to foster character development and moral habits of police officers by educating and training them in police ethics; establish high moral climate through appropriate use of goals, means, rewards, and support, facilitate development of strong and dense social networks, extending into the community; prevent cliques and conspiracies; and establish both cognitivebased and affect-based trust among all organisational members and between the police and the public.

In doing so, the managers will not only facilitate ethical behaviour of their officers; they will also prevent or at least lessen the strength of the infamous police subculture, so typical of paramilitary policing. In trying to achieve the above goals, police managers will soon discover that, first, setting their own example is of the utmost importance, and second, that ethics does not only apply to police officers’ dealings with the community, but also to their own dealings with their subordinates. Police officers’ human rights are as important as those of the other citizens.

I agree with Sykes (1993) that the quality of policing in a democratic society relies on the quality of the people doing the work. This is why I believe that in policing we should strive to achieve a virtue of integrity of all police officers and supervisors, including top management.


Leadership theorists and researchers have found that integrity is a central trait of effective business leaders, while interpersonal and group relationship theorists have identified integrity as a central determinant of trust in organisations (Becker, 1998). Delattre (1996) and Vecchio (1997) agree that integrity is also central to the mission of policing. To Delattre, integrity is not only the highest achievement there can be in a human life, but also the most difficult. So what exactly is integrity?

Delattre (1996) defines as “the settled disposition, the resolve and determination, the established habit of doing right where there is no one to make you do it but yourself” (p.325). He believes that integrity is “irreplaceable as the foundation of good friendship, good marriages, good parenthood, good sportsmanship, good citizenship, and good public service” (ibid).

Vecchio (1997) defines a person of integrity as somebody who has reasonably coherent and relatively stable set of core moral values and virtues, to which he is freely and genuinely committed, and which reflect in his act and speech. So, the person’s words and actions should be of one piece.  Becker (1998) subscribes to the objectivist view of integrity, namely that integrity is loyalty, in action, to rational principles (general truths) and values.  “That is, integrity is the principle of being principled, practicing what one preaches regardless of emotional or social pressure, and not allowing any irrational consideration to overwhelm one’s rational convictions” (p.158).  Integrity in policing, then, means that a police officer genuinely accepts values and moral standards of policing and possesses the virtues of his profession, and that he consistently acts, out of his own will, in accordance with those values, standards, and virtues, even in the face of external pressures.

Of course, not all police officers have integrity. Benjamin (1990) describes five psychological types lacking in integrity. The first is the moral chameleon, a person who is anxious to accommodate others, while not being resistant to social pressure, thus willing to quickly abandon or modify previously avowed principles. The second is the moral opportunist, whose values are also ever changing, based on his own short-term self-interest. The third type is the moral hypocrite, a person who has one set of virtues for public consumption and another set for actual use as a moral code. The fourth is the morally weakwilled who has a reasonably coherent set of core virtues, but he usually lacks the courage to act on them. The final type is the moral self-deceiver, a person who thinks of himself as acting on a set of core principles, while, in fact, he does not.
Of course, “it is not a breach of integrity, but a moral obligation, to change one’s views if one finds that some idea he holds is wrong. It is a breach of integrity to know that one is right and then proceed (usually with the help of some rationalization) to defy the right in practice. (Peikoff, 1991): cited in Becker, 1998).

Why do some people lack integrity? Why is it so hard to achieve it? Based on a review of objectivist literature, Backer (1998) offers the three most common reasons. First, not everyone is rational. Integrity requires the discipline of purpose and a long-range course of action, selecting corresponding goals and pursuing them fervently, carefully choosing the means to one’s ends, and making full use of one’s knowledge. Second, a person may lack integrity because of desires that are inconsistent with moral values. If a person, when under temptation, fails to call upon his rational mind, acting upon a whim of the moment instead, he will indeed lack integrity. The same is true when an irrational fear drives behaviour. Similarly, an individual’s integrity will be called into question if he does not put rational principles into practice simply out of inertia. Third, probably the most common reason a person may lack integrity is that he succumbs to social pressure. Social pressure may come from numerous sources (e.g., co-workers, bosses, or clients) and take many forms (e.g., physical intimidation or verbal and nonverbal disapproval). A person with high integrity will not allow popularity to take priority over rational convictions.


From the above discussion, it should be obvious that integrity can only be achieved if a person strives to achieve it. Appropriate education and training in police ethics, good moral climate in police organisation, appropriate social networks (both within the organisation and within the community), trust and support, can all both motivate police officers to strive for integrity and help them achieve it. I believe that, once achieved, integrity of police officers is one of the most important steps toward professionalisation of policing, and one of the most powerful antidotes to police corruption, brutality, neglect of human rights, and other forms of police deviance.

Police ethics provides a compass to both police officers and police managers, by specifying the core imperatives, values, and virtues of policing, by delineating the process of moral reasoning and decision-making, by setting the standards of ethical conduct, and by defining the means and the content of police ethics education and training. Police scholars and practitioners have to cooperate in developing police ethics. This is not an easy task for either of them. Developing and implementing police ethics invokes changes in police organisation. Police organisations and police officers, as we know, are very resistant to change. Those police scholars and practitioners entrusted with developing police ethics must, therefore, themselves be persons of high integrity. We should not forget the Newton’s (Internet) caution of flattery. The flatterer is a person who tells people what they want to hear, instead of what they should hear. Flattery, in Newton’s words, “is the major corruption available to the ethicist…the only defence against flattery is personal integrity.” In developing and implementing police ethics, a lot of people will have to be told the things they most definitely do not want to hear.

Milan Pagon, Professor and Dean, College of Police and Security Studies, University of Maribor, Slovenia

Gloablization and Fundamentalism

The 56th Pugwash Conference on Science and World Affairs: A Region in Transition: Peace and Reform in the Middle East, 11-15 November 2006, Cairo, Egypt. (Working Group 4). Globalization and Fundamental Terrorism; Two sides of a coin in the modern world) 


The religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all today undergoing a transformation known generically as ‘fundamentalist’. Although this term is impossible any longer to define precisely, and although there are obvious differences between the movements to which the label is attached, numerous common features, including the original defining feature of fundamentalism-namely the idea of the inerrancy of a sacred text-remain. Together, these considerations justify an interpretation of contemporary religious transformations in a common framework of analysis, especially when account is taken of their global character.

This paper develops such an interpretation by focusing on two aspects of the globalism of fundamentalist movements-their transnational reach and the role played by globalism in their imaginary projections across time and space (David Lehmann 1998).

It also describes how globalization not only influence transnational fundamentalist terrorism as an extreme expression of protest against the modernity and globalization but also itself could simultaneously be considered as an hypothesis of this process(Modernity & Globalization) .

Finally, the core idea of the paper is that the increasing Fundamentalist movements specially in it’s Islamic form, first should be seen as an interpretation for unifying the social values, which appeal to blind violence to be seen under the shadow of the globalization waves.

The connections between globalization and fundamentalist terrorism that appeared in academic literature since the attacks of the September 11, 2001,with the emphasis on the Technological advances, loosening barriers and growing vulnerability of the integrated world ,causes the possibility to see terrorists as “global actors”, which along with other actors of the global economy and politics shape the future developments in the world.

The terrorist form of protest exhibits an extreme form of self described marginality. Terrorism seems to be the only expression of protest when the enemy is considered overwhelmingly powerful ,the struggle, as Hoffmann said, must however, not be lost.

