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Distributive Justice:

An understanding of justice that requires that the goods of a community be apportioned to all on the basis of some standard, usually need equality. Technically, any standard could be used -- for example, merit. However, the call for distributive justice is generally not heard from those who rely on distribution according to merit, they rely on market-based activities.

Under distributive justice, some degree of social equality is the goal. It isn't based on the creation of certain conditions, but rather on the ordered distribution of a set of goods. It is usually heard from those who hold either for a standard of equality in beginning points or equality of results. The notion of equal start goes beyond offering to all an equal opportunity to acquire the goods necessary to reach a good end for each citizen. It holds that the goods should be distributed as equally as possible from the outset. Only in this way, according to this notion, is the "playing field" level and thus the progress of society just. The idea of "equal results" would ensure not only that everyone would start out the same but that they would end up the same.

The debate on the appropriate standard differs from culture to culture, and even from generation to generation within culture. As globalization proceeds to reshape institutions societies will be asked through are being asked to consider anew the standard that is appropriate for the coming generations.


From the Latin root Vir, meaning "man," any activity that helps us gain our humanity. In contemporary parlance virtue is understood to be any human act that is good for others and/or good for the moral agent. Though this understanding is accurate as far as it goes, it misses the fine points in the classical understanding of the word. It misses the important idea that humanity is a perfection of life which must be won by carrying out those activities proper to our species. This means that though an animal, a dog say, is born to carry out dog-like actions (hunt, bury bones, bark at cats) human beings are not. We must become our species by becoming habituated to those activities that become us, that strengthen moral resolve, that instill wise judgment. Thus the word has a built in stress on the importance of education, parental guidance, tradition, and culture, as well as the connotation so strange to many moderns, that a person who is not accustomed to virtuous routines is, strictly speaking, not a human person at all.


Latin for "city." The classical meaning of the word however has nothing to do with our notion of simple and large populations dwelling in close quarters. Actually, if you wanted to signal this kind of arrangement in Latin you would not use "civitas" at all; rather you would use "urbanus." A "civitas" is a society arranged on the understanding that a human being is by nature a gregarious animal, one who must live in certain relationships to reach this nature. The relationships must include a loving family (along with kith and kin) a fair economic marketplace, friendships among craftsmen, just governance, and so forth. A proponent of "civitas" would not hesitate to say that the city is meant to be a "school of soulcraft" and that our modern urban jungles are no more cities than black is white.


A term coined, or at least made popular, by Michael Lind in his book The Next American Nation. According to Lind, the real threat to the United States is the decline of the influence of principles of Liberal Democracy rooted in the political philosophy of such figures as John Locke and Thomas Jefferson. This will not come about, as many multiculturalists claim, as a result of a Balkanization or fragmentation along racial or ethnic lines. Rather, the decline will come about, Lind believes, due to a Brazilianization which he defines as a "fissioning along class lines". Lind paints a grim picture of this new society.

    Brazilianization is symbolized by the increasing withdrawal of the white American overclass into its ... world of private neighborhoods, private schools, private police, private health care, and even private roads, walled off from the spreading squalor beyond. Like a Latin American oligarchy, the rich and well connected members of the overclass can flourish in a decadent America with Third World levels of inequality and crime.

Lind warns that such a future cannot be averted by "trivial reforms" but will require a "real revolution... in politics and society", a revolution as "sweeping as the Civil Rights Revolution.

The Next American Nation, ppg. 14, 215-16.


This word is vital for a correct understanding of the New Dialogue discussion. The participants are using it not to signal the contemporary notion of a voluntary association of individuals with a self-assigned task (say education, health care, governance). They are using it in its specific connotation of a group bound to a vital mission or undertaking pledged by the community. An institution, strictly speaking, is a witness to a profound purpose in a society.

The comment of Socrates' daughter on the current predicament (see text in Dialogue) illustrates this well. She says that whereas in the past institutions gave their members a sense of security and vocation, now they give only a sense of fear and precariousness. This change is due, she says, to the fact that current institutions care more for their own internal success than for their charge and the well-being of their members. She is saying in effect that society is breaking down, that it appears to have no witness to goals and purposes that would make it want to survive over the long term. The future she sketches for institutions, perhaps inadvertently, is one of makeshift profit organizations designed to last only so long as it is in their interest, devil take the hindmost.

Another way of looking at this is that the moment an organization begins to explain its actions simply by explaining its own internal "procedures," "norms," "policies," "projects," and "precedents," at the expense of duties, commitments, just ends, and responsibilities, you can bet the "civitas" that the community is coming unglued, and no matter how firm the policies or established the procedures, nobody is safe, in or outside the institution.


In this comment of Gorgias' we have reached a vital turning point in the dialogue. Let us quickly review how the discussion has gone so far.

Up until now our discussants have been trying to determine whether our society is in a state of crisis. They have been looking at the turmoil in our cities, schools, families, political forums, and so forth; and it is clear from the proceedings that there is no evident criteria for making this determination. All agree that contemporary life has gone horribly wrong and that straights are dire. But the question hovers: are we in a crisis? How would you know? What does the point at which culture must either improve suddenly or collapse suddenly look like?

