The Liberal Individual

David Gauthier

in Morals by Agreement

Published in print May 1987 | ISBN: 9780198249924
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191597497 | DOI:
The Liberal Individual

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We appeal to Bernard Suits's Grasshopper to support the thesis that what has intrinsic value in human life is engagement in activities that have instrumental value. The implication of this view is that scarcity in the form of human fulfilment is necessary for human life to have point, and so is the humanly necessary evil. Participation with others to diminish scarcity has necessary instrumental value, and, we argue, for that reason has intrinsic value. A morality of agreement is the foundation of welcome participation, and so, despite its imposition of constraints, necessary to valuing participation and extending that value to one's fellow participants. We then turn to the character of an essentially just society, and show that it is a society not of ‘economic men’ but of liberal individuals, autonomous beings free to choose their own goals and their affective ties with others, and willingly maintaining the moral and social conditions that make this autonomy possible. We note certain doubts about the possibility of creating an essentially just society, but conclude with Nietzsche's account of human beings as having ‘the right to make promises’ to ‘stand as their own guarantors’, and identify this with the ability to interact with one's fellows and the world in a new and distinctive way, which we have called ‘constrained maximization’.

Keywords: autonomy; constraint; economic man; instrumental value; intrinsic value; just society; economic man; human fulfilment; liberal individual; maximization; participation; scarcity; value

Chapter.  10793 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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