Fundamental terrorists view themselves as being engaged in a cosmic war enforced on them by the enemy. Terrorist assaults are, therefore ,symbolic acts of violence against symbols of enemy’s power to demonstrate temporarily the enemy’s weakness(Jost Halfmann 2003).

This essay seeks not only to identify the most important studies in the field but to show what a critical roll globalization plays in increasingly rise of Fundamental Terrorism as a reaction to the crisis of  meaning and integration in the world.


At the end of the cold war, commentators were full of optimistic pronouncements for a global order based on liberal capitalism and democracy (e.g, Friedman (1999)).   In 1989 Frances Fukuyama famously announced the end of history, “…..not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of history, but the end of history as such:  that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government” (Fukuyama (1989), p.2). 

What happened?  In the view of many, the answer is simple:  the world changed on 9/11. But where did 9/11 come from?  And what does it represent? 

Many observers see the struggle between the United States and al-Qaeda as “World War IV,” while other experts caution that the September 11 attacks may be an anomaly.

Policy makers and consultants close to the current US government interpret Fundamental  terrorism as one among several responses to the military and economic superiority of the United States and its strong support for economic and political globalization.

As Jost Halfmann said in his essay “ Fundamental Terrorism ,the assault on the symbols of secular power”, Terrorism is considered a militant practice using asymmetric means of violence against American power by choosing strategies “designed to “exhaust American will, circumvent or minimize US strengths, and exploit perceived US weaknesses” (CIA/NIC 2000, quoted in Prados 2002: 24) rather than engaging in direct military confrontation.

This assessment obviously rests on a stark reduction of the complexity of the issues involved in terrorism.

But once again let’s return to the main question that where from comes The Fundamental Terrorism?

The probable answers can be put in the form of four propositions:

  1. Fundamentalism is, in a sense, always with us, and the particular manifestations of it that we see today in the form of Radical Islam was itself a response to the convergence observed at the end of the Cold War, a response that could have been foreseen.
  2. Fundamentalism can sometimes come to power even in democracy.
  3. The end of (most) Soviet –style totalitarian systems did not mean the end of dictatorship, and in fact other forms of dictatorship such as tyranny are more likely to engender terrorism.  In a globalized world, terrorist acts are also increasingly likely to be directed against countries in the West to the extent that these countries  are seen as supporting tyrannies.
  4. Globalization itself carries with it the seeds of Fundamentalism.

The paper elaborates on these.  The fourth is the most complex and its main subject.

Fundamentalism from different views

One of the most influential studies on the political ramifications of Islam and fundamentalist terrorism, Samuel P. Huntington’s book “The clash of civilizations” sets the tone for many social scientific and political analyses, which place terrorism in the context of a cultural conflict. Apparently, this analysis has gained some recognition among members and consultants of the current US government. Huntington in foreseeing conflicts between the Western (Christian) civilization and other civilizations such as the Islamic culture constructs a direct causal relationship between Islam as a religion and Islamic fundamentalism as a political movement: “The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture, and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power” (Huntington 1997: 217).

Huntington believes that conflicts between civilizations are replacing conflicts between nations and ideologies; Huntington describes civilizations as clusters of nations, ordered according to shared religious beliefs and cultural values.

He defines civilization as a “cultural entity … the highest cultural grouping … defined by both common objective elements, such as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the subjective self-identification of people … A civilization may include several nation states or only one” (Huntington 1993: 24)

He anticipates a major fault line between the Islamic civilization and the Western civilization opening up due to Islamic hostility to “Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state” (Huntington 1993: 40).

Huntington’s analysis implies a division of the world into different civilizations, which at any given point in time are at different stages in their life cycles. While the Western culture, which has spread its values and rules of conduct all over the world has reached its historical pinnacle, other cultures such as the Islam, but also the Chinese (Confucianism) are on the rise. The aggressive stance of these cultures prompts measures of the West to defend its culture of ”industrialization, urbanization, increasing levels of literacy, education, wealth, and social mobilization, and more complex and diversified occupational structures” (Huntington 1997: 68). Huntington’s concept of civilizations as clusters of states has contributed to the belief that fundamentalist and terrorist threats can be attributed not only to organizations and groups like Al-Quaeda, but also to states, which embrace or further fundamentalist views and terrorist activities. This analysis then, seems to support politics of military measures against so-called “rogue states”.

In contrast to Huntington’s view of point , Jean Baudrillard has pointed in describing terrorism as a virus of modern society at a major weakness of this kind of analysis. Baudrillard stipulates that it would be wrong to see the problem of terrorism as resulting from the confrontation of cultures with differing levels of modernity.

To him, it is rather a conflict within modern global society itself; it is, in Baudrillard’s words, “triumphant globalization battling against itself” (Baudrillard2002: 11).

Globalization or – in Huntington terms – the spread of Western concepts of free markets and democracy, has a self-destructive reverse side. According to Baudrillard’s analysis the fundamental terrorists are not pre- modern, but use all ingredients of modernity (“money and stock-market speculation, computer technology and aeronautics, spectacle, and the media”, Baudrillard 2002: 19) for one singular purpose: to turn their (often suicidal) terrorist attacks into symbolic weapons for which their opponents have no appropriate answer.

Engaging themselves in a “culture of death”(with the expectation to enter paradise after their death) fundamentalist terrorists see the weakness of their enemies in their adherence to a “culture of life”. In this vein, Baudrillard comes to the conclusion that even though religious terrorists apply the notion of (holy) war to their actions to counter terrorism by military means is the “continuation of the absence of politics by other means” (Baudrillard 2002: 34). Based on these introductory remarks, I will propose a preliminary definition of terrorism and particularly of fundamentalist\terrorism.

Terrorism can be defined as acts of violence against symbols of power of a state to demonstrate the enemy’s weakness and to mobilize a potential constituency.

Fundamentalist terrorism will deploy these acts of violence as part of an inevitable reaction in a cosmic war for protecting their existance.

Baudrillard’s essay, which does not pretend to be a fully- fledged sociological analysis of terrorism, points at two issues, which are important for any analysis of fundamentalist terrorism.

First, that terrorism is part and parcel of modern society and not in any way of traditional society; and that modern society has to be viewed as global society. Second, that the aim of terrorism is not to challenge state sovereignty, but its symbols of power.

The first claim is corroborated by Mark Juergensmeyer’s research who found striking similarities in the worldviews of religious terrorists from very different countries and denominations, be they US-American adherents of rightwing religious organizations such as Christian Identity, Israeli followers of Kahane’s Kach party or members of the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo sect. Fundamentalist terrorism is not simply a threat emerging from pre-modern or modernizing societies; it is generated in modern societies themselves

(Juergensmeyer 2001).

 A similar argument is made by Olivier Roy who describes in his book “ Globalized Islam, The search for a new Ummah”  the emergence of radical Islamic organizations in Western states with no ideological or organizational ties to Islamic countries. He portrayed fundamentalist movements, in particular al Qaeda, as a direct response to globalization pressures exerted by Western cultural and economic values. In his view “Islamic radicalization is a pathological consequence of Westernization,” .

“A significant number of fundamentalists are found in countries that are not predominantly Muslim”, Roy said. The movement tends to draw people who feel cut off from what they see as a traditionally Islamic lifestyle, including converts to Islam in European countries, such as Britain, France and Germany. At the same time, fundamentalists find themselves unable to fit in to the respective societies in which they are living. The fundamentalists have “recast religion outside of cultural contexts,” (Roy 2003).

