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to Autonomy

Guilt and
By Walter



The Death of Retributive Justice


An Attack on Distributive Justice


The Birth of Guilt and Justice


Against Guilt


The Need for Alienation


The New Integrity


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?


The Serpents Promise


Notes and Bibliography





to those whose minds are not liberated, wars, revolutions, and

radical movements will never bring freedom but only an exchange
of one kind of slavery for another. That is one of the most tragic
lessons of the twentieth century.
Liberation of the mind is no panacea, but without it angry
rhetoric and cruel bloodbaths are of no avail, and tyranny endures.
Most of those who see themselves as radicals and revolutionaries
still cling to decrepit ideas like justice and equality and depend on
guilt and fear, as our fathers and mothers did. What we need is a
new, autonomous morality.
Those who hoped that the death of God would spell freedom
from guilt and fear were wrong. The breakdown of religion as the
great authority in moral matters has not brought us autonomy. It
has brought us a variety of substitutes for religion. The quest for
these surrogates is rooted in a fear that has hitherto had no name.
This book begins with an analysis of that deep fear. The rst
part of the book deals with what we should leave behind, the last
part with what lies beyond. Liberation is a movement toward a goal:
autonomy. Being autonomous and being liberated is the same thing.
The rst chapter explains the meaning of autonomy by showing what
lures or strategies must be resisted to achieve it. Then the attack on
justice and on guilt and the demonstration of the need for alienation
develop a new conception of autonomya new integritya new



humanity has always lived in the shadow of fears. Yet next to, nothing was known about fear until Freud made a beginning with the
study of unusual phobias. A little later, some existentialist philosophers suggested that one dread is common to all mankind: the dread
of death. This suggestion was couched in such obscure language
that discussions of it have generally revolved around the meaning of
phrases in books and have not dealt with the facts. It might have
been better to ask what leads some writers to express themselves in
ways that seem designed to forestall understanding and hence also
criticism, and why legions of professors and students thrive on texts
like that. The creeping microscopism that meets the eye all over
academia is related to a deep dread that still lacks a name.
Humanity craves but dreads autonomy. One does not want to
live under the yoke of guilt and fear. Autonomy consists of making
with open eyes the decisions that give shape to ones life. But being
afraid of making fateful decisions, one is tempted to hide autonomy
in a metaphysical fog and to become sidetracked and bogged down
in puzzles about free will and determinism. It is far easier to dene
autonomy out of existence than it is to achieve autonomy in the
very meaningful sense in which it can be attained. The dierence
between making the decisions that govern our lives with our eyes
open and somehow avoiding this is all-important. The best way
to begin to understand autonomy is to examine some of the major


strategies people use to avoid it; and this I shall do.

It is important to be specic and concrete. Talk of freedom
and the fear of freedom immediately invites irrelevant questions
about freedom. That term has so many meanings that we need a
more precise term. Autonomy has fewer associations, and once I
have dened my meaning, other uses of the term should not keep
creeping in. The fear of autonomy is a nameless dread, which leaves
me free to coin a name for it: decidophobia.
In the fateful decisions that mold our future, freedom becomes
tangible; and they are objects of extreme dread. Every such decision
involves norms, standards, goals. Treating these as given lessens this
dread. The comparison and choice of goals and standards arouses
the most intense decidophobia.
Other -phobia words also mix New Latin with Old Greek:
claustrophobia, for example. Moreover, the Latin decido has two
very appropriate meanings. It can mean decide, which is the primary meaning intended here. But it can also mean fall o (hence
plants are called deciduous if their leaves fall o in winter), and
decidophobia has something in common with acrophobia, the fear
of precipitous heights.
Although the two Latin verbs have dierent roots (caedo and
cado), our expression take the plunge suggests the relevance of
both meanings. Decidophobia is also the fear of falling.
People do not fear all decisions. Decidophobes, far from dreading meticulous distinctions, may actually revel in them. For immersion in microscopic decisions is one good way of avoiding fateful
John B. Watson, the founder of Behaviorism, argued that only
two fears are innate: the fear of sudden loud noises and the fear of
fallingof suddenly being without support. His thesis was based on
experiments with infants, and it is widely accepted. Decidophobia
cannot be proved to be innate, nor does it matter greatly whether it
is. What does matter is that it can be mastered, although it is much
more dicult to overcome old fears than it is to acquire new ones.
It is easy to understand why parents cultivate acrophobia in their
children: precipitous heights are dangerous, and having been taught
to dread them, one communicates ones dread to ones children.

Without Guilt and Justice

That is much easier than teaching them prudence, self-reliance, and

the skills required to enjoy peaks. All this applies just as much to
Anyone making fateful decisions that aect others without
feeling any apprehension would be a menace. Anyone who would
unhesitatingly plunge into choices that are likely to mold his own
character and future would be so unpredictable that he, too, would
endanger the social fabric. The easiest way to insure stability is to
engender fear. Teaching the skills required for responsible decision
making is much harder.
Choosing responsibly means that one weighs alternatives. (This
theme will be developed further in the chapter on The New Integrity.) But comparing fateful alternatives and choosing between
them with ones eyes open, fully aware of the risks, is what frightens
the decidophobe. Basically, he has three options: to avoid fateful
decisions; to stack the cards so that one alternative is clearly the right
one, and there seems to be no risk involved at all; and to decline
responsibility. He need not even choose between these options:
they can be combined. In brief: avoid, if possible; if that does not
work, stack; and in any case make sure that you do not stand alone.
It would be reasonable to feel apprehension in direct proportion to the number of those whom our decision is likely to aect
importantly; but people tend to attach disproportionate importance
to themselves. The decisions they dread most are those that shape
their character and their future.
I shall examine ten strategies that help decidophobes to avoid
dizziness. All of them involve the refusal to scrutinize signicant
alternatives. When anyone shuts his eyes in a crisis, it is plausible to
assume that he is afraid. But if he merely acts as if he were afraid, he
is still open to criticism. My critique of decidophobia applies also to
those who are not afraid but merely behave as if they were.
Before I consider the ten strategies, let me comment very briey on
two writers who have illuminated decidophobia and one who has
Kierkegaard was the father of existentialism. Fear and guilt



were central in his thought, nowhere more so than in The Concept

of Dread (1844). Here he wrote as a Christian about original sin,
but he also showed how there is a close connection between dread
and freedom, and he called dread the dizziness of freedom. The
image of dizziness brings to mind acrophobia and the fear of falling.
Indeed, Christianity called the rst assertion of mans freedom and
his rst fateful decision the fall. But Kierkegaard failed to see his
own leap into faith as an expression of decidophobia. In fact, he
failed to recognize most of the major strategies.
Jean-Paul Sartre has gone further toward an understanding of
decidophobia. His famous declaration in 1943 that man is condemned to be free suggests clearly that man nds freedom hard to
bear. In his ction and philosophy, Sartre has exposed some of the
ways in which people try to hide their freedom from themselves:
they pretend that their hands are tied, that they are the victims of
their parents or of circumstance, although in fact the freedom to
make fateful decisions is inalienable. Even a prisoner condemned
to death retains this freedom. Man, according to the early Sartre, is
freedom but always tends to look upon himself as if he were a thing.
Thus he succumbs to what Sartre calls mauvaise foi. In my language,
this bad faith and these constant self-deceptions are prompted by
Unfortunately Sartres philosophical discussions of these mechanisms were heavily inuenced by German existentialism, and particularly by Martin Heidegger and his fundamental ontology: they
were designed to explicate truths about Being. At times Sartre approached Heideggers obscurantism. This kept him from seeing how
his argument suered from some serious confusions; and the later
Sartre has followed the later Heidegger as well as Kierkegaard into
exegetical thinkingone of the ten major strategies of decidophobia. The great diagnostician has succumbed to the disease that he
had analyzed.
Erich Fromm called an early book Escape from Freedom, but
despite that title he shed little light on decidophobia. He remained
within the framework of a sociological school that had undertaken
studies of what it called the authoritarian personality, and he found
the great example of this type and of the escape from freedom in Ger-

Without Guilt and Justice


many, particularly in the rise of Nazism. Now it might indeed seem

as if the rise to power of totalitarian governments depended on decidophobia; but this is a serious mistake. Wherever totalitarianism
has triumphed, other explanations are in order.
In Germany, for example, a minority of the voters favored Hitler
when the president of the Weimar Republic called on him to form a
cabinet, and he had to form a coalition government. His was the
largest single party, but there were many parties; and most of those
who did vote for Hitler had no conception of the loss of freedom
that awaited them. They were far from fastidious about the liberties
of others, but they did not crave liberation from their own freedom.
Their motives included resentment of the Treaty of Versailles and
of the inability of democratic statesmen to get it altered; fear of
Communism; dreams of national glory; and hatred of Jews. But
no combination of these motives would have brought Hitler close
to power if the republic had not been undermined by economic
Before World War I Germany had been very prosperous. The
loss of the war, the expulsion of the Kaiser, the advent of the republic, and an ination that quickly reached the point where ordinary
postage stamps cost twenty billion marks were experienced as a syndrome. People saw their savings evaporate, and soon the ination
was followed by a vast economic depression and intolerable unemployment. Desperation reached the point where millions became
willing to try almost anything. Many became Communists, while
others were willing to try Hitler to see if he could provide jobs. The
choice did not seem irrevocable; many liberals saw Hitler as a rabble
rouser who would quickly be discredited in a position of power that
he was ill equipped to ll, and many Communists thought that a
few weeks of Hitler would prepare the way for them.
Even after the Reichstag re, which Hitler used to outlaw the
Communist Party, to imprison many socialists, and to intimidate
the opposition, the parliamentary elections of March 1933 still did
not provide him with a majority, and he had to continue with a
coalition government. The nationalists who joined forces with him
did not want to escape from freedom or let him make all fateful
decisions: they felt sure that he would be no match for them and



that they would govern Germany.

There is no case on record in which the voters chose a government because it oered them less freedom. Where people did opt
for rulers who took away their liberties, something seemed to be
drastically wrong with all alternatives, and the men who were chosen did not make clear to the voters how their freedom would be
curtailed. Men do not crave slavery or concentration camps. On
the contrary, such images evoke the will to ght and even to risk
ones life for freedom. Nor are there two types of people: those who
love freedom and those who prefer slavery. Such myths obstruct the
comprehension of decidophobia. There are subtler ways to avoid
fateful decisions. I shall examine ten.
One strategy for avoiding such decisions is religion. In Dostoevskys
Brothers Karamazov the Grand Inquisitor shows at length how the
Roman Catholic church has liberated people from the burden of
having to make fateful decisions. His disquisition left its mark on
Sartre and Fromm. Oddly, however, in Dostoevskys the case is made
out only against the church of Rome. The Grand Inquisitor claims
that the craving for community of worship is the chief misery of
every man; for, I might add, any confrontation with fateful alternatives engenders dread. He argues that to save men truly one must
take possession of their freedom, and he suggests that what people
ultimately want is to be united in one unanimous and harmonious
ant heap.
There is no suggestion in the novel that the same charges could
be brought against the Greek Orthodox church, or that other religions, too, have told men what is good and evil, right and wrong,
thus obviating dicult decisions. Religion says: Do this and dont
do that! Or: Thou shalt, and thou shalt not. Instead of inviting us
to evaluate alternative standards, it gives us norms as well as detailed
applications. In fact, religions have evolved traditions that shield
the observant from situations in which tragic choices might become
The most obvious illustration is monasticism, which requires
one great decision, onceto renounce the freedom of making major

Without Guilt and Justice


decisions. A Jesuits position in his order is a little less extreme. As

usual, there are degrees. But those who become monks or nuns no
longer need to face such fateful decisions as how to live, with whom,
where, what to do, and what to believe.
As a rule one does not even decide to submit to the authority
of a religion: one is born into the fold and then conrmed at the
threshold of adolescence before one has had any chance to explore
alternatives and make a choice. One does not so much decide to stay
as one does not decide to leave. Decidophobia keeps one in the fold.
Of course, this is not all there is to religion; and I have dealt
at length with other aspects of religion in other books. Nor is allegiance to a religion always prompted by decidophobia. Perhaps this
point is best made by choosing suicide as an illustration. I am not
including this among the ten strategies because relatively few people
have recourse to it. Still, it is often prompted by the inability to
stand alone and make fateful decisions. Yet it need not be inspired
by decidophobia. In many situations a human being may choose
suicide with open eyes after considering what speaks against it and
examining the major alternatives. Suicide can be wholly admirable.
Nor need it be primarily an act of either fear or courage; it can also
be an attempt at revenge or a form of protest. Similarly, not every
member of every religion is a decidophobe.
Nevertheless, religion represents one of the most popular strategies for avoiding the most fateful decisions; in fact, it is nothing
less than the classical strategy. On the whole it worked well not
only during the Middle Ages but even quite recently in villages and
small towns where almost everybody shared the same religion. In
the twentieth century, however, this strategy has broken down more
and moresince World War II even among Roman Catholics. Clergymen of the same religion have taken to adopting widely dierent
public positions on crucial moral questions. Still, many people shut
their eyes to this plain fact and manage to persuade themselves that
their own moral views do not depend on any decision of their own
but are simply part of being Jewish, Christian, or, say, Hindu. If this
strategy were not in a process of disintegration, there would be less
need for so many other strategies.



