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Marxism, Moral Theory and Moral Truisms

Marxism, Moral Theory
and Moral Truisms:

A Response to Nielsen
Rodney Peffer
The first thing that should be noted about Kai Nielsen’s ‘Does a
Marxian Critical Theory of Society Need a Moral Theory?’ (RP
59) is that he is not proposing that we should jettison morality
altogether when it comes to making judgements about social
policies and institutions. More specifically, he is not offering any
of the crude reasons to reject morality that Marx and various
Marxists so often give. He is not claiming that Marxism and
morality are incompatible or that morality is ideological or that it
is pernicious on some other ground. Nor is he claiming, as do
some Marxist anti-moralists (such as AlIen Wood and Richard
Miller), that Marxism and notions or theories of social justice are
incompatible or that such notions or theories are ideological or
pernicious. Nielsen states, in fact, that he is basically in agreement
with my critique of these ‘Marxist anti-moralist’ or ‘Marxist
immoralist’ positions: a critique that occupies me from chapters
four through eight of Marxism, Morality, and Social Justice. l
What Nielsen is suggesting here – although he may at least
partially be playing the role of devil’ s advocate in so doing – is
that, even though we need moral judgements to reach conclusions
about what social institutions and policies we should have, we do
not need moral theories or abstract moral principles, or theories or
principles of social justice to reach such conclusions. What’s
more Nielsen even suggests that such theories and principles may
be counter-productive. One reason for this is that they’ are more
likely to get in the way of an effective critique [of society]’

(presumably at least in part because, as Nielsen says later, they are
‘likely to distract us from the hard job of doing the necessary
empirical work needed to justify critical but not normatively
neutral theories of society’). Another reason is that ‘the contestability of theories of social justice and morality’ may well
translate into a scepticism about the normative political positions
for which one is arguing.

Before examining what Nielsen does think we need for such
a critique, let me briefly respond to the worries about moral
theorizing he evinces. My response to the first is that, if we limit
ourselves to those theories we see as being correct or approximately correct, then the construction and dissemination of such
moral theories or theories of social justice will probably be
counter-productive only if this activity is accompanied by a
commitment to moralism (i.e., to the doctrine that moral preaching or the propagation and inculcation of moral values and
principles is the primary way of causing fundamental social
change );2 or if such moral theorizing is done in complete isolation
from empirical theories designed to exhibit the real relations of
power obtaining between people in such societies. Needless to
say, I wish to plead innocent on both counts on behalf of my
theory. My response to Nielsen’s second worry is that I don’t
really see how the more abstract principles of moral theories or


theories of justice are going to be any more contestable or be any
more open to sceptical doubts than the moral judgements that
Nielson urges us to accept as a basis for our normative political
positions (more on this below). In fact, it might turn out that the
more abstract theoretical principles help iron out inconsistencies
we find in our less abstract moral judgements and principles, in
which case they may be less – rather than more – susceptible to
sceptical doubts.

Returning to Nielsen’s suggestion about what we do need for
analyzing and criticising social institutions and policies, we find
him suggesting that we only need (a) our considered moral
judgements; (b) a good political sociology; and (c) the methodology of wide reflective equilibrium. But the first thing to note is
that it really doesn’t make much sense to speak of the method of
reflective equilibrium unless we are concerned with both moral
judgements and moral principles. After all, this method is based
on getting our considered moral judgements into reflective equilibrium with a set of moral principles. But wheflhe’ gives examples of the ‘moral truisms’ he has in mind as the type of moral
judgements we should utilize, it becomes apparent that Nielsen is
really arguing that, although we do need moral principles for
making normative judgements about social policies and institutions, those that we need are less abstract and, he thinks, more
generally accepted than those that compose the theories he is
taking to task.

Now, I have considerable sympathy with both the idea that we
ought to strive for as broad a consensus as can reasonably be
expected and the idea that empirical information and theories play
an extremely important role in criticising social institutions and
policies. In fact, both of these points are embodied in the basic
strategy I utilize in my book in an attempt to defend what I take
to be the Marxist’s basic normative political positions that (1)
socialism – i.e., democratic, self-managing socialism – is morally
preferable to any form of capitalism as well as to any form of state
socialism; and (2) socialist revolution, if both necessary and
sufficient to establish socialism, is prima facie morally justified.

