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Assignment Questions

Biblical, Aristotle and Plato’s Comparison of Utilitarianism and Libertarianism

Midterm Reflection Paper

Stevenson, in Ten Theories of Human Nature addresses four topics in each chapter:
• Background metaphysical understanding of the universe and humanity’s place in it.
• A theory of human nature
• A diagnosis of some typical defect in human beings, of what tends to go wrong in human life and society
• A prescription or ideal for how human life should best be lived, typically offering guidance to individuals and human societies.
Select either Utilitarianism or Libertarianism as discussed in Sandel’s Justice and suggest how these four questions might be answered by proponents of that philosophical approach. You should use resources beyond Sandel to examine the basics of these philosophies and to check your understanding of concepts, but do not use Wikipedia, Conservaspedia or Metapedia as sources.

More information

Perhaps it would have been easier if I asked you to compare and contrast either utilitarianism or
libertarianism with Plato (or Aristotle or The Bible). But, I figured it would be easier to just take a theory
in its own right. In my earleir email, I contrasted libertarianism with Calvinism.

So let me try to illustrate using Plato as an example. I’m doing this without the text in front of me so
this is off the top of my head.

It may be easiest to begin with the prescription and to work back to diagnosis, theory of human nature
and metaphysical background.

For example, Bentham’s panopticon is an example of one specific prescription/solution for a problem:
social control of undesirable behaviors. In general, he argues that people make correct decisions to
garner pleasure and avoid pain (remember the hedonistic calculus). So, the prescriptive focus is on
creating a system of distribution of rewards that achieves the end of the greatest happiness for the
greatest number. Plato, in contrast might argue that the proper functioning of human soul (proper
relationship between reason, spirit and appetite) depends on the proper organization of the polity or
state. That state significantly restricts human freedom. How would the libertarian view the state? (Hint:
a libertarian would reject any measures that would impose a state religion, but would extol reason.)

The diagnostic question would be: Why do people engage in the problematic behaviors? For Plato, the
problem involves disorder among the parts of the soul. What might Bentham say? Would a libertarian
put forth a different position?

The diagnosis and prescription are based on some underlying ideas about human nature. For Plato, a
human possesses an immortal soul that can be brought into contact with the world of forms. Would
Bentham or a libertarian be likely to hold this view? If not, what might be set forth to justify an
alternative system?

The metaphysical underpinning is the background assumptions about the world in which humans act.
For Plato, this involves an understanding of a world of forms that exists apart from the material world.
Would Bentham view the world in this way? Would a libertarian?

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