Drifting represents another, even less deliberate, strategy. It

comes in two forms. Model A is extremely popular with those over
thirty without being conned to them: status quoism. Instead of
choosing how to live, with whom, where, what to do, and what to
believe, one simply drifts along in the status quo. All decisions are
made, none need to be made. Some people need a regular supply of
alcohol or tranquilizers to remain satised with Model A.
This form of inauthenticity is readily perceived by many students. A few go to the opposite extreme: Model B. One drops out,
has no ties, and is not guided by tradition; one has no code, no
plan, no major purpose. One lives from moment to moment, rarely
knowing in advance what one will do next. Model B can also be
lubricated with alcohol, but since World War II this kind of drifting
has been associated more often with other drugs. Conversely, in the
past opiates have often reconciled the oppressed to the status quo.
Some of those who have drifted into Model B are afraid of making almost any decision. If they hitchhike, they go wherever they are
taken. They leave things to chance. Everything depends on whatever impulse happens to be felt at the moment. To be governed by
caprice is to drift. The hero of Camuss novel The Stranger illustrates
this orientation.
When this way of life breeds a sense of emptiness and despair, one
becomes receptive to the siren song of commitment. This state of
mind was described by Hermann Hesse in his Journey to the East,
a novel published in Germany in 1932, less than a year before the
Nazis came to power. Deeply dissatised both with traditional life
styles and with being adrift, many people join a movementor drift
into a movement. There need not be any momentous decision to
join. It may be a matter of conformity with those among whom
one happens to nd oneself. Allegiance to a movement is the third
Such allegiance, again, is not always decidophobic. Some movements have little bearing on faith and morals, goals and life styles.
If so, membership is marginal, although it may still be prompted by
a fear of standing alone and some sense that there is safety in num-

Without Guilt and Justice


bers. Total immersion, in which no crucial decisions at all remain

to be made, is the exception, not the rule. Most of the strategies I
shall consider from now on have a less total eect than the rst two:
usually, they work only in some areas of life.
Of necessity, the party man becomes a liar, said Nietzsche.
Those who realize how closely words like party and Parteigenosse
were associated with the German anti-Semitic movement even then,
may pardon his hyperbole. In any case, he explained his meaning
more fully: By lie I mean: wishing not to see something that one
does see; wishing not to see something as one sees it. And he added:
The most common lie is that with which one lies to oneself;
lying to others is relatively exceptional. Now this wishing not
to see what one does see, this wishing not to see as one sees, is
almost the rst condition for all who are party in any sense: of
necessity, the party man becomes a liar.
These themes are developed in Eric Hoers True Believer and
Sartres Portrait of the Anti-Semite. Sartre himself never joined
the Communist Party though for years he made common cause
with it. Others have joined parties or movements or retained their
religion without any sacrice of the intellect. They live in a tension,
occasionally acute, between their loyalty and their intellectual conscience. As usual, there are innumerable possibilities and degrees.
At one extreme is the type sketched by Nietzsche and portrayed
more elaborately by Sartre: he has made a decision once and henceforth needs only to extrapolate from that. His views come nowhere
near doing justice to the complexity of fact, but he makes a virtue of
simplicity and despises subtlety and cleverness. In the words of Pascals famous wager, he has made himself stupid. He prizes certainty
above truth or considers it, untenably, a warrant of truth, and he
takes intellectual scrupulousness for cowardice and a lack of manly
decisiveness. He fails to recognize his own acrophobia, his own
dread of standing alone without support.
In 1970 a spokesman for what was then simply called the movement in the United States kept saying we in an argument. Asked
whom he meant, he hedged, but nally, being pressed, replied: Me



and my mother. It was a sudden inspiration and obviously struck

him as a witty way of putting down his questioner. Yet it revealed
in a ash the infantile fear of standing alone.
At the time, Erik Eriksons rst reaction to this story was that
it was too good to be true. Yet it was exactly what had happened.
Me and my mother was supposed to be funny because the movement represented a revolt against middle-class mothers. But it is
no accidentto use an expression dear to Marxiststhat the Communist Party thinks of itself as a mother, just as the Catholic church
does. The movement, too, functioned as a surrogate mother, and
the We-We orientation is infantile. All talk of community notwithstanding, it recognizes no singular You. Only an I can say You to an
individual. The We-We orientation is not progressive. It is regressive
and takes us back to the craving for community which Dostoevskys
Grand Inquisitor associated with the desire to be united in one
unanimous and harmonious ant heap.
In 1970 the movement in the United States was Left; in the
thirties the movement in Germany was the Nazi Party, and visitors
to Munich drove past road signs that proclaimed it The Capital
of the Movement. But even some people who had joined the Nazi
party found themselves confronted again and again by the need
for hair-raising decisions, and a few actually made very courageous
choices. Again, there were many dierent types. What was true
even there applied much more obviously to the New Left, which
was never a party in which one took out membership. To call all
who belonged in some sense to this movement decidophobes would
be stupid no less than applying the term to all who are religious in
some sense.
By 1972, the movement in the United States referred more
often to womens ght for equality than to the New Left. Here the
goals were much better dened and mattered more to many women
than did any sense of belonging. No woman could hope to exert
enough pressure as an individual to end invidious forms of discrimination that made it far more dicult for women than for men to
live autonomous lives; hence there was a real need for concerted
actionand no need whatever for any woman who approved of
this movement to use it to avoid autonomy. Nevertheless, it is

Without Guilt and Justice


important to recognize the attraction of movements for decidophobes. And in individual cases one must ask how important this
attraction has been, and to what extent it may reduce all arguments
with otherwise intelligent people to futility.
Those seeking liberation must ask themselves whether they are
really advancing toward autonomy or whether they have merely exchanged one kind of conformity for another. Renouncing a religion,
a creed, or a code and throwing o the blinders that went with it
does not necessarily spell liberation. The question remains whether
one has turned to a surrogate and put on a new pair of blinders.
Allegiance to a school of thought sounds like a mere variant of allegiance to a movement, but it is actually importantly dierent.
Membership in a movement is generally palpable and overt, and
ones consciousness of it is usually crucial: it helps to give one an
identity. Allegiance to a school of thought can be like that but usually is not. Typically, it is quite unselfconscious and even denied
outright. When granted, it is often felt to be irrelevant.
Those who belong to a school of thought are usually more interested in their small dierences with fellow members than they are
in what they have in common. These dierences can be spelled out
without much trouble, and in their publications those who write
develop dierences of this sort. What one has in common with
those with whom one diers is much harder to specify. Distance is
required to behold such family resemblances, and those inside the
family lack this distance. But they rarely nd it dicult to say who
does not belong.
Can one say what the members of a school have in common,
without even specifying any school? They tend to deal with a few
clusters of problems, not with others, and they tend to deal with
them in the same way. They share a way of thinking, a style, and a
tradition that they see in much the same perspective. A few writers
may be key gures in more than one tradition, but dierent schools
will see them dierently. Thus Heidegger and his admirers do not
see Aristotle the way the Oxford philosophers do, and the Aristotle
of the Thomists is dierent again.



Spelling out the shared assumptions of a school may require

exceptional insight and skill. For most of these assumptions do not
function like dogmas; they do their job without rising to consciousness. They provide a largely unquestioned framework in which a
person can make all sorts of small decisions and tangible contributions without ever coming face to face with shattering decisions.
Once basic assumptions are spelled out, they can be questioned.
It is much safer to keep them buried. In Heideggers philosophical
jargon, questions that might cast doubt on his whole edice can
hardly come up; and questions asked in a dierent language can be
shrugged o as subphilosophical: they show no inkling of what it is
all about; they expose the questioner; all is safe.
The same goes for Thomism and analytical philosophy, phenomenology and Marxism, psychoanalysis and other schools of
thought. The basic decision has been made, usually without ones
being conscious of making any decision, and the choices that remain
are small enough to be enjoyable. One has chosen the game and the
rules and can have a good time planning ones moves. Microscopism
spells safety.
Choosing the college one attended and the teachers with whom
one studied, one had no clear notion of alternatives. If one made
a choice, it was a haphazard choice, determined by accidents of
geography, nancial conditions, and who happened to be where at
a certain time. One became a member of a school of thought not by
making a decision but by being trained by someone who was there.
Henceforth one no longer asks what are right methods, right
questions, right style, right models, and right rejections. Alternatives
do not call for painful choices but can be ruled out of court because
one does not do things that way. Those who present them need not
be taken seriously and therefore do not call the decidophobe back
to freedom.
The most common reaction to members of a rival school is simply lack of interest. Rival schools are not so much tolerated as they
are ignored. And those who go it alone are typically shrugged o as
crackpots until one of them succeeds in capturing the public imagination and is therefore perceived as a threat. When that happens,
material heresies do not elicit as much wrath as formal heresies; it is

Without Guilt and Justice


easier to be rational about what one takes to be false results than it

is to deal deliberately with a radically dierent approach that calls
into question ones whole style of thinking.
Exegetical thinking diers from interpretation. Indeed, I shall use
the term in a distinctive way to label the fth strategy. Interpretation
is inevitable; exegetical thinking is not. Exegetical thinking assumes
that the text that one interprets is right. Thus the text is treated as
an authority. If what it seems to say is wrong, the exegesis must be
inadequate: the interpreter is wrong, never the text.
Actually, the interpreter is on trial as well as the text; neither
he alone nor the text alone. For the exegetical thinker the text is as
God. The paradigm is a text that is supposed to be revealed by God.
This case takes one back to religion and need not be considered
here. One might think that Kierkegaard was an exegetical thinker
only because he was a Christian, but the notion that there are two
kinds of existentialism, Christian and atheist, is shallow; Heideggers
and Sartres development closely resembles Kierkegaards. All three
exemplify what I shall call the existentialist pattern.
First one adopts a subjectivism so extreme that it is found to
be intolerable. One spurns the drifters, the crowd, das Man (the
anonymous one), and summons the solitary individual to commitment, resoluteness, engagement. Lukewarmness and routine are
spurned; conviction, courage, and decision are called for. But then
the terrifying question arises: does anything go, then, if only it is
chosen with a will?
Heideggers Being and Time (1927) had left this question open.
When the Nazis came to power, Heidegger joined the movement.
After the war he hinted that he had soon become disillusioned. If
so, he kept his resolution to himself without incurring any liabilities.
This episode has attracted considerable attention, but Heideggers
descent into exegetical thinking is far more instructive. It began
with his book on Kant, became very clear in his exegeses of Hlderlins poems, and found its fullest expression in his writings on the
pre-Socratic philosophers. The texts he chose in his later period
share a fascinating incoherence and an oracular quality; they invite



noncontextual and arbitrary readings; and the exegesis could be

made to share their charismatic quality. From the start it was one of
Heideggers avowed principles that an interpretation must necessarily use force. This cult of force (Gewalt) is fused with a scornful
renunciation of logic and reason. To escape from an extreme subjectivism that invites intellectual and moral anarchy, the philosopher
casts about for some authority to save him. But the leading existentialists have been too individualistic to accept for long the authority
of any party or church. What option remains? Exegetical thinking
permits the exegete to read his own ideas into a text and get them back
endowed with authority.
The exegetical thinker avoids standing by himself and saying
what he thinks; for he might be wrong and would not know what to
say if others followed his example and said what they thought. Such
a situation would call for the evaluation of alternatives and invite
the use of reason and the assessment of evidence. He is suspicious of
reason and associates evidence with science and positivism. There
would be no telling in advance where the argument might lead.
Moreover, the result would be provisional, pending further evidence
and argument. Confronted with the prospect of acrophobia, the
exegetical thinker looks for a prop, for something to lean on. Being
a man of words, he nds a text.
Heidegger, for example, casts a few aspersions on the Philistines
who see the pre-Socratics as mere primitives or, in his own words, as
a kind of high-grade Hottentots, and who believe that compared
to them modern science represents innite progress. In a similar
vein one can easily disparage those who fail to see the grandeur
of Hlderlins late verse. If one succeeds in communicating ones
own reverence and enthusiasm for the texts and gets across their
fascination along with their obscurity and their relevance, one is
almost certain to be hailed as a great teacher. Then, having made
clear how dark the text is, one makes some sense of it, using force
but takes care that the meaning one discovers is not too plain lest
one destroy the charisma. If all this were done in good faith, it would
still be an example of mauvaise foi, of self-deception.
The later Sartre exemplies the same pattern. By 1946 he felt
dissatised with the extreme subjectivism of his early existentialism,

Without Guilt and Justice


and in his famous lecture Existentialism is a Humanism he cast

about for some objective standards to meet the charge of irresponsibility. The discussion after the lecture convinced him that he had not
succeeded. Eventually he turned to Marxism. But Sartres Marxism
is rather like Kierkegaards Christianity: a highly subjective version
that is unacceptable both to careful scholars and to fellow Christians
or Marxists. It is a way of endowing ones own views with authority.
This suggestion may seem strange to those who concede no authority to Marxism or to Christianity, to Hlderlins or the pre-Socratics. The whole strategy, however, depends on the assumption that
certain texts or gures or traditions have authority. Not every text is
equally suitable, and some texts have to be built up by the exegetical
thinker before he can proceed to read his own thoughts into them.
Sartre himself said in his lecture in 1946 that his existentialism
was like Heideggers but unlike Kierkegaards because Kierkegaard
was a Christian. But he himself sounded like a Christian theologian when he said in 1961: Russia is not comparable to other
countries. It is only permissible to judge it when one has accepted
its undertaking, and then only in the name of that undertaking.
Such special pleading would be instantly familiar if the rst sentence began: Christianity is not comparable to other religions.
And Sartres concern in the same essay that we didnt even have
the right to call ourselves Marxists brings to mind Kierkegaards
anxiety about his right to call himself a Christian. Here the ways
of interpretation and exegetical thinking part. A decent scholar
of Marx, Nietzsche, or Plato does not fret about his right to call
himself a Marxist, Nietzschean, or Platonist.
Exegetical thinking is also exemplied by the liberal who believes in inalienable rights to life and liberty, in the equality of all
men, or in other similar articles of faith of which he feels sure that
they are true, the only question being how they ought to be interpreted. He feels bound to interpret the old formulas in such a way
that they will turn out to be true, and to his mind an appealing exegesis has a much stronger claim to assent than any impartial inquiry
would suggest; for he feels that it has all the authority of the old
Even simple acts have many motives, and exegetical thinking is



not always motivated in exactly the same way. In some traditions

this way of thinking is so deeply ingrained and taught from such
an early age that one could not point to any period in a persons
life when he had succumbed to decidophobia. He is the slave of
a childhood habit. He is part of a culture that has succumbed to
Within such cultures one may encounter odd variants. Thus
there are Catholic scholars who, impelled both by a streak of independence and a powerful elective anity, devote themselves to the
exegesis of Heidegger rather than St. Thomas. Meanwhile Heidegger himself, after breaking with the Catholicism of his childhood
and expounding radical subjectivism, found a refuge in exegetical
I have given so much attention to the existentialist pattern
because it is so ironical that the existentialists who have given such
pride of place to decision should have succumbed again and again
to decidophobia. In many ways they are late romantics, and at
this point they resemble those early romantics who rst made their
reputations as subjectivists and then converted to Catholicism, like
Friedrich Schlegel. But exegetical thinking is subtler. Those who
engage in it rarely understand what they are doing.
The rst ve strategies aim at making no fateful decisions at all, or
at most the one decision to make no more fateful decisions from
now on. Four of the ve involve some recourse to authority; drifting
does not. The next two strategies are basically dierent.
The sixth strategy is Manichaeism. The Manichaean insists on
the need for a decision, but the choice is loaded and practically
makes itself. It is like being asked to choose between two dishes of
food and being told that this one is poisoned and will make you
sick, while that one tastes incomparably better and will improve
your health and expand your consciousness. All good is on one side,
all evil on the other.
Inconvenient facts are ignored or denied; the falsication of
history becomes an indispensable crutch; and uncomfortable arguments are discredited as coming from the forces of evil. There is no

Without Guilt and Justice


need for quandaries that keep men sleepless.