My strategy is to argue that these positions are justified on many
different moral theories – but especially on any even moderately
egalitarian theory of social justice – if one accepts even a minimal
set of Marxist empirical assumptions. And the set of empirical
assumptions I propose is so ‘minimally Marxist’ that many people
who do not consider themselves Marxists (in any way, shape, or
form) will accept most, possibly even all, of them. 3
What this means, of course, is that in my overall theory a great
deal of what many have considered canonical to Marxism is left
by the wayside as either false or simply irrelevant for the purpose
of justifying the Marxist’s basic normative political positions. On
my analysis’ dialectics’ , Marx’ s teleological view of history, the

Radical Philosophy 60, Spring 1992

possibility of a full-fledged communist society, and the labour
theory of value all fall into the former category, while Marx’ s
theory of historical materialism falls into the latter. 4 This is not to
say, however, that if some sophisticated version of historical
materialism is defensible,s this would not strengthen the case for
the minimal set of empirical assumptions I propose and, thus,
strengthen the case for the Marxist’s normative political positions; but, strictly speaking, it is not necessary for the defence of
these positions. Similarly, the truth of Marx’ s transhistorical
theory of classes and class struggle – a theory independent from,
and yet supportive of, his historical-materialist theory relating
productive forces, production relations, and social-political-ideological superstructures – need not be assumed. I argue that the
only empirical theses that are both plausible and necessary for
such justificatory purposes are included in Marx’ s theory of
classes and class struggle as applied specifically to capitalist
societies and to what Marx calls the ‘first stage of communism’;
in particular, the Marxist analysis of the dysfunctions of capitalism together with the possibility of a democratic form of socialism. 6 In addition, however, I argue that it is essential to assess
contemporary societies from an international and diachronic
perspective as opposed to a parochial and/or a synchronic one.

I might make it clear at this point that, although I am willing
to call the overall moral and social theory advanced in this work
a ‘Marxist’ theory, it is of little concern to me whether or not
others are willing to accord it this title. As I remark at the end of
the Introduction to this work, ‘what is ultimately of importance is
the correctness of a position or theory, not its pedigree.’ But this
brings me to the question of whether or not my theory of social
justice per se is a specifically Marxist theory. Although Nielsen
refers to it as such in his essay, I take it that this is an oversight on
his part since I go to great pains in the work to make clear that my
theory of justice per se is neither Marxist nor non-Marxist,
although – as I just said – I consider the overall moral and social
theory to be distinguishably Marxist. But it is the theory’s social
– i.e., its empirical, social-scientific – component and, ultimately,
the normative political positions they support that make the
theory Marxist: not its moral component. As I put it in the last
chapter of this work:

It is obvious that the theory of social justice I am here
putting forward is not a specifically Marxist moral theory.

This should not be surprising. Not even Marx’s implicit
moral theory per se is a specifically Marxist theory. There
is, in fact, no such thing as a specifically Marxist moral
theory. There is, however, such a thing as a specifically
Marxist moral and social theory, i.e., a theory which
combines a moral theory with a set of empirical, socialscientific theses in order to judge alternative sets of social
arrangements, programs, and policies. In fact, any moral
and social theory that utilizes a recognizably Marxist set of
empirical, social-scientific theses and supports a recognizably Marxist set of normative political positions qualifies
as a Marxist moral and social theory. 7
Independently of all this, one brief look at the theory of justice I
propose should be enough to convince most people that there is
nothing about it that is specifically Marxist. The theory consists
of the following four principles in order to lexical priority:


Everyone’s basic security and subsistence rights are to be
met: that is, everyone’s physical integrity is to be respected
and everyone is to be guaranteed a minimum level of
material well-being including basic needs, i.e., those needs
that must be met in order to remain a normally functioning
human being.

