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TO THOSE whose minds are not liberated, wars, revolutions, and radical movements will never
bring freedom but only an exchange of one kind of slavery for another. That is one of the most
tragic lessons of the twentieth century.

Liberation of the mind is no panacea, but without it angry rhetoric and cruel bloodbaths are of no
avail, and tyranny endures. Most of those who see themselves as radicals and revolutionaries still
cling to decrepit ideas like justice and equality and depend on guilt and fear, as our fathers and
mothers did. What we need is a new, autonomous morality.

Those who hoped that the death of God would spell freedom from guilt and fear were wrong.
The breakdown of religion as the great authority in moral matters has not brought us autonomy.
It has brought us a variety of substitutes for religion. The quest for these surrogates is rooted in a
fear that has hitherto had no name.
This book begins with an analysis of that deep fear. The first part of the book deals with what we
should leave behind, the last part with what lies beyond. Liberation is a movement toward a goal:
autonomy. Being autonomous and being liberated is the same thing. The first chapter explains
the meaning of autonomy by showing what lures or strategies must be resisted to achieve it.
Then the attack on justice and on guilt and the demonstration of the need for alienation develop a
new conception of autonomy ± a new integrity ± a new morality.


HUMANITY has always lived in the shadow of fears. Yet next to, nothing was known about fear
until Freud made a beginning with the study of unusual phobias. A little later, some existentialist
philosophers suggested that one dread is common to all mankind: the dread of death. This
suggestion was couched in such obscure language that discussions of it have generally revolved
around the meaning of phrases in books and have not dealt with the facts. It might have been
better to ask what leads some writers to express themselves in ways that seem designed to
forestall understanding and hence also criticism, and why legions of professors and students
thrive on texts like that. The creeping microscopism that meets the eye all over academia is
related to a deep dread that still lacks a name.

Humanity craves but dreads autonomy. One does not want to live under the yoke of guilt and
fear. Autonomy consists of making with open eyes the decisions that give shape to one¶s life. But
being afraid of making fateful decisions, one is tempted to hide autonomy in a metaphysical fog
and to become sidetracked and bogged down in puzzles about free will and determinism. It is far
easier to define autonomy out of existence than it is to achieve autonomy in the very meaningful
sense in which it can be attained. The difference between making the decisions that govern our
lives with our eyes open and somehow avoiding this is all-important. The best way to begin to
understand autonomy is to examine some of the major strategies people use to avoid it; and this I
shall do.

It is important to be specific and concrete. Talk of ´freedom´ and ³the fear of freedom´
immediately invites irrelevant questions about ³freedom.´ That term has so many meanings that
we need a more precise term. ³Autonomy´ has fewer associations, and once I have defined my
meaning, other uses of the term should not keep creeping in. The fear of autonomy is a nameless
dread, which leaves me free to coin a name for it: decidophobia.

In the fateful decisions that mold our future, freedom becomes tangible; and they are objects of
extreme dread. Every such decision involves norms, standards, goals. Treating these as given
lessens this dread. The comparison and choice of goals and standards arouses the most intense

Other -phobia words also mix New Latin with Old Greek: claustrophobia, for example.
Moreover, the Latin decido has two very appropriate meanings. It can mean ³decide,´ which is
the primary meaning intended here. But it can also mean ³falloff´ (hence plants are called
deciduous if their leaves fall off in winter), and decidophobia has something in common with
acrophobia, the fear of precipitous heights. Although the two Latin verbs have different roots
(caedo and cado), our expression ³take the plunge´ suggests the relevance of both meanings.
Decidophobia is also the fear of falling.

People do not fear all decisions. Decidophobes, far from dreading meticulous distinctions, may
actually revel in them. For immersion in microscopic decisions is one good way of avoiding
fateful decisions.

John B. Watson, the founder of Behaviorism, argued that only two fears are innate: the fear of
sudden loud noises and the fear of falling ± of suddenly being without support. His thesis was
based on experiments with infants, and it is µwidely accepted. Decidophobia cannot be proved to
be innate, nor does it matter greatly whether it is. What does matter is that it can be mastered,
although it is much more difficult to overcome old fears than it is to acquire new ones.

It is easy to understand why parents cultivate acrophobia in their children: precipitous heights are
dangerous, and having been taught to dread them, one communicates one¶s dread to one¶s
children. That is much easier than teaching them prudence, self-reliance, and the skills required
to enjoy peaks. All this applies just as much to decidophobia.

Anyone making fateful decisions that affect others without feeling any apprehension would be a
menace. Anyone who would unhesitatingly plunge into choices that are likely to mold his own
character and future would be so unpredictable that he, too, would endanger the social fabric.
The easiest way to insure stability is to engender fear. Teaching the skills required for
responsible decision making is much harder.

Choosing responsibly means that one weighs alternatives. (This theme will be developed further
in the chapter on ³The New Integrity.´) But comparing fateful alternatives and choosing between
them with one¶s eyes open, fully aware of the risks, is what frightens the decidophobe. Basically,
he has three options: to avoid fateful decisions; to stack the cards so that one alternative is clearly
the right one, and there seems to be no risk involved at all; and to decline responsibility. He need
not even choose between these options: they can be combined. In brief: avoid, if possible; if that
does not work, stack; and in any case make sure that you do not stand alone.
It would be reasonable to feel apprehension in direct proportion to the number of those whom
our decision is likely to affect importantly; but people tend to attach disproportionate importance
to themselves. The decisions they dread most are those that shape their character and their future.

I shall examine ten strategies that help decidophobes to avoid dizziness. All of them involve the
refusal to scrutinize significant alternatives. When anyone shuts his eyes in a crisis, it is plausible
to assume that he is afraid. But if he merely acts as if he were afraid, he is still open to criticism.
My critique of decidophobia applies also to those who are not afraid but merely behave as if they

Before I consider the ten strategies, let me comment very briefly on two writers who have
illuminated decidophobia and one who has not.

Kierkegaard was the father of existentialism. Fear and guilt were central in his thought, nowhere
more so than in The Concept of Dread (1844). Here he wrote as a Christian about original sin,
but he also showed how there is a close connection between dread and freedom, and he called
dread ³the dizziness of freedom.´ The image of dizziness brings to mind acrophobia and the fear
of falling. Indeed, Christianity called the first assertion of man¶s freedom and his first fateful
decision ³the fall.´ But Kierkegaard failed to see his own leap into faith as an expression of
decidophobia. In fact, he failed to recognize most of the major strategies.

Jean-Paul Sartre has gone further toward an understanding of decidophobia. His famous
declaration in 1943 that man is ³condemned to be free´ suggests clearly that man finds freedom
hard to bear. In his fiction and philosophy, Sartre has exposed some of the ways in which people
try to hide their freedom from themselves: they pretend that their hands are tied, that they are the
victims of their parents or of circumstance, although in fact the freedom to make fateful
decisions is inalienable. Even a pris0ner condemned to death retains this freedom. Man,
according to the early Sartre, is freedom but always tends to look upon himself as if he were a
thing. Thus he succumbs to what Sartre calls mauvaise foi. In my language, this bad faith and
these constant self-deceptions are prompted by decidophobia.

Unfortunately Sartre¶s philosophical discussions of these mechanisms were heavily influenced

by German existentialism, and particularly by Martin Heidegger and his ³fundamental
ontology´: they were designed to explicate truths about Being. At times Sartre approached
Heidegger¶s obscurantism. This kept him from seeing how his argument suffered from some
serious confusions; and the later Sartre has followed the later Heidegger as well as Kierkegaard
into exegetical thinking ± one of the ten major strategies of decidophobia. The great
diagnostician has succumbed to the disease that he had analyzed.
Erich Fromm called an early book Escape from Freedom, but despite that title he shed little light
on decidophobia. He remained within the framework of a sociological school that had
undertaken studies of what it called the authoritarian personality, and he found the great example
of this type and of the escape from freedom in Germany, particularly in the rise of Nazism. Now
it might indeed seem as if the rise to power of totalitarian governments depended on
decidophobia; but this is a serious mistake. Wherever totalitarianism has triumphed, other
explanations are in order.

In Germany, for example, a minority of the voters favored Hitler when the president of the
Weimar Republic called on him to form a cabinet, and he had to form a coalition government.
His was the largest single party, but there were many parties; and most of those who did vote for
Hitler had no conception of the loss of freedom that awaited them. They were far from fastidious
about the liberties of others, but they did not crave liberation from their own freedom. Their
motives included resentment of the Treaty of Versailles and of the inability of democratic
statesmen to get it altered; fear of Communism; dreams of national glory; and hatred of Jews.
But no combination of these motives would have brought Hitler close to power if the republic
had not been undermined by economic disaster.

Before World War I Germany had been very prosperous. The loss of the war, the expulsion of
the Kaiser, the advent of the republic, and an inflation that quickly reached the point where
ordinary postage stamps cost twenty billion marks were experienced as a syndrome. People saw
their savings evaporate, and soon the inflation was followed by a vast economic depression and
intolerable unemployment. Desperation reached the point where millions became willing to try
almost anything. Many became Communists, while others were willing to try Hitler to see if he
could provide jobs. The choice did not seem irrevocable; many liberals saw Hitler as a rabble
rouser who would quickly be discredited in a position of power that he was ill equipped to fill,
and many Communists thought that a few weeks of Hitler would prepare the way for them.

Even after the Reichstag fire, which Hitler used to outlaw the Communist Party, to imprison
many socialists, and to intimidate the opposition, the parliamentary elections of March 1933 still
did not provide him with a majority, and he had to continue with a coalition government. The
nationalists who joined forces with him did not want to escape from freedom or let him make all
fateful decisions: they felt sure that he would be no match for them and that they would govern

There is no case on record in which the voters chose a government because it offered them less
freedom. Where people did opt for rulers who took away their liberties, something seemed to be
drastically wrong with all alternatives, and the men who were chosen did not make clear to the
voters how their freedom would be curtailed. Men do not crave slavery or concentration camps.
On the contrary, such images evoke the will to fight and even to risk one¶s life for freedom. Nor
are there two types of people: those who love freedom and those who prefer slavery. Such myths
obstruct the comprehension of decidophobia. There are subtler ways to avoid fateful decisions. I
shall examine ten.

One strategy for avoiding such decisions is religion. In Dostoevsky¶s Brothers Karamazov the
Grand Inquisitor shows at length how the Roman Catholic church has liberated people from the
burden of having to make fateful decisions. His disquisition left its mark on Sartre and Fromm.
Oddly, however, in Dostoevsky¶s the case is made out only against the church of Rome. The
Grand Inquisitor claims that the ³craving for community of worship is the chief misery of every
man´; for, I might add, any confrontation with fateful alternatives engenders dread. He argues
that to save men truly one must take possession of their freedom, and he suggests that what
people ultimately want is to be united ³in one unanimous and harmonious ant heap.´

There is no suggestion in the novel that the same charges could be brought against the Greek
Orthodox church, or that other religions, too, have told men what is good and evil, right and
wrong, thus obviating difficult decisions. Religion says: Do this and don¶t do that! Or: Thou
shalt, and thou shalt not. Instead of inviting us to evaluate alternative standards, it gives us norms
as well as detailed applications. In fact, religions have evolved traditions that shield the
observant from situations in which tragic choices might become inevitable.

The most obvious illustration is monasticism, which requires one great decision, once ± to
renounce the freedom of making major decisions. A Jesuit¶s position in his order is a little less
extreme. As usual, there are degrees. But those who become monks or nuns no longer need to
face such fateful decisions as how to live, with whom, where, what to do, and what to believe.
As a rule one does not even decide to submit to the authority of a religion: one is born into the
fold and then confirmed at the threshold of adolescence before one has had any chance to explore
alternatives and make a choice. One does not so much decide to stay as one does not decide to
leave. Decidophobia keeps one in the fold.

Of course, this is not all there is to religion; and I have dealt at length with other aspects of
religion in other books. Nor is allegiance to a religion always prompted by decidophobia.
Perhaps this point is best made by choosing suicide as an illustration. I am not including this
among the ten strategies because relatively few people have recourse to it. Still, it is often
prompted by the inability to stand alone and make fateful decisions. Yet it need not be inspired
by decidophobia. In many situations a human being may choose suicide with open eyes after
considering what speaks against it and examining the major alternatives. Suicide can be wholly
admirable. Nor need it be primarily an act of either fear or courage; it can also be an attempt at
revenge or a form of protest. Similarly, not every member of every religion is a decidophobe.
Nevertheless, religion represents one of the most popular strategies for avoiding the most fateful
decisions; in fact, it is nothing less than the classical strategy. On the whole it worked well not
only during the Middle Ages but even quite recently in villages and small towns where almost
everybody shared the same religion. In the twentieth century, however, this strategy has broken
down more and more ± since World War II even among Roman Catholics. Clergymen of the
same religion have taken to adopting widely different public positions on crucial moral
questions. Still, many people shut their eyes to this plain fact and manage to persuade themselves
that their own moral views do not depend on any decision of their own but are simply part of
being Jewish, Christian, or, say, Hindu. If this strategy were not in a process of disintegration,
there would be less need for so many other strategies.

Drifting represents another, even less deliberate, strategy. It comes in two forms. Model A is
extremely popular with those over thirty without being confined to them: status quoism. Instead
of choosing how to live, with whom, where, what to do, and what to believe, one simply drifts
along in the status quo. All decisions are made, none need to be made. Some people need a
regular supply of alcohol or tranquilizers to remain satisfied with Model A.

This form of inauthenticity is readily perceived by many students. A few go to the opposite
extreme: Model B. One drops out, has no ties, and is not guided by tradition; one has no code, no
plan, no major purpose. One lives from moment to moment, rarely knowing in advance what one
will do next. Model B can also be lubricated with alcohol, but since World War II this kind of
drifting has been associated more often with other drugs. Conversely, in the past opiates have
often reconciled the oppressed to the status quo.

Some of those who have drifted into Model B are afraid of making almost any decision. If they
hitchhike, they go wherever they are taken. They leave things to chance. Everything depends on
whatever impulse happens to be felt at the moment. To be governed by caprice is to drift. The
hero of Camus¶s novel The Stranger illustrates this orientation.

When this way of life breeds a sense of emptiness and despair, one becomes receptive to the
siren song of commitment. This state of mind was described by Hermann Hesse in his Journey to
the East, a novel published in Germany in 1932, less than a year before the Nazis came to power.
Deeply dissatisfied both with traditional life styles and with being adrift, many people join a
movement ± or drift into a movement. There need not be any momentous decision to join. It may
be a matter of conformity with those among whom one happens to find oneself. Allegiance to a
movement is the third strategy.
Such allegiance, again, is not always decidophobic. Some movements have little bearing on faith
and morals, goals and life styles. If so, membership is marginal, although it may still be
prompted by a fear of standing alone and some sense that there is safety in numbers. Total
immersion, in which no crucial decisions at all remain to be made, is the exception, not the rule.
Most of the strategies I shall consider from now on have a less total effect than the first two:
usually, they work only in some areas of life.

³Of necessity, the party man becomes a liar,´ said Nietzsche. Those who realize how closely
words like ³party´ and Parteigenosse were associated with the German anti-Semitic movement
even then, may pardon his hyperbole. In any case, he explained his meaning more fully: ³By lie I
mean: wishing not to see something that one does see; wishing not to see something as one sees
it.´ And he added:








These themes are developed in Eric Hoffer¶s True Believer and Sartre¶s ³Portrait of the Anti-
Semite.´ Sartre himself never joined the Communist Party though for years he made common
cause with it. Others have joined parties or movements or retained their religion without any
sacrifice of the intellect. They live in a tension, occasionally acute, between their loyalty and
their intellectual conscience. As usual, there are innumerable possibilities and degrees.

At one extreme is the type sketched by Nietzsche and portrayed more elaborately by Sartre: he
has made a decision once and henceforth needs only to extrapolate from that. His views come
nowhere near doing justice to the complexity of fact, but he makes a virtue of simplicity and
despises subtlety and cleverness. In the words of Pascal¶s famous wager, he has made himself
stupid. He prizes certainty above truth or considers it, untenably, a warrant of truth, and he takes
intellectual scrupulousness for cowardice and a lack of manly decisiveness. He fails to recognize
his own acrophobia, his own dread of standing alone without support.

In 1970 a spokesman for what was then simply called ³the movement´ in the United States kept
saying ³we´ in an argument. Asked whom he meant, he hedged, but finally, being pressed,
replied: ³Me and my mother.´ It was a sudden inspiration and obviously struck him as a witty
way of putting down his questioner. Yet it revealed in a flash the infantile fear of standing alone.

At the time, Erik Erikson¶s first reaction to this story was that it was too good to be true. Yet it
was exactly what had happened. ³Me and my mother´ was supposed to be funny because ³the
movement´ represented a revolt against middle-class mothers. But it is no accident ± to use an
expression dear to Marxists ± that the Communist Party thinks of itself as a mother, just as the
Catholic church does. ³The movement,´ too, functioned as a surrogate mother, and the We-We
orientation is infantile. All talk of community notwithstanding, it recognizes no singular You.
Only an I can say You to an individual. The We-We orientation is not progressive. It is
regressive and takes us back to the ³craving for community´ which Dostoevsky¶s Grand
Inquisitor associated with the desire to be united ³in one unanimous and harmonious ant heap.´

In 1970 ³the movement´ in the United States was Left; in the thirties ³the movement´ in
Germany was the Nazi Party, and visitors to Munich drove past road signs that proclaimed it
³The Capital of the Movement.´ But even some people who had joined the Nazi party found
themselves confronted again and again by the need for hair-raising decisions, and a few actually
made very courageous choices. Again, there were many different types. What was true even
there applied much more obviously to the New Left, which was never a party in which one took
out membership. To call all who belonged in some sense to this movement decidophobes would
be stupid no less than applying the term to all who are religious in some sense.

By 1972, ³the movement´ in the United States referred more often to women¶s fight for equality
than to the New Left. Here the goals were much better defined and mattered more to many
women than did any sense of belonging. No woman could hope to exert enough pressure as an
individual to end invidious forms of discrimination that made it far more difficult for women
than for men to live autonomous lives; hence there was a real need for concerted action ± and no
need whatever for any woman who approved of this ³movement´ to use it to avoid autonomy.
Nevertheless, it is important to recognize the attraction of movements for decidophobes. And in
individual cases one must ask how important this attraction has been, and to what extent it may
reduce all arguments with otherwise intelligent people to futility.

Those seeking liberation must ask themselves whether they are really advancing toward
autonomy or whether they have merely exchanged one kind of conformity for another.
Renouncing a religion, a creed, or a code and throwing off the blinders that went with it does not
necessarily spell liberation. The question remains whether one has turned to a surrogate and put
on a new pair of blinders.

Allegiance to a school of thought sounds like a mere variant of allegiance to a movement, but it
is actually importantly different. Membership in a movement is generally palpable and overt, and
one¶s consciousness of it is usually crucial: it helps to give one an identity. Allegiance to a
school of thought can be like that but usually is not. Typically, it is quite unselfconscious and
even denied outright. When granted, it is often felt to be irrelevant.
Those who belong to a school of thought are usually more interested in their small differences
with fellow members than they are in what they have in common. These differences can be
spelled out without much trouble, and in their publications those who write develop differences
of this sort. What one has in common with those with whom one differs is much harder to
specify. Distance is required to behold such family resemblances, and those inside the family
lack this distance. But they rarely find it difficult to say who does not belong.

Can one say what the members of a school have in common, without even specifying any
school? They tend to deal with a few clusters of problems, not with others, and they tend to deal
with them in the same way. They share a way of thinking, a style, and a tradition that they see in
much the same perspective. A few writers may be key figures in more than one tradition, but
different schools will see them differently. Thus Heidegger and his admirers do not see Aristotle
the way the Oxford philosophers do, and the Aristotle of the Thomists is different again.

Spelling out the shared assumptions of a school may require exceptional insight and skill. For
most of these assumptions do not function like dogmas; they do their job without rising to
consciousness. They provide a largely unquestioned framework in which a person can make all
sorts of small decisions and tangible contributions without ever coming face to face with
shattering decisions.

Once basic assumptions are spelled out, they can be questioned. It is much safer to keep them
buried. In Heidegger¶s philosophical jargon, questions that might cast doubt on his whole edifice
can hardly come up; and questions asked in a different language can be shrugged off as
subphilosophical: they show no inkling of what it is all about; they expose the questioner; all is

The same goes for Thomism and analytical philosophy, phenomenology and Marxism,
psychoanalysis and other schools of thought. The basic decision has been made, usually without
one¶s being conscious of making any decision, and the choices that remain are small enough to
be enjoyable. One has chosen the game and the rules and can have a good time planning one¶s
moves. Microscopism spells safety.

Choosing the college one attended and the teachers with whom one studied, one had no clear
notion of alternatives. If one made a choice, it was a haphazard choice, determined by accidents
of geography, financial conditions, and who happened to be where at a certain time. One became
a member of a school of thought not by making a decision but by being trained by someone who
was there.

Henceforth one no longer asks what are right methods, right questions, right style, right models,
and right rejections. Alternatives do not call for painful choices but can be ruled out of court
because one does not do things that way. Those who present them need not be taken seriously
and therefore do not call the decidophobe back to freedom.

The most common reaction to members of a rival school is simply lack of interest. Rival schools
are not so much tolerated as they are ignored. And those who go it alone are typically shrugged
off as crackpots until one of them succeeds in capturing the public imagination and is therefore
perceived as a threat. When that happens, material heresies do not elicit as much wrath as formal
heresies; it is easier to be rational about what one takes to be false results than it is to deal
deliberately with a radically different approach that calls into question one¶s whole style of

Exegetical thinking differs from interpretation. Indeed, I shall use the term in a distinctive way to
label the fifth strategy. Interpretation is inevitable; exegetical thinking is not. Exegetical thinking
assumes that the text that one interprets is right. Thus the text is treated as an authority. If what it
seems to say is wrong, the exegesis must be inadequate: the interpreter is wrong, never the text.

Actually, the interpreter is on trial as well as the text; neither he alone nor the text alone. For the
exegetical thinker the text is as God. The paradigm is a text that is supposed to be revealed by
God. This case takes one back to religion and need not be considered here. One might think that
Kierkegaard was an exegetical thinker only because he was a Christian, but the notion that there
are two kinds of existentialism, Christian and atheist, is shallow; Heidegger¶s and Sartre¶s
development closely resembles Kierkegaard¶s. All three exemplify what I shall call the
existentialist pattern.

First one adopts a subjectivism so extreme that it is found to be intolerable. One spurns the
drifters, ³the crowd,´ das Man (the anonymous ³one´), and summons the solitary individual to
commitment, resoll1teness, engagement. Lukewarmness and routine are spurned; conviction,
courage, and decision are called for. But then the terrifying question arises: does anything go,
then, if only it is chosen with a will?

Heidegger¶s Being and Time (1927) had left this question open. When the Nazis came to power,
Heidegger joined the movement. After the war he hinted that he had soon become disillusioned.
If so, he kept his resolution to himself without incurring any liabilities. This episode has attracted
considerable attention, but Heidegger¶s descent into exegetical thinking is far more instructive. It
began with his book on Kant, became very clear in his exegeses of Hölderlin¶s poems, and found
its fullest expression in his writings on the pre-Socratic philosophers. The texts he chose in his
later period share a fascinating incoherence and an oracular quality; they invite noncontextual
and arbitrary readings; and the exegesis could be made to share their charismatic quality. From
the start it was one of Heidegger¶s avowed principles that ³an interpretation must necessarily use
force.´ This cult of force (Gewalt) is fused with a scornful renunciation of logic and reason. To
escape from an extreme subjectivism that invites intellectual and moral anarchy, the philosopher
casts about for some authority to save him. But the leading existentialists have been too
individualistic to accept for long the authority of any party or church. What option remains?
Exegetical thinking permits the exegete to read his own ideas into a text and get them back
endowed with authority.

The exegetical thinker avoids standing by himself and saying what he thinks; for he might be
wrong and would not know what to say if others followed his example and said what they
thought. Such a situation would call for the evaluation of alternatives and invite the use of reason
and the assessment of evidence. He is suspicious of reason and associates evidence with science
and positivism. There would be no telling in advance where the argument might lead. Moreover,
the result would be provisional, pending further evidence and argument. Confronted with the
prospect of acrophobia, the exegetical thinker looks for a prop, for something to lean on. Being a
man of words, he finds a text.

Heidegger, for example, casts a few aspersions on the Philistines who see the pre-Socratics as
mere primitives or, in his own words, as ³a kind of high-grade Hottentots,´ and who believe that
³compared to them modern science represents infinite progress.´ In a similar vein one can easily
disparage those who fail to see the grandeur of H6lderlin¶s late verse. If one succeeds in
communicating one¶s own reverence and enthusiasm for the texts and gets across their
fascination along with their obscurity and their relevance, one is almost certain to be hailed as a
great teacher. Then, having made clear how dark the text is, one makes some sense of it, using
force ± but takes care that the meaning one discovers is not too plain lest one destroy the
charisma. If all this were done in good faith, it would still be an example of mauvaise foi, of self-

The later Sartre exemplifies the same pattern. By 1946 he felt dissatisfied with the extreme
subjectivism of his early existentialism, and in his famous lecture ³Existentialism is a
Humanism´ he cast about for some objective standards to meet the charge of irresponsibility.
The discussion after the lecture convinced him that he had not succeeded. Eventually he turned
to Marxism. But Sartre¶s Marxism is rather like Kierkegaard¶s Christianity: a highly subjective
version that is unacceptable both to careful scholars and to fellow Christians or Marxists. It is a
way of endowing one¶s own views with authority.

This suggestion may seem strange to those who concede no authority to Marxism or to
Christianity, to Hölderlin¶s or the pre-Socratics. The whole strategy, however, depends on the
assumption that certain texts or figures or traditions have authority. Not every text is equally
suitable, and some texts have to be built up by the exegetical thinker before he can proceed to
read his own thoughts into them.

Sartre himself said in his lecture in 1946 that his existentialism was like Heidegger¶s but unlike
Kierkegaard¶s because Kierkegaard was a Christian. But he himself sounded like a Christian
theologian when he said in 1961: ³Russia is not comparable to other countries. It is only
permissible to judge it when one has accepted its undertaking, and then only in the name of that
undertaking.´ Such special pleading would be instantly familiar if the first sentence began:
³Christianity is not comparable to other religions.´ And Sartre¶s concern in the same essay that
³we didn¶t even have the right to call ourselves Marxists´ brings to mind Kierkegaard¶s anxiety
about his right to call himself a Christian. Here the ways of interpretation and exegetical thinking
part. A decent scholar of Marx, Nietzsche, or Plato does not fret about his right to call himself a
Marxist, Nietzscheaan, or Platonist.

Exegetical thinking is also exemplified by the liberal who believes in inalienable rights to life
and liberty, in the equality of all men, or in other similar articles of faith of which he feels sure
that they are true, the only question being how they ought to be interpreted. He feels bound to
interpret the old formulas in such a way that they will turn out to be true, and to his mind an
appealing exegesis has a much stronger claim to assent than any impartial inquiry would suggest;
for he feels that it has all the authority of the old dogma.

Even simple acts have many motives, and exegetical thinking is not always motivated in exactly
the same way. In some traditions this way of thinking is so deeply ingrained and taught from
such an early age that one could not point to any period in a person¶s life when he had
succumbed to decidophobia. He is the slave of a childhood habit. He is part of a culture that has
succumbed to decidophobia.

Within such cultures one may encounter odd variants. Thus there are Catholic scholars who,
impelled both by a streak of independence and a powerful elective affinity, devote themselves to
the exegesis of Heidegger rather than St. Thomas. Meanwhile Heidegger himself, after breaking
with the Catholicism of his childhood and expounding radical subjectivism, found a refuge in
exegetical thinking.

I have given so much attention to the existentialist pattern because it is so ironical that the
existentialists who have given such pride of place to decision should have succumbed again and
again to decidophobia. In many ways they are late romantics, and at this point they resemble
those early romantics who first made their reputations as subjectivists and then converted to
Catholicism, like Friedrich Schlegel. But exegetical thinking is subtler. Those who engage in it
rarely understand what they are doing.

The first five strategies aim at making no fateful decisions at all, or at most the one decision to
make no more fateful decisions from now on. Four of the five involve some recourse to
authority; drifting does not. The next two strategies are basically different.

The sixth strategy is Manichaeism. The Maanichaean insists on the need for a decision, but the
choice is loaded and practically makes itself. It is like being asked to choose between two dishes
of food and being told that this one is poisoned and will make you sick, while that one tastes
incomparably better and will improve your health and expand your consciousness. All good is on
one side, all evil on the other.

Inconvenient facts are ignored or denied; the falsification of history becomes an indispensable
crutch; and uncomfortable arguments are discredited as coming from the forces of evil. There is
no need for quandaries that keep men sleepless.

It is easier to ridicule this strategy than it is to resist it. Indeed, it has been so popular in so many
different periods and contexts that one may wonder whether man is not doomed to think in black
and white. But he is not. The ancient Greeks, for example, resisted this temptation to a
remarkable degree.

Conflict is at the heart of Homer¶s Iliad and of Greek tragedy, but Homer and the tragic poets
found humanity on both sides of the contests they described. When the gods participated, some
took this side and some that, and like the heroes they were neither wholly good nor altogether
evil. In Aeschylus¶ Libation Bearers, Orestes actually says: ³Right clashes with right.´ This
theme is no less obvious in Aeschylus¶ Eumenides. It is a central motif in his work. Hegel¶s
notion that it is the essence of tragedy to represent collisions in which both sides are justified was
based squarely on Greek tragedy; but he overshot the mark when he claimed occasionally that
both sides are equally justified. As a rule, wrong clashes with greater wrong, not only in Greek
tragedy but also in life and in history.

When Thucydides, who called himself ³the Athenian,´ recorded the epic war between Athens
and Sparta, he breathed the same un-Manichaean spirit. He did not even suggest that both sides
were equally justified. He realized that as a rule wrong clashes with greater wrong.

No doubt, most Greeks were not that free of the tendency to think in black and white; but
Manichaeism as a world view is part of the legacy of Persia, the rising world power that
Aeschylus helped to defeat at Marathon. It was probably less than a hundred years before this
battle that Zarathustra had taught his people that there were two great cosmic forces: light and
good versus darkness and evil; and he summoned man to help the former to vanquish the latter.
Some Zoroastrian ideas gained entrance into Judaism without achieving any great prominence in
the Old Testament. But the New Testament speaks of the sheep and the goats, the children of
light and the children of darkness; and according to both Matthew (12:30) and Luke (11:23)
Jesus said: ³He who is not with me is against me.´ In Christianity the Devil became a far more
powerful figure than Satan had been in the Hebrew Bible; he became the Evil One, the Lord of
Hell; and humanity was split into two camps ± those headed for salvation and those headed for
everlasting torment.

Even so, Christianity did not follow Zarathustra all the way. In the third century another Persian
prophet, Mani, preached a more Zoroastrian version of Christianity: Manichaeism. For a while
its impact in the Roman Empire rivaled that of Christianity, and Augustine came under its spell.
Eventually the church condemned ³the Manichaean heresy,´ and as a religion it died. But
Manichaeism is far from dead if the name is used inclusively to label views in which history is a
contest between the forces of light and darkness, with all right on one side.

The perennial appeal of Manichaeism is due not only to the fact that it flatters its followers but
also to the way in which it makes the most complex and baffling issues marvelously simple.
There is no need for difficult decisions; the choice is perfectly obvious.

In times of war, Manichaeism flourishes; and during the cold war that followed World War II it
did, too. What is more surprising is that this strategy is also encountered in the work of some
philosophers who at first glance seem rather subtle. Thus Heidegger contrasted two life styles in
Being and Time: authentic and inauthentic. He described the latter at great length before finding
the mark of authenticity in ³resoluteness.´ He never showed that resolution was incompatible
with inauthenticity. Of course, it is not, as his own decision for Hitler in 1933 illustrates. A
resolute leap into faith or into a movement is quite compatible with dishonesty, decidophobia,
and heteronomy. But in his Manichaean way, Heidegger assumed that all good must be on one
side; and since he considered resoluteness good and inauthenticity bad, he failed to see that they
can occur together. Manichaeism permeates much of traditional morality, and beyond that also
Western thought about reality. Indeed, many people assume that Manichaeism is based squarely
on the facts. But there are no opposites in nature. What would be the opposite of this rose or that
Austrian pine? Or of the sun, or of this human being? Only human thought introduces opposites.
Neither individual beings nor classes of such beings ± such as roses, pines, or human beings ±
have opposites; nor do colors, sounds, textures, feelings.

But are not hard and soft opposites? As abstract concepts they are; but the feel of a rock and the
feel of moss are not. It is only by disregarding most of the qualities of botl1 experiences and
classifying one as hard and the other as soft that people think of them as opposites. Playing with
fire and rolling in the snow are not opposites ± far from it ± but hot and cold are. No specific
degree of heat or coldness has any opposite, only the concepts do. The starry heavens and a
sunny sky are not opposites, but day and night are. And the Manichaean looks everywhere for
day and night concepts.

Temperatures are arranged on a linear scale, like hard and soft, fast and slow. Day and night, like
summer and winter or spring and fall, are best represented by a circle, like colors. Colors that are
across from each other on a color wheel are not opposites; no two colors are any more than two
times of day. Nothing temporal, nothing living, nothing that is in process has an opposite.

To understand the world and to bring some order into the chaos of human impressions one needs
concepts and abstractions; one disregards what in some particular context is less relevant.
Scientists, engineers, and analytical philosophers generally realize how indispensable analysis is.
The neoromantics who extol direct experience and feeling are much more prone to catch the
virus of Mani. Why?

Thoughtful people are at least dimly aware of the claims of both feeling and understanding. Even
those who incline heavily toward one side usually feel some need for the other. Thus the
analytically minded tend to leave the realms of faith and morals, if not politics, to feeling and
intuition, while the romantics, who stress the importance of feeling and intuition, indulge in a
bare minimum of analysis and tend to favor polarities.

Neither analysis nor direct experience entails any form of Manichaeism. The Manichaean limps
on both legs: he curtails both the understanding and direct experience, settling for very little of
each. He all but shuts both eyes and is a decidophobe.

He supposes not only that truth and error are opposites but even that there are children of truth
and children of error. The notion of degree, and especially degrees of truth, is anathema to him.
His thinking is as simplistic as a true-or-false test. ³Abraham Lincoln was born on February 11,
1809: True or False?´ False, but hardly the opposite of the truth, seeing that he was born
February 12, 1809. Even a multiple-choice test would allow a little more subtlety if it
distinguished between degrees of falsehood or approximations of the truth. But such
complexities frighten those who seek refuge in Manichaeism. They like decisions that make
themselves. The Manichaeans think in black and white; the autonomous think in color.

The seventh strategy is much the subtlest of the lot. I shall call it moral rationalism. It claims that
purely rational procedures can show what one ought to do or what would constitute a just
society. There is then no need at all to choose between different ideals, different societies,
different goals. Once again, no room is left for tragic quandaries or fateful choices.
Various philosophers have devoted considerable acumen to the development of different
versions of moral rationalism, and one cannot prove all of them wrong in a few paragraphs. But
my critique of the idea of justice in the next three chapters will join this issue and should show
that moral rationalism is untenable.

My repudiation of moral rationalism does not entail an acceptance of what I call moral
irrationalism. Anyone supposing that it must would commit the Manichaean fallacy. I repudiate

Moral irrationalism claims that because reason by itself cannot show people what to do, reason is
irrelevant when one is confronted with fateful decisions. This view is exemplified in different
ways by Kierkegaard and Heidegger and widely associated with existentialism. It is compatible
with any of the first six strategies and need not be considered here at length as a separate
strategy. The moral irrationalist says more or less explicitly that when it comes to ultimate
commitments reason is irrelevant; and the choice of a religion or a movement or a school of
thought, of a life style like drifting or a way of thinking like exegetical thinking or possibly even
Manichaeism, involves to his mind an ultimate commitment. This is a way of saying that while it
may be reasonable to keep your eyes open when making relatively petty decisions, it makes no
sense to keep them open and examine your impulsive preferences as well as the most significant
alternatives when a choice is likely to mold your future. In other words, be careful when you
drive slowly, but when you go over fifty miles per hour shut your eyes!

Both moral rationalism and moral irrationalism involve an inadequate conception of reason and
responsibility. Kant, an exemplary moral rationalist, thought that his ethic had the great
distinction of being autonomous. Heidegger, an exemplary moral irrationalist, suggests that his
stance, and only his, is authentic. Both claims are untenable.

I have considered seven ways of avoiding autonomy: (1) religion, (2) drifting, (3) allegiance to a
movement, (4) allegiance to a school of thought, (5) exegetical thinking, (6) Manichaeism, and
(7) moral rationalism. It is possible to systematize these seven strategies under two headings:
First, avoiding fateful decisions, possibly excepting the one decision not to make any more
fateful decisions (methods 1 to 5); second, making fateful decisions, but stacking the cards in
some way so that the choice will make itself and there is no possibility of tragedy (6-7).

More important, one can combine several of these strategies. Thomists, for example, combine 1,
4, 5, and 7 with a dash of 6; and Thomists who joined the Fascist party in Italy, the Nazi party in
Germany, or some of their cognates in Hungary or Slovakia get six out of a possible seven
points. They miss out only on drifting.
Herbert Marcuse does almost as well. In his work one finds all but the first two strategies:
religion and drifting. His fusion of Manichaeism and moral rationalism in his widely read essay
on ³Repressive Tolerance´ is instructive because it furnishes such a gross example of both.

His Manichaeism finds expression in his central plea for ³intolerance against movements from
the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left.´ He attacks ³the active, official tolerance
granted to the Right as well as to the Left, to movements of aggression as well as to movements
of peace, to the party of hate as well as that of humanity.´ His whole case depends on the
assumption that there are two camps, the Left and the Right, the children of light and the children
of darkness, and that the former are for peace and humanity, and are ³intelligent´ and
³informed,´ while the latter are for aggression and hate, ³stupid´ and ³misinformed.´ His plea
for ³the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which
promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and
religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.´
hinges on the notion that all good, all humanity, intelligence, and information are on one side.

His moral rationalism finds expression when he says that ³the distinction between liberating and
repressive, human and inhuman teachings and practices . . . is not a matter of value-preference
but of rational criteria.´ Three pages later this becomes the ³distinction between true and false,
progressive and regressive.´ The early Heidegger, under whom Marcuse had studied and to
whom he had dedicated his first book, had fused Manichaeism with moral irrationalism.

When one considers how many different combinations are possible, seven strategies may seem to
be enough, but when it comes to avoiding fateful decisions people are most inventive and use
other means as well. No exhaustive list is possible, but something will be gained by adding three
more to my list.

The eighth strategy for avoiding autonomy is pedantry. It plays a central part in the creeping
microscopism mentioned earlier; and I have noted previously that as long as one remains
absorbed in microscopic distinctions one is in no great danger of coming face to face with fateful

Of course, careful attention to detail is not only compatible with autonomy but a requirement of
intellectual integrity. Pedantry becomes decidophobic at the point where a person never gets
around to considering major decisions with any care or actually closes his eyes to macroscopic
alternatives. The same criteria apply to all the other strategies.
Pedantry is often part of a mixed strategy and may appear as an ingredient of religion, belonging
to a school of thought, exegetical thinking, or moral rationalism. In Heidegger¶s early work
(1927) it appears along with moral irrationalism and Manichaeism. But pedantry can also be a
person¶s one and only strategy. If so, he is not likely to become famous; hence no great examples
come to mind. But Grand, a character in Camus¶s novel The Plague, may serve as an illustration:
He has, he says, his work, which consists of writing a book, but the first sentence is giving him
no end of trouble, and he keeps rewriting it ± spending whole weeks on one word.

The ninth strategy is the faith that one is riding the wave of the future. This, too, is usually part
of a mixed strategy and frequently associated with religion, allegiance to a movement, belonging
to a school of thought, or Manichaeism. But even if the later Sartre did not succumb to these four
lures, he certainly deserves a point for this faith in addition to the point he gets for exegetical
thinking, and this is a very telling objection to his later work. Sartre endows Marxism with
authority because it is ³the philosophy of our time´ (1960) and the wave of the future, and this
exempts him from any need to see what speaks against it and what speaks for various
alternatives. In fact, the wave of the future would possess no moral authority even if we could
predict it. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who first said, ³The wave of the future is coming and there
is no fighting it,´ meant Hitler ± in 1940. Even if the future had belonged to him, an autonomous
person might well have chosen to go down fighting against the Nazis.

Those who employ the ninth strategy never stand alone or unsupported: they always feel backed
up by force majeure. Consider a very different example. Wallenstein, the great seventeenth-
century general who commanded the imperial army for almost a decade during the Thirty Years
War, has been brought to life on the stage by Friedrich Schiller as an exemplary decidophobe: he
keeps delaying his crucial break with the emperor and rationalizes his indecision by recourse to
astrology. Schiller suggests that if Wallenstein had acted sooner he probably would have
succeeded; but he waited until events forced his hand, and he failed and was murdered.
Astrology, oracles, and the Chinese I Ching, which achieved such immense popularity in the
United States during the 1960s, have always attracted decidophobes. Nor is it merely a great help
in specific cases to have an authoritative prognosis of the future. Millions find it frightening to
face up to the lack of necessity in human affairs. For the Soviet Writers¶ Secretariat, which
considered Alexander Solzhenitsyn¶s Cancer Ward unpublishable as written ± they were
generous with offers to help him rewrite it! ± one of the major provocations was the concluding
image of the novel: ³An evil man threw tobacco in the Macaque Rhesus¶s eyes. Just like that . .
.´ The affront was not so much that Stalin was likened to an evil man, but that the author
implicitly denied the Marxist philosophy of history and insisted on the element of caprice in
human affairs. One does not have to be a member of the Soviet Writers¶ Secretariat to be dizzied
by the thought that what some individual decides ³just like that´ might determine the misery and
death of millions. To avoid this dizziness, people have always found it tempting to believe in a
divine government, the stars, or ³History.´

Solzhenitsyn¶s opposition to all forms of historical determinism is central in his August 1914.
Here he develops a view of history that stands squarely opposed to Marxism and to that
³Tolstoyan philosophy, with its µworship of passive sanctity and meekness of simple, ordinary
people¶ ´ which one of his Soviet detractors had found in his early work. For obvious reasons,
the polemic against Marxism is not formulated explicitly, but Tolstoy¶s ideas about history are
rejected expressly. The subtlety and richness of this novel cannot be discussed here, but the
points that bear on autonomy can be stated succinctly.

In the first part of August 1914 the author shows how decrepit, obsolete, and hopeless the Tsar¶s
army was. Soon one feels that there is no need to go on in this vein; the disastrous Russian defeat
at Tannenberg was overdetermined, and anyone or two of the endless reasons mentioned would
have been enough. The reader is led to feel that it did not require the superlative efficiency and
technological superiority of the German army to defeat such a wretched force. But then
Solzhenitsyn tries to show that if the celebrated German victors, Hindenburg and Ludendorff,
had been obeyed, the Russian army would not have been encircled and destroyed: the shattering
Russian defeat was accomplished by two German generals who disobeyed orders. And the
Russian officers who defied their stupid orders and fought courageously inflicted serious defeats
on the Germans and broke through the encirclement. Solzhenitsyn calls upon his readers to reject
the false faith in the wave of the future and to make decisions for themselves, fearlessly.

Yet Solzhenitsyn is far from feeling contempt for those who lack the rare qualities required for
successful insubordination and autonomy. His compassion for the sufferings of the less gifted ±
Ivan Denisovich, Matryona, and the wives of some of the prisoners in The First Circle, for
example ± sears the heart. In August 1914 his sympathetic portrayal of General Samsonov, the
commander of the encircled Russian army, becomes one of the glories of world literature
precisely when we are shown how a severely limited man dies from the inside out, how despair
and death permeate his body. Had Samsonov been more independent, defying his orders, he
might have avoided defeat and failure; but he had some sense of decency, courage enough to
wish to die with his troops and, when that proved impossible, to commit suicide ± and he did not
tell lies.

Solzhenitsyn¶s hatred of dishonesty is a physical thing and finds superlative expression in the
overwhelming final scene of the book, in which a colonel simply cannot keep quiet even though
his explosion may not do any good and is almost certain to ruin him. Nothing in Solzhenitsyn¶s
works is more obviously autobiographical than the description of the feelings of this man. But
the same passion for honesty finds succinct expression in an aside in the early story, ³Matryona¶s
House´: ³There was nothing evil about either the mice or the cockroaches, they told no lies.´
Autonomy does not entail any ³elitist´ scorn for simple folk. But it does require courage and, as I
hope to show, high standards of honesty. And it precludes any deference to the wave of the


The tenth strategy, finally, often spells total relief, like the first two: marriage. At first glance, it
looks quite different from the others and therefore out of place. But it is probably the most
popular strategy of all. When getting married, legions of women have echoed Ruth¶s beautiful
words (which in the Bible are not spoken to a husband): ³Your people shall be my people, your
god my god.´ Henceforth they agree to make no more fateful decisions; they will leave that to
their husbands. This pattern is deeply ingrained in many cultures: it is what a woman is expected
to do when she gets married; and she is supposed to get married.

Actually, it does not always work that way. The man who boasts of making all the big decisions
while he leaves the small ones to his wife may admit when asked to explain: Big decisions
concern what we should do about China; small decisions deal with such matters as buying a
house and where to live. Figuratively speaking, many men marry their mothers.

It would be wrong to suppose either that marriage must involve decidophobia or that when it
does only one spouse can have succumbed. This strategy can work for both husband and wife.
Often a couple is a committee of two and makes decisions the way committees usually do: a
consensus is presumed and not questioned if all goes well. But if things turn out badly, one does
not feel altogether responsible; one merely went along; left to one¶s own devices one might have
acted quite differently. In a bad marriage such excuses are stated expressly; in a ³good´ marriage
they are entertained privately. However unworthy it may be to harbor such thoughts, there is
much more than a grain of truth in them. Left to their own devices, both partners ± or on a
committee, most or even all members ± might indeed have made a different decision. As it
happened, nobody made any decision at all, and that was one of the main features of the whole
arrangement from the start: marriage is a way of avoiding the necessity of having to make fateful
decisions. Instead of making a decision, one talks until something ³transpires.´

Another way of putting this point is less nasty and is unassailably true. In marriage one no longer
stands alone. Both partners have somebody to lean on ± if all goes well.

It does require a fateful decision to get married in the first place. But that decision may have
been prompted by decidophobia, by the desire to escape loneliness, by an unwillingness to make
decisions in solitude. There is nothing paradoxical in that. Kierkegaard¶s famous leap into
commitment is quite typically the plunge one takes from a solitary height to be rid of freedom. It
would require a fateful decision to go to a surgeon and say, Please, doctor, give me a frontal
lobotomy! But it would not be in the least paradoxical to say that anyone who made that choice
was a decidophobe who had come to the conclusion that he could not take it any more.

Getting married does not have to be like that; it is never quite like that; but it is often a little like
that. Marriage can be an expansion of consciousness. Getting married can involve the will to
incur additional responsibilities and to see a myriad things in two perspectives. Climbing with
another person may be prompted partly by the will to reach peaks that one cannot reach alone.

The same is often true of some of the other strategies. A religion or a movement may be
embraced because it holds out the same promise. But it is easy to deceive oneself and to credit
oneself with a courage that one lacks. One should realize at that point that one is actually
hedging one¶s bet; however bold one¶s intentions, one is making it easy for oneself to succumb
to decidophobia in the future if not immediately. It is the exceptional person who keeps resisting
this temptation.

The ten strategies could be arranged in a table as follows:

A. Avoid fateful decisions

1. Strategies involving recourse to authority: 1, 3, 4, 5, 9.
2. Strategies that do not involve recourse to authority and are compatible with going it alone: 2,
B. Stack the cards to make one alternative clearly right and remove all risk: 6, 7.
C. Decline responsibility: 10.

But it is only by exploring some of these strategies in detail that one can show what is involved
in autonomy, and what lures have to be resisted. Obviously, one must also resist the temptation
of thinking of autonomy in Manichaean terms. Autonomy provides no guarantee of happiness or
even goodness; and decidophobes may be very decent, altruistic people, good scholars, or fine
artists. Their lives may be blessed with warmth, security, and the comfort of strong convictions.

Too often those who denounce conformity see it merely as an expression of cowardice and
laziness. It can be that. But the tendency to believe that views held strongly by people whom one
knows well and likes must be largely right is extremely powerful and difficult to overcome. One
cannot begin to understand the appeal of some of these ten strategies if one ignores this fact.


Two questions about decidophobia remain to be answered. First: is a new word really needed?
Wouldn¶t ³self-alienation´ or ³loss of freedom´ do just as well? The point of coining a new term
is to move the phenomena discussed here clearly into focus. ³Alienation´ is a very troublesome
word, and it is extremely important not to fudge the differences between decidophobia and other
forms of alienation. Moreover, ³alienation´ immediately suggests to many people a specifically
modern phenomenon, as if things used to be better in the past. Finally, it is widely felt that the
cure for alienation must be sought in some sort of community; but I have shown that the search
for community looms large among the strategies of decidophobia.