It is easier to ridicule this strategy than it is to resist it. Indeed,
it has been so popular in so many dierent periods and contexts that
one may wonder whether man is not doomed to think in black and
white. But he is not. The ancient Greeks, for example, resisted this
temptation to a remarkable degree.
Conict is at the heart of Homers Iliad and of Greek tragedy,
but Homer and the tragic poets found humanity on both sides of the
contests they described. When the gods participated, some took this
side and some that, and like the heroes they were neither wholly good
nor altogether evil. In Aeschylus Libation Bearers, Orestes actually
says: Right clashes with right. This theme is no less obvious in
Aeschylus Eumenides. It is a central motif in his work. Hegels
notion that it is the essence of tragedy to represent collisions in
which both sides are justied was based squarely on Greek tragedy;
but he overshot the mark when he claimed occasionally that both
sides are equally justied. As a rule, wrong clashes with greater wrong,
not only in Greek tragedy but also in life and in history.
When Thucydides, who called himself the Athenian, recorded
the epic war between Athens and Sparta, he breathed the same unManichaean spirit. He did not even suggest that both sides were
equally justied. He realized that as a rule wrong clashes with greater
No doubt, most Greeks were not that free of the tendency to
think in black and white; but Manichaeism as a world view is part of
the legacy of Persia, the rising world power that Aeschylus helped to
defeat at Marathon. It was probably less than a hundred years before
this battle that Zarathustra had taught his people that there were
two great cosmic forces: light and good versus darkness and evil;
and he summoned man to help the former to vanquish the latter.
Some Zoroastrian ideas gained entrance into Judaism without
achieving any great prominence in the Old Testament. But the New
Testament speaks of the sheep and the goats, the children of light and
the children of darkness; and according to both Matthew (12:30)
and Luke (11:23) Jesus said: He who is not with me is against
me. In Christianity the Devil became a far more powerful gure
than Satan had been in the Hebrew Bible; he became the Evil One,



the Lord of Hell; and humanity was split into two campsthose
headed for salvation and those headed for everlasting torment.
Even so, Christianity did not follow Zarathustra all the way. In
the third century another Persian prophet, Mani, preached a more
Zoroastrian version of Christianity: Manichaeism. For a while
its impact in the Roman Empire rivaled that of Christianity, and
Augustine came under its spell. Eventually the church condemned
the Manichaean heresy, and as a religion it died. But Manichaeism
is far from dead if the name is used inclusively to label views in which
history is a contest between the forces of light and darkness, with
all right on one side.
The perennial appeal of Manichaeism is due not only to the fact
that it atters its followers but also to the way in which it makes the
most complex and baing issues marvelously simple. There is no
need for dicult decisions; the choice is perfectly obvious.
In times of war, Manichaeism ourishes; and during the cold
war that followed World War II it did, too. What is more surprising is that this strategy is also encountered in the work of some
philosophers who at rst glance seem rather subtle. Thus Heidegger
contrasted two life styles in Being and Time: authentic and inauthentic. He described the latter at great length before nding the
mark of authenticity in resoluteness. He never showed that resolution was incompatible with inauthenticity. Of course, it is not, as
his own decision for Hitler in 1933 illustrates. A resolute leap into
faith or into a movement is quite compatible with dishonesty, decidophobia, and heteronomy. But in his Manichaean way, Heidegger
assumed that all good must be on one side; and since he considered
resoluteness good and inauthenticity bad, he failed to see that they
can occur together.
Manichaeism permeates much of traditional morality, and beyond that also Western thought about reality. Indeed, many people
assume that Manichaeism is based squarely on the facts. But there
are no opposites in nature. What would be the opposite of this rose
or that Austrian pine? Or of the sun, or of this human being? Only
human thought introduces opposites. Neither individual beings nor
classes of such beingssuch as roses, pines, or human beingshave
opposites; nor do colors, sounds, textures, feelings.

Without Guilt and Justice


But are not hard and soft opposites? As abstract concepts they
are; but the feel of a rock and the feel of moss are not. It is only by disregarding most of the qualities of botl1 experiences and classifying
one as hard and the other as soft that people think of them as opposites. Playing with re and rolling in the snow are not oppositesfar
from itbut hot and cold are. No specic degree of heat or coldness has any opposite, only the concepts do. The starry heavens
and a sunny sky are not opposites, but day and night are. And the
Manichaean looks everywhere for day and night concepts.
Temperatures are arranged on a linear scale, like hard and soft,
fast and slow. Day and night, like summer and winter or spring and
fall, are best represented by a circle, like colors. Colors that are across
from each other on a color wheel are not opposites; no two colors
are any more than two times of day. Nothing temporal, nothing
living, nothing that is in process has an opposite.
To understand the world and to bring some order into the chaos
of human impressions one needs concepts and abstractions; one
disregards what in some particular context is less relevant. Scientists,
engineers, and analytical philosophers generally realize how indispensable analysis is. The neo-romantics who extol direct experience
and feeling are much more prone to catch the virus of Mani. Why?
Thoughtful people are at least dimly aware of the claims of
both feeling and understanding. Even those who incline heavily
toward one side usually feel some need for the other. Thus the
analytically minded tend to leave the realms of faith and morals, if
not politics, to feeling and intuition, while the romantics, who stress
the importance of feeling and intuition, indulge in a bare minimum
of analysis and tend to favor polarities.
Neither analysis nor direct experience entails any form of Manichaeism. The Manichaean limps on both legs: he curtails both the
understanding and direct experience, settling for very little of each.
He all but shuts both eyes and is a decidophobe.
He supposes not only that truth and error are opposites but even
that there are children of truth and children of error. The notion
of degree, and especially degrees of truth, is anathema to him. His
thinking is as simplistic as a true-or-false test. Abraham Lincoln
was born on February 11, 1809: True or False? False, but hardly



the opposite of the truth, seeing that he was born February 12, 1809.
Even a multiple- choice test would allow a little more subtlety if
it distinguished between degrees of falsehood or approximations
of the truth. But such complexities frighten those who seek refuge
in Manichaeism. They like decisions that make themselves. The
Manichaeans think in black and white; the autonomous think in
The seventh strategy is much the subtlest of the lot. I shall call it
moral rationalism. It claims that purely rational procedures can show
what one ought to do or what would constitute a just society. There
is then no need at all to choose between dierent ideals, dierent
societies, dierent goals. Once again, no room is left for tragic
quandaries or fateful choices.
Various philosophers have devoted considerable acumen to the
development of dierent versions of moral rationalism, and one
cannot prove all of them wrong in a few paragraphs. But my critique
of the idea of justice in the next three chapters will join this issue
and should show that moral rationalism is untenable.
My repudiation of moral rationalism does not entail an acceptance of what I call moral irrationalism. Anyone supposing that it
must would commit the Manichaean fallacy. I repudiate both.
Moral irrationalism claims that because reason by itself cannot
show people what to do, reason is irrelevant when one is confronted
with fateful decisions. This view is exemplied in dierent ways by
Kierkegaard and Heidegger and widely associated with existentialism. It is compatible with any of the rst six strategies and need not
be considered here at length as a separate strategy. The moral irrationalist says more or less explicitly that when it comes to ultimate
commitments reason is irrelevant; and the choice of a religion or a
movement or a school of thought, of a life style like drifting or a way
of thinking like exegetical thinking or possibly even Manichaeism,
involves to his mind an ultimate commitment. This is a way of saying
that while it may be reasonable to keep your eyes open when making
relatively petty decisions, it makes no sense to keep them open and
examine your impulsive preferences as well as the most signicant

Without Guilt and Justice


alternatives when a choice is likely to mold your future. In other

words, be careful when you drive slowly, but when you go over fty
miles per hour shut your eyes!
Both moral rationalism and moral irrationalism involve an inadequate conception of reason and responsibility. Kant, an exemplary
moral rationalist, thought that his ethic had the great distinction
of being autonomous. Heidegger, an exemplary moral irrationalist,
suggests that his stance, and only his, is authentic. Both claims are
I have considered seven ways of avoiding autonomy: (1) religion, (2) drifting, (3) allegiance to a movement, (4) allegiance to a
school of thought, (5) exegetical thinking, (6) Manichaeism, and
(7) moral rationalism. It is possible to systematize these seven strategies under two headings: First, avoiding fateful decisions, possibly
excepting the one decision not to make any more fateful decisions
(methods 1 to 5); second, making fateful decisions, but stacking the
cards in some way so that the choice will make itself and there is no
possibility of tragedy (6-7).
More important, one can combine several of these strategies.
Thomists, for example, combine 1, 4, 5, and 7 with a dash of 6; and
Thomists who joined the Fascist party in Italy, the Nazi party in
Germany, or some of their cognates in Hungary or Slovakia get six
out of a possible seven points. They miss out only on drifting.
Herbert Marcuse does almost as well. In his work one nds
all but the rst two strategies: religion and drifting. His fusion
of Manichaeism and moral rationalism in his widely read essay on
Repressive Tolerance is instructive because it furnishes such a gross
example of both.
His Manichaeism nds expression in his central plea for intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of
movements from the Left. He attacks the active, ocial tolerance granted to the Right as well as to the Left, to movements of
aggression as well as to movements of peace, to the party of hate as
well as that of humanity. His whole case depends on the assumption that there are two camps, the Left and the Right, the children
of light and the children of darkness, and that the former are for
peace and humanity, and are intelligent and informed, while



the latter are for aggression and hate, stupid and misinformed.
His plea for the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly
from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies,
armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and
religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social
security, medical care, etc. hinges on the notion that all good, all
humanity, intelligence, and information are on one side.
His moral rationalism nds expression when he says that the
distinction between liberating and repressive, human and inhuman
teachings and practices is not a matter of value-preference but of
rational criteria. Three pages later this becomes the distinction
between true and false, progressive and regressive. The early Heidegger, under whom Marcuse had studied and to whom he had
dedicated his rst book, had fused Manichaeism with moral irrationalism.
When one considers how many dierent combinations are possible, seven strategies may seem to be enough, but when it comes to
avoiding fateful decisions people are most inventive and use other
means as well. No exhaustive list is possible, but something will be
gained by adding three more to my list.
The eighth strategy for avoiding autonomy is pedantry. It plays a
central part in the creeping microscopism mentioned earlier; and
I have noted previously that as long as one remains absorbed in
microscopic distinctions one is in no great danger of coming face to
face with fateful decisions.
Of course, careful attention to detail is not only compatible with
autonomy but a requirement of intellectual integrity. Pedantry becomes decidophobic at the point where a person never gets around
to considering major decisions with any care or actually closes his
eyes to macroscopic alternatives. The same criteria apply to all the
other strategies.
Pedantry is often part of a mixed strategy and may appear as an
ingredient of religion, belonging to a school of thought, exegetical
thinking, or moral rationalism. In Heideggers early work (1927)
it appears along with moral irrationalism and Manichaeism. But

Without Guilt and Justice


pedantry can also be a persons one and only strategy. If so, he is not
likely to become famous; hence no great examples come to mind.
But Grand, a character in Camuss novel The Plague, may serve as
an illustration: He has, he says, his work, which consists of writing
a book, but the rst sentence is giving him no end of trouble, and
he keeps rewriting itspending whole weeks on one word.
The ninth strategy is the faith that one is riding the wave of the
future. This, too, is usually part of a mixed strategy and frequently
associated with religion, allegiance to a movement, belonging to a
school of thought, or Manichaeism. But even if the later Sartre did
not succumb to these four lures, he certainly deserves a point for this
faith in addition to the point he gets for exegetical thinking, and this
is a very telling objection to his later work. Sartre endows Marxism
with authority because it is the philosophy of our time (1960)
and the wave of the future, and this exempts him from any need to
see what speaks against it and what speaks for various alternatives.
In fact, the wave of the future would possess no moral authority
even if we could predict it. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who rst
said, The wave of the future is coming and there is no ghting it,
meant Hitlerin 1940. Even if the future had belonged to him, an
autonomous person might well have chosen to go down ghting
against the Nazis.
Those who employ the ninth strategy never stand alone or unsupported: they always feel backed up by force majeure. Consider a
very dierent example. Wallenstein, the great seventeenth-century
general who commanded the imperial army for almost a decade
during the Thirty Years War, has been brought to life on the stage by
Friedrich Schiller as an exemplary decidophobe: he keeps delaying
his crucial break with the emperor and rationalizes his indecision
by recourse to astrology. Schiller suggests that if Wallenstein had
acted sooner he probably would have succeeded; but he waited until
events forced his hand, and he failed and was murdered. Astrology,
oracles, and the Chinese I Ching, which achieved such immense popularity in the United States during the 1960s, have always attracted
decidophobes. Nor is it merely a great help in specic cases to have
an authoritative prognosis of the future. Millions nd it frightening



to face up to the lack of necessity in human aairs. For the Soviet Writers Secretariat, which considered Alexander Solzhenitsyns
Cancer Ward unpublishable as writtenthey were generous with
oers to help him rewrite it!one of the major provocations was
the concluding image of the novel: An evil man threw tobacco in
the Macaque Rhesuss eyes. Just like that The aront was not so
much that Stalin was likened to an evil man, but that the author
implicitly denied the Marxist philosophy of history and insisted
on the element of caprice in human aairs. One does not have to
be a member of the Soviet Writers Secretariat to be dizzied by the
thought that what some individual decides just like that might
determine the misery and death of millions. To avoid this dizziness, people have always found it tempting to believe in a divine
government, the stars, or History.
Solzhenitsyns opposition to all forms of historical determinism
is central in his August 1914. Here he develops a view of history
that stands squarely opposed to Marxism and to that Tolstoyan
philosophy, with its worship of passive sanctity and meekness of
simple, ordinary people which one of his Soviet detractors had
found in his early work. For obvious reasons, the polemic against
Marxism is not formulated explicitly, but Tolstoys ideas about history are rejected expressly. The subtlety and richness of this novel
cannot be discussed here, but the points that bear on autonomy can
be stated succinctly.
In the rst part of August 1914 the author shows how decrepit,
obsolete, and hopeless the Tsars army was. Soon one feels that there
is no need to go on in this vein; the disastrous Russian defeat at
Tannenberg was overdetermined, and anyone or two of the endless
reasons mentioned would have been enough. The reader is led to feel
that it did not require the superlative eciency and technological
superiority of the German army to defeat such a wretched force. But
then Solzhenitsyn tries to show that if the celebrated German victors,
Hindenburg and Ludendor, had been obeyed, the Russian army
would not have been encircled and destroyed: the shattering Russian
defeat was accomplished by two German generals who disobeyed
orders. And the Russian ocers who deed their stupid orders
and fought courageously inicted serious defeats on the Germans