Radical Philosophy 60, Spring 1992




There is to be a maximum system of equal basic liberties,
including freedom of speech and assembly, liberty of
conscience and freedom of thought, freedom of the person
along with the right to hold (personal) property, and freedom from arbitrary arrest and seizure as defined by the
concept of the rule of law.

There is to be (a) equal opportunity to attain social positions
and offices, and (b) an equal right to participate in all social
decision-making processes within institutions of which one
is a part.

Social and economic inequalities are justified if and only if
they benefit the least advantaged, consistent with the just
savings principle, but are not to exceed levels that will
seriously undermine equal worth of liberty or the good of
self-respect. 8

This theory is – as I freely admit in the book – a modified version
of John Rawls’s theory of justice, a version which, I believe, is
more perspicuous than Rawls’s, and which, I argue, is more true
to Rawls’s core moral theory than the two principles of Rawls’s
special conception of justice taken by themselves (as they usually
are in most discussions of his views). Although I cannot go into

Lesson 26

a detailed comparison here, let me give you a few quick examples
of what I mean. It is more perspicuous, I argue, because, whereas
my first principle makes clear that our most fundamental moral
concern should be protecting everyone’s security and subsistence
rights, to see that Rawls actually holds the same position one must
wade through his theory of natural duties as well as his general
conception of justice. Another example of my theory’s greater
perspicuity, I would argue, is that, whereas one must plough
through much of Rawls’ s text in order to find out (in section 32)
that Rawls actually holds civil liberties (or the ‘freedoms of the
modems ‘) to be, morally speaking, more fundamental than
political liberties (or the ‘freedoms of the ancients ‘), this is
immediately clear in my theory, since its principles are listed in
order of lexical priority and civil liberties are included in my
second principle whereas political liberties are included in the
third. (This is not to say, of course, that political liberties are not
extremely important or that there is any reason to deny that in
modem times civil and political liberties have almost always
come together as a package. It is only to say that, if a choice of
limiting one to increase the other were ever presented to us, we
would be justified in choosing greater civil liberties.) A third and
final example of my theory’s greater perspicuity, I believe, is that,
while my fourth principle stipulates that the allowable differen-


tials of income and wealth are not to exceed levels that will
undermine either approximate equality in the worth of liberty or
the social bases of self-respect, that Rawls ultimately holds the
same position is – again – only deeply embedded in Rawls’ s text,
rather than obvious from contemplating his two well-known

An example of my theory arguably being more in accord with
Rawls’s core moral theory than is his special conception taken in
and of itself, is that my theory recognizes at least a prima facie
right to participate in social decision-making processes of all
social institutions of which one is a part, not just a right to
participate in political institutions. (The idea that Rawls’ score
moral theory demands social and economic democracy as well as
political democracy is not original with me, of course. Thomas
Scanlon argued for this thesis in his original review of Rawls’ sA
Theory of Justice in 1973. 9

Lesson 2

At this point I would also like to point out that – contrary to
what Nielsen claims in his essay – socialism could be justified
even if it were less economically efficient than capitalism. That
Nielsen is concerned about the economic efficiency – indeed, the
economic viability – of socialism is especially understandable
given the recent debecle of command socialist economies and the
related political upheavals in the Soviet Union and other Eastern
European societies (the so-called ‘Revolutions of 1989’). (Needless to say, the political repression that has long characterised
these post-capitalist societies is surely also part of the cause of
these upheavals.) But it has long been apparent to a number of
theorists on the Left – even some Marxists – that if there is going
to be a long-term viable form of socialist economy, it is going to
be a form of market socialism. Thus, while I admit (as a
theoretical possibility) that a socialist society with a command
economy could be a viable ‘democratic, self-managing socialist
society’, it is much more likely, I argue, that such a society will
have a market socialist economy. And this is not only because a
market economy is (arguably) more economically efficient, but
also because the attendant decentralization of economic power
(as well as the greater separation of political and economic power)
might help prevent (or minimise) bureaucratic privilege and
power and, thus, help prevent the political repression characteristic of the bureaucratic post-capitalist societies that have existed
so far.lO
Some are bound at this point to raise the charge that I have
completely obliterated the distinction between capitalism and
socialism. My response to this is that there are still the extremely
important matters of (1) who owns the major means of production


and distribution and (2) whether the economy is run primarily to
maximise exchange value or primarily to maximise use value. But
I also argue that, even though democratic, self-managing socialism is the best form of society possible in the present historical
epoch, if one had to choose between a contemporary democratic,
welfare-state capitalist society and post-capitalist societies as
they have so far existed, one would be justified in choosing the
former – so long as one did not take certain important international and diachronic factors into consideration.