As such, fundamentalists tend to hold idealized notions about Islam. Roy added that the lack of a firm grounding in traditional Islamic cultural values left  fundamentalists vulnerable to propaganda calling on them to express their faith in violent forms.

Roy drew a sharp distinction between Islamists and  fundamentalists. Islamists, he maintained, may once have held radical ideas, but those views have largely been channeled into mainstream political activity.

He cited Iran as an example. The religious fervor that buffeted Tehran at the time of 1979 revolution mellowed over time, as the ruling elite found it had to moderate its policies in order to maintain power.

In Roy words fundamentalists are disinclined to work toward the establishment of an Islamic nation state. Many Western policymakers mistakenly assume that the key to solving the Islamic radicalism issue requires a Mid-East settlement. But Roy’s theories on the nature of the  fundamentalist movement challenge some of the notions supporting the Western strategic response to radical Islamic-inspired terrorism. Many experts in the West consider the democratization of the Islamic world as the key to containing terrorism. Roy calls this notion only “half true.” Democratization would help “isolate” Islamic  fundamentalists,  but it would not likely dispel the sense of economic and cultural alienation that drives the movement (Roy 2003).

The second claim is shared by many analyses of terrorism (see i.e. Juergensmeyer 2001: 123; Crenshaw 1995, Hoffman5 In 1998, ) that Osame bin Laden together with other leaders of the “World Islamic Front” proclaimed that the American intervention in the Middle East is a “declaration of war on God, his messenger, and Muslims”; the fatwa, issued in response to this war calls for jihad, a holy war against America (Bin-Ladin et al. 2002:6 1998).6

Bruce Lawrence, in his book ‘Defenders of God: The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age’ defines fundamentalism as ” the affirmation of religious authority as holistic and absolute, admitting of neither criticism nor reduction; it is expressed through the collective demand that specific creedal and ethical dictates derived from scripture be publicly recognized and legally enforced .” Lawrence argues that fundamentalism is a specific kind of religious ideology. It is antimodern, but not antimodernist. In other words, it rejects the philosophical rationalism and individualism that accompany modernity, but it takes full advantage of certain technological advances that also characterize the modern age. The most consistent denominator is opposition to Enlightenment values. It means as Marshal Berman explicates in his significant study, All That is Solid Melts Into Air: The experience of Modernity, that fundamental terrorists are modern but they are not modernist.. It also like Roy discusses the fundamentalist terrorism as non-state economic and political actors .

Lawrence believes that fundamentalism is a world-wide phenomena and that it must be compared in various contexts before it can be understood or explained with any clarity.

Lawrence lists five “family resemblances” common to fundamentalism.

  1. Fundamentalists are advocates of a minority viewpoint. They see themselves as a righteous remnant. Even when they are numerically a majority, they perceive themselves as a minority.
  2. They are oppositional and confrontational towards both secularists and “wayward” religious followers.
  3. They are secondary level male elites led invariably by charismatic males.
  4. Fundamentalists generate their own technical vocabulary.
  5. Fundamentalism has historical antecedents, but no ideological precursor.

Even considering the assumption that terrorism is a modern phenomenon like other features of modern society such as democracy or free markets, the  question yet to be solved is, however, on what grounds terrorists strike against symbols of power and what the meaning of such assaults is.

The answer should be seen  inside  the modernity and globalized order itself again, as Jost Hoffmann declares so ,the modernity of modern society consists precisely in the lack (or loss) of an instance of integration and unification of the diverse social systems in society. ( Hafmann, Globalization and Fundamentalism 2001)

This feature distinguishes modern from earlier forms of society, which were organized around some integrating instance such as religious or political peak institutions and where inclusion in society was provided to individuals by birth and divine order. For the individual actors the differentiation of social systems and the diversity of inclusions in these systems mean first and foremost the experience of risk and contingency. The lose coupling of the social systems in modern society and the mere procedural character of their operations have been noticed with regard to their consequences for the individual actors as “Sinnverlust” (the loss of meaning, Weber), the “Verlust der Mitte” (the loss of the center, Sedlmayr 1948), or as existentialist deprivation of any transcendental reassurance (Sartre, Camus).

The Problematic of the Unifying interpretations of modern society

Compared to pre-modern society, modern society is a society without a center, in an institutional and in an interpretative sense. It is a pervasive feature of modern society that the experience of differentiation and contingency has been dealt with by a variety of unifying interpretations of society, concepts, which try to make overarching sense of the confusing diversity of modern society. This is what will be called a unifying semantic throughout this presentation. Unifying semantics are interpretations of a right and good order of society, typically proposed from a particular social system perspective, which are geared at reducing the implications of the pluralist, heterogeneous and contingent character of modern society. Often, unifying views of society emerge from social movements and their adherents in literary circles, academia and the mass media.

Nationalism is a case in point: it describes society as a territorially circumscribed community of citizens. Nationalism is a unifying semantic, proposed from the point of view of the political system.

In his book on “Nations and Nationalism” (Gellner 1983), Ernest Gellner has made this argument convincingly. Nationalism is to Gellner a semantic device, which accompanies the societal transformation from agricultural to industrial society, from a society based on personal to one built on impersonal relationships. The social meaning of nationalism is to make the strain of alienation during that transformation process palpable. Similarly, pan national movements such as Pan-Slavism (Kohn 1960) or Pan-Arabism define community in ethnic rather than in territorial terms.

In a similar vein, fundamentalism can be interpreted as a unifying worldview, but in difference to nationalism, society is being viewed from a religious perspective and its constituency is not defined territorially, but universally(Hafmann 2002). Its specific target is the separation of politics from religion.

This has been noted by some scholars of fundamentalism. Bassam Tibi states that the secular nation-state is the “prime target of fundamentalism” (Tibi 1998: 6). But it is not the (cultural) fragmentation of modernity as such, as Bassam Tibi claims (Tibi 1998: 6), which is the direct cause of modern fundamentalism. It is the interpretation of fragmentation as a sign of cultural decay, which is at issue.

In Hafmann words, Cultural fragmentation – that is different views of society and particularly, different views of “good society” – is the norm in modern society, given the plurality of perspectives following from functional differentiation of society: one can chose to view society from an economics, a politics or a health perspective, and each time one looks at a different kind of society. Fragmented outlooks, fragmented identities are the norm in modern society.

There are different ways of dealing with fragmentation (or: functional differentiation): one might acknowledge and perhaps praise it, as cultural pluralism or postmodernism does, one can search for interpretations that make sense of society as a whole. These I will call unifying interpretations – and fundamentalism is one variant of this. Unifying semantics view society from one particular perspective, using values and symbols, which are geared at improving the chances for consensus on specific issues across diverging social groups and the system borders of functional differentiation. Unifying worldviews try to counter the contingency of outcomes by offering compensatory rewards and outlooks.

All unifying semantics view society from a vantage point, quasi from the outside in order to look at society as a whole. From the social scientific point of view, all unifying semantics are views constructed inside society, emerging from some particular social system, be it politics, religion or social movements. The attempt to pretend to take an outside look at society introduces a potential for excluding evidence which contradicts this view and which speaks toward plurality and contingency of the world. Cultural theory argues that the content and degree of rigidity of a unifying semantic depends on whether a unifying world view belongs to the center or the periphery of society, that is whether its potential for soliciting consensus is high or low (Douglas 1973, Douglas/Wildavsky 1983, Thompson/Ellis/Wildavsky 1990).

Rationalism is a unifying set of values and symbols, which assumes that roughly the same means/ends-calculi direct the behavior in politics, economics or the family(Hafmann 2002).