Without Guilt and Justice


and broke through the encirclement. Solzhenitsyn calls upon his

readers to reject the false faith in the wave of the future and to make
decisions for themselves, fearlessly.
Yet Solzhenitsyn is far from feeling contempt for those who
lack the rare qualities required for successful insubordination and
autonomy. His compassion for the suerings of the less gifted
Ivan Denisovich, Matryona, and the wives of some of the prisoners
in The First Circle, for examplesears the heart. In August 1914
his sympathetic portrayal of General Samsonov, the commander
of the encircled Russian army, becomes one of the glories of world
literature precisely when we are shown how a severely limited man
dies from the inside out, how despair and death permeate his body.
Had Samsonov been more independent, defying his orders, he might
have avoided defeat and failure; but he had some sense of decency,
courage enough to wish to die with his troops and, when that proved
impossible, to commit suicideand he did not tell lies.
Solzhenitsyns hatred of dishonesty is a physical thing and nds
superlative expression in the overwhelming nal scene of the book,
in which a colonel simply cannot keep quiet even though his explosion may not do any good and is almost certain to ruin him.
Nothing in Solzhenitsyns works is more obviously autobiographical than the description of the feelings of this man. But the same
passion for honesty nds succinct expression in an aside in the early
story, Matryonas House: There was nothing evil about either
the mice or the cockroaches, they told no lies. Autonomy does not
entail any elitist scorn for simple folk. But it does require courage
and, as I hope to show, high standards of honesty. And it precludes
any deference to the wave of the future.
The tenth strategy, nally, often spells total relief, like the rst two:
marriage. At rst glance, it looks quite dierent from the others and
therefore out of place. But it is probably the most popular strategy
of all. When getting married, legions of women have echoed Ruths
beautiful words (which in the Bible are not spoken to a husband):
Your people shall be my people, your god my god. Henceforth
they agree to make no more fateful decisions; they will leave that to



their husbands. This pattern is deeply ingrained in many cultures:

it is what a woman is expected to do when she gets married; and she
is supposed to get married.
Actually, it does not always work that way. The man who boasts
of making all the big decisions while he leaves the small ones to his
wife may admit when asked to explain: Big decisions concern what
we should do about China; small decisions deal with such matters
as buying a house and where to live. Figuratively speaking, many
men marry their mothers.
It would be wrong to suppose either that marriage must involve
decidophobia or that when it does only one spouse can have succumbed. This strategy can work for both husband and wife. Often a
couple is a committee of two and makes decisions the way committees usually do: a consensus is presumed and not questioned if all
goes well. But if things turn out badly, one does not feel altogether
responsible; one merely went along; left to ones own devices one
might have acted quite dierently. In a bad marriage such excuses are
stated expressly; in a good marriage they are entertained privately.
However unworthy it may be to harbor such thoughts, there is much
more than a grain of truth in them. Left to their own devices, both
partnersor on a committee, most or even all membersmight
indeed have made a dierent decision. As it happened, nobody
made any decision at all, and that was one of the main features of
the whole arrangement from the start: marriage is a way of avoiding
the necessity of having to make fateful decisions. Instead of making
a decision, one talks until something transpires.
Another way of putting this point is less nasty and is unassailably
true. In marriage one no longer stands alone. Both partners have
somebody to lean onif all goes well.
It does require a fateful decision to get married in the rst place.
But that decision may have been prompted by decidophobia, by the
desire to escape loneliness, by an unwillingness to make decisions in
solitude. There is nothing paradoxical in that. Kierkegaards famous
leap into commitment is quite typically the plunge one takes from
a solitary height to be rid of freedom. It would require a fateful
decision to go to a surgeon and say, Please, doctor, give me a frontal
lobotomy! But it would not be in the least paradoxical to say that

Without Guilt and Justice


anyone who made that choice was a decidophobe who had come to
the conclusion that he could not take it any more.
Getting married does not have to be like that; it is never quite
like that; but it is often a little like that. Marriage can be an expansion of consciousness. Getting married can involve the will to incur
additional responsibilities and to see a myriad things in two perspectives. Climbing with another person may be prompted partly by the
will to reach peaks that one cannot reach alone.
The same is often true of some of the other strategies. A religion
or a movement may be embraced because it holds out the same
promise. But it is easy to deceive oneself and to credit oneself with
a courage that one lacks. One should realize at that point that one
is actually hedging ones bet; however bold ones intentions, one is
making it easy for oneself to succumb to decidophobia in the future
if not immediately. It is the exceptional person who keeps resisting
this temptation.
The ten strategies could be arranged in a table as follows:
1. Avoid fateful decisions
a) Strategies involving recourse to authority: 1, 3, 4, 5, 9.
b) Strategies that do not involve recourse to authority and
are compatible with going it alone: 2, 8.
2. Stack the cards to make one alternative clearly right and remove all risk: 6, 7.
3. Decline responsibility: 10.
But it is only by exploring some of these strategies in detail that
one can show what is involved in autonomy, and what lures have
to be resisted. Obviously, one must also resist the temptation of
thinking of autonomy in Manichaean terms. Autonomy provides
no guarantee of happiness or even goodness; and decidophobes
may be very decent, altruistic people, good scholars, or ne artists.
Their lives may be blessed with warmth, security, and the comfort
of strong convictions.



Too often those who denounce conformity see it merely as

an expression of cowardice and laziness. It can be that. But the
tendency to believe that views held strongly by people whom one
knows well and likes must be largely right is extremely powerful and
dicult to overcome. One cannot begin to understand the appeal
of some of these ten strategies if one ignores this fact.
Two questions about decidophobia remain to be answered. First:
is a new word really needed? Wouldnt self-alienation or loss of
freedom do just as well? The point of coining a new term is to
move the phenomena discussed here clearly into focus. Alienation
is a very troublesome word, and it is extremely important not to
fudge the dierences between decidophobia and other forms of
alienation. Moreover, alienation immediately suggests to many
people a specically modern phenomenon, as if things used to be
better in the past. Finally, it is widely felt that the cure for alienation must be sought in some sort of community; but I have shown
that the search for community looms large among the strategies of
Loss of freedom suggests that one had freedom before one lost
it. Escape from freedom has similar overtones. Such phrases are
therefore grossly misleading. Again, an illustration may help. One
chapter in Charles Reichs immensely popular book The Greening of
America (1970) bears the title The Lost Self. We are transposed
into a fairy tale: We had a self before some ogre (the Corporate
State) took it away, and When self is recovered, the power of
the Corporate State will be ended, as miraculously as a kiss breaks
a witchs evil enchantment. This fairy-tale quality pervades the
whole book. We are asked to suspend our critical faculties when
we are told of World War II (!) that the source of the war is in
the barren, frustrated lives that are led in America; lives that lead
men to aggression, force, and power. The war in Vietnam, too,
becomes part of the fairy tale: Report after report from Vietnam
shows that G.I.s, sent out to search and destroy those whom the
State considers enemies, simply seek the safety of some foliage and
peacefully smoke marijuana, rap, and sleep. Thus those who are

Without Guilt and Justice


troubled about themselves and their children are urged to take heart:
The children of light who are numbered in the millions are even
now approaching on the wave of the future, sitting on the Left.
The other question we must face is whether it is at all possible
to resist all ten lures, to master decidophobia and become liberated.
If I point to some illustrious examples to show that autonomy is
attainable, you may feel that what was possible for people of such
stature is not necessarily possible for ordinary human beings. But if
I mentioned people who are not famous and therefore not widely
known, I would be asking you in eect to take my word for it that
it is possible and actually has been done. Clearly, the rst course
represents the lesser evil, the more so because autonomy is dicult
to attain.
Characters from literature are beside the point, but it is worth
noting that Aeschylus created at least two autonomous gures: Prometheus, who is almost autonomy incarnate, and Clytemnestra,
who reminds us that autonomy is no warrant of virtue. (Aeschylus
did not mean to suggest that married women, if liberated, must kill
their husbands.)
Western philosophy has been to some extent a quest for autonomy, and the pre-Socratics are considered the rst Western philosophers because they were free thinkers who leaned neither on religion
nor on exegetical thinking but took stands of their own. Heraclitus
comes to life as an individual rather more than the others, and although knowledge of him is limited it seems clear that he did not
employ any of the ten strategies. The most dramatic illustrations
in the long history of Western philosophy, however, are Socrates
and Nietzsche. A few interpreters, to be sure, have tried to saddle
Socrates with Platos moral rationalism; but the Apology, the conclusion of the Theaetetus, and some other passages suggest forcibly
that Socrates made a point of not knowing what he did not know.
But even if he should not have deed the fear of freedom with complete success, he clearly went much further than most men, and
contemplation of his thought and posture helps us understand what
is involved in mastering decidophobia.
The case of Nietzsche illustrates not only autonomy but also
two phobic gambits, employed by those who feel stung by such



freedom. The rst gambit is to turn those who have mastered decidophobia into something elsesay, by posthumously baptizing
Socrates as an Anglican or by claiming that Nietzsche was a fascist.
The secondindeed, the classical phobic gambit, equally popular
with religious apologists and members of political movements, Left
as well as Rightis to say: Those who examine their own preferences as well as alternatives end up by never making up their minds;
they keep arguing when the time for argument is long past; they
never get around to drawing a conclusion and taking a stand; they
shrink from decisions. No doubt, there are people of that kind, but
it is also possible to make decisions responsibly.
The autonomous individual does not treat his own conclusions
and decisions as authoritative but chooses with his eyes open, and
then keeps his eyes open. He has the courage to admit that he may
have been wrong even about matters of the greatest importance.
He objects to the ten strategies not on account of their putative
psychological origins but because they preclude uninhibited selfcriticism.
There is no need here to recapitulate my interpretation of Nietzsche as a man of this type or to show that he did get around to
drawing conclusions and taking stands, My disagreements with him
are legion, but his books reveal a truly liberated spirit. It will suce
here to quote a single epigram from his notebooks: A very popular
error: having the courage of ones convictions; rather it is a matter
of having the courage for an attack on ones convictions!!! Among
poets there are few whose lives are as well documented as Goethes,
and nobody can accuse him of having succumbed to any of the ten
strategies. Incidentally, he married, as Socrates did, illustrating the
point that marriage does not necessarily involve decidophobia.
Coming to our own time, Eleanor Roosevelt was an autonomous
woman but did not come fully into her own until after her husbands
death. In some ways, being a Presidents wife oers a woman exceptional opportunities; but it is also conning because she must always
consider how her words and actions will aect the President. This
helps to explain why no other Presidents wife played a comparable
role. It is harder to understand why others did not use their experience and prestige for the good of humanity once their husbands

Without Guilt and Justice


were out of oce or dead, especially in cases in which widespread

sympathy and admiration would have made it relatively easy. But
the women who marry extraordinarily ambitious men are rarely
looking for autonomy; they are much more likely to use marriage
as a decidophobic strategy, perhaps even along with religion and
allegiance to a party. Moreover, years in the limelight, in which
every move must be scrutinized lest it undercut the husbands career,
must be crushing. All this makes Eleanor Roosevelts achievement
even more imposing. She did not allow her dicult marriage to one
of the strongest personalities in the world destroy her own will and
spirit, and she never simply accepted his political or moral views, nor
those of the Democratic Party. She kept her own counsel and after
his death showed all the world what it means to be autonomous,
using every resource at her command for the benet of those who
needed help.
My nal example exhibits the most awesome courage: Solzhenitsyn. Rarely has it been so dicult for any man to stand alone,
utterly alone, without any prop of any kind. The First Circle, Cancer
Ward, Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record, and August 1914 show
how he succeeded in resisting all ten temptations, making one fateful decision after another against seemingly insuperable odds. His
life is autonomy in action.

The Death of
Retributive Justice

the road to autonomy is blocked by a two-headed dragon. One
head is Guilt, the other Justice. Justice roars: You have no right to
decide for yourself; you have been told what is good, right, and just.
There is one righteous road, and there are many unrighteous ones.
Turn back and seek justice!
Frightened, man stops and marvels at his own presumption,
when Guilt cries: Those who succeed in getting past Justice are
devoured by Guilt. Seek the road to which Justice directs you and
dare not to strike out on paths of your own. Guilt has a thousand
eyes to swallow you, and the lids above and below each are lined with
poison fangs. Turn back: autonomy IS sacrilege. Whoever wants to
reach autonomy must rst slay this dragon and do battle with Justice
and Guilt. But Justice has many wiles and is not always as erce as
her roar. She can change herself into a beautiful womanno longer
young, to be sureand say: In my youth the Hebrew prophets
loved me, and Plato sang my praises. Christianity taught generations
to think of me as divine and linked me to Gods righteous judgment
of all men. When faith in God declined, philosophers of widely
dierent views tried to dissociate me from religion and linked me
with reason. At that point the voice of Justice becomes less wistful;
she continues rmly, even imperiously: Legions now no longer
appeal to God as moral arbiter; they invoke me.