To make the present point a virtual truism, even if one kind of
society is less economically efficient than another, the former is
still morally preferable to the latter if it better meets the correct
principles of social justice. If, for example, a post-capitalist
society is less efficient but still meets people’s subsistence rights
(as well as their security rights) better than capitalist systems, then
it is morally preferable. This point is especially pertinent when
post-capitalist societies in the Third World (e.g., Cuba) are
compared to capitalist societies in the Third World and it turns out
that, even though perhaps less economically efficient in some
ways, Cuba does a much better job of ensuring its population’s
subsistence rights due to its food-rationing system and its egalitarian distribution of basic health care and education. Unless we
recognise both subsistence and security rights as more basic than
(unconstrained) property rights, we will not necessarily conclude
that we should support Third World regimes and movements that
have ended (or stand a good chance of ending) starvation and
malnutrition and that have improved (or will improve) basic
health care, literacy rates, etc., even if this entails putting limits on
property rights. (This is assuming, of course, that such regimes
and movements are not worse than their capitalist counterparts
when it comes to protecting security rights.)12
But having elucidated some of the differences between Raw Is’s
theory of justice and my own and pointed out some implications
of my theory, let me return to Nielsen’s present thesis since – ifhe
is correct – I may have been wasting your time. This thesis, to
recapitulate, is that, in judging social institutions and policies
from a moral point of view, all we need are moral truisms, a good
political sociology and reflective equilibrium. Moral theory including the articulation of philosophical principles of justice simply drops out or becomes at best a rather ancillary activity.

Some examples of these moral truisms – which, when combined
with the sort of empirical assumptions I have proposed in my
minimal set will, argues Nielsen, justify a democratic form of
socialism over both capitalist and state-socialist societies – are
‘that freedom is a good thing, [that] more equal freedom is also a
good thing, … that democracy is a good thing’ and ‘that suffering
is bad’. These are all ‘plain moral truisms’ , according to Nielsen.

Lesson 21



Radical Philosophy 60, Spring 1992

I think there are a number of issues to be sorted out here. One
issue is what it means to say that these are ‘moral truisms’.

Another is whether a consensus on these values can be maintained
(i.e., whether they remain ‘moral truisms’) once the terms involved – especially ‘freedom’ – are more specifically defined.

Finally, there is the empirical issue of whether moral theories (or
the activity of moral theorizing) can play a positive role in the
creation of a more just society or whether, as Nielsen tentatively
suggests, they are at best irrelevant and at worst counterproductive.

Lesson 20

If calling these propositions ‘moral truisms’ means that all
persons or even all rational persons agree that they are correct (or
true), then I take it that the claim that these statements express
moral truisms is palpably false. Perhaps the vast majority of
rational persons accept these moral values but, unless one thinks
that immorality can be reduced to irrationality we must admit that
not all rational persons accept them. But perhaps Nielsen would
respond that he is not concerned to claim that all rational persons
accept these values. Perhaps he means only that the vast majority
of rational persons who also accept the moral point of view or who
have achieved some minimum degree of moral enlightenment
will agree that these values are obviously correct, such that they
are prepared to act on them. I have considerable sympathy for the
idea of introducing some such restriction concerning the people
we should be expected to include within a potential consensus on
moral values. In Marxism, Morality, and Social Justice, for
example, I distinguish between persons who accept ‘the contemporary secular (or at least non-theocratic) and humanistic framework of practical reasoning about social arrangements (i.e., …

