Analysis Of Political Philosophy Theories And Moral Issues Within Them

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Aristotle’s views on private property, interest, and the “fair” or “good” price of a good

Aristotle (350 BC/1984) says that property should be private, but have common use (p. 13). He says this because men work the land, and cannot get along if they have to share that land. Men have different interest and capabilities, so “if they do not share equally enjoyments and toils those who labor much and get little will necessarily complain of those who labor little and receive or consume much” (Aristotle, 350 BC/1984, p. 12). Aristotle goes on to say that because of these different interests, so if everyone tends to their own business there will be more progress. However, he makes it clear that when everyone has their private property to tend to they are also more willing to share the use of some things making the use of property common.

Aristotle (350 BC/1984) describes interest as “the most unnatural” means of gaining wealth (p. 11). He believes money is just a measurement of demand is lawfully acceptable, and aids in exchanges (Aristotle, 350 BC/1908, p. 15). However, it becomes unnatural when it is used to make money in excess of the exchange taking place. He is not fond of the idea of men profiting from one another (Aristotle, 350 BC/1984, p. 11).

Aristotle believes that when it comes to exchanging, reciprocity is what holds men together; although, an equal exchange is not necessarily possible. Money is what has become the measure of demand in the society and acts as a representative that equates the value of goods to one another. Money also acts as a way to establish set prices for goods, so that people can always buy things while knowing their set price. Aristotle (350 BC/1908) uses the example of a house being equal to five beds (p. 15). This is considered a fair price because the labor put into making one house is proportionate to the labor put into making five beds. Money in this exchange should be equal to the value of the five beds in exchange for the one house. Therefore, the fair price is the price that represents the proportionate value of what is being exchanged.

Aristotle’s’ values all encompass moral ideals. He is an advocate for people living together as a community and private property. His theories are concerned with humans getting along in the community, and not profiting off of one another. All of his ideas are about people living, and exchanging together in ways that promote “the highest good” for the community (Aristotle, 350 BC/1984, p. 5).

The connection between Aristotle’s idea of “naturalness” and justice

Aristotle’s ideas of justice have to do with what is fair, just, and orderly. It holds mankind together using the law. His ideas of naturalness are about what is intrinsically in us, such as our human desires. Naturalness is what is given to us by nature. It is our “virtue,” which instills high morality and a sense of making decisions for the greater good of all (Aristotle, 350 BC/1984, p. 6). Aristotle divides “wealth-getting” into two different categories: natural and unnatural. Naturalness ties into household management and survival. Someone who manages a household or society will acquire as much as possible to care for the people living under him. He describes this first method as “necessary and honorable” (Aristotle, 350 BC/1984, p. 11). Those who practice this form of “wealth-getting” are trying to live by acquiring the riches given to us by nature, for nature always places a limit on this even if a household grows. The second method is unnatural partly because it is without limit (Aristotle, 350 BC/1984, p. 11).

In this case, a man becomes obsessed with acquiring more and more property. He fools himself into thinking that his desire has no limit and that he must live in excess to satisfy his needs to live well. Aristotle (350 BC/1984) says that when one is no longer satisfied with the art of getting wealthy, they begin to use “every faculty in a manner contrary to nature” (p. 10). He continues on to mention interest, which he feels is a sort of unnatural means of getting wealthy. He calls it a “hated practice’ and one that is “justly censured” (Aristotle, 350 BC/1984, p. 11). So, while the first method of wealth-getting is natural, the second is unnatural and unjust. The second method is a means of wealth-getting that is unfair because it profits off of another man, and many of Aristotle ideas are about reciprocity and doing good.

A basic overview of the connection between Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas

In our class, we discussed how Aristotle’s theories became the official philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church. This was because of Saint Thomas Aquinas who pushed for scholasticism. In his readings, much of his ideas reflect Aristotle’s teachings. The reading itself cites Aristotle and Augustine as Saint Aquinas’s influences (Spiegel, 1971/1991, p. 59).