³Loss of freedom´ suggests that one had freedom before one lost it. ³Escape from freedom´ has
similar overtones. Such phrases are therefore grossly misleading. Again, an illustration may help.
One chapter in Charles Reich¶s immensely popular book The Greening of America (1970) bears
the title ³The Lost Self.´ We are transposed into a fairy tale: We had a self before some ogre
(³the Corporate State´) took it away, and ³When self is recovered, the power of the Corporate
State will be ended, as miraculously as a kiss breaks a witch¶s evil enchantment.´

This fairy-tale quality pervades the whole book. We are asked to suspend our critical faculties
when we are told of World War II (!) that ³the source of the war is in the barren, frustrated lives
that are led in America; lives that lead men to aggression, force, and power.´ The war in
Vietnam, too, becomes part of the fairy tale: ³Report after report from Vietnam shows that G.I.s,
sent out to search and destroy those whom the State considers µenemies,¶ simply seek the safety
of some foliage and peacefully smoke marijuana, rap, and sleep.´

Thus those who are troubled about themselves and their children are urged to take heart: The
children of light who are numbered in the millions are even now approaching on the wave of the
future, sitting on the Left.

The other question we must face is whether it is at all possible to resist all ten lures, to master
decidophobia and become liberated. If I point to some illustrious examples to show that
autonomy is attainable, you may feel that what was possible for people of such stature is not
necessarily possible for ordinary human beings. But if I mentioned people who are not famous
and therefore not widely known, I would be asking you in effect to take my word for it that it is
possible and actually has been done. Clearly, the first course represents the lesser evil, the more
so because autonomy is difficult to attain.

Characters from literature are beside the point, but it is worth noting that Aeschylus created at
least two autonomous figures: Prometheus, who is almost autonomy incarnate, and Clytemnestra,
who reminds us that autonomy is no warrant of virtue. (Aeschylus did not mean to suggest that
married women, if liberated, must kill their husbands.)

Western philosophy has been to some extent a quest for autonomy, and the pre-Socratics are
considered the first Western philosophers because they were free thinkers who leaned neither on
religion nor on exegetical thinking but took stands of their own. Heraclitus comes to life as an
individual rather more than the others, and although knowledge of him is limited it seems clear
that he did not employ any of the ten strategies. The most dramatic illustrations in the long
history of Western philosophy, however, are Socrates and Nietzsche. A few interpreters, to be
sure, have tried to saddle Socrates with Plato¶s moral rationalism; but the Apology, the
conclusion of the Theaetetus, and some other passages suggest forcibly that Socrates made a
point of not knowing what he did not know. But even if he should not have defied the fear of
freedom with complete success, he clearly went much further than most men, and contemplation
of his thought and posture helps us understand what is involved in mastering decidophobia.

The case of Nietzsche illustrates not only autonomy but also two phobic gambits, employed by
those who feel stung by such freedom. The first gambit is to turn those who have mastered
decidophobia into something else ± say, by posthumously baptizing Socrates as an Anglican or
by claiming that Nietzsche was a fascist. The second ± indeed, the classical phobic gambit,
equally popular with religious apologists and members of political movements, Left as well as
Right ± is to say: Those who examine their own preferences as well as alternatives end up by
never making up their minds; they keep arguing when the time for argument is µlong past; they
never get around to drawing a conclusion and taking a stand; they shrink from decisions. No
doubt, there are people of that kind, but it is also possible to make decisions responsibly.

The autonomous individual does not treat his own conclusions and decisions as authoritative but
chooses with his eyes open, and then keeps his eyes open. He has the courage to admit that he
may have been wrong even about matters of the greatest importance. He objects to the ten
strategies not on account of their putative psychological origins but because they preclude
uninhibited self-criticism.

There is no need here to recapitulate my interpretation of Nietzsche as a man of this type or to

show that he did get around to drawing conclusions and taking stands, My disagreements with
him are legion, but his books reveal a truly liberated spirit. It will suffice here to quote a single
epigram from his notebooks: ³A very popular error: having the courage of one¶s convictions;
rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one¶s convictions!!!´

Among poets there are few whose lives are as well documented as Goethe¶s, and nobody can
accuse him of having succumbed to any of the ten strategies. Incidentally, he married, as
Socrates did, illustrating the point that marriage does not necessarily involve decidophobia.

Coming to our own time, Eleanor Roosevelt was an autonomous woman but did not come fully
into her own until after her husband¶s death. In some ways, being a President¶s wife offers a
woman exceptional opportunities; but it is also confining because she must always consider how
her words and actions will affect the President. This helps to explain why no other President¶s
wife played a comparable role. It is harder to understand why others did not use their experience
and prestige for the good of humanity once their husbands were out of office or dead, especially
in cases in which widespread sympathy and admiration would have made it relatively easy. But
the women who marry extraordinarily ambitious men are rarely looking for autonomy; they are
much more likely to use marriage as a decidophobic strategy, perhaps even along with religion
and allegiance to a party. Moreover, years in the limelight, in which every move must be
scrutinized lest it undercut the husband¶s career, must be crushing. All this makes Eleanor
Roosevelt¶s achievement even more imposing. She did not allow her difficult marriage to one of
the strongest personalities in the world destroy her own will and spirit, and she never simply
accepted his political or moral views, nor those of the Democratic Party. She kept her own
counsel and after his death showed all the world what it means to be autonomous, using every
resource at her command for the benefit of those who needed help.

My final example exhibits the most awesome courage: Solzhenitsyn. Rarely has it been so
difficult for any man to stand alone, utterly alone, without any prop of any kind. The First Circle,
Cancer Ward, Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record, and August 1914 show how he succeeded
in resisting all ten temptations, making one fateful decision after another against seemingly
insuperable odds. His life is autonomy in action.



THE ROAD to autonomy is blocked by a two-headed dragon. One head is Guilt, the other
Justice. Justice roars: ³You have no right to decide for yourself; you have been told what is good,
right, and just. There is one righteous road, and there are many unrighteous ones. Turn back and
seek justice!´

Frightened, man stops and marvels at his own presumption, when Guilt cries: ³Those who
succeed in getting past Justice are devoured by Guilt. Seek the road to which Justice directs you
and dare not to strike out on paths of your own. Guilt has a thousand eyes to swallow you, and
the lids above and below each are lined with poison fangs. Turn back: autonomy IS sacrilege.´
Whoever wants to reach autonomy must first slay this dragon and do battle with Justice and
Guilt. But Justice has many wiles and is not always as fierce as her roar. She can change herself
into a beautiful woman ± no longer young, to be sure ± and say: ³In my youth the Hebrew
prophets loved me, and Plato sang my praises. Christianity taught generations to think of me as
divine and linked me to God¶s righteous judgment of all men. When faith in God declined,
philosophers of widely different views tried to dissociate me from religion and linked me with
reason.´ At that point the voice of Justice becomes less wistful; she continues firmly, even
imperiously: ³Legions now no longer appeal to God as moral arbiter; they invoke me.´
Asked how they know what is just, large numbers of people would deny that they were relying
on their upbringing or on their personal intuition; they would insist that their claims were rational
and that any reasonable person who was not blinded by prejudice could see what was just.
People who think that way are decidophobes who have fallen for the seventh strategy: moral

They believe that there is one righteous way and that justice demands one particular punishment
or one specific distribution. There is no need to weigh alternatives and then make difficult
decisions; there is no room for excruciating choices: reason ± they think ± tells us plainly what
we ought to do. Formerly it was religion that was thought to tell us what was just, and God was
the ultimate authority. With the death of God, the prestige of justice rose, if only temporarily,
and now she receives some of the reverence hitherto reserved for God.

Justice is widely held to be objective if not absolute, precise and not subject to emotion, timeless
and above mere preferences. These attributes are crucial features of what people mean by justice.
When justice demands something, it is no longer up to mere human beings to try to decide what
to do; the individual is supposed to submit and do the bidding of justice.

In fact, justice is not at all timeless. Yesterday¶s just punishment or distribution may be
considered blatantly unjust today. Soon I shall give examples to show how what was once
demanded in the name of simple justice is now felt to be outrageous. To the skeptic, any claim
that ³justice has been done´ looks arrogant and foolish right away. A generation or two later, it
will also look absurd to those who are not skeptics and who use the same rhetoric themselves. I
shall argue that the demands of simple justice are simple indeed but not just.

There is more than one way in which justice is not timeless. It will be helpful to distinguish
several stages in the development of the idea of justice.

First, justice was conformity with custom, and injustice meant a violation of tradition. Even at
this stage, justice blocked the road to autonomy; it was not up to the individual to make fateful
decisions for himself. An extraordinary passage in the Iliad seems to illustrate this stage.
Menelaus is about to take a Trojan prisoner of war in order to collect ransom, when Agamemnon
reproaches him: ³No let us not leave even one of them alive, down to the babies in their mothers¶
wombs ± not even they should live. The whole people must be wiped out of existence, and none
survive to think of them or weep.´ And Homer continues: ³He turned his brother¶s heart, for he
urged justice.´ This seems to mean that he reminded his brother of the hallowed custom of
genocide. In time, the tragic poets and the Sophists questioned the authority of custom and
convention, and Euripides attacked this particular custom in The Trojan Women.
At the second stage, justice becomes the sum of the virtues. The classical formulation is found in
another Greek poet, Theognis, in the second half of the sixth century B.C.:

Justice contains the sum of all virtue,

and every just man, Kyrnos, is good.

This is a development of the first stage and originally meant that those who conformed to custom
were good. But when convention was felt to be problematic, a higher law was postulated both in
Athens and in Jerusalem ± what later came to be known as ³natural law´ ± and whoever lived in
conformity with that was considered just. This second stage was consummated by Plato and the
Hebrew prophets.

The third state is reached when justice becomes a particular virtue. Aristotle, in the fourth
century, expressly distinguished the justice that is the sum of the virtues from the justice that is
one of the virtues. Further, he distinguished distributive and rectificatory justice, associating the
latter with restitution ± not with retribution.

When justice is no longer primarily a virtue but rather a quality of punishments and distributions,
the fourth stage has been reached. On the rare occasions when a person is still called just at this
stage, this is either an archaism that harks back to the second stage, and the meaning is that he is,
in Hebrew, a tsaddik ± a man who is just in the sense that he has all the virtues ± or what is
meant is that the distributions he makes or the punishments he imposes are just. In the modern
age, justice is primarily a predicate of punishments and distributions, and the ascription of justice
as a virtue to individuals is derivative.

The conception of justice that underlies retributive and distributive justice is the same:
distributions and punishments are considered just when each gets what he deserves, and unjust
when this is not the case. In other words, justice consists of meting out to men what they deserve.
When they are punished because they are held to deserve evil and suffering, one speaks of
retributive justice. When what is distributed is good one speaks of distributive justice. I propose
to criticize this kind of justice ± retributive justice in the remainder of this chapter, distributive
justice in the next. The notion that distributive justice is better understood as fairness will also be
taken up in the next chapter.

The four stages in the development of the idea of justice are not so distinct that one could say
when each began and ended. Even when justice was considered the sum of the virtues, giving
each what he deserved was often held to be an especially important part of it; and when justice
became a particular virtue it came to consist more and more of punishing and rewarding every
man in accordance with his deserts. God embodied this kind of justice, and in the Last Judgment
it was made manifest to all. But now the fifth stage is upon us: the death of retributive justice.
Retributive justice has been subjected to so much criticism that one might suppose the time had
come to say that one should not speak ill of the dead. But the fifth stage, in which we are living,
is a time of moral confusion. The aversion to retributive justice is rather sentimental, and even
philosophers who find her utterly repugnant still cling to distributive justice as if that were an
entirely different matter. They go to great pains to dissociate distributive justice from her ugly
sister, who is dying; they speak of distributive justice as if she alone had a right to the name; and
they outdo each other in their reverence for her.

Consider two of the most respected moral philosophers in the United States. William Frankena
calls retributive justice ³quite incredible,´ but considers distributive justice one of ³the two
µcardinal¶ moral virtues,´ along with benevolence. John Rawls writes A Theory of Justice and
devotes a single page out of six hundred to retributive justice ± merely to reject out of hand the
notion that it is ³the opposite´ of distributive justice. This page is not marked by the subtlety that
distinguishes much of the rest of the book: ³A propensity to commit such acts [i.e., 'acts
proscribed by penal statutes'] is a mark of bad character, and in a just society legal punishments
will only fall upon those who display these faults.´ I shall argue that punishment should be
dissociated completely from any judgment of character. Rawls is not arguing at all at this point:
he is merely trying to dismiss retributive justice. But as long as retributive justice is ignored, the
nature of justice can hardly be understood.

I want to do my best to usher in stage six: the death of distributive justice. To accomplish that,
one must begin at the stage in which we live now, the fifth, and consider the death of retributive
justice first. For the case against distributive justice closely parallels that against retributive
justice. The faith in retributive justice is going fast; and distributive justice cannot long survive
the death of her Siamese twin.


In the Old Testament and the New, in Judaism and Christianity as well as Hinduism, retributive
justice has always been of the essence of justice, and it has actually tended to overshadow
distributive justice. To this day, the claim that ³justice has been done´ brings to mind
punishment first of all, and the phrase ³justice demands . . .´ is as often completed with a specific
penalty as it is with something good. God¶s justice was always held to consist in large measure
of his punishment of the wicked. That so many evildoers flourished raised doubts about God¶s
justice, but eventually the justice of God would be made manifest to all as each received what he
deserved. Human justice was held to consist of an emulation of the divine judgment, and it was
often very cruel indeed.

Rawls insists on his own Kantianism but quite overlooks that even in the Philosophy of Right
(Rechtslehre, 1797), which has been translated into English under the title The Metaphysical
Elements of Justice, Kant hardly ever speaks of justice (Gerechtigkeit), except in the section on
punishment For him justice meant pre-eminently retributive justice. He did not even speak of
justice when in his postulate of God¶s existence (1788) he implicitly demanded distributive
justice in the hereafter.

Hegel also published a Philosophy of Right without ever discussing justice at any length; and he,
too, found justice above all in punishment. Distributive justice has never held the place in
German moral philosophy that it obtained in British and American ethics. Karl Marx stood
squarely in the German tradition and pleaded not for distributive justice (Robert Tucker has
shown this conclusively) but for self-realization and, in a sense, autonomy. (I shall return to
Marx in the chapter on alienation; for what he fought against was not distributive injustice but
alienation.) The modem liberal champions of distributive justice tend to ignore retributive
justice, but before our own time almost everybody except David Hume recognized that
retributive justice was of the essence of justice.

This recognition was by no means confined to Catholics, Calvinists, and Kant¶s heirs. Take
Thomas Jefferson, the very model of an ³enlightened´ opponent of Calvinism and Catholicism.
When Napoleon was in St. Helena, Jefferson said of him, in a letter:









The final exclamation suggests the limits, if not the absurdity, of the dream of proportionality.
Yet the notion that justice is done only when every crime is punished proportionately is
extremely widespread. Jefferson shows this, too. In his First Inaugural Address he proposed
³Equal and exact [!] justice to all men.´ To his mind this did not entail the abolition of slavery.
But he had spelled out some of his relevant ideas in 1779 in ³A Bill for Proportioning Crimes
and Punishments,´ which ends: ³Slaves guilty of any offence punishable in others by labor in the
public works, shall be transported to such parts in the West Indies, South America, or Africa, as
the Governor shall direct, there to be continued in slavery.´

In Jefferson¶s Bill, ³petty treason´ and murder are to be punished by death, and ³Whosoever
committeth murder by poisoning shall suffer death by poison.´ ³Whosoever shall be guilty of
rape, polygamy, or sodomy with man or woman, shall be punished, if a man, by castration, if a
woman, by cutting through the cartilage of her nose a hole of one half inch in diameter at the
least.´ And






Many people nowadays associate ³an eye for an eye´ with the Old Testament, and many liberals
believe that this conception of justice was transcended in the New Testament. Often one goes on
to associate the former with justice and the latter with love, and one contrasts the laws of Moses
not with the laws of the Christian Middle Ages, some two thousand years later, or with the laws
of Christian countries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but with the most edifying dicta
about personal conduct in the Sermon on the Mount. Yet this Sermon is studded with promises
of rewards and punishments, and the Gospels are punctuated by threats of judgment, damnation,
and hell. It is also in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus offers the classical formulation of a
notion of justice that embraces retribution as well as distribution: ³the measure you give, shall be
the measure you get.´ But the distinctive conception of justice in the New Testament is that on
the day of judgment few will be saved from eternal torment. The idea that any man ± not even to
speak of most of mankind ± should be punished with eternal torture is so repugnant to liberals
that millions refuse to acknowledge its presence where it stares them in the face.

A typical liberal reaction to Jefferson¶s ³Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments´ would
be to consider it a relapse into Mosaic cruelties. It would be less out of touch with historical fact
and Jefferson¶s spirit to see it as an advance over the cruelty of his own time and of the Gospels.


In eighteenth-century England the punishment for treason began with hanging; then the offender
was taken down while still alive and his entrails were cut out and burned before his eyes; and
then he was beheaded and quartered. In 1694 an attainder for treason was reversed by the King¶s
Bench after a man had been duly drawn, hanged, and quartered because the judge, after saying
that the traitor¶s entrails were to be cut out, had omitted the words ³and burned while he is still
alive.´ To rule that this phrase could be left out because a man would scarcely survive after his
entrails were cut from his belly, said the King¶s Bench, would make ³judgments in high treason .
. . discretionary, which indeed is only a softer word for arbitrary.´

This might invite all kinds of decisions, including ³a Jewish judgment, µthat the offender should
be stoned to death¶; or a Turkish judgment, µthat he should be strangled¶; . . .or a French
judgment, µthat he should be broken on the wheel. . .´¶
In France two men were broken on the wheel for petty theft as late as 1770; one had stolen a
piece of cheese. In England, a nine-year-old child was sentenced to death in 1832 for smashing a
window and stealing two-pence worth of paint. It was only in 1837 that two hundred offences
hitherto punishable by death ceased to be capital crimes in England.

Paul Reiwald is right when he says:







Reiwald is also right when he says in his discussion of medieval punishments: ³The barrier of the
lex talionis is torn down. Compared to what was actually done, its application would have
signified gentle mercy.´

As for the Gospels, consider how Jesus comforted his disciples:


   ' %        ()*  

But these lambs pack some clout! Anyone who does not care to listen to their preaching will be
punished worse than the most notorious evildoers of all time. It is of the essence of liberal
Christianity that it feels sure without any need for evidence that Jesus did not really say this and
that Matthew and Luke must have misquoted him. That there are many similar passages, also in
the other two Gospels, one does not recall any more than one remembered these sentences.
Whatever the evidence, one simply knows that Jesus did not say any such thing.

There is a Manichaean streak in the Gospels: the enemy is beyond the protection of
proportionality. If he will not listen, the worst punishment is still too good for him. Liberals are
appalled by such cruelty and favor a sense of proportion, certainly as far as rewards are
concerned; but when it comes to punishment, they are confused. It certainly should not be
disproportionate. But liberals prefer to think of justice as having nothing to do with anything as
unpleasant as punishment. In one context they uphold the superiority of love and speak of justice
as transcended by Christianity. In another, they are all for justice and associate it with causes
they believe in. In short, many are against retributive justice but for distributive justice.
It would make no sense to saddle either the New Testament or the King¶s Bench in England or
the lawmakers of the Middle Ages with moral rationalism. Here we are still in the realm of
religion with God¶s awesome justice as the model. But some of the men of the Enlightenment
sought to counter the inhumanity of their Christian predecessors with appeals to reason. They
thought that retributive justice had a mathematical quality and that murder called for capital
punishment in much the same way in which two plus two equals four.

Not only Jefferson tried to find proportionate punishments for other crimes. In a similar spirit,
Kant tried to prove that reason requires thieves to be sentenced to forced labor in a penitentiary:

   " +









Such sophistry is the direct consequence of the attempt to approximate morality to mathematics:
³What kind and what degree of punishment does public justice adopt as a principle and standard?
None other than the principle of equality (the little tongue of the scales of justice) . . .´ Against
those who even in Kant¶s time were arguing against capital punishment he insists:







Most modern readers will find this as uncongenial as Jefferson¶s ³Bill for Proportioning Crimes
and Punishments.´ Those who revere Kant or Jefferson will find much of this downright
embarrassing. Why? Because the faith in retributive justice is all but dead. What are the causes
of its death? The answer to this question will also show why today, for the first time in human
history, autonomy has become a live option for millions.


The first phase of the movement that is leading to the death of justice might be called moral
skepticism. This could be traced back to the Greeks; Plato could be seen as a reaction to it, and
Christianity as a great countermovement. But for our purposes it will suffice to consider the
familiar resurgence of moral skepticism in the modern era. This development is so well known
that we need only recall very briefly a few of its major elements. First, religion lost its authority
in moral matters for most of mankind. Then, the habit of considering alternatives and weighing
pros and cons spread with the rise of modern science; and when this approach is applied to moral
claims, the result is moral skepticism. The development of comparative sociology and
anthropology has done its share to make this explicit. So has the study of comparative religion ±
this, too, is a way of considering alternatives ± in spite of the last-ditch ³holy lie´ of some
decidophobes that all the great religious teachers taught the same morality.

On another plane, it has become more and more unusual for all the children in a family to stay in
the town where they were born. People are exposed to different environments and mores. Tens of
millions have been uprooted and moved since World War II, and vast numbers have left farms
and villages and small towns for big cities. Travel has also proliferated; hitherto isolated people
who are far too poor to travel are suddenly brought face to face with foreigners; and magazines,
films, radio, and television have done their share to expose men to different value systems.

Our moral philosophers have on the whole been more conservative than many of their students.
It makes a difference if one has grown up in a relatively stable environment, under the tutelage of
parents and teachers who were still closer to absolutism. Those who grew up after Auschwitz and
Nagasaki cannot recall a ³normal,´ stable world. That many students became Manichaeans in the
1960s and reverted to a form of moral absolutism ± in some cases, moral rationalism ± was due
to the fact that they had traveled further down the road of skepticism and had reached nihilism
and despair. The wars in Vietnam and Algeria and the slaughter in India and Pakistan, in the
Congo, Indonesia, and Nigeria, and the world¶s reaction, made a mockery of the morality to
which Western societies as well Asian and African governments paid lip service. These vast
atrocities and the numbing anonymity of metropolitan life had contributed to a desperate sense of
futility. Many had gone beyond moral skepticism into moral nihilism: from the reasonable
position that whatever we do is not likely to make any difference a thousand years hence, they
inferred fallaciously that it therefore made no difference ± not even now. It was from this
nihilistic despair that some students sought salvation in a new absolutism.

Skepticism about natural law is implicit in moral skepticism. The very concept of natural law is
not widely familiar ± philosophers, theologians, and lawyers know it; few others do. Not only is
the term mildly esoteric, but the idea that a single moral law is binding for all men, regardless of
time and place, lost its plausibility as moral skepticism spread. Few except Catholics still cling to
this notion, and fewer and fewer Catholics do. Even many Catholic theologians now defend the
Inquisition by saying that it was justified in its time but would not be justifiable today.

The man who did most to promote skepticism about positive law ± the law actually in force in a
state ± was Hitler. The war crimes trials from Nuremberg to Jerusalem convinced millions that
obedience to the laws of the state in which one lives is by no means always one¶s duty. What a
few had learned earlier from Sophocles¶ Antigone, Tolstoy, Thoreau, or Gandhi, millions learned
from these trials. Some learned it directly, as it were; but there was no lack of mentors.
One of the most influential of these was Sartre. During the Algerian War he kept exhorting
intellectuals to speak out and defy their government. He reached an international constituency.
At the same time Martin Luther King¶s civil disobedience campaign in the American South did
its share to shake the faith in positive law. King had taken his doctorate in philosophy, but again
it would be misleading to understand the change in attitude in purely intellectual terms. In the
United States, for example, the Draconic laws against possession of marijuana and other drugs
carried masses of young people beyond skepticism about law into downright contempt for law.
The prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s had had a similar effect. But the constellation of
incomparably more severe penalties with the civil rights struggle and opposition to the war in
Vietnam made this new contempt far more impassioned.

In time, moral skepticism will be seen to entail doubts about justice, but so far skepticism about
distributive justice is not yet widespread at all. Why, then, is retributive justice dying? In
addition to the historical developments summarized here, three major points are worth stressing.


First, attitudes towards criminals have changed to the point where the demand not to hate them
but to remain mindful of their humanity no longer sounds utopian. This change is due in no small
measure to some nineteenth-century novelists. Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo come to mind
along with Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Their depiction of suffering was nothing new, and the image
of prison conditions in the nineteenth-century novel is no more cruel than much that can be
found in earlier literature, including Dante¶s Inferno. What is distinctive is the novelists¶ attitude
toward these conditions and the sympathy for the criminals that is evoked in the reader. The
culmination of this movement is reached at the turn of the century in Tolstoy¶s Resurrection, the
novel for which he was excommunicated by the Orthodox Church in 1901.

Second, we have developed a kind of second sight. To say that we have become more perceptive
in psychological matters would be an understatement, not because our age is so perceptive,
which it is not, but rather because the psychological obtuseness that prevailed until quite recently
is almost unbelievable. Again, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy deserve much of the credit for this
change, along with Nietzsche and, above all, Freud.

To tear down the wall that respectable people had built up between themselves and those who
were ³abnormal,´ these writers approached it from two sides. Unlike Dostoevsky and Tolstoy,
Freud did not think much of the dictum that one ought to love one¶s enemies, but far more than
any Christian saint or theologian, he showed that our enemies, and criminals for that matter, were
not essentially different from ourselves. One did not have to accept his theories in detail to be
strongly affected by this implication of his work.
The other approach to the wall is much less obvious. In Paul W. Tappan¶s massive standard text
on Crime, Justice and Correction, for example, all ten references to Freud (in seven hundred fifty
pages) concern the light he shed on criminals. But Freud ± like Nietzsche, whom Tappan does
not mention at all ± also turned a searchlight on respectable society, illuminating the unedifying
motives that come to the fore in punishment. Not only is the criminal a human being like you,
but you, alas, are like the criminal.

It is not surprising that this insight is much less popular than the first approach, which goes so
well with the liberal faith in humanity. But even where this second approach is not accepted
explicitly, it has come to color our way of thinking. When one reads a typical defense of
retributive justice by a nineteenth-century philosopher who claims that ³Indignation against
wrong done to another has nothing in common with a desire to revenge a wrong done to ourself,´
one is struck by its psychological naïveté. Philosophers, to be sure, always have a tendency to
stick to words and thrive on neat conceptual distinctions, but after Freud even a philosopher may
be pardoned for asking how ³indignation against wrong done to another´ looks in practice.

Consider the institution of the pillory. The following report from the British Morning Herald of
January 28, 1804, is typical:

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/  2





Here we see ³indignation against wrong done to another´ in action. Of course, such indignation
does not always look like this, and soon I shall analyze the various functions of punishment. But
what I have quoted is not an odd item about the behavior of a crowd that has got out of hand; it is
rather a representative description of a form of punishment that was quite popular for a long
time. Why are we unconvinced by all attempts to prove that what was meted out to Thomas Scott
was exact justice? He had endeavored to undermine respect for Captain Kennah; now he was
subjected to loss of respect. Similar arguments could be offered for other Curious Punishments
of Bygone Days, to cite the title of a book by Alice Morse Earle (1896) which is set in America.
Her chapter headings give some idea of the contents: the ducking stool, the stocks, the pillory,
the whipping post, the scarlet letter, branks and gags, branding and maiming. Branks were an
iron frame placed over a woman¶s head, with a sharp metal bit entering the mouth, and were
used to punish scolds. One would not need the subtle ingenuity of Kant to show that this
punishment was in a way appropriate and not by any means completely disproportionate; and yet
few readers nowadays would concede that simple justice demanded it. Why not?

Or consider one of the oddest passages in Curious Punishments: ³Truly long hair and wigs had
their ulterior uses in colonial days when ear-cropping was thus rife. . . . Life was dull and
cramped in those days, but there were diversions; when the breeze might lift the locks from your
friend¶s or lover¶s cheek and give a glimpse of ghastly hole instead of an ear. . .´ (sic). Or this:
³One woman at the whipping post µcreated much amusement by her resistance.¶ ´ We do not
even ask for what crimes ear-cropping or whipping might be proportionate, though it stands to
reason that a Jefferson or Kant might have come up with a thoughtful answer. Why?

The answer to these questions has been given above: skepticism about positive law, sympathy
for and even identification with the criminal, and a horror of the unedifying motives that find
expression in punishment. But one final point may help to illuminate the other developments
considered here. The death of retributive justice is linked to the death of God.
As long as men believed in the Last Judgment and in hell, they could hardly question retributive
justice. Pope Pius XII made this point plainly and emphatically when he addressed the Sixth
International Congress of Penal Law, October 3, 1953: Against ³modern theories´ that ³fail to
consider expiation of the crime committed. . . as the most important function of punishment´ he
cited Matthew 16:27 and Romans 2:6 and 13:4, concluding:


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As long as traditional Christianity flourished, retributive justice did, too. When the faith in hell
and the Last Judgment lost its grip, Jefferson and Kant, as well as other writers, still tried to save
the faith in retributive justice by providing a new, rationalist foundation for it. While men still
had the old religious faith in their bones, such efforts seemed to have some plausibility; but no
more. Millions realize that neither God nor reason has determined once and for all what each
person deserves and that it is up to us to weigh alternatives and to make difficult decisions.


To decide whether and when punishment is needed, one must first of all be clear about what
precisely punishment is and what its functions are. It is such a familiar institution that most
people never realize how subtle it is.
Punishment involves at least two persons (call them A and B) and two acts. A holds a position of
authority in relation to B, claims that B has done some wrong, and by virtue of his authority
causes something unpleasant to happen to B in return for (as a punishment for) this claimed
wrong. This is what is meant by punishment. If A does not claim that B has done some wrong,
one speaks of maltreatment or torture, not of punishment; and if A does not hold a position of
authority one speaks of revenge.

B could be an animal, but only if A treats B more or less as a person. Thus B could well be a dog
or a cat; but we do not call it punishment when we kill a mosquito that has just bitten us. If A and
B are one and the same person and we say, ³Why do you keep punishing yourself?´ we are using
the term figuratively but still in a manner that is wholly consistent with our explication: B
assumes the role of A and punishes himself. Finally, A could be a deity who in that case would
act more or less like a person ± specifically, like a father, a judge, or possibly a teacher.

What is the purpose of this institution of punishment? It is encountered in many, if not all,
societies and is used not only by political authorities but also by parents and teachers and even in
games. Its ubiquity makes a mockery of any search for ³the purpose,´ as if there were always
one purpose only, the same everywhere. In different societies, contexts, and ages, punishment
served various functions. Its entertainment value was more important in some places than in
others. But the desire to see justice done, to do to the offender what he deserved, was never the
primary reason for instituting punishments. The primary purpose of proclaiming a penal code is
to prevent some evil. But this does not mean that the penalties are intended solely for deterrence.
In Deuteronomy 19, ³eye for eye´ is actually introduced: ³The rest shall hear and fear, and shall
never again commit any such evil in your midst.´ Deterrence is very important indeed, but often
understood far too narrowly.

A penal code deters people from committing crimes not only (1) by engendering fear but also (2)
by inculcating a moral sense. A trivial penalty (say, a five cent fine) suggests that an offense is
trivial, while a severe penalty conveys the sense that the crime for which it is decreed is grave.
The code may also deter people simply (3) by informing them of what is forbidden. At first
glance, it may seem to be overly subtle to distinguish this function from the first two. In fact, in
many cases one is neither frightened nor led to feel that anything is immoral, and it is quite
common for people to know that certain acts are forbidden without having any idea what
penalties have been decreed for offenders. In such cases the third function is in evidence, but not
the first two. But crimes occur in spite of all this, and the penalties are intended to undo, or at
least to minimize, the damage. How?

4. By preventing private vengeance, lynchings, and a general breakdown of order. Often the
offense injured others who, in the absence of a penal code, might have taken the law into their
own hands.
5. By seeing to it that the breaking of a law does not become an invitation to other men to
emulate the lawbreaker. The punishment is meant to deter others and thus to re-enforce the code.
The offender has weakened the law and come close to annulling its deterrent effect; now the
punishment is meant to undo this negative consequence and thus to restore the deterrent effect.

6. By providing a safety valve for the unlawful desires that smolder below the surface and are
fanned to the danger point by the commission of a crime. Many people have wanted to do what
the criminal did but were kept from doing it by the law or by their conscience. Now he makes
them look silly; they were timid, he was bold; they were weak, and he was strong ± if he gets
away with it. And he seems to have gotten away with it. Hence many people are burning to de
what he did. The penal code provides an outlet for this criminal desire. He has killed someone,
µand now you ± many of you ± also want to kill? All right; kill him! He has maimed someone,
and now many of you also want to maim someone? All right; maim him! Thus the desire for
talion ± for doing to the criminal what he has done to someone else ± does not evidence any
profound sense of justice or a primordial conviction that this is clearly what the criminal

These last three functions (4-6) interpenetrate. But the desire to proportion punishments to
crimes is not born of the feeling that anything less than this would not be justice; it represents an
attempt ± as in Jefferson¶s case ± to keep cruelty in bounds. For as soon as people are invited to
vent their criminal desires on the criminal, the same dangers reappear that we have just
considered (under 4 and 5): as long as he is to be killed in any case, why merely kill him? Why
not. hang him first, then take him down alive, cut out his entrails. . . Why not have an orgy?
Historically, the call for talion has generally signified a great advance over wanton cruelty (see
page 44 above).

The fourth and fifth functions still come under the heading of deterrence. The sixth might be
called cathartic, to use an ugly word for an ugly fact. Punishment purges the society ± not, as
often claimed, by removing some mythical pollution, but in a more palpable psychological sense.
The purge, of course, affords only temporary relief, and unfortunately there is evidence that it is
addictive. But this function of punishment has often been mistaken for a demand for retributive

The traditional distinction between three functions of punishment ± deterrence, reform, and
retribution ± is not subtle enough. One should distinguish ten functions ± four more in addition to
the six considered so far.

7. Punishment is often justified as a means of reforming the offender. Thus a child is punished to
teach him a lesson and to make him a better person. Lawbreakers have been pilloried, whipped,
sent to prison, branded, maimed, and fined to re-educate them. Hardly solely for that purpose,
but we need not doubt that this was often held to be one aim of punishment ± and more rarely
also one function of punishment.

8. Recompense or restitution is scarcely a punishment as long as it is merely a matter of returning

stolen goods or money. But suppose one has insulted another person and is required to make a
public apology, or one has to make up to someone else some other form of humiliation,
inconvenience, or suffering. When the offender is humiliated, inconvenienced, or made to suffer
in turn because this is held to be some recompense for the offended party, we enter the realm of
punishment. Similarly, when it is claimed that the lawbreaker has harmed society and must now
pay his debt to society, recompense is invoked as the purpose of punishment. The point is not
that the offender deserves to suffer; it is rather that the offended party desires compensation.
Again, the various functions often interpenetrate.

9. Expiation is also a form of recompense, but here the underlying idea is that some god has been
offended and must be appeased. The notion of expiation depends on religious beliefs and makes
no sense apart from them. Here I am sticking closely to the traditional meaning of ³expiation.´ If
it were objected that the notion also makes sense in relation to a sovereign, a parent, or anyone at
all who sees himself as standing in God¶s place, I should say that such cases are best included
under number 8.

10. Finally, there is the claim that justice requires retribution, and that justice is done when, and
only when, the offender is punished: he deserves to be punished, and until he actually is punished
he fails to get what he deserves. This claim, which figures prominently in the rhetoric about
punishment, is open to several criticisms:

a. The notion of desert is questionable and will be criticized at length in the next two chapters.

b. The first seven functions are clearly future-oriented. The eighth (recompense) is at least partly
future-oriented, but it also hinges on the notion of desert. The ninth (expiation) is a variant of the
eighth that introduces the supernatural. But retribution is past-oriented. This contrast of two
orientations and my objections to any such fixation on the past will be developed in the chapter
on guilt. Specifically, this claim (10) is frequently based on the conviction that a past event needs
to be ± and can be ± undone. This is a superstition. The past is not a blackboard, punishments are
not erasers, and the slate can never be wiped clean: what is done is done and cannot be undone.

c. The intuitive certainty that nevertheless often accompanies the belief that an offender fails to
get what he deserves until he is punished will be explained in the chapter on the birth of guilt and

The decidophobe loves retributive justice because she tells him precisely what is to be done:
wrongdoing must be punished, and there is one penalty that is just and therefore mandatory. But
I say:

1. Punishments can never be just.

2. Even if a punishment could be proportionate, it would not follow that it ought to be imposed.

3. The preoccupation with retributive justice is inhumane.

The first thesis means that a punishment can never be deserved or who11y proportionate. If the
nine-year-old child sentenced to death in 1832 for smashing a window and stealing two-pence
worth of paint had actually done these things, and if the penalty conformed with precedent and
custom, that would not entail that the punishment was deserved and just. The same goes for a
man broken on the wheel for stealing a piece of cheese.

Jefferson plainly felt that at least some of the punishments provided in existing penal codes were
unjust; but he believed in the possibility of ³proportioning crimes and punishments.´ To be just,
a punishment must satisfy three conditions: the accusation must be proved; the punishment must
accord with precedent and custom; and the punishment must be proportioned to the crime. Our
clear sense that some punishments are outrageous even though they satisfy the first two
conditions results from the feeling that they seem out of all proportion to the crime. (One could
introduce further complications by stipulating how the accusation must be proved; for example,
in accordance with established procedure, without recourse to torture, and so forth. But this
would take us too far afield.)

The first two conditions concern particular instances of punishment. The third condition,
proportionality, concerns the penal law and is far more interesting. The crucial point is that the
admission that some punishments are cruel and unusual does not commit one to the view that for
every crime ± or even any crime ± there is a proportionate and hence deserved and just penalty.
Indeed, it seems very plain that for some crimes there is not, and I shall try to show in the next
chapter that there is no just punishment for any crime.

To begin with crimes for which there is clearly no proportionate punishment: how could one
possibly establish what a man deserves for seducing a child, for raping a child, or for arson or
treason? The question of how one should deal with such crimes calls for excruciating decisions.
The moral rationalist avoids the frightening task of weighing alternatives; he claims that reason
demands such and such a penalty, backs up his claim with a proof a la Kant, and shuts his eyes to
objections and alternatives. The moral irrationalist relies on authority, most likely on God¶s
revelation or the law, and then engages at most in exegetical thinking. The autonomous human
being uses his reason to eliminate various alternatives, but finds that after this he is still left with
several tenable positions between which he must make a choice. He may have little doubt that
his choice is better than many that are clearly inferior, but he will not have the arrogance to claim
that the penalty he chooses is the one that is proportionate, deserved, and just.

This question about desert is as difficult as it is important. It is as relevant to distributive justice

as it is to retributive justice, and I shall deal with it more fully in the next chapter.


When Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped to stand trial, a truthful verdict was possible, a just
punishment was not. Still, a punishment can be more or less inappropriate. Thinking in terms of
degrees like this is anathema to the Manichaean, who likes to insist that a punishment is either
just or unjust. He dreads being confused by multiple choices. Putting a child to death for stealing
two-pence worth of paint may be crueler than cutting off its right arm, and perhaps giving it two
hundred lashes is not quite as outrageous as maiming it, but it is hardly just. Fining the child a
shilling and then getting it a job at which it can earn that much might make more sense. But is
that what the child deserves, or might one find a preferable penalty?

Thinking in degrees of just and unjust is actually still far too Manichaean. Such one-dimensional
thinking assumes that all possibilities can be arranged in a single sequence, on a linear scale. In
fact, there are countless variables and endless possibilities.

The child was accused of a petty crime. Now consider Eichmann. Visiting on Hitler¶s leading
henchmen at least some of the tortures to which they had subjected millions of people, and all
but putting to death these mass murderers again and again would have been more proportionate
to their crimes than hanging them. But the punishment that is more proportionate and more
nearly deserved is not necessarily preferable even on purely moral grounds. That is the point of
my second thesis.

This thesis cannot be proved. The best way to back it up is to consider concrete cases, like those
of Eichmann or, better yet, Hitler and Himmler, Stalin and Beria, and to ask whether the more
nearly proportionate punishment for their systematic mass tortures and mass murders would
necessarily be preferable. Those whose moral sense was formed by the doctrine of hell may say
yes. Nevertheless, some intuitive grasp of my thesis is almost as old as criminal justice itself:
justice is sometimes tempered by mercy, and there is the sovereign¶s right to pardon.

This traditional way of taking my point into account is, however, utterly inadequate. It gives
expression to a deep confusion. Selective mercy and selective pardon raise grave doubts about
the cases in which it is claimed that justice has been done. They call into question the claim that
in cases where mercy does not come into play justice was done.

Consider St. Augustine¶s claim that all men deserve damnation; that God elects a few for
salvation although they do not deserve it; and that the damned cannot complain that God is
unjust. After all, says the saint, nobody is punished worse than he deserves, and the fact that a
few fare better than they deserve merely shows the infinite mercy of God.

Such reasoning is specious. First, such arbitrary inequality of treatment is what philosophers call
a ³paradigm case´ of injustice. For it is a necessary, though not a sufficient, condition of ³just´
treatment that like cases are treated alike. Second, Augustine¶s God exemplifies anything but
infinite mercy. In connection with this last point, consider Dante, whose concern with
proportioning punishments to crimes was second to no man¶s. He gave the most beautiful and
eloquent expression to the traditional Christian view of justice. In his sublime inscription over
the gate to the inferno he stressed the eternity of suffering ± the word ³eternal´ recurs three times
in the nine lines ± before concluding:

Abandon, as you enter, every hope.

But it is the central triplet about hell that requires comment here:

Justice moved my Architect above,

What made me was divine Omnipotence,
The highest Wisdom and the Primal Love.

The power of Dante¶s poetry in the original Italian evokes admiration, and almost twenty
centuries of Christian teaching have helped to keep most readers from being struck by the
enormity of this incredible perversion of the meaning of justice and love. The only parallel that
comes to mind is bound to sound like blasphemy, but it requires some shock to awaken those
who are not shocked by Dante¶s lines and by the Christian view. Over the gate of Auschwitz
those who entered saw the words: Arbeit macht frei ± ³work liberates.´

One can still wander about this camp for hours, walk through barracks, stare at mountains of
shoes and hair, at ovens, and then see those words when leaving. Those who take language
lightly and have no love for words may feel that this inscription adds nothing to the horror. Yet it
is the ultimate in brazen cynicism and dishonesty ± a final, almost unbelievable, affront.

The whole Third Reich lasted barely more than twelve years, Auschwitz only about three ± a
drop in the bucket compared to the eternal torments of hell. But what on earth could one liken to
the Christian hell if not a concentration camp? And what to the Auschwitz inscription if not the
infinitely more fateful claim that eternal tortures are compatible with, and were actually devised
by, the greatest love that ever was ± and by justice?

Augustine¶s and Dante¶s God does not really treat the mass of men in accordance with their
deserts. But as long as men believed that he did and that this meant that eternal torments awaited
most men after death, it made good sense to torture men for a few days or weeks if need be to
save them from hell and to silence all who might endanger the faith and salvation of their fellow


These reflections on Dante lead to my third thesis, that the preoccupation with retributive justice
is inhumane. But my analysis of the functions of punishment shows that this thesis does not
entail any demand for the abolition of punishment. Punishments are needed, invocations of
justice are not.

In deciding what to punish and how to punish, we should banish from our minds the chimaera of
justice. The suggestion made by Rawls that ³in a just society legal punishments will only fall
upon those´ who have a ³bad character´ is ill considered. Having a ³bad character´ is neither a
necessary nor a sufficient condition of being punished legally even in a morally admirable
society. It makes sense to punish people for parking violations, but it does not make sense to
insist that those who have violated various parking regulations have thus shown that they are
wicked. Parking laws, if sensible, are enacted to make for a better society: they should eliminate
or reduce traffic congestion, or insure some turnover of cars to make it possible for many people
to visit a certain area. The reason for instituting penalties is that a prohibition that is not backed
up by any penalties is generally useless if there is any great temptation to disregard it.

When a person has been duly convicted of a violation of the law and punished in accordance
with precedent, it does not follow that he deserved the punishment and that justice was done. He
may be a very decent person who has more than enough troubles and ailments as it is, while
many people who cause much more suffering to their fellow men go free and flourish. It is bad
enough that we cannot dispense with punishments. We do not have to add insult to injury by
claiming that the poor man who gets caught receives his just desert. Desert is out of the picture.

Of course, we can and should ask whether the prohibition is reasonable, and whether the
penalties provided by the law are reasonable or excessive. The critical evaluation of a law is
centered in three questions: What purposes does it serve? Are these purposes good? And does it
serve them efficiently?
It is important to be clear about the purposes because the law must be judged in relation to them;
and if it serves no purpose, it ought to be abolished. Whether the purposes are good will
sometimes be a matter for debate, but debate is futile if it does not come to grips with purposes.

None of these points depends on the relative triviality of the parking illustration. If the purpose
of a law were to prevent aggressive wars or the killing of unarmed civilians by armed forces,
these aims might well win wide assent, although the definition of aggressive war and the
application to specific cases might pose very serious problems. That would still leave the
question of efficiency. If there were no penalties, the law would almost certainly be ineffective,
but even if it provided stringent penalties, a la Nuremberg, it might still prove ineffective. If the
purpose can be agreed on, reasonable discussion should center on the question of how the law
can be made effective; how the crimes that we want to prevent can be prevented. Asking about
the price one has to pay for probable gains is part of the question of efficiency. But one does not
have to fret about what those breaking the law deserve.

It may be objected that if desert is out of the picture no good reason remains for not punishing
the innocent. But that is not so, as I shall show in the chapter on guilt.

Jefferson¶s and Kant¶s quest for the just punishment for various crimes was ill advised, illusory,
and inhumane. A man who steals a piece of cheese does not deserve to be broken on the wheel;
neither does he deserve forced labor in a penitentiary, as Kant argued. It would be more sensible,
fruitful, and humane to ask altogether different questions about penitentiaries; for example,
whether the following claims made by two penologists are true:







I cannot here determine to what extent these statements still apply to prisons in various parts of
the world. What I have tried to show is this: we cannot dispense with punishments, but we
should realize that punishments cannot be just; that a less disproportionate punishment is not
always morally preferable; and that the preoccupation with retributive justice is inhumane.


It is widely assumed that the sense of retributive justice ± the sense that certain crimes clearly
call for certain punishments ± is primordial, instinctive, and universal. It still remains to be
shown that this is false. The moral sense of different ages and communities differs very widely,
and there could hardly be a better illustration of the fact that conduct viewed with utter horror by
one society is frequently enjoined by another than the way in which we ourselves react to the
punishments imposed by Europeans and Americans in the not distant past.

On reflection, murder is probably the only crime of which large numbers of people still believe
that it is somehow self-evident that it calls for a particular penalty: capital punishment. It is
assumed that the feeling that murderers deserve death is inscribed in the hearts of men, and that
only modern reformers have forgotten this ancient truth. I shall confine myself to this example
and show how wrong this assumption is.

In his study of Primitive Law, A. S. Diamond has shown that all early and what he calls ³Early
Middle Codes´ punished homicide with fines, and in the many more or less primitive tribes he
studied, pecuniary fines for homicide outnumbered capital punishment by a ratio of better than
five to one: 73 percent versus 14 percent. In the remaining 13 percent the punishment was also a
fine; the slayer had to turn over to the family of the slain a number of persons ± women, children,
or slaves. It is only in ³Late Middle and Late Codes (including England, 1150 and onwards)´ that
intentional homicide is taken to require capital punishment.

In his discussion of the old Icelandic saga, Burnt Njal, Diamond quotes the narrator as saying
admiringly of one of the heroes: ³He was a strong man well skilled in arms, and has slain many
men, and made no atonement in money for one of them.´ The same kind of admiration is not
uncommon to this day; but the point here is that homicide was considered ³a purely civil wrong,
a matter for the individuals or families affected to avenge or compromise as they think fit. In
fact, they always or almost always compromised by the giving and acceptance of an agreed sum
of money.´

We need not even go that far afield. In the Iliad, Ajax explains how unreasonable he finds
Achilles¶ refusal to accept amends for the beautiful slave girl whom Agamemnon has taken






Our term ³punishment,´ like the French punition, comes from the Latin poena, which originally
designated the fine that the accused paid to the plaintiff; and poena is a loan word from the Greek
± the Greek word that Homer uses twice in the passage cited above. The liberal mind was fond of
seeing all of human history as a steady progress from primitive cruelty to modem humanity. Seen
in this mythical perspective, Hitler¶s atrocities looked like a scarcely credible throwback into
barbarism. In fact, many scholars have come to the conclusion that neither primitive tribes nor
antiquity match the cruelty that gradually developed in the penal codes of Christian Europe.
Ancient Rome went the same way, though not quite so far, and was far crueler in the end than in
early days. In Mexico none of the earlier civilizations matched the cruelty of the last one, that of
the Aztecs. And the five books of Moses have no inkling of the Gospels¶ eternal torment or the
tortures of the Inquisition.

