Public Goods, Private Goods

Public Goods, Private Goods

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 184
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    Public Goods, Private Goods
    Book Description:

    Much political thinking today, particularly that influenced by liberalism, assumes a clear distinction between the public and the private, and holds that the correct understanding of this should weigh heavily in our attitude to human goods. It is, for instance, widely held that the state may address human action in the ''public'' realm but not in the ''private.'' InPublic Goods, Private GoodsRaymond Geuss exposes the profound flaws of such thinking and calls for a more nuanced approach. Drawing on a series of colorful examples from the ancient world, he illustrates some of the many ways in which actions can in fact be understood as public or private.

    The first chapter discusses Diogenes the Cynic, who flouted conventions about what should be public and what should be private by, among other things, masturbating in the Athenian marketplace. Next comes an analysis of Julius Caesar's decision to defy the Senate by crossing the Rubicon with his army; in doing so, Caesar asserted his dignity as a private person while acting in a public capacity. The third chapter considers St. Augustine's retreat from public life to contemplate his own, private spiritual condition. In the fourth, Geuss goes on to examine recent liberal views, questioning, in particular, common assumptions about the importance of public dialogue and the purportedly unlimited possibilities humans have for reaching consensus. He suggests that the liberal concern to maintain and protect, even at a very high cost, an inviolable ''private sphere'' for each individual is confused.

    Geuss concludes that a view of politics and morality derived from Hobbes and Nietzsche is a more realistic and enlightening way than modern liberalism to think about human goods. Ultimately, he cautions, a simplistic understanding of privacy leads to simplistic ideas about what the state is and is not justified in doing.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2482-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-11)

    In 1814 one of the founding figures of European liberalism, Benjamin Constant, published what was to become his most influential book on politics,De l’esprit de conquête et de l’usurpation.¹ In it he distinguished sharply between the “private existence” of members of a modern society and their “public existence.” “Private existence” referred to the family and the intimate circle of personal friends, the spheres of individual work and the consumption of goods, and the realm of individual beliefs and preferences; “public existence”² designated action in the world of politics. For a variety of historical, economic, and social reasons, Constant thought,...

    (pp. 12-33)

    Diogenes of Sinope, who lived in the fourth century B.C., was in the habit of masturbating in the middle of the Athenian marketplace.¹ He was not pathologically unaware of his surroundings, psychotic, or simple-minded. Nor was he living in a society that stood at the very beginning of what Elias² calls “the process of civilization”; that is, he was not living in a society fairly low on what we take to be the scale of our cultural evolution, one in which such forms of behavior were not yet subject to systematic disapproval and socially regulated. Rather, we know that the...

    (pp. 34-54)

    The second piece of human behavior I wish to discuss comes from the late Roman Republic. In late 50 B.C. the Senate voted to declare the proconsul in Gaul, C. Julius Caesar, an outlaw and authorized the consul to raise troops against him unless he gave up his military command, handed over his troops to a designated successor, and returned to Rome alone as a “private citizen” to stand trial for various political irregularities.¹ The Romans made a rather clear verbal and conceptual distinction between public and private, and our words in English for this distinction are in fact derived...

    (pp. 55-74)

    With that we leave for the moment the sundrenched world of successfully self-assertive Roman aristocrats and jolly Greek onanists to enter the steamy chiaroscuro regions of early Christianity.

    In hisConfessions(3.3.5) the African rhetorician Aurelius Augustinus reports that he once attempted to initiate a sexual relationship with a young woman whom he saw and lusted after in a church while religious ceremonies were being conducted. He does not describe what went on in any detail, except to say that God “beat” him “with heavy punishments” because of it, which presumably means either that he suffered from the remorse of...

    (pp. 75-104)

    The Augustinian emphasis on the inner, spiritual life was highly influential and contributed much to our modern assumption that the realm of our own thoughts, beliefs, impulses, and desires, and perhaps also the realm of communication, should be of special concern to us, but there is no direct line of descent from his doctrine to characteristic liberal views, particularly to antipaternalism. For Augustine, therewasa father in the form of his God, and various social institutions could, in principle, wield the paternal rod legitimately. To put this more concretely, Augustine’s legacy was twofold: on the one hand, he affirmed...

    (pp. 105-114)

    The purported “right to privacy” is unusual in that one can document the exact moment it was first formulated. It was invented in a paper written by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis in 1890.¹ Warren’s wife, a rich society lady, deeply disapproved that newspapers were publishing reports about the parties she gave, and her husband set about concocting a reason for imposing restrictions on such reporting. Judith Jarvis Thomson has argued very persuasively² that this right does not exist in the sense that it fails to designate any kind of coherent single property or single interest. That does not mean...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 115-136)
    (pp. 137-144)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 145-148)