We should also notice that the tone of the conversation here is in stark contrast to the assured cadences in the earlier meeting when all agreed that society as classically understood has fallen apart. In that discussion it was said that we are no longer a civitas, that we have no set institutions marking the course of a moral mission, that our public world is no longer a school for the soul, and so forth. We need to ask ourselves, then, whether the crisis question has not already been asked and answered--answered in the group consensus that the moral components vital to any civilization have been abandoned by us. Gorgias' lament, anyway, looks to be an inadvertent admission that we have met and passed the point of crisis. We seem to share no virtues, he says; we do not teach any to the young, and we have forgotten the real meaning of freedom. In other words, he seems to admit that only this collapse in virtue and moral commitment can account for the dire state of our civilization, and that all the other accounts offered so far have come up with nothing but question marks.

An illustration from great literature might help us better understand this. In Shakespeare's King Lear we all will recall, Lear very early on in the play is driven mad trying to account for the fact that his reign, after witnessing the dereliction of his own family, is now over nothing but a blasted heath in the middle of a tempest. Then he spies poor Mad Tom and the penny drops. "Poor naked wretches wheresoe're you are that bide the pelting of the pitiless storm...I should have taken more care of these..Take physic, pomp!" Gorgias' comment, however subtle, is equally a "recognition speech" wherein a crisis in our self-understanding and self-knowledge meets and interprets correctly the signs of the times.

"Liberalism" from now on in the discussion will take on the meaning given it in the Enlightenment, vis., that in a liberal polity each citizen is given the right to pursue his or her own private vision of the good up to the point of interfering with the pursuit of another (see Gorgias' comments farther on in the text Dialogue) All in the dialogue are in agreement (and they are surely correct) that this idea of freedom has worked wonderfully, has staved off violence, and, most importantly, has given rights to the poor Mad Toms of the world who otherwise would have had none. Nonetheless, as we will see, all may be coming to recognize that the idea of freedom distilled from Liberalism represents only a "thin" theory of the good. The participants avow that coming up with a "thicker" theory of the good is now the top priority (again see Gorgias' further comments) now that the girders of society, the hope of liberalism notwithstanding, seem to be rotting.

Values Clarification

Although this relativistic notion of morality and the methods used to diseminate it were the subject of early criticism by those in moral philosophy, it still found its way into public educational methods and only there met the strong criticism of Conservative Christians which has brought it into general disfavor.


There is no single accepted definition of utilitarianism. The term is derived from a school of moral thought founded by Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th and refined by James Mill, J.S. Mill, and others in the 19th century. The idea is that moral decision making consists in maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. Although it found some adherents as a moral theory, though fewer and fewer of late, Utilitarianism was a particular favorite of 19th century thinkers in political economy, a subdiscipline of moral philosophy until the early 1900's when economics broke off as a separate discipline. By this route from its origins in moral theory, utility analysis became the major feature of neoclassical economic theory and has remained so ever since.

Maximizing "utility", where utility is taken as the subjective experience of pleasure, is thus taken as a fundamental tenet of modern economic analysis. In any quest to bring ethics back into economic thinking the fundamental theoretical problems as well as the misapplications of Utilitarian theory loom as the major area of inquiry.


Generally refers to a body of economic thought developed by John Maynard Keynes, British economist prominent from 1920 until his death in 1945 in his book General Theory of Employment. Keynes is best known for challenging the neoclassical view that the economy has a natural self-correcting feature that causes it to return to equilibrium at full employment. He advocated the use of government programs (and funds) to prime the pump and stimulate the economy in order to smooth out the business cycle and avoid recessions and depressions. In the present era of high budget deficits his theory has been heavily criticized and is widely viewed as discredited.

The criticisms are mostly directed against U.S. versions of Keynesianism built on interpretations of Keynes provided by another British economist, Nobel prize winner Sir John Hicks, who later admitted his own reading of Keynes was off the mark on the basis it reflects a partial reading of a very broad and subtle theory.

Keynes had a strong background in the philosophical underpinnings of economics, having studied moral philosophy and written his thesis in probability theory. His economic theorizing is driven to a large extent by his understanding of the theoretical weaknesses in the utility theory that underlays neoclassical economics..

As we take up problems of global political economy similar to those Keynes' wrote about in the 1920's and 1930's and try to reintroduce ethics, Keynes is likely to become prominent again for his approaches to economic reasoning.


The term used to describe an economic system characteristic of developed western economies, generally on the basis that the resources used in the production of other goods and services, the factors of production, are privately as opposed to governmentally, owned. It is perhaps overly simplistic and misleading to describe an economic system by one criterion, that is, "Who owns the factors of production?", for there are much weightier ideas at stake in an economic system. And that is certainly true for capitalism.

An economic system is built on economic theories which presuppose certain views of the universe, of man, and of society. The most important question in defining capitalism, then is under what viewpoint does the system operate. For capitalism the key principle is freedom. Although freedom is usually expressed in economic terms -- free enterprise, markets of buyers and sellers free to bargain and choose, free labor, free trade, etc -- the larger idea of human freedom is at stake in the capitalist system.

As the dialogue proceeds regarding the activities of markets, the underlying question at issue is whether the economic arena, whether it is the United States economy or the global economy, still honors and reflects the fundamental idea of freedom on which the capitalist system was constructed.

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