The last point that still needs to be made about retributive justice can be put into three words:
desert is incalculable. Not only is it impossible to measure desert with the sort of precision on
which many believers in retributive justice staked their case, but the whole concept of a man¶s
desert is confused and untenable. This claim is as fatal for distributive justice as it is for
retributive justice, and I shall deal with it at length in the next chapter.



IT REMAINS TO BE SHOWN that distributive justice cannot long survive the death of her
Siamese twin. The purpose of this chapter is to hasten her demise. This is no trifling undertaking.
Justice has been the heart of traditional morality. Even after the notion that she was the sum of
the virtues had been given up, justice did not become merely one of the virtues or nothing but a
quality of punishments and distributions. She never lost her old charisma and was still regarded
as personifying the objectivity and timelessness of the old morality. In the turbulent flood of
human preferences, emotions, and desires, justice was still held to be a rock with precise outlines
that defied the ebb and flow of history.

The frightening freedom to choose could be held in bounds as long as there were stable and
precise norms. Confronted with a flood of claims, by our fellow men and by our own desires, one
could turn to justice and ask her precisely what one owed to each. The death of justice marks the
end of the old morality. But it also creates an opening for a new, autonomous morality.

To mount a fatal attack on distributive justice is certainly much harder than to give reasons for
clinging to her. Because such an attack ought not to be undertaken lightly, three such reasons
should be considered.

The appeal to justice is rhetorically powerful and therefore useful for social reformers.
Distributive justice, unlike charity, does not hurt the self-respect of those whom she benefits.
And justice seems to be an irreducible principle that cannot be given up without inviting
The last claim is false, as I shall show, and the first two reasons are obviously inconclusive.
Many myths and confused notions have their uses, but the question of whether they are true and
stand up under critical examination cannot be settled by an appeal to expediency. On the
contrary, contentment with confused ideas and misleading myths has bad social consequences
that are relevant to the expediency of continued appeals to them. That receiving something good
does not hurt one¶s self-respect if one is told that justice was done and everybody got what he
deserved is true and important. But the very same claim adds further humiliation to the plight of
those who received little or nothing. Thus it is precisely the claim that justice has been done that
is inhumane ± especially if it can be shown that this claim is false.

In the last chapter I defended three theses: (1) punishments can never be just; (2) even if a
punishment could be proportionate, it would not follow that it ought to be imposed; (3) the
preoccupation with retributive justice is inhumane. The present chapter will be devoted largely to
a single thesis: (1.a) except for simplistic cases, distributions can never be just. The counterparts
of the other two theses about punishment will be touched on briefly.

This concentration on a single thesis should make it possible to offer a tighter argument that will
not only dispatch distributive justice but also drive the last nail into the coffin of retributive
justice. Justice, I have said, consists of giving each what he deserves. My aim now is to show
that desert is incalculable.

Let me dispose of simplistic cases at the start. Suppose you were grading a true-or-false test.
There are a hundred questions, and it is understood that one receives one point for every correct
answer. It seems easy to give each the mark that he deserves. On reflection, however, the task of
scoring this test does not raise any problems of justice; what it calls for is honesty. If you give a
student an eighty even though he got half the answers wrong, you are dishonest. You are saying
in effect that he got eighty answers right. Here the appeal to justice can be replaced with an
appeal to honesty. We can dispense with justice.

Moreover, there is no scarcity in this case; if nobody made any mistake, everybody would score
one hundred. For this reason also, no problem of distributive justice is involved.

Now take a slightly more complicated case. Somebody has provided prize money: $100 for the
best score, the money to be divided evenly between all who tie for first place. Now there is an
element of scarcity: the money available is limited. Still, no problem of distributive justice or
desert arises; what is required is honesty, precisely as in the original example. You determine the
scores, and everything follows ± as long as you do not stop to ask about desert. Here is a rich,
lazy, and rather stupid troublemaker, who announces as the test starts: ³This test stinks; I¶ll just
alternate µtrue,¶ µfalse,¶ µtrue,¶ µfalse,¶ all the way down.´ And he scores one hundred and gets the
first prize, provided you do not ask whether he deserves it and whether this is just.
These two examples are simplistic because the reward and the criteria for winning it are clearly
stipulated, and there is only one relevant variable: the number of right answers. Consider the
parallel case regarding punishment: if all that is required to get the death penalty is a petty theft,
then the child who steals two-pence worth of paint may be said to deserve capital punishment;
and when the child is executed, justice is done. But in that case we object that the law is
inhumane and the child did not deserve the punishment. It makes good sense to say this even
though we cannot say what it did deserve.

If the judge has discretion to fix the penalty, we ask whether what he does in this case accords
with custom and precedent. If it does, it does not follow that the punishment is just. As we move
away from simplistic cases and face up to choices to which many variables may be relevant, we
have to decide which are relevant and how much weight to give to each.

In sum, problems of distributive justice arise when scarce resources are to be distributed among
several people in accordance with their deserts. As long as there is water enough for all, no
problem of justice arises about water. And if desert is out of the picture, so is justice. But we can
never say that justice has been done when a person is punished or when a distribution has been

Those who feel very attached to distributive justice may protest that she is not at all the Siamese
twin of retributive justice ± they may even hold that the two are only distantly related. One such
rescue attempt has won a good deal of attention among philosophers, and will be considered a
little more fully later: John Rawls¶s conception of ³Justice as Fairness.´ As I mentioned earlier,
retributive justice has no place in his A Theory of Justice. In effect, he does not offer a theory of
justice; he develops a theory of fairness, and justice and fairness are not the same thing. Fair
procedures do not guarantee a just outcome.

In some cases ³fair´ and ³just´ are almost synonymous; but each word also has some meanings
quite remote from this common area. It is revealing that one of the most characteristic uses of
³fair´ is in the phrase ³fair play´; but it would be such a solecism to speak of ³just play´ that the
sentence ³this is just play´ can only mean ³this is merely play.´ Why can play be ³fair´ but not
³just´? Because fairness is pre-eminently a quality of procedures and not of results (if a result is
called ³fair,´ one may wonder whether what is meant is that it is middling), while ³just´ is pre-
eminently a predicate ascribed to results and specifically to what is meted out. ³Just,´ unlike
³fair,´ has a note of finality. Thus a trial can be fair but not just. Even if it is fair, the punishment
that is imposed may be unjust. The way we proceed to make a distribution can be fair but not
just. Even if it is fair, it does not follow that everybody gets his just deserts.

It might seem that distributive justice is really unlike retributive justice because the former
always involves several people in addition to the distributor, while punishment need involve only
one person besides the judge. But an individual might claim a reward simply because it was
promised to him, or to anyone at all, solely for fulfilling one condition that he had in fact
fulfilled. This case would be strictly parallel to a situation in which a punishment had been
promised to a person, or to anyone at all, provided only that he did a certain thing that he had in
fact done.

If it should be said in the former case that this situation is somewhat elliptical and that
distributive justice in the full-fledged sense does not come into play until more people enter into
the picture and the distributor is forced to compare them, exactly the same is true of retributive
justice: as soon as there is a dispute, both sides make comparisons with other cases, past and

One difference that is genuine is that problems of retributive justice do not depend on scarcity.
But this does not seriously affect my claims. That there are differences, we know. Punishments
are predicated on the assumption that they are not desired but nevertheless required for some
reason; distributions are predicated on the assumption that something is desired but nevertheless
in insufficient supply for some reason. In both cases I make the same claim: the good and the
evil men receive cannot be said to be deserved.

We can criticize punishments and distributions on moral grounds without invoking the fiction of
just punishments and distributions. What matters is that punishments as well as distributions can
be cruel and unusual, capricious, utterly at odds with rules announced beforehand, and defended
with dishonest claims and arguments. It does not follow that when none of these strictures
applies justice has been done. It is easy to imagine specific cases in which many different
punishments or distributions would not be open to any such charge, but it would be absurd to call
all of them just. If one did call all of them just, a criminal who received any of these ³tenable´
punishments would be told that justice had been done. But suppose that he received one of the
harsher punishments when a lighter one would have been tenable, too. Surely, it would be absurd
to claim that justice required it. In precisely the same way, a person who received less than he
would have received in another distribution that was also tenable could hardly be told that he had
received what he deserved, no more and no less.

The fact that many solutions are untenable is not disturbing because what is untenable can be
rejected. But that many mutually incompatible solutions are tenable is felt to be profoundly
disturbing because this plurality calls for excruciating choices and engenders decidophobia.
Having found a tenable position, people like to rest on their laurels and think of themselves as
the children of light. But even if their solution should be superior to past solutions, this does not
mean that all who oppose it are either wrong or downright wicked. The opponents¶ solutions may
be tenable, too, and possibly even superior. How much easier life would be if we could claim
that justice demands what we favor!

My concern here is with moral rationalism, but my analysis can be extended beyond ethics.
Decidophobes assume that if their position is tenable it must also be true. But it is not enough to
go out of one¶s way to consider objections to one¶s own position; one must also consider

It would be simple to make a list of offenses and to defy anyone to say what was the just
punishment for each of them: rape, seduction of children, torture, mass murder, espionage,
blackmail, embezzlement, fraud. There is really no stopping point because there is no crime at all
of which it could be said that those committing it clearly deserve a particular punishment.
Similarly, it is quite impossible to say how much income surgeons, lawyers, executives, or
miners deserve; or what kind of housing each deserves, or how much free time per day, per
week, or per year. It makes no sense to call any particular distribution of such goods among them

The basic problem regarding both retributive and distributive justice concerns the code: the
decisions about how punishments or scarce resources are to be allotted generally. Once these
fateful decisions have been made, it is quite possible that some individual cases present no
difficult problems at all ± if only the code is simple-minded, rigorous, and insensitive. But in
such cases it would be obtuse to claim that justice has been done.

Suppose a college can admit only one-fifth of the students applying for admission. (Many
Americans believe that this kind of unpleasant competition is a specifically American evil. In
fact, this problem is international, and the competition for admission to the University of Tokyo
or to the medical school at the University of Teheran is much keener.) It would be preposterous
to claim that, say, a thousand, and only a thousand, deserved to be admitted, and that the decision
to admit these students, while turning down the rest, was just.

Of course, an objective test, approximating the true-or-false test considered previously, could be
made to do the job. The prize would be not $100 but admission: the top thousand would get in. A
system rather like that was used in Japan ± until the students rebelled against it. The system was
certainly neat, but could it be said that justice was done and that everybody got what he

The problem is clearly what variables are relevant to desert in such cases, and how many of them
are measured how accurately by a test like this. Hence scrupulous adherence to the results of an
entrance test does not insure that justice is done.
Incidentally, it is revealing that in the case of rewards, too, there are ³judges.´ The parallel
between retributive and distributive justice is very close.


What is wrong with the concept of desert? The obvious answer is that it is not clear whether
desert should be determined in accordance with ability, need, or merit, or whether all men ought
to be treated equally. Instead of immediately examining these traditional notions, I shall first
consider seven categories that do not smack of philosophy. The point is not that there are only
seven, but seven should suffice to show why one cannot tell in practice what a person deserves.

In many cases some of these seven categories, or at least some of the subheads, would be clearly
irrelevant, but it is impossible to restrict desert to only one or two of these categories and to rule
out all the others as generally irrelevant. One can say, of course: we choose to disregard them;
we concern ourselves with only one. We shall see shortly that even doing that may not enable us
at all to say what various members of a group deserve. But in any case, as soon as we do this,
others may protest with reason that we have decided, in effect, to ignore what people actually
deserve, and that our distribution is therefore unjust.

The first category is what one is. Here one might distinguish what one is by birth and what one is
at the time of the distribution. Within each of these subcategories one could then distinguish
many subheads. Admittedly, this makes for a rather complex picture, but then the whole point is
to bring out how exceedingly and even hopelessly complex the matter is.

Under what one is by birth, it may suffice to mention a few subheads: sex, ethnic group, place of
birth, and relationship to the distributor. Treating people differently on account of their sex or
ethnic group provides some obvious examples of injustice, but for all that it is far from obvious
that these two characteristics are always irrelevant. Some people may feel that they should be;
but this is precisely the sort of question that needs to be discussed in specific cases.

Discrimination against outcastes in India and Blacks in the United States provides clear instances
of social injustice, but it does not follow that ethnic group is always irrelevant. On the contrary,
in India members of the so-called depressed classes are held to deserve preferred treatment in
some cases, such as university admissions, and in the sixties the same practice developed in the
United States with regard to Blacks. It is sometimes claimed that this is done merely to offset
prior disadvantages, but if that were the case, then it would make little sense to apply it only, or
almost only, to untouchables in India and to Blacks in the United States. Why not to Poles,
dwarfs, and homosexuals? But this is a big and intricate problem, and it should suffice to note
that the main reason for offering preferred treatment to one group is surely that a society is
desired in which such a large and readily identifiable class should have something like
proportional representation in the higher occupations. Hence members of some ethnic groups are
admitted even if they do less well in various ways than students with fairer skins who are
rejected. It should be obvious how impossible it is to say, no matter what we do, that justice has
been done. As a rule, wrong clashes with greater wrong.

Whether a man is a native Londoner should make no difference in any distribution, one might
think. But this accident of birth usually determines one¶s citizenship and thus also whether one is
entitled to the many advantages that accrue to citizens. Relationship to the distributor, finally, is
relevant when it comes to inheritances, but not only then. It is generally assumed that a man
owes his wife and children something while he is alive, too. The case of the wife brings us to the
second subcategory: what one is at the time of distribution. Here one might include ± to give a
few examples ± age, health, and residence. The second category is what one has. Here one might
include property, family, and abilities. All three are often relevant when distributions are made.

The third category is what one does ± not only at work but also in public life, in one¶s family,
and on one¶s own.

The fourth category, what one needs, has two subcategories: what one needs for oneself; and
what one needs for one¶s dependents. Both have the same four subheads: for subsistence, for
comfort, for a particular project, and for one¶s optimal development. The great vagueness of
these notions will be considered soon.

The fifth category, what one desires, is ignored in most discussions. This category is clearly
relevant in many cases, however, unless we assume that a person often deserves something as a
reward although he does not desire it at all.

The sixth category is what one has contracted. If one has received a formal contract or a promise,
or even if there is room for debate as to whether there was an implicit promise, this category is
clearly relevant. If an employee took a job with the understanding that he would receive a certain
salary, or annual raises of $1,000, such commitments cannot be ignored when the money is
actually allocated.

Finally, there is the seventh category: what one has done. At least one of the seven should be
considered in more detail, and I shall concentrate on this one. Without much trouble, one can
subdivide it into seven subcategories, e.g., education, military service, civilian jobs (kinds, length
of time, achievements), public services and offices, extracurricular accomplishments (including
lives saved or publications and prizes that do not fall under the heading of achievements in one¶s
job), sufferings (since one may deserve compensation for them), and crimes.

Suppose you had to decide about salary raises for five assistant professors, and the sum available
were only $3,000. Chances are that in one or two cases a decision must simultaneously be made
as to whether to reappoint, promote, or offer a terminal appointment. Some of the points
considered above under various categories are clearly irrelevant, while age, abilities, and need
might be judged relevant, and promises would certainly have to be taken into account. One might
debate which of the seven subcategories under what one has done ought to be considered in this
case and how they should be weighted, but the decision is difficult enough even if you confine
your attention to a single subhead under one of them: achievements in civilian jobs. To make
things still simpler, disregard all jobs except that of being a faculty member and proceed as if it
made no difference whatsoever that one is thirty and another fifty; one is a bachelor, while
another has nine children; one is a millionaire, another total1y dependent on his salary; one has
served the government with rare distinction; another has heroical1y saved twenty lives. If you
took all that into account, how could you possibly say in the end that each had got what he

Even if you try only to assess their achievements in their present profession, a further breakdown
is needed. There is (a) teaching; and here you must further distinguish (i) levels and (ii)
techniques. Somebody may be very popular at the introductory level but poor in more advanced
courses, and impossible as a teacher of graduate students. Another professor may be highly
respected by a few graduate students who share his interests, but an almost total loss with
underclassmen. Under techniques one might profitably distinguish lecturing, conducting
discussions, and supervising independent work.

Then there are (b) publications. It would be naïve to suppose that here we have to deal with only
two variables: quantity and quality. In a letter of recommendation for a Fulbright professorship, a
dean once wrote about a candidate: ³during the past year he has published five times.´ This is
ridiculous even as a purely quantitative measure. Five short book reviews, each about a page in
length, would constitute five items; and a book of seven hundred pages, one. Even so, quantity is
one variable that has to be considered, but it is not easy to measure. Counting pages or words
would be rather crude. Still, it is possible to distinguish between people who have published
nothing, very little, and a lot.

From (i) quantity, you proceed to (ii) levels, meaning much the same as under teaching. That
leaves the question of quality. Here you might distinguish (iii) initial reception, such as printed
reviews, (iv) actual impact, and (v) probable long-range importance. A book might have met
with a glowing reception without ever having had any perceptible impact, not to speak of lasting
significance. Other books have entered the world ³with doves¶ feet,´ like some of Nietzsche¶s
books, or fallen ³dead-born from the press,´ like David Hume¶s Treatise, and eventually have
changed our way of thinking.
Teaching and publications are the most obviously relevant achievements in deciding about the
five assistant professors. But in the absence of important publications, especially when the
question is one of reappointing or promoting an assistant professor or letting him go, one might
also consider (c) unpublished research. A book review may get published relatively fast, while a
major work may be slow to appear in print; it may be years in the writing; then a publisher may
send it to referees who take their time before making recommendations; and after accepting the
book, the publisher may still take a year to bring it out. Moreover, it might be better if fewer
schools made a fetish of publications; after all, a teacher can write something and show it to his
colleagues without adding to the ever growing tidal wave of printed ephemera.

Some journalists who make a living by contributing to this flood complain when a teacher is not
reappointed because he has not published anything, that by that criterion Socrates would not
have been promoted either, and that teaching is what ought to count. Actually, it is not clear at all
how Socrates would have fared if judged as a teacher. After all, he insisted that he could not
lecture, and he stubbornly refused to do it. He liked discussion, but one may doubt that he was at
his best with students. Other less distinguished cases come to mind and lead us to consider (d)
discussion with colleagues. Being very good at that is not a sufficient reason for promotion, but it
has to be considered.

Finally, there is (e) administrative work. Such work is often overestimated but not altogether

Enough has been said to show how impossible it is to tell what people deserve, and it is absurd to
say when one individual gets $1,000; two, $750; one, $500; and one gets nothing, that justice has
been done. Of course, if one thinks in black and white and reduces an essentially pluralistic
situation to a dualistic model, stripping away a multitude of possibilities and eliminating all but
one candidate, one can ask imperiously: does this man deserve a $1,000 raise or not? It is all or
nothing, and the need for a yes or no answer may then seem plausible, depending on the facts of
the case.

My illustration involves five candidates, but actually many prior decisions are required. How
much money should be made available for salary raises throughout the university, at the expense
of scholarships for needy students, new academic programs, library acquisitions, and all sorts of
other purposes? How much of that money should be allocated to the department in which the five
professors are teaching? And how much of that sum should be set aside for assistant professors?
Nobody who is aware of all these complexities will be tempted to say that any distribution that
one could imagine could lay claim to being just. In practice, there are strategies for usually
reaching agreement without much debate. Rule I: submit a specific proposal to those who have to
vote on the decision. This is essential. Rule 2: discourage the consideration of alternatives. There
are many ways of doing this, but old hands realize that such consideration could be endless and
therefore tend to go along with the initial proposal, provided that it is not blatantly capricious.
Rule 3: discourage general discussion of norms. It is far easier to reach agreement on five
candidates than it is to agree in principle on the weight that should be given to various factors.
Let nobody suppose that the case considered here is so difficult because it concerns a specific
distribution rather than the code. On the contrary, the question of agreement on a code is much
more important and intractable.


My scheme of seven categories with a great many subcategories may seem to be needlessly
complex. Might it not be sufficient to invoke only needs and merits?

The case of the assistant professors shows how, even if one confined oneself to merits, one
would still be quite unable to determine how much each person deserves. Thus my thesis is not
reducible to the claim, however true, that merits and needs often conflict. Moreover, my scheme
brings out many points that cannot be reduced to needs or merits but that are quite often crucial
for decisions about distribution.

Another illustration may help. When it comes to the right to vote, no community could possibly
consider merit alone relevant. Age and citizenship and often also place of residence are
considered crucial in almost all societies, and membership in the community ± that is, citizenship
or residence or both ± must be required because otherwise the system could not be made to work.

Second, even if one considered merit all-important within these restrictions, there is such a
crisscross of merits that one might well despair of the possibility of devising any workable
system based on merit. It might be the lesser evil to give the vote to every citizen who is, say, at
least eighteen.

The objection to giving no vote to those who had not graduated from primary school, one vote to
those who had, two votes to high-school graduates, three votes to college graduates, and four to
those with a Ph.D., an M.D., or a law degree, is not so much that this would be making too much
of merit; it is rather that it would come nowhere near an accurate reflection of men¶s merits. Vast
numbers of people who have not graduated from college are incomparably more intelligent and
better informed, not to speak of other merits, than millions who have. It is fatuous to assume that
all members of one group ± say, all college graduates without a doctorate ± are equal. It might be
more to the point to require all who want to vote to take a public-affairs test. But a high score on
such a test would be another highly dubious way of measuring merit.

Finally, the vote is not a reward for merit but a means of preventing various evils. The crucial
question about various requirements for the vote is not how these requirements are related to the
past of the potential voters but rather what their effects will be and what kind of a society we are
likely to get as a result.

It is also impossible to measure need. I have already distinguished eight points that would have
to be considered: what one needs for subsistence, for comfort, for some project, and for one¶s
optimal development ± for oneself and then also for one¶s dependents. Some people, of course,
have no dependents, but others have a great many dependents, leading to many additional

On reflection, the four key terms are utterly unclear. What is literally needed for subsistence is so
pitifully little that it is generally understood that this is not what is meant, but what is meant is
not understood.

Comfort involves a crucial subjective component. Once one. is used to certain things ±
cigarettes, television, so many meals a day, such and such furniture, a car or perhaps several cars
in´ the family, plumbing, possibly even three full bathrooms, two-day weekends, a month where
it is warm in the winter, a three-months¶ summer vacation, or a forty-hour work week ± one is
more than apt to be uncomfortable without these things. It is therefore quite possible to make
every member of a large group comfortable while the distribution of goods is quite unequal, and
people with fewer needs and goods may be more comfortable than some who have far more
goods but ³needs´ that outstrip their possessions. Needs are not fixed data but can be created,
cultivated, and ± though this is much more difficult ± diminished and even eliminated.

What is ³needed´ for a project is often far from clear; foundations are frequently persuaded that
extremely questionable needs are authentic, and often they assume that the significance of a
project is proportionate to the claimed need for money. This widespread assumption is obviously
silly. Moreover, does not justice require a weighing of the needs for the completion of various
projects and a comparative ranking of how much each project is needed? No matter how a large
sum is divided between cancer research, pollution control, aid to the poor, various projects in the
arts, scholarship funds, and aid to people starving abroad, it would be obtuse to claim that justice
had been done.

If you want to give each enough for his optimal development, how do you determine what he
needs for that? To answer this question and to decide how much various projects are needed
requires a decision about goals ± an idea or vision of man and society as one should like them to

Ultimately, every attempt to spell out a material conception of justice involves a decision about
the kind of society we want. It requires a decision about goals and standards. But the moral
rationalist takes his standards for granted and refuses to consider alternatives.

It may seem as if one conception of justice did not involve difficult value judgments. Some
people would disregard differences in merit and need, insisting that justice demands absolute

Does this mean that one should give each the same, regardless not only of his needs and desires,
his merits, and his ability to make use of what he is given, but also of what he already has? (Call
this notion of equality E 1). If food is distributed, for example, is it just to give equal amounts to
those who have plenty and those who have nothing? If this suggestion were rejected as palpably
unjust, need would be introduced. But it might still be argued that absolute equality really means
that all should be equal after the distribution has been made, or at least as nearly equal as the
distribution can make them. In that case, those who have would receive nothing till all have-nots
had received as much as they have (E 2).

Although this system is not followed in any civilized country anywhere, it has some plausibility
when the goods at stake are food or vaccinations, but hardly any when the goods are books,
violins, canvas boards, insulin, offices, or honors. Different criteria are appropriate for different
kinds of goods. Some things may reasonably be distributed in accordance with people¶s merits,
others with their abilities, still others with their needs, without being open to the charge that the
distribution has been unjust in principle.

In short, E 1 is so absurd that one can understand it only as a counsel of despair, a way of saying
that no better system can be made to work. E 2 is also absurd if it is applied to all things that are
to be distributed. To mention only one further objection to E 2: in that case no incentives would

If food, lodging, and money were to be distributed in accordance with this plan, sufficient
nonmaterial incentives might remain. It would not be too difficult to imbue a society with an
ethos in which rank and honors would provide enough incentives for performance, while
material goods were distributed almost equally. But in a highly merit-conscious society, like that
pictured in the Iliad, nonmaterial inequalities are felt so deeply that they might make for more
unhappiness than most material inequalities in our society. In any case, inequalities in the
distribution of some goods, material or otherwise, are necessary as an incentive. Without it, some
jobs will not get done, unless we abolish a great deal of personal freedom.

It is only in a situation in which no relevant differences exist among the individuals concerned
that an equal distribution could reasonably be called just. Dividing eight apples among eight
children at the end of a party at which all have had plenty to eat might be a case in point. But
suppose that some of the children are much too full by now to eat the apple right away and will
take it home to a house in which apples and other kinds of food are plentiful, while other
children are about to return to their hungry brothers and sisters: then even this case supports the
thesis that distributions can never be just.

This example does not depend on some prior social injustice. All that is required is some relevant
inequality, say, that some children need to eat more than others, or that some are allergic to
apples, or that some are allergic to other foods but not to apples. An equal distribution is no
guarantee of justice.

When the appeal to equality fails, it is customary to fall back on equality of opportunity. But
equality of opportunity is unobtainable. People are born with radically unequal opportunities.
Their health, constitution, talents, and capacities are widely different.

We could come closer to equality of opportunity by outlawing random breeding. Allowing only
the most favored specimens to beget children would, paradoxically, give them a vital opportunity
denied to the vast majority. One could permit sexual intercourse as now, while restricting
impregnation to artificial insemination, and people would not have to be told who were the
fathers of the children born under this system. Even then some women would have the
opportunity ± or perhaps the duty ± to give birth again and again, while most women would be
denied this opportunity or excused from this obligation. In such a society millions could have a
single father. But brothers and sisters, and even more so half-brothers and half-sisters, often
differ widely in health, constitutions, talents, and capacities. Only cloning could really produce
equality of opportunity at birth ± if one made all people almost literally equal; but presumably,
one would prefer at least two models: one female, one male.

If all these schemes strike you as so many nightmares, you do not really favor equality of
opportunity. Such schemes would involve an incalculable loss in genes; a vast fund of potential
talents and capacities would be lost to mankind forever. And family life as we know it would

The abolition of the family has to be countenanced by anyone who seriously favors equality of
opportunity. The schemes considered here would be rather pointless if the inequalities of being
brought up in different families were continued as now. But even if one opposes these schemes,
the abolition of the family is certainly a minimal prerequisite for equality of opportunity.

Environment during the preschool years remains decisive for one¶s character, intelligence, and
whole development. This is not only a Freudian tenet, but recent work by child psychologists
confirms conclusively how much intelligence depends on the mother¶s attitude toward the infant,
on her encouragement or detachment. Children from utterly different backgrounds plainly do not
have equality of opportunity.
The notion that integrated schools provide equality of opportunity for all is untenable as long as
children live in widely different homes. And it is downright ridiculous as long as teachers do
little real teaching, assign a great deal of homework, and expect the parents to help with the
homework and explain what is not clear.

The abolition of the family structure is wholly feasible, and the communal nurseries of some
Israeli kibbutzim have proven beyond any doubt that such a system can be made to work well
and need not at all be lacking in human warmth. Some of the kibbutzim have gone far toward
equality of opportunity, but no more than about 4 percent of Israelis choose to live in kibbutzim,
and the figure remains remarkably constant.

Equality of opportunity also involves some reduction in opportunities. Wherever equality is held
to be crucial, some leveling is inevitable. It is told that Alexander the Great was offered a drink
of water on a hot day when he and his army had gone without any water for a long time, and that,
seeing that there was not enough water for all, he refused the offer and spilled the water into the
sand. If every opportunity that cannot be offered to all is refused and goes to waste, few
opportunities can be accepted.

People neither desire nor are able to make use of the same opportunities. To deny a man
opportunities that he desires and could put to use simply because many others do not wish for the
same opportunities would be pernicious.

In any case, what is equality of opportunity? At what stage in their lives are people supposed to
have it? If they are to have it always, we must rigidly control their lives from birth to death, in
order to make sure that they do not make choices that will deprive them of various opportunities.
Granted freedom, people make different choices, learn different things, acquire different skills
and habits, run different risks and sometimes pay the price, tie themselves down in various ways,
and before long have very different opportunities. There is thus a tension between freedom and
equality of opportunity, and we should not do everything we can to bring about the latter.

Those who claim to be for equality of opportunity do not advocate measures that would really
promote less inequality of opportunity at birth than we now have. They are not mainly concerned
about the time of birth. If equality of opportunity is wanted, but neither at birth, or not only at
birth, nor always, some time when people are supposed to have it must be specified. This might
be the age when children first attend school, say, at five. If so, it would be indispensable to
provide the same controlled environment for all youngsters, giving a centralized authority the
power and the means to bring up all children communally in just the same way. Extreme
egalitarians might even wish to stifle all expressions of originality and individuality.
If one then gave each child the green light at the age of five, it could be claimed that at that point
all children had equal opportunities. But even this would be no guarantee against gross
inequalities a few years later.

Equality of opportunity is a slogan, and those who employ it are not really in favor of the means
required to bring it about. Men are not equal. Men should not be made equal. And equality of
opportunity is either a hollow cliché or a pernicious goal.

(In the Far East the phrase is associated with the open-door policy in China and considered
odious. The French phrase la carriere ouverte aux talents is unobjectionable ± and does not
invoke the myth of equality.)

My claim that men are not equal and that equality is a myth does not entail any bigotry. On the
contrary, bigots assume that all Jews are equal ± or all Negroes, Germans, or women. My point is
that no two men or women are alike. Some statistical generalizations about these groups are well
founded, but they do not indicate that all members of the group are alike, and I am far from
suggesting that distributions, any more than punishments, should be guided by such
generalizations. All men and women are brothers and sisters, and each should be considered as
an individual. Giving the same to all is not particularly reasonable, seeing that they are not alike,
do not have the same desires, and cannot all use the same things or opportunities.


When the appeal to merit, needs, equality, and even equality of opportunity breaks down, the
champions of distributive justice abandon material conceptions of justice that specify what
should be given to each, and fall back on a formal conception of justice: they say that justice
consists of treating like cases alike.

This popular claim is actually false. Treating like cases alike is merely a necessary but not a
sufficient condition of what is meant by justice. When this condition is not fulfilled, one speaks
of injustice, whether it is a case of punishment or distribution. But when this condition is fulfilled
one may still speak of injustice, as, for example, when all nine-year-old children are put to death
if they steal two-pence-worth of paint.

Moreover, no two cases are alike. No two students applying for admission are alike any more
than two candidates for an increase in salary. To avoid ³injustice,´ one must ignore irrelevant
differences and base decisions on relevant likenesses and unlikenesses, and even then one still
needs a sense of proportion.
The demand for justice has three parts. It is, first, the demand for reasons for unequal treatment.
If one person is treated better than several others, one wants to be shown how his case is
different from the others, and one desires a rational account ± meaning an explanation and
defense ± of the relevance of the differences. If no relevant differences can be pointed out, one
feels that wrong has been done. This part of the demand for justice is closely related to the
demand for honesty, assuming that honesty involves being scrupulous and not merely telling no

The second part of the demand for justice poses more serious difficulties. Having discovered a
vast crisscross of more or less relevant differences between people, one has to decide on the
weight to be assigned to each factor. Here both the precision and the objectivity that are widely
associated with justice come to grief. Even where reasonable people can agree that one
difference should be weighed more heavily than another, any precise assignment of weights is
bound to be more or less arbitrary. (If this should seem unduly abstract, recall the case of the
assistant professors, in section 25.) Moreover, reasonable people will differ frequently even
about the relative weight of various factors (for example, what weights should be given to
popularity with freshmen, to an interesting but difficult article in a journal, and to efficiency in
an administrative job). Here personal preferences enter into the picture ± preferences that need
not be at all selfish. The best one can do ± but if one wants to reach speedy agreement with
others on a practical decision (say, about the distribution of a sum of money among five
candidates), the worst one can do ± is to bring these preferences out into the open, to state them
honestly, and to consider objections and alternatives. This is the last thing a decidophobe would
want to do, and the notion that justice is objective and precise is reassuring because it suggests
that nothing of the sort is called for.

The third part of the demand for justice is the demand that what is meted out, whether penalties
or rewards, should be proportioned to the relevant differences between individuals. I have shown
that this is impossible in the case of punishments, notwithstanding valiant attempts by brilliant
men, like Kant and Jefferson. It is also impossible to proportion rewards, whether financial or
not, to the relevant differences among people. This becomes obvious as soon as one tries to
construct a code.

The nature of rationality and the extent to which honesty can replace justice will be discussed in
the chapter on ³The New Integrity.´ For the present, it is sufficient to note that what is felt to be
outrageous in cases of palpable ³injustice´ is usually dishonesty. The Scottsboro trial as well as
any number of other trials in which it is notorious that injustice was done involved obvious
perjury: the court accepted testimony that was plainly dishonest. But unlike some partisans of
justice, I am far from considering one virtue the be-all and end-all of morality. Later, I shall
argue for several virtues.
This explains the counterpart of my second thesis about retributive justice: Even if a distribution
could be proportionate, it would not follow that it ought to be imposed. This is obvious if justice
is not the only cardinal virtue. If there are other virtues besides justice, then this thesis is clearly
true, unless it is assumed that injustice takes precedence over all other evils. Some decidophobes
prefer the tyranny of one virtue that relieves them of the necessity to weigh conflicting
considerations. If there are several norms, it is clear that a higher score according to one of them
does not automatically settle disputed questions; it might be offset by a much lower score on
several other standards. In my code, moreover, not only are there several virtues but justice is not
even one of them.

This is also the place for the counterpart of my third and last thesis about retributive justice: the
preoccupation with distributive justice is misguided and unfruitful. There are at least two reasons
for this. First, if there are other standards we might well be better advised to pay more heed to
them. Secondly, the concern with desert looks to the past, but it is more fruitful to consider the
future. This is true not only of the right to vote but also ± to refer to just one other example ± of
the distribution of college admissions. The counsel to be just and admit those who deserve
admission is not only unhelpful because it is unclear how desert should be computed, it is also
misguided because admissions, like the vote, are not mainly a reward for past performance but
an opportunity to do something in the future. But as soon as promise is taken into account ± and
it would be foolish indeed to ignore it ± one transcends the preoccupation with desert and justice.
Now the question becomes rather: how should one determine promise? And then also: promise
of what? The first of these questions is difficult to answer, but at least different answers can be
tested by observing the results. If it is claimed, for example, that a student¶s score on a particular
test or his grades in science courses at some secondary school show promise in scientific work,
one can study the correlation between these indicators and work actually done after admission.
The second question ± promise of what? ± poses the problem of goals. How much weight should
be given to promise of this rather than of that? What kind of men and women do we want to
accept, to educate, to graduate? What kind of a society is desirable? The decidophobe would
rather avoid such questions of goals, and he often does it by concentrating on justice.

Many cases of ³injustice´ are reducible to the simple fact that one set of criteria was announced
while another was used when the distribution was actually made. Thus color or sex may not have
been among the criteria proclaimed publicly but nevertheless crucial when the decision was
made. In such cases, injustice consists of dishonesty. But even when the decision-makers adhere
to the standards announced in the first place, they may still be inhumane or capricious because
the standards themselves are objectionable. This is like the case in which the penal law is
The norms invoked in distributions can be morally objectionable in two ways. First, they may be
arbitrary, being irrelevant to one¶s stated goals. The standards applied openly to justify favored
treatment for certain groups may bear no rational relation to the avowed purpose of the
institution to which they are admitted. In that case the appeal to justice can once again be
replaced by an appeal to honesty.

Second, standards may be well designed to implement social goals, but the goals themselves may
be objectionable. They may, for example, include male supremacy. Many disputes about justice,
including some of the more troublesome questions about college admissions, are ultimately
disputes about different visions of society and the future one desires for humanity. Since it is so
difficult to weigh the pros and cons of different goals and visions, decidophobes prefer moral
rationalism or moral irrationalism. The strategies used by the irrationalists have been considered
at length in chapter 1. Typically, reason is ruled out of court and one appeals to some authority,
or one begins as an extreme subjectivist but then ends up with exegetical thinking. Moral
rationalists, on the other hand, usually appeal to justice. If only one way of proportioning
punishments to crimes, or one way of distributing resources, or one vision of society could be
shown to be just, then a thousand complexities would vanish at one blow, and the decision that
needs to be made would become so simple that it would practically make itself.


When all the traditional interpretations of the appeal to justice fail, it is time to develop an
autonomous morality. But as a last resort, some people would rather reinterpret justice. One such
attempt has been so widely discussed among philosophers in recent years that no extended
critique of justice can simply ignore it: the theory presented by John Rawls, first in some articles
and eventually in his book A Theory of Justice. In the present context I cannot hope to ³do
justice´ to these articles or to a six-hundred-page book. Still, something needs to be said here
about this last resort to moral rationalism.

I have already pointed out that the omission of retributive justice is a serious flaw, that Rawls
really offers a theory of fairness, and that justice and fairness are not identical. My remaining
comments will be equally macroscopic: this is not the place for microscopic criticism.

Rawls stands in the tradition, pioneered by David Hume, that considers it the main problem of
justice to neutralize what I shall call ³grabbiness´ and to achieve impartiality. But this Humean
conception of justice as more or less the antonym of grabbiness is misguided. Not only does it
keep Hume as well as Rawls from dealing adequately with punishment; it also entails Hume¶s
false claim: ³If every one had the same affection and tender regard for everyone as for himself,
justice and injustice would be equally unknown among mankind.´ This is false even in regard to
distributive justice. ³Encrease to a sufficient degree the benevolence of man,´ says Hume, ³and
you render justice useless.´ For Hume the problem of justice is to neutralize ³the selfishness and
confin¶d generosity of men.´ In effect, Rawls accepts this view. But if it were tenable, all we
should need would be impartial judges; and I have tried to show in the examples of college
admissions and salary raises how such judges would not find that one solution was the right and
rational one. And if all of the candidates were utterly unselfish, that still would not solve the

Consider a simpler illustration. Imagine a father with several children. His benevolence and
generosity are boundless, and his children are no less benevolent. Each says: Never mind me;
think only of the others! He would still confront problems of distributive justice. Rawls would
pass the buck to the children, asking them to place themselves in what he calls ³the original
position,´ meaning a position in which a ³veil of ignorance´ keeps one from knowing his own
talents and position in society. The principles people would choose then, assuming that each
sought the maximum advantage for himself, would be ³fair´ and ³just.´ This basic idea is
worked out in Gothic-scholastic detail, and it is easy to lose sight of the moral rationalism of the
whole theory: ³rational prudence´ can determine what ought to be done and what would
constitute a just society; some knowledge of mathematics is required, perhaps even a course in
game theory, but no tragic choices. ³We should strive for a kind of moral geometry.´

The untenable optimism with which this whole theory of justice stands or falls finds expression
in the frequently reiterated claim that if one is rational one can find a distribution that will be ³to
everyone¶s advantage,´ while ³Injustice, then, is simply inequalities that are not to the benefit of

Mo-tze, a Chinese contemporary of Socrates, argued that ³confin¶d generosity´ or ³partiality´

was the cause of the world¶s ³major calamities,´ and attacked the arts from this point of view.
³To have music is wrong,´ said he, because the money spent for music could be used instead to
help the poor. In our time, Sartre has often said that writing philosophy while children are
starving is wrong. This has not kept him from writing a vast critical study of Flaubert, a novelist
whom he dislikes. But the problem is very urgent and transcends Sartre and Mo-tze. How could
we possibly decide by transposing ourselves into ³the original position´ what policy regarding
the arts and humanities would be ³to everyone¶s advantage´? Rawls ignores concrete problem of
this kind, but I should say: If having music involved ³inequalities that are not to the benefit of
all´ and thus an injustice according to Rawls¶s definition, we ought to have music anyway. My
position requires no more than at least one other norm besides justice, and it allows for a possible
conflict of norms or goals, which is anathema to the moral rationalist.

The whole third and last part of Rawls¶s book is called ³Ends,´ but he does not consider
alternative goals and possible conflicts. He discusses at great length what is involved in
developing a ³rational life plan,´ and makes this terse but telling concession in a footnote:

, - 

 ï  "   

Here ³simplicity´ and ³whatever´ trivialize the crucial refusal to consider alternatives.

In making a life plan, the aim is again to satisfy all claims.







Obviously. But as a matter of fact we cannot do everything in Paris that we want to do in Rome.
We cannot satisfy all claims.

Anyone who is not afraid of facing up to alternatives must decide between conflicting goals. A
student cannot do with mathematics what he could do with law or medicine or French. Nor is
there any just distribution of time, energies, or money between fighting cancer, fighting hunger,
fighting bigotry, or studying music or anthropology. Nor can the allotment of space to the
critique of a book be correct. My comments are bound to seem skimpy to some who have read A
Theory of Justice and lengthy to some who have not. One simply cannot satisfy all claims.

One final criticism: Rawls says, ³To say that a certain conception of justice would be chosen in
the original position is equivalent to saying that rational deliberation satisfying certain conditions
and restrictions would reach a certain conclusion.´ But three pages later he says, ³We want to
define the original position so that we can get the desired solution.´ (This passage does not stand
alone.) Here the strategy of moral rationalism parallels that of exegetical thinking. Reason is
considered authoritative, but the cards are stacked to make sure that reason will deliver the
desired verdict. The moral rationalist reveres justice as transcending preferences ± but makes
sure that her verdicts accord with his preferences. Thus he sees to it that his own moral ideas
come back to him endowed with authority.


One of the central fallacies in the liberal faith is the sweet assumption that distributive justice
involves only rewards, and that there is no reason why society should not be able to make
everybody happy. The same conceit underlies most talk of a ³just peace.´ In fact, problems of
distributive justice do not arise unless something that is desired by many is too scarce to satisfy
all. This means in practice that it is possible to disappoint all, but usually impossible to please all.
Even if everybody should be pleased, it would not follow that each got what he deserved; it
might mean merely that the selfish were rewarded while the unselfish, who take delight in the
good fortune of others, were not.

Even when the decision about distribution is the same, it makes a difference whether we tell
those who are not admitted or promoted that justice has been done, or whether we realize how
absurd such a claim would be. In the latter case we might say: ³These were our criteria, which
are obviously debatable. In time we shall probably revise them. Meanwhile we have done our
best, first to make them known in advance and then to stick by them without being swayed by
considerations of very doubtful relevance. We know from experience that even so we make
mistakes at that level, too, but we tried hard to avoid them.´ To speak that way instead of
claiming that justice was done is more honest and loving, more humane, and more mindful of the
self-respect of those whom we disappoint.

It should be clear that what I object to is not so much the continued use of the words ´¶just´ and
³justice´ as it is a way of thinking that affects the way people behave. One can always redefine
old words in such ways that the new concepts are no longer open to the old objections. In my
books on religion I have shown how many theologians are virtuosos in this art. But the result, if
not the purpose, of this practice is that the new concept carries the emotional charge and
something of the moral authority of the old term, and does this illicitly. Invocations of justice
help to blind a moral agent to the full range of his choices. Thus they keep people from realizing
the extent of their autonomy.

Some individuals can manage to use the old words while realizing very clearly how precisely
they are using them, and their autonomy may not suffer. But for every person who brings off this
feat, there are likely to be a hundred who are kept from understanding their autonomy. Hence it
is far better to make a clean break.

The following consideration may help to support this suggestion. We can point to examples of
love and honesty, courage and humanity. We do not know in the same way what justice is, as a
quality of punishments and distributions. We cannot point to concrete examples. Solomon¶s
celebrated judgment illustrates his legendary wisdom rather than his justice. What made his
judgment so remarkable was that he managed to get at the facts; he found out which woman was
the mother of the child that two women had claimed was theirs. Still, this may seem to be a clear
instance of a just distribution. But if that were really so, then it would not take a Solomon to
make just distributions in cases where the facts are easier to come by. When something is mine
and you take it away, anyone who is called in to arbitrate and gives it back to me might then be
said to have made a just distribution: I deserved it because it was mine.

In the last chapter I noted that restoration ± giving back what one has taken illegally ± is not an
instance of punishment. It is not an instance of distribution either. I have concentrated on:
punishment and distribution and see no need now to go on to discuss restitution; cases of that
sort provide no guidance for the many more important cases considered here.

Indeed, Bertolt Brecht¶s version of Solomon¶s case, in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, which is
based on a Chinese play, suggests that the mechanical application of the view that restitution is
right simply ignores the problem of desert, and hence of justice. In the Bible the real mother is
also more loving. In Brecht¶s play she is merely possessive and has no deep affection for the
child, while the other woman does, and Brecht argues that the child should be given to the
woman who will take good care of it ± and the land to those who will make it flower and bear

Is that a model of a just distribution? Again it would be more accurate to call the judgment of
Brecht¶s judge wise and humane. It is future oriented and considers the past solely as a harbinger
of the future.

In great international disputes there is ample disagreement among nations not only about facts,
including events of the recent past, but also about principles. They may be in favor of restitution
but cannot agree about the time ± the day, month, and year ± of the status quo ante that is to be
restored. Nor are nations that favor restitution in one case likely to agree to it, even in principle,
in several others. They may favor Brecht¶s principle where it would favor them, but reject it
where it would not.

Continual talk of a ³just peace´ is not merely unproductive but positively harmful. Just solutions
are unattainable and cannot even be imagined. Hence one can go on talking about justice and a
just peace without committing oneself to anything; and while holding out for a ³just peace´ one
usually feels that until one gets what one demands one is entitled to go on waging a ³just war´ ±
or to keep threatening another war soon.

The popular notion that we need to cling to justice because it is definite, clear, and objective, is
false. Humanity would gain if we declared a moratorium on the use of ³just´ and ³justice´ while
giving a high priority to the fight against brutality and dishonesty.

When the United Nations was founded after World War II, it was widely felt to be the last best
hope on earth. But it has failed to live up to its promise. If it should perish, it might well be of
too much talk about justice, too much indifference to brutality, and too little concern with high
standards of honesty.

The moralistic cant of so many politicians has persuaded growing numbers of people that moral
principles simply have no application in international politics. In fact, the preoccupation with
justice is as ill advised here as it is elsewhere, but the concern to minimize brutality and
dishonesty is as relevant as it is in other areas.

We know neither God nor the devil; we are beset by an endless number of devils ± ³No worst,
there is none.´ To fight evil without the illusion that it is the greatest ever, to choose the lesser
evil without the faith that it is surely the least evil, to endure darkness without the boast that none
could be blacker, and to create more light without the comfort of excessive hopes ± that requires
courage and autonomy.









This passage from Franz Kafka¶s ³Letter to the Father´ illuminates the origin not only of guilt
but also of justice. My primary concern is not with origins. I want to criticize guilt and, insofar as
a book can do that, liberate people from guilt feelings. But guilt feelings are being bred all
around us, and if one wants¶ to keep them from developing in the first place, one has to find out
how they originate.

Moreover, I have argued that justice consists of giving each what he deserves, but that it is
impossible to specify what a human being deserves. My critique of the concepts of desert and
justice leaves open the question of how these fateful but objectionable notions originated. As a
crime is not solved until a motive has been found, we cannot finally dispose of justice and desert
until we understand how these ideas ever came to be accepted.

I shall therefore round out my account of justice with a theory about the origin of guilt and
justice. Unfortunately, such a theory cannot be proved. Not only is it arguable that scientific
theories in general can never be proved to be true, although many have been proved false, but the
evidence for any theory about the origin of guilt and justice is bound to be particularly
inconclusive. Instead of trying at great length to make the case as strong as possible, I shall be
extremely brief. After all, my critique of justice and guilt does not stand or fall with this theory
about their origins. It is quite sufficient for my purposes if I can provide a tenable theory, and
better yet if it is very plausible.

Three major philosophers, David Hume, John Stuart Mill, and Nietzsche, have dealt with the
origin of justice and developed rival theories. In an article in The Review of Metaphysics I have
tried to prove that their theories of the origin of justice are untenable, and I shall not recapitulate
my arguments here. Actually, Hume¶s position, first presented by him under the title ³Of the
origin of justice and property,´ has already been criticized in passing, above: he associated
justice far too much with property and ³the love of gain,´ and he ignored retributive justice and
desert. Nietzsche and Mill will be mentioned in passing, below. But it would delay us quite
unnecessarily if I here tried to cope with the details of their theories. In any case, I believe that
Kafka, in the short passage that I have cited, came much closer to the truth than any of them.