Rationalism, but also solidarity and community are sets of unifying values and meanings which are prevalent in segments of society with a high coping level concerning functional differentiation, such as in professional milieus of urban areas in advanced countries.

Such unifying worldviews found in the center of modern society contrast to unifying worldviews at the periphery of modern society (for this distinction see Shils 1961).

The distinction between central and peripheral positions is a cultural one, which denotes the degree of resistance a unifying view – and the intentions of changing society – would encounter in society; it signifies a high vs. a low acceptance of unifying semantics in society across the spectrum of differentiated social systems. Rationalism – the concept of applying cause-effect-types of explaining events in the world – is a unifying concept of central segments of modern society, which finds comparatively easy acceptance in economy, politics, law or sports due to a range of technologies, which embody the principles of rationalism. (Think of Max Weber’s theory of rationalism as leitmotif of modernization in society which cuts across the diverse “value spheres” as he called the diverse social contexts). Central segments of society have also developed a high acceptance of the ambiguity, which is involved in unifying concepts: tolerance for breakdowns of rationalism, which become probable under conditions of the diverse modes of operation and the diverse meanings of rationalism in the respective social systems.

Thus, unifying semantics in the center enjoy far reaching acceptance and exert relatively little exclusionary power to those who disagree; they allow at the same time for paradoxes and contradictions, that is for acknowledging breakdowns of rationalism which become starting points for critiques of this kind of unifying world views.* *(see the cultural critiques of modern “instrumental” views of social relations in the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School, Habermas).

Peripheral segments in society are characterized by the experience that their unifying semantic meets much resistance. Political Islam in “modernizing” countries like Turkey or Egypt is stiffly resisted by the secular elites.

These modernizing regimes tend to exclude Islamist groups from political representation for reasons of keeping religion and politics apart.

Often these regimes are politically rigid and resistant to democratic government, as the example of Algeria in the nineties shows.

Center and periphery unifying semantics can exist in one country at the same time, as the co-presence of fundamentalist movements and professional elites in the US demonstrates.

In a world, which exhibits a plurality of values principles and in which no institution has evolved, which could establish a hierarchy of values only religion can offer absolute values. Other sources of quasi-absolute values such as Marxism, which have also been used as justification of terrorism (Red Army Faction in Germany or Red Brigades in Italy) are much less well suited as a basis for fundamentalism because of their close association with scientific reasoning and its intimate relationship to doubt and revision.

As Hoffmann  argued that the thrust of unifying world-views depends on how the experience of difference (in social systems, social values and life-styles) is negotiated against the drive for unity as a medium of sense-making.

Unifying world-views with a high regard for the diversity of incarnations of unifying semantics (depending on the social context in which they are used) and for the other side of unity (difference) could be called post-modern (example: rationalism). Unifying world-views which experience high resistance and which articulate little tolerance for alternatives (difference) would represent the other end of the spectrum (fundamentalist terrorism). Unifying semantics, which are posited in view of other competing unifying world-views might be called modernizing unifying semantics (example: Kemalism, Nasser’s Pan-Arabism in Egypt). Inward-oriented unifying semantics with little regard for other competing semantics might be labeled traditional(example: Sufi religion).

Therefore, what turns adherents to political Islam as a unifying interpretation into terrorists is neither poverty or deprivation nor alienation (the rejection of Western life-styles, the culture of individualism or sexual liberty – although all these motives may play a role in terrorists’ accounts of making sense of their decisions, see Juergensmeyer 2001), but the belief in the foreclosing of any other option, of the need to defend against a war which has been imposed by an overwhelmingly powerful enemy who is to destroy the Islamic unification interpretation by globalizing the world under it’s own different  modern values . It is the moment that the other side of the modernity coin shows it self. Violence is an answer to the experience of powerlessness to the fact that opposition to functional differentiation (in this case: between politics and religion) is treated as opposition against Western values. Violence is the expression of protest where no other forms of expression (such as reform) allow marking a difference to the opponent or enemy.

The ultimate expression of terrorism is the assault on symbols of the enemy’s power: it is the vacuous attack, void of any strategic significance. The assault on the Twin Towers has primarily symbolic character; it shall demonstrate “the vulnerability of governmental power” (Juergensmeyer 2001: 132). Because of the uncompromising character of terrorism the possible death of innocent victims is not an issue. The sharp division between the holy mission and the evil to be fought excludes any recognition of the idea that there can be innocence on the part of the enemy.

Fighting terrorism by military means to counter rogue states which provide terrorists with safe havens or by police means to counter terrorist organizations and their members is certainly the “gut reaction” of states whose prime task is to provide security for the constituency within the territorial realm. One should note, however, that terrorism is as much a feature of the modernity of modern society as are markets and democracy. This means that fighting terrorism by military and police means might successfully weaken terrorists and their organization, but not necessary fundamentalism. As Hassan II, the King of Morocco correctly observed: “… if fundamentalism has to be engaged in battle, it would not be done with tanks. Fundamentalists don’t have armored divisions, they have no Scud missiles, and not an atomic weapon” (Interview in International Herald Tribune, March 14, 1995, quotation taken from Tibi 1998: 4). The very character of modern society as a plurality of social systems each promoting different sets of values and worldviews invites permanently attempts at finding unifying views of society. The separation of politics and religion can become an issue of demanding a unity between both to control the contingency of outcomes in a society operating on the basis of procedures rather than values.

The Manichaean world-view, which goes along with any form of fundamentalist politics knows only sharp differences between friend and foe, us and them, the powerless periphery and the overwhelming center. This view lends itself to uncompromising attitudes. It is, therefore, critical, not to counter the terrorist Manichaeanism by an equivalent view on the side of the state.

Similarly, installing secular “democracies” in defeated rogue states such as Afghanistan or Iraq might replace governments, which have provided safe havens for terrorists, but it might also reinvigorate or create fundamentalism and possibly fundamentalist terrorism because secular statehood is what their protest is primarily about. Military intervention is obviously no longer a viable and prudent option in such a constellation.


Baudrillard, Jean, 2002, The Spirit of Terrorism, London: Verso

Bellah, Robert et al., 1991, The Good Society, New York: Knopf

Bin-Ladin, Usamah, 2002, Jihad against Jews and crusaders. Statement of the World Islamic Front, February 23, 1998, in: John Prados (ed.), America confronts terrorism. Understanding the danger and how to think about it, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee: 176-178

CIA/NIC (Central Intelligence Agency/National Intelligence Council), 2002, Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue about the Future with Nongovernmental Experts (December

2000), in: John Prados (ed.), America confronts terrorism: Understanding the danger and how to think about it, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, pp. 23-4

Crenshaw, Martha (ed.), 1995, Terrorism in Context, University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press

Douglas, Mary, 1973, Natural Symbols, New York: Vintage Books

Douglas, Mary, 1992, Muffled Ears, in: Mary Douglas, Risk and Blame, London: Routledge

Douglas, Mary/Wildavsky, Aaron, 1983, Risk and Culture, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press

Esposito, John, 1999, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? New York: Oxford University Press

Gellner, Ernest, 1983, Nations and Nationalism, Oxford: Blackwell

Hoffman, Bruce, 1998, Inside Terrorism, New York: Columbia University Press

Huntington, Samuel P., 1993, Clash of Civilizations? In: Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 3

Huntington, Samuel P., 1997, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, New York: Simon & Schuster

Juergensmeyer, Mark, 1992, Sacrifice and cosmic war, in: Mark Juergensmeyer (ed.), Violence and the Sacred in the World, London: Frank Cass, pp. 101-117