The Death of Retributive Justice

Asked how they know what is just, large numbers of people

would deny that they were relying on their upbringing or on their
personal intuition; they would insist that their claims were rational
and that any reasonable person who was not blinded by prejudice
could see what was just. People who think that way are decidophobes who have fallen for the seventh strategy: moral rationalism.
They believe that there is one righteous way and that justice
demands one particular punishment or one specic distribution.
There is no need to weigh alternatives and then make dicult decisions; there is no room for excruciating choices: reasonthey
thinktells us plainly what we ought to do. Formerly it was religion that was thought to tell us what was just, and God was the
ultimate authority. With the death of God, the prestige of justice
rose, if only temporarily, and now she receives some of the reverence
hitherto reserved for God.
Justice is widely held to be objective if not absolute, precise and
not subject to emotion, timeless and above mere preferences. These
attributes are crucial features of what people mean by justice. When
justice demands something, it is no longer up to mere human beings
to try to decide what to do; the individual is supposed to submit
and do the bidding of justice.
In fact, justice is not at all timeless. Yesterdays just punishment
or distribution may be considered blatantly unjust today. Soon I
shall give examples to show how what was once demanded in the
name of simple justice is now felt to be outrageous. To the skeptic,
any claim that justice has been done looks arrogant and foolish
right away. A generation or two later, it will also look absurd to those
who are not skeptics and who use the same rhetoric themselves. I
shall argue that the demands of simple justice are simple indeed but
not just.
There is more than one way in which justice is not timeless. It
will be helpful to distinguish several stages in the development of
the idea of justice.
First, justice was conformity with custom, and injustice meant a
violation of tradition. Even at this stage, justice blocked the road to
autonomy; it was not up to the individual to make fateful decisions

Without Guilt and Justice


for himself. An extraordinary passage in the Iliad seems to illustrate

this stage. Menelaus is about to take a Trojan prisoner of war in
order to collect ransom, when Agamemnon reproaches him: No
let us not leave even one of them alive, down to the babies in their
mothers wombsnot even they should live. The whole people
must be wiped out of existence, and none survive to think of them
or weep. And Homer continues: He turned his brothers heart, for
he urged justice. This seems to mean that he reminded his brother
of the hallowed custom of genocide. In time, the tragic poets and
the Sophists questioned the authority of custom and convention,
and Euripides attacked this particular custom in The Trojan Women.
At the second stage, justice becomes the sum of the virtues. The
classical formulation is found in another Greek poet, Theognis, in
the second half of the sixth century B.C.:
Justice contains the sum of all virtue, and every just man, Kyrnos,
is good.
This is a development of the rst stage and originally meant that
those who conformed to custom were good. But when convention
was felt to be problematic, a higher law was postulated both in
Athens and in Jerusalemwhat later came to be known as natural
lawand whoever lived in conformity with that was considered
just. This second stage was consummated by Plato and the Hebrew
The third state is reached when justice becomes a particular
virtue. Aristotle, in the fourth century, expressly distinguished the
justice that is the sum of the virtues from the justice that is one of
the virtues. Further, he distinguished distributive and recticatory
justice, associating the latter with restitutionnot with retribution.
When justice is no longer primarily a virtue but rather a quality
of punishments and distributions, the fourth stage has been reached.
On the rare occasions when a person is still called just at this stage,
this is either an archaism that harks back to the second stage, and
the meaning is that he is, in Hebrew, a tsaddika man who is just
in the sense that he has all the virtuesor what is meant is that the
distributions he makes or the punishments he imposes are just. In


The Death of Retributive Justice

the modern age, justice is primarily a predicate of punishments and

distributions, and the ascription of justice as a virtue to individuals
is derivative.
The conception of justice that underlies retributive and distributive justice is the same: distributions and punishments are
considered just when each gets what he deserves, and unjust when
this is not the case. In other words, justice consists of meting out to
men what they deserve. When they are punished because they are
held to deserve evil and suering, one speaks of retributive justice.
When what is distributed is good one speaks of distributive justice.
I propose to criticize this kind of justiceretributive justice in the
remainder of this chapter, distributive justice in the next. The notion
that distributive justice is better understood as fairness will also be
taken up in the next chapter.
The four stages in the development of the idea of justice are not
so distinct that one could say when each began and ended. Even
when justice was considered the sum of the virtues, giving each what
he deserved was often held to be an especially important part of it;
and when justice became a particular virtue it came to consist more
and more of punishing and rewarding every man in accordance
with his deserts. God embodied this kind of justice, and in the Last
Judgment it was made manifest to all. But now the fifth stage is upon
us: the death of retributive justice.
Retributive justice has been subjected to so much criticism that
one might suppose the time had come to say that one should not
speak ill of the dead. But the fth stage, in which we are living, is a
time of moral confusion. The aversion to retributive justice is rather
sentimental, and even philosophers who nd her utterly repugnant
still cling to distributive justice as if that were an entirely dierent
matter. They go to great pains to dissociate distributive justice from
her ugly sister, who is dying; they speak of distributive justice as if
she alone had a right to the name; and they outdo each other in
their reverence for her.
Consider two of the most respected moral philosophers in the
United States. William Frankena calls retributive justice quite incredible, but considers distributive justice one of the two cardinal
moral virtues, along with benevolence. John Rawls writes A Theory

Without Guilt and Justice


of Justice and devotes a single page out of six hundred to retributive

justicemerely to reject out of hand the notion that it is the opposite of distributive justice. This page is not marked by the subtlety
that distinguishes much of the rest of the book: A propensity to
commit such acts [i.e., acts proscribed by penal statutes] is a mark
of bad character, and in a just society legal punishments will only fall
upon those who display these faults. I shall argue that punishment
should be dissociated completely from any judgment of character.
Rawls is not arguing at all at this point: he is merely trying to dismiss
retributive justice. But as long as retributive justice is ignored, the
nature of justice can hardly be understood.
I want to do my best to usher in stage six: the death of distributive justice. To accomplish that, one must begin at the stage in which
we live now, the fth, and consider the death of retributive justice
rst. For the case against distributive justice closely parallels that
against retributive justice. The faith in retributive justice is going
fast; and distributive justice cannot long survive the death of her
Siamese twin.
In the Old Testament and the New, in Judaism and Christianity as
well as Hinduism, retributive justice has always been of the essence
of justice, and it has actually tended to overshadow distributive
justice. To this day, the claim that justice has been done brings to
mind punishment rst of all, and the phrase justice demands is
as often completed with a specic penalty as it is with something
good. Gods justice was always held to consist in large measure of his
punishment of the wicked. That so many evildoers ourished raised
doubts about Gods justice, but eventually the justice of God would
be made manifest to all as each received what he deserved. Human
justice was held to consist of an emulation of the divine judgment,
and it was often very cruel indeed.
Rawls insists on his own Kantianism but quite overlooks that
even in the Philosophy of Right (Rechtslehre, 1797), which has been
translated into English under the title The Metaphysical Elements
of Justice, Kant hardly ever speaks of justice (Gerechtigkeit), except
in the section on punishment For him justice meant pre-eminently


The Death of Retributive Justice

retributive justice. He did not even speak of justice when in his postulate of Gods existence (1788) he implicitly demanded distributive
justice in the hereafter.
Hegel also published a Philosophy of Right without ever discussing justice at any length; and he, too, found justice above all in
punishment. Distributive justice has never held the place in German
moral philosophy that it obtained in British and American ethics.
Karl Marx stood squarely in the German tradition and pleaded not
for distributive justice (Robert Tucker has shown this conclusively)
but for self- realization and, in a sense, autonomy. (I shall return
to Marx in the chapter on alienation; for what he fought against
was not distributive injustice but alienation.) The modern liberal
champions of distributive justice tend to ignore retributive justice,
but before our own time almost everybody except David Hume
recognized that retributive justice was of the essence of justice.
This recognition was by no means conned to Catholics, Calvinists, and Kants heirs. Take Thomas Jeerson, the very model of
an enlightened opponent of Calvinism and Catholicism. When
Napoleon was in St. Helena, Jeerson said of him, in a letter:
The penance he is now doing for all his atrocities must be soothing to every virtuous heart. It proves that we have a god in
heaven. That he is just, and not careless of what passes in this
world. And We cannot but wish to this inhuman wretch, a long,
long life, that time as well as intensity may ll up his suerings
to the measure of his enormities. But indeed what suerings
can atone for his crimes !
The nal exclamation suggests the limits, if not the absurdity, of
the dream of proportionality. Yet the notion that justice is done
only when every crime is punished proportionately is extremely
widespread. Jeerson shows this, too. In his First Inaugural Address
he proposed Equal and exact [!] justice to all men. To his mind this
did not entail the abolition of slavery. But he had spelled out some
of his relevant ideas in 1779 in A Bill for Proportioning Crimes
and Punishments, which ends: Slaves guilty of any oence punishable in others by labor in the public works, shall be transported

Without Guilt and Justice


to such parts in the West Indies, South America, or Africa, as the

Governor shall direct, there to be continued in slavery. In Jeersons
Bill, petty treason and murder are to be punished by death, and
Whosoever committeth murder by poisoning shall suer death by
poison. Whosoever shall be guilty of rape, polygamy, or sodomy
with man or woman, shall be punished, if a man, by castration, if a
woman, by cutting through the cartilage of her nose a hole of one
half inch in diameter at the least. And
Whosoever on purpose, and of malice forethought, shall maim
another, or shall disgure him, by cutting out or disabling the
tongue, slitting or cutting of a nose, lip, or ear, branding, or
otherwise, shall be maimed, or disgured in like sort: or if that
cannot be, for want of the same part, then as nearly as may be,
in some other part of at least equal value and estimation, in the
opinion of the jury, and moreover shall forfeit one half of his
lands and goods to the suerer.
Many people nowadays associate an eye for an eye with the
Old Testament, and many liberals believe that this conception of
justice was transcended in the New Testament. Often one goes on
to associate the former with justice and the latter with love, and
one contrasts the laws of Moses not with the laws of the Christian
Middle Ages, some two thousand years later, or with the laws of
Christian countries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but
with the most edifying dicta about personal conduct in the Sermon
on the Mount. Yet this Sermon is studded with promises of rewards
and punishments, and the Gospels are punctuated by threats of
judgment, damnation, and hell. It is also in the Sermon on the
Mount that Jesus oers the classical formulation of a notion of justice
that embraces retribution as well as distribution: the measure you
give, shall be the measure you get. But the distinctive conception of
justice in the New Testament is that on the day of judgment few will
be saved from eternal torment. The idea that any mannot even to
speak of most of mankindshould be punished with eternal torture
is so repugnant to liberals that millions refuse to acknowledge its
presence where it stares them in the face.


The Death of Retributive Justice

A typical liberal reaction to Jeersons Bill for Proportioning

Crimes and Punishments would be to consider it a relapse into
Mosaic cruelties. It would be less out of touch with historical fact
and Jeersons spirit to see it as an advance over the cruelty of his
own time and of the Gospels.
In eighteenth-century England the punishment for treason began
with hanging; then the oender was taken down while still alive and
his entrails were cut out and burned before his eyes; and then he was
beheaded and quartered. In 1694 an attainder for treason was reversed by the Kings Bench after a man had been duly drawn, hanged,
and quartered because the judge, after saying that the traitors entrails were to be cut out, had omitted the words and burned while
he is still alive. To rule that this phrase could be left out because a
man would scarcely survive after his entrails were cut from his belly,
said the Kings Bench, would make judgments in high treason
discretionary, which indeed is only a softer word for arbitrary. This
might invite all kinds of decisions, including a Jewish judgment,
that the oender should be stoned to death; or a Turkish judgment,
that he should be strangled; or a French judgment, that he should
be broken on the wheel In France two men were broken on the
wheel for petty theft as late as 1770; one had stolen a piece of cheese.
In England, a nine-year-old child was sentenced to death in 1832
for smashing a window and stealing two-pence worth of paint. It
was only in 1837 that two hundred oences hitherto punishable by
death ceased to be capital crimes in England.
Paul Reiwald is right when he says:
Men were not even able to conne themselves to the law of talio,
the law of eye for eye, tooth for tooth, which seems so primitive
and barbarous to us. In truth, the principle of an eye for an
eye, a tooth for a tooth, with which the Jews are occasionally
reproached to this day because it is held to be typical of their
God of vengeance, belongs with the great and decisive advances
of humanity, as is now generally recognized in the world of

Without Guilt and Justice


Reiwald is also right when he says in his discussion of medieval

punishments: The barrier of the lex talionis is torn down. Compared to what was actually done, its application would have signied
gentle mercy. As for the Gospels, consider how Jesus comforted his
If anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake o
the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly, I
say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for
the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. Behold I
send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves
But these lambs pack some clout! Anyone who does not care
to listen to their preaching will be punished worse than the most
notorious evildoers of all time. It is of the essence of liberal Christianity that it feels sure without any need for evidence that Jesus did
not really say this and that Matthew and Luke must have misquoted
him. That there are many similar passages, also in the other two
Gospels, one does not recall any more than one remembered these
sentences. Whatever the evidence, one simply knows that Jesus did
not say any such thing.
There is a Manichaean streak in the Gospels: the enemy is beyond the protection of proportionality. If he will not listen, the
worst punishment is still too good for him. Liberals are appalled
by such cruelty and favor a sense of proportion, certainly as far as
rewards are concerned; but when it comes to punishment, they are
confused. It certainly should not be disproportionate. But liberals
prefer to think of justice as having nothing to do with anything as unpleasant as punishment. In one context they uphold the superiority
of love and speak of justice as transcended by Christianity. In another, they are all for justice and associate it with causes they believe
in. In short, many are against retributive justice but for distributive
It would make no sense to saddle either the New Testament or
the Kings Bench in England or the lawmakers of the Middle Ages
with moral rationalism. Here we are still in the realm of religion
with Gods awesome justice as the model. But some of the men


The Death of Retributive Justice

of the Enlightenment sought to counter the inhumanity of their

Christian predecessors with appeals to reason. They thought that
retributive justice had a mathematical quality and that murder called
for capital punishment in much the same way in which two plus
two equals four.
Not only Jeerson tried to nd proportionate punishments for
other crimes. In a similar spirit, Kant tried to prove that reason
requires thieves to be sentenced to forced labor in a penitentiary:
Whoever steals makes everybody elses property insecure; he
thus robs himself (in accordance with the law of retribution)
of the security of all possible property; he has nothing nor can
acquire anything but still wants to live, which is not possible
unless others feed him. But since the state will not do this for
nothing, he has to place his powers at the disposal of the state
for whatever labor it deems t
Such sophistry is the direct consequence of the attempt to approximate morality to mathematics: What kind and what degree
of punishment does public justice adopt as a principle and standard?
None other than the principle of equality (the little tongue of the
scales of justice) Against those who even in Kants time were
arguing against capital punishment he insists:
Even if civil society were to dissolve with the full agreement of
all its members (e.g., a people on an island resolved to scatter
over all the world), the last murderer still conned in prison
would rst have to be executed in order that everybody received
what his deeds deserved, lest a blood guilt should stick to the
people that had not insisted on this penalty
Most modern readers will nd this as uncongenial as Jeersons
Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments. Those who revere
Kant or Jeerson will nd much of this downright embarrassing.
Why? Because the faith in retributive justice is all but dead. What
are the causes of its death? The answer to this question will also
show why today, for the rst time in human history, autonomy has
become a live option for millions.