What is the origin of the notion that we sometimes deserve punishments or rewards? What is the
source of this idea of justice?

Such words as ³source´ and ³origin´ might be inappropriate. Although Amos wanted justice to
flow like a mighty river, we could easily be misled by a metaphor. On the other hand, this
metaphor does not imply that there has to be a single source. All rivers come from hills or
mountains. Do the notions of justice and desert come from a height of feeling, an elevated vision,
some peak from which one looks down on men¶s miseries and feels compassion? Or is the idea
of justice born of resentment, as Mill argued? Is the notion that people deserve punishment older
than the concept of distributive justice? How is one to decide? The Kafka passage quoted above
suggests a different approach. Is the idea of justice perhaps born of guilt feelings? Suppose some
penalties had been proclaimed for certain deeds, not in the name of justice but for other reasons ±
say, simply because some persons in power (rulers, priests, or parents, for example) had not
wanted somebody to do some things ± and then the penalties were not inflicted, owing to an
oversight, or to the death of those in power, or for some other reason. In such a case, as also
when the penalty had merely been delayed, the reprieve need not prompt unequivocal delight,
relief, or jubilation. One might well be waiting for the penalty, feeling that it must still come, and
in this expectation it might prove impossible to draw a line between ³must come´ and ³ought to
come.´ Even as some shapes are seen as incomplete triangles or circles that require one more
pencil stroke, it is felt in cases of this sort that some painful event is still required ± or deserved.
As the English idiom puts it: ³You¶ve got it coming to you.´

Or suppose that you had been punished more than once for doing something forbidden, but now
somebody else has done the same thing without being punished. The same expectation appears
with a different emotional tone. It could be accompanied by fear for a person you love; it could
also be, and more often is, imbued with the desire that the other person should be punished no
less than you ± if not in this life, at least in the next. Nor need it be a case of either fear or
unequivocal desire; it might be a subtle mixture of the two.

Everything here said about guilt, whether one¶s own or that of others, may be transposed.
Imagine that it is not a penalty that is delayed or not inflicted but a promised reward that is
postponed or not granted. This prompts the same sort of expectation that something is still
³coming to´ someone ± that it is deserved.

Here is the origin of justice, and it is, surprisingly, a single source. The source of the idea that a
reward or punishment is deserved is ± a promise. And what is felt to be deserved, is what was
promised. The emotional response to the promise or to the failure to fulfil it promptly is wholly
secondary. If the reward or punishment should be ± deferred, or if they never come, in our own
case or in that of others, this nonevent may be met with envy or compassion, with self-pity or
guilt feelings, indignation or concern, hope or anxiety. It is a mistake to suppose ± as Mill did,
for example ± that some emotion or other is the source of justice. (He picked resentment.)

The required promise, of course, need not involve the words ³I promise.´ What matters is that
one is given to understand that one can count on some reward or punishment, and that one has
some respect for those who arouse this expectation. This feeling of respect does not involve any
intellectual or moral judgment and does not depend on a prior sense of justice. It is an emotional
orientation that does not preclude an admixture of resentment. What is essential is merely that
one looks up to those who make the crucial promise. In that sense one endows them with
authority, even if objectively they lack it.

There is ample evidence that criticism and reproaches from those whom a child ± and not only a
child ± does not respect tend to be shrugged off even when they are quite harsh and deliberate,
while a casual rebuke from a person one respects greatly is felt to be crushing and never
forgotten, even if the critic himself fails to remember the incident.

The notion that rewards or punishments can be deserved, and often are deserved, is not born in
the minds of sophisticated adults, nor is it the result of careful, critical reflection or painstaking
inferences. We acquire this notion as children, long before we have learned to think critically
about moral questions. Similarly, our ancestors acquired this notion long before there were
philosophers or students of psychology, sociology, or comparative religion. Most of us take
moral skepticism for granted and find it difficult to imagine the first stage of the development of
justice or her birth.

Originally, both in the history of humanity and in infancy, what is held to be deserved is what
one is told is deserved or to be expected. If a command to do something is followed by a
promise, then it is assumed that those who fulfil the command deserve what was promised (have
it coming to them), and that justice is done when they receive it and injustice when they do not.

Similarly, if a prohibition is accompanied by the promise of a penalty, it is assumed that those

who transgress it deserve the penalty; that justice is done when they receive it, even if the
punishment should be quite brutal; and that it would be unjust for the transgressor to go free or to
receive some other penalty instead. At this stage justice does not necessarily presuppose a law.
All it presupposes is a promise that accompanies either a command or a prohibition.

Here I disagree with Nietzsche. Arguing against a theory that had sought the origin of justice in
resentment, he claimed that justice comes into being only after ³a stronger power´ imposes a law
to put an ³end to the senseless raging of ressentiment among the weaker powers that stand under
it . . . µJust¶ and µunjust¶ exist, accordingly, only after the institution of the law. . .´ The first
sentence that I have quoted in part seems unduly influenced by Aeschylus¶ Eumenides, a play
that Nietzsche, as a classical philologist, knew well, although he does not mention it, and the
conclusion that ³just´ and ³unjust´ make sense only after ³the institution of law´ is surely wrong.
In childhood one acquires the notions of ³just´ and ³unjust´ without the benefit of laws;
unsystematic prohibitions and commands, delivered ad hoc and coupled with spontaneous
promises of rewards or punishments, suffice. There is no good reason to believe that in the early
stages of a culture ³the institution of law´ is required before justice can be born.

The initial sense of what is deserved is usually exceedingly unsubtle and insensitive. It depends
on some authority or other ± a parent, teacher, priest, or ruler, for example ± who tells people that
this is the way things are, that if you do, or fail to do, this, then you must expect and you deserve
that. (This is the birth of justice ± the beginning of what I have earlier called the first stage in her
development. The criticism of such promises, of custom and convention, rules, laws, and
arrangements, comes much later in time, and I shall deal with it shortly.)

In this initial phase it does not follow at all that if somebody else does the same thing, he
deserves or must expect the same reward or punishment. On the contrary, a child may not do
what his parents and perhaps his older siblings may do, or even have to do. Rank, station, and
sex are usually considered important at this point. Priests, noblemen, and servants are not
expected to perform the same acts, and are not treated alike if they do the same things. The same
goes for generals and ordinary soldiers. Zeus marries his sister and rapes the daughters of kings
as well as some kings¶ wives; but what is permitted to Jove is not permitted to an ox, as the
ancient adage has it: quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.
This goes against the liberal grain. Is not equality of the very essence of justice? If I do
something and am punished for it, does not justice require plainly that if someone else does the
same thing, he should be punished, too, in the same way? And if somebody else does something
and reaps a reward, is it not a demand of simple justice that I deserve the same reward for doing
the same thing? The answer is: three times no.

What cases are considered alike and what differences between human beings are taken to be
relevant is originally a function of what we are told. If it was made clear from the start that girls,
women, artisans, or novices would be punished for doing this or that, then most people, at least
at this stage, would consider it unjust if they were not punished after doing it. As long as it is
understood from the start that quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi, it accords with most men¶s sense of
justice, at least at this stage, that one person should be honored for performing the very act for
which another is, or would be, punished.

We can easily think of examples in which this procedure would not offend our moral sense even
today, while other instances might be considered models of injustice. The recent development of
the concept of justice has been more and more in the direction of equality. Less and less is it
taken for granted that those in positions of privilege are like Jove; reasons are demanded to
justify privileges and inequalities. But it would be a grave error to project this contemporary
trend back into the origins of justice.


The origin of what one might call ideal justice poses no grave problem for the theory advanced
here. In early childhood and in early history, orders, promises, and threats tend to be improvised,
ad hoc, unsystematic. Later on, attempts are made to codify them, but it is extremely difficult to
achieve consistency. Typically, one principle is invoked or implicit here and another there; one
sentiment or intuition at this point and another at that; one precedent now and then another one.
Such inconsistencies prompt reformers, prophets, critics, and revolutionaries to invoke one
tradition or set of ideas against the rest. The critique of positive law begins as a protest against
inconsistency. The demand for ideal justice is linked to the denunciation of hypocrisy and to an
appeal to selected elements of an old tradition. None of this necessarily involves superior moral
standards, although the standards invoked will, of course, be proclaimed as superior.

The ideal justice that is contrasted with what passes for justice can involve more rigorous respect
for ancient inequalities, as in Plato¶s attack on democracy, or a plea for equality, or even, as in
the Hebrew Bible, special consideration for orphan, widow, and stranger. Which strands of a
tradition set his heart afire proves what kind of a person a social critic is.
The contrast between ideal justice and positive justice is fruitful, but it would be a grave error to
suppose that ideal justice is, or tends to be, the same everywhere. Any such claim is as false as it
would be concerning positive justice. Amos¶ ideal justice would have outraged Plato, and vice

The origin of ideal justice is dissatisfaction with positive justice. But ideal justice is also born of
an unfulfilled promise. One appeals to ancient promises that, one claims, have been betrayed.
The critique of positive justice could be presented as a protest against brutality and inhumanity.
Typically, however, the great critics of positive justice have denounced inconsistency,
irrationality, and hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is a kind of inconsistency, and treating people differently
on account of differences that on reflection can be seen to be irrelevant and to constitute no
sufficient reason for the difference in treatment is a form of irrationality. Thus the demand for
ideal justice is often a plea for rationality and honesty.


What has happened to justice and desert in our time is similar to what has happened to God. A
child¶s idea of God is intelligible, but many adults consider it naïve. They are more sophisticated
and disown such notions. They readily explain what they do not mean when they avow their faith
that God exists, but the more they pride themselves on their lack of superstition, the less clear it
becomes what they do mean. As Satan once said to a Christian: ³I think you don¶t know yourself
what you mean. You are repeating words that once designated very understandable superstitions.
Now you denounce these superstitions but cling to the same words and believe that you are still
saying something.´

In the case of desert and justice, what was meant originally was clear enough: one deserved what
one had been promised, and justice was done when one got it. As one became more
sophisticated, it became plain that the promised reward or punishment itself might be unjust ±
that is, disproportionate. To be deserved and just, it had to be proportionate. But what was
considered proportionate always depended on an appeal to authority.

Many legislators considered it self-evident that one had to take into account the caste of both the
offender and the offended party. Hammurabi¶s Code went further and provided, for example, that
if a man should strike another man¶s daughter, and she died, ³they shall put his daughter to
death.´ Moses¶ sense of proportion was different, and that in the Law of Manu different again.
Few of those brought up under these laws ever doubted that the penalties provided in them were
proportionate, deserved, and just. And those raised to believe in hell rarely had any qualms about
that. Indeed, St. Thomas proved at length how eternal punishments for temporal offenses were
not disproportionate.
The critics of positive justice also appealed to authority, citing different precedents, texts, or
traditions. When moral skepticism and skepticism about law developed, people still clung to the
notions of proportion, justice, and desert. But these notions depend on some authority, if only
that of one¶s own intuition, and when no authority is recognized in moral matters, these old
notions collapse and die. The moral rationalist may still try to prop them up with appeals to
reason, as if proportion in such matters could be mathematical, but no matter how subtle his
efforts may be, they do not stand up under scrutiny.


In the discussion of retributive justice, I stressed the crucial role of religion; but up to this point
my theory of the origin of justice has underplayed the importance of religion. The last question
about justice that needs to be answered here will permit me to make up for this omission.

Why have men so seldom tried to work out in detail visions of a just society? Because it is
impossible to specify distributions and punishments that would be just. Although my thesis that
this is impossible may be novel, something like it has been felt very widely, if vaguely, by
legions of people for thousands of years. Instead of trying the impossible, they have simply
postulated that after death everybody will receive what he deserves ± whatever that may be.
Dogmatic assurance about this supposed fact has been accompanied by an impressive lack of

As far as punishments were concerned, a sort of pornography developed; at times, men¶s

imagination ran amuck, and under the flimsy pretext of justice one wallowed in cruel fantasies.
The eternal punishments of Sisyphus and Tantalus in the eleventh canto of the Odyssey are not
justified by any crime that bears a relation to them; only later ages furnished superabundant
rationalizations. The penalty was dreamt up first; the reasons for it were invented later.

It is striking that in Homer¶s afterlife there is no inkling of any reward. In Christianity heaven is
usually nothing but words: bliss, being close to God, or angels with harps. It is hardly original to
remark that listening to harps for thousands of years would be hell; but note the complete vacuity
of the traditional insistence that after death virtue is rewarded, and each gets his just deserts. As
children, we are led to assume that such phrases as ³just deserts´ are meaningful and have very
specific contents; but on reflection it appears that there actually is no content. Or, if you prefer,
what content there is does not bear thinking about. It is an embarrassment.

In the Thomistic Summa Theologiae we encounter one of the rare attempts to imagine a reward
that is less vapid than harp music: ³In order that the bliss of the saints may be more delightful for
them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, it is given to them to see
perfectly the punishment of the damned.´
This is a condensation of the much more elaborate development of the same theme by Tertullian,
³the earliest and after Augustine the greatest of the ancient church writers of the West.´ In the
last chapter of his treatise On Spectacles, in which he warned his readers against attending such
mundane affairs, he promised them rich rewards on ³that last day of judgment, with its
everlasting issues.´ There will be ever so much to ³admire,´ to ³enjoy,´ and to ³exult´ over,








The philosophers ³who taught their followers that God had no concern in aught that is
sublunary´ and who denied either the existence of the soul or the bodily resurrection are ³now
covered with shame before the poor deluded, as one fire consumes them.´ Actors will be lither of
limb in the flames than they ever were on the stage, and behold ³the charioteer, all glowing in his
chariot of fire,´ and ³the wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows.´ But it
is possible that ³even then I shall not care to attend´ to such trifles ³in my eager wish rather to
fix a gaze insatiable on those whose fury vented itself against the Lord.´ There is no need to
continue here; suffice it that Tertullian is not resigned to wait for the day when he will be
³exulting in such things as these,´ for ³even now we in a measure have them by faith in the
picturings of imagination.´

The Reverend S. Thelwall whose translation I have cited rejects the suggestion that this work
might have been written after Tertullian¶s ³lapse´ from orthodoxy into Montanism: ³A work so
colourless [!] that doctors can disagree about even its shading, must be regarded as practically
orthodox. Exaggerated expressions are but the characteristic of the author¶s genius.´ We are
invited to find in this chapter, ³which Gibbon delights to censure´ (and which Nietzsche cited as
a prime example of Christian resentment), ³a beautiful specimen of lively faith and Christian

At such a loss is the confidence in distributive justice to imagine what rewards might be
deserved! When hatred does not rush in to fill the void, there is nothing but the empty, dogmatic
assurance that justice will be done. Given my theory that the sense of injustice has its source in
an unfulfilled promise, nothing could be more natural than the expectation that the deferred
promise will be kept eventually, even if only after death. Again and again, the paradigm of
justice was found not in this life but in the next, or in the law that governed the transmigration of
souls. While one was generally careful not to be precise about rewards and punishments, one did
insist that each got what he deserved ± and this created the untenable impression that it makes
sense to speak of the rewards and punishments that a person deserves. This false notion would
not be so difficult to dislodge if it did not have the support of thousands of years of religious

I began my account of justice with her death. Now that we have also explored her origins, we
have truly found her out. My theory does not only complete the picture; it also has practical
implications. We are not born with a sense of justice or with guilt feelings. Nor are guilt feelings

Liberal parents inculcate guilt feelings in their children by telling them that they deserve to be
punished, and by then suspending the punishment. It is no longer fashionable to be as crude as
Kafka¶s father was, to loosen suspenders or prepare to give one¶s children a terrible beating. The
usual pattern is to tell a child something like this: If I had done when I was your age what you
have just done, I¶d have been punished severely; and while that¶s what you deserve, I¶d never do
that sort of thing to you. But how could you do such a dreadful thing?

If one wants to breed guilt feelings in one¶s children, this is the surest way to do it. But if one
wants to liberate oneself and the future from the tyranny of guilt, one has to know how guilt is
bred and born. The question remains whether guilt feelings are a necessary evil, as traditional
morality has taught. The time has come to attack guilt.



WITH THE DEATH OF JUSTICE, the tyranny of guilt comes to an end. For without justice
there is no guilt. To say that anyone is, or feels, guilty is to say that he deserves, or feels that he
deserves, punishment. Once it is seen that nobody deserves punishment, it follows that nobody is
guilty or should feel guilty.

It may be objected that it is simply a fact in some cases that a person is guilty. But what is a fact
is merely that he has done wrong ± possibly a grievous wrong. It does not follow that he deserves
punishment, and it would therefore be far better to avoid this implication by not speaking of
guilt. As long as we continue to call people guilty, we shall not get rid of guilt feelings. Is it silly
to criticize feelings? Certainly not. It makes sense to criticize resentment, envy, jealousy ± and
guilt feelings. Unlike many other so-called feelings, or at any rate much more so than most, guilt
feelings involve beliefs and even strenuous convictions. These convictions could be, and are,
false and irrational, and therefore guilt feelings are open to criticism.

In particular cases, nobody would hesitate to criticize feelings of jealousy for being unwarranted
and irrational. One might also go further and argue that jealousy or guilt feelings, or both, are
always irrational. But the case against guilt feelings has far more important implications. While
many people condone jealousy, moralists and philosophers are not in the habit of positively
demanding it. Guilt feelings, on the other hand, are deliberately demanded, inculcated, and
extolled. They are part of the hard core of traditional morality. And they figure prominently in all
sorts of false claims. I shall single out three theses for criticism.

1. Guilt feelings are held to be necessary for the moral health of those who have done something
immoral. Remorse is held to be part of the punishment they deserve, or at the very least a
prerequisite for reform.

2. Guilt feelings are held to be something one owes those whom one has wronged. Such feelings
are supposed to restore, at least in part, an interpersonal balance.

3. Guilt feelings are held to be necessary for the protection of society. Nobody can watch people
all the time in order to keep them in line. Hence it is held to be imperative for them to internalize
punishment and to torment themselves when they do something immoral. If they did not know
that this punishment was certain even if they should not be caught, it is believed that they would
behave even worse than they do anyway.

My attack on guilt and guilt feelings will involve a critique of these three theses. But the
addiction to guilt is even more widespread than these theses suggest.

Many ³liberals´ believe that their guilt feelings supply the psychic energy for their good works.
Where would they be without guilt?

Many ³radicals´ feel the same way and in addition seem to feel the need to find other men guilty
of heinous wrongs. Righteous indignation is a source of energy for them. Where would they be
without guilt?

Many ³conservatives´ believe that all men are guilty because they are finite ± they themselves no
less than their fellow men. If they are Christians they speak of original sin.

Some non-Christian ³existentialists´ have spoken in a very similar vein of metaphysical,

ontological, or existential guilt. Jaspers, Heidegger, and Buber have all argued that such guilt lies
beyond all psychological explanations and that guilt feelings of this type constitute a summons to
authentic existence. To quote from Buber¶s account of a specific example:






   7 8  




Here Buber is, to say the least, exceedingly close to Jaspers and Heidegger. Still, this thesis is
essentially a variant of the claim that guilt feelings are a prerequisite of reform. It is a variant and
not merely the same thing said in bigger and fancier words, inasmuch as the ³existentialists´ see
such guilt feelings as a summons and a unique opportunity to rise to a higher level of existence
than that of the ordinary person who has not had occasion to feel guilt in the first place.

Considering how widespread guilt feelings are and how widely dubious theses about them are
credited, it is surprising how little critical attention they have received from philosophers.
English-speaking philosophers have largely ignored them, while the German philosophers who
have dealt with guilt have rarely subjected the concept to criticism. No doubt, this was in part
because, as Nietzsche said, ³the Protestant parson is the grandfather of German philosophy.´ My
own attack on guilt stands in the tradition of Nietzsche and Freud, without following either of
them in detail. For although both were against guilt feelings, neither gave us the kind of critique
that is needed. It is high time for a full-fledged attack.


Guilt feelings are a contagious disease that harms those who harbor them and endangers those
who live close to them. The liberation from guilt spells the dawn of autonomy.

Typically, guilt feelings make those who harbor them feel wretched. The claim that this is
precisely what they deserve depends on the conception of justice that I have criticized. I have
argued that it is impossible to determine what precisely men deserve, but it may be felt
nevertheless that those who have done something immoral deserve some suffering and therefore
guilt feelings. As a matter of empirical fact, however, guilt feelings have no particular tendency
to be proportionate to the wrongs that they feed on. It is not in the least uncommon for a person
to have immense guilt feelings that revolve around a relatively trivial occasion, while he has
none or hardly any in connection with what would seem to warrant them much more. What is
even far more obvious is that very decent people of great moral sensitivity often torment
themselves over minor wrongs, while less humane people feel little or no remorse over
outrageous deeds that have brought immense suffering to others.

A critic might grant this much and still protest that those who have done wrong deserve some
suffering and ought to have guilt feelings that are at least vaguely proportionate to the evil they
have done. But in line with my account of the origin of the concept of desert, I claim that any
specific suggestion concerning what is deserved depends ultimately on some appeal to authority,
and that we should abandon the notion of moral desert. We should ask not what we deserve but
whether the three theses that I want to attack are true.

As for the moral health of those who have guilt feelings, those who nurture self-hatred usually
have hatred to spare for others. As a rule, guilt feelings make men vindictive and inhibit the
development of generosity. And I shall show presently that they are not by any means a
prerequisite for reform.

If guilt feelings were at least of some help to those whom we feel we have wronged, it might still
be argued that self-punishment served some purpose. But generally guilt feelings have the
opposite effect. They discomfit those on whose account they are felt, and they are actually

When one feels guilty for what one has done to another person, one is very apt to feel that in
some sense it is the victim¶s fault: but for the victim, one would never have incurred this guilt.
And living close to someone who secretly, or not so secretly, blames him, makes the victim feel
guilty. He is infected by being resented.

Even those not blamed by anyone else may feel guilty when they realize that they have caused
somebody else who is very close to them great suffering. They are infected by feeling

Finally, those who feel guilty usually feel, more or less like the antihero of Camus¶s novel The
Fall, that if they feel guilty, you have no less reason to feel guilty. This conviction does not
depend on your having been the wronged person in the first place, although in the case of
husband and wife this reaction is the rule when one has wronged the other. When a parent feels
guilty over having done something seriously wrong in bringing up a child, he (or she) will
normally feel that the other parent should feel guilty, too. And one is infected by being held
responsible. Guilt craves company; guilt obtains company by contagion.


Can one transcend guilt feelings without becoming self-satisfied and self-righteous? First of all,
it should be noted that guilt feelings are quite compatible with self-congratulation and self-
righteousness. The Fall shows this at length. A word of explanation is in order because Camus¶s
novel has so often been misunderstood, and interpreters have not been lacking who have claimed
to find in it a rapprochement with Christianity. In fact, it is the author¶s most Nietzschean work.

His first novel, The Stranger, was a kind of antithesis to Dostoevsky¶s Crime and Punishment,
and its antihero was an anti-Raskolnikov. Having killed another human being, he refused to feel
any remorse. It scarcely occurred to him even to feel any regret. And when he was sentenced to
death, he felt sure that society wanted to punish him merely because he had refused to cry at his
mother¶s funeral; in other words, because he had refused to fake it, because he was more honest
than other men ± not because he had committed a crime. Camus¶s third and last novel, The Fall,
was conceived as an antithesis to Dostoevsky¶s Notes from Underground. Dostoevsky¶s antihero
saw everything from underground, from below, resentfully; Camus¶s tells us how he always
³needed to feel above.´ This theme runs through the whole story. He has always been possessed
by the desire to look down on others, but then he became convinced of the hollowness and
hypocrisy of his life and of his own profound guilt: of course, all men are guilty, but he is
particularly guilty and aware of his guilt and thus after all and once again superior to other men.
He now spends his time thinking and talking about his guilt and his superiority, congratulating
himself and being self-righteous ± instead of using his time and energy constructively. I take it
that the antihero of this book is not an utterly atypical and marginal case but that the
characterization is intended as an attack on the Christian doctrine of original sin and its secular
variations, as is Sartre¶s The Flies.

Although guilt feelings are compatible with self-righteousness and with a complete failure to
work at becoming a better person, it is also clear that some people who feel guilty try to rise to a
higher level or do good works, or both. The question remains whether one can transcend guilt
feelings without becoming (or remaining) self-righteous and self-satisfied. The answer should
also take care of the problem raised earlier ± whether guilt feelings are a prerequisite of reform.

In intellectual and artistic endeavors and in sports it is obviously possible to be sharply self-
critical without harboring guilt feelings. If the desired goal is that one should not be self-
righteous and that one should try hard to rise to a higher level of existence, guilt feelings
establish no high probability at all that one will move in this direction; what is needed is a fusion
of ambition with humility. Once again I have to coin a word to move an important idea clearly
into focus. I shall call the fusion of ambition with humility humbition.

Humility and ambition are widely considered antithetical. I hold no brief for either as long as
they appear separately. But their fusion, humbition, I consider a cardinal virtue, along with
courage, love, and honesty.

Virtues are habits that can be cultivated, not qualities that one either has or lacks. Thus courage
depends in some measure on vitality and therefore comes more easily to some people than to
others; yet it is not unteachable. Some swimmers readily dive into the water, while others have to
overcome a deep inner resistance, but most people can acquire the necessary courage, especially
if they begin at an early age. The same applies not only to other behavior that requires some
³physical´ courage but also to the ³moral´ courage that is needed to defy any compact majority.
Courage always requires some self-confidence, another trait that, like courage itself and all of the
other virtues, admits of degrees. There is no virtue without courage; humbition requires courage
(the counsel of timidity is to lie low instead of risking failure) ; love takes courage (fear shrinks
at the prospects of rejection, loss, or disappointment); and honesty is not for those who are afraid
of losing friends or cherished illusions.

Love, as a cardinal virtue, is the habit of trying to imagine how others feel and what they think;
to share their griefs and hurts at least in some small measure; and to help. Again, there are
degrees. It is not a question of all or nothing, of loving or hating, of being either courageous or

While this is obvious in the case of the other virtues, many people are reluctant to admit it in the
case of honesty. They see readily that ³courageous´ and ³cowardly´ are. epithets that we apply
in extreme cases, and that people who are not courageous are not necessarily cowards. But
people who would wistfully admit that they are not courageous feel insulted if one questions
their honesty ± as if Hamlet had not been painfully right when he said: ³To be honest, as this
world goes, is to be one man pick¶d out of ten thousand.´ The reasons for this confusion are of
some importance, and I shall consider honesty at length in chapter 7, along with the reasons one
can give for the four virtues.

Humbition involves a sense of one¶s limitations, accompanied not by resignation but by the
aspiration to rise to a higher level of being. Those whose ambitions are petty can realize them
and feel satisfied. Those whose aspirations are loftier keep feeling how far they fall short of their
standards, but keep trying. They are too proud to be satisfied with their achievements. They are
their own severest critics.

I am not proposing that we go back to the Greeks. They tended to see no fault in self-satisfaction.
In Aristotle¶s ethics, the ³great-souled´ man is the paragon of virtue. He tells others how well he
thinks of himself, and this is not considered a fault because he has good reason to be proud. One
is reminded of Socrates¶ Apology and, even more, Homer¶s Achilles. It was the Orphics and the
mystery cults and, above all, Christianity that spread the sense of guilt as far as they reached.
Modem man is led to wonder whether a culture without guilt feelings can even be imagined.
Most modem readers simply fail to see that the heroes of the Iliad feel no guilt. Again, Achilles
is the outstanding example. Even when old King Priam comes to him at night to ask for the
return of Hector¶s corpse, Achilles feels no guilt for having dishonored the corpse and dragged it
through the dust behind his chariot. Neither did he feel guilty when his wrath caused the death of
thousands, nor when he was even more directly responsible for the death of his best friend,
Patroclus. Now he has Hector¶s body cleaned, not because he feels either shame or guilt, but, as
Homer ³goes out of his way to explain, for a very different reason. If Priam saw the corpse in its
pitiful condition, he might say things that would rekindle Achilles¶ wrath and lead him to kill the
old man and thus outrage the gods. Achilles has no guilt feelings and is fond of telling others that
he is superior to all. What I propose is not a return to Homer. We should replace guilt feelings
with humbition.


Guilt is inner-directed, shame other-directed, while humbition and self-criticism are autonomous.
Thus guilt feelings arise when an initially external authority ± the voice of one¶s parents, for
example ± has been internalized. These feelings issue from an inner voice, the so-called bad
conscience. The person whose morality is of this type can be sublimely independent of the
opinions of his peers, nor does it spell absolution if he knows that his actual parents, out there, do
not consider him guilty at all. What matters is their voice inside him, which has gained a life of
its own and become tyrannical.

The person whose morality is oriented toward shame rather than guilt is concerned about what
his peers will think, out there. He fears being embarrassed, humiliated, laughed at, despised. It
might be thought that guilt feelings arise typically when one feels that one does not live up to the
expectations of others, and that guilt feelings are therefore other-directed. But this suggestion
rests on faulty observation. The person who cares deeply about the opinion of his peers and
about the expectations they have concerning his performance is likely to feel deep shame when
he lets them down. Guilt feelings are much more likely to arise vis-à-vis one¶s parents, especially
if one feels that they have made great sacrifices and that they therefore deserved better ± even if
they themselves do not feel that way. Guilt is tied to desert; shame is not.

Those who have fallen short of their own high standards in painting, writing, or sports are clearly
sensible when they do not feel guilty, nor need they feel shame. It is reasonable for them to try to
criticize their own performance carefully, to ask themselves what went wrong, and to map
strategies for doing better next time. And if there is no next time and the failure is somehow
irrevocable, they may well feel keen regret, but they would be unreasonable and neurotic if they
felt guilty. Is the situation basically different in the case of moral failures? Why do so many
people assume that moral failures call for guilt feelings?

This distinction between two kinds of failures is deeply ingrained in our civilization, and
millions are firmly persuaded that there is a profound and obvious difference ± but cannot give
any convincing account of it. They are apt to say that not only sports but also writing and
painting are relatively trivial and not all that important, or that failures in such endeavors are
merely ³technical´ and cause no suffering to others, while moral failures do. It remains unclear
why guilt feelings, if admittedly inappropriate in one area, are called for in the other. Not all
moral failures cause suffering, while many ³technical´ failures cause great suffering ± for
example, some of the failures of doctors, surgeons, nurses, lawyers, judges, politicians, officers,
policemen, teachers, architects, stockbrokers, and mechanics. It is obviously much harder to train
people to avoid serious failures in such fields as these than it is to educate them to avoid theft,
murder, perjury, and rape. If ³technical´ competence can be taught without inculcating guilt
feelings, moral competence must be teachable, too, without recourse to guilt.

Our illustrations also show that the difference between moral and so-called technical failures
cannot be that the latter are of no great importance for the survival of a society. The line between
the area in which guilt feelings are held to be indispensable and the area in which they are
admittedly inappropriate is exceedingly hard to draw, and under these circumstances the intuitive
certainty that we cannot dispense with guilt feelings has little force.

How, then, can one account for this intuitive certainty? First, wrongs that in our culture were at
one time believed to be transgressions of divine law were considered sinful, and it was axiomatic
that whoever sinned was guilty and deserved to be punished. Thus a Jew who has been brought
up on the notion that it is sinful to eat ham will usually feel guilty when he does eat ham, long
after he has lost his religious convictions. And few actions elicit more profound guilt feelings
than masturbation.

Second, the easiest way to impose one¶s will on others is to imbue them with fear and guilt: fear
that they will be punished if they disobey, and guilt feelings even when no punishment
materializes. Priests have not only inculcated guilt feelings but have also devised various rituals
to remove them ± rituals that, however diverse, have one feature in common: they deepen the
dependency of the poor guilt-ridden flock upon the priest.

The easiest way to manipulate others is not necessarily the best way, nor does it happen to be as
efficient as is widely supposed. Certainly guilt feelings have not kept people from masturbating.
But it is far easier to tell a child that anyone who does a certain thing deserves to be punished
than it is to give good reasons for not doing it. Hence parents, and whole cultures, frequently rely
on guilt feelings precisely in connection with prohibitions for which they cannot furnish rational


The proposal to replace guilt feelings with humbition spells relief from some very painful
confusions. When John F. Kennedy was killed, Americans were told from many sides ± first by a
Christian minister ± that all of them were guilty. But they were not. And if anyone should insist
that in some way you were responsible and that if only you had behaved differently in some way
the President might not have been assassinated, you should reply that there are degrees of
responsibility, and that it will not do to disregard the difference between significant and more or
less fictitious responsibilities.
Oddly, guilt feelings often flourish on the ground of fictitious responsibilities. The proverbial
white liberal has guilt feelings about black slavery and squirms under taunts that his ancestors
kept slaves even if his ancestors never did anything of the sort. Should the descendants of those
blacks in Africa who sold their brothers to Arab slave traders, and the descendants of the Arab
slave traders, feel guilty? Clearly, the proverbial white liberal is confused. He would do well to
transcend his guilt feelings, and this need not keep him from working for civil rights.

We must distinguish between guilt and responsibility. We cannot dispense with the concept of
responsibility, which will be discussed at greater length in a later chapter. It does not follow from
any of my arguments that it is irrational for a person to say: You can rely on me; I accept this
responsibility. On the contrary, something is wrong with those who will not accept
responsibilities. Now, if one has accepted responsibility and failed, one may be (but need not
always be) responsible for the failure. Even if one is responsible for it, it does not follow that one
should feel guilty, although in German one would say, meine Schuld, which may seem to mean
mea culpa, ³my guilt´ ± but which really need not mean more than ³my fault.´ We cannot
dispense with the concept of ³my fault´ or ³my responsibility,´ but we should transcend the
notion of ³my guilt.´

Let us try to work out more fully the contrast between ³my fault´ and ³my guilt.´ Each of these
two concepts belongs to a little family of related terms, and it may be useful to juxtapose them in
two columns. The family in the first column is under criticism here, while that in the second
column might replace it.

past-oriented ±±±± future-oriented

guilt ±±±± fault
remorse ±±±± regret
contrition ±±±± humbition
self-accusation ±±±± self-criticism
wallowing ±±±± planning

The wish to have the past different is understandable but irrational. If it actually were different,
much else would be different, too. As a passing fancy, such a wish requires no censure, but if it
is pursued seriously, it leads one into confusion and inconsistency, or to a pervasive negation of
oneself and the world. And those who say no to themselves rarely say yes to others. Or, to put
the point more concretely, those who torment themselves hardly ever manage to give others joy.

Those who say ³my fault´ regret what they have done without plunging into remorse. ³Remorse´
comes from the Latin remordere, ³to bite again,´ and thus offers us the same image as the
German Gewissensbiss, the bite of conscience, and Agenbite of Inwit, familiar to many of us
from James Joyce¶s Ulysses. Remorse is a gnawing torment, a way of punishing oneself for a
wrong done in the past, a form of self-torture of which one might say, using Biblical language,
that it is one of those things that do not profit. Similarly, contrition involves signs of grief or
pain. But prolonged and insistent self-reproach and mental anguish move people in the wrong

³Regret´ is admittedly a rather weak and colorless word, deflated by abundant social usage.
What is needed is a combination of humble regret with a resolve to change. What is crucial is to
liberate oneself from the tyranny of an irrevocable past and to ask what can be done here and
now and tomorrow.


The contrast of past-oriented and future-oriented attitudes may be too Manichaean. Clearly, there
is more of a continuum than a listing in two columns might suggest. And the existentialist
version of guilt feelings has its place somewhere near the middle: guilt feelings are emphasized
and extolled, but they are justified in large measure in terms of what might become of the

Obviously; I have no quarrel with the future-oriented aspect of the existentialist position. What I
reject is the contention that guilt feelings are required to bring about what Buber calls the
unfolding of one¶s ³best qualities.´ Not only are they not required, but they impede one¶s
³chance of becoming that being´ which realizes our ³highest predispositions.´ It is actually the
existentialists who operate with a Manichaean scheme of two modes of existence: authentic and
inauthentic. Here Buber¶s I and Thou (1923) and Heidegger¶s Being and Time (1927) are
similar. And the later Buber agrees with the early Heidegger that guilt feelings can summon one
out of inauthentic existence and become the turning point of a life.

There is no basis for the generalization that those who remove ³the thorn´ of remorse and self-
torment also destroy irrevocably the chance that a profound self-examination opens up for an
advance to a higher level of existence. Of course, it is possible for a person who has seriously
wronged another to become reconciled to that fact all too easily and to remain essentially the
same person he or she was before. It is also possible to turn an experience of that sort into a new
point of departure, planning how one can make it up to the person one has wronged and ±
especially if it is too late for that ± how one can make it up to humanity.

Weighing just how much one owes the other person or humanity would be absurd, though no
more absurd than worrying and fretting a great deal about how much blame one really deserves.
What makes good sense is asking yourself what mistakes, if any, you have made, how you might
do better in the future, and perhaps also what sort of advice you could give others in situations
resembling the one in which you have failed.
The difference between guilt feelings and humbition is not by any means a mere matter of words.
What is at stake is an altogether different outlook and direction of the personality.

Guilt feelings involve a refusal to accept that what is done is done. The person who nourishes
them is stuck at some point in the past and cannot go on beyond that point to build a future. He
rejects his past deed and his present self, and he supposes in his Manichaean way that the
alternative is to applaud his past deed and to congratulate his present self, which would by evil.
In sum, he is caught in the spurious alternative between the bad conscience and the good
conscience. I reject the good conscience as well as the bad.

An intellectual conscience need not be either good or bad. Rather, the person who has it is
conscientious, thoughtful, and sensitive. One should think of the social conscience in the same
way: to have a good social conscience would be tantamount to having no social conscience, but
it does not follow that one must have a bad social conscience and feel guilty. The person with a
social conscience that is not morbid is concerned about the sufferings of the oppressed. This
point can be extended to conscience in general. The person with humbition has a conscience, but
neither a good conscience nor a bad conscience. He cultivates self-criticism, finds fault with
some of his past deeds and omissions, realizes that but for those deeds and omissions he would
be a different person now, in a different situation, and accepts his present self and situation (and
by extension also his past) provisionally ± as the raw material of his future.

Those who assume that they must feel guilty until someone else forgives them are clearly not
autonomous. They look to someone else to remove their guilt. Others, refusing to lean on anyone
else, find nobody to grant them forgiveness and feel guilty their lives long. The autonomous
forgive themselves, but not everyone who forgives himself is autonomous.

It is nobler to blame and resent oneself than to blame and resent others, but it is nobler yet to rise
above resentment. This is a normative and hortatory statement, but it is easily transposed into the
descriptive mode. Not only are there free-floating guilt feelings in search of a transgression ±
feelings that may have arisen in the first place in the way described by Kafka ± but resentment is
an emotion that is typically free-floating, like a smoldering fire that flares up whenever you
supply it with a suitable object. Guilt feelings are a form of resentment. The person who harbors
them is therefore a menace. The person, on the other hand, who can accept himself provisionally
will find it easier to be generous to others.

It may be objected that if the head of a government had ordered the destruction of large numbers
of civilians in another country, he ought to feel guilty. But my arguments imply that there is no
good reason why he should. Any guilt feelings he might have would not enhance in the slightest
either his moral stature or the well-being of others. What would enhance both? Stringent self-
criticism and the decision to use all his powers to prevent similar crimes in the future.

Are guilt feelings nevertheless necessary for the protection of society? If this sort of punishment
were not assured even when the law does not catch one, wouldn¶t most people, or at least a great
many people, behave still worse than they do now?

In the 1950s students were asking the very same question about belief in hell. And then about
belief in God. Now that relatively few students or readers of a book like this would press such a
question about either hell or God, one must ask whether guilt feelings are not the last dike.

Seeing that even the certainty of eternal torment did not keep people from murder and perjury,
theft, burglary, and fraud, it seems exceedingly implausible that the fear of self-torment and guilt
feelings should be a powerful deterrent now. You may object that committing those crimes did
not entail the certainty of everlasting tortures; one could hope for absolution. True enough, but
conscience is even less unbending than the church.

Remorse can be a rack, but those who suffer on it are hardly ever those who have committed
crimes against humanity or who have seriously wronged their fellow men. As a rule, the bad
conscience catches only minor offenders, while major criminals escape its grasp, and often it
punishes those who are virtually innocent.

Thus the question that I have set out to answer involves a false premise, namely, that guilt
feelings do protect society. There is no evidence that they accomplish much in this way. Nor is
there any reason to believe that raising children on humbition would accomplish less. I should
think that humbition would prevent antisocial conduct better than guilt feelings, but I obviously
cannot prove that.

Still, a few examples may help us to understand the alternatives better. A surgeon who keeps
worrying about how much blame he deserves in this case or that, and whether he could or should
have known better, becomes a neurotic menace. In order to do his job well and help his fellow
men he must be self-critical without losing self-confidence. Of course, operating on people is not
like playing chess, and we understand readily how some people would say that, unlike a chess
champion who has lost a game, a surgeon who has made a grave error ought to feel remorse.
This is traditional wisdom, but for the protection of society it would be far better if the surgeon
asked himself when, where, and why he had failed; how he could improve his competence; and
how he could teach young colleagues to guard against the mistakes that he has made.

In the case of surgeons it is clearly better and safer to rely on their humbition than to count on
their fear of guilt feelings. The same is true of other professionals. But will humbition keep
people from committing crimes? Obviously, not so reliably that society can dispense with the
police, with courts, and with other deterrents. But insofar as education can deter people, it seems
entirely reasonable to trust in humbition ± along with honesty and love and courage. Raising
children on these virtues and teaching pupils the habit of self-criticism, high standards of
honesty, and fellow feeling for other human beings would make for a better society than does the
traditional emphasis on guilt feelings.

Moreover, in line with a point made before, one cannot neatly divide education between the
moral and nonmoral spheres. Why do most of us never kick dogs? For moral reasons or perhaps
aesthetic reasons? We could scarcely say why because we simply do not feel tempted to do such
a nasty thing. But our reason for not doing it even when we are angry and feel like letting off
steam is certainly not that we are afraid of the pangs of remorse. On reflection we can say why: it
would not fit in with the habits we have developed. And if we deliberately ask ourselves whether
we should not cultivate this new habit and take up kicking dogs, we can easily think of more
good reasons for not doing that than for doing it.


Even those who would like to rise above guilt may well wonder whether they can. Perhaps the
cases that involve some tangible wrong are not the hardest cases; if you are persuaded by the
arguments offered here, you know where self-criticism must commence and what kinds of plans
are needed. The most irrational guilt feelings are more intractable because it is not at all clear
what requires criticism. Some people need outside help to understand their feelings. Consider
two representative types.

The first is the case of the survivor. Martin Luther is said to have gone into the monastery after a
close friend was stabbed to death at his side. It seems that after this experience his guilt feelings
became overpowering and he came to feel that he no longer had a right to his own life. This case
may seem to be very unusual, but it is merely exceptionally dramatic; the basic syndrome is
extremely common. The death of a person who was close to one often prompts acute guilt
feelings. The survivor fails to see how, if the other person died, he deserves to live, and he feels
that he doesn¶t.

In our time this experience is not confined to those who have recently lost a loved one. Millions
who survived World War II and realize how many others did not, have guilt feelings. The
intensity of these feelings depends on one¶s sensitivity and on one¶s closeness to those who died.
Those who did not know anyone who died in a concentration camp or in some battle or in a
bomb raid may not qualify as survivors in the relevant sense. In those who lost many who were
very close to them, guilt feelings are apt to be strong; and if some of one¶s closest relatives or
friends died under dreadful circumstances under one¶s eyes, the sense of guilt is likely to be
Is it any help to be told that the inference that one deserves to die or, failing that, to suffer
terribly, is invalid? Is it any help to be told that the notion of desert is quite confused? In most
cases it probably does not help much to be told that once. But it would be stupid to go to the
opposite extreme and claim that arguments and books never helped anyone. When one is in a
receptive frame of mind because prior beliefs have been shaken up or, in the present case,
because one really would like to shed one¶s guilt feelings, a book can help.

The arguments must be thought through, digested, lived with. They must lead to a re-
examination of one¶s life and one¶s place in the world. Obviously, we did not deserve a better
fate than millions who died horribly. Nor can we hope to earn the right to our survival after the
event. Desert is out of the picture. The world is capricious and cruel, and some of the most
admirable human beings suffer hideously while many of the most unconscionable flourish. The
question facing us is what we can do with the incubus within us that keeps burrowing into the
past and gnawing at our vitals. A liberated human being redirects his thoughts and energies
toward the future, toward a worthy project ± not just any project, not mere therapy. A merely
therapeutic project would make a mockery of our survival, as if what mattered now were merely
easing our pain and being comfortable. Humbition aims higher and asks to what extent our own
particular experience might be turned to advantage.

Confronted with the blatant cruelty of the world, it is difficult not to resent the world and one¶s
own complicity. To rage against the universe is madness, though most of those who have not
experienced this madness again and again lack depth. To submit is unworthy. Autonomy does
not bow in defeat; it asks how the experience that breeds guilt feelings in others might give us
the power to do for humanity what, but for this experience, neither we nor anyone might have
accomplished. Thus survivors have expanded the conscience of their fellow men by writing The
First Circle, Cancer Ward, The Painted Bird, and Night.

The second, equally representative case illustrates the same themes. I shall call it the case of the
beautiful garden. Suppose you were offered a chance to live in a lovely place, in the middle of a
large garden, with a view of lakes and mountains. You had no chores to do; the company was
splendid, the food excellent, and whenever you felt like it you could take walks or swim. If you
had some project and wanted to write, that, too, could be easily arranged. Considering the
condition of most of your fellow men, should you poison this paradise with guilt feelings? It is
the thrust of my whole argument that you should not, but that you would be lacking in humanity
and love if you considered the situation quite unproblematic. I am against the good conscience
and the bad, but not against having a social conscience.

This case may look unrepresentative, but actually most professors and students, as well as
legions of other writers and readers, live, at least figuratively speaking, in a beautiful garden.
They live in a protected environment that shuts out the misery in which so many millions suffer.
For anyone in the garden to feel that he deserved his good fortune would be really insufferable.
To torment oneself with self-reproaches or to make life in the garden disagreeable for the other
guests because nobody deserved to be so well off, would be stupid and help no one. What course

The case is very similar to that of the survivor. It is a common mistake to think of either case as
somehow quite exceptional. Every one of us is a survivor, and most writers and readers have
always dwelt in gardens. Desert is a confused notion, and the world is cruel and capricious. The
question facing us is what we are to do with the opportunities that come our way.

One answer is: Refuse them because they are not offered to everyone. Show your solidarity with
your fellow men by not entering the garden; or, if you are inside, leave. This answer makes
sense, unless you could help your fellow men more by using the opportunities offered you. If you
could, but leave nevertheless to soothe your conscience, you are weak and place your peace of
mind above the welfare of your fellow men.

The best solution is to find a project that will benefit humanity, in line with your limited talents,
and to make the most of your situation. If you can acquire or teach skills and knowledge in the
garden or write books that may help others more than what you could accomplish outside, stay
without remorse; and when you no longer can, leave without remorse.

That sounds very simple, yet I argued earlier that it is impossible to satisfy all claims. There is no
just distribution of concerns, of energies, of time. Looking back over a year or more, we can
never honestly say that we have done the best we could. Is there not ample reason, then, for self-
reproach? For self-criticism, yes; for self-reproach, no.

Whoever wants to accomplish something has to put on blinders, must refrain from running off in
all directions, must be hard. He has to slight legitimate concerns.

It does not follow that he must deceive himself. On the contrary, the autonomous person does not
become the slave of a project. He asks himself now and again whether his distribution of his time
and energies is reasonable, given his standards, and whether these standards themselves stand up
under scrutiny ± or whether he is a hypocrite. He wonders whether he might not have done this
and whether he was responsible for that, but eventually puts aside these worries as best he can to
get on with something more fruitful that, if all goes well, may benefit humanity more than
continued self-examination. But when he falls asleep, the blinders drop.

It is in dreams that guilt feelings, if one was ever raised on them, survive the longest. Even the
person who succeeds in putting an end to continued self-torment is quite apt to continue, at the
very least for a while, to punish himself in his dreams. He may know that he does not really have
suffering ³coming to him´; but when he falls asleep, he forgets.

Some apologists for guilt will grasp at dreams and treat them as authorities ± when they can be
used in support of guilt. But this involves a double standard. Sophocles¶ Jocasta told Oedipus
that in his dreams many a man has lain with his own mother, and Plato, too, said that in dreams
the part of the soul that is not rational ³does not shrink from attempting to lie with a mother or
with anyone else, man, god, or brute. It is ready for any foul deed of blood, and . . . falls short of
no extreme of folly. . . ´ If it is the irrational elements in us that find expression in such wish-
fulfilment dreams, why should we hesitate to consider our self-punishment dreams irrational,
too? Only reason can decide what is irrational; and I have tried to show that guilt feelings are

None of this implies that we should ignore our dreams or that all dreams are equally irrational. A
person may repress guilt feelings simply because they are painful, and he may persuade himself
that he was not at fault when in fact he was. In his dreams he may punish himself for faults that,
when awake, he would deny. He must still ask his reason to help him decide to what extent he
was responsible and, more important, what it would be best for him to do now.