Saint Aquinas wanted to blend Christian doctrine and Aristotelianism in his writings (Spiegel, 1971/1991, p. 57). His ideas on private property, wealth, fair price and interest all draw influence from Aristotle’s theories. Aquinas agrees with Aristotle that property should be private with some of its’ uses being common. He says that things such as slavery and private property do not go against the law of nature — they are simply additions to it. However, Aquinas believes that private property should be regulated by the government since Aristotle says that preserving private property is for the good of the state as a whole. In his Summa Theologica, he expands on Aristotle’s views on “wealth-getting”. He is in support of “wealth-getting,” but believes those who attain this wealth should share it by means of “charity, liberality and munificence” (Spiegel, 1971/1991, p. 58).

His theory on just price, like Aristotle, are not defined in an explicit manner. It is defined as “the current price prevailing at a given place and at a given time, to be determined by the estimate of a fair-minded person” (Spiegel, 1971/1991, p. 61). The price should be what the good is considered to be worth by the seller and buyer at the time of purchase. This reflects Aristotle’s idea of proportionate value and fair prices. Interest is something Saint Thomas is against. He found this to be a sin and a violation of justice because the lender would be benefiting off of the necessity of the borrower, and also would be asking for and excess in value that does not exist (Spiegel, 1971/1991, p. 64-65). Similarly, to Aristotle, he believes goods and money should be exchanged for their proportionate value.

What are some of the defining features of Mercantilism

As we have discussed in our class, Mercantilism is an economic system that puts an emphasis on exports rather than imports. A mercantilist economy imposes exports on countries, while placing strict restrictions on their imports and trade, and then extract precious metals from these same countries to accumulate wealth. A country without mines can obtain a continuous flow of metals such as gold and metals through this method.

The five doctrines of mercantilism are a national advantage, indefinite stock of precious metals, exports over imports, self-interest nationally, and “plenty and power”. “Plenty and power” are nations implementing mercantilism on other countries to get as many precious metals as they can by means of military force. They enforce their exports on other countries and demand precious metals to accumulate their own riches. This is for their own national interest (Viner, 2016, p. 262-263).

Although for the mercantilist country this seemed like a proper way to accumulate wealth, it did not mutually benefit the countries they were “trading” with. The methods used to gain wealth were immoral, and left consequences on all countries being involved; therefore, mercantilism became a flawed and failing system. According to the reading, mercantilism had a “minimum” objective of an even balance of trade and power (Viner, 2016, p. 267). However, this contradicts with the doctrines of national interests and exports over imports using power. As colonizing nations accumulated more precious metals they needed larger armies, funds to finance conquests, and ways to bribe foreign markets. More wealth supported the power they needed to enforce their trading restrictions and economic system on weaker nations. The accumulated funds also financed their war efforts. Because there was not an even balance of trade and power, what was imposed on the nations being colonized was immoral and had direct consequences.

The unfair conquests of the nations who had to abide by a limited trading system found themselves in a situation that restricted their countries own economic health. Colonizing countries were able to enrich themselves and expand their conquests by depleting nations’ resources; the dominant power became wealthier while the weaker nations became poorer (Viner, 2016, p. 268). An indirect effect of mercantilism was the greed that it began to foster in people. The mercantilist system does not consider the feelings of self-interest that humans have (Viner, 2016, p. 269). Not all men of a nation are nationalists, so men who had some authority began to accept bribes and violate regulations. The heavy restrictions on trade also led people to use methods such as tax evasion, illegal trade and smuggling to make a private profit (Viner, 2016, p. 271).

Important dimensions of the Classical School and its ties to utilitarianism

Jeremey Bentham’s theories, which can be found in the Classical School, are his philosophy of Utilitarianism. He believed that people reasoned with their needs for pleasures versus their fear of pain, rather than just their morality. His theory endorsed a “benefit-cost mode of decision making in both private and public affairs” (Medema & Samuels, 2003/2004, p.180). He theorized that pleasures and pains could be measured or calculated — this would allow people to have a reference point when thinking further about the consequences of their actions.

Another theory of his was “the greatest happiness principle,” which was an argument that governments should base their decisions on what could result in the greatest interest for all (Medema & Samuels, 2003/2004, p.180). This is similar to many theories we’ve previously learned in classical economics that were based on the idea of the greatest good for all. However, a dilemma with this theory was how to decide between maximum benefits for some who could benefit the most or fewer benefits for the greatest number of people (Medema & Samuels, 2003/2004, p.180). Utilitarianism, according to Bentham, is the greatest amount of pleasures and the least amount of pain that can be given to the most amount of people. His approach to utilitarianism only focused on collectivism (Medema & Samuels, 2003/2004, p. 181).