modem liberals, libertarians, social-democrats, socialists, and
most conservatives’ 13 and those – such as committed fascists,
racists, or religious fundamentalists – who do not accept this
framework, and argue that it is only persons in the first category
with whom we can have any rational discussions on this topic at
all, even though it is still not certain that all rational persons within
this category will agree on the correct moral theory at the end of
the process. (In fact, in chapter 7 I argue that, although normative
ethical relativism is ultimately incoherent and, thus, must be
rejected, metaethical and metaevaluative relativism are probably
But even if it were the case that all rational and minimally
morally enlightened individuals accepted Nielsen’s set of moral
truisms, there still is the issue of how we are to interpret these
claims and the question of whether or not, once they are interpreted, such a consensus can be maintained. For example, even if
all such persons agree that in some sense freedom is good, it is

Radical Philosophy 60, Spring 1992

notorious that people disagree over what type of freedom is to be
valued. Right-libertarians like Nozick of Anarchy, State, and
Utopia maintain that only negative freedom is of any value,
whereas others maintain that we should recognize both negative
freedom and positive freedom (e.g., freedom from hunger or the
freedom to participate in governing the community); or, at any
rate, that we should recognize values in addition to that of
negative freedom. Since the claim that ‘freedom is a good thing’

is true on the Nozickian’s view only if we restrict it to negative
freedom, this claim only remains a consensual moral truism so
long as its content is not further specified.

I think we will get similar results when we examine the’ moral
truisms’ that ‘democracy is a good thing’ and ‘suffering is bad’ .

That is, even though most people worth having rational discussions with about this sort of thing will probably agree with these
claims so long as their content or implications are not further
specified, such consensus evaporates once this is done. Although
most people, for example, think that democracy is somehow
intrinsically good, libertarians view it as (at best) instrumentally
good, i.e., as good to the extent that it can be shown to ensure that
the value of negative liberty is respected. Similarly, Nozickians
have no trouble at all agreeing with the ‘moral truism’ that
‘suffering is bad’. Nozick, himself, even goes so far as to claim
that we all have duties of charity aimed at relieving human
suffering. The rub, of course, is that according to Nozick this duty
is only an imperfect rather than a perfect duty. As such, its
fulfilment cannot be demanded by those who are in a position to
be helped, the government, or anyone else and – according to the
libertarian position – can never be the basis for interfering with
anyone’s negative liberties, including the right to dispose of one’s
income and property as one sees fit. Consequently, no one can be
compelled to pay taxes even if having the government collect
taxes and make transfer payments is the only way to prevent
massive amounts of human suffering – even the outright starvation of millions of people. 14 But, again, this is hardly the sort of
acceptance of the ‘moral truism’ that ‘suffering is bad’ that
Nielsen presumably has in mind.

So, if we don’t give content to these ‘moral truisms’, it turns
out that it is simply not the case that the Marxist’s basic normative

Lesson 19

political positions will be justified for everyone – or even for all
those who are rational and minimally morally enlightened – so
long as they accept these ‘moral truisms 7 along with a Marxist
political sociology. As long as libertarians can give these moral
truisms the content they regard as appropriate, they will reach no
such conclusion. On the other hand, if these claims are given what
most people see as a more humane (and correct) content, then the


libertarian will no longer consider them true, let alone truisms.

(Here I am taking the liberty of assuming that Nozickians can
accept the method of reflective equilibrium but truthfully claim
that their considered moral judgements are captured by the
hypothesis that negative liberty, and only negative liberty, is a
value that must be respected and/or that rights trump all other
moral considerations; and the only rights we have are the rights to
life, liberty, and property, negatively construed.)
But perhaps Nielsen would insist that none of this refutes his
main contention that moral theory is basically of no use when it
comes to judging social policies and institutions, since it is by no
means clear that presenting a convinced right-libertarian with
what egalitarians might take to be the correct moral theory is
going to convert the libertarian to this moral theory or to the
normative political positions it would endorse on, say, a Marxist
set of empirical assumptions. This point I freely concede. (To this
extent Nielsen has perhaps over-estimated the ‘work’ that I think
one can get out of a theory of social justice.) Nevertheless, I
continue to think that such moral theories as the one I propose are
in no worse a position in terms of justifying normative political
positions than are Nielsen’s ‘moral truisms’ , nor any more likely
to generate scepticism than those truisms once the latter are

In fact, in addition to providing us with a ‘perspicuous way of
talking about what we have justified on other grounds’ (as Nielsen
puts it), moral theories and the activity of moral theorizing may
help us organize our considered moral judgments and, thus, put us
in a better position to compare them with those that inform other
moral theories. This, in turn, may help us to make moral judgements about social policies and institutions and to defend (and
rationally revise) our basic normative political commitments.