Juergensmeyer, Mark, 2001, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, Berkeley: University of California Press

Kohn, Hans, 1960, Pan-Slavism: its History and Ideology, New York: Vintage Books

Lawrence, Bruce, 1998, Defenders of God; The Fundamentalist Revolt Against the Modern Age, New York

Lewis, Bernard, 1968, The Emergence of Modern Turkey, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Luhmann, Niklas, 1997, Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft, 2 vols., Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp

Prados, John (ed.), 2002, America confronts terrorism. Understanding the danger and how to think about it, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee

Reinhard, Wolfgang, 1999, Geschichte der Staatsgewalt. Eine vergleichende Verfassungsgeschichte Europas von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart, München: C.H. Beck

Roy, Olivier, 2003, EuroIslam: the Jihad within?, in: The National Interest, Spring, pp. 63-73

Roy, Olivier, 2004, Globalized Islam, The Search for a New Ummah, OSL,NY

Sedlmayer, Hans, 1948, Verlust der Mitte: die bildende Kunst des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts als Symptom und Symbol der Zeit, Salzburg: O. Müller

Shils, Edward, 1961: Centre and Periphery, in: Logic of Personal Knowledge: Essays Presented to Michael Polanyi on his Seventieth Birthday, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul

Thompson, Michael/Ellis, Richard/Wildavsky, Aaron, 1990, Cultural Theory, Boulder, Col.: Westview Press

Tibi, Bassam, 1998, The Challenge of Fundamentalism: Political Islam and the New World Disorder, Berkeley: University of California Press

Van Crefeld, Martin L., 1991, The transformation of war, New York: Free Press

Wuthnow, Robert, 1998, After heaven: spirituality in America since the 1950s, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press


Maryam Javanshahraki, M.A Political science, University of Tehran, Iran
November 2006

Emotions, Rationality & Economics



A long tradition, stretching from classical philosophy to the present,
views passion as the enemy of reason. Certainly emotion can lead to rash
action, but admonitions to rise above our animal passions and substitute
logic for emotion turn out to be bad advice. Results from psychology1 and
affective neuroscience2 suggest that, in the final analysis, emotional considerations
may be essential for attaining reasonable (adaptive and desirable)
outcomes. We have even seen in recent years a surge of public and
scholarly interest in the concept of “emotional intelligence,”3 a concept that
classical philosophers would surely have found puzzling. In this Article, I
review aspects of emotion theory to suggest a basis for believing that emotion
may indeed be a necessity for reason.
Rational choice theory in economics and sociology has often been
criticized for its insistence on evaluating behavior solely in terms of its
utility and profit-maximizing potential. Many scholars have attempted to
broaden the theory by suggesting that the notion of rationality might include
noninstrumental as well as strictly instrumental and utilitarian behavior.
4 It should be possible, they suggest, for behavior to be irrational
economically but quite rational on noneconomic grounds. The problem
with many of these attempts is that, while they are surely correct at some
level, they frequently fail to be persuasive because of the ad hoc nature of
the supplemental categories proposed. Emotion theory, on the other hand,
provides a principled basis for expanding the narrow utilitarianism of rational
choice theory.

In this Article, I focus on the problem of rationality of ends and suggest
that emotion theory provides a way out of the conceptual dead end to
which economic models often seem to lead. The basic point is simply that
emotion is an embodiment of value. The importance of this assertion in the
present context lies in the realization that “value” is critical to rationality.
Knowing whether one is acting rationally (in terms of reaching a desirable
outcome) requires a criterion of value against which to judge whether an
outcome is good. Emotion provides a powerful criterion. A positive emotion,
such as joy, provides compelling experiential evidence of the desirability
of an outcome, and a negative emotion such as disappointment
signals that an outcome is undesirable relative to what was wanted or expected.
Underlying such feelings are implicit cognitive, neurochemical, and
physiological reactions, which also reflect the value of outcomes and support
the experiential representation of value.
Emotion not only serves an informational role, signaling the value of
things, but it is also an embodiment of such value. Rather than simply believing
something to be of value, emotion creates a direct experience of that
value. Emotion turns mere belief that something is good or bad into an
experience of goodness or badness. Emotions are thus powerful states that
are fueled by desires and aversions, making us hope for some outcomes and
fear others. In this way, emotion not only adjudicates which outcomes are
good and which are bad, but it encourages, through the carrot of pleasure
and the stick of displeasure, actions consistent with such judgments.
I am arguing that emotions tell us whether we have chosen rationally.
Of course, if a criterion of value is important for assessing the desirability
of past outcomes, it is also important for assessing the desirability of potential
or anticipated outcomes, and hence for making rational choices in the
first place. The logic of this conclusion about the role of affect in judgment
and decision making is buttressed by evidence from the study of breakdowns
of decision making among individuals whose ability to read their
own affective reactions has been compromised by damage to the prefrontal
cortex.5 In addition, the results of behavioral studies of affect and judgment
lead to similar conclusions.6


The assumption that people always act in a purely self-interested fashion
in choosing ends is surely false. For example, as Rubin points out,
many people who had no obvious self-interest at stake involved themselves
in citizen movements for civil rights, disability rights, and women’s rights.7
These and other altruistic actions would not fit neatly into an economic
model, which assumes that choices must be manifestations of self-interest.
Economic models are quite useful for certain purposes. Their great
virtue is that they allow quantitative modeling of choice behavior. Because
accurate prediction of human behavior is made difficult by the enormous
number of unknowns, quantitative modeling always requires some simplifying
assumptions. Thus, even if it is not literally true that people always
act in self-interested ways, it may still be strategically sound to assume that
they do so for modeling purposes. Economists, partly for such practical,
computational reasons, generally interpret self-interest in terms of monetary
gains and losses, a move which is quantitatively useful but greatly
limits the range of applicability of such analyses. A point made in the final
section of this Article is that people are motivated not by money, but by the
value it represents, and that it is important to distinguish underlying value
from monetary or emotional representations of that value. Now, however,
let us consider what it means to say that emotions are representations of


If cognition is about truth and falsity and is concerned with categorization,
then emotion is about goodness and badness and is concerned with
evaluation. Emotions are embodied evaluations, and much of their variety
comes from the particulars of what is being evaluated. Emotion can be
thought of as similar to pain, in that it involves both information and motivation.
For example, the feeling of negative emotion, like the feeling of
pain, provides us with distinctive information that something in particular
is wrong. Emotions and instances of pain also vary in terms of intensity,
which, in both cases, provides a rough guide to the seriousness of the problem.
The information from pain is about tissue damage, whereas the information
from emotion is about value—that is, about the goodness and
badness of things.
Pain is a somewhat simpler system than emotion in that we have specialized
receptors in the skin that are partly responsible for pain. In contrast,
we do not have specialized detectors of value. Instead, we arrive at
the emotional significance of events, actions, and objects through some sort
of cognitive appraisal process. Such cognitive appraisals may be made
lightning fast or may be extended in time, but however they are made, such
evaluations are core features of the resulting emotions.
A variety of theoretical accounts of the relationship between such appraisals
and the structure of emotions have been proposed. One of these,
known in the cognitive science literature as “the OCC Account,”8 is especially
useful for the present purposes because it lays out the ways in which
the various types of emotions reflect underlying kinds of value.