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John Stuart Mill was educated by his father on Bentham’s principles. However, he later developed his own perspective on utilitarianism (Backhouse, 2002/2004, p. 153). Although, Mill’s version still had hedonistic principles he looked at pleasure in terms of quality and not just quantity. Mill had a clear distinction of ‘higher and lower pleasures’ (Crisp, 1997, p. 32). He believed that just because you experienced pleasure did not mean that pain was inevitable (Crisp, 1997, p. 26). So, because the pain was inevitable, the quality of your pleasures was even more valuable. Mill believed that higher pleasure was more valuable than many lower pleasures (Crisp, 1997, p. 32).

In contrast to Bentham, Mill’s definition of pleasure is not measurable because it is based on quality with respect to the person enjoying the pleasure. This is something that considers the individuality of humans and their personal preferences of pleasures. Bentham’s ideas were about collective decisions for the greatest quantity of pleasures for the greatest number, on the other hand.

The relationship between Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments and his economic theory in A Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith’s theories were a three-part system of social science that tied his economic theories and morality (Medema & Samuels, 2003/2004, p.153). Two parts of this system — Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, were about his economic theory and about morality. In Wealth of Nations he talked about making wealth through the use of division of labor (Medema & Samuels, 2003/2004, p.153). In class we used the analogy of the pin to understand this; eighteen parts go into making a pin. If you divide up the process of labor, you can produce more and then consume more. He advocated for the division of labor facilitating a wide use of the market, of the market accumulation of capital, and free national/international trading (Medema & Samuels, 2003/2004, p.153).

Another important theory in his Wealth of Nations was that every man should be a merchant because merchants are prototypes of society. The merchant exchanges and interacts with others. This is the end of self-sufficiency. Everyone would be producing and exchanging. The theory of morals sentiments focused on sympathy, and the moral rules in society that go into promoting sympathy amongst people. It also discussed the government regulation and laws that should go into “working out the legal relations between and among the people, including the legal institutions serving as the foundation of the economic system” (Medema & Samuels, 2003/2004, p.154). Smith used his theory of moral sentiments to explain man’s desire for wealth. Wealth equates to grandeur and to lots of pleasures; therefore, man constantly sought out ways to expand their wealth and the means of acquiring that wealth (Smith, 1759/200, p. 214).

Smith went on to explain that although, wealthy people are selfish in nature an “invisible hand” guides them to share what they gain with the rest of society (Smith, 1759/200, p. 215). While Wealth of Nations is a theory about how to expand wealth through the use of capital and division of labor, Theory of Moral Sentiments is used to explain that the difference in wealth is made up for. This is because wealthy people do not consume much, and their feeling of sympathy with the rest of society is what is the “invisible hand” that guides them to distribute necessities in what can be considered an equal distribution of wealth to everyone (Smith, 1759/200, p. 215). These two theories are used to explain why the pursuit of wealth, and the expansion of the market indirectly advances the interests of everyone. Society will do well if individuals are doing well.

“Laissez-Faire” in economics is the idea that there should be free trade with no government intervention. Adam Smith was in favor of free trade because he believed in the self-interest guided by the “invisible hand,” and in the market being a “self-adjusting mechanism” (Medema & Samuels, 2003/2004, p.154). However, as we have discussed in class Smith was not in total favor of “laissez-faire.” He believed the government should be on board with regulating trade. He hated special interests and the government needed to prevent this from taking over the free market. The government should allow free trade to happen, but they would act as agents of social change that protect this free trade market.

According to Karl Marx, how are workers exploited under capitalism

Manual labor is a commodity — the value of labor is explained by the amount of time and energy that is put into the final product. Marx deduces that in a political economy man becomes a commodity. Their existence is defined by their abilities to produce for the property owners (Marx, 1932, p. 70). This way of existing alienates him from his work, because the more labor man puts into making products, the less he is able to retain for himself. Man puts his life into production and the final products become objects that “exist outside of him, independently, as something alien from him” (Marx, 1932, p. 72).