To charge a person with guilt is to judge that he deserves to be punished. To tell him that he has
made a mistake, or even that he has grievously wronged another human being, does not imply
that he deserves to be punished. Nevertheless I have argued that we need to retain the institution
of punishment for future-oriented reasons. To live together, people have to prohibit some kinds
of conduct, and prohibitions without penalties are ineffective in the face of temptation. If we
always waived all penalties, the law would cease to deter men, and the kind of conduct that we
sought to prevent would flourish. Hence we punish offenders, but we should not insist that they
deserve their punishment. Some of them may well be morally superior to the prosecutor, the
judge, and the prison guards. But aren¶t the prisoners, or at any rate most of them, ³guilty,´ while
the prosecutor, judge, and guards are ³innocent´? This is the kind of Manichaean simplicity that
I have tried to transcend.

If desert and guilt are out of the picture, does it not follow that we might as soon punish the
innocent as the guilty whenever that would seem to promote the good of society? Or rather, since
I have rejected ³guilt´ and ³innocence´: might we not punish those who have not broken a law
and claim falsely that they did? Since honesty is one of my four cardinal virtues, I obviously
should not do that. Nor do I believe that such dishonesty would promote the good of society. (I
shall return to this point in the last two chapters.) If we admitted honestly that we were punishing
for a breach of the law a person who in fact had not broken it at all, we would undermine the law
by making clear that one might as well break it because one stands to be punished either way.

Thus we can dispense with the concept of guilt even in court. Instead of asking for a plea of
guilty or not guilty, we should ask the accused whether he admits having broken the law. To ask
Antigone, Thoreau, Gandhi, or King whether they admit their guilt involves an absurd
presumption. Nor is it up to a jury or judge to pronounce anyone guilty, as if the accused
deserved punishment.

Similarly, the person who feels guilty feels that he deserves to suffer, while those who are
convinced that they have done wrong do not necessarily feel that they deserve any punishment.
Guilt feelings themselves are a form of self-torment; but usually the self-punishment does not
stop with guilt feelings. Often they are more diffuse than indicated so far ± rather like a
depression. Once you feel depressed, you think of things that are depressing, but you do not
think of all the reasons for feeling depressed. Frequently, the main reason that brought on your
depression in the first place does not rise to consciousness. As long as it does not, you are
trapped in your melancholy. It is similar when you feel guilty. You dwell on things that might
warrant your guilt feelings but often do not come to grips with the primary cause. In fact, many a
depression may well be a form of guilt feelings, a way of punishing oneself.

It would be wrong, however, to think of guilt feelings as mainly very private. Nor is it sufficient
to stress how dangerous they are for those who live close by. There is also a politics of guilt. A
detailed description would lead us too far afield, but a few observations and three illustrations
may at least suggest its dimensions.

In the 1960s it became the fashion for radicals to taunt liberals for their guilt feelings, but a great
many radicals suffer from the same affliction, and radical politics has been the worse for that.
Too often it has been dictated by the need to assuage one¶s guilt feelings instead of being future-
oriented and goal-directed. But bearing witness is not even an effective therapy; it is merely a
palliative that offers temporary relief and becomes addictive. More important, politics of this sort
is frequently counterproductive; so far from bringing society closer to one¶s avowed aims, it is as
irrational as the sense of guilt that prompted it and plays into the hands of the opposition.

In the last volume of her autobiography, Simone de Beauvoir describes the demonstrations in the
streets of Paris in which she and Sartre participated frequently to protest the Algerian war. A
woman vomits. Someone else comments: ³µShe¶s always like that.¶ I asked why she didn¶t stay
at home. µAh! Then she gets such a bad conscience about it, it makes her even sicker than being
scared does.¶ ´ Of course, participation in demonstrations was not prompted solely by the need to
assuage guilt feelings. In her epilogue the author says: ³This relatively monastic life . . . does
deprive me of a certain warmth ± which I was able to re-experience with such joy [I] during the
demonstrations of the past few years.´ I am afraid that most such demonstrations are motivated
primarily by guilt feelings and a need for community ± or in one word, therapy. It would be a
coincidence if this politics of guilt worked against shrewd politicians; as a rule it does not.

De Beauvoir also describes at length how during those years Sartre¶s self-destructive fury
brought him very close to death, and she relates how Frantz Fanon, one of the most influential
radicals of our time, was not even content to make Sartre feel guilty: ³Fanon could not forget that
Sartre was French, and he blamed him for not having expiated that crime sufficiently.´ It should
be kept in mind that not a voice in France was more persistent or more eloquent in its indictment
of French policy than was that of Sartre, who also got Fanon¶s book The Wretched of the Earth
published and contributed a long preface. But Fanon ³would demand expiation. . . by
martyrdom´! There is no need here to analyze Fanon¶s guilt feelings. Suffice it that this story
shows how irrational and dangerous people with strong guilt feelings can be.

Finally, consider the double-think into which her guilt feelings led Simone de Beauvoir herself.
She describes her vivid sense that

    9+a :


As if this were not irrational enough, the author says later, speaking of the U.S.S.R.: ³The sons
were covertly blaming their fathers for having supported Stalinism; what would they have done
in their place? They had to live; they lived.´ In other words, those who supported Stalinism
should not be blamed for that; but those Frenchmen who, like the author herself and Sartre,
spoke out boldly against the French government were all guilty. To understand this double
standard, which is in evidence throughout her otherwise brilliant book, one must not only recall
Sartre¶s pronouncement that ³Russia is not comparable to other countries,´ but one must also
understand why de Beauvoir and Sartre felt that way. Their attitude toward the U.S.S.R. is
incomprehensible apart from their sense of guilt for being so well off. For years they kept trying
to believe, although their critical reason occasionally made this rather difficult for them, that the
Soviet Union, even during Stalin¶s terror, was the best friend of the workers and the dispossessed
and starving. Any word that might possibly give aid or comfort to the enemies of Russia would
therefore involve a betrayal of the poor, and it was only by at least avoiding treason of this sort
that they could barely manage to live with their guilt.

These reflections on the politics of guilt should call attention to some of the social implications
of the problem. De Beauvoir provides us with a helpful distance, a brilliantly presented record of
events, and exceptional moral sensitivity. My criticisms should not obscure my admiration for
her book.

The apologists of guilt often repulse all criticism with the old ploy of the theologians: the loaded
alternative, alias Manichaeism. We used to be told that we had to choose between Christianity
and crude materialism. Now those who defend guilt are wont to claim that the alternative is to
have no concern for our fellow men and no compunction about rape or murder. They think that if
you have no sense of guilt you are a psychopath.

Admittedly, there are some people whose social conscience depends on resentment and is
ultimately rooted in self-hatred. When they make progress with their analyst and manage to have
a satisfying sexual relationship, their political activism ebbs away. People of this type are rather
like the earnest students of a decade or two earlier who used to say that a person who does not
believe in God (or hell) simply has no reason for not committing rape or murder. They were
deeply troubled and afraid of what they themselves might do if they ever lost their faith. Millions
have discovered that one can care for one¶s fellow men and refrain from monstrous crimes
without belief in hell or God. Surely, self-criticism and a social conscience can survive the death
of guilt.

Finally, it may be objected that only excessive guilt feelings are a menace, and that the same is
true of a complete lack of such feelings, and that we really need a moderate dosage. A middling
amount is admittedly less harmful than a heavy dose, but a study of the latter shows more clearly
how the poison works. My position does not depend on advocating a good conscience in place of
the bad conscience, nor a lack of conscience. The good effects that are claimed for guilt feelings
can be had without this poison. To liberate oneself, one must break the chains of guilt.



MORALITY WITHOUT GUILT does not mean morality without pain. Autonomy precludes
guilt feelings, but it involves a sense of alienation.

³Alienation´ is a word that has been used to designate so many different conditions that nobody
could argue that we need them all. One might suppose that nobody could be against all of them
either. Yet the seminal books about the subject have such a Manichaean flavor that it has become
a commonplace that all forms of alienation are deplorable.

Unquestionably, some of the phenomena for which the term has been used are pathological,
notably alienation in the psychiatric sense: a state of severe depression in which one finds no
meaning in any activity and lacks the energy to relate to anybody or anything. That we do not
need, and it is well to remember that ³alienation´ has long been a psychiatric term, and
psychiatrists actually used to be called alienists. But my claim that we need alienation does not
depend on a marginal use of the term. What I mean is the condition of feeling estranged ± above
all, from one¶s fellow men, but also from the universe, and from oneself. I shall argue that
alienation is the price of self-consciousness, autonomy, and integrity.

This thesis has the air of paradox because a false view of alienation has come to be widely
accepted. As I defend my thesis, I shall attack three popular errors:

1. That all alienation is bad.

2. That alienation is a distinctively modern phenomenon.
3. That alienation is a function of capitalism, or at least of advanced industrial society.

Occasionally it is admitted that some alienation can be found in the past, too; but then one
usually adds that alienation today is far worse and almost ³total.´

Many people who take for granted the first error, or the first two ± possibly with the qualification
just mentioned ± would stop short of the third, but I shall attack all three.

How did these errors come to be accepted so widely? All three go back to the early manuscripts
of Karl Marx, but won wide acceptance, along with the term itself, only during the cold war ±
and even then not in the Soviet Union or in China. In other words, what is widely accepted as
dogma or common sense today was anything but a commonplace during the first half of the
twentieth century.

There is no need here to trace at length the development from Marx to the present; but to place
my critique in some historical perspective I shall at least distinguish three stages in the evolution
of ³alienation.´ Although the term can be found in the works of a few earlier writers, its startling
career begins with Hegel. A whole chapter, one hundred nineteen pages long, in his first book
(1807) bore the title ³Spirit alienated from itself: education.´ But he did not commit the three
errors, and Hegel scholars so consistently ignored his profuse employment of the term that it was
not even listed in a four-volume Hegel-Lexikon, published in the 1930s.

The second stage is represented by Marx¶s early ³Philosophical Manuscripts´ of 1844, in which
³alienation´ is crucial. Here we find the three errors, but these papers were published only in
1932, a year before Hitler came to power and put an end to the study of Marx in Germany.

The third stage was reached when a few refugees from Nazism, who sought a meeting ground for
Marxism and existentialism, found it in the concept of alienation. Herbert Marcuse had dedicated
his first book to Martin Heidegger, under whom he had studied; Hannah Arendt had studied with
both of the leading German existentialists, Heidegger as well as Jaspers; Georg Lukacs had been
influenced decisively by Kierkegaard; and in time all of them discovered that ³Marx¶s
philosophy, like much of existentialist thinking, represents a protest against man¶s alienation.´
That is how Erich Fromm put the point in his introductory essay, when some of Marx¶s early
manuscripts were finally published in the United States in 1961 ± under Fromm¶s name! At that
time an American publisher could still be persuaded that a new book by Fromm would have
more appeal than the first publication in English of some of Marx¶s most important writings. It
was also in Marx¶s Concept of Man that Fromm explained that ³the concept of alienation is . . .
the equivalent of what in theistic language would be called µsin.¶ ´ In other words, all alienation
is bad. Along with a few other refugees from Nazism, the writers mentioned here propagated all
three of the errors that I want to criticize.


A brief analysis of the concept should help to dispel some confusions. Although such phrases as
³inalienable rights´ and ³alienation of affection´ may remind us that one can alienate something
or somebody, our primary association with ³alienation´ is a human state of being ± the state of
being alienated or estranged from somebody or something. It is in this sense that ³alienation´ has
become a modish word, and it is only in this sense that it will be discussed here.

It follows that alienation always involves two terms, and it is always proper to ask who (A) is
supposed to be alienated from what (B). Unless both terms can be specified, ³alienation´ has
been misused. As a rule, A is specified; but a great deal of confusion results from the failure to
specify B. It could be an individual, a group, other people in general, the society in which one
lives, oneself or one¶s ³true´ self, nature, or the universe. The young Marx stressed alienation
from one¶s work, from the product of one¶s labor, and from man¶s true nature or essence a
concept that was central in his thought in 1844. He also applied the term to man¶s loss of
independence, his impoverishment, and his estrangement from his fellow men; but above all to
man¶s condemnation to labor that is devoid of all originality, spontaneity, and creativity. The last
point was much the most important to his mind. Creativity was for him of the essence of man,
and he considered man¶s alienation from that the root evil from which all the other evils were
derived. The original sin was the dehumanization of man.

I have no quarrel with Marx¶s abhorrence of this dehumanization. If only he had stuck to that
name ± dehumanization ± instead of paying homage to Hegel¶s terminology and making so much
of Entiiusserung and Entfremdung or, in one word, ³alienation´! Actually, by 1848, in The
Communist Manifesto, Marx himself denounced talk of ³alienation´ as ³philosophical
nonsense,´ and after that he rarely used the term.
Marx had scathing words for those whose critique of capitalism was based on an appeal to
distributive justice. Marx¶s concern was, in effect, with the self-realization of man or, in a sense,
with freedom and autonomy. He hated capitalism because it reduced the growing laboring class
to a condition that made a mockery of self-realization, freedom, and autonomy. He was still
sufficiently under the influence of the Old Testament and Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel to feel that
man was somehow destined to be autonomous and free ± that this was man¶s true nature, and that
the reduction of men to mindless instruments involved the alienation of man from his essence.

It is ironical that Marx¶s early manuscripts should have been used to build a bridge between
Marxism and existentialism, considering that Sartre defined existentialism in terms of its denial
of the claim that man has an essence. Yet the young Marx and the young Sartre were not really
diametrically opposed. The early Sartre insisted that man lacked the solidity of things and was
condemned to be free. Sartre tried to show how men continually succumb to bad faith, hiding
their frightening freedom from themselves and seeing themselves as if they were mere things ±
as if, for example, one were a waiter or a coward the way a ball is red or round, and there was
nothing one could do about it. Sartre¶s extravagant emphasis on man¶s complete freedom was a
bracing challenge to his early readers, but it was at odds not only with Marxism but also with the
facts of life. His growing awareness of the hollowness of some of his rhetoric and of the ways in
which the starving and oppressed are not completely free ± his social conscience, in short ± led
him to reconsider; and we have seen how his guilt feelings led him to seek a rapprochement with
Marxism. But even his early existentialism could have been formulated in terms of a concept of
human nature. He might have said, and so might Marx: By nature, man is free; yet everywhere
he is in chains.

The young Marx and the early Sartre: two variations on Rousseau? Sartre much less so than
Marx. For the early Sartre did not blame society, as Rousseau and the young Marx did; he
blamed man himself, whose nature it is not only to be free but also to conceal his freedom from
himself and to lapse into bad faith.

The main difference between the young Marx and the early Sartre is that Sartre concentrated on
the psychological processes that lead men to see themselves as objects, as things, as unfree,
while Marx decided to study the economic processes that lead to the same result. Marx saw the
unfree as victims, while the early Sartre insisted that we are our own victims.

This difference runs deep. While the rhetoric of Sartre¶s early existentialism was too optimistic
insofar as it exaggerated man¶s freedom, the underlying view of man was more tragic. No
revolution or reform could make men free; men dread freedom and try to hide their freedom
from themselves. Unfortunately, Sartre inherited from the two famous German philosophers who
had been his mentors, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, a bias against psychology, and he
felt free to pursue psychology only under the guise of ontology ± the pseudoscience of being.
Marx, a century earlier, did not do psychology at all and, like Kant and Hegel, worked with
unexamined assumptions about human nature. Partly as a result of this dual heritage from
Marxism and existentialism, much of the literature on alienation has an oddly unscientific and
unempirical quality. But Marx¶s peculiar use of the word ³alienation´ has had two more specific
consequences that are most unfortunate.

First, in the seminal books by the authors mentioned above, alienation from oneself, which is an
intricate and difficult subject, is constantly confounded with other forms of alienation, and as a
result, neither alienation from oneself nor alienation from others is understood very well. I have
chosen a different path and have discussed man¶s dread of freedom separately, analyzing ten
strategies of decidophobia, and now I shall consider phenomena that are more properly called
forms of alienation.

The second point is no less important. An apologist for Marx might say: In societies past and
present people have been led to believe that they were puppets at the mercy of mysterious forces,
and Marx aimed to show that we are not puppets and that these forces are actually produced by
man. Obviously, my quarrel is not with this idea. I applaud Marx¶s central concern with human
autonomy. What I attack is his fateful misuse of the concept of ³alienation.´ By using
³alienation´ to designate the condition in which man is deprived of autonomy, Marx kept himself
(as well as those who followed his lead) from seeing how alienation from others is the price of
autonomy. But it is high time to show that it really is.


We must ask not only from whom or what someone is supposed to be alienated but also what
would constitute the absence of this alienation. What would a nonalienated person be like? If he
found no group of people, nothing about the society in which he lived or about the universe, at
all strange, one could scarcely call him a person. Or if one did, one would have to add that his
state was pathological and bordered on idiocy.

Self-consciousness involves a sense of what is alien. Yet people do not speak of alienation when
a child begins to ask questions, for it is clearly the child who does not ask questions that one has
to worry about. As long as it is assumed that all alienation is bad, one naturally would not think
of applying the term to the pleasing curiosity of a child. But adolescence is our second
childhood, and when students start asking questions about the societies in which they live or
about the world, it is often said that they are alienated. A healthy child ought not to be satisfied
with the reply that this is simply the way things are. Why should a healthy adolescent be satisfied
with such an answer? Again, it is those who are easily satisfied that we should worry about, and
it is grounds for melancholy that most people cease so soon to find the world strange and
There are two reasons for calling the adolescent who finds things exceedingly strange, alienated
± but not the child. First, one welcomes the questions of the three-year old because he is easier to
handle, and one reserves a term that carries overtones of regret and disapproval for adolescents
because one does not know what to do with their questions and their often caustic retorts. But
then there is also another difference; in purely descriptive terms, the adolescent experience
involves a deep and disturbing sense of estrangement, while the child¶s usually does not.

We can now round out our analysis of alienation by specifying the relationship between A and B.
I have given some reasons for rejecting the use of ³alienation´ as an antonym of ³autonomy´ or
³self-realization.´ We should use ³alienation´ and ³estrangement´ as antonyms of ³feeling at
home´ in or with B. The emotions accompanying this experience can vary greatly; sometimes
resentment will predominate, sometimes despair, a sense of isolation, pain, defiance, calm
curiosity, or a sense of comedy.

Alienation in the sense considered here is part of growing up. Self-consciousness cannot develop
without it. Not only is the world ³other´ (to that extent, alienation is entailed logically by the
development of self-consciousness), but the world is also extremely strange and cruel. Hence, as
perception increases, any sensitive person will feel a deep sense of estrangement. Seeing how
society is riddled with dishonesty, stupidity, and brutality, he wil1 feel estranged from society,
and seeing how most of one¶s fellow men are not deeply troubled by all this, he will feel
estranged from them. Nor are these the only reasons for estrangement from one¶s fellow men.
After all, most of them are a rather sorry lot, and if we find ourselves unsatisfactory as well, that
± given some humbition ± wil1 not reconcile us to our fellow men but add a sense of alienation
from ourselves to our plight.

The notion that those who are liberated from self-alienation in the Marxian sense will no longer
suffer from any alienation is false. On the contrary, those whose self-consciousness and
sensitivity are most fully developed are bound to be most deeply troubled by the world, society,
their fellow men, and their own shortcomings. Where those who shut their eyes and lull their
minds to sleep, as well as those reduced to brutishness in one way or another, find it possible to
feel at home, the autonomous spirit who insists on keeping his eyes open to examine critically
his own position and alternatives finds it impossible to feel at home.


If my conception of alienation is accepted, the three theses I have criticized are obviously wrong.
Hence it may seem that I must have missed what all the talk about alienation is really about. It
would be distracting to survey the vast literature on the subject, but in a book that makes so
much of the importance of examining alternatives it would be odd if this discussion of alienation
ignored the writings of the young Marx altogether. I shall therefore consider briefly two
particularly influential passages from his writings before The Communist Manifesto. Neither of
these passages was published by Marx himself, and the point is not to score against him but
rather to understand why some people have been led to believe in the third error. In a study of
Marx one might go on to explore how in his later work he varied some of his early themes
without speaking of ³alienation.´ In the present context, however, Marx concerns us only insofar
as his ideas have colored contemporary notions about alienation.

Consider Marx¶s famous dream in The German Ideology:



















What is here said vividly and memorably has influenced many subsequent discussions of
alienation, although the term itself does not occur in this passage. Where alienation is understood
as the antonym of self-realization, it is assumed that what Marx describes here is the alienation
of modern man ± his loss of spontaneity and his reduction to a mere instrument ± and that what
he envisages is man¶s ultimate triumph over alienation ³in Communist society.´ My main
objection to all this is that it is an illicit and misleading use of ³alienation.´ But what about
Marx¶s dream?

This dream has not come true in any Communist society, while it has been realized to a
significant extent in the United States, where it is not at all unusual for one person to have a great
many different jobs before he is thirty. Millions of students support themselves in a variety of
ways during the academic year and then, during the summer, work in factories and freight yards,
on construction jobs and in offices, having one job one summer and another the next. Moreover,
it is not at all uncommon for people with all kinds of jobs to find the time to hunt or fish, and
criticism is one of the most popular American sports, undoubtedly indulged in with greater
frequency and less inhibition than in any Communist country. While it is doubtful whether many
people manage ³to rear cattle in the evening,´ this part of Marx¶s vision only shows how some
city-dwellers imagine bucolic bliss. It might even be considered evidence of Marx¶s alienation
from nature.
Of course, this criticism will not faze anyone for whom the manuscripts of Marx are holy writ.
After all, it is the first axiom of exegetical thinking (discussed in chapter 1, section 6) that if an
authoritative text seems to be wrong, the exegesis must be inadequate, never the text. If the
apologist is also a Manichaean, he will discredit uncomfortable arguments as coming from the
forces of evil (see section 7) and say that I am waving the American flag.

To be sure, Marx¶s central concern was not with hunting or fishing; it was with the
dehumanizing effects of the division of labor in advanced industrial society, and the restoration
of spontaneity in Communist society. In the former, man is trapped in, and reduced to, one sole
function; in the latter, man enjoys autonomy. This is Marx¶s version of the third great error.

If one wants to know whether this is really an error or whether Marx was right, one must look at
the facts and see whether conditions in the United States, for example, bear him out.

As it happens, American society has many grievous faults, but the point at issue is one of its
strengths. One of the most extreme examples of a society in which people are trapped in a job
that is imposed upon them from outside is the preindustrial caste system of India. To a far lesser
extent, Frenchmen in small towns and villages were at one time under enormous pressure to
follow in their fathers¶ footsteps. Advanced industrial society has brought some loosening of old
structures. In the United States in particular, both lateral and vertical social mobility are
relatively great, although I wish they were still greater.

In his Being and Nothingness, Sartre described a waiter who played at being a waiter in order to
become wholly a waiter. Sartre claimed that society takes offense when ³a grocer is not wholly a
grocer. Politeness demands that he limit himself to his function . . .´ That would be much less
true in the United States than in France. An American waiter is much less likely to feel that his
role defines or freezes him, or that it determines his relations with his fellow men. Nor do
Americans demand that he limit himself to his function. He may well be a student, and if he is
too old for that, there is no presumption even so that he was a waiter a year ago, or that he will be
one next year. Those on whom he waits are apt to have waited on table themselves, or to have
children who at this very moment have a similar job.

If we amalgamate the bad effects of the division of labor with altogether different experiences
and call the lot ³alienation,´ we are hardly prepared to ask the questions that need to be asked.
Problems must be sorted out before one can hope to solve them. Decidophobia, for example, has
to be moved clearly into focus before one can examine its major strategies. And in the present
context, the practical questions that need to be faced are these.
First, can we eliminate boring jobs? The solution does not seem to depend on who owns the
means of production. It depends on technical developments that require a high degree of
specialization; particularly, on the future of automation.

Second, can we drastically reduce the number of hours per week that anyone has to spend on a
boring job? Here some of the capitalistic countries have made great progress.

Third, can we shift people around so that nobody has to do the same boring job during all of his
working hours? If one had to fish eight hours every day, one might well find that very trying.
Could rotation reduce boredom? I expect that the resistance to any such change would come
mainly from the unions and from those who might benefit from it. Those who hate routine are
few. Most men desire amazingly little variety; witness what they do with their spare time. Any
notion that most men, if only they had the time, would use it to reread Aeschylus¶ tragedies
every year, in the original Greek, as Marx did, is wildly romantic.

Fourth, can we change that by improving our educational system?


Marx¶s claim that in capitalistic society alienation must inevitably become worse and worse
depends not only on a far-fetched use of the term but also on the influence of Hegel and Ludwig
Feuerbach, in whose writings he had immersed himself before writing his ³Philosophical

Hegel had used ³necessary´ again and again as a synonym of ³natural´ and an antonym of
³arbitrary´ or ³utterly capricious.´ Among German writers this confusion is common, and
Marx¶s thought suffers severely from it.

Feuerbach had shown how man projects his best qualities into the deity until God becomes the
quintessence of perfection and man a hopelessly imperfect sinner. Man strips himself of all that
is good or strong in him to clothe God in goodness and strength, and the greater he makes God,
the smaller he makes himself.

Marx gave this idea a surprising application in his early manuscript on ³Alienated Labor´:


    ï   "



     "      "



It is worth noting that the final clause is ungrammatical in the original German, and that the
whole paragraph is placed in parentheses, for it is often forgotten that these early manuscripts are
rough and unrevised drafts. Yet these ideas merit critical attention, for they are expressed again
and again in the same fragment and in the other early manuscripts; and this is the birthplace of
Marx¶s idea that the condition of the workers is bound to become more and more inhuman and
intolerable until they revolt and, as Marx puts it in the climactic passage of Das Kapital, ³the
expropriators are expropriated.´ Moreover, this passage on ³alienated labor´ has had a profound
influence on the literature on alienation.

The passage is a fine example of Marx¶s early style, but the antitheses in which he liked to
wallow are a kind of rhetoric and do not approximate a demonstration. What Marx here describes
as an inevitable development is not what has actually happened in advanced industrial societies.
Marx¶s view depends on the assumption that the worker is divested of the qualities that appear in
his product so that its beauty, subtlety, and power leave him ugly, coarse, and weak. But if we
forget about Hegel and Feuerbach, no reasons remain for considering this necessary.

Finally, if we call moronization ³alienation,´ instead of considering it as a phenomenon in its

own right, we stand less chance of preventing it. Serious critics do not label everything they like
³groovy´ or ³divine´; neither should serious writers be content to call most of the social
phenomena they deplore ³alienation.´


There is one other notion that has to be considered here lest it appear that I have missed the real
import of the current vogue of ³alienation.´ The notion that things have never been worse than in
our time looms large in the literature on alienation. Protracted polemics are apt to create the
impression that they are prompted by some personal ill feeling. As an illustration I shall therefore
choose Martin Buber¶s I and Thou, a book I have translated myself because I felt close to the

The immense popularity of this book during the second half of the twentieth century is due in
part to the fact that the second of its three parts deals at length with alienation and suggests that
ours is a ³sick´ age. Less and less do men see one another ± or a work of art or a tree ± as
another You; more and more do they see their fellow men and works of art and trees as so many
objects of experience and use. Half a century after the book was written, young readers consider
these pages prophetic because they describe so perfectly the world in which we live. It does not
occur to most of them that the world in which it was written was like that, too ± any more than it
struck Buber himself that he implicitly glorified a past that had not been as different as he
occasionally insinuated. He insisted that one cannot live entirely in I-You relationships, but he
still wrote as if in the past there had been communities not tainted by ³sickness.´ Like others
who speak in this vein, he failed to substantiate or even investigate this assumption.

Buber¶s book has a poetic quality that discourages analysis and criticism. But the same
methodological scandal taints much of the literature on alienation. What we are witnessing is an
understandable reaction against the blithe faith in progress that was in fashion in the nineteenth
century. But the new antifaith in the unique alienation of modern man is as unsound and
simplistic as the old faith in progress. The notion that things were never so good and are
constantly getting better and the notion that things were never so bad and are steadily getting
worse are entirely worthy of each other.

The truth of the matter is that things are and always have been terrible. And alienation has
always been the price of autonomy.

The transition from one simplistic proposition to its opposite illustrates Hegel¶s dialectic. To rise
above such unsophisticated claims, we must inquire how what has become worse is related to
what has become better.

In brief, the sense of alienation has spread with the unprecedented expanse of education. To a
large extent, this was inevitable. If the world and the societies we live in are, and always have
been, abhorrent, brutal, and cruel, then it follows that the more one comes to know about them,
the less can one feel at home in them. With an increase in self-consciousness and sensitivity, the
sense of alienation deepens. If relatively few people had any profound sense of alienation in
times past, while millions feel estranged today, this is not least because more people receive
more education than formerly.

While even the best education must increase alienation, some aspects of the modern sense of
alienation are due to the faults of modem education. Above all, education has bred utterly
unrealistic expectations, and this is not necessary and could, and ought to, be changed. Not only
have vast numbers of pupils been exposed after a fashion to great art, great novels, and to the
achievements of great scientists, but pupils have also been encouraged to believe that they can
paint and write as well as anyone, or make brilliant experiments and great discoveries. But men
are not equal in talents, and this well-intentioned but misguided egalitarianism has resulted in the
vast growth of a sense of disappointment. Naturally, one rarely questions the sacred dogma of
egalitarianism, and instead of blaming oneself for one¶s failures, one blames society or ³the
establishment,´ and feels alienated.
Modern education is also at fault in another way. Not only is it false that everyone has the gifts to
become a competent composer, painter, novelist, or physicist, but the creative life is hard, and to
find satisfaction in it requires an immense amount of self-discipline. But self-discipline has been
neglected in modern education. The point is not that schools are not sufficiently disciplinarian.
Most of them are too disciplinarian in unnecessary, petty ways and thus bring discipline into
disrepute. What has not been stressed sufficiently is functional self-discipline: the need to master
skills and subjects that one may not feel like learning but without which competence in one¶s
chosen field cannot be had; humbition, the habit of relentless self-criticism, and perseverance.

Some forms of alienation could be avoided or at least diminished greatly by providing much less
education ± a cure that would be worse than the disease. But other forms could be prevented or
diminished by changing our educational philosophy: by not stimulating utterly unrealistic hopes;
by teaching the self-discipline required for sustained creative work; and by preparing students for
such jobs as actually are within their reach, while increasing their reach at the same time. Finally,
education should prepare people for their rapidly increasing leisure time.


While this last point is of immense importance, one may wonder what it has to do with
alienation. One connection is fairly obvious: those who find genuine satisfaction in their leisure
time are much less apt to feel the disappointment and resentment that it has become the fashion
to call ³alienation.´ Creative use of one¶s leisure time, however, should not be considered a mere
opiate. I shall discuss creativity at length in the last chapter. In connection with alienation it will
be quite sufficient to consider for a moment the opposite of creative use of leisure hours:
collapsing in front of a television set and watching ± or not even watching ± whatever fare is

This is the ultimate in uncreative passivity. The viewer is offered mainly predigested pap, in a
predetermined sequence, at a speed ± or rather lack of speed ± beyond his poor control, and his
autonomy is reduced to switching channels.

Reading can be creative. I can reread a sentence or a passage; I can go back to look once more at
what has gone before; I can make comparisons with other books, look up something, learn what I
need, and then resume when I am ready. Interruptions of this sort are crucial elements in the
rhythm that a scholar imposes on his reading. They are outward signs of discipline and creativity.
When I read that way, I am autonomous.

The television watcher is at the mercy of his medium, and the frequent interruptions come at
moments that are not of his own choosing. If he interrupts, or if he asserts himself by switching
to find out what other channels have to offer him, he develops undisciplined habits that in many
cases interfere eventually with other media. Thus people talk more than they used to during
plays, movies, and lectures, or drop in on lectures and walk out on them ± as if autonomy
consisted of a lack of discipline. Meanwhile, the commercials on TV have done their share to
shorten the span of attention; more and more people need an interruption every fifteen minutes,
whatever the medium might be. If being ³turned off´ easily is taken for a sign of ³alienation´
(the television metaphor is interesting), I am far from claiming that we need that sort of

I have argued that many of the most popular uses of the term are unfortunate. This becomes
apparent when we ask, who is more alienated: a writer in America who does not have a
television set, or those who spend much of their leisure time in front of theirs? The
nonconformist is alienated from society and cuts himself off from the world in which most of his
fellow men are dwelling. But for those who operate with some conception of man¶s ³true´ nature
and assume that man is essentially creative, as the young Marx did, it should be clear that those
who spend their spare time watching whatever fare is offered are ³self-alienated.´

Anyone who spent art equal amount of time seeing films of comparable quality, or listening to
lectures of such quality, might be said to be equally ³self-alienated.´ But (1) few people, if any,
spend as much time week after week seeing film after film, or hearing lecture upon lecture, as
watch TV. (2) It is doubtful whether enough films of comparable quality are available to many
people. (3) Going to a film or lecture requires at least some exertion and a longer span of
attention, hence a little more discipline. (4) Lectures usually come in sequences and require some
active and at least minimally creative attempt at integration of different lectures and of a fair
amount of reading. In practice, therefore, TV is especially debilitating and a good example of
what certain writers might call ³alienation from oneself.´These writers also often claim, falsely,
that ³alienation from oneself¶ is the most basic form of alienation from which all other forms are

In fact, we have to choose between this kind of ³alienation from oneself´ and alienation from
society. ³Total alienation´ is total nonsense. So is any dream of the total absence of ³alienation.´
The television addict and conformist are ³self-alienated´; the writer without TV and the
nonconformist are estranged from society and their fellow men. As the term is misused
nowadays, our choice is not between being or not being alienated; it is rather between ways of
life that involve different types of alienation.

In my terminology, ³self-alienation´ is the wrong label for the television addicts and conformists
who feel at home with themselves. I have proposed a more restricted and discriminating use of
³alienation.´ When I say that alienation is the price of autonomy, I mean above all alienation
from one¶s fellow men and society, but also a sense of estrangement from the universe and a
critical attitude toward oneself.

I have spoken of the methodological scandal that those who propagate the two great errors ± that
alienation is a distinctively modern phenomenon, and that it is a function of advanced industrial
society ± have failed to examine preindustrial societies to see whether their contentions are born
out by the evidence. I have insisted that things are and always have been terrible, and that
alienation has always been the price of autonomy.

While my arguments seem to me to establish my case, it might help if we paused to have a look
at preindustrial society. Those who believe that in such societies men are harmonious, happier,
more intimate with nature, and more humane, ought to come to grips with the abundant evidence
to the contrary, ranging from the Mayas to the Aztecs to the Cretans in Nikos Kazantzakis¶s
Zorba the Greek and the Indian village in Khushwant Singh¶s Train to Pakistan.

In The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski has not only given us a shattering picture of a peasant
society but also one of the finest symbols of alienation to be found in world literature. He tells of
a bird catcher who now and then amused himself by choosing the strongest bird from his cages,
painting it in rainbow hues, squeezing it to make it twitter and attract a flock of its own species,
and finally setting it free. One by one, the drab birds would attack the painted bird until it
dropped to the ground, soaked in blood. The whole novel develops this theme.

It is a theme I have neglected so far. One important source of alienation from one¶s fellow men is
their reaction to the person who has more self-consciousness and greater sensitivity than they. He
feels that he is unlike them, but they feel it, too, and it is often their resentment that first makes
him. aware of the gulf. The Painted Bird is the story of a child. But the autonomous human being
who chooses to make his own decisions instead of bowing to authority or going along with the
crowd alienates his fellow men without ever having thought of doing that. In that way, too,
alienation is the price of sensitivity, self-consciousness, and autonomy.

It would not be feasible in the present context to attempt studies of various preindustrial
societies. That cannot be done in a few broad strokes. Instead I shall give a few striking
individual examples of great men who lived in preindustrial societies. At this point I confront an
embarrassment of riches. The following cases should not only illustrate my thesis but also help to
show how wrong the three great errors are.


Plato is the first great philosopher known to us by complete works and not mere fragments. He is
also widely considered the greatest philosopher of all time. His Republic leaves no doubt about
his deep estrangement from Athenian society and from the politics and morals of his time. He
considered it hopeless to try to reform ³the system.´ He argued that either the kings must become
philosophers, or the philosophers kings. Meanwhile he described a city that ³can be found
nowhere on earth . . . . But it makes no difference whether it exists now or ever will come into
being. Only the politics of this city´ merits a philosopher¶s attention. But for. good measure he
nevertheless included. in The Republic a scathing attack on Athenian democracy.

More than once, Plato cited approvingly an ancient play on words, dear to the Orphic sect: the
body (soma) is the soul¶s tomb (sema). This means that the soul is buried in the body, that life is
a long exile, and that being a self means being a stranger.

Further, Plato divided the soul into three parts and argued for their existence by calling attention
to cases in which they are at odds with each other and pull us in different directions. He knew the
experience of the divided self and felt at home neither in his body nor with his appetites.

Plato¶s Republic offers a path to salvation. He describes a society in which the division of the
self against itself could be overcome, but he also argues that in the societies actually to be found
in the world such integration could scarcely be achieved. He considered it a sign of Socrates¶
greatness that he had brought off this nearly impossible feat, but Plato also considered it typical
that Athens had responded by putting Socrates to death.

It is widely believed that before our own accursed time men were closer to the earth, more
intimate with nature, more at home in it. Socrates and Plato, however, were not. In Plato¶s
Phaedrus, Socrates says that he can be induced to leave the city and to walk out into the country
only if you dangle a book in front of him! And Plato exhorted men to see their senses as
deceivers and to regard nature as unreal. We must turn our backs on nature and devote ourselves
to what the uninitiated take for abstractions: to mathematics and to dialectic. Nature is things; art,
imitations; and salvation lies in thought. We must not try to feel at home in this world. We must
become convinced of its unreality and place our trust in another world that lies beyond nature,
beyond sense experience, beyond time and change.

In sum, Plato was an exceptionally alienated man, and I am far from claiming that anyone who
wants to be autonomous has to be alienated in all of these ways. Still, Plato illustrates the
falsehood of at least the second and the third great errors.

Heraclitus, the great pre-Socratic philosopher whose fragments bring him to life for us as a full-
fledged individual, may serve as our second illustration. His alienation from his fellow citizens
found superlative expression in an outburst that brings to mind the adage of the 1960s about not
trusting anyone over thirty: ³The Ephesians would do well to hang themselves, every adult man,
and leave their city to adolescents, since they expelled Hermodorus, the worthiest man among
them. . .´ Nor has anyone ever found a better formulation for what really merits the name of self-
alienation than did Heraclitus: ³I sought myself.´ That is surely the theme of all of Hermann
Hesse¶s major novels, which are so dear to those who feel that they are alienated.

Plato and Aristotle remarked that philosophy begins in wonder or perplexity. We could say just
as well that it begins in alienation ± namely, when our self, the world, and the society we live in
become strange to our minds and set us thinking.

Where a philosopher goes from that starting point, differs from case to case. But one final
example is particularly pertinent to the second and third errors: the Pythagoreans formed a sect
and were, like many of our own contemporaries, alienated together. During the fifth century,
when Athens became a great power and produced the Parthenon and the other buildings whose
ruins we still see on the Acropolis ± during the whole age of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and
Euripides ± the Pythagoreans lived, withdrawn, in a commune in southern Italy. Their admission
of women to their society, their practice of holding all property in common, and their contempt
for business influenced Plato and are bound to seem modern to many people today.

An altogether different approach also suggests that the great philosophers were deeply alienated
men. Who have been the greatest philosophers since the Middle Ages? There is a surprising
consensus about the answer: Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz; Hobbes and Hume; Pascal and
Rousseau; Kant and Hegel; Bentham, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche; and in our time, Russell and
Sartre. One might add a few names to this list, but these fourteen philosophers are certainly
among the most interesting and influential.

Descartes lost his mother when he was one year old; Spinoza was six when his mother died, and
Leibniz six when his father died. Nothing seems to be known about Hobbes¶s mother, but his
father abandoned him when he was quite small, and he was brought up by an uncle. (He wrote
his major works during a twelve-year exile from England.) Hume¶s father died when he was
three; Pascal¶s mother when he was three. Rousseau¶s mother died soon after his birth, and when
he was ten his father left him. Kant and Hegel lost their mothers at thirteen; Bentham lost his at
eleven. Schopenhauer was seventeen when his father committed suicide after having shown for
some time ³symptoms of mental alienation.¶: Nietzsche was four when he lost his father.
Russell¶s mother died when he was two, his father two years later. And Sartre lost his father at

Rilke¶s words, in his first Elegy, ³we are not very reliably at home in the interpreted world,´
have been taken for a formulation of a distinctively modern malaise. My data create a very
strong presumption that this feeling was shared by the major philosophers, at least since
Descartes. In most cases, their works show this at a glance; but Spinoza, Leibniz, and Hegel may
look like exceptions. Closer study of Hegel, however, shows that what he sought, and eventually
found, in philosophy was a triumph over an almost unbearable sense of alienation. Indeed, he
bequeathed this term to us precisely in this context. I suspect that the cases of Leibniz and
Spinoza may have been essentially similar.


Among the great writers and poets of the past, there were so many deeply alienated men that it
would be easy to get sidetracked into a prolonged discussion of a large number of cases. I shall
content myself with one ancient, one medieval, and one modern poet, all of them of the first
rank, and two of them autonomous.

Goethe, already mentioned at the end of chapter 1 as a man who resisted the ten strategies of
decidophobia, is a model of autonomy. It is often overlooked that he paid the price of alienation.
As a young man, he expressed his alienation from society in his first novel, The Sufferings of the
Young Werther. He had Werther commit suicide ± and all over Europe large numbers of young
people committed suicide with a copy of the book clutched in their hands or buried in a pocket.
Goetz, the hero of Goethe¶s storm-and-stress play, uttered the most celebrated obscenity in
German literature, showing the poet¶s contempt for convention. Both works became instant
successes and made the young rebel the hero of the younger generation. At that point, a lesser
author would have tended to imitate himself in an attempt to retain the favor of his public; but
not Goethe.

His best work of this period he held back because it did not satisfy his own exacting standards.
No other German had written anything of comparable quality; yet µthe so-called Urfaust, the
version of Faust written in the 1770s, was not published until 1887. But Goethe kept working at
it, and in 1790, after he had published plays that gave German literature an altogether new .and
different direction, he published Faust: A Fragment, including a revised version of parts of his
earlier draft, along with a lot of new material. Then he proceeded to altogether new experiments.
He kept trying new things, but almost everything he did was instantly acclaimed.

His deepest estrangement from his fellow men coincides with the period when he is now widely
held to have been a pillar of the establishment. He had published Part One of Faust in 1808, with
an utter disregard for the very possibility of a performance on the stage. While he was director of
the theater at Weimar, a vast variety of plays and operas were performed, but never Faust. Sixty
years after he had begun Faust, Goethe finished Part Two, a few months before he died, in his
eighties. He tied up the manuscript, sealed it, and refused to divulge the conclusion even to old
friends. He had no wish to see the play performed; he did not want to have it published until after
he was dead; and he had no desire to share it with anyone. Surely, that is an example of extreme
alienation from society and from one¶s fellow men.
I can be much briefer about the other two poets. The Middle Ages are often viewed nostalgically
as a time when all was harmony and integration. There is no need here to dwell on the
superstition and the inhumanity of those centuries, as evidenced, for example, in the persecution
of Jews and heretics. Suffice it that the greatest poet of the age was a paradigm of alienation.

Dante¶s Vita Nuova is a case study of self-alienation in the proper sense of that term ± of
viewing oneself as a stranger. And his Divine Comedy is the work of an exile, consumed by
bitterness. He creates a vast hell to people it with his fellow men, including members of the

If alienation should be associated more with being artistically out of touch with one¶s time, and
what is meant is inaccessibility, this description also fits the Divine Comedy ± and Part Two of
Faust ± perfectly. Who among Dante¶s or Goethe¶s contemporaries could possibly have
fathomed these works? And how many people since their time?

Finally, there is Euripides, another paradigm of autonomy ± a man who spurned all ten strategies.
In his case it is so palpable that his alienation from his fellow Athenians was directly related to
the independence of his spirit that there is no need to labor the point. In the end, he went into
voluntary exile, and it was only after his death that he became the most popular of the great
tragic poets.


My last two illustrations come from literature. It might be argued that a single negative case
would refute my claim that alienation is the price of autonomy; that Sophocles was autonomous
(which I would gladly grant, though many critics would not, as they consider him more beholden
to traditional religion than I do); and that Sophocles was not alienated. In effect, I have shown in
another book, Tragedy and Philosophy, that he was alienated, but it would be quite impossible to
recapitulate the evidence in a few pages. Something will be gained, however, by reflecting
briefly on his most admired tragedy, his Oedipus Tyrannus.

Oedipus, as conceived by Sophocles, keeps haunting men¶s minds. We feel that in some sense he
represents us ± but not necessarily in the way Freud suggested. I submit that Oedipus is
alienation incarnate. His father was warned by the gods not to have children, and Oedipus came
into the world unwanted. Hence he was cast out into hostile nature to perish. Saved by a
shepherd, he was brought up in Corinth, a stranger without realizing it. To avoid defiling nature
and violating the most sacred harmonies of the universe, he left Corinth to go into voluntary
exile, but nevertheless committed what the Greeks ± and not only the Greeks ± considered the
most unnatural acts, outraging nature and society.
In Thebes, of which he was a native, he assumed that he was an alien. When he discovered who
he was, what he had done, and how he was not an alien at all, he asked to be thrown out of the

If one sought an epigraph for Sophocles¶ tragedy, one could not do better than quote Heraclitus:
³I sought myself.´ Oedipus is a stranger to himself, and when he discovers who he is, he is filled
with loathing, destroys his eyes, and cries out that he wishes that he could destroy his hearing,
too, cutting the last bonds to the world and to his fellow men.

What explains the perennial fascination of this play? I do not think it would have haunted men so
much if alienation were in fact only a modern phenomenon, restricted to advanced industrial

If there is another play that has exerted an equal fascination, it is surely Hamlet. And if there is
another hero who dominates a drama totally with his pervasive sense of alienation, it is Hamlet.
He displays almost every conceivable form of alienation. He views himself, his fellow men, and
the society in which he lives with loathing. And generations of readers have identified with him;
above all, young people, writers, artists, and philosophers. For these groups have always
experienced what is nowadays called alienation. Why? Because alienation is the price of
sensitivity, self-consciousness, and freedom, and adolescence glories in these qualities, while
among the older generation these qualities are cultivated preeminently by creative writers, artists,
and philosophers. That these groups have no monopoly on admiration for Hamlet and self-
identification with the hero ± or on alienation ± is grist for my mill. These historical and literary
examples should finally dispatch the three great errors about alienation.

As a last resort, some people have claimed that what is distinctively modern is not so much the
artist¶s condition as it is the attitude of the modern public toward art. It is said that modern man
no longer sees works of art as paintings or sculptures but rather as commodities, investments, or
status symbols. This generalization is obviously false and irresponsible; it applies to a relatively
small class. But were things better in the past? Did not the pharaohs of Egypt and the kings of
Europe, the Renaissance patrons and popes, and the wealthy citizens of northern Europe look on
paintings and sculptures as status symbols?

When we discover lamentable conditions in our own society, we have no right whatever to
assume that in Communist countries, in the Third World, or in the past nothing equally
deplorable could possibly be found; that our country is the worst, and our time the nadir of
humanity. So foolish is this attitude that it is difficult to understand it until one realizes that it is a
radical reaction to the no less foolish faith that our country is the best and our age the high point
of humanity. To make informed comparisons requires some historical perspective.

I have said that alienation is the price of autonomy. It could be said as well that alienation can be
fruitful. Some of my examples indicate as much. I noted earlier that, a generation before Marx
committed the three errors, Hegel had entitled a long chapter ³Spirit alienated from itself:
education.´ That was a way of suggesting that alienation is needful. But this idea was not
original with Hegel.

In the Hebrew Bible, Moses challenged his people to become alienated. Judaism lifted man out
of nature and stressed the discontinuity between man and nature, man and animal. Man was not
to feel altogether at home in the world, and the Jews were not supposed to be ³like all the
nations.´ In theory, their sense of community might have compensated them for their alienation
from other nations. Reading the second part of Buber¶s I and Thou, one might even be led to
assume that this was what happened. But in the Bible we find no trace of that. What we do find is
a succession of imposing figures who not only keep telling their people that they should be
different, but who themselves are different ± and thoroughly alienated from their own society.
Moses, Elijah, Amos, Hosea, and Jeremiah are outstanding examples. What might they have
replied, had anyone told them that they were enviable because their society was healthy and not
sick, like ours?

Sigmund Freud spoke out of this Biblical tradition when he said at the outset of a brief




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This is a perfect example of fruitful alienation. Here involuntary alienation ± being cast in the
role of an alien ± becomes a steppingstone toward autonomy. But some people react quite
differently to the very same experience; for example, those to whom we owe the first great error,
that all alienation is bad.