Even if we are in agreement on the relevant empirical views,
without a rather well fleshed-out moral theory it is not at all
obvious what normative political positions we should adopt or
what moral obligations we have. As we have seen, a few ‘moral
truisms’ are not enough since they need to be given content. But
even a set of moral principles will not necessarily be enough, since
such principles can and do conflict. Thus, we need priority
relations which hold between the principles (to the extent that this
can be had). In addition, the major concepts employed must be
well enough defined to carry out their functions adequately. (For
example, if one’s theory mentions rights, then one’s analysis of
rights must be adduced as well, although this analysis may be too
cumbersome to include in a short list of principles.) 15
Let us now briefly consider the debate between proponents of
Nozickian and Rawlsian theories of social justice, especially with
an eye to how these theories might affect people who are not
completely set in their views (e.g. most college students). Several
facts that may be important here are: (1) Most people who come
across right-libertarian moral theory are going to find it somewhat
attractive, at least atfirst glance; (2) this attraction usually rapidly
dissipates once people realize that the theory has what most of
them consider to be higher counter-intuitive implications and that
other moral theories – e.g., some version of utilitarianism or some
moderately egalitarian theory of social justice – better accounts
for their considered moral judgements; and (3) perhaps the best
way to show people what is wrong with right-libertarianism is to
engage in some fairly sophisticated moral theorizing – for example, arguing (a) that there is no strong and morally significant
difference between acts of commission and acts of omission; (b)
that although rights may be morally basic they are not epistemically
basic and this leaves open the possibility that we may have
positive as well as negative rights; (c) that the very distinction
between negative and positive rights is undermined by the fact
that so-called negative rights require positive as well as negative


acts on the part of others (e.g., setting up police departments to
help protect people’s right to life); and even, as James Sterba
argues, (d) that right-libertarianism may violate the ‘ought implies can’ (or ‘ought not implies might not’) principle when it
demands that persons in desperate need should not appropriate
what they require for survival from those who have a considerable
surplus. 16 In addition, of course, one could utilize role-reversal
arguments – especially Rawls’ s strategy of placing parties behind
the veil of ignorance in his original position – and one should also
point out that the method of wide reflective equilibrium requires
us to try as best we can to eliminate biases based on self-interest
or empirical circumstances that undermine our moral autonomy
as we go through the process of making our moral judgements
considered moral judgements.

Again, perhaps Nielsen could simply claim that all of this is an
example of using the method of reflective equilibrium as he
recommends. But if this is the case then I am no longer sure that
we have a genuine dispute. Although one must always be somewhat wary of endorsing (or refusing to reject) something that
constitutes an important part of one’s own life activity, I nevertheless continue to have the strong suspicion that developing and
attempting to disseminate moral theories or theories of social
justice of the sort that John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Amartya
Sen, Brian Barry, G. A. Cohen, John Roemer, Kai Nielsen, and I
have proposed can play some role – albeit perhaps a minor and
ancillary role – in the creation of a more just society. It may be
primarily changes in the empirical views held by people that
accounts for ‘moral progress’, – the phenomenon, as J. S. Mill
puts it, that’ social inequalities which have ceased to be considered expedient, assume the character not of simple inexpediency,
but of injustice, and appear so tyrannical that people are apt to
wonder how they ever could have been tolerated 17 – but changes
in people’s moral values may also be part of the explanation for
this. In turn, moral theories of the proper sort may play some role
in changing these moral values (in addition to being a reflection
of these changes).