According to the OCC Account, emotional reactions reflect three distinct
kinds of good, one for each of the possible kinds of things upon which
attention can be focused.9 As depicted in Table 1 below, these points of
focus include the outcomes of events, the actions of agents, and the attributes
of objects.10 These three kinds of focus are intended to be comprehensive.
For example, “objects” can include not only physical objects, but
places, people, ideas, activities, and so on. Thus, one can appraise outcomes
as desirable or undesirable, depending on whether they further or
thwart one’s goals.11 One can appraise actions as praiseworthy or blameworthy,
depending on whether they meet or fall short of applicable standards.
12 Or, one may appraise objects as being appealing or unappealing, a
judgment that depends on one’s tastes and attitudes.13
Just as there are three kinds of focus and three bases for appraisals, the
theory also envisions three kinds of affective reactions—being pleased or
displeased about outcomes, approving or disapproving of actions, and liking
or disliking objects.14 Specific emotions, then, are differentiated forms
of these affective reactions.15 Being happy, sad, or fearful about outcomes
are forms of being pleased or displeased.16 Being proud or ashamed of
actions are forms of approval or disapproval.17 Finally, loving, hating, or
being disgusted at objects and their attributes are reactions that can be
thought of as forms of liking and disliking.18

TABLE 1 Appraisals of events, actions, and objects are based on different sources of value and are
manifested as different kinds of affective reactions, which are differentiated into specific emotions.
Outcomes of Events Actions of Agents Attributes of Objects
SOURCE OF VALUE Goals Standards Tastes/Attitudes
APPRAISAL Desirable or Undesirable
Praiseworthy or Blameworthy
Like or Dislike
Feel Pleased or
Feel Approval or Disapproval
Feel Liking or Disliking
EMOTION Joy, Sadness, Fear,
Pride, Shame, etc.
Love, Hate, Disgust,
EMOTIONS (1988).

The OCC Account of the cognitive structure of emotions has a number
of implications for understanding the variety and intensity of emotion
types.19 The approach was designed with the requirements of computer
modeling in mind. The idea was not to make computers feel emotion, of
course, because feelings require the appropriate physiology. Instead, the
goal was to write the rules governing emotion elicitation and emotion intensity
and to do so in a sufficiently systematic way that a computer program
could employ them as a knowledge base for making appropriate
inferences about people’s emotions in particular situations. The chief impact
of the theory has been in the fields of computer science and artificial
intelligence, where the OCC rules have become useful components of what
are called “believable agents.” Believable agents include virtual teachers in
tutorial or computer training programs and characters in interactive computer
games. It turns out that such interactive computer agents are more
effective tutors and more likeable and engaging characters when their responses
are guided by knowledge about the emotional reactions most likely
to arise in particular situations and knowledge about how intense such reactions
are likely to be.20
The OCC account of emotion organizes twenty-two different emotion
types into six emotion families.21 Although the emotions in the theory are
designated by English words, the theory is not about emotion language, but
about the emotions themselves. Thus, for each of the twenty-two emotion
types, a given language might contain many lexical tokens. Each emotion
type is characterized by its cognitive or situational eliciting conditions, by
the cognitive factors that influence its intensity, and by examples of situations
in which it might be felt. The specifications for emotions in the fear
type are shown in Table 2, as an example.
The OCC model describes the cognitive structure of emotions. That is,
it maps the emotions in terms of the kinds of psychological situations in
which one rather than another emotion is likely to be elicited. It includes
analyses of particular emotions, such as the relatively complex emotion of
anger, which is viewed as arising from a joint focus on undesirable outcomes
and blameworthy actions. The intensity of anger also depends both
on how undesirable the outcome (e.g., one might be more angry at oneself
for losing $1000 than for losing $10) and on how blameworthy the action
(e.g., one might be more angry at someone completely at fault than someone
only partially at fault).

TABLE 2 Specifications of fear as an example of one emotion type within the prospect-based family of
Family Prospect-Based
Emotion Type Fear
Associated Lexical
Apprehensive, anxious, dread, fear, fright, nervous, petrified, scared, terrified,
timid, uncomfortable, worried, etc.
Eliciting Condition Prospective undesirable event
Intensity increases
1. Degree to which event is undesirable
2. Likelihood of the event
Example A person at home alone hears an intruder enter the house

For our present purpose, the most important aspect of the OCC account
of emotion concerns the three different sources of value, which are
ultimately the bases for our caring about outcomes, actions, and objects.
Events are occasions of joy or distress, for example, only to the extent that
some outcome is experienced as potentially relevant to one’s goals and
concerns. Some events, such as finding a snake in one’s house, are likely to
be distressing to most people, whereas other events, such as finding a
grasshopper in one’s house, may be distressing to very few people. Similarly,
some actions, such as getting drunk, might be an occasion for shame
or embarrassment for some people, whereas for some college students, it
might occasion pride. The difference, according to the OCC account, would
depend on whether one viewed that behavior as falling short of, or as exceeding,
some important standard of behavior. Similarly, an object such as
a political candidate or an item of food might elicit liking in some people
and disliking in others, depending on the compatibility of the candidate or
the food with relevant attitudes or tastes. Additionally, a single event could
elicit emotions in all of these categories in rapid succession as one’s attention
shifted from one aspect of the event to another. Thus, learning that
one’s neighbor physically abused his wife might make one alternately feel
sympathy for the wife, anger at the husband’s action, and dislike for the
husband himself, each in turn as one’s focus shifts from the undesirability
of the outcome for her, to the blameworthiness of his action, and to the
unappealingness of such a person. Emotion, then, depends on the perception
of something as good or bad in some way with the particular kind of
emotion depending ultimately on the particular kind of goodness and badness
involved. The kind of value is, in turn, dependent on momentary shifts
in attention. This glimpse of the attentional, cognitive, and value components
of the emotional elicitation process is intended to suggest that there is
some logic to emotion, a fact that is too often obscured in discussions of
emotion in the judgment and decision-making literature. Now, we are prepared
to ask about emotion and rationality.


Within the rational choice model, the assumption that people’s actions
are ultimately guided by self-interest still requires knowing what people
will see as in their self-interest.22 Emotion theory is potentially useful in
this task because it offers a basis for expanding what it might mean to say
that people act in a self-interested way. The idea that self-interest should be
definable solely in economic terms limits the applicability of the hypothesis
to situations in which a translation into monetary terms is possible. Attempts
to translate nonmonetary value into monetary value do occur in
many domains. Judgments involving punitive damages are a prime example.
Judges and juries are frequently asked to decide how much money
would compensate a person whose loss has resulted from the blameworthy
action of another. In some well-known cases, such as the continuing saga
of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, armies of consultants have been called upon
to suggest how such damages might be fairly assessed. One proposal involves
surveying people about how much money a clean environment is
worth to them. Making such judgments turns out to be quite difficult, and
emotion theory helps explain why that should be the case. In addition, it
clarifies why in some cultures, any attempt to recompense a person who
had been wronged by offering them money would only compound the offense.
Of course, all of us find attempts to put a price on some things to be
inappropriate. For example, attempting to exchange money for love is generally
looked down upon,23 probably even by those who attempt to do so.
According to the OCC approach to emotions, there are multiple kinds
of goodness and badness. Moreover, these multiple kinds are assumed to be
incommensurate, which means that there are in principle no equations
which would allow one to solve for the price of beauty or the cost of disloyalty.
People have long considered it a devil’s errand to try to “economize”
moral or immoral action. Indeed, the legend of Faust concerns a
hapless individual who tried to use his morality as barter for wealth, leisure,
and status. In none of the many versions of the tale does Faust’s pact
with the Devil have a happy ending, suggesting (to those with ears to hear
it) that there is no efficient market for the soul. The longevity of the Faust
legend attests to the idea that people long ago realized that there are naturally
different kinds of value, which cannot be shoehorned into a single
kind of value.
The suggestion that we need to recognize additional kinds of value
beyond utilitarian or economic value is an idea that rational choice theorists
are likely to reject. They would surely argue that opening up the basis of
valuation to multiple kinds of value would make the task of accounting for
behavior unmanageable. However, emotion theory is not an open-ended
system implying countless sources of value. It assumes only three: goals,
standards, and tastes. Moreover, one can argue that its claims are not in the
least arbitrary. On the contrary, emotions are bodily representations of
value that have evolved in our species over eons. It is not clear that there
could be any more solid basis for establishing value than that. Three kinds
evolved, we argue, and serve as engines for the variety of universally
shared emotions we observe.
If we allow emotion theory to augment analyses based on economic
costs and benefits with additional sources of valuation, then otherwise irrational
behavior becomes reasonable. For example, there would be nothing
irrational about spending more to sue one’s neighbor than one stood to
gain, if the cash settlement were supplemented by some other kind of good,
such as seeing justice done. Of course, rational choice proponents might
still rightly complain that whereas utilitarian good has a useful metric, none
exists for moral or aesthetic good, making behavior evaluated in these
terms much more difficult to model quantitatively.