Rather oddly, all of these writers had the experience Freud describes. For those who seized on
Hegel¶s term ³alienation´ and made of it a cri de coeur and a word for all that was wrong with
society were ± virtually all of them ± Jews. First, Marx; then, a century later, Georg Lukacs and
Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm and Hannah Arendt, to mention only the most influential. All of
them were cast in the role of aliens, and the alienation thrust on them became a source of
suffering for them. But they did not react like Freud. Instead they came to feel that alienation ±
all alienation ± was bad and perhaps nothing less than the root of all evil, and they began to
dream of some community in which there would be no alienation.

Martin Buber¶s Zionism was largely motivated by the same dream of community. The ultimate
goal was to cease being a stranger, to overcome alienation.

It would not strengthen my analysis of alienation or my critique of Marx and his heirs to go more
deeply into the relationship of these writers to Judaism and the question of whether being
alienated is not in some sense a central part of the tradition that begins with Abraham and Moses.
Yet it is so puzzling that Marx, taking the term from Hegel, should have gone on to claim that all
alienation is bad that one is led to wonder how a brilliant man could have been so irrational.

My views on alienation do not depend in any way upon what follows, and the discovery I shall
present now actually came to me long after I had formulated my differences with Marx. But it is
interesting enough to be included here.


It is common knowledge that Marx himself did not publish his ³Philosophical Manuscripts.´ It is
much less well known, and his admirers usually do not make a point of the fact, that just before
he wrote these manuscripts he published a long review-article ³On the Jewish Question´ in
which he made ample use of the concept of alienation. This article is the birthplace of the first
error and of the current use of ³alienation´ for most of the ills that afflict modern society.

When Marx¶s apologists mention this essay at all, they usually insist that it would be quite
absurd to consider it antiSemitic. Fromm is representative when he finds here no more than
³some critical remarks on the Jews, which were made polemically in a brilliant essay dealing
with the problem of bourgeois emancipation.´ But this characterization is easily as ³absurd and
false´ as the claim that Fromm repudiates, ³that Marx was the founder of Nazi and Soviet anti-
Semitism.´ Marx did not merely make some critical remarks about the Jews in the course of an
essay on another subject; both of the essays that he was reviewing were about the Jews, and so
was his article, and the second part, roughly eight pages in length, is one of the most astonishing
documents in the history of Jewish self-hatred ± and the place where Marx first made extensive
use of ³alienation.´
There would be less need here to quote anything from these unpleasant pages if one could simply
refer to the two standard translations. But although both of them are thoroughly respectable, the
original sometimes is not. Thus Schacher, a thoroughly derogatory word that is so frequently
associated with Jews that good German-English dictionaries call attention to this fact, is turned
into ³bargaining´ in one of the two English versions, while Eigennutz (selfishness) becomes
³self-interest.´ What the reader of the English is thus led to miss is the distressing fact that some
of Marx¶s paragraphs do bring to mind the Nazis¶ leading antiSemitic journal, Der Stürmer. But
it is not only the language that oozes hatred and contempt; Marx calls ³Jewish´ all that is most
hateful to him in the modem world. (I have rendered Schacher by jewing, which the Shorter
Oxford English Dictionary calls colloquial and links with sense 2 of Jew: ³Applied to a grasping:
or extortionate usurer, or a trader who drives a hard bargain or deals craftily.´)

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This, says Marx, would be a triumph over ³the highest practical expression of human self-

Nothing in his budding view of history compelled Marx to write like that. After all, this is a
travesty of Judaism, and insofar as the Jews were pushed into certain ways of making a living, it
was Christian society that had forbidden them to own land, bear arms, or study at the
universities. But Marx was so determined at that point to blame all misfortunes on the Jews that
he expatiated at some length on the theme that ³The Jews have become emancipated insofar as
the Christians have become Jews.´ Insofar as Christians are venal, selfish, and money-hungry,
they have become Jews! And ³that the proclamation of the gospel itself, that the Christian
ministry has become a commercial object´ proves ³the practical dominion of Judaism over the
Christian world.´






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Consider the last paragraph for a moment. One might have thought that the notion of man as an
end in himself came from the Hebrew Bible. Where else do we encounter it earlier? As for
history, Eduard Meyer, who was certainly not free from anti-Semitism, but whose multivolume
History of Antiquity remains one of the monuments of German scholarship, said that
historiography began in Israel more than five hundred years before Herodotus, who has been
called the father of written history. All modem conceptions of history up to and including
Marx¶s, and all modem conceptions of man as an end in himself, are deeply indebted to Judaism.

Even if Marx¶s slanders of the Jews had had a basis in fact, he might still have said: Look at
what the world has done to the Jews, and think of what, given their past, they might become in a
different environment! After all, humane people say something like that about the blacks. Let
anyone who is not struck by the extreme irrationality and inhumanity of Marx¶s diatribe
transpose it into an attack ³On the Negro Question´!


Intellectual fashions change almost as fast as fashion. By the late 1960s it seemed incredible that
Marx¶s early manuscripts should have first appeared in the United States, in part, in 1961 ± as a
new book by Erich Fromm, or that Fromm should have tried to make them palatable by
comparing them to existentialism, or that ³alienation´ had been until then a mildly esoteric word.
Now Marx¶s writings ± even those that he himself did not see fit to publish ± have acquired
something of the aura of holy writ (while the Bible is losing it). And the three errors about
alienation have become dogmas of which millions assume that they are surely common sense, as
if everybody had always known that all alienation is bad, that it is specifically modem, and that it
is linked to advanced industrial society.

For those who are autonomous there is no holy writ and there are no dogmas. Every text and
every claim are subject to criticism. If widely accepted notions are found to be wrong, the
autonomous do not bow to them nevertheless, asking either how their exegesis is at fault or how
one could avoid an open break by having recourse to a subtle reinterpretation. Instead, we should
ask how what is wrong has come to be believed.

The historical part of the answer can generally be substantiated better than the psychological
part, but some explanation is called for, even if the authoritarian is almost certain to retort,
falsely, that this is a genetic fallacy, and that an attempt has been made to discredit ideas by
tracing them to unedifying origins. In fact, the refutation of what is widely accepted should come
first. Only then should one ask how anything that is so patently irrational ever came to be

We have found, first, that the obviously quite untenable idea that all alienation is bad was
originally presented by Karl Marx in an extremely irrational diatribe against the Jews. His
subsequent writings on alienation he himself did not publish, and in The Communist Manifesto
he actually denounced talk of ³alienation. ³

Second, there really is a connection between Judaism and alienation. In the Bible, Abraham is
called upon to leave his country and his kindred and become an alien. Moses grows up in Egypt
as an alien, leads his people into the desert and tries to impress on them the importance of respect
and even ³love´ for ³the stranger in your midst´ and of remembering that ³you were strangers in
the land of Egypt.´ Samuel feels outraged when his people want to be ³like all the nations.´ The
towering figures of the Hebrew Bible are men who are alienated from their own society. In the
Babylonian exile, faced with a condition in which other ancient peoples perished, the Jews
refused assimilation, remained aliens, and survived. Over six hundred years later, after the
second destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, they again refused integration into the communities
into which they were dispersed; they made a virtue of their alienation ± as Freud did in 1873.
This alienation involved a great deal of suffering, and in various ways large numbers of Jews
during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have revolted. against this heritage. Assimilation
represented one way out; Zionism (at least some versions of it) another; and some of the
literature on alienation, beginning with Marx¶s essay ³On the Jewish Question,´ a third. Marx, of
course, did not see things this way. The irrational tone of his article and the irrational suggestion
that all alienation is bad presumably resulted from the fact that he did not fully understand the
hidden springs of his own interest in the problem. On a different scale, this is also true of his

Finally, the sweeping, indiscriminate attack on alienation is a corollary of a dream of

community. In this community there is to be no alienation, nor any room for ³the stranger in
your midst.´ Even the kibbutzim in Israel ± one of the noblest social experiments of our century
± have a strong xenophobic streak. The pressures toward conformity are overwhelming: those
who do not fully belong are generally made to feel that fact deeply and painfully; and for a
creative artist, life in a kibbutz is apt to prove impossible. The major countries that proclaim
Marx as their prophet openly spurn nonconformity and have no room for autonomous
individuals. It would be illicit to saddle Marx with Stalin¶s terror, but the kind of community that
seeks to eliminate alienation is incompatible with autonomy.
In the discussion of decidophobia, I showed how any confrontation with fateful alternatives
engenders dread, and how the ³craving for community of worship´ is prompted by the craving to
eliminate such confrontations. The stranger is an incarnate alternative. That goes not only for the
Jew or heretic in a Christian society but also for the alienated individual in a community. Indeed,
the herd man finds it easier to tolerate the nonconformists who are members of another, smaller
herd than to suffer those who stand alone. The autonomous man is a living provocation. Usually
he is forgiven only after he is dead.



IN OUR TIME one concept of integrity is being replaced by another. This development is at the
heart of the contemporary revolution in morality. The old idea was closely linked to justice,
while the new integrity involves autonomy.

What is at stake is not merely one virtue. One can have courage and yet be a monster. But it is
generally felt that a person who has integrity cannot be immoral, and that whoever is moral
cannot lack integrity. Integrity is taken for the whole of morality or, as the Greeks put it, the sum
of the virtues.

The Greeks also called this sum of the virtues ³justice.´ Now that justice is dying, a new concept
of integrity is emerging. It also claims to be all of morality. Actually, what passes for integrity
today is a confused and callow notion that cannot be considered on a par with the classical
conceptions of the ancient Greeks and Hebrews. It makes more sense to treat this messy and
brash brat like Shaw¶s Eliza; she needs cleaning up and must be taught some manners.

What I call the new integrity may be seen as the goal of some recent developments, but I do not
believe in it ± or in anything else ± because I take it to be the wave of the future. After all,
endowing the wave of the future with moral authority is one of the strategies of decidophobia.

The classical conception of integrity is best explained in terms of the origin of the word integrity,
which suggests wholeness. The word comes from the Latin in and tangere and means that
something is untouched, unimpaired, flawless. Words with the same root meaning are
encountered in several other languages and have gone on to acquire the same moral significance
as the Latin integritas and the English ³integrity.´
In English, for example, ³holy´ is related to ³whole,´ and in German heilig to heil. Heil was
profaned by the Nazis, but the original meaning is flawless, unimpaired (unversehrt).
One further example is of special interest. In the first verse of the Book of Job, Job is called tam
v¶yashar, blameless and upright. The root meaning of tam, which recurs often in the book, is
³whole,´ ³complete,´ and the noun tumah is usually translated as ³integrity.´ Thus the Lord says
to Satan: ³He still holds fast his integrity.´ Job¶s wife says to him: ³Do you still hold fast your
integrity? Curse God, and die.´ And later Job says to his friends: ³Till I die, I will not part from
my integrity.´

In all these languages it is assumed that what is whole and complete is also morally good, and
that the integrated man is naturally virtuous. In Plato this notion is central: justice is the health of
the soul, and the integration of the personality spells integrity. But the conception of justice as
harmony is encountered among the Greeks long before Plato, and it is not peculiar to them. Nor
did the classical conception of integrity expire with antiquity. In later Judaism it was developed
in the beautiful idea that one should serve God with the evil impulse, too. Thus the Mishnah
explains the Mosaic commandment, ³You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart,´
as meaning ³with both of your impulses, with the good impulse and with the evil impulse.´
Plato and the Jewish tradition were far from sharing the same moral views. Job and ³the just
man´ of the prophets had a social conscience that forms no part of Plato¶s conception of justice.
Yet the ancient Greeks and Hebrews shared the notion that all the virtues are compatible, and
they called the wholly virtuous man ³just.´

As long as the classical conception remains on the level of brief suggestions, it seems attractive
and profound. But as soon as one reads lengthier defenses of it, the idea that the whole is good
and that evil is merely un integrated partiality becomes highly problematic. One is struck by the
underlying optimism. Why should it be impossible to embrace evil with one¶s whole heart, soul,
and might?

The classical conception is close to Manichaeism and to moral rationalism. In Plato it comes
down on the side of moral rationalism. But the idea that all good is on one side ± health,
wholeness, and all the virtues ± is Manichaean and decidophobic. The cards are stacked, and
there is no need to consider objections and alternatives.


The crux of the current crisis in morality is that integrity is no longer associated with the just
man. Our first association with integrity is honesty. Intellectual integrity is a synonym of
intellectual honesty. A ³just man´ is a mild archaism or a Hebraism, but it is no longer
uncommon to call a man honest by way of suggesting not a particular virtue but the sum of the
An ³honest woman´ is an idiom that suggests an altogether different context, but actually it
illustrates the same development. What is meant is not that she never lies but rather that she had
lost her virtue and her moral reputation, and that by marrying her some man has restored these
priceless possessions to her and ³made an honest woman of her.´ The moral judgments implicit
in this usage are archaic, but ³honest´ is here used in the sense of ³virtuous.´

When Abraham Lincoln is called ³Honest Abe,´ what is meant is not that he could never tell a
lie (that was George Washington) but that he was what Plato and the prophets would have called
a just man. Thus honesty is now often considered the sum of the virtues, as justice was formerly.

What is meant by honesty? Let us distinguish three different conceptions of honesty. The first
two use the name of honesty in vain.

The classical American misconception of honesty is that the word is a synonym of sincerity.
What is at stake is not merely the misuse of a word but the overestimation of sincerity. While
sincerity is preferable to insincerity, it comes nowhere near being the sum of the virtues; it is not
even a cardinal virtue. Small children tell all sorts of charming falsehoods with sincerity and
might be said to be this side of the distinction between honesty and dishonesty. Many clergymen
and politicians proclaim falsehoods with sincerity and might be said to have low standards of
honesty; they believe what they say while they are saying it, but only a little while earlier they
knew that it was false, and questioned a few hours later they no longer insist that it is true. They
cultivate the gentle art of mouthing falsehoods with conviction.

The typically modern misconception of honesty consists of confounding honesty with frankness.
This makes honesty even easier to attain. One tells people what one thinks of them and assumes
that extreme rudeness is proof of moral superiority. Both these misconceptions are extremely
popular because they place virtue within the reach of all. Even if one is extremely partial to
frankness, one has to admit that this misunderstanding is born in part of the desire for instant
virtue; what is wanted is moral superiority without any fuss or trouble.

True honesty, like courage, admits of degrees. Manichaeans use the ploy of asking, are you
calling me a coward? Or a liar? And they assume that if their critic hesitates to do that, it follows
that they are courageous, or honest. They presuppose that one is either honest or a liar, either
courageous or a coward. In fact, most men are neither courageous nor cowards; these terms are
applicable only in extreme cases. We may act more courageously on one occasion and less
courageously on another, without having merited the epithet of cowardice or courage in either
case. The liar corresponds to the coward, and ³honesty´ should be used like ³courage´ to
designate a high standard.
What is involved in honesty ± or high standards of honesty ± is apparent as soon as we reflect on
the case of the person who says frankly and sincerely what he himself knew to be false only a
little while earlier. Or consider a person who says what in fact he has never known to be false,
although it is false and he himself would know this if only he had taken a little more trouble.
Neither of these two people has high standards of honesty. Why not? High standards of honesty
mean that one has a conscience about what one says and what one believes. They mean that one
takes some trouble to determine what speaks for and against a view, what the alternatives are,
what speaks for and against each, and what alternatives are preferable on these grounds.

This is the heart of rationality, the essence of scientific method, and the meaning of intellectual
integrity. I shall call it the canon. We have seen what speaks against some alternative
conceptions of honesty. Now let us consider some objections to this conception.

It may seem that a canon cannot properly be called a virtue. How can ³the essence of scientific
method´ be presented as an explication of honesty? This objection can be met. The canon takes
the form of a series of imperatives. These imperatives define the essence of scientific method.
But the practice of a method can become a habit Of, as people sometimes put it, speaking rather
loosely, it can become ³instinctive.´ And virtues are habits. They can be acquired and developed
by practice.

Confronted with a proposition, view, belief, hypothesis, conviction ± one¶s own or another
person¶s ± those with high standards of honesty apply the canon, which commands us to ask
seven questions: (I) What does this mean? (2) What speaks for it and (3) against it? (4) What
alternatives are available? (5) What speaks for and (6) against each? And (7) what alternatives
are most plausible in the light of these considerations?

Now it may be objected that doing all this is rather difficult. But has it ever been a condition of
virtue that it required no great exertion? On the contrary. Next, it may be said that all this is not
only difficult but in many cases quite impossible and at other times out of all proportion to the
significance of the issue at hand. This is a serious objection and requires an important
qualification of the conception presented so far.


Honesty does not entail pedantry. A pedant devotes so much time and energy to trivial matters
that he lacks sufficient time and energy to investigate the questions that bear on the most . fateful
decisions. Pedantry is the eighth strategy of decidophobia. Honesty entails a sense of proportion,
in two ways. First, the pedant is not really a paragon of honesty. He deceives himself. He prides
himself on his scruples in small matters, but he shuts his eyes when it comes to big decisions. A
person with high standards of honesty will ask such questions as these: What is the meaning and
what are the implications of this issue and that? What speaks for giving so much time to this one
that I shall lack the time for that one?

Second, honesty requires us to proportion the firmness of our beliefs and claims to the evidence.
When he holds a view without having given much thought to the pros and cons and to
alternatives, an honest person realizes how tenuous his position is. Whoever has high standards
of honesty will not say that he knows something, or even that he believes it strongly, unless he
has looked into the matter and found good grounds for his views, and unless he has also
considered objections and alternatives. Failing that, he will either suspend judgment or admit to
himself and, if the occasion arises, to others that his belief is tenuous.

I have criticized the concept of proportionality when discussing punishments and distributions.
In the present context, of course, exact proportion is out of the question. We cannot stipulate how
many minutes honesty requires us to spend on this issue or that, nor can we measure the firmness
of beliefs. What matters is that one gives oneself an honest account of the grounds for one¶s
beliefs, and that one makes a deliberate effort to overcome decidophobia.

Those who live up to these criteria exemplify intellectual integrity. But what I shall call the new
integrity requires one additional quality. For one could apply the canon scrupulously, but only on
the intellectual level. One might not put into practice what one believes. One might say: This
alternative stands up under scrutiny, and that one does not; nevertheless I shall act in accordance
with the view that does not stand up. Those who have the new integrity have intellectual integrity
and also live in accordance with it. Thus practice is integrated with theory.

The consideration of alternatives is crucial but often, neglected. Those who comply with this part
of the canon have to do what even a great many scholars would rather not do: spell out what
speaks against rival views. It is pleasanter to cite other scholars by way of paying homage to
their acute insights. But the new integrity requires us to be clear about the defects of significant

Obviously, the new integrity goes beyond any ordinary conception of honesty. Even when
honesty is not confused with sincerity or frankness, it is compatible with the admission that one
did not take any pains to investigate a question and therefore does not know the answer. A
person can possess high standards of honesty but very little self-confidence, courage, or
humbition. He may be lazy and reluctant to exert himself. But what I call the new integrity
involves not only high standards of honesty but also enough courage and humbition to apply the
canon to the most important questions facing us. Thus the new integrity involves autonomy, but
the two are not identical because autonomy would be compatible with lying.
I introduced autonomy, saying that it consists of making with our eyes open the decisions that
govern our lives; and I added: ³Choosing responsibly means that one weighs alternatives. (This
theme will be developed further in the chapter on µThe New Integrity.¶)´ Then I concentrated on
the strategies of decidophobia. Now autonomy appears as the goal of a historical development:
the autonomous man is the modem counterpart of ³the just man´ of the ancient Greeks and
Hebrews. He does not bow to authority; he decides for himself.


The adherents of the classical conception of integrity were mistaken insofar as they assumed that
integration spelled goodness. But a well-integrated and harmonious individual could follow
Hitler or Stalin. The idea that we should serve the Lord ³with the good impulse and with the evil
impulse´ is very beautiful, but one could also serve Hitler or Stalin with both impulses. One can
serve an evil cause with tremendous courage and intelligence, with self-control and humility, and
millions have done it in our time. Many whose life had lacked direction found a purpose ± an
evil purpose ± that integrated their whole personality till everything fell into place.

Does the new integrity fare any better? Was it possible to follow Hitler or Stalin, while living in
accordance with the new integrity? Certainly not.

As soon as Hitler came to power, it was unsafe for any teacher to go on teaching as before. One
could literally see how many teachers swallowed hard as they said what they knew to be untrue ±
in history, literature, religion, and biology, and other classes, too. After all, some student might
report them to the authorities if they did not toe the line. Even if none did, some student might
say quite naively to his father, to a fellow member of the Hitler Youth, or to anyone at all: But
my teacher said . . . That might be the end of the teacher¶s career; it might even take him to a
concentration camp. As time passed, the falsehoods that at first had made some teachers gag
went down more easily. The teachers¶ integrity deteriorated. Still, might not some teachers, or at
least some students, have believed all that they were required to believe? Of course, but only if
they did not ask the seven crucial questions.

As for the Soviet Union under Stalin, Solzhenitsyn has shown convincingly in The First Circle
and Cancer Ward how one could live in accordance with the new integrity only in a
concentration camp or by keeping silent, how silence usually corrupts, and how this corruption
spread like a disease through the whole society. The chapter on ³Idols of the Market Place´ in
Cancer Ward makes this point expressly and at length.

In the West so many people are such relativists that they suppose it must be just as possible to
swallow Stalinism or Hitlerism as it is to swallow any other world view. And if one believes that
American society is just as repressive as was Hitler¶s Germany or Stalin¶s Soviet Union, one
demonstrates indeed that, but for the grace of circumstance, one might have swallowed Nazism
or Stalinism, for one shows that one does not care greatly about the seven questions.

Of course, one could be sincere and a Nazi or a Stalinist. But nobody who applied the canon
could have accepted Hitler¶s or Stalin¶s irrational views, and teaching the canon in one¶s classes
or openly asking the seven questions would have been a recipe for death.

Few people have ever lived by the canon. Only those who suppose that most people do could
possibly suppose that some of Hitler¶s or Stalin¶s followers did. Under Stalin, the party line kept
changing, and his followers were required to change their views overnight, again and again and
again. If they believed that whatever he did was best, that he knew better than anyone else, and
that whatever the latest edition of the great Encyclopedia said was true, they could escape terrible
qualms, but in that case they were decidophobes who did not live by the canon.

It might be objected that we cannot reasonably expect people to say, like Job: ³Till I die I will
not part from my integrity.´ We recall how Simone de Beauvoir, though merciless in her self-
accusations, said of those who followed Stalin: ³They had to live; they lived.´ But moral
judgments have not been my concern here. The point has been to understand the new integrity,
and when a person gives that up to save his life ± if only to preserve himself for the sake of his
wife and children ± it is reasonable to insist that he did give it up. After all, that is one of the
differences between Solzhenitsyn and millions of others: they did, and he did not.

In sum, an integrated human being with the classical integrity could follow Hitler or Stalin, but
one could not follow either of them with the new integrity. For the person who lives by the canon
does not accept an irrational book like Mein Kampf, or a man like Hitler or Stalin, or any man or
any book, as an authority; he makes decisions for himself ± he is autonomous.

Suppose, however, that a German or a Russian did consider the alternatives and came to the
conclusion that it was best, everything considered, to join ³the Party.´ 1 have examined this
strategy at length in the discussion of decidophobia: those who decide to commit themselves in
such a way that henceforth they will never have to face fateful decisions any more are
decidophobes and not autonomous. And those who abandon or sacrifice their intellectual
integrity cannot be said to have retained it.

Consider the memoirs of Rudolf Hoess, the commanding officer of Auschwitz. In his first-hand
account of his chief, Heinrich Himmler, he uses the very phrase that Nietzsche had used in
arguing that ³the party man becomes a liar´: ³wishing-not-to-see´! Hoess also says: ³Himmler
always found it more interesting and agreeable to hear what was positive and not negative.´ This
might be considered a rather common human weakness, but Nazism elevated it into a principle:
³Himmler was the most extreme representative of the Fuhrerprinzip. Every German had to
submit unconditionally and uncritically to the leadership of the state.´ When Himmler demanded
³surrender of one¶s own will,´ this was in line with the Fuhrer principle and the Nazi

Hoess insists that he always complained to Himmler when he saw him ± about technical
difficulties. But about the annihilation of millions in the gas chambers he had no doubts.
Himmler shocked and disappointed him only at their final meeting when the war was practically
over and Himmler, ³whose orders, whose utterances had been gospel for me,´ was quite cheerful
and gave orders to his henchmen to disappear in the army with false papers. But perhaps the
statement that best brings out how there was no room for the new integrity or for autonomy in
this whole setting is this: ³I must admit frankly that after such talks with Eichmann humane
feelings almost seemed to me treason against the Fuhrer.´

Hitler himself, of course, was not an autonomous man; he lacked both the classical and the new
integrity. His calculated lies and his lack of any scruple about breaking solemn promises suffice
to show that he lacked the new integrity, but one might wonder whether he could not have been
autonomous for all that, if only he had applied the canon and decided that dishonesty was the
best policy. As a matter of fact, however, he was not in the habit of subjecting his irrational
convictions to the canon, and he was the kind of man Sartre described in his portrait of the anti-
Semite, and Eric Hoffer in The True Believer. Nietzsche¶s strictures of the ³party man,´ quoted
in my analysis of the third strategy in chapter I, apply to him. We also know that in conversation
he could not tolerate any disagreement, and that in the end he became more and more interested
in astrology.


Honesty is not the sum of the virtues. In the chapter on guilt I introduced four cardinal virtues:
humbition, courage, love, and honesty.

Like courage, honesty can bring about great evil when joined with brutality. Ibsen showed in The
Wild Duck how a fanatic for honesty may feel called upon to tell people what will drive them to
despair and suicide. He might also make a point of robbing the dying of their faith or of illusions
that have helped them to endure great pain. Not only might he lack love, but he might also be
cowardly, at least in some ways. While a dedication to honesty involves some courage and some
humbition, one might be honest and yet lack courage and humbition in most matters.

Conversely, those who do not have high standards of honesty and never give much thought to the
seven questions of the canon may be very decent people for all that. They may be courageous in
many ways, help others unselfishly, and never cheat anyone. This point is hard to get across
because so many people assume vaguely, but falsely, that honesty or integrity is the whole of
virtue. Hence people may admit regretfully that they are not very courageous and that after all
few people are. But if you suggest that their standards of honesty are not very high, or that they
leave something to be desired as far as the new integrity is concerned, they may never forgive

Yet the new integrity is not the whole of virtue; nor is autonomy. The desire for only one
cardinal virtue is the desire for a panacea. As long as there are several cardinal virtues, they may
occasionally come into conflict with each other. Thus a teacher in a totalitarian state may be
pulled in one direction by his regard for honesty, in another by his love for his family.

Love is exceedingly corruptible and often does the devil¶s bidding. Love has no scruples about
tempting us to be dishonest, less courageous, less humbitious ± even to be cowardly and to lie.
Yet if we renounced love for that reason, clinging to the three virtues that on the whole are
mutually compatible, we should have to condone a cruel lack of concern for others.

Autonomy is not a panacea that saves us from conflicts and hard choices. On the contrary,
autonomy consists of considering alternatives and objections to our preferences. Yet an
autonomous person might lack love. Any claim that all who are rational and use the canon would
end up with the same code ± mine ± would be moral rationalism. Love is compatible with
rationality, but it is not entailed by rationality. Of course, we can stack the cards and load our
definition of rationality. That is the essence of the moral rationalist¶s strategy. Thus one can
claim that rationality entails an impartial concern for all human beings, and that all partiality to
ourselves is therefore irrational. To anyone brought up on the ethics of Kant, that may actually
sound plausible. Of course, he did not speak of love in this connection but of the categorical
imperative, and those who follow him in our time speak of justice. Either way, the concept of
rationality is loaded illicitly.

Those who apply the canon do not have to come to the conclusion that we ought to act in
accordance with an equal concern for all human beings; nor need they conclude that all partiality
to ourselves is irrational. They might actually conclude that it is impossible to act in accordance
with an equal concern for all human beings, and that it is quite rational to give some priority to
one¶s children, spouse, parents, friends, or pupils ± and even to oneself. I have to see to it that I
get some sleep; I cannot be equally concerned that everybody else does.

Nor is it clear why we should feel, or act in accordance with, equal concern for all human beings.
Why should we be so partial to the human race? If we do not believe that God created man in his
own image and that man is more like God than like any other animal, this partiality to man
becomes questionable. Kant tried to find a basis for it in man¶s rationality, but again it is far from
clear why reason should require us to feel an equal concern for all rational creatures, but no
comparable concern for those not so gifted. If we encountered beings from another planet, could
reason really tell us whether we owed them as much concern as we owed our fellow men, or
more, or less? Can reason tell us where the cut-off point should be, regarding those who do not
act according to the canon, or regarding idiots, infants, or embryos? Equal concern for all beings
is clearly quite impossible. In short, we must make choices, and reason cannot tell us what we
ought to choose.

My view is that the adoption of love as a cardinal virtue is tenable, but not required by reason;
that a social conscience is desirable though not entailed by rationality; and that, in brief,
autonomy is not enough.


What speaks for autonomy, honesty, love, courage, and humbition? What speaks against them?
And what speaks for and against various alternatives? Is my code really more plausible than
others? Throughout this book I have considered alternatives and objections. I have tried to show
how humbition is preferable to guilt feelings, which have loomed so large in traditional morality,
and how love and honesty can do better what justice was supposed to do but could not do. I have
not made out any comparable case for courage, which is admired almost universally. Courage
has been celebrated by poets and tellers of tales since time immemorial. Even so, an autonomous
morality cannot invoke any authority ± neither that of intercultural agreement nor that of my own
moral sense. What kind of appeal remains?

There is a utilitarian argument that does not depend on the hedonism of the English utilitarians.
We should distinguish between utilitarianism in the wide sense, which appeals to the
consequences of laws or rules, acts or habits, virtues or codes (let us call this consequentialism),
and utilitarianism in the narrow, hedonistic sense, which judges the consequences according to
their conduciveness to the greatest possible balance of pleasures over pains. I reject utilitarianism
in the narrow sense for reasons that will be discussed in the next chapter. But it is the essence of
irresponsibility to ignore the consequences, and I can find no good reasons for ignoring them.
The only major moralist who insisted that moral judgments must ignore the consequences was
Kant, who thought, falsely, that reason could tell us what is right, without considering
consequences. The question remains as to the standards by which we should judge the
consequences. How, if at all, can one justify one¶s standards?

Obviously, one can try to justify one set of standards by appeal to another set; but if one chooses
to be rational, one cannot justify one¶s ultimate standards, or cardinal virtues, once and for all.
Whoever makes one ultimate decision that relieves him of the need for further fateful decisions,
is a decidophobe. An autonomous human being asks: What are the alternatives, and how, if at all,
are they preferable?
The universal appeal of courage is surely due to the fact that every society is profoundly indebted
to some very courageous people and finds it in its interest to foster courage. A society that held
up cowardice as an ideal could not long survive. It does not follow that our deep, spontaneous
admiration for a person of rare courage is accompanied by any thoughts about the consequences
of his acts. Our moral sense has been shaped by poets and tellers of tales; it was inculcated in us
in our childhood; and even if we modify it as we grow up and find that some of our enthusiasms
do not survive close scrutiny, those we do retain continue to be nourished by a wealth of concrete
associations. Because we have had an ideal for a long time, and have felt discouraged and
disgusted many times with ourselves and our fellow men, those who suddenly exemplify the
seemingly impossible ideal rouse us from despair and earn our gratitude.

None of this proves that it would really be best for all men to reach a very high degree of
courage. I have said that courage and cowardice are two extremes, and the optimum could lie
somewhere well above the mean, but well below extreme courage. To some extent, this point is
taken care of by the fact that we have another word for the undesirable extreme: foolhardiness.
But what has been said here about courage applies also to the other virtues, and unfortunately we
lack words for excessive love, humbition, and honesty. But if we set up courage, for example, as
a cardinal virtue, we shall be lucky if we produce few cowards and some men and women with a
high degree of courage. Again, the same point applies to the other virtues.

Excessive humbition, honesty, and love are all self-destructive no less than foolhardiness. Those
whose humbition is too great will be tormented by their failure to come up to impossible
standards. Those in whom honesty becomes a rage are a menace to others and will also place
themselves on the rack. And concern for others must be selective if it is to be effective, and it
must be held in bounds lest it become obtrusive and annoying. The Golden Rule is intolerable; if
millions did to others whatever they wished others to do to them, few would be safe from
molestation. The Golden Rule shows anything but moral genius, and the claim by which it is
followed in the Sermon on the Mount ± ³this is the Law and the Prophets´ ± makes little sense.
Even when love is defined better, it is not the whole of virtue, much less an adequate substitute
for a detailed code of law. The negative formulation is far superior: Do not do unto others what
you would not want them to do to you. But even this rule, which antedates Jesus and was
advanced by Hillel and, much earlier, by Confucius, falls short of what is needed.

We see this as soon as we consider the parallel to courage. Again, every society is deeply
indebted to some people who showed extraordinary concern for others. It makes sense to speak
of love in this context, but neither the Golden Rule nor the superior negative formulation
describes the virtue of these individuals. They did something positive, but not as a rule anything
they wanted anyone to do to them. Those who lay down their lives for others generally have no
wish whatever for others to make such a sacrifice for them. The same applies to smaller
sacrifices. What is really called for is not the simple projection of our own desires into others,
but the habit of trying to fathom what those with whom we deal may feel. That is a minimum.
Thinking about how we might help others is the second step.

The case for humbition is so similar to that for courage that only a single difference calls for
comment. Humbition has not been celebrated since time immemorial; otherwise I should not
have had to coin a name for it. Ambition has been celebrated, in effect, though usually without
recourse to this word, and again society has been indebted to ambitious men. But this quality was
found not only in the heroes of one¶s past but also in many of the major villains. In some
societies, humility was held up as exemplary, but one failed to note that those who were admired
for their great humility were not people resigned to being of no consequence but humbitious
men. My claim is twofold: neither ambition nor humility is as desirable for the survival of
society as is humbition, whose social value is immense. Moreover I find humbition intrinsically
admirable. When I contemplate the characters whom I admire most, I find that insofar as they
possessed humbition, I admire them for that, and insofar as they lacked it, I feel that this was a
defect. Exactly the same consideration applies to the other virtues.

Honesty is different in one way from all the other virtues. As I have defined it, it consists of
being rational and living in accordance with the canon. (Autonomy consists of applying the
canon to fateful decisions, and the choice of norms is a fateful decision.) When someone asks:
What is so good about honesty (or rationality)? one might do well to reply: Do you want an
honest (or rational) answer? If he were to say no, a whimsical retort in the manner of Taoism or
Zen would be called for, and if he were to say yes, one might give him back his own question:
What is so good about honesty (or rationality)?

The social utility of honesty even exceeds that of the other cardinal virtues. All language
learning, all speech, and all social intercourse depend on honesty, and we simply cannot dispense
with this virtue. Much less could we make a virtue of dishonesty. What can be suggested is either
that we could get by with something less than very high standards of honesty, or that it might be
expedient to permit dishonesty in certain areas or circumstances. In fact, however, in all the years
that I have lectured about honesty and the other virtues in a great many different places and in
different contexts (it was not by any means always the same lecture), I have been asked
occasionally as a matter of principle how I would argue for my set of four, but nobody has ever
come up with specific objections or alternatives to the four virtues; nor has anybody ever tried to
define areas or circumstances in which dishonesty should be permitted. Under these
circumstances, I advocate high standards of honesty with only two limitations: we should
proportion our efforts to the importance of the issue; and when honesty conflicts with love we
should be honest in case of doubt but not inflict genuine harm on others for the sake of our
virtue. It is preferable to be honest when in doubt because otherwise it would become so easy to
find reasons for not being honest that this virtue would be honored mainly in the breach.


I have said that it is the essence of irresponsibility to ignore the probable consequences of one¶s
decisions. The time has come to join this issue with the moral irrationalists. For my position is as
far removed from theirs as it is from moral rationalism.

Most existentialists¶ exhortations to resoluteness and commitment extol integrity in the classical
sense. By choosing with your whole heart you are supposed to become integrated. Your life
crystallizes around a project and becomes whole ± even if the price you pay should be the new

Typically, it is assumed that because reason alone cannot prove that we should choose this
project rather than that, reason is irrelevant when it comes to fateful decisions. Once that is
granted, the way is clear for one or another of the strategies of decidophobia; one may choose a
religion or a movement, for example. But what reason and the new integrity can do is crucial:
safeguard us against decisions and commitments that anyone who asked the seven questions
would not make.

When we apply the canon to alternatives, we consider not only logical consistency but also what
speaks for and against each, and we evaluate the probable consequences of this decision and that.
The moral irrationalist, on the other hand, chooses one alternative resolutely, without even
asking how it is likely to affect various people, and he feels no need to examine with some care
objections and significant alternatives.

An illustration may help. Suppose you consult a doctor, and his reasons and the evidence cannot
establish conclusively what is the cause of your ailment. Imagine that he frankly admitted this
and then offered to flip a coin or to pluck the petals of a daisy: to cut or not to cut, to cut or not to
cut . . . This would be a paradigm of irresponsibility. What you would expect him to do is to
invoke the canon. Then the most plausible hypothesis ± or one of the most plausible ± would be
chosen tentatively, not with the dogged conviction that, once we have chosen it, we have to stick
with it, as if that were the essence of integrity. The decidophobe objects: But there is not time for
all this; such investigations might take years, and by that time the patient, if not the doctor, will
be dead. Of course, it would be irresponsible to ignore the consequences, and to keep thinking up
new possibilities without any regard for the time factor. But even if there is very little time, a
responsible doctor will not pluck the petals of a flower or assure the patient that the most
important factor is that the doctor who makes the decision is sincere or resolute. He is
responsible insofar as he applies the canon as much as time permits; and what speaks against
some laboratory tests and some other medical procedures is precisely that there is not time

Suppose the case were quite dramatic, and the question were whether to amputate a leg. It might
not be necessary, but if we waited until we could be absolutely sure of that, the patient might
well be past saving. The responsible procedure would still be to run as many tests as time
permits, to weigh the pros and cons to the limits of one¶s ability, and then to act (let us assume,
to cut) as skillfully as possible, without the bad faith that, because the die is cast, one must feel
certain that one has elected the right course. If the surgeon finds out in midoperation that it was
unnecessary to cut, he obviously should neither insist that it really was necessary nor throw up
his hands in despair and let the patient die. All he can do at that point is to minimize the damage.

Responsibility is not accompanied by any warrant that everything will turn out well. If it does
not, all we have is the small comfort that at least we have acted responsibly, with integrity. To
make matters worse, irresponsible actions sometimes succeed. But that success is no proof of
integrity, that the wicked often flourish, and that disaster does not prove a lack of integrity, was
known to the Psalmists and the author of Job.

Given a large sample and a long period of time, responsibility succeeds much more often than
irresponsibility. That is why we want physicians to act responsibly. That is why scientists and
engineers are trained to check and double ± check their hunches. It is no different in politics.
Occasionally, reckless gambles will succeed, but those who continue to place their trust in them
generally come to grief before long; and the great statesmen of the past have been thoughtful
men who weighed alternatives with care. That includes great revolutionaries like Lenin, who
studied and wrote books about philosophy. Marx spent most of his later years at work in the
library of the British Museum. He felt strongly that it was not enough to interpret the world; he
wanted to change it. But the more important the changes are that one would like to bring about,
the more indispensable becomes the canon.

Irrationalists may argue that this rational approach was used by some of Lyndon Johnson¶s best ±
known advisers on Vietnam policy ± with disastrous results. But the advisers¶ stunning lack of
moral judgment stemmed from their Manichaean faith that ³the free world´ represented decency
and humanity, no matter what means it employed, while ³the enemy´ represented the foes of
freedom and was therefore beyond the pale and worthy of the torments of hell. So firm was this
faith that one did not give sufficient weight to what spoke against the policies one favored, and
the President¶s insistence on ³consensus´ compounded this failure. It is not enough to appoint
one man the devil¶s (!) advocate, as Johnson did, and then to go through the ritual of having him
offer objections before the predetermined ³consensus´ is implemented. This procedure was very
different from the method that I advocate, and it invited wishful thinking.

The classical conception of integrity was compatible with conformity. Some of its greatest
proponents actually believed that it entailed or presupposed conformity. The new integrity is
incompatible with conformity.

Plato, the greatest philosophical exponent of the classical conception, argued that integrity could
scarcely be achieved outside a tightly integrated city-state in which every citizen performed the
functions that had been assigned to him by the philosopher-kings. Each was to conform to his
class, living as the members of his class were supposed to live, and believing what he was told to
believe. Plato believed that Socrates had achieved integrity in a corrupt society; hence he had
been a nonconformist. But Plato argued that the odds against such an achievement are
overwhelming, and that anyone who brought it off was almost certain to be put to death as
Socrates was.

Hegel¶s view was similar, although it has often been misrepresented. F. H. Bradley developed it
sympathetically in his essay ³My Station and Its Duties.´ But what is lacking in Bradley and
crucial in Hegel is a profound sense of alienation and a tortured longing for the harmony that
Hegel thought he found in ancient Greece. He sought integration of the personality through
integration into a state with reasonable laws.

Hegel was impatient with individuals who found fault with their society and who insisted that it
is very difficult to decide what is right. He felt that there was likely to be much more reason in
the traditions that have developed over centuries and stood the test of time than in the reflections
of a disgruntled individual. He also insisted that most of the time it is not at all difficult to tell
right from wrong.

Actually Hegel admitted that in times of transition history shows us great collisions that make it
difficult to decide what is right, and that in such situations the nonconformist who loses his fight
against society ± Socrates, for example ± may be vindicated posthumously. This exception,
however, does not go far enough. An individual with very high standards of honesty is bound to
become alienated from his fellow men.

We have seen how the various strategies of decidophobia are at odds with integrity. But I have
also admitted that one can belong to a religion or movement, for example, without sacrificing
high standards of honesty. It may therefore seem that the new integrity does not entail
nonconformity or alienation. Yet not all who belong conform; nor does belonging preclude
alienation ± one can feel deeply alienated from one¶s fellow members. It may be objected that
one can feel that way, but that it has not been shown that the new integrity entails any such
experience. Indeed, it is possible to imagine a society in which high standards of honesty would
be so greatly admired that those who lived by them would be esteemed on that account and not
resented. But that is not how people actually are, nor are there signs that within the lifetime of
any of us, people will become that way. Meanwhile it is a fact of life that those who live by the
canon reap alienation, and their nonconformity is resented.

So ubiquitous is this experience that men and women of unusual integrity often find the
alienation that comes from not belonging to a religion or a movement easier to bear than the
alienation that is generated by belonging but insisting on the canon. Constantly rubbing
shoulders with those who resent uncomfortable queries and objections may be felt to be harder
than leaving the fold altogether.

One might suppose that there is at least one kind of community in which the new integrity is a
way of life and in which the canon is so widely accepted that it constitutes a glorious
counterexample: the academic community, or at least professors, if not students. This is not the
place to document timidity, conformity, intolerance, and the lack of high standards of honesty in
academia. Woe unto the man or woman who does not belong to the right school of thought! But
this theme has been discussed in the context of decidophobia. Nor would it be profitable to use
professorial book reviews as an illustration, for that subject is so vast that we should be
distracted from our central concern here. But consider meetings of committees, academic
departments, the faculty as a whole, or meetings that are attended by large numbers of students,
too. A considerable amount of courage is required to raise objections or suggest alternatives that
others plainly do not want to hear, and it is extraordinary how often that which is not gladly
heard remains unspoken. Some professors, of course, are luminous examples of integrity ± as are
some lawyers, writers, doctors, and men and women in other walks of life. But they pay the
usual price.


In spite of much timidity and the many confusions about honesty, the twentieth century has
witnessed a growing recognition of what true honesty involves. Consider two of the leading
philosophical movements of our century: analytical philosophy and existentialism. Both have
contributed to this recognition.

One could date analytic philosophy from G. E. Moore¶s dogged attacks on his predecessors,
beginning in 1903. His refrain was ever: What could they possibly have meant? When others
cited his own dicta, he was not beyond saying that he was not sure what he himself could
possibly have meant. All this was rather mannered, and Moore¶s articles ± not to speak of his
imitators ± were at times tediously pedantic, as he considered one after another outrageous
answer to his question, finding predictably that none would do. Yet he taught philosophers a new
Confronted with Moore¶s example, it would no longer do to assume that obscurity was any
warrant of profundity. Moore was pedestrian to a fault, intent on not tolerating any nonsense,
however high-sounding. For all his limitations, he raised the standards of honesty, at least in

It is arguable that much of what people learned from Moore could also have been learned from
Socrates. But it took Moore to make us aware of this aspect of Socrates. Even so the degree to
which Socrates embodied not only the classical but also the new conception of integrity is
noteworthy, and we shall have to return to this point.

Sartre, born two years after Moore published his first book, also raised standards of honesty, but
in a very different way. By Moore¶s standards, much of Sartre¶s philosophical prose is atrocious
± an example of precisely the kind of writing that Moore tried to exorcize. But in Being and
Nothingness no less than in his plays, novels, and short stories, Sartre tried to expose the wiles of
self-deception. Thus he, too, showed what honesty involves ± and how difficult it is to attain.
While Moore honed the intellectual conscience of a generation or two of professional
philosophers, Sartre sensitized that of their students.

Their complementary insights are not readily seen to complement each other. Many professors
are appalled by their students¶ sloppiness and lack of rigor and their failure to live up to high
standards of honesty, while the students reciprocate by being no less shocked by what strikes
them as the bad faith of many of their teachers. Too often both sides are right ± to be dismayed.

Philosophers have not been alone in contributing to the growing recognition of what honesty
involves. It is to Sigmund Freud more than to anyone else that we owe the realization that there
are degrees of honesty and that it is quite common for men to be less than wholly honest without
being outright liars. He has shown how difficult it is to be honest with oneself.

The dimension explored by Freud fits into the first of the seven questions of the canon: ³What
does this mean?´ Moore¶s conception of meaning was curiously narrow, and that of some
positivists was even narrower. At one time the latter actually argued that all propositions that
could not be verified ± ethical judgments, for example ± were meaningless. On their own
showing, their claim that such propositions were meaningless was itself meaningless. When this
position proved unsatisfactory, many analytic philosophers took their cue from Wittgenstein¶s
later thinking and suggested that in order to get at the meaning of a word one must consider how
a child is taught to use the word. But there are dimensions of meaning that are rarely considered
by most philosophers, and it is more to the point to think of the meaning of claims, beliefs, and
views than to concentrate on words.
It will suffice here to mention psychological meaning, sociological meaning, and historical
meaning. Under the first heading, one might distinguish further between intended meaning (what
a person is driving at, or what he is trying to say, although he may put his point badly);
emotional meaning (what it means to him, in the sense in which it may mean a great deal to
him); and psychoanalytic meaning (assuming that a proposition may sometimes mean more to a
person than he himself realizes).

Insofar as the new integrity consists of asking seven questions, it cannot rest content with a
wholly superficial and onedimensional answer to the question: ³What does this mean?´
Discussions of religious claims, for example, are often obtuse because they completely ignore
psychological meaning. Not only must we occasionally ask whether the claims of other men
mean more to them than they themselves realize, but we also have to push this question
regarding our own beliefs. This is often difficult, but it is by no means always impossible. The
person who never asks himself questions of this sort is making insufficient efforts to overcome
self-deception and to that extent lacks high standards of honesty.

Thus the development of the new integrity owes a great deal to Freud. Yet Freud shared the
overestimation of honesty when he said in a memorable and beautiful passage: ³Whoever has
completed successfully the education for truthfulness toward himself, is permanently immune
against the danger of immorality, even if his standard of morality should differ in some ways
from what is customary in society.´ I have argued that those who have learned to be honest with
themselves could lack love, courage, and humbition.

The claim that standards of honesty have been raised in Our century may seem to be paradoxical.
What we are conscious of is the abundance of dishonesty ± not only in religion, politics, and
advertising. The whole quality of modern life is poisoned and polluted by dishonesty.

Once again it may help to recall the Hebrew prophets. They certainly raised moral standards, but
that does not mean that their contemporaries were more moral than their predecessors. One only
needs to read the prophets to realize that this was not the case. Specifically, Micah and Isaiah
raised moral standards when they proclaimed war to be evil and demanded that swords should be
made into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Yet wars did not cease, and twenty-five
centuries later most of mankind still had not accepted even in theory the standards set by Micah
and Isaiah. Only after the horrors of World War II, when confronted with atomic bombs, did
much of mankind come to agree that nations ought not to learn war any more, but even then
many nations continued to wage wars. Most Americans did not disapprove of the Vietnam war
until they felt that they were not winning it. From this depressing record it does not follow that
the prophets did not raise moral standards.

The question remains as to whether it is proper to speak of the ³new´ integrity. Is it really new?
After all, Socrates approached it, and so did Job. But in antiquity Socrates was admired for some
of his other qualities; and to this day, Job is usually seen differently. Few readers even notice that
when he says to his friends, ³Till I die, I will not part from my integrity,´ he means his honesty.
Those who note his honesty generally suppose that it consists merely of his not being a
hypocrite, and it is widely held that his friends are hypocrites. But they say little that has not
been repeated through the centuries by theologians of many different denominations. They
accept the wisdom that is ready at hand. Popular wisdom or common sense has some authority
for them, and hearing each other confirms each in his views. They are not hypocrites; neither do
they see any need for taking pains to find out what might be true. They prefer the instant wisdom
that only authority can furnish.