Without Guilt and Justice


The rst phase of the movement that is leading to the death of justice
might be called moral skepticism. This could be traced back to the
Greeks; Plato could be seen as a reaction to it, and Christianity as
a great countermovement. But for our purposes it will suce to
consider the familiar resurgence of moral skepticism in the modern
era. This development is so well known that we need only recall very
briey a few of its major elements. First, religion lost its authority in
moral matters for most of mankind. Then, the habit of considering
alternatives and weighing pros and cons spread with the rise of
modern science; and when this approach is applied to moral claims,
the result is moral skepticism. The development of comparative
sociology and anthropology has done its share to make this explicit.
So has the study of comparative religionthis, too, is a way of
considering alternativesin spite of the last-ditch holy lie of some
decidophobes that all the great religious teachers taught the same
On another plane, it has become more and more unusual for
all the children in a family to stay in the town where they were born.
People are exposed to dierent environments and mores. Tens of
millions have been uprooted and moved since World War II, and
vast numbers have left farms and villages and small towns for big
cities. Travel has also proliferated; hitherto isolated people who
are far too poor to travel are suddenly brought face to face with
foreigners; and magazines, lms, radio, and television have done
their share to expose men to dierent value systems.
Our moral philosophers have on the whole been more conservative than many of their students. It makes a dierence if one
has grown up in a relatively stable environment, under the tutelage
of parents and teachers who were still closer to absolutism. Those
who grew up after Auschwitz and Nagasaki cannot recall a normal, stable world. That many students became Manichaeans in
the 1960s and reverted to a form of moral absolutismin some
cases, moral rationalismwas due to the fact that they had traveled
further down the road of skepticism and had reached nihilism and
despair. The wars in Vietnam and Algeria and the slaughter in India


The Death of Retributive Justice

and Pakistan, in the Congo, Indonesia, and Nigeria, and the worlds
reaction, made a mockery of the morality to which Western societies as well Asian and African governments paid lip service. These
vast atrocities and the numbing anonymity of metropolitan life had
contributed to a desperate sense of futility. Many had gone beyond
moral skepticism into moral nihilism: from the reasonable position
that whatever we do is not likely to make any dierence a thousand years hence, they inferred fallaciously that it therefore made
no dierencenot even now. It was from this nihilistic despair that
some students sought salvation in a new absolutism.
Skepticism about natural law is implicit in moral skepticism.
The very concept of natural law is not widely familiarphilosophers,
theologians, and lawyers know it; few others do. Not only is the
term mildly esoteric, but the idea that a single moral law is binding
for all men, regardless of time and place, lost its plausibility as moral
skepticism spread. Few except Catholics still cling to this notion,
and fewer and fewer Catholics do. Even many Catholic theologians
now defend the Inquisition by saying that it was justied in its time
but would not be justiable today.
The man who did most to promote skepticism about positive
lawthe law actually in force in a statewas Hitler. The war crimes
trials from Nuremberg to Jerusalem convinced millions that obedience to the laws of the state in which one lives is by no means
always ones duty. What a few had learned earlier from Sophocles
Antigone, Tolstoy, Thoreau, or Gandhi, millions learned from these
trials. Some learned it directly, as it were; but there was no lack of
One of the most inuential of these was Sartre. During the
Algerian War he kept exhorting intellectuals to speak out and defy
their government. He reached an international constituency. At the
same time Martin Luther Kings civil disobedience campaign in the
American South did its share to shake the faith in positive law. King
had taken his doctorate in philosophy, but again it would be misleading to understand the change in attitude in purely intellectual
terms. In the United States, for example, the Draconic laws against
possession of marijuana and other drugs carried masses of young
people beyond skepticism about law into downright contempt for

Without Guilt and Justice


law. The prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s had had a similar eect.
But the constellation of incomparably more severe penalties with
the civil rights struggle and opposition to the war in Vietnam made
this new contempt far more impassioned.
In time, moral skepticism will be seen to entail doubts about
justice, but so far skepticism about distributive justice is not yet
widespread at all. Why, then, is retributive justice dying? In addition
to the historical developments summarized here, three major points
are worth stressing.


The Death of Retributive Justice

First, attitudes towards criminals have changed to the point where
the demand not to hate them but to remain mindful of their humanity no longer sounds utopian. This change is due in no small
measure to some nineteenth-century novelists. Charles Dickens
and Victor Hugo come to mind along with Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Their depiction of suering was nothing new, and the image of
prison conditions in the nineteenth-century novel is no more cruel
than much that can be found in earlier literature, including Dantes
Inferno. What is distinctive is the novelists attitude toward these
conditions and the sympathy for the criminals that is evoked in the
reader. The culmination of this movement is reached at the turn
of the century in Tolstoys Resurrection, the novel for which he was
excommunicated by the Orthodox Church in 1901.
Second, we have developed a kind of second sight. To say that
we have become more perceptive in psychological matters would
be an understatement, not because our age is so perceptive, which
it is not, but rather because the psychological obtuseness that prevailed until quite recently is almost unbelievable. Again, Dostoevsky
and Tolstoy deserve much of the credit for this change, along with
Nietzsche and, above all, Freud.
To tear down the wall that respectable people had built up
between themselves and those who were abnormal, these writers
approached it from two sides. Unlike Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, Freud
did not think much of the dictum that one ought to love ones
enemies, but far more than any Christian saint or theologian, he
showed that our enemies, and criminals for that matter, were not
essentially dierent from ourselves. One did not have to accept his
theories in detail to be strongly aected by this implication of his
The other approach to the wall is much less obvious. In Paul W.
Tappans massive standard text on Crime, Justice and Correction, for
example, all ten references to Freud (in seven hundred fty pages)
concern the light he shed on criminals. But Freudlike Nietzsche,
whom Tappan does not mention at all also turned a searchlight on
respectable society, illuminating the unedifying motives that come

Without Guilt and Justice


to the fore in punishment. Not only is the criminal a human being

like you, but you, alas, are like the criminal.
It is not surprising that this insight is much less popular than the
rst approach, which goes so well with the liberal faith in humanity.
But even where this second approach is not accepted explicitly, it
has come to color our way of thinking. When one reads a typical
defense of retributive justice by a nineteenth- century philosopher
who claims that Indignation against wrong done to another has
nothing in common with a desire to revenge a wrong done to ourself, one is struck by its psychological navet. Philosophers, to be
sure, always have a tendency to stick to words and thrive on neat
conceptual distinctions, but after Freud even a philosopher may
be pardoned for asking how indignation against wrong done to
another looks in practice.
Consider the institution of the pillory. The following report
from the British Morning Herald of January 28, 1804, is typical:
The enormity of Thomas Scotts oence, in endeavouring to
accuse Captain Kennah, a respectable ocer, together with his
servant, of robbery, having attracted much public notice, his
conviction, that followed the attempt, could not be but gratifying to all lovers of justice. Yesterday, the culprit underwent a
part of his punishment: he was placed in the pillory, at Charing
Cross, for one hour. On his rst appearance, he was greeted by
a large mob with a discharge of small shot, such as rotten eggs,
lth, and dirt from the streets, which was followed up by dead
cats, rats, etc., which had been collected in the vicinity of the
Metropolis by the boys in the morning.
Here we see indignation against wrong done to another in
action. Of course, such indignation does not always look like this,
and soon I shall analyze the various functions of punishment. But
what I have quoted is not an odd item about the behavior of a crowd
that has got out of hand; it is rather a representative description
of a form of punishment that was quite popular for a long time.
Why are we unconvinced by all attempts to prove that what was
meted out to Thomas Scott was exact justice? He had endeavored


The Death of Retributive Justice

to undermine respect for Captain Kennah; now he was subjected to

loss of respect. Similar arguments could be oered for other Curious
Punishments of Bygone Days, to cite the title of a book by Alice Morse
Earle (1896) which is set in America. Her chapter headings give
some idea of the contents: the ducking stool, the stocks, the pillory,
the whipping post, the scarlet letter, branks and gags, branding and
maiming. Branks were an iron frame placed over a womans head,
with a sharp metal bit entering the mouth, and were used to punish
scolds. One would not need the subtle ingenuity of Kant to show
that this punishment was in a way appropriate and not by any means
completely disproportionate; and yet few readers nowadays would
concede that simple justice demanded it. Why not?
Or consider one of the oddest passages in Curious Punishments:
Truly long hair and wigs had their ulterior uses in colonial days
when ear-cropping was thus rife. Life was dull and cramped in
those days, but there were diversions; when the breeze might lift
the locks from your friends or lovers cheek and give a glimpse of
ghastly hole instead of an ear (sic). Or this: One woman at the
whipping post created much amusement by her resistance. We do
not even ask for what crimes ear-cropping or whipping might be
proportionate, though it stands to reason that a Jeerson or Kant
might have come up with a thoughtful answer. Why?
The answer to these questions has been given above: skepticism
about positive law, sympathy for and even identication with the
criminal, and a horror of the unedifying motives that nd expression
in punishment. But one nal point may help to illuminate the other
developments considered here. The death of retributive justice is
linked to the death of God.
As long as men believed in the Last Judgment and in hell, they
could hardly question retributive justice. Pope Pius XII made this
point plainly and emphatically when he addressed the Sixth International Congress of Penal Law, October 3, 1953: Against modern
theories that fail to consider expiation of the crime committed
as the most important function of punishment he cited Matthew
16:27 and Romans 2:6 and 13:4, concluding:
The function of protection disappears completely in the

Without Guilt and Justice


after-life. The Omnipotent and All-Knowing Creator can always prevent the repetition of a crime by the interior moral
conversion of the delinquent. But the supreme Judge, in His
Last Judgment, applies uniquely the principle of retribution.
This, then, must be of great importance.
As long as traditional Christianity ourished, retributive justice
did, too. When the faith in hell and the Last Judgment lost its grip,
Jeerson and Kant, as well as other writers, still tried to save the
faith in retributive justice by providing a new, rationalist foundation
for it. While men still had the old religious faith in their bones, such
eorts seemed to have some plausibility; but no more. Millions
realize that neither God nor reason has determined once and for all
what each person deserves and that it is up to us to weigh alternatives
and to make dicult decisions.
To decide whether and when punishment is needed, one must rst of
all be clear about what precisely punishment is and what its functions
are. It is such a familiar institution that most people never realize
how subtle it is.
Punishment involves at least two persons (call them A and B)
and two acts. A holds a position of authority in relation to B, claims
that B has done some wrong, and by virtue of his authority causes
something unpleasant to happen to B in return for (as a punishment
for) this claimed wrong. This is what is meant by punishment. If
A does not claim that B has done some wrong, one speaks of maltreatment or torture, not of punishment; and if A does not hold a
position of authority one speaks of revenge.
B could be an animal, but only if A treats B more or less as a
person. Thus B could well be a dog or a cat; but we do not call it
punishment when we kill a mosquito that has just bitten us. If A
and B are one and the same person and we say, Why do you keep
punishing yourself ? we are using the term guratively but still in a
manner that is wholly consistent with our explication: B assumes
the role of A and punishes himself. Finally, A could be a deity who
in that case would act more or less like a personspecically, like a


The Death of Retributive Justice

father, a judge, or possibly a teacher.

What is the purpose of this institution of punishment? It is
encountered in many, if not all, societies and is used not only by
political authorities but also by parents and teachers and even in
games. Its ubiquity makes a mockery of any search for the purpose,
as if there were always one purpose only, the same everywhere. In
dierent societies, contexts, and ages, punishment served various
functions. Its entertainment value was more important in some
places than in others. But the desire to see justice done, to do to
the oender what he deserved, was never the primary reason for
instituting punishments. The primary purpose of proclaiming a
penal code is to prevent some evil. But this does not mean that the
penalties are intended solely for deterrence. In Deuteronomy 19,
eye for eye is actually introduced: The rest shall hear and fear, and
shall never again commit any such evil in your midst. Deterrence
is very important indeed, but often understood far too narrowly.
A penal code deters people from committing crimes not only
(1) by engendering fear but also (2) by inculcating a moral sense. A
trivial penalty (say, a ve cent ne) suggests that an oense is trivial,
while a severe penalty conveys the sense that the crime for which
it is decreed is grave. The code may also deter people simply (3) by
informing them of what is forbidden. At rst glance, it may seem
to be overly subtle to distinguish this function from the rst two.
In fact, in many cases one is neither frightened nor led to feel that
anything is immoral, and it is quite common for people to know that
certain acts are forbidden without having any idea what penalties
have been decreed for oenders. In such cases the third function is
in evidence, but not the rst two. But crimes occur in spite of all
this, and the penalties are intended to undo, or at least to minimize,
the damage. How?
4. By preventing private vengeance, lynchings, and a general
breakdown of order. Often the oense injured others who, in the
absence of a penal code, might have taken the law into their own
5. By seeing to it that the breaking of a law does not become
an invitation to other men to emulate the lawbreaker. The punishment is meant to deter others and thus to re-enforce the code.

Without Guilt and Justice


The oender has weakened the law and come close to annulling its
deterrent eect; now the punishment is meant to undo this negative
consequence and thus to restore the deterrent eect.
6. By providing a safety valve for the unlawful desires that
smolder below the surface and are fanned to the danger point by
the commission of a crime. Many people have wanted to do what
the criminal did but were kept from doing it by the law or by their
conscience. Now he makes them look silly; they were timid, he was
bold; they were weak, and he was strongif he gets away with it.
And he seems to have gotten away with it. Hence many people are
burning to de what he did. The penal code provides an outlet for
this criminal desire. He has killed someone, and now youmany of
youalso want to kill? All right; kill him! He has maimed someone,
and now many of you also want to maim someone? All right; maim
him! Thus the desire for talionfor doing to the criminal what he
has done to someone elsedoes not evidence any profound sense
of justice or a primordial conviction that this is clearly what the
criminal deserves.
These last three functions (4-6) interpenetrate. But the desire
to proportion punishments to crimes is not born of the feeling
that anything less than this would not be justice; it represents an
attemptas in Jeersons caseto keep cruelty in bounds. For
as soon as people are invited to vent their criminal desires on the
criminal, the same dangers reappear that we have just considered
(under 4 and 5): as long as he is to be killed in any case, why merely
kill him? Why not. hang him rst, then take him down alive, cut
out his entrails Why not have an orgy? Historically, the call for
talion has generally signied a great advance over wanton cruelty
(see page 44 above).
The fourth and fth functions still come under the heading
of deterrence. The sixth might be called cathartic, to use an ugly
word for an ugly fact. Punishment purges the societynot, as often
claimed, by removing some mythical pollution, but in a more palpable psychological sense. The purge, of course, aords only temporary
relief, and unfortunately there is evidence that it is addictive. But
this function of punishment has often been mistaken for a demand
for retributive justice.