One problematic consequence of the fact that we have evolved to respond
to multiple kinds of value is the problem of emotional accounting. I
have argued that emotions are registrations of the appraised value of outcomes,
actions, and objects. There are two ways in which such emotional
reactions can be powerful. One way is by being directed at a specific object.
Emotions typically have objects, so that one is not simply angry, but
rather one is angry at some particular person about some particular action.
Having a specific object makes an emotion powerful because resources can
then be directed to cope with that problem or to seize that opportunity.
A second way in which emotional reactions can be powerful is, paradoxically,
by not having an object. Moods are examples of affective states
that are similar to emotions, but for which the object, if any, is not salient.
As a result, one may experience an affective reaction without any clear
cause or meaning. Depression has this character, as do states of general
anxiety. In such states, one may feel down or apprehensive, but without
knowing why. The power of such states is a bit like the power of a flood—
indiscriminate, affecting whatever happens to be in its path. Why is objectless
affect so promiscuous?

Emotions reflect the results of appraisal processes that are largely
automatic and unconscious. The feelings of emotion provide conscious
information about the results of such unconscious appraisals. Emotions
evolved in part to signal that some specific stimulus has positive or negative
value. At least when such mental content is conscious, one usually
knows the object of one’s emotion. However, when the real object is not
salient at the time, then the feelings tend to take as their object whatever
comes to mind, an observation made by many writers from Freud to the
present. Again, for this reason, a problem with depression is that it tends to
taint whatever one thinks about. In a similar way, anxiety can be exhausting
in part because, without a clear object, there is no way to isolate a specific
threat so that one can deal with it. One can view these kinds of
problems as problems in keeping straight what our affective reactions are
about, which are problems of affective accounting.

As the CEO of one’s own self, it is important to keep accurate books,
to know where resources are going and where they are needed. Insistent
indications that problems exist but cannot be located may make it seem like
everything is falling apart. One of the functions of psychotherapy is to assist
individuals experiencing such mental accounting problems. Clients
often come to therapists depressed or anxious, with vague complaints, or
feeling that everything is going wrong. The therapist’s role is often to encourage
the client to talk about the problem in order to help him or her
arrive at a useful mental accounting. When a cause is located, the client’s
diffuse mood state can turn into a specific emotion, because it is then experienced
as being about something in particular. During such emotional
bookkeeping, people often begin to see that many things that are important
to them are not in the problematic account. The person may experience
great relief as the locus of the problem narrows. Of course, identifying the
cause may bring new problems to the fore, but at least they are likely to be
more specific and identifiable.


Issues of accounting—keeping track of what is causing what—also
surface in other ways. The source of an experience may be quite clear as
long as it is experienced by itself, but the experience may become less accountable
when a separate cause produces a very similar experience at the
same time. This process is clearly evident in the domain of visual experience.
In vision, different but highly redundant images are presented by the
two eyes. Our eyes move together so that the images that are projected are
almost, but not quite, the same. Indeed, they are so similar that it is impossible
to keep straight which image is coming from which eye. When visual
accounting fails because it is impossible to keep books on which eye is
contributing which image, we see an emergent three-dimensional image
rather than separate, flat images from each eye. We see objects in hologram-
like reality as both eyes provide parallel, but slightly different images
of the same thing. Presumably, such emergence reflects the fact that it is
computationally simpler to see one object as “out there” rather than keeping
track of two highly redundant sensory streams.
A related principle appears to operate when we apprehend more than
one kind of goodness or badness simultaneously emanating from a single
object. Consider a political leader whose policies are good in a utilitarian
sense, who also engages in admirable actions, and who is additionally
handsome and well-spoken. Such a figure may command a degree of loyalty
that none of these attributes by themselves would have elicited, in part
because of the difficulty of keeping straight what aspects of our experience
of goodness comes from what source. As a result, the leader may be experienced
as transcendentally good. Through a similar process, people fall
in love not only because their beloved helps in the satisfaction of their
goals (utilitarian good), but also because they may be seen as excellent or
admirable in some way and because they may seem beautiful or handsome.
The emergent experience of their goodness becomes, in fact, beyond accounting.
Falling in love thus renders some people inarticulate, while it
inspires others to poetry. Both reactions may flow from the same impossibility
of sorting out which aspects of one’s fascination with the other are
accounted for by which aspects of their goodness.

There are many such emergent experiences that may arise for similar
reasons. Thus, the experience of nostalgia may be one in which one experiences
oneself in the present remembering something in the past, feeling at
once the immediacy of a sweet memory of an event at the same time that
one is experiencing the sadness of its distance in time. Similarly, an intimate
conversation or romantic encounter may seem important not only
because it may be intense, but perhaps also because one constructs from the
visual, verbal, and nonverbal feedback from the other a model of their experience
at the same time that one entertains one’s own view. To the extent
that partial redundancy blurs clear accounting, a joint experience may
emerge. The process is also seen in an operatic duet or a string quartet, in
which rather than hearing only music from separate players, a new entity
emerges in one’s experience that transcends their individual contributions.
In the interpersonal situation, such convergence may be experienced as a
vital entity that is somehow more than each person’s input. Couples often
point to such experiences as the moment in which they fell in love.
Are such experiences illusions? Perhaps no more than threedimensional
images are illusions. I am suggesting that failures of emotional
accounting, just like those of visual accounting, allow one to experience
multiple facets of the same person, place, or event at the same time. In the
emotional case, the different sources of good are incommensurate, meaning
that they cannot be translated or equated. They must remain separate, but
because they emanate from the same entity and are apprehended at the
same time, no such accounting is possible so that a multifaceted new entity
emerges in experience that is all of these incommensurate but redundant
things at once. One can then experience them as one emergent reality, such
that the whole can be appreciated as more than its parts, which, of course, it

In summary, I have suggested that, somewhat surprisingly, the assertions
of emotion theory might make it more rather than less sensible to say
that people’s choices are guided by rational ends. People’s choices are
probably not narrowly self-regarding in the sense that they seek only positive
outcomes for themselves. However, their choices may still be guided
by what they care about. Emotion theory makes clear that the category of
things people care about is more diverse than economic ends or than any
strictly utilitarian ends. By distinguishing three different and incommensurate
sources of value that fuel the emotions, we see that even choices that
reduce one’s financial outcome can be rational if they achieve some other
kind of good. I argued that each of these kinds of good have an equal call to
legitimacy because specific emotions evolved to provide embodied information
about that particular good and to engender sufficiently urgent motivation
to drive actions and choices. In this view, emotion becomes the seat
of rationality, rather than its undoing.
Thus far, we have discussed emotion theory as an alternative to economic
models. However, I suggested in the sections on affective accounting
that there is a sense in which the problem of accounting is important in
both worlds. In the final section, I suggest still further that economic and
emotional phenomena may not be at odds after all. To the extent that both
emotion and money are representations of value, we find that they inhabit
parallel worlds.