The efforts one should put into themselves go into external objects that will never actually belong to the worker. Nature provides men with what he needs to sustain himself, but Marx says that the more man appropriates natures resources to produce for someone else, the less he can retain for himself. His very essence becomes an object necessary for production, and as the property owner becomes wealthier the worker becomes poorer and deformed. Also, labor does not satisfy man’s internal needs, but instead is a necessity for survival that he is forced to do to satisfy his external needs. Because the worker does not work for himself, the work he does belongs to and sustains someone else which further alienates him from the fruits of his labor (Marx, 1932, p. 74). This reduces man to his “animal functions—eating, drinking, procreating” (Marx, 1932, p. 74).

Property owners under capitalist economies are able to exploit the working man because of his growing need for money. As the value of money and life increases, the need for more money also increases; the worker is willing to produce/work more because of this (Marx, 1932, p. 93). The property owner turns labor into a repetitive simplified routine of working with machinery to reduce man’s other capabilities. They reduce working conditions and subsistence to the bare minimum needed to survive. Because of this the working man believes that the bare minimum is what their efforts amount to, and they continue to give up their personal pleasures to save as much as they can (Marx, 1932, p. 95). Capitalists exploit workers by manipulating wages. Workers do not know the relationship between their wages, and the price of commodities and they are not able to track their wages in relativity to what they produce. So, workers are not actually paid what they earn. Because they are conditioned to work for minimum living conditions they are unable to realize that they are being exploited.

How does the disagreement between Keynes and Hayek capture the tension between the tenets of capitalism on the one hand and government oversight on the other

The disagreements between Keynes and Hayek highlighted the attitudes towards capitalism about whether there should be government intervention when the market is at risk, or whether it should be left alone to regulate itself. Keynes argued that because the economy was constantly fluctuating the government had to play an active role in managing the investment in the economy. When the economy is doing poorly the government should borrow money from the public to spend on things such as public works jobs, which would lead to more spending and create more jobs (Yergin & Stanislaw, 1998, p. 1).

Keynes would have agreed that the market should tank before the government steps in — this would increase aggregate demand by making people spend more, which would create the jobs needed to get the economy back on track. The public should spend when the economy is down, and they should cut spending when the economy is thriving (Yergin & Stanislaw, 1998, p.1). Keynes might have also found that some people profiting at the expense of others is not a bad thing. This is because his theories encourage the public to spend, and they believe that this will eventually help the market out of its slumps. Not everyone would have the means to constantly spend money, and also be able to save for themselves and thrive. However, their spending would directly benefit the businesses that their money was going to. This was not a moral problem for Keynes.

Believing in Keynes’ theory meant that even if people were not profiting off of this spending at the moment they would keep spending because eventually it would increase employment and benefit them. We’ve discussed the dangers of this in class. People were accumulating their spending habits and eventually, they could no longer keep up with their investments — this happened during the 2008 recession in America. Keynes said the paradox of saving is that you are not investing in the market. Hayek disagreed with this. He said the market coordinates time and interest. You can watch the market grow without spending. In class, we have discussed the paradox of spending that Hayek disagreed with. People spend what they have, and then they don’t have money for what they need. The stuff they buy they outgrow, and that increases waste.

The paradox of thrift is you make more responsible investments and the economy will not plummet or peak because people are making more rational decisions. Hayek said the market would regulate itself, and it is smarter than the government. Hayek would let the market tank and then adjust itself again on its own. He was for people making smarter private investment decisions, so it can be argued that one benefiting off of another was not necessarily a moral problem to him. Rather if everyone was making smart investments and thinking of their own self-interest, the sum of those investments would eventually help the economy.

What Keynes and Hayek would have said about the government bailouts in 2008

The government bailouts in 2008 happened because the government felt that companies like AIG were “too big to fail,” so it used tax dollars to save these companies. This is something that Keynes would agree with. Keynes felt that the government should take a bigger role in regulating the market and that it was more knowledgeable than the marketplace (Yergin & Stanislaw, 1998, p.2). He felt that the economy was constantly fluctuating and that in times of deficit, the public should invest in the economy until it became stable again. So, he would agree that the government bailouts were for the best. Hayek, on the other hand, felt that the market could regulate itself and that the marketplace was more knowledgeable than the government.

Although there was much criticism about whether the market would always be able to stabilize without intervention, he felt that over time the market would regulate itself. He would be against the government bailouts, especially since it used the public tax dollars (which ended up not being beneficial to the public) to “save” these big companies.

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