Moreover, at the risk of being accused of committing the
fallacy of appealing to authority, I would like to quote (the
‘earlier’) Nielsen on the importance of moral theorizing:

Whether socialists like it or not, such moral-talk will be in
the air. A clear establishment of the moral viability of
socialism will help in motivating the intelligentsia into
taking the standpoint of labour and it will provide, to the
extent that these egalitarian moral claims can be seen to be
justified, an important weapon in ideological battles with
the bourgeoisie. To show the reasonableness and nonideological nature of such principles of justice, if this can
be shown, will strengthen the case for socialism in such
ideological battles. This may well be important, given the
bamboozlement of the working class. Moreover, it can and
should be argued both that socialism is in the interests of
the working class and that these principles of justice,
embedded in socialism, are justified. 18
Here Nielsen and I haven’t any disagreement at all. In any case,
it is worth noting that every revolution and every major political
movement in modem times has had behind them a moral ideology
(in the neutral sense of the term) – if not an explicit moral theory
or set of moral theories – and that such documents as the French
Revolution’s ‘Rights of Man and Citizen’ and the current United
Nations’ ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ seem to have
come in handy for various political and organizational purposes,
such that any moral theory or theory of social justice (and/or
human rights) which can further clarify or ground these documents may be worth developing and defending.19

Radical Philosophy 60, Spring 1992

R. G. Peffer, Marxism, Morality, and Social Justice, Princeton:

Princeton University Press, 1990 (hereafter in the footnotes




Eastern Europe, see my ‘Marxism, Markets, and the “Sanctity”
of Socialist Property Relations’ , Journal of Social Philosophy,
vol. 22, no. 1 (Spring 1991) and Alex Callinicos, The Revenge
of History, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991.


See my discussion of capitalist vs. post-capitalist societies in the
Third World in MMSJ, pp. 449-52. See also Frances Moore
Lappe and Joseph Collins, Food First: Beyond the Myth of
Scarcity, New York: Ballantine Books, 1977; Medea Benjamin,
Joseph Collins and Michael Scott, No Free Lunch: Food and
Revolution in Cuba Today, San Francisco: Institute for Food and
Development Policy, 1984; United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990; Frederic Bender, ‘World Hunger, Human
Rights, and the Right to Revolution’ ,Social Praxis, vol. 8,1981;
Amartya Sen, ‘The Right not to Be Hungry’, in Contemporary
Philosophy, vol. 11 (G. Floistad, ed.), The Hague: Martinus
Nijhoff, 1982; and ‘Property and Hunger’, Economic Philosophy, no. 4, 1988.


MMSJ, p. 307.

While some may appeal to Nozick’s ‘Lockean Proviso’ in an
attempt to block this unpalatable conclusion, it is clear from his
discussion that he takes this proviso to apply primarily – if not
exclusively – to the’ original acquisition’ of property and that, in
any case, he does not mean it to apply to the end result of vast
numbers of market translations such as characterise most modem societies. He certainly makes it clear that on his view the state
can carry out no welfare functions whether or not there are
enough contributions to private charities to meet people’s basic
needs. See Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, New
York: Basic Books, 1974, pp. 178-82 and 167-74.

For my analysis of fights (following J. S. Mill) as valid claims
that result in entitlements, see MMSJ, pp. 324-28 and 365-67 and
my ‘A Defense of Rights to Well-Being’ ,Philosophy and Public
Affairs, vol. 8, no. 1, Fall 1978.

See James Sterba, How to Make People Just, Totowa, NJ:

Rowman and Littlefield, 1988, pp. 78-94. For critiques of rightlibertarianism see Kai Nielsen, Equality and.Liberty, Totowa,
NJ: Rowman and Allanheld, 1984, pp. 191-277; Thomas Pogge,
Realizing Rawls, pp. 15-62; and the articles referred to inMMSJ,
pp. 136-37.

John Stuart Mill, ‘Utilitarianism’ in Essential Works of John
Stuart Mill (Max Lerner, ed.), New York: Bantam Books, 1961,

Kai Nielsen, ‘Justice and Ideology: Justice as Ideology’, Windsor Yearbook of Justice, no. 1, 1981, pp. 210-11.