“Affect” refers to embodied evaluative reactions. Affect, like money,
is a token of value. In spending our money, whether following our emotions
is rational or irrational in terms of results depends on the relationships
between these tokens of value and the underlying value. If we buy something
for more than it is worth, we have behaved irrationally. If we get
angrier than is warranted by another’s blameworthiness, fall in love with an
unworthy person, or pledge loyalty to a demagogue, we are irrational, not
because we have followed our emotions, but because we have acted on
value that was not there.

Does this “affect-as-token-of-value” approach have other implications?
Are there useful parallels between the behavior of affect and money?
Yes, it appears that there are. Depression, for example, occurs not only in
the monetary economy, but also in the affective economy. It is a process
whereby there is a shortage of value tokens—whether it is a depressed
monetary economy or a depressed affective economy. One has nothing to
invest, and the problem is then that one has no expectation of return either.
In depressions, money and affect are scarce.

There is perhaps also an analogy with respect to inflation. In monetary
inflation, the amount that a dollar will buy decreases. A specific unit of
currency comes to have less value. Something analogous also occurs in
affective inflation. Promiscuity, gambling, drug taking, and other risky
activities can be thrilling and can elicit unusually large amounts of dopamine,
which supports powerful affective experiences. For example, taking
particular drugs can produce the kind of experience that would signify that
something wonderful has happened, when in fact nothing of significance
has occurred at all. Alcohol and certain other drugs can make one feel that
one’s powers have been magnified and that one is charming and desirable.
The problem is that the feelings produced in this way often turn out to be
inflated because their apparent value is not backed by hard reality. In
monetary economies, when large amounts of money are suddenly introduced
without increases in production, the relationship between tokens of
value and underlying value becomes similarly distorted. In the affective
economy, when more affective currency (e.g., dopamine) is produced than
is warranted by the underlying value of its causes (desirable events,
praiseworthy actions, appealing objects), the same thing happens. The result
is that the feelings (or a given charge of dopamine) lose value. Everyday
activities lose value because they cannot produce enough of a high, so
one loses motivation.

Hedonism is a powerful explanatory assumption. Pleasure and pain
look like the universal currency of behaving systems. But just as economists
should not conclude that our prime motivation is to make money,
psychologists also should not assume that our prime motivation is to make
pleasure. Money, like positive affect, is a representation of value. A fallacy
of materialism and hedonism is the assumption that the function of behavior
is to maximize representations of value, rather than to maximize value

In the monetary economy, hoarding is the attempt to accumulate tokens
of value rather than spending or investing those tokens on something
with underlying value. It appears that the economy is more healthy when
money is used as a medium of exchange, rather than as a commodity in
itself. If so, then there would appear to be an analogous affective process.
The paradox of affect is that we are motivated by positive affect, and
yet pursuing positive affect for its own sake is seldom successful. The basic
cause of this curious fact presumably concerns the value-conferring aspect
of affect. Ordinarily, affect serves as information.24 That is, the experience
of affect provides information about value. A positive response means that
something of value has been encountered. When the focus is on things
other than itself, such responses confer value on those things. But if one is
focused on pleasure itself, then value is simply conferred on pleasure. In
this onanistic process, no value or meaning is transferred to anything else.
From the examples of Greek and Roman societies to our present society,
we are told that prosperity is paradoxically unhealthy for societies.25 Once
people succeed in driving the wolf from their door and become affluent,
things often seem to unravel as individuals cease investing their labor and
concern in things that pay dividends and invest instead only in the pleasure
itself. In any case, the paradox is that money and positive affect are both
good only so long as they serve as means and not as ends.

In the monetary economy, scarcity of money leads to hoarding, which
exacerbates the scarcity. Without any investment of money, nothing of
value is produced to be exchanged, further reducing available money. Does
scarcity of affect create affective hoarding? One suspects that it might.
People who are emotionally down seem less likely to invest the emotional
resources they have, which further reduces the possibility of a rewarding
response. Withdrawing from emotional investment seems likely to further
reduce emotional rewards.

In summary, I have argued that there is perhaps a useful analogy between
affect and money in that both are tokens of value. The question
raised in this final section is whether there are parallels between human
behavior with respect to these tokens of value. In addition to the parallels
concerning accounting discussed in previous sections, I have suggested
three parallels, including depression, inflation, and hoarding. The implication
is that our ultimate motivation is neither for money nor pleasure, but
for the underlying good which they signify. Many psychologists are currently
focused on the problem of emotion regulation. But maximizing
pleasure and minimizing pain in the short run is less important than investing
one’s efforts (and hence one’s affect) in endeavors and relationships
that pay affective dividends. The important kind of affect regulation perhaps
is that which is focused on conserving the valuing capacity of the
appraisal system in order to keep the currency of affect sound.


1. Timothy Ketelaar & Gerald L. Clore, Emotion and Reason: The Proximate Effects and Ultimate
355, 387 (Gerald Matthews ed., 1997).
3. Peter Salovey & John D. Mayer, Emotional Intelligence, 9 IMAGINATION, COGNITION &
PERSONALITY 185, 189–91 (1990).
4. See, e.g., Raymond Boudon, Limitations of Rational Choice Theory, 104 AM. J. SOC. 817, 818
(1998); Milan Zafirovski, Human Rational Behavior and Economic Rationality, 7 ELECTRONIC J. SOC.
(2003), at
5. E.g., DAMASIO, supra note 2, at 61.
6. E.g., Gerald L. Clore & Karen Gasper, Feeling Is Believing: Some Affective Influences on
al. eds., 2000).
7. Edward L. Rubin, Rational Choice and Rat Choice: Some Thoughts on the Relationship
Among Rationality, Markets, and Human Beings, 80 CHI.-KENT L. REV. 1091 (2005).
9. 18–19.
10. 18.
11. 53.
12. Id.
13. 56.
14. 33.
15. Id.
16. 107.
17. 19, 154.
18. 19, 171.
19. 181.
20. For examples, see Clark Elliot, Summary of Affective Reasoner Information (1997), at and Press Release, Zoesis Studios, Zoesis Studios Unveils New
Interactive Attractions at, the Internet’s Only Expanding Theme Park for Children
(Nov. 14, 2000), at
21. OCC ACCOUNT, supra note 8, at 19, 192.
22. Of course, the rationality of ends idea often also includes the belief that people should act in
strictly self-interested ways so as not to disrupt the efficient workings of markets. However, once such a
prescriptive element is introduced, science and dogma become conflated, making the assertion an article
of faith rather than a hypothesis about behavior.
24. Norbert Schwarz & Gerald L. Clore, Mood, Misattribution, and Judgments of Well-Being:
Informative and Directive Functions of Affective States, 45 J. PERSONALITY & SOC. PSYCHOL. 513, 520