Making Men Moral: Book Review

Making Men Moral

By Robert P. George

Read August 2009

I borrowed it from MSU’s library. I’m going to buy a copy for my shelves, one that I can re-read and annotate. Perhaps I’ll go to the extent of writing notes on separate sheets, instead of in the margins. I would organize them under several headings such as; terms, his central thesis, questions, examples, his main objections to others.

I tried this book before. I did not comprehend it. This time I did, mostly. My abilities and background might be increasing.

It is written as philosophy. It is loyal to accuracy, short on color. Each statement is carefully crafted. Besides my sporadic readings of Mill, Bentham, Locke, Nozick, I am not familiar with the style. I was surprised to appreciate it.

What helped the most was that the arguments have been on my mind for a long time. How can a devotion to individual liberty mesh with an allowance for morals legislation? George shows how. “Is there a moral right to do moral wrong?” George denies it.

People should choose valuable ends and pursuits. If not, they restrict the valuable ends they are to achieve, they become less than they ought. Others are made worse off, too. This is the Aristotelian-Thomist, natural law perspective. I must read George’s In Defense of the Natural Law. I should read John Finnis’ book as well. This book cited it many times.

Specific vices were singled out as permissible to legislate against; pornography, sodomy, prostitution, drug abuse. As a civil libertarian, I always thought, “Hey, if people want to fry their brain on drugs, corrupt their souls with prostitution, get addicted to pornography, or jump off high buildings, tell them to have a good time as long as they don’t compel others to pay for their habits or rehabilitation.” I bought the doctrine of “victimless crimes.”

In the section of free speech, he tells that even communists have a right to speech, if their threats of coercion are not imminent, but neo-Stalinists should not be protected. I’ll have to revisit that. I had asked myself if the Constitution allows for speech that advocates the repeal of the Constitution, or its basic principles of property, life and such. Stalinism surely did. So did Maoism. Is it protected? Not if the end is to enslave, starve and slaughter people and take 100% of their property. How imminent must the end be before the state can restrict such speech?

I would say that Richard A. Epstein uses the harm principle, probably from Mill, as a foundation, that he is a utilitarian. George opposes all the elements of utilitarianism. I surmise that the harm principle is the root of consequentialism. (I disdain such long words but they seem to be needful in philosophy.)

George takes on Rawls and nearly every other luminary of philosophy.

Kant thinks people do not have a right to do wrong.

Often there are prudential reasons not to legislate. It could be too expensive, counterproductive as when it tempts one to try the forbidden, or tear police away from more important prosecutions.

Reason as a basis for human choosing.

The fulfillment of desires is not sufficient ground for law.

Emotions are sub-rational, less valid than rational reasons.

I enjoyed the blood-less parsimony of language. I will also read his works written for a less scholarly audience, where the color, examples, humor and everyday language will be used.

One example: I hired a convicted felon. His crime was using marijuana, perhaps distributing and under-age alcohol se. The penalties were fairly stiff, I thought. As a condition of probation, he had to stay in Montana, though he wished to continue school in Oregon. He had to refrain from using those substances. At 20 he was alcoholic. He was not achieving a valuable human good but rather being hampered in such. Probation was good for him. The arrest and the law that put him into probation were thus good. This scenario caused me to rethink my distaste for morals legislation.

Liberals want to legislate against tobacco use and fast food because tobacco use leads to addiction and social health costs and because obesity harms the obese person and adds to the same costs. These are types of morals legislation. Liberals resist morals legislation in sodomy, teen promiscuity, drug abuse, alcohol consumption. Some liberals support prostitute unions and workers rights and health protection for them. There is a morass of mistakes with respect to human goods.


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