For works emphasizing the human rights aspect of international
social justice, see Henry Shue, Basic Rights: Subsistence, Affluence, and U.S. Foreign Policy, Princeton: Princeton University
Press, 1980; James Nickel, Making Sense of Human Rights:

Philosophical Reflections on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987;
David Crocker, ‘Functioning and Capability: the Foundations of
Sen’s Ethic’, forthcoming; and my ‘World Economic Justice’,

SeeMMSJ, pp. 264-66 and Svetozar Stojanovic, ‘Marx’ s Theory
of Ethics ‘ ,Marx and the Western World, ed. Nicholas Lobkowicz,
Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1967.

See MMSJ, pp. 458-59.

Ibid., pp. 17-32.

For example, those versions developed by G. A. Cohen, Karl
. Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978; Richard Miller, Analyzing Marx: Morality,
PowerandHistory,Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984;
and Jon Elster, Making Sense of Marx, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1986.

See MMSJ, pp. 23-32 and 455-58.

Ibid., pp. 433-34.

Ibid., p. 14.

Thomas Scanlon, ‘Rawls’ Theory of Justice’, Reading Rawls,
ed. Norman Daniels, New York: Basic Books, 1976. A number
of articles in this anthology – especially those by Scanlon,
N agel, and Daniels – together with parts of AlIen E. B uchanan ‘s
Marx and Justice: The Radical Critique ofLiberalism , Totowa,
NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1982, offer some of the most
sophisticated sympathetic critiques of Rawls’s theory as presented in A Theory ofJustice. For another insightful treatment of
Rawls that takes into consideration his later (‘overlapping consensus’) articles, see Thomas Pogge, Realizing Rawls, Ithaca:

Cornell University Press, 1989. My sympathetic critique of
Rawls’s theory of social justice in Chapter 9 of MMSJ is broadly
in agreement with those of these authors, and my attack on
Rawls’s ‘overlapping consensus’ model is in some ways similar
to Pogge’s (see MMSJ, pp. 299-305).

In fairness to Rawls, however, I must say that I was later to find
out that, although he did not always mention it in his articles in
this (later) period, he had continued to presuppose that the
individuals who are included in the overlapping consensus all
accept ‘the idea of political society as a fair system of cooperation over time [and] the idea that those cooperating are persons
seen as free and equal moral citizens’ (,The Idea of Public
Reason’, forthcoming). This makes Rawls’ s overlapping consensus model invulnerable to most of the objections levelled
against it by such authors as Pogge and I. With this addition,
Rawls’s later theory is essentially no less hypothetical than its
earlier incarnation. Thus, an overlapping consensus among all
major groups in a society is not required for a theory of justice
being justified. Speaking of groups having rigid and intolerant
views of the good and the right, Rawls comments that ‘Such
views are incompatible with democratic values and will not
belong to an overlapping consensus. Our hope is that they are but
a small part of society and do not much affect the public culture’

(ibid.). Thus, Raw Is is guilty at most of not having been clear that
he continued to hold these views in his ‘later’ articles; but there
is no evidence whatever to support R. P. Wolff’s recent claim
that Rawls has entirely given up the egalitarian bent of his earlier
work – including the Difference Principle! (See R. P. Wolff,
‘Thomas W. Pogge: Realizing Rawls’, Journal of Philosophy,
vol. 87, no. 12, December 1990.)


See Alec Nove, The Economics ofFeasible Socialism, London:

AlIen & Unwin, 1983; David Schweickart, Capitalism or Worker
Control? An Ethical and Economic Appraisal, New York:

Praeger, 1980; and Ignacio Ortuno-Ortin, John Roemer, and
Joaquim Silvestre, ‘Market Socialism’, Working Paper Series
No. 355, Department of Economics, University of California,
Davis, 27 March 1990.


See MMSJ, pp. 433-48. For some suggestions about the future of
Marxism and socialism in light of recent revolutionary events in

Radical Philosophy 60, Spring 1992







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