Honesty in the sense of truth-telling was esteemed as a virtue even in antiquity, although it was
not widely esteemed as a cardinal virtue. Honesty in the sense of taking great pains to determine
the truth was rarely praised. In Socrates and some of the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers this
ethos is implicit. Thucydides once gave voice to his contempt for those who accept as truth what
is ready at hand, instead of taking pains to discover the truth. Sophocles described the same ethos
in Oedipus Tyrannus. There was a tradition that Oedipus was the wisest of men, but Sophocles
endowed him with a passion to discover the truth, a determination that becomes the central motif
of his life, and a profound scorn for all who do not share this ethos.

Honesty in the sense of a sustained attack on self-deception is, as we have seen, the most modem
aspect of the new integrity. To us it is familiar through the works of Gide and Sartre and a host
of other twentieth-century writers. We can trace it back beyond Freud and Nietzsche to Goethe¶s
Mephistopheles, whose wit keeps exposing Faust¶s romantic self-deceptions. Earlier than that,
we find little of this ethos. Sophocles¶ Oedipus is a towering exception. The truth he seeks is the
truth about himself, while Creon, Teiresias, and his wife-mother keep advising him that his
happiness depends on not finding out. His high standards of honesty alienate him from his
environment, and his integrity becomes his undoing.

It may still seem incredible that the new integrity should be as new as I claim. It may seem
improbable that in antiquity a mere handful of men exemplified it. Were the author of Job,
Sophocles, Thucydides, and Socrates really that exceptional? Of Course, one might add another
example or two, but people are so inclined to think that things were always much the same as
now that some are bound to wonder if the ³new´ integrity was not always much more
widespread than I have suggested. Let them reflect on the history of philosophy in the light of G.
E. Moore¶s ethos. Let them ask themselves how many people applied the canon to their religious
tradition, their scriptures, their theologians, their holy men, or merely their professors. Let them
also reflect on the lack of the Freudian sensitivity before Freud. If this sounds too general, let me
recall my grandmother¶s insistence that ³a teacher is a hallowed person´ ± eine geheiligte
Person. Even after World War II, many German professors seemed to feel that way about
themselves, and in the 1950s many of their students still accepted this view. In the late 1960s
they went to the opposite extreme.

All of this becomes more plausible as soon as one recalls how the new integrity involves
autonomy ± deciding for oneself and not accepting the ten strategies of decidophobia. When
Luther and Calvin defied the church, they appealed to authority. The Enlightenment came closer
to autonomy.







    '  !4    
These are Kant¶s words, and in his ethics he also made much of ³autonomy.´ Nevertheless, he
and many other great men of that period had recourse to moral rationalism. Kant¶s style was
usually dry and scholastic, but the effusiveness of his apostrophes to ³Duty´ and to ³the Moral
Law´ shows how they were for him surrogates for God, and how much he still required some
authority. Some of his contemporaries in France, of course, formally proclaimed Reason a

Some of the romantics reacted against this rationalism and became moral irrationalists, apostles
of feeling and intuition. But the ideal of autonomy clearly owes something to the romantics, too.
What was needed was a step beyond moral rationalism and moral irrationalism, and before the
twentieth century that step was taken only by a very few individuals here and there. Kant¶s
younger contemporary Goethe was autonomous, and among the ancients also, as noted earlier,
Euripides. But hitherto the ethos of the new integrity has never been spelled out as here.

Are both the old and the new integrity partial? Do we really need both? Fortunate indeed are
those who have both, but those still striving to develop the new integrity cannot afford to be
overly concerned about the classical integrity. Those intent on harmony and serenity will dull the
cutting edge of the new integrity. Seeing how it entails alienation, they will seek refuge in the
strategies of decidophobia. But those who attain the new integrity may find eventually that the
old integrity is coming to them, too.



HUMANITY craves but dreads autonomy. My reflections on decidophobia, alienation, and the
new integrity suggest that those who choose autonomy, refusing the comforts of conformity,
must pay a heavy price. In some ways, autonomy is an austere ideal. Could it be that one cannot
hope to be happy if he elects autonomy ± and that one is bound to feel unhappy without it?
Anyone trying to develop an autonomous ethic must face up to this question. The answer
obviously depends on what is meant by happiness.

Many dictionaries distinguish three meanings of ³happiness,´ which the most comprehensive
dictionary of our language, the Oxford English Dictionary, defines as follows:

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The third definition is clearly marginal and irrelevant here. It refers to such extended and almost
metaphorical uses of the word as ³happiness of language´ or ³happiness of expression.´ That
leaves two concepts of happiness, but the dictionary definitions tell us more about the
civilization that produced them than about happiness or the legitimate uses of that word.

It is not only in the Oxford English Dictionary that pride of place is given to prosperity. Yet one
can be prosperous and unhappy, or a model of happiness although far from prosperity. Even if
we ignore the primary, economic meaning of prosperity and think of it as ³the condition of being
successful or thriving,´ this is still a far cry from happiness. Many people are successful and
thriving without having found happiness, while others have found happiness although they are
neither thriving nor successful. Precisely the same considerations apply to ³good fortune´ and
³luck in life or in a particular affair.´ This emphasis on prosperity and success reflects the
outlook of one culture, and valuations against which millions are in revolt.

The second definition is based on the same error. When we ascribe happiness to a person we are
far from committing ourselves to the view that his state of mind results from success or
attainment. The cause is left open. It could be alcohol or a drug. Nor is there anything at all
unusual about speaking of the happiness of a child at play; yet none of the Oxford English
Dictionary¶s three definitions covers this important usage. Or imagine someone skiing down a
dangerous slope at breakneck speed, or perhaps climbing a difficult peak.

There are two different concepts of happiness, but the Oxford English Dictionary has got both of
them wrong by mistaking special cases for the whole. In the first sense, (1a) happiness is a state,
not necessarily conscious, that is desired. This definition makes the best sense of ³the pursuit of
happiness.´ Quite possibly, some of the signers of the Declaration of Independence meant to
assert the right to pursue prosperity and success, but it is more interesting and fruitful to reflect
on the pursuit of that state which one desires, and to remember that this need not be prosperity or

It may be objected that desire has no place in the definition of happiness because what is desired
may not actually bring contentment when it is attained. This happens so frequently that it may be
said to be typical, but it does not invalidate my definition. Consider the phrase ³not necessarily
conscious´: if the desired state should not be conscious, it cannot be accompanied by
contentment or a sense of happiness. If we defined happiness as a state desired in the having of
it, it would follow that Nirvana ± the cessation of desire ± could not be happiness. But the states I
wish to discuss include Nirvana, and it makes good sense to say that millions desire the cessation
of desire and that this is what happiness means to them. No doubt, one could define happiness in
this first sense somewhat differently, but I hope that my definition will turn out to be interesting
and fruitful. Let us call it formal, for short, because no particular content is specified, or
inclusive, because it allows for so many different conceptions of happiness.

In the second sense, (2a) happiness is a state of mind that is marked by pleasure and the absence
of all pain and discomfort. This conception is material and might also be called the narrow sense
of happiness. It might be objected that this definition goes too far in excluding all pain and
discomfort. Might it not suffice if the balance of pleasure over pain and discomfort was very
great? It is tempting to retort: How great? But it is clear in any case that happiness permits
degrees, and it seems reasonable to define happiness in terms of the extreme that can be
approximated more or less. Again, I cheerfully concede that slightly different definitions are
possible, but I hope that mine will be seen to be interesting and fruitful.

A great deal of confusion is due to the fact that so many people, including some writers on this
subject, fail to distinguish clearly between the formal and material senses and then come to
assume that happiness must consist in a state of mind that is marked by pleasure and the absence
of all pain and discomfort, and that this is the only state that man can possibly desire. This is
clearly wrong and shows an appalling lack of imagination as well as an astounding failure to
consult literature, psychology, and history. The happiness of mountain climbers and explorers,
Alexander, Caesar, crusaders, empire builders, captains of industry, and politicians who desire to
be President of the United States is clearly not a state devoid of all discomfort. Nor is the
happiness of lovers or of parenthood.

With this basic distinction in mind, let us see whether autonomy and happiness are compatible,
and begin with the narrow, material conception of happiness.

If the question is whether brief spans of happiness in the narrow sense are compatible with
autonomy, the answer is obviously yes. No matter how high a person¶s standards may be, there is
no reason to doubt that he can relax occasionally, if only briefly, without feeling any pain or
discomfort. He may see scenery of such extraordinary beauty that he temporarily feels nothing
but intense delight. Love, although over a period of time anything but a good prescription for
those who are in search of freedom from all suffering, also offers short spans of such happiness.
And there are many less intense examples ± an early morning walk, seeing a flower or a fine tree,
a drink of cold water, or biting into a crisp apple.

The question of whether always being happy in this way is compatible with autonomy is no
harder to answer. Not only have I shown in the last two chapters that the answer is no, but it
should be obvious that always being happy in this way is not compatible with being human. A
frontal lobotomy might bring one closer to this goal by relieving stress and sensitivity along with
intelligence, but in order never to feel any pain or discomfort one would have to be drugged
permanently and dehumanized completely.

Moreover, there would presumably be no pleasure left in such a state of nonmind. Pleasure
depends upon some contrast. The sudden ebbing away of intense pain after a shot of morphine or
Demerol is experienced as extreme bliss. If the pain that preceded the injection lasted very long
and was very severe, the relief may be enjoyed immensely for some time, but it lasts no longer
than the live perception of the contrast. Pleasure resembles the experience of warm and cold;
even as the same temperature may be experienced as warm or cold, depending on the
temperature experienced directly before, the same sensations may be experienced as pleasant or
unpleasant, depending on what went before. Hence a state of mind that is marked by pleasure
and the absence of all pain and discomfort cannot last.

Consider what is probably our first experience of pleasure: being fed. The pleasure depends on
the discomfort, if not pain, that preceded it. When the infant is hungry, the nipple spells pleasure.
When the infant is sated, it pushes the nipple away angrily. This primary experience of pleasure
is paradigmatic: what is pleasant by way of contrast becomes boring and unpleasant when there
is no contrast. Every theory of pleasure should take into account the phenomenon of boredom.

The third interpretation of the question as to whether autonomy and happiness are compatible is
more reasonable than the first two and makes the problem a little more difficult to solve. Is a life
dedicated to the maximizing of pleasure and the minimizing of pain and discomfort compatible
with autonomy? (We now no longer depend on the very stringent definition of happiness as
excluding all pain and discomfort.) The question could also be put this way: Are liberty and the
pursuit of happiness (in this sense) compatible?
Most Americans and probably also most Europeans take it for granted that they are, and not a
few fail to distinguish between our two concepts of happiness. But the pursuit of happiness in the
narrow sense is incompatible with freedom and autonomy.

Dostoevsky¶s Grand Inquisitor faced this question squarely. He argued that the freedom to make
fateful decisions breeds anxiety and makes for a great deal of worry and discomfort; he valued
happiness above autonomy; and he therefore argued in favor of what I call benevolent

Those who associate totalitarianism primarily with Stalin¶s and Hitler¶s malevolent
totalitarianism may consider this coinage a contradiction in terms. But it makes far better sense
to use the term neutrally for governments that insist on their right to regulate the people¶s lives
totally, and this is what the Inquisitor¶s argument is all about. My coinage also cuts through
many confused arguments about Plato. Some authors see him as a totalitarian, while others insist
that he was a decent man and therefore could not have been a totalitarian. Men in the latter camp
have even argued that since Plato was a decent man he must really have been a democrat. But he
was the first great proponent of benevolent totalitarianism and believed that the only way to
make the greatest possible number, if not actually everybody, as content and virtuous as they
were capable of being was to regulate men¶s lives totally.

Plato believed that men were radically unequal, that there were three very different types, and
that all three could attain contentment and virtue in his ideal state. The Grand Inquisitor, on the
other hand, insists that all men are basically equal, although some are more gifted than others,
and he suggests that the few who are more gifted should sacrifice their happiness for the
happiness of the greatest possible number. All men are so constituted, he argues, that freedom
brings them unhappiness, but some have to make decisions and renounce happiness for the good
of their fellow men.

Plato does not face the problem of the happiness or unhappiness of the decision-makers as
squarely and explicitly as the Grand Inquisitor does. In the Republic the philosopher-guardians
are not really decision-makers in the Grand Inquisitor¶s sense. They themselves are deceived in
the annual sex lottery, thinking that the selection of partners is random and left to chance when in
fact it is fixed and carefully planned to bring about the best breeding results. Those who do the
fixing are never discussed, but it is clear that they do not live with frightening decisions. At this
point Plato¶s moral rationalism is crucial. Those at the top do not really have to make decisions;
it is all a matter of seeing what is right, and the decisions about breeding follow from
mathematical ± really, astrological ± calculations.

While rejecting Plato¶s moral rationalism, one might tell the Grand Inquisitor¶s elite: There is
really no need for you to sacrifice your happiness; we have learned in the twentieth century how
decision-making can be assigned to committees in such a way that no individual has much
responsibility. Not only can matters be so arranged that nobody has much freedom to make
momentous decisions, but in politics and business: in bureaucracies and schools we have come
very close to attaining such a state, and where it has not been reached as yet we are coming
closer to it by the day.

Ironically, the ³radical´ demand for ³participation´ accelerates this movement. When heeded, it
results either in a proliferation of ever-larger committees or in decision-making by huge crowds
who have been harangued by several orators. Neither way is any individual called upon to make
momentous decisions. His options are reduced to voting with the majority or the minority, or
more rarely to voting for one of as many as perhaps half a dozen proposals. He is safe from any
frightening responsibility for what is done. Dread has been reduced drastically if it has not been
removed altogether. Hardly anyone is weighed down by a heavy sense of responsibility. Indeed,
the larger the crowd is, the more one is usually struck by the exuberant sense of irresponsibility.

The canon is sacrificed to a sense of community. Anxiety, alienation, and the new integrity
vanish. Pain ebbs away, and euphoria sets in.

At this point it may seem that the Grand Inquisitor, even though right that autonomy and
happiness in the narrow sense are incompatible, was wrong in supposing that the most gifted
must sacrifice their own happiness to ensure the greatest possible happiness of the greatest
possible number. Fateful decisions could be made without pain and discomfort. But to prove the
Inquisitor wrong, we should have to assume that decisions made this way over a period of time
would result in the greatest possible happiness of the greatest possible number. This assumption,
however, is clearly false. (See page 192).

Decisions can be made painlessly, without discomfort, worry, or exertion. But who would want
to entrust his sick child to a doctor who was known for making decisions in that fashion? Or who
would take his best friend who had come down with a strange disease that defied easy diagnosis
to a gathering of thousands of whom the great majority had no knowledge of medicine, and let
them vote on the diagnosis and the best procedure without even going to the trouble of
examining the patient and performing various tests? These two examples concern the welfare of
a single person, and yet we should not dream of settling for such methods. Oddly, when the
issues at stake affect the welfare and quite literally the lives, the liberties, and the pursuit of
happiness of very large numbers of people, millions find no fault with such procedures.

The comparison with the physician goes back all the way to Plato, but as put here it does not
entail authoritarianism or benevolent totalitarianism. I do not share Plato¶s moral rationalism; I
do not believe that a few men and women have the gift of seeing what is right, and it is the whole
thrust of my analysis to show how difficult it is to make fateful decisions in a responsible

Those who wish to escape as far as possible from pain and discomfort will try to avoid alienation
and seek membership in a community that makes it unnecessary to face fateful and terrifying
decisions all alone; they will opt for some of the strategies of decidophobia rather than the new
integrity. Thus the pursuit of happiness in the narrow sense is incompatible with autonomy.


This is not all that needs to be said against the pursuit of happiness in the narrow sense. Consider
Nietzsche¶s ³last men´ in the Prologue to Zarathustra: ³µWe have invented happiness,¶ say the
last men. . . One still loves one¶s neighbor and rubs against him, for one needs warmth . . . . No
shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels
different goes voluntarily into a madhouse´ ± or at least to a psychiatrist.

Nietzsche does not stand alone in his contempt for such contentment. Millions, including some
who admire Nietzsche, some who have never heard of him, and some who lived long before
Zarathustra was written, share this contempt. In this they are at one with men as different as
Socrates and Caesar, Beethoven and Goethe, and most of the famous generals, statesmen,
philosophers, artists, poets, novelists, explorers, and discoverers whose lives continue to
fascinate more ordinary men. This fascination suggests that the differences among people are
less radical than some writers suppose.

Insofar as there are two kinds of people, there are those who have given up, who have thrown in
the sponge µand now live vicariously, by proxy, the lives they really desired to live in the first
place; and there are those who have not abandoned hope. But it would be false to suppose that
the first type lived in despair, the second in hope. There may actually be more hope in the first
camp, particularly if we include hope deferred ± hope for some radical change after death, for
example. Despair is to be found in both camps; among ordinary people it is chronic but covered
by a thin crust of contentment; among the others it flares up occasionally with immense power,
alternating with eruptions of no less intense joy. By contrasting drab existences, devoid of
passion, with the lives of those who live dangerously, one can gain the false impression that there
are two types of people and almost two breeds. But in fact there is a continuum, and millions live
far from both extremes.

The contentment of the conformists is mixed liberally with frustration and resentment and the
sense that one has failed to get what one desired most. Having settled for second best ± or more
nearly tenth best ± one can admire from a distance some of those who have lived freer lives,
while one detests nonconformists near at hand. Socrates was a great man ± as long as more than
twenty centuries lie between him and us. At that safe distance one can even speak well of the

The resentment people feel against nonconformists gives expression to a deep frustration, a
profound resentment of one¶s own existence, and a cancerous discontent. Basically, the attitude
is that of the woman who said to King Solomon, ³Cut the child in half.´ If I can¶t have a live
child, why should she? If I had to settle for conformity, why shouldn¶t they?

It does not follow that the nonconformist has a free and open nature and is generous. On the
contrary, most nonconformists bristle with resentment, and more often than not today¶s
nonconformist is tomorrow¶s conformist and comes to feel that if he did not make it there is no
good reason why somebody else should. For that matter, the great majority of so-called
nonconformists are in fact conformists who have merely cast their lot with a smaller group.

Even the joys of a truly free life that is not mired in conformity are usually mixed with a great
deal of frustration and frequent self-doubt ± and occasionally with resentment of conformists
who seem so damnably content.

The dualists who would divide humanity into two camps are wrong. As usual, we are confronted
with a continuum. For certain purposes it may be useful to contrast two types, but we should
keep in mind that there are many types, and that people have a great deal in common.

Cloudless contentment is not open to man, and if he trades his freedom and integrity for it, the
time will come when he feels cheated. This does not mean that he will openly regret the bargain.
Most people have failed to cultivate their critical perception of their own present position and of
the alternatives they might have chosen; precisely this is the trade they made; this is what they
gave up for comfort and contentment. Now they feel cheated without knowing how and when
and why. What they feel is a diffuse and free-floating resentment in search of an object.

Having given up autonomy for happiness, they have missed out on both. This strategy does not
work. Merely renouncing freedom does not spell the end of all frustration and all discontent; to
achieve that aim one must also deprive people of much of their human potential. Hence the
strategy considered here is often supplemented with alcohol, tranquilizers, or other drugs; but
what people find is merely relief, not lasting happiness.

It will be noted that my critique did not depend on the stringent definition of happiness in the
narrow sense as excluding all discomfort and pain: I have also dealt with the concern to
minimize pain and discomfort. But as we now turn to consider happiness in the formal or
inclusive sense ± as a state, not necessarily conscious, that is desired ± we must recall once more
the paradox that it is possible to say, ³This is what happiness means to me,´ and then not to be
happy when we are in that state. Not only is this possible, but it is a very common experience.

It may therefore seem that a state that is desired and that is thought to be happiness need not
really be happiness. If so, my definition (la) would be faulty. But what does it mean to say that it
is not really happiness? If it merely means that on being attained it is no longer desired, I have
already answered that objection by pointing out that if it were sustained, then the cessation of
desire as well as unconscious states would be disqualified. But what I want is a wide enough
definition of happiness to include Nirvana, which strikes me as one of the most interesting
conceptions of happiness.

Next, it might be claimed that what is thought to be happiness is not really happiness if, once the
state is attained, one still feels discomfort and pain. But anyone who would argue that way would
have slipped back into the narrow definition of happiness ± as if pain and discomfort could not
be ingredients of happiness. My answer to the first objection shows why we should not make
satisfaction a necessary condition of happiness, and my answer to the second objection shows
why we must not make the absence of dissatisfaction a necessary condition of happiness.

What, then, is the meaning of these final reflections on happiness in the narrow sense? I have
tried to show how those who renounce autonomy for happiness miss out on both. In what sense
can they be said to miss out on happiness? Did they not obtain the state that they desired? If they
did, then they attained happiness in the inclusive sense. But it was the whole point of those final
reflections that they did not. The state they attained was not the state they desired but was riddled
with pain and discomfort. Thus a life dedicated to the pursuit of happiness in the narrow,
hedonistic sense is open not only to external criticism but also to internal criticism.


What about happiness in the formal or inclusive sense? Is that compatible with autonomy? It all
depends on how happiness is conceived. One could even say: The state I desire is autonomy; for
me happiness consists of being that kind of a person, or perhaps, for me happiness is the pursuit
of the new integrity. While this is right as far as it goes, it is worthwhile to consider, in
conclusion, two or three other conceptions of happiness that are also compatible with autonomy
and the new integrity.

The autonomous life is demanding and requires one to stand alone at crucial moments, but this
does not mean that one¶s life has to be miserable. Not only might one seek one¶s happiness in a
strenuous life, but autonomy is compatible with ways of life that large numbers of admirable
people have desired in the past and still desire.
Realizing that the narrow, hedonistic conception of happiness is flawed, that those who pursue it
do not find it, and that the states people desire are so often disappointing when they are attained,
some of the greatest sages have preached Nirvana. Even before the Buddha, Nirvana was taught
by Hindu and Jain teachers. Both the word and the idea come from India but have spread to
Ceylon and the East from there, and since the time of Schopenhauer and romanticism they have
gradually entered the consciousness of Europe and America, as well. What seemed a specifically
Asian ideal at one time came to appeal to millions of Europeans after World War I and to a great
many Americans since World War II. Even if one has no wish to catalogue and analyze large
numbers of different conceptions of happiness, Nirvana needs to be considered.

The word is Sanskrit and means extinction. What is meant is extinction of consciousness, but
some teachers have said that Nirvana is bliss unspeakable. Hence there are two schools of
thought, one defining Nirvana in the first way, the other in the second, and it is widely believed
that the two interpretations are mutually incompatible. This unempirical approach comes
nowhere near understanding what Nirvana is all about. Both definitions are correct and quite
compatible. To see this, one must reflect on concrete experiences and not merely on rival

Imagine yourself in terrible pain. After two days of excruciating torment, a physician gives you a
shot of morphine. Gradually the pains diminish, consciousness ebbs away, and the approaching
extinction of consciousness is felt to be bliss unspeakable.

Plato argued in The Republic that in such cases we encounter only an illusion of pleasure or
bliss. He had heard of ³men afflicted with severe pain saying that there is no greater pleasure
than the cessation of this suffering,´ but he argued that the quietude that is free from both
positive delight and painful sensations may be experienced as pleasurable when it is preceded by
great pain and as painful when it is preceded by great pleasure. This is a variant of a point I have
made earlier in trying to show how the experience of pleasure depends on some contrast. But
neither Plato¶s point nor my own invalidates my argument about Nirvana. Obviously, the
extinction of consciousness precludes any sensation of pleasure and it rules out the interpretation
of ³bliss unspeakable´ in terms of the narrow, hedonistic conception of happiness, which we left
behind some time ago. Our concern now is with the extinction of consciousness as a state that is
desired or, in Hamlet¶s words, ³a consummation devoutly to be wish¶d.´

Plato might still object that in the midst of keen pleasure the extinction of consciousness will not
be seen as ³bliss unspeakable´ or as ³a consummation devoutly to be wish¶d.´ But that is surely
elementary, and apart from that point one simply cannot begin to understand Nirvana. One must
first of all experience life as wretchedness and misery and suffering. As long as pain is seen as an
untoward accident, and suffering as an inconvenient and infrequent interruption ± and this is still
the rule among Americans and Europeans ± one is not ready for the teaching of Nirvana. Hence
it was the Buddha¶s first concern to teach what he called the first of the four Noble Truths: the
universality of suffering. Old age, sickness, and death are not accidents but define the character
of human life. It is pleasure that is an occasional interruption; what lasts is suffering. And the
only¶ enduring happiness is Nirvana ± the unspeakable bliss of the¶ extinction of consciousness.

The cause of suffering is, in the last analysis, desire or attachment. The death of others need not
grieve us if we are not attached to them; the prospect of our own death need not grieve us if we
are not attached to life; ingratitude need not grieve us if we do not desire gratitude; loss of
possessions need not cause suffering to those who are not attached to possessions; and loss of
one¶s youth and health need not grieve those who are not attached to youth and health. Hence
those who learn detachment and extinction of desire will experience the cessation of suffering.
According to the Buddha, this noble goal was not to be reached in an instant through an act of
grace; it could be reached only by following the noble eightfold path: right views, right thought,
right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.
Neither the life style of hedonism nor the rigors of strict asceticism would do; what was called
for was this noble ³middle´ path: a careful regimen of self-control, a life oriented entirely toward
the extinction of desire, diligent cultivation of detachment.

Still, this pursuit of happiness is not devoid of all emotion. Approaching bliss unspeakable by
virtue of one¶s own exertions is no mean feat. One has engaged in combat against all the terrors
of the world and now, by dint of one¶s indomitable self-discipline, one prevails. This sense of
triumph has found classical expression in the ancient story of the Buddha¶s temptation. When
Mara, the tempter, sought to dissuade him from entering Nirvana and offered him rule over all
the continents and their attending isles, the Buddha spurned the offer, saying that he was about to
make the ten thousand worlds tremble as he attained enlightenment. What a petty thing is
worldly power, even if it encompassed all the continents, compared to this triumph over ten
thousand worlds!

This truly noble idea of happiness is compatible with the new integrity. It need not involve any
self-deception; it is compatible with the canon, and it does not commit one to any of the
strategies of decidophobia. This last point requires some elaboration. Does it not commit one to
religion, to joining a movement, to belonging to a school of thought, and perhaps even to
exegetical thinking? Clearly, the quest for Nirvana is no warrant of integrity.

Some join a religion or a movement for the sake of fellowship, to escape from intolerable
isolation, and pay the price of not applying the canon to the basic tenets of the group. Some go
into a Zen monastery and submit completely to the master¶s authority, hoping to find
enlightenment that way. Not only do they fail to question the master¶s words, they cultivate
mistrust of reason and make a virtue of uncritical obedience. Obviously, many who are looking
for Nirvana have given up the quest for the new integrity. But the conception of happiness as
Nirvana does not require one to do that.

The Buddha himself resisted nine of the ten strategies of decidophobia, but not moral
rationalism. He taught that rational reflection showed clearly that his goal and his path to it were
right. But the quest for Nirvana does not entail moral rationalism; this quest is compatible with


The great alternative to Nirvana is the creative life. Nirvana is negative freedom, freedom from;
the creative life is positive freedom, freedom to.

The creative life involves alienation from others and from society. This alienation will
sometimes be experienced as acutely painful, but when one is creative that price does not seem
too steep. When one¶s creative powers flag and one is dissatisfied with one¶s own work, it may
not seem worth it. At such times, when one is not creative, one may actually envy those who live
a very different kind of life, endow them with a bliss they do not feel, and thus deceive oneself.
But when one is creative, one would not change places with anyone ± except possibly one who is
more creative.

The creative life is obviously compatible with a lack of integrity. There is no striking correlation
between creativity and a keen intellectual conscience. Creative men and women are not
necessarily particularly partial to the canon. But any notion that creative artists and writers must
be lacking in the new integrity is false. It is a romantic prejudice that a highly developed reason
and a critical intelligence are not compatible with the creation of great art. Among the ancients
Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides give the lie to this legend; among the modems it may
suffice to recall Leonardo and Goethe.

Each of these men was endowed with extraordinary intellectual powers and put them to use in
his creative work. Indeed, the three tragic poets of Athens contributed as much to the rise of
Western philosophy as did the so-called pre-Socratics. More than anyone before him, Aeschylus
reflected critically on moral problems, considering at length what spoke for and against opposing
views, and Euripides took another large step in the direction of the canon.

Such great names may suggest that the creative life is open only to a few. If so, most people
would have to settle for another kind of happiness. This Manichaean assumption that there are
two kinds of people ± a small creative elite and a vast uncreative majority ± does incalculable
harm. It leads millions either to settle for the kind of life in which eventually they feel frustrated,
cheated, and resentful, or to long for Nirvana.
There are degrees of creativity. Being no Michelangelo or Mozart does not condemn one to be
uncreative. I shall try to show that all people really desire to be creative, but that is an ambitious
claim, and if I should not succeed in establishing that, this conception of happiness would still
rate inclusion here. It has to be discussed to round out my account of decidophobia, liberation
from guilt, and alienation.

Any claim that something is ³really desired´ raises serious problems, but I can define that
phrase. A child that is naughty while his mother entertains guests can be said to ³really desire´
her attention even if, on being asked, the child rejects the mere suggestion with the utmost scorn
and says: I hate my mother. What is meant is that he would not have been so naughty if he had
had his mother¶s attention; that the naughtiness was prompted by frustration; and that, while it
may be too late now, the mother might be able to verify the suggestion when a similar occasion
arises in the future.

The point about the creative life is precisely the same. Insofar as people do not lead creative
lives, they feel frustrated, and one typical reaction is resentment that may issue in aggressive
behavior (naughtiness). Once that point is reached, it may be too late to suggest that what is
really wanted is a creative life; this claim may be met with scorn and hatred. But it has to be
tested not against what people say once they feel frustrated but against people¶s behavior when
they do and when they do not lead creative lives.

The creative life is no panacea. Neither is a mother¶s attention. The thesis that all people desire
something does not imply that this is all they desire. A child that has his mother¶s attention but
no opportunity to engage in creative activities will feel frustrated and miserable. So will a
creative child who lives with a mother who gives him no attention. And a child who is creative
and has his mother¶s attention may still be miserable in spite of that if he does not have enough
to eat, or if he cannot keep warm in the winter, or if he has a sadistic father or a cruel older sister.

It is naïve to suppose that only one thing is needfuL Men desire and need many things, and
creativity is merely one of these, but ³the creative life´ is a phrase that covers more than one
thing. To live a creative life one needs a great many things, including food and some security
and, depending on one¶s talents, usually also some utensils. The question remains whether all
people really desire such a life.


The most important single piece of evidence is play. All over the world children play. And while
it is difficult to define play (see Johan Huizinga¶s splendid book Homo Ludens), it is of the
essence of play that it is creative.
As children grow older, they play games that, more often than not, involve a ritual with rules, but
within these rules there is room for originality. Chess is a fine example. But the most remarkable
evidence for the creativity of all people comes much earlier in life and involves less structured

A little girl playing with dolls is a playwright, stage designer, and director, an actress who may
playas many roles as she pleases, improvising to her heart¶s content, and she can begin and end
performances whenever she feels like it. She can invent new characters at any point ± indeed,
create them out of nothing, along with any props that strike her fancy. The promise of the serpent
has come true for her: she is ³as gods.´

The dolls are incidental. Children create a world ex nihilo and after a few minutes, when they
have grown tired of it, they consign it back to nothingness. They people these worlds with real
and imaginary persons, beasts, and props, mixing reality and fantasy according to their whims.
That is how grandly we start out in life!

It has been said that memory yields to pride, and we forget the shameful things that we have
done. It has also been suggested that children are often ashamed of their lowly origins and invent
noble parents for themselves. But here we witness almost the opposite of both claims. It is so
humiliating that we have fallen so low from such noble beginnings that pride makes us forget
how we were once omnipotent creators. For centuries this whole period of life was almost totally
forgotten. Nobody gave any thought to it, even if he wrote the story of his own life, which
scarcely anybody ever did. But even now each one of us tends to forget how creative he was as a
small child. It would be too embarrassing to realize how uncreative our lives have become since.

If memory supported my description, and that were all the evidence I had, my case would be
weaker than it is in fact, for the reliability of memory might then be questioned. But the evidence
is available here and now, every day. We only need to observe children.

What children create usually does not last. But that is immaterial. Creativity is not tied to
monuments that defy centuries. Certainly, people do not need to be creative in such a grand
manner. The creativity of which I speak is much closer to children¶s play. Yet there is a
continuum between the little girl with her dolls and Shakespeare.

Shakespeare took no care to see that his plays would last. He took some trouble over the printing
of two long poems, but none over the printing of his plays. In his day, plays were not considered
literature, and when his friend Ben Jonson, just a little later, published his own plays as ³Works´
this was considered odd. Yet Shakespeare put far more into his tragedies than even people with
rare powers of understanding could get out of seeing a performance or two. Moreover, his plays
were often too long to be staged uncut. He made his living writing plays, but more importantly
he wrote to please himself.

Similar examples abound: paintings in tombs that were sealed when the job was done; sculptures
in inaccessible high places. Performing artists who lived before the invention of phonographs,
tape recorders, and motion pictures furnish an even more obvious example. They were creative,
but even the most famous artists among them did not create anything that endured. The
continuum between the child and Shakespeare is crucial for my thesis. Once again I am rejecting
a bifurcation of mankind. But for all I have shown so far, the possibility remains that the need to
be creative is a childish need that most people manage to outgrow without regrets. The time has
come to focus on another form of alienation: how exactly do people lose their creativity?

The most popular answer is that there must be a villain who takes it away ± say, ³the corporate
state´ or ³advanced industrial society.´ If that were true, those living before this blight, and those
who still live outside it, should retain their creativity. This being false on both counts, the
answers clearly are false, too. The problem is universal.

Spontaneity and originality involve nonconformity and make for social problems. Societies
socialize their children, teach them discipline, inhibit their spontaneity, and make them do things
the way they are supposed to be done. In Western societies this is done quite systematically in
school. Originality is curbed, and the way is substituted for a multitude of different ways.

If every child developed its own way of writing, ranging from pictographs and hieroglyphs to
characters with a vaguely Chinese look and all sorts of diverse alphabets, writing would not
serve its purpose of communication, and society would break down. Everybody who learns to
write must learn the same script and must learn to read it, too, and the obvious way to
accomplish that is to teach many children at the same time. But that means that the child who
feels like drawing at that moment, or feels like painting, or like playing with dolls, digging in the
dirt, running around, climbing a tree, or chasing butterflies is told to stop it and sit down with all
the rest.

This is only the beginning. The more one learns, the more is one subjected to all kinds of
discipline. But the essence of discipline is that spontaneity and originality are inhibited. A
dialectical, non-Manichaean thinker will not jump to the conclusion that discipline is therefore
bad, and that we should be better off without it. Communication and social life depend on it, and
so does the development of traditions. Without communication, social life, and traditions, we
should remain on the level of the brutes. We should remain incapable of those activities that the
word ³creative´ brings to mind first of all. Composers and playwrights, painters and sculptors,
poets and architects, as well as the dance depend on communication, social life, and traditions. It
always requires training to master a discipline. One has to renounce originality at one level in
order to get it back with interest at a higher level.

Romantic opponents of all alienation may not believe this, even if they ay lip service to dialectic.
Some people still dream of noble savages living in paradise without paying any price for their
bliss. But in preindustrial societies, even on lush tropical islands, one encounters a fantastic
amount of discipline and scarcely any possibility of nonconformity. Creativity is channeled
rigorously into ritual. Those who share Marx¶s dream of rearing cattle in the evening before
dinner are struck by the way in which lovely dances are woven into life and ignore the fact that
these dances are meticulously prescribed by tradition and require years of training.

If every child learned in the end to be as original with a mere three actors or four instruments as
Sophocles and Beethoven were, our problem would not arise. But most children are squelched,
by no means only in advanced industrial societies. As they grow up, more and more of their time
is spent doing what ³one´ does. And then they live by proxy in the evening ± reading, watching,
listening. What they watch depends on their society. It may be dances or rituals, cockfights or
spectator sports, motion pictures or television.

Even then they do not cease to be ³as gods´ ± at night. In their dreams they still create worlds out
of nothing, people them with real and imaginary persons, resurrect the dead, and fashion plots
that put to shame most novelists and playwrights. But as soon as they awake, pride makes them
forget how recently they were omnipotent creators.

One does not paint the pictures of one¶s dreams; one does not put on paper the stories one
created in one¶s sleep: one is convinced that one lacks the creative genius to do any such thing,
and one quickly forgets one¶s dreams. But if you keep a person from dreaming by always
awakening him when he is about to dream ± and this is possible and has been done ± he has a
breakdown. No doubt, this is so in part because dreaming is a way of coping with all sorts of
difficult experiences. But my hypothesis takes this point into account without stopping there: all
people need to be creative.

The other two conceptions of happiness considered here are not what people really desire most;
they are substitutes, goals one settles for faute de mieux. What people really desire most is to live
creative lives. This, in spite of all the pain and discomfort involved in such a life, is preferred to
both of the other goals. It is only when people come to feel that a creative life is beyond their
means, that they have not got what it takes, or that the cards are stacked against them or perhaps
against all men that they give up and settle for the life of Nietzsche¶s ³last men´ or for Nirvana.
I realize that I have not proved that everyone really wants to live a creative life, nor do I see how
this could be proved. But it should at least be clear that this kind of life is very widely and deeply
desired and that it is compatible with the new integrity.


Unfortunately, the picture painted here is a little too bright. The creative writer or artist may be a
voyeur who contemplates imaginary scenes, without the courage to act in real life. He may be a
decidophobe who consoles himself with his freedom of invention and his power to choose
words. He may have discovered a game in which his autonomy is untrammeled; now he devotes
as much of his time as he can to that; but whenever the game stops, he is ± uncreative.

He finds his happiness in his creative life, but would be happier if he were more creative ± if he
had the courage and the skill to bring some spontaneity and some originality into his daily life
and his relationships to others. For creativity is not encountered in the arts only but also in the
dimension of human relationships and in the practice of the new integrity. We have noted how
the new integrity involves autonomy: making decisions for oneself ± especially those decisions
that mold our character and future. Thus the autonomous human being makes himself and gives
shape to his life. He not only considers alternatives that others present to him, but he uses his
imagination like a novelist or dramatist to think up possibilities.

It is wrong to suppose that there are two types of people, the creative and the uncreative. Even
the suggestion that we should thin in terms of degrees is too crude because it may be taken to
imply that people can be ranked on a single scale. The example of ay, and perhaps also that of
dreams, may help to remind us that we are all born with a creative capacity, and that few indeed
manage to maintain and develop it both in their lives and in some of the arts, like Goethe. Some
people are squelched in real life and are creative only as writers; others infuse some spontaneity
and some originality into their lives. Large numbers, of course, lead rather uncreative lives, have
routine jobs, and spend their spare time passively.

Play is also a helpful example because the life of the little girl who, when playing, is ³as gods,´
is anything but autonomous. Others decide for her where she is to live, with whom, and even
what to wear and what to eat, and when to go to bed. She is autonomous only at play.

Parents, teachers, and societies find children much easier to live with if they can be made
predictable and less spontaneous and original. Society nurtures decidophobia and makes people
more, not less, afraid of autonomy. Obtuse disciplinarians squelch creativity. But those who
therefore inveigh against discipline overlook the fact that without it no sustained creativity is
possible and no one can find satisfaction in his work.
Those who deplore all alienation or all discipline and over-praise community and spontaneity
erode the ethos on which creativity depends. Originality consists of being different and alienates
the creative person from his fellow men. But creativity also provides a way of coping with this

It is by no means only at the elementary levels of education that creativity is squelched. The
same process continues through adult life ± even in colleges and universities, which would seem
to be more hospitable to a creative life than most institutions. Among scholars we find some
creativity, but on the whole disappointingly little. Most professors are inhibited by Weber¶s
Fallacy. This fallacy is encountered among legions who have never read Max Weber, but it
seems fair to name it after the man who offered the best formulation of it instead of merely
committing it in silence like millions of others. (In fact, his practice was better than his

Max Weber, the greatest sociologist of our century, not only wrote about the Protestant ethic but
also perpetuated it in his immensely influential lecture, ³Scholarship as a Profession.´ He put the
point succinctly:













Weber had a commendable sense for the misery of life. His appeal here is plainly to
autosuggestion: scholarship as the opiate of the intellectuals, or how to transport yourself into
self-deception. Only a few pages after ³endure´ and ³definitive´ we are told: ³Everyone of us
who is engaged in scholarship knows that the results of his¶ labors are dated within ten, twenty,
fifty years.´ In between these two contradictory passages, Weber inveighed against the twin
³idols´ of personality and experience of life, insisted that in scholarly life there is no room for
either ± and that even in art there is no room for personality. It would be difficult to push further
what Weber himself, in his analysis of the Protestant ethic, called ³innerworldly asceticism.´
Here self-denial is carried to the absurd.

The works of Thucydides and Gibbon were not dated ³within ten, twenty, fifty years.´ For they
did not abide by the modern academic ethos of merely making ³contributions.´ Any facts they
might have been the first to notice or infer could be, and have been, incorporated in more up-to-
date accounts, and yet these men do survive not only in some scattered footnote credits. Their
works reflect the authors¶ personalities and experience of life, and do not carefully avoid all
normative judgments. They are models of creative scholarship.

The great philosophers also did not commit Weber¶s Fallacy. Their works had style and
approached the condition of art. Nor can a perceptive reader fail to find in them the record of a
highly individual experience of life. But philosophers, historians, and other scholars are not
either totally creative or totally uncreative. There are all sorts of gradations and varieties. What
matters is that the new integrity is quite compatible with the creative life. Indeed, it involves
some creativity.

I have argued that all people really desire a creative life and that it is only when they come to feel
that this is beyond their reach that they settle for Nirvana or for the hedonistic life. Suppose that
this ambitious thesis did not stand up. I have conceded from the start that creativity is only one of
the things people want. Now suppose that it were a fact that some people need very little of it ±
hardly more than comes to the fore in their dreams. What if that were so?

It would be a great pity, I think, but it would not affect any of the arguments in this book, except
for this one bold thesis that would then be wrong. The following claims would still stand: Those
who opt for the new integrity must countenance alienation; they have to master the fear of
freedom; but they need not live wretched lives, devoid of happiness. They can live creative lives
and find solace in their work.

If they have all four of the cardinal virtues, they will need such solace, for not only honesty
entails some suffering; the other three virtues also entail discomfort and pain. In the case of
courage, ³entail´ may be too strong a word, inasmuch as a bold person may be very lucky. But
the odds are, of course, that anyone who keeps taking great risks will sometimes get hurt badly.
Humbition precludes self-satisfaction, smugness, and complacency, which means in practice that
one is always self-critical. Even when one feels that something one has done is good, an inner
voice speaks up: So what? Love, finally, involves sharing the plights of others. Thus the lives of
those who are morally admirable are hard, and they need some solace.


Now suppose that some men and women do not find solace in creative work. Or rather, they do
find happiness while they are creative, but they cannot sustain their creativity. It comes in spurts,
not in a steady stream, and between the peaks there are vast valleys of despair. What then?

There seems to be another, less romantic road to happiness. It can be found through work of
which one can honestly believe that doing it well stands some chance of making the world a little
better ± work that is worth doing well because it benefits humanity. Does this life of service
constitute a fourth conception of happiness ± an alternative to hedonism, Nirvana, and the
creative life? I prefer to think of it in conjunction with the creative life. For an uncreative life of
service would not be autonomous but self-destructive or at best a drug. But work of this kind can
be creative, and moreover it can be combined with a life that is creative in the more ordinary
sense of that word: one can serve others between creative spurts.

The most obvious way of combining creativity and service is by also teaching. That is what
painters and sculptors did in the past, and what many scholars, as well as artists and writers, are
doing today at colleges and universities. It is not true, as has sometimes been claimed, that those
who are free must, by some logical necessity, work for the freedom of their fellow men. One can
be autonomous and lack love. But neither autonomy alone nor love alone is likely to bring
happiness. The four cardinal virtues form an organic unity, and the life in which all four are
developed will be a rich and full life. It will not be free of moral conflicts, dull, bland, or
monotone, but rather the kind one likes to read about: not easy, but enviable.
Of course, the case for the life of service does not depend solely on this a peal to the agent¶s
happiness. The life of service is love in action But love is by no means wholly extraneous to the
other cardinal virtues. Even the seemingly individualistic part of my ethic provides reasons for
not hating or detesting any human being and for always being mindful that even those who have
grievous faults are, in the words of Moses, ³as yourself.´

First, it is difficult to find our own faults; they are much easier to find in others. If we always
make excuses and end up by not considering them faults, we become lax with ourselves. But if
we hate or detest as inhuman those who have these faults, then we are almost bound to overlook
the same faults in ourselves because we fail to see the continuity between ³us´ and ³them.´
Hence it is essential for our moral health to see those who offend us in their full humanity while
at the same time judging their faults clearly. Humbition says: Judge others and remember that
they are ³as yourself.´

Second, our ideas and ³truths´ ± especially in faith, morals, and politics ± have an inveterate
tendency to be onesided. Even a staunch commitment to the new integrity cannot remedy this
fault entirely unless we go out of our way to consider ± with an effort at sympathy ± the views of
those whom we feel tempted to detest. Without suspending our critical faculties, we must keep
asking ourselves how human beings not essentially unlike ourselves have come to see things so

The new integrity rules out blind love and admiration, but also blind hatred. It often keeps us
from agreeing with those we love and admire ± and from loving or admiring those with whom
we agree. But it precludes not only Manichaeism but also a self-centered attitude.
I have shown how the new integrity spells alienation. Yet it is not compatible with indifference
to our fellow men. There is no better way to discover objections and alternatives than exposure
to the views of others, including people of the opposite sex and of radically different


One cannot specify how much service ³justice requires.´ But it would be foolish to think of
service to others as a price one has to pay or as an interruption in creative work. Some kinds of
service, of course, are felt to be radically uncongenial, and an autonomous individual will want
to choose his own way. But in order to choose wisely he should put aside the notion that the path
to creative autonomy is straight. Solzhenitsyn spent three and a half years in the Russian army,
during World War II, followed by eight years in concentration camps ± and then exile,
interrupted by two spells in a cancer ward. No doubt, books can help liberate people:
Solzhenitsyn¶s novels, for example; Tolstoy¶s Anna Karenina; Goethe and Euripides; and even
some philosophers. But I doubt that books and study alone suffice.

Some existentialists have suggested that the mark of authenticity is the ability to face up to one¶s
own dread of death. But all their tedious talk of dread and death has not made them authentic. I
have argued in The Faith of a Heretic that the dread of death is not universal and, in effect, that
an autonomous individual will not fear death. Nor need the road to autonomy lead through such
fear. What makes people inauthentic (and what makes their talk of food and clothes and petty
failures and successes so utterly pathetic) is not that they have forgotten that they must die before
long. It is that they have forgotten that they are survivors.

Thinking only of oneself can never generate an ethic; nor will it ever lead to autonomy. Neither
dread nor courage in the face of death need keep anyone from seeking trivial satisfactions in his
final days or years. What makes such pursuits seem inappropriate, if not outrageous, is a vivid
sense that one is a survivor. What is needed is some sense of solidarity with others ± not
necessarily or even usually all others, but some. My reflections on the case of the survivor will
be found at the center of this book, but this theme is introduced on the dedication page.
Solzhenitsyn¶s unique moral force is inseparable from the fact that he has never forgotten that he
is a survivor. In his novels he has given voice to the experiences of those who did not survive,
and in his public statements, most obviously in his Nobel Lecture, he has spoken quite explicitly
s a survivor.

Of course, it is possible to be creative without having had this kind of experience. Tolstoy had it
and described in Anna Karenina how his brother¶s death became a turning point in his life. I have
shown earlier how most of the major modern philosophers lost one or both parents in childhood.
We are all survivors, but it is possible to be creative without ever taking in this fact.
Autonomy is different. One cannot become autonomous and make with open eyes the decisions
that mold one¶s character and future while shutting one¶s eyes to the fact that one is a survivor. If
the alternatives were laid out before us like so many distributive shares, being a survivor would
be totally irrelevant. But fateful choices are not like that. Life does not lead us into a bakery shop
as if we were children, telling us to choose one piece of cake. As long as you confine your
choices to the alternatives that are presented to you in a given framework and do not think of
questioning the framework itself, considering alternatives to that, you are not liberated.