The Death of Retributive Justice

The traditional distinction between three functions of punishment

deterrence, reform, and retribution is not subtle enough. One
should distinguish ten functionsfour more in addition to the
six considered so far.
7. Punishment is often justied as a means of reforming the
oender. Thus a child is punished to teach him a lesson and to make
him a better person. Lawbreakers have been pilloried, whipped,
sent to prison, branded, maimed, and ned to re-educate them.
Hardly solely for that purpose, but we need not doubt that this was
often held to be one aim of punishment and more rarely also one
function of punishment.
8. Recompense or restitution is scarcely a punishment as long as
it is merely a matter of returning stolen goods or money. But suppose
one has insulted another person and is required to make a public
apology, or one has to make up to someone else some other form
of humiliation, inconvenience, or suering. When the oender
is humiliated, inconvenienced, or made to suer in turn because
this is held to be some recompense for the oended party, we enter
the realm of punishment. Similarly, when it is claimed that the
lawbreaker has harmed society and must now pay his debt to society,
recompense is invoked as the purpose of punishment. The point is
not that the oender deserves to suer; it is rather that the oended
party desires compensation. Again, the various functions often
9. Expiation is also a form of recompense, but here the underlying idea is that some god has been oended and must be appeased.
The notion of expiation depends on religious beliefs and makes no
sense apart from them. Here I am sticking closely to the traditional
meaning of expiation. If it were objected that the notion also
makes sense in relation to a sovereign, a parent, or anyone at all who
sees himself as standing in Gods place, I should say that such cases
are best included under number 8.
10. Finally, there is the claim that justice requires retribution,
and that justice is done when, and only when, the oender is punished: he deserves to be punished, and until he actually is punished
he fails to get what he deserves. This claim, which gures prominently in the rhetoric about punishment, is open to several criti-

Without Guilt and Justice


a. The notion of desert is questionable and will be criticized at
length in the next two chapters.
b. The rst seven functions are clearly future-oriented. The
eighth (recompense) is at least partly future- oriented, but it also
hinges on the notion of desert. The ninth (expiation) is a variant
of the eighth that introduces the supernatural. But retribution is
past-oriented. This contrast of two orientations and my objections
to any such xation on the past will be developed in the chapter
on guilt. Specically, this claim (10) is frequently based on the
conviction that a past event needs to beand can beundone.
This is a superstition. The past is not a blackboard, punishments are
not erasers, and the slate can never be wiped clean: what is done is
done and cannot be undone.
c. The intuitive certainty that nevertheless often accompanies
the belief that an oender fails to get what he deserves until he is
punished will be explained in the chapter on the birth of guilt and
The decidophobe loves retributive justice because she tells him precisely what is to be done: wrongdoing must be punished, and there
is one penalty that is just and therefore mandatory. But I say:
1. Punishments can never be just.
2. Even if a punishment could be proportionate, it would not follow
that it ought to be imposed.
3. The preoccupation with retributive justice is inhumane.
The rst thesis means that a punishment can never be deserved
or who11y proportionate. If the nine- year-old child sentenced
to death in 1832 for smashing a window and stealing two-pence
worth of paint had actually done these things, and if the penalty
conformed with precedent and custom, that would not entail that
the punishment was deserved and just. The same goes for a man
broken on the wheel for stealing a piece of cheese.


The Death of Retributive Justice

Jeerson plainly felt that at least some of the punishments provided in existing penal codes were unjust; but he believed in the
possibility of proportioning crimes and punishments. To be just,
a punishment must satisfy three conditions: the accusation must be
proved; the punishment must accord with precedent and custom;
and the punishment must be proportioned to the crime. Our clear
sense that some punishments are outrageous even though they satisfy the rst two conditions results from the feeling that they seem
out of all proportion to the crime. (One could introduce further
complications by stipulating how the accusation must be proved;
for example, in accordance with established procedure, without recourse to torture, and so forth. But this would take us too far aeld.)
The rst two conditions concern particular instances of punishment.
The third condition, proportionality, concerns the penal law and
is far more interesting. The crucial point is that the admission that
some punishments are cruel and unusual does not commit one to
the view that for every crimeor even any crimethere is a proportionate and hence deserved and just penalty. Indeed, it seems
very plain that for some crimes there is not, and I shall try to show
in the next chapter that there is no just punishment for any crime.
To begin with crimes for which there is clearly no proportionate
punishment: how could one possibly establish what a man deserves
for seducing a child, for raping a child, or for arson or treason? The
question of how one should deal with such crimes calls for excruciating decisions. The moral rationalist avoids the frightening task
of weighing alternatives; he claims that reason demands such and
such a penalty, backs up his claim with a proof a la Kant, and shuts
his eyes to objections and alternatives. The moral irrationalist relies
on authority, most likely on Gods revelation or the law, and then
engages at most in exegetical thinking. The autonomous human
being uses his reason to eliminate various alternatives, but nds that
after this he is still left with several tenable positions between which
he must make a choice. He may have little doubt that his choice
is better than many that are clearly inferior, but he will not have
the arrogance to claim that the penalty he chooses is the one that is
proportionate, deserved, and just.
This question about desert is as dicult as it is important. It is

Without Guilt and Justice


as relevant to distributive justice as it is to retributive justice, and I

shall deal with it more fully in the next chapter.
When Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped to stand trial, a truthful
verdict was possible, a just punishment was not. Still, a punishment
can be more or less inappropriate. Thinking in terms of degrees
like this is anathema to the Manichaean, who likes to insist that a
punishment is either just or unjust. He dreads being confused by
multiple choices. Putting a child to death for stealing two-pence
worth of paint may be crueler than cutting o its right arm, and
perhaps giving it two hundred lashes is not quite as outrageous as
maiming it, but it is hardly just. Fining the child a shilling and
then getting it a job at which it can earn that much might make
more sense. But is that what the child deserves, or might one nd a
preferable penalty?
Thinking in degrees of just and unjust is actually still far too
Manichaean. Such one-dimensional thinking assumes that all possibilities can be arranged in a single sequence, on a linear scale. In
fact, there are countless variables and endless possibilities.
The child was accused of a petty crime. Now consider Eichmann. Visiting on Hitlers leading henchmen at least some of the
tortures to which they had subjected millions of people, and all
but putting to death these mass murderers again and again would
have been more proportionate to their crimes than hanging them.
But the punishment that is more proportionate and more nearly
deserved is not necessarily preferable even on purely moral grounds.
That is the point of my second thesis.
This thesis cannot be proved. The best way to back it up is to
consider concrete cases, like those of Eichmann or, better yet, Hitler
and Himmler, Stalin and Beria, and to ask whether the more nearly
proportionate punishment for their systematic mass tortures and
mass murders would necessarily be preferable. Those whose moral
sense was formed by the doctrine of hell may say yes. Nevertheless,
some intuitive grasp of my thesis is almost as old as criminal justice
itself: justice is sometimes tempered by mercy, and there is the
sovereigns right to pardon.


The Death of Retributive Justice

This traditional way of taking my point into account is, however,

utterly inadequate. It gives expression to a deep confusion. Selective
mercy and selective pardon raise grave doubts about the cases in
which it is claimed that justice has been done. They call into question
the claim that in cases where mercy does not come into play justice
was done.
Consider St. Augustines claim that all men deserve damnation;
that God elects a few for salvation although they do not deserve
it; and that the damned cannot complain that God is unjust. After
all, says the saint, nobody is punished worse than he deserves, and
the fact that a few fare better than they deserve merely shows the
innite mercy of God.
Such reasoning is specious. First, such arbitrary inequality of
treatment is what philosophers call a paradigm case of injustice.
For it is a necessary, though not a sucient, condition of just
treatment that like cases are treated alike. Second, Augustines God
exemplies anything but innite mercy. In connection with this last
point, consider Dante, whose concern with proportioning punishments to crimes was second to no mans. He gave the most beautiful
and eloquent expression to the traditional Christian view of justice.
In his sublime inscription over the gate to the inferno he stressed the
eternity of sueringthe word eternal recurs three times in the
nine linesbefore concluding:
Abandon, as you enter, every hope.
But it is the central triplet about hell that requires comment
Justice moved my Architect above,
What made me was divine Omnipotence,
The highest Wisdom and the Primal Love.
The power of Dantes poetry in the original Italian evokes admiration, and almost twenty centuries of Christian teaching have
helped to keep most readers from being struck by the enormity of
this incredible perversion of the meaning of justice and love. The
only parallel that comes to mind is bound to sound like blasphemy,

Without Guilt and Justice


but it requires some shock to awaken those who are not shocked by
Dantes lines and by the Christian view. Over the gate of Auschwitz
those who entered saw the words: Arbeit macht freiwork liberates.
One can still wander about this camp for hours, walk through
barracks, stare at mountains of shoes and hair, at ovens, and then see
those words when leaving. Those who take language lightly and have
no love for words may feel that this inscription adds nothing to the
horror. Yet it is the ultimate in brazen cynicism and dishonestya
nal, almost unbelievable, aront.
The whole Third Reich lasted barely more than twelve years,
Auschwitz only about threea drop in the bucket compared to
the eternal torments of hell. But what on earth could one liken to
the Christian hell if not a concentration camp? And what to the
Auschwitz inscription if not the innitely more fateful claim that
eternal tortures are compatible with, and were actually devised by,
the greatest love that ever wasand by justice?
Augustines and Dantes God does not really treat the mass of
men in accordance with their deserts. But as long as men believed
that he did and that this meant that eternal torments awaited most
men after death, it made good sense to torture men for a few days
or weeks if need be to save them from hell and to silence all who
might endanger the faith and salvation of their fellow men.
These reections on Dante lead to my third thesis, that the preoccupation with retributive justice is inhumane. But my analysis of the
functions of punishment shows that this thesis does not entail any
demand for the abolition of punishment. Punishments are needed,
invocations of justice are not.
In deciding what to punish and how to punish, we should banish from our minds the chimaera of justice. The suggestion made by
Rawls that in a just society legal punishments will only fall upon
those who have a bad character is ill considered. Having a bad
character is neither a necessary nor a sucient condition of being
punished legally even in a morally admirable society. It makes sense
to punish people for parking violations, but it does not make sense


The Death of Retributive Justice

to insist that those who have violated various parking regulations

have thus shown that they are wicked. Parking laws, if sensible, are
enacted to make for a better society: they should eliminate or reduce
trac congestion, or insure some turnover of cars to make it possible
for many people to visit a certain area. The reason for instituting
penalties is that a prohibition that is not backed up by any penalties
is generally useless if there is any great temptation to disregard it.
When a person has been duly convicted of a violation of the
law and punished in accordance with precedent, it does not follow
that he deserved the punishment and that justice was done. He may
be a very decent person who has more than enough troubles and
ailments as it is, while many people who cause much more suering
to their fellow men go free and ourish. It is bad enough that we
cannot dispense with punishments. We do not have to add insult to
injury by claiming that the poor man who gets caught receives his
just desert. Desert is out of the picture.
Of course, we can and should ask whether the prohibition is
reasonable, and whether the penalties provided by the law are reasonable or excessive. The critical evaluation of a law is centered in
three questions: What purposes does it serve? Are these purposes
good? And does it serve them eciently?
It is important to be clear about the purposes because the law
must be judged in relation to them; and if it serves no purpose, it
ought to be abolished. Whether the purposes are good will sometimes be a matter for debate, but debate is futile if it does not come
to grips with purposes.
None of these points depends on the relative triviality of the
parking illustration. If the purpose of a law were to prevent aggressive wars or the killing of unarmed civilians by armed forces, these
aims might well win wide assent, although the denition of aggressive war and the application to specic cases might pose very serious
problems. That would still leave the question of eciency. If there
were no penalties, the law would almost certainly be ineective, but
even if it provided stringent penalties, a la Nuremberg, it might still
prove ineective. If the purpose can be agreed on, reasonable discussion should center on the question of how the law can be made
eective; how the crimes that we want to prevent can be prevented.

Without Guilt and Justice


Asking about the price one has to pay for probable gains is part of
the question of eciency. But one does not have to fret about what
those breaking the law deserve.
It may be objected that if desert is out of the picture no good
reason remains for not punishing the innocent. But that is not so,
as I shall show in the chapter on guilt.
Jeersons and Kants quest for the just punishment for various
crimes was ill advised, illusory, and inhumane. A man who steals a
piece of cheese does not deserve to be broken on the wheel; neither
does he deserve forced labor in a penitentiary, as Kant argued. It
would be more sensible, fruitful, and humane to ask altogether
dierent questions about penitentiaries; for example, whether the
following claims made by two penologists are true:
Prison as organized today is a real sewer that continually
pours into society a ood of pus and contagious germs of a
physiological as well as moral kind. It poisons, dulls, depresses,
and corrupts. It is a factory that simultaneously produces the
tubercular, madmen, and criminals.
A few semesters of prison or penitentiary do more to perfect the professional criminal than years of practical work in
I cannot here determine to what extent these statements still
apply to prisons in various parts of the world. What I have tried to
show is this: we cannot dispense with punishments, but we should
realize that punishments cannot be just; that a less disproportionate
punishment is not always morally preferable; and that the preoccupation with retributive justice is inhumane.
It is widely assumed that the sense of retributive justicethe sense
that certain crimes clearly call for certain punishmentsis primordial, instinctive, and universal. It still remains to be shown that this
is false. The moral sense of dierent ages and communities diers
very widely, and there could hardly be a better illustration of the fact
that conduct viewed with utter horror by one society is frequently
enjoined by another than the way in which we ourselves react to


The Death of Retributive Justice

the punishments imposed by Europeans and Americans in the not

distant past.
On reection, murder is probably the only crime of which large
numbers of people still believe that it is somehow self-evident that it
calls for a particular penalty: capital punishment. It is assumed that
the feeling that murderers deserve death is inscribed in the hearts of
men, and that only modern reformers have forgotten this ancient
truth. I shall conne myself to this example and show how wrong
this assumption is.
In his study of Primitive Law, A. S. Diamond has shown that
all early and what he calls Early Middle Codes punished homicide
with nes, and in the many more or less primitive tribes he studied,
pecuniary nes for homicide outnumbered capital punishment by
a ratio of better than ve to one: 73 percent versus 14 percent. In
the remaining 13 percent the punishment was also a ne; the slayer
had to turn over to the family of the slain a number of persons
women, children, or slaves. It is only in Late Middle and Late
Codes (including England, 1150 and onwards) that intentional
homicide is taken to require capital punishment.
In his discussion of the old Icelandic saga, Burnt Njal, Diamond
quotes the narrator as saying admiringly of one of the heroes: He
was a strong man well skilled in arms, and has slain many men, and
made no atonement in money for one of them. The same kind
of admiration is not uncommon to this day; but the point here is
that homicide was considered a purely civil wrong, a matter for the
individuals or families aected to avenge or compromise as they
think t. In fact, they always or almost always compromised by the
giving and acceptance of an agreed sum of money.
We need not even go that far aeld. In the Iliad, Ajax explains
how unreasonable he nds Achilles refusal to accept amends for
the beautiful slave girl whom Agamemnon has taken away:
Men have accepted a ne from their brothers slayer and even
accepted it after a son had been slain, and having paid a great
deal, the slayer remains in the country, while the injured mans
heart and pride are appeased when he has received the ne.