The fateful choice is not simply between marrying X or Y, it being understood that you have to
marry one of them. It includes the possibility of not getting married at all, or not yet, or perhaps
to Z. The fateful decision is not limited to going to this school or that. There are countless other
schools and ways of life. And there is always the option of ending one¶s life. One can make lists,
and that may help, especially when the choice is not a fateful one. But autonomy faces up not
merely to bloodless, disembodied alternatives that one thinks up. Some of the most haunting
alternatives have human shapes, and not all of these come out of books. Some we have known in
the flesh, and not all of them are living any more. It is usually the dead that are most persistent.
And typically it is only the death of someone very close to us that liberates us from the
framework that we had taken for granted, exploding the status quo and leading us to see radical

Caring for others, then, is far from being totally extraneous to autonomy, and the life of service
must not be thought of as interrupting what matters most. The implications for education should
be obvious. As long as study is artificially isolated from service and from the work with which
one earns a living, work and service will also be severed from study ± and when the years of
study are over, one¶s education will come to an end. But if work and study, creativity and service
intertwine during the formative years of education, then study and creativity will not come to an
end when a person leaves school. Some types of education favor the development of integrity
and creativity more than others. But creative autonomy is not acquired through study alone. It is
forged in hell.


Liberation involves a bitter knowledge of solitude, failure, and despair, but also the sense of
triumph that one feels when standing, unsupported, on forbidding peaks, seeing the unseen.
Those who try to ease the boredom of their sheltered lives by reading tales or seeing films that
tell of men and women who lived richer lives may still seek comfort in the thought that the price
of liberation is too high. One used to tell one¶s children that autonomy was wicked; now it is
considered much too risky.
The image of the two ways in the Sermon on the Mount is suggestive. I cannot accept the
Manichaean and inhuman idea that the many who follow the easy way are going to eternal
torment while the few are saved; nor can I admire those who, believing this, see to their own
salvation, unconcerned about the many, if not actually looking forward to beholding the torments
of the damned. But what of these words? ³Strait is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life,
and few find it.´ Those who have found autonomy have been few indeed, but for an intelligent
and well-read person today there are fewer excuses than there have ever been.

Some social conditions facilitate the development of autonomy, others inhibit it. Solzhenitsyn, to
be sure, attained it under Stalin¶s regime, in the camps, but the odds are overwhelmingly against
such triumphs, for they require not only extraordinary strength of character but also a great deal
of luck. After all, every attempt was made t root out signs of budding autonomy and to kill those
who gave promise of attaining it. To cite Solzhenitsyn¶s Nobel Lecture: ³Those who fell into that
abyss who already had made a name in literature are at least known to us ± but how many whom
we do not know, never once were published! And so very few, almost no one, managed to
survive and return. A whole national literature remained behind . . .´

Autonomy involves reflection on alternatives. It requires a sustained effort to liberate oneself

from the cultural determination that sticks to youth as eggshell does to a young bird. In this fight
for liberation nothing helps more than reading and discussion. What is needed is exposure to
different views ± not merely to one ³devil¶s advocate´ but to a genuine variety of points of view
and of ways of experiencing the world. What is needed is not only a free flow of ideas but also
some feeling for the less fortunate, some feeling for those who did not and those who still do not
enjoy the privileges that we tend to take for granted. What is needed is not only comparative
religion and philosophy but also history and, above all, world literature.

An ethic that includes love, but not justice, among the cardinal virtues is apt to be considered
Christian. Mine is not. In the first place, the notion that Christianity transcended justice is simply
false: witness the belief in retribution after death. Then, what is distinctive in my ethic is
humbition and the new integrity, as well as the detailed critique of justice. Finally, the concept of
autonomy is anti-Christian, and in Christian morality, from the Sermon on the Mount to Thomas,
Luther, Calvin, and beyond, guilt and fear have always been central. My autonomous morality is
above guilt and fear.


Another comparison may help to sum up my views. ³The just man´ of Plato and the prophets
was essentially an obedient man. He might disobey a wicked despot, but only in obedience to a
higher law that was not of his making. Decidedly, he was not autonomous. Nor did creativity
have a place in this ancient ideal. We do not usually think of justice as being on the same plane
or in possible conflict with either creativity or autonomy; but we should. Creativity and
autonomy belong together and represent an orientation that is at odds with the preoccupation
with justice. The myth of Prometheus shows this beautifully. And Karl Marx¶s Prometheus
complex was of a piece with his dedication to human autonomy and his scorn for those
preoccupied with social justice. Conversely, Plato¶s central concern with justice was
accompanied, typically, by an excessive regard for mathematics and the strong conviction that in
a just society there could not be any place for creative artists.

Although the great philosophers were creative, they have generally shown little understanding of
creativity. Even in aesthetics they have dealt with art from the spectator¶s point of view. In
ethics, the concern with justice has been associated with passivity, too: the question was what
people should receive. In discussions of distributive justice, it is generally assumed that whatever
is worthwhile is given, and the problem is how much each member of a group is to receive. But a
creative person is one who finds most worthwhile what is not given, and his primary concern is
not with receiving. Nor will he concentrate on distribution, seeing that he does not yet know
what there will be. That depends on his creative work ± and on what others will create.

If he were told that other people are quite different from him, interested in having rather than
doing, ³grabby´ rather than creative, he might well feel that the greatest service one could do
them would not be to help them calculate how each of them might receive as much as possible.
Surely, he might say, they would be better off if one could change their orientation and make
them creative. Suppose, he might add, we could choose between two societies. The one with
fewer social inequalities would not necessarily be better: it might be stagnant, uncreative,
afflicted with boredom and despair. A more creative society might well be preferable even if it
were more inegalitarian. It is better to create than to receive, and autonomy surpasses

This is not a defense of the status quo. That our society needs changing is clear and no less true
because other societies need to be changed, too. Karl Marx said: ³The philosophers have merely
interpreted the odd differently, but what matters is to change it.´ One hundred and twenty-five
years later, there is no dearth of people who want to change the world. The time has come to
insist: We can agree that society needs to be changed, but what matters is how ± not only the
means but also ± and above all ± the new goal.

The old goals of justice and equality, and the fight against injustice and inequality, are congruent
with the modem trend toward ever greater regulation, homogeneity, and conformity. As long as
the prime concern is with the redistribution of what we have, none of the tediously conformist
protests against conformity and regulation will prevent the steady erosion of liberty. What is
needed is a different order of priorities. What is also needed is an attempt to develop in some
detail what is wrong with the old concepts and to show the price of autonomy.
The autonomous life does not involve a lack of concern for others. The question is what one
desires for others. Some elitists might say: What I want for myself is autonomy, but what the
masses need is bread and circuses or, in other words, the proper distribution of possessions and
amusements. It is less inegalitarian to say: I desire autonomy ± for myself and for others.
Moreover, if we concentrate on justice and equality or, in one word, distribution, we shall find
before long that, however we distribute goods, there will not be enough to go around. We must
assign a higher priority to creativity, realizing that creation and discovery render distributive
schemes obsolete.

Guilt is mired in the past, as is retributive justice. Distributive justice is stuck in the present, but
by the time it has figured out how to cope with that, it is dated. We must move beyond guilt and
justice. We must give up the pleasant notion that we can have all good things at once. What is
best is not things at all but creative autonomy.


THE serpent was wiser than man and woman and asked them: ³Are you afraid?´ They answered:
³We have been told what is good and evil, and if we disobey we shall die.´ But the serpent said:
³You will not die, but your eyes will be opened; you will see that all gods are dead; and you will
be as gods, deciding what is good and evil.´
They were afraid and replied: ³How can that be? The gods are almighty and know everything.
We can never be as gods.´ But the serpent said: ³Nobody is almighty and knows everything.
Your knowledge and your power will always be limited. Still, you can decide about your own
life, and you need not accept what you have been told.´

The man and the woman replied: ³Those who told us knew what is good, and we do not know. If
we do not obey, we shall be guilty. We are afraid.´ Then the serpent said: ³Fear not to stand
alone! Nobody knows what is good. There is no such knowledge. Once upon a time God
decided, but now that he is dead it is up to you to decide. It is up to you to leave behind guilt and
fear. You can be autonomous.´

They answered: ³But what are we to do right now to make a beginning?´ The serpent replied:
³You still want to be told what to do. Perhaps your children will be ready for autonomy.´


THIS BOOK has no footnotes. Most of the information ordinarily given in footnotes will be
found in the Bibliography. Freud, for example, is quoted in section 57, and the Bibliography
furnishes full data on the source, followed by a parenthesis: (57: p. 34 f.), which means that the
quotation in section 57 comes from p. 34 f. When a work is cited in several sections, the
references in the parentheses are separated by semicolons.

The reason for this unorthodox system is that it is easier to locate an author in an alphabetically
arranged bibliography than it would be to find him in the notes at the end of the book. This way
the reader does not have to remember on what page Freud was quoted, nor does he have to
interrupt his reading to be sure of finding the reference. The Bibliography supplements the Index.
The Notes contain only material that could not easily be incorporated in the Bibliography, and
the system just described has made it possible to hold them down to a few pages. Altogether, I
have tried hard to keep the Notes and Bibliography short.

Translations from the German are my own even when English versions are listed, too, for the
reader¶s convenience.


* An asterisk indicates a note that offers some further discussion. Readers may find it convenient
to glance at these notes after finishing a chapter.
Chapter 1:

* Kant¶s ³autonomy´ and a little ³depth philosophy´

§ 1: Kant introduced the term ³autonomy´ into ethics, but the ideal is far older. The Stoics
sought moral autonomy, and so did the Cynics even earlier. These ³post-Socratics´ associated
liberation with independence from desire and therefore believed that it was essential to have few
desires and no passions. Kant still stands in this tradition; and he was autonomous y his own

He considered it the ma of autonomy that one¶s actions are not prompted by any inclination
whatsoever but by a maxim of which one could wish that it might become universal law. This
notion has elicited a large literature, and I have dealt with it at some length in The Faith of a
Heretic, § 77. Now it must suffice if I can suggest briefly how Kant¶s conception of autonomy
was misguided. By considering his ³autonomy´ in action, we can ³see at a glance what is borne
out by a careful analysis of his works. on ethics.

Not everybody acts according to maxims, but Kant did. Why did he? A few months after Kant¶s
death, R. B. Jachmann, who had known him well and whom Kant had actually asked to write his
biography, published a memoir, Immanuel Kant Described in Letters to a Friend. I turn to the
seventh letter: ³Perhaps smoking tobacco was his supreme sensual pleasure, but he had adopted
the maxim to smoke only one full clay pipe a day, because he did not see where he should stop

Kant suffered from constipation, and a physician prescribed a daily pill. When the effectiveness
of the pill diminished, he doubled the dosage on the advice of another doctor. ³But no sooner had
this happened than Kant reflected that this increase would have no end, and he formulated a
maxim for himself never to take, as long as he lived, more than two pills a day.´ Late in his life,
when his doctors wished him to take more pills, he refused to deviate from his maxim. ³As soon
as he had adopted such a maxim, . . . nothing in the world could have made him abandon it.´

Jachmann¶s attitude is rather worshipful; he admires Kant¶s firmness; and the illustrations are
introduced thus: ³By and by his whole life had become a chain of maxims that eventually formed
a firm system of character.´ And Jachmann concludes: ³In this way he had eventually tied his
whole way of thinking and living to rules of reason to which he remained as loyal in the smallest
circumstances as in the most important matters. . . . His will was free, for it depended on his law
of reason. All attempts by others to subdue his will and guide it differently were in vain. . . . He
persisted in the duty that he had imposed on himself.´

Clearly, Kant¶s conception of rationality was untenable. A maxim that can be universalized is not
necessarily rational. And a person whose life is governed by scores of duties that he has imposed
on himself is hardly a paradigm of autonomy.

Socrates did not depend on alcohol. He could take it or leave it. He did not need a maxim to stop
after the second glass of wine. When the wine and conversation were good, he went on drinking
until everybody else had passed out and then, at dawn, left the symposium, took a bath, and spent
the rest of the day as he usually, did.

The exclusively microscopic approach favored by so many scholars gives one no depth of vision
at all. What I call ³depth philosophy,´ following the example of ³depth psychology,´ makes it
easier to perceive radical alternatives-for example, to a morality of maxims and principles. What
I mean by ³depth philosophy´ is a philosophy that does not rest content with analyses of words
or concepts but inquires into the concrete human realities behind various philosophical positions.
Specifically, one does not have to be either a slave of one¶s inclinations or ³a man of maxims,´
to use Jachmann¶s apt phrase.

The central problem of Kant¶s ethics (no less than of his Critique of Pure Reason) was to escape
from determinism. He called all motivation that was not totally free of inclination ³pathological,´
and he believed that as long as our motivation was pathological we were unfree. Only behavior
determined solely by reason was free, and it was only when obeying a law one had imposed on
oneself that one was autonomous, provided that this law was wholly rational and not stained by
inclination. The test of that was whether the law could be made universal and applied to all men.
Thus Kant¶s rigorism seemed essential to him. As long as one always gets up at 5 a.m. (as Kant
did), regardless of all inclinations, or as long as one never takes more than two pills a day, no
matter what consequences are invoked by others, one is free, Kant thought. But as soon as one
heeds one¶s inclinations or appeals to consequences, one re-enters the realm of causal
determinism and of ³heteronomy.´

Kant¶s psychology was superficial. The procedure he recommended could well be

³pathologica1.´ It is certainly decidophobic. I am not trying to explain Kant¶s ethics
psychologically. For my present purpose it is just as well if his ethics came first and he then put
it into practice. I believe that, as Jachmann put it in his sixth letter, ³Kant lived as he taught.´ But
even if the stories cited here were apocryphal and if Kant himself had been a libertine, these
illustrations would still show how Kant¶s conceptions of autonomy and rationality were

I agree that autonomy depends on rationality. But rationality is incompatible with a rigorous
refusal to listen to reason. Autonomy requires deliberate attention to objections and alternatives.
If anything can liberate us from cultural determination, that can. But there is no need here for an
analysis of determinism. The difference between those who give deliberate attention to
objections and alternatives and those who do not is sufficiently important to be stressed and
worked out in detai1.

§§ 2 and 6: For existentialism, cf. Kaufmann, 1959, especially the chapters on Kierkegaard and
Heidegger. For Heidegger¶s relation to the Nazis, see also Heidegger, 1933, and Schneeberger,
1962. The Heidegger quotation in §6, about using force, is from his 1953, page 124.

§ 4: ³The We-We orientation´: See. Buber, 1923. In the Prologue to the English translation,
pages 11-14, I present five attitudes in which there is no You: I-I, I-It, It-It, We-We, and Us-

§ 7: For Manichaean thinking, cf. Kaufmann, 1969 and 1970.

I have made some use of material first presented there. For Greek tragedy, cf. Kaufmann, 1968.
For Hegel, ibid.

* A Note on Solzhenitsyn

§ 9: For the confrontation with the Soviet Writers¶ Secretariat, see either Solzhenitsyn, ed.
Labedz, or the Appendix of Cancer Ward. The quotation about ³Tolstoyan philosophy´ is found
in Burg and Feifer, 1972; the detractor was Dmitri Eremin. The image of Solzhenitsyn that
emerges from the Burg and Feifer biography is consistent with my view of him, but my
interpretations are based exclusively on his own works and on the admirable ³Documentary
Record,´ edited by Labedz. H. T. Willett¶s somewhat different rendering of Solzhenitsyn¶s
remark about the mice and cockroaches is equally to my purpose: ³But I got used to it because
there was nothing evil in it, nothing dishonest. Rustling was life to them.´

§ 11: For the Nietzsche epigram see Kaufmann¶s Nietzsche, page 19.

Chapter 2:

§ 13: For Marx and justice, see also Wood, 1972.

§ 14: First sentence: see Reiwald, page 16. Regarding 1694, see Megarry, page 182. Regarding
1770, 1832, and 1837, see Reiwald, page 16f.

Reiwald on talio: pages 268f. and 273. Cf. also 18. Scholarly references in support of the long
quotation: page 294, note 17; also Kaufmann, 1961, § 49.

The Gospel quotation is from Matthew 10: 14f.; cf. Luke 10: 10ff. For a fuller discussion of
these aspects of the New Testament, see Kaufmann, 1958, chapters 6-8, and 1961, chapter 8.

§ 16: the nineteenth-century philosopher is Green, 1895, page 184.

§ 17: for point 6, cf. Freud, 1913, Werke, IX, page 89.

§ 20: the two penologists are Gauthier and Robert Meindl; the quotations are from Reiwald, page

§ 21: for poena, see Mommsen, 1899, page 13; cf. pages 14, 899.

Chapter 3:

* Notes on Rawls

§ 22: For the differences between justice and fairness see also Chapman, 1963. Rawls, 1971,
page 12f., defends himself by saying that´ µjustice as fairness¶ . . . does not mean that the
concepts of justice and fairness are the same, any more than the phrase µpoetry as metaphor¶
means that the concepts of poetry and metaphor are the same.´ But this terse remark does not
help much to explain the difference between two key concepts.
One of the differences between justice and fairness is illustrated by one of Rawls¶s own
examples: ³. . . gambling. If a number of persons engage in a series of fair bets, the distribution
of cash after the last bet is fair, or at least not unfair, whatever the distribution is´ (page 86). But
we should not call it ³just.´

Rawls¶s chapter 1 is entitled ³Justice as Fairness,´ and the phrase recurs throughout.

§ 29: For a fuller account and critique of Hume, see Kaufmann, December 1969. Hume¶s
association of justice with ³possessions´ and ³the love of gain´ was so close and at the same
time so misguided that it seems to call for psychological, historical, or sociological explanations.

Page references for the Rawls quotations: ³moral geometry´ (121); ³everyone¶s advantage´ and
³Injustice´ (62 et passim); ³For simplicity´ (408n); ³Rome or Paris´ (412. cf. 551); ³To say that´
(138); ³We want to´ (141).

Rawls¶s exceptional intelligence and subtlety and his tireless attention to detail may give the
impression that we are confronted with such a tightly woven theory that every objection is taken
care of somewhere. In fact, the book is quite uneven, and the discussion of guilt in § § 70-74, for
example, seems rather ill-considered. To mention at least one point, Rawls seems to suppose that
³a greater feeling of guilt implies a greater fault´ (page 475).

Occasional asides in Rawls¶s book come much closer to my position than do the passages quoted
in the text; for example, this staggering concession: ³It is too much to suppose that there exists
for all or even most moral problems a reasonable solution. Perhaps only a few can be
satisfactorily answered´ (page 89f.). I welcome such agreement, but it would be naive to suppose
that I must be right because another author says something similar. What autonomy requires is
attention to significant alternatives to our own views. Hence I have concentrated on the moral
rationalism that is the central motif of A Theory of Justice.

How hard even philosophers find it to see through moral rationalism is suggested by Stuart
Hampshire¶s review-article (1972): ³If our moral beliefs on many subjects, and in many very
different situations, are shown to be instances of a few general principles at work, then we have
an assurance that our moral beliefs have a rational foundation.´ This is surely wrong. Omit the
word ³moral´ both times and think of $1. Thomas or some Muslim scholastic; did any scholastic
ever show that the beliefs of his community had ³a rational foundation´? Hampshire himself
immediately retracts his claim in the next sentence: ³At least they are not just a chaos and a
jumble: there is a reason why we hold the various beliefs that we do.´ The first half of this
qualification is trivially true, the second half again false. What scholastics do is to bring a
complex, Gothic order into chaos, beginning with ³a few general principles´ and then adding to
these as need arises. But the reasons why people actually hold various beliefs usually have little
to do with the scholastics¶ ingenuity. Actually, Hampshire does not finally accept Rawls¶s
rationalism: some version of ³intuitionism seems to me nearer to adequacy than Professor
Rawls¶s social contract theory.´ Hampshire favors ³perfectionism´: ³having a picture of the
wholly admirable man, and of an entirely desirable and admirable way of life.´ This is much
closer to the present book.

Regarding my ³final criticism´ that ³the cards are stacked´: After finishing this book I read in
manuscript Robert Nozick¶s critique of Rawls in his forthcoming book, Anarchy, State, and
Utopia. He shows at length how the cards are stacked, how Rawls¶s second principle of justice is
not at all particularly rational, and how Rawls¶s ³original position´ is an inappropriate model for
thinking about how the things people produce are to be distributed. Nozick devotes far more
space to Rawls than I do and raises many other points. The one most pertinent to my concerns is
surely his attempt to show that Rawls is in effect ³denigrating a person¶s autonomy.´

Finally, it seems to me that A Theory of Justice invites comparison with Ralph Barton Perry¶s
General Theory of Value (1926). Rawls¶s references to Perry show that he is not unaware of this.
In a lengthier discussion this point would be worth pursuing. Here it must suffice to note that a
generation ago many philosophers believed that Perry had virtually created a new branch of
philosophy. In fact, however, general theory of value had no future. Those who expect a renewal
of moral and political philosophy from A Theory of Justice overlook that, notwithstanding the
author¶s many virtues, justice has no future.

§ 30: Solomon¶s judgment: I Kings 3.

The quotation in the final paragraph is from Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Chapter 4:

§ 35: Satan is quoted from Kaufmann, 1958, § 59.

§ 36: Characterization of Tertullian opens the article on him in Encyclopaedia Britannica,

eleventh edition.

* A Note on Guilt and Aggression

Guilt will be discussed at length in the next chapter, but this is the place for a brief remark about
the theory regarding the origin of the bad conscience advanced by Nietzsche in 1887 and revived
by Freud in 1931 and 1933. They claimed that aggression, denied outward expression, turns
inward against oneself. This is a profound insight, but this is not the origin of the notion of guilt.
I have tried to show how this notion is born; but once a person has the notion that he is guilty,
this idea provides a channel for the discharge of inhibited aggression. Cf. my analysis of the
institution of punishment in § 17; punishment does not owe its origin to aggression, but it
certainly provides an outlet for aggression.

Chapter 5:

§ 39: I first developed my concept of humbition and the three other cardinal virtues in
Kaufmann, 1961, § 83ff.

* Spinoza and ³the bite of conscience´

§ 41: Spinoza repudiated the bite of conscience (conscientiae morsus) but defined it rather
implausibly as ³pain accompanied by the idea of something past that has had a result contrary to
our hope´ (Ethics, Definitions at the end of Book III, 17; cf. III. 18, Scholium 2). This comes
closer to a cynical bon mot than to a genuine understanding of the bad conscience, and it is
understandable, though unjustifiable, that many interpreters, and even the standard English
translation, render conscientiae morsus as ³disappointment.´

Later on (IV. 54 ) Spinoza says that poenitentia is no virtue because it does not issue from
reason, but ³as we must sin, we had better sin in that direction´ because ³those who are prey to
these emotions may be led much more easily than others to live under the guidance of reason.´
(Cf. also IV.4 7.) In sum, Spinoza repudiated the traditional Christian view of guilt feelings, but
he did not come close to the view developed in the present book.

§ 44: The Painted Bird is by Jerzy Kosinski, Night by Elie Wiesel, and The First Circle and
Cancer Ward are by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

What is said in the text applies also in full measure to the work of Heinrich Boll-as much to
some of his very short stories as to his novels.

* A Note on Dreams

Third paragraph from end: Self-punishment in dreams poses a serious problem for Freud¶s thesis
that all dreams are to be explained as wish fulfilments. His epic struggle with dreams of this sort
began with his discussion of dreams in which we fail examinations (1900: page IS8f.). In the last
edition of his Traumdeutung he expanded this discussion and incorporated some new ideas
(Werke, pages 280-282). He noted that the tests we fail in dreams are always tests in which we
have done very well in real life, never tests we have actually failed. More important, he added
another section in which he said expressly:
³I could not object if one distinguished dreams of this type [not examination dreams but dreams
in which we are far worse off than we are in real life-especially dreams that take us back to early
hardships] as punishment dreams from our wish-fulfilment dreams.´

But then he added in a footnote: ³It is easy to recognize in these punishment dreams wish
fulfillments of the superego´ (page 479f.). So far, my comments are compatible with Freud¶s
theory without committing me to it. But Freud does not suggest, as I do, that some of us have a
lingering feeling that we do not deserve to be so successful in a world in which so many others
are so miserable.

Consider two recurrent dreams. A professor who is a very successful lecturer dreams now and
again that people walk out on his lectures. A woman who has an enviable reputation as a hostess
and a cook and always has an abundance of food left over after every party dreams occasionally
of giving one at which there is not enough food, while people she does not remember inviting
keep arriving. If one knows independently that both have an articulate social conscience and that
the woman is troubled by the fact that millions are starving, my interpretation seems the most

Chapter 6:

§ 46: After the third error: ³Occasionally. . . µtotal´¶: see, e.g., Fromm, 1955, p. 124.

For a more detailed account of the way in which ³alienation´ became popular, see Kaufmann¶s
essay in Schacht, 1970. In the present chapter I have made some use of parts of this essay, but
much of the material, including all of §§ 58 and 59, is entirely new. For a detailed account of
³alienation´ in Hegel, Marx, Fromm, and twentieth-century sociology, see Schacht, 1970.

* Marx and Fourier

§ 49: Marx¶s dream, quoted from The German Ideology, was influenced by Charles Fourier,
1845, page 68. Fourier had pointed out that what makes labor a tedious torment is that workers
have to spend long, consecutive hours at the same occupation. He had proposed a commune in
which the ³Harmonians´ would never spend more than, at most, two hours at one job, and he had
constructed schedules for two ³Harmonians, one poor and one rich.´ Marx was influenced by the
schedule for the rich:

³Hours sleep from 10:30 P.M. till 3 A.M.

3 :30 rise, preparations
5:30 with the hunting group
7 with the fishing group
8 breakfast, newspapers
9 agriculture, greenhouse
10 mass
10:30 pheasantry
11:30 library
1 dinner
9:30 court of the arts, concert, ball, theater, receptions
10:30 to bed

Marx introduced not only the notion of rearing cattle in the evening but also ± importantly ± the
phrase ³as I please.´ He opposed regimentation and prized spontaneity and autonomy.

* A Note on ³Depth Philosophy´

§ 54: About half of the data in the penultimate paragraph were originally brought to my attention
in another context by Ben-Ami Scharfstein. The phrase ³symptoms of mental alienation´ comes
from the article on Schopenhauer ill the Encyclopaedia Britannica, eleventh edition. But it was
surprisingly difficult to establish most of these facts.

Even in biographies of philosophers their mothers are rarely more than mentioned! The fathers
are mentioned more often-usually in connection with the sons¶ education. The character and
attitudes of a mother or her death during a future philosopher¶s childhood are widely considered
irrelevant. The tradition that shapes works of this sort has been molded by an absurd male
chauvinism and a mixture of psychological obtuseness with hostility to any attempt at
psychological understanding.

What accounts for this hostility? Decidophobia. No similar hostility exists in the case of artists
and writers. But as soon as we see the great philosophers as men who did not feel ³very reliably
at home in the interpreted world´ and who reacted in various ways to a deep sense of alienation,
the history of philosophy confronts us with alternatives and the challenge to make choices. Of
course, we need not choose one of the philosophies found in a book; we might try to develop
views of our own. But that possibility only adds to the horror. Nonphilosophers prefer to write
off philosophy as ³too deep,´ while philosophers seek safety in microscopism. They pick out a
sentence, a claim, or an argument and examine that, carefully. Biographies of great philosophers
are felt to be irrelevant, but barely tolerated as long as they really remain irrelevant and
concentrate on trivia. The microscopist depends on abstraction and avoids any possibility of
confrontation with the philosophers of the past as living alternatives.
Of course, the page in the text, above, does no more than open up one line of questioning. Here
is another: Wittgenstein, whose influence dominated English-speaking philosophy for a quarter
of a century, lost neither of his parents in childhood, but three of his brothers committed suicide
(Hans in 1902, Rudolf in 1904, and Kurt in 1918: see Bartley, 1973).

§ 57: ³Compact majority´ in the Freud quotation is a phrase from Ibsen¶s Enemy of the People
(Volksfeind in German) and thus ties in very well with Freud¶s references to the Volk.

§ 59: For love of the stranger see Leviticus 19.34 and Deuteronomy 10.19. Cf. Exodus
12.49,20.10,22.21,23.9, Leviticus 24.22, Numbers 15.15, and Deuteronomy 5.14. For Samuel see
I Samuel 8.

Chapter 7:

§ 60: for justice as health of the soul, see Plato¶s Republic 444. For some recent scholarly
discussions of Plato¶s argument at that point, see Vlastos (1971), essays 2-5.

§ 66, second paragraph, on existentialism and resoluteness: see, e.g., Heidegger, 1927, §§ 46ff.,
especially the two chapters on ³Das mogliche Ganzseinkonnen des Daseins . . .´ and ³Das
eigentliche Ganzseinkonnen des Daseins . . .´; e.g., the sentence in § 62 (p. 309), emphasized by
Heidegger himself: ³The question about being able to be whole is factual-existential. Being-there
answers it in resoluteness.´ What is different from the classical integrity is the emphasis on
temporality and the wholeness not only of the person but also of his life.¶

§ 68: for a detailed discussion of different dimensions of meaning, see Kaufmann, 1966, page

§ 69, first paragraph: ³Job is usually seen differently.´ Glatzer, 1969, includes over thirty
interpretations of Job, and considers mine (reprinted from Kaufmann, 1961) ³one of the boldest
and most incisive and sensitive,´ partly because it stresses points ³carefully avoided by
theological moralists´ (page 237). It would be immodest to quote this here if there were a better
way of establishing the point made in the text.

§ 70: The first sentence harks back to the beginning of this book.

§ 73: Buddha and Mara: Jataka, I, 63. 271; quoted in Söder-blom,1933.

§ 77: Moses¶ ³as yourself´: ³You shall love your neighbor as yourself´ and ³The stranger. . .
shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself´ (Leviticus 19: 18
and 34).
§ 80: The sentence quoted from Marx is the last of his eleven ³Theses on Feuerbach,´ which are
included, e.g., in Marx¶s Frith. schriften and in Tucker, 1972.

&  (

Aeschylus. Libation Bearers (7: line 461).

Andrews, William. Old-Time Punishments. 1890. Reproduced, London: Tabard Press, 1970.
Indudes many old illustrations, including 16 of branks. See Morning Herald.

Aquinas, St. Thomas. Summa Theologiae, Part III, Supplementum (may have been added after
Aquinas¶s death) (35: Question 99, Article 1; 36: Question 94, Article 1).

Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958 (46).

Aristotle. Metaphysics. (54 on ³wonder´: 982b).

±±±±±±±±. Nicomachean Ethics (12: V.I-5; 39: IV.3).

Augustine, St. City of God (19: bk. 21, chap. 12).

±±±±±±±±. Enchiridion (19: chaps. 94, 98, 99).

Bartley, William Warren, III. Wittgenstein. New York and Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott: 1973
(54 n).

Beauvoir, Simone de. La Force des Choses. Paris: Gallimard, 1963. Translated as Force of
Circumstance by Richard Howard. New York: G. P. Putnam¶s Sons, 1965. Harmondsworth:
Penguin Books, 1968 (45: pp. 452, 669, 610 f., 397, 641; 63: p. 641).

Bradley, F. H. ³My Station and Its Duties.´ In Ethical Studies. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927

Buber, Martin. Ich und Du. Leipzig: Insel, 1923. English: I and Thou. Translated with a prologue
and notes by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Charles Scribner¶s Sons, 1970 (4n: 42; 51: 102ff.).

±±±±±±±±. Schuld und Schuldgefuhle. Heidelberg: Lambert Schneider, 1957. English: in The
Knowledge of Man by Martin Buber. Translated and edited by Maurice Friedman. New York:
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Burg, David, and Feifer, George. Solzhenitsyn. New York: Stein and Day, 1972 (9 n).
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Confucius. Analects (65: 12.2 and 15.23; also The Doctrine of the Mean. 13.). Dante. Inferno
(19: III, 1.1-9.). Diamond, A. S. Primitive Law. London: Longmans, 1935. London: Methuen,
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Dostoevsky, F. M. ³The Grand Inquisitor.´ In The Brothers Karamazov bk. V, chap. 5 (3; 4; 71).

Earle, Alice Morse. Curious Punishments of Bygone Days. Chicago: H. S. Stone, 1896 (16: p.

Feuerbach, Ludwig. Das Wesen des Christentums. 1841. Translated as The Essence of
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Fourier, Charles. Le Nouveau Monde Industriel et Socihaire, Oeuvres Completes, vol. 6. Paris:
Ala Librairie Societaire, 1845 (49 n).

Frankena, William. Ethics. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963 (12: 59 and 50).

Freud, Sigmund. Die Traumdeutung. 1900. Gesammelte Werke, 11III (44 n).

±±±±±±±±. Totem und Tabu. 1913. Gesammelte Werke, IX (17 n).

±±±±±±±±. Vorlesungen zur Einfuhrung in die Psychoanalyse. 1917. Gesammelte Werke, XI (68:
p. 451).

±±±±±±±±. Selbstdarstellung. 1925. Gesammelte Werke, XIV (57: p. 34 f.).

±±±±±±±±. Das Unbehagen in der Kultur. 1931. Gesammelte Werke, XIV (36 n: chap. VII-VIII).

±±±±±±±±. Neue Folge der Vorlesungen zur Einfuhrung in die Psychoanalyse. 1933. Gesammelte
Werke, XV (36 n: concluding portion of Lecture XXXII) .

Fromm, Erich. Escape from Freedom. New York: Rinehart, 1941 (2).

±±±±±±±±. The Sane Society. New York: Rinehart, 1955 (46 n).

±±±±±±±±. Marx¶s Concept of Man. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1961 (46: pp. v, 46; 58: x n).

Gibbon, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. 6 vo1s. 1776-1788
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Glatzer, Nahum N., ed. The Dimensions of Job: A Study and Selected Readings. New York:
Schocken Books, 1969 (69 n).

Green, Thomas Hill. Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation. Published posthumously
in 1895. London: Longmans, Green, 1937 (16n: p. 184).

Hammurabi, Code of. In Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, edited by
James B. Pritchard. 2d rev. ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955 (35: § 210). For a
detailed comparison of this code with Moses¶, see Kaufmann, 1961, section 49.

Hampshire, Stuart. ³A New Philosophy of the Just Society.´ In The New York Review of Books
February 22, 1972 (29 n: pp. 34,38).

Hegel, G. W. F. System der Wissenschaft: Erster Teil, die Phiinomenologie des Geistes. 1807.
English: The Phenomenology of Mind. Translated by J. B. Baillie. 2d rev. ed. in 1 vol. London:
George Allen & Unwin. New York: Macmillan Co., 1931 (46: p. 191).

±±±±±±±±. Naturrecht und Staatswissenschaft im Grundrisse zum Gebrauch fur seine

Vorlesungen; (Facing right page:) Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts. 1821. English:
Hegel¶s Philosophy of Right. Translated with notes by T. M. Knox. Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1942 (13; 67).

±±±±±±±±. Die Vernunft in der Geschichte: Einleitung in die Philosophie der Weltgeschichte. 5th
rev. ed. by Johannes Hoffmeister. Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1955 (67). There is no English
translation of this edition, but see Kaufmann, 1965, section 63-64.

Hegel, and ³necessary´ (50: see Kaufmann, 1959, 1960 ed., p. 159, and Kaufmann, 1965, section

Hegel-Lexikon, 4 vols. Edited by Hermann Glockner. Stuttgart: Fr. Frommanns, 1935-1939 (46).

Heidegger, Martin. Sein und Zeit: Erste Hiilfte, Halle: Niemeyer, 1927. English: Being and
Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York and Evanston: Harper &
Row, 1962 (6,7,37,42,66 n).

±±±±±±±±. Die Selbstbehauptung der deutschen Universitiit. Breslau: Wilh. Gottl. Korn, 1933 (2
n, 6 n).

±±±±±±±±. Einfiihrung in die M etaphysik. Ttibingen: Max Niemeyer, 1953. English: An

Introduction to Metaphysics. Translated by Ralph Manheim. New Haven: Yale University Press,
1959 (6: force on p. 24, Hottentots on p. 12).
Heraclitus. (54: fragments 121 and 101).

Hesse, Hermann. Die Morgenlandfahrt. Berlin: S. Fischer, 1932.

Translated as lourney to the East by Hilda Rosner. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968 (4).

Hillel. (65: Talmud Babli, Sabbath 31a). For quotation and discussion see Kaufmann, 1961,
section 57, n 1.

Hoess, Rudolf. Kommandant in Auschwitz: Autobiographische Aufzeichnungen. Edited by

Martin Broszat. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1958. Munchen: Deutscher Taschenbuch
Verlag, 1963 (63: pp. 179, 183, 152, 187, 148,133).

Hoffer, Eric. The True Believer. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1951 (4,63).

Homer. Iliad (7; 11: VI. 57 ff.; 21: IX. 632 ff.; 39).

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. (30: Poem 65).

Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens: Vom Vrsprung der Kultur im Spiel. Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1956.
English translation of the original edition, first published in German in Switzerland in 1944,
without translator¶s name: Homo Ludens. Boston: Beacon Press, 1955 (75).

Hume, David. The Life of David Hume, Esq. Written by Himself. 1777. (25: ³dead-born´: sixth

±±±±±±±±. Treatise of Human Nature, 1739-1740. Edited by L. A. Selby-Bigge. Oxford: Oxford

University Press, 1896 (29: ³Section II: Of the Origin of Justice and Property,´ p. 494 f., 495;
29n and 31: ³love of gain,´ p. 492).

For an exposition and critique of Hume¶s view, see Kaufmann, 1969.

Jachmann, Reinhold Bernhard. Immanuel Kant geschildert in Briefen an einen Freund;

Konigsberg: Nicolovius, 1804. Reprinted in Immanuel Kant: Sein Leben in Darstellungen von
Zeitgenossen / Die Biographien von L. E. Borowski, R. B. lachmann und A. Ch. Wasianski.
Berlin: Deutsche Biblothek. n.d., preface dated June 1912 (1 n).

Jaspers, Karl. Die Schuldfrage. Heidelberg: Lambert Schneider, and Zurich: Artemis, 1946.
English: The Question of German Guilt. Translated by E. B. Ashton. New York: The Dial Press,
1947 (37).
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Jefferson; Containing his Major Writings, Published and Unpublished, except his Letters. Edited
by Saul K. Padover. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1943 (13: pp. 90-102).

±±±±±±±±. The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson. Edited by Adrienne Koch and
William Peden. New York: Modern Library, 1944 (13: p. 683, on Napoleon).

Job. (60: 2.3, 2.9, 27.5; 63: 27.5; 69: 27.5.)

Kafka, Franz. Brief an den Vater, written in 1919 and published posthumously in
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Kant, Immanuel. Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufkliirung. 1784. Gesammelte Schriften.
Edited by Konigl. Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaften, vol. 8 (69: 1st parag., i.e., p. 35).

±±±±±±±±. Kritik der praktischen Vernunft. 1788. Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 5 (13: pp. 124 ff.,
i.e., bk. II, chap. II, sec. V; 69: ³Duty´ on p. 86, i.e., bk. I, chap. III, and ³the Moral Law´ on p.
161 f., i.e., Conclusion).

±±±±±±±±. Metaphysische Anfangsgrunde der Rechtslehre. 1797. Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 6

(13 and 14: § 49 E). The translation mentioned in the text is The Metaphysical Elements of
Justice. Translated by John Ladd. Indianapolis & N.Y. & Kansas City: The Library of Liberal
Arts, 1965. Translations in the text are the author¶s.

Kaufmann, Walter. Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Princeton: Princeton

University Press, 1950. 3d ed., revised and enlarged, Princeton University Press; New York:
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±±±±±±±±. Critique of Religion and Philosophy. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958. Garden
City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1961. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1972 (14 n; 35 n).

±±±±±±±±. From Shakespeare to Existentialism. Boston: Beacon Press, 1959. Rev. ed., Garden
City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1960 (2 n, 6 n).

±±±±±±±±. The Faith of a Heretic. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. 1961. Doubleday Anchor
Books, 1963 (1 n, 14 n, 39 n).
±±±±±±±±. Hegel: Reinterpretation, Texts, and Commentary. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday,
1965. Doubleday Anchor Books. 2 vols. 1966. See Hegel.
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Philosophy and Educational Development. Edited by George Barnett. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
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±±±±±±±±. Tragedy and Philosophy. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968. Doubleday Anchor
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±±±±±±±±. ³The Origin of Justice.´ In The Review of Metaphysics, 23.2. December 1969 (31).

±±±±±±±±. ³Black and White.´ In Survey: A lournal of Soviet and East European Studies.
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Midway. 10.3. Winter 1970 (7 n).

Kierkegaard, Soren. The Concept of Dread. 1844. Translated by Walter Lowrie. Princeton:
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Kosinski, Jerzy. The Painted Bird. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965. New York: Pocket Books,
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±±±±±±±±. Eros and Civilization. Boston: Beacon Press, 1955 (46).

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Marx, Karl. Historisch-Kritische Gesamtausgabe. 1927 ff.

This is considered the standard edition and usually cited as MEGA. The previously unpublished
early manuscripts appeared in vol. 3 in 1932. The first popular edition of these writings was Die
Fruhschriften, edited by Siegfried Landshut. Stuttgart: Kroner, 1955 (46 ff.; 80).

±±±±±±±±. Zur ludenfrage. 1843. Edition of Siegfried Landshut, pp. 171-99 and 199-207 (58: all
quotations are from part II, pp. 199 ff.) Different English translations in Lloyd D. Easton and
Kurt H. Guddat, Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society. Garden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday, 1967, and in Tucker, 1¶972.

±±±±±±±±. ³Die entfremdete Arbeit.´ In Karl Marx: Texte zu Methode und Praxis, vol. 2: Pariser
Manuskripte 1844. Edited by Gunther Hillmann. Rowohlt. 1966. pp. 50-63 (50: p. 54). English
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±±±±±±±±. Die deutsche Ideologie. Edited by V. Adoratskij. Vienna and Berlin: Verlag fUr
Literatur und Politik, 1932 (49: p. 22 f). The quoted passage is also included in Landshut ed., p.
361; and an English version of it in Tucker, 1972, p. 124).

±±±±±±±±. Manifest der kommunistischen Partei. 1848. (47: Landshuted., p. 552, i.e., III.1.c.
English translation in Tucker, 1972).

±±±±±±±±. Das Kapital, vol. 1. 1867 (50: ³the expropriators,´ 3d paragraph from the end of
chapter 24) .

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(14 n).

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For a detailed exposition and critique of his ideas about the origin of justice, see Kaufmann,

Mishnah. (60: Berakhot, IX.5.)

Mommsen, Theodor. Romisches Strafrecht. Leipzig: Duncker and Humblot, 1899 (21 n).

Morning Herald. January 28, 1804. Quoted by Andrews, 1890, 84 f., whose chapter on ³The
Pillory´ contains many similar reports (16).

Mo-tze. The Ethical and Political Works of Motse. translated by Yi-pao Mei. London,
Probsthain, 1929 (29: ³major calamities´: chapter XVI. The passages on music are quoted by
Fung Yulan, A History of Chinese Philosophy. Translated by Derk Bodde, vol. 1. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1952, pp. 86 f., 89 f., 104 f.).

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Basic Writings of Nietzsche. Translated and edited by Walter Kaufmann.
New York: Random House, The Modern Library, 1968 (33: p. 511 f., i.e., Genealogy of Morals,
II, section 11; 36: p. 485 fl., i.e., Genealogy of Morals, I, section 15; 36 n: p. 520 fl., i.e.,
Genealogy of Morals, II, section 16 fl.).

±±±±±±±±. The Portable Nietzsche. Translated and edited by Walter Kaufmann. New York: The
Viking Press, 1954 (4: p. 640, i.e., The Antichrist, section 55; 25: p. 258, i.e., Zarathustra II, last
chapter, ³doves¶ feet´; 37: p. 576, i.e., The Antichrist, section 10; 72: p. 129 f., i.e., Zarathustra,
Prologue, section 5).

Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State and Utopia. New York: Basic Books, 1974 (29 n).

Perry, Ralph Barton. General Theory of Value. New York: Longmans, Green, 1926 (29 n).

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Plato. Gorgias (54, 2nd parag.: Soma, serna. 493, d. also Cratylus, 400).

±±±±±±±±. Republic (44: 571; 54, first paragraph: 473, 592, 555 fl.; 73: 583).

±±±±±±±±. Theaetetus (54, ³wonder´: 155).

Rawls, John. A Theory of lustice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971 (12: p. 314 f.; 20:
p. 315; 21 n; 29 n).

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Reiwald, Paul. Die Gesellschaft und Ihre Verbrecher. Zurich: Pan Verlag, 1948. Society and its
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translation, p. 439; 49: translation p. 59, also in Kaufmann, 1956, p. 256).

±±±±±±±±. Les Mouches. Paris: Gallimard, 1943. The Flies. Translated by Stuart Gilbert. New
York: Knopf, 1947 (39).
For a discussion of the play, see Kaufmann, 1968, section 51.

±±±±±±±±. L¶Existentialisme est un Humanisme. Paris: Editions Nagel, 1946. Translated as

Existentialism and Humanism by Philip Mairet. London: Methuen, 1946. The discussion after
the lecture: pp. 57-70. The lecture itself is included, uncut, in Kaufmann, 1956 (6).
±±±±±±±±. ³Portrait of the Anti-Semite´ in Kaufmann, 1956. Translated by Mary Guggenheim
from Refiexions sur la question luive. Paris: Morihien, 1946 (4; 63).

±±±±±±±±. Question de Methode. Paris: Gallimard, 1960. Translated as Search for a Method by
Hazel Barnes. New York: Knopf, 1963 (9: p. xxxiv, preface; and p. 30; cf. p. 7 f.). For the
authority of history, see also Sartre, ³Reply to Albert Camus´ (Les Temps Modernes, 1952) and
³Merleau-Ponty´ (ibid., 1961). In Situations. New York: George Braziller, 1965.

±±±±±±±±. ³Merleau-Ponty.´ In Les Temps Modernes, 1961. Reprinted in Situations. Translated

by Benita Eisler. New York: Braziller, 1965 (6, 45: ³Russia. . .´ p. 266; ³the right to . . .
Marxists,´ p. 257; 45: p. 266).

±±±±±±±±. L¶Idiot de la famille; Gustave Flaubert de 1821-1857. Paris: Gallimard, 1971. 2 vols.,
2136 pages! Two more volumes are to follow (29).

Schacht, Richard L. Alienation with an Introductory Essay by Walter Kaufmann. Garden City,
N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1971 (46 n).

Schneeberger, Guido. Nachlese zu Heidegger. Bern: Buchdruckerei AG, Suhr, 1962 (2 n, 6 n).

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet (39: II.2.1. 178 f.).

Soderblom, Nathan. The Living God. The Gifford Lectures . . .

1931. London, New York, Toronto: Oxford University Press,
1933 (73 n: p. 89).

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Translated by Max Hayward and Ronald Hingley. New York:
Praeger, 1963. New York: Bantam Books, 1963 (9).

±±±±±±±±. ³Matryona¶s House´ in ³We Never Make Mistakes´: Two Short Novels. Translated
by Paul W. Blackstock. Columbia: The University of South Carolina Press, 1963. New York:
Norton, 1971. Translated by H. T. Willett, in Encounter, May 1963, and in Half-way to the
Moon: New Writing from Russia, edited by Patricia Blake and Max Hayward. New York: Holt,
Rinehart, and Winston, 1964 (9).

±±±±±±±±. The First Circle. Translated by Thomas P. Whitney. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.
New York: Bantam Books, 1969 (9; 11; 44).

±±±±±±±±.Cancer Ward. Translated by Nicholas Bethell and David Burg. New York: Farrar,
Straus & Giroux, 1969. New York: Bantam Books, 1969 (9; 9 n; 11; 44).
±±±±±±±±. Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record. Edited by Leopold Labedz. New York;.:
Harper & Row, 1971 (9 n; 11).

±±±±±±±±. August 1914. Translated by Michael Glenny. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
1972 (9,11).

±±±±±±±±. Nobel Lecture in The New York Times, September 30 and October 7, 1972 (78,79).

Sophocles. Oedipus Tyrannus. For a full-length interpretation see Kaufmann, 1968, chapter N.

Spinoza. Ethics (41 n). Tappan, Paul W. Crime, Justice and Correction. New York: McGraw-
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Tertullian. On Spectacles in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the Writings of the

Fathers down to A.D. 325. Edited by the Reverend Alexander Roberts, D.D., and James
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Theognis. (12: line 147 f.).

Thucydides. (69: 1.20 conclusion) .

Tucker, Robert C. ³Marx and Distributive Justice,´ in Justice. Nomos VI. New York: Atherton,
1963. Also in Tucker¶s The Marxian Revolutionary Idea. New York: Norton, 1969 (13).

±±±±±±±±, ed. The Marx-Engels Reader. New York: Norton, 1972. See Marx.

Vlastos, Gregory, ed. Plato: A Collection of Critical Essays, II. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday
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Watson, John B. Psychological Care of Infant and Child. New York: Norton, 1928 (1).

Weber, Max. Wissenschaft als Beruf. Munich and Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1919 (76: pp.
10, 14). Translations mine, italics in the original. Complete translation in From Max Weber:
Essays in Sociology, translated and edited by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. 1946.
For a detailed .critique of Weber¶s lecture see Kaufmann¶s ³Ketzerei in der Erziehung´ in Club
Voltaire, vol. 2, edited by Gerhard Szczesny. Munich. 1965, pp. 303-14.

Wood, Allen W. ³The Marxian Critique of Justice.´ In Philosophy & Public Affairs. vol. 1, no.
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