Without Guilt and Justice


Our term punishment, like the French punition, comes from

the Latin poena, which originally designated the ne that the accused
paid to the plainti; and poena is a loan word from the Greekthe
Greek word that Homer uses twice in the passage cited above. The
liberal mind was fond of seeing all of human history as a steady
progress from primitive cruelty to modern humanity. Seen in this
mythical perspective, Hitlers atrocities looked like a scarcely credible throwback into barbarism. In fact, many scholars have come
to the conclusion that neither primitive tribes nor antiquity match
the cruelty that gradually developed in the penal codes of Christian
Europe. Ancient Rome went the same way, though not quite so far,
and was far crueler in the end than in early days. In Mexico none
of the earlier civilizations matched the cruelty of the last one, that
of the Aztecs. And the ve books of Moses have no inkling of the
Gospels eternal torment or the tortures of the Inquisition.
The last point that still needs to be made about retributive
justice can be put into three words: desert is incalculable. Not only
is it impossible to measure desert with the sort of precision on which
many believers in retributive justice staked their case, but the whole
concept of a mans desert is confused and untenable. This claim is as
fatal for distributive justice as it is for retributive justice, and I shall
deal with it at length in the next chapter.

An Attack on
Distributive Justice

it remains to be shown that distributive justice cannot long
survive the death of her Siamese twin. The purpose of this chapter
is to hasten her demise. This is no triing undertaking. Justice has
been the heart of traditional morality. Even after the notion that she
was the sum of the virtues had been given up, justice did not become
merely one of the virtues or nothing but a quality of punishments and
distributions. She never lost her old charisma and was still regarded
as personifying the objectivity and timelessness of the old morality.
In the turbulent ood of human preferences, emotions, and desires,
justice was still held to be a rock with precise outlines that deed
the ebb and ow of history.
The frightening freedom to choose could be held in bounds
as long as there were stable and precise norms. Confronted with
a ood of claims, by our fellow men and by our own desires, one
could turn to justice and ask her precisely what one owed to each.
The death of justice marks the end of the old morality. But it also
creates an opening for a new, autonomous morality.
To mount a fatal attack on distributive justice is certainly much
harder than to give reasons for clinging to her. Because such an
attack ought not to be undertaken lightly, three such reasons should
be considered.
The appeal to justice is rhetorically powerful and therefore use-


An Attack on Distributive Justice

ful for social reformers. Distributive justice, unlike charity, does

not hurt the self-respect of those whom she benets. And justice
seems to be an irreducible principle that cannot be given up without
inviting inhumanity.
The last claim is false, as I shall show, and the rst two reasons
are obviously inconclusive. Many myths and confused notions have
their uses, but the question of whether they are true and stand up
under critical examination cannot be settled by an appeal to expediency. On the contrary, contentment with confused ideas and
misleading myths has bad social consequences that are relevant to
the expediency of continued appeals to them. That receiving something good does not hurt ones self-respect if one is told that justice
was done and everybody got what he deserved is true and important.
But the very same claim adds further humiliation to the plight of
those who received little or nothing. Thus it is precisely the claim
that justice has been done that is inhumaneespecially if it can be
shown that this claim is false.
In the last chapter I defended three theses: (1) punishments can
never be just; (2) even if a punishment could be proportionate, it
would not follow that it ought to be imposed; (3) the preoccupation
with retributive justice is inhumane. The present chapter will be
devoted largely to a single thesis: (1.a) except for simplistic cases,
distributions can never be just. The counterparts of the other two
theses about punishment will be touched on briey.
This concentration on a single thesis should make it possible
to oer a tighter argument that will not only dispatch distributive
justice but also drive the last nail into the con of retributive justice.
Justice, I have said, consists of giving each what he deserves. My aim
now is to show that desert is incalculable.
Let me dispose of simplistic cases at the start. Suppose you were
grading a true-or-false test. There are a hundred questions, and it
is understood that one receives one point for every correct answer.
It seems easy to give each the mark that he deserves. On reection,
however, the task of scoring this test does not raise any problems of
justice; what it calls for is honesty. If you give a student an eighty even
though he got half the answers wrong, you are dishonest. You are
saying in eect that he got eighty answers right. Here the appeal to

Without Guilt and Justice


justice can be replaced with an appeal to honesty. We can dispense

with justice.
Moreover, there is no scarcity in this case; if nobody made any
mistake, everybody would score one hundred. For this reason also,
no problem of distributive justice is involved.
Now take a slightly more complicated case. Somebody has
provided prize money: $100 for the best score, the money to be
divided evenly between all who tie for rst place. Now there is an
element of scarcity: the money available is limited. Still, no problem
of distributive justice or desert arises; what is required is honesty,
precisely as in the original example. You determine the scores, and
everything followsas long as you do not stop to ask about desert.
Here is a rich, lazy, and rather stupid troublemaker, who announces
as the test starts: This test stinks; Ill just alternate true, false,
true, false, all the way down. And he scores one hundred and gets
the rst prize, provided you do not ask whether he deserves it and
whether this is just.
These two examples are simplistic because the reward and the
criteria for winning it are clearly stipulated, and there is only one
relevant variable: the number of right answers. Consider the parallel
case regarding punishment: if all that is required to get the death
penalty is a petty theft, then the child who steals two-pence worth
of paint may be said to deserve capital punishment; and when the
child is executed, justice is done. But in that case we object that the
law is inhumane and the child did not deserve the punishment. It
makes good sense to say this even though we cannot say what it did
If the judge has discretion to x the penalty, we ask whether
what he does in this case accords with custom and precedent. If it
does, it does not follow that the punishment is just. As we move
away from simplistic cases and face up to choices to which many
variables may be relevant, we have to decide which are relevant and
how much weight to give to each.
In sum, problems of distributive justice arise when scarce resources are to be distributed among several people in accordance
with their deserts. As long as there is water enough for all, no problem of justice arises about water. And if desert is out of the picture,


An Attack on Distributive Justice

so is justice. But we can never say that justice has been done when a
person is punished or when a distribution has been made.
Those who feel very attached to distributive justice may protest
that she is not at all the Siamese twin of retributive justicethey may
even hold that the two are only distantly related. One such rescue
attempt has won a good deal of attention among philosophers, and
will be considered a little more fully later: John Rawlss conception
of Justice as Fairness. As I mentioned earlier, retributive justice
has no place in his A Theory of Justice. In eect, he does not oer a
theory of justice; he develops a theory of fairness, and justice and
fairness are not the same thing. Fair procedures do not guarantee a
just outcome.
In some cases fair and just are almost synonymous; but each
word also has some meanings quite remote from this common area.
It is revealing that one of the most characteristic uses of fair is
in the phrase fair play; but it would be such a solecism to speak
of just play that the sentence this is just play can only mean
this is merely play. Why can play be fair but not just? Because
fairness is pre-eminently a quality of procedures and not of results (if
a result is called fair, one may wonder whether what is meant is that
it is middling), while just is pre-eminently a predicate ascribed
to results and specically to what is meted out. Just, unlike fair,
has a note of nality. Thus a trial can be fair but not just. Even if it
is fair, the punishment that is imposed may be unjust. The way we
proceed to make a distribution can be fair but not just. Even if it is
fair, it does not follow that everybody gets his just deserts.
It might seem that distributive justice is really unlike retributive
justice because the former always involves several people in addition
to the distributor, while punishment need involve only one person
besides the judge. But an individual might claim a reward simply
because it was promised to him, or to anyone at all, solely for fullling one condition that he had in fact fullled. This case would
be strictly parallel to a situation in which a punishment had been
promised to a person, or to anyone at all, provided only that he did
a certain thing that he had in fact done.

Without Guilt and Justice


If it should be said in the former case that this situation is somewhat elliptical and that distributive justice in the full-edged sense
does not come into play until more people enter into the picture
and the distributor is forced to compare them, exactly the same is
true of retributive justice: as soon as there is a dispute, both sides
make comparisons with other cases, past and present.
One dierence that is genuine is that problems of retributive
justice do not depend on scarcity. But this does not seriously aect
my claims. That there are dierences, we know. Punishments are
predicated on the assumption that they are not desired but nevertheless required for some reason; distributions are predicated on the
assumption that something is desired but nevertheless in insucient
supply for some reason. In both cases I make the same claim: the
good and the evil men receive cannot be said to be deserved.
We can criticize punishments and distributions on moral grounds
without invoking the ction of just punishments and distributions.
What matters is that punishments as well as distributions can be
cruel and unusual, capricious, utterly at odds with rules announced
beforehand, and defended with dishonest claims and arguments. It
does not follow that when none of these strictures applies justice
has been done. It is easy to imagine specic cases in which many
dierent punishments or distributions would not be open to any
such charge, but it would be absurd to call all of them just. If one did
call all of them just, a criminal who received any of these tenable
punishments would be told that justice had been done. But suppose
that he received one of the harsher punishments when a lighter one
would have been tenable, too. Surely, it would be absurd to claim
that justice required it. In precisely the same way, a person who
received less than he would have received in another distribution
that was also tenable could hardly be told that he had received what
he deserved, no more and no less.
The fact that many solutions are untenable is not disturbing
because what is untenable can be rejected. But that many mutually
incompatible solutions are tenable is felt to be profoundly disturbing
because this plurality calls for excruciating choices and engenders
decidophobia. Having found a tenable position, people like to rest
on their laurels and think of themselves as the children of light.


An Attack on Distributive Justice

But even if their solution should be superior to past solutions, this

does not mean that all who oppose it are either wrong or downright
wicked. The opponents solutions may be tenable, too, and possibly
even superior. How much easier life would be if we could claim that
justice demands what we favor!
My concern here is with moral rationalism, but my analysis
can be extended beyond ethics. Decidophobes assume that if their
position is tenable it must also be true. But it is not enough to go
out of ones way to consider objections to ones own position; one
must also consider alternatives.
It would be simple to make a list of oenses and to defy anyone to say what was the just punishment for each of them: rape,
seduction of children, torture, mass murder, espionage, blackmail,
embezzlement, fraud. There is really no stopping point because there
is no crime at all of which it could be said that those committing it
clearly deserve a particular punishment.
Similarly, it is quite impossible to say how much income surgeons, lawyers, executives, or miners deserve; or what kind of housing each deserves, or how much free time per day, per week, or per
year. It makes no sense to call any particular distribution of such
goods among them just.
The basic problem regarding both retributive and distributive
justice concerns the code: the decisions about how punishments
or scarce resources are to be allotted generally. Once these fateful
decisions have been made, it is quite possible that some individual
cases present no dicult problems at allif only the code is simpleminded, rigorous, and insensitive. But in such cases it would be
obtuse to claim that justice has been done.
Suppose a college can admit only one-fth of the students applying for admission. (Many Americans believe that this kind of
unpleasant competition is a specically American evil. In fact, this
problem is international, and the competition for admission to the
University of Tokyo or to the medical school at the University of
Teheran is much keener.) It would be preposterous to claim that,
say, a thousand, and only a thousand, deserved to be admitted, and
that the decision to admit these students, while turning down the

Without Guilt and Justice


rest, was just.

Of course, an objective test, approximating the true-or-false
test considered previously, could be made to do the job. The prize
would be not $100 but admission: the top thousand would get
in. A system rather like that was used in Japanuntil the students
rebelled against it. The system was certainly neat, but could it be
said that justice was done and that everybody got what he deserved?
The problem is clearly what variables are relevant to desert in
such cases, and how many of them are measured how accurately
by a test like this. Hence scrupulous adherence to the results of an
entrance test does not insure that justice is done.
Incidentally, it is revealing that in the case of rewards, too, there
are judges. The parallel between retributive and distributive justice
is very close.
What is wrong with the concept of desert? The obvious answer is
that it is not clear whether desert should be determined in accordance with ability, need, or merit, or whether all men ought to be
treated equally. Instead of immediately examining these traditional
notions, I shall rst consider seven categories that do not smack of
philosophy. The point is not that there are only seven, but seven
should suce to show why one cannot tell in practice what a person
In many cases some of these seven categories, or at least some
of the subheads, would be clearly irrelevant, but it is impossible to
restrict desert to only one or two of these categories and to rule
out all the others as generally irrelevant. One can say, of course:
we choose to disregard them; we concern ourselves with only one.
We shall see shortly that even doing that may not enable us at all
to say what various members of a group deserve. But in any case,
as soon as we do this, others may protest with reason that we have
decided, in eect, to ignore what people actually deserve, and that
our distribution is therefore unjust.
The first category is what one is. Here one might distinguish
what one is by birth and what one is at the time of the distribution.
Within each of these subcategories one could then distinguish many


An Attack on Distributive Justice

subheads. Admittedly, this makes for a rather complex picture, but

then the whole point is to bring out how exceedingly and even
hopelessly complex the matter is.
Under what one is by birth, it may suce to mention a few
subheads: sex, ethnic group, place of birth, and relationship to the
distributor. Treating people dierently on account of their sex or
ethnic group provides some obvious examples of injustice, but for
all that it is far from obvious that these two characteristics are always
irrelevant. Some people may feel that they should be; but this is
precisely the sort of question that needs to be discussed in specic
Discrimination against outcastes in India and Blacks in the
United States provides clear instances of social injustice, but it does
not follow that ethnic group is always irrelevant. On the contrary, in
India members of the so-called depressed classes are held to deserve
preferred treatment in some cases, such as university admissions, and
in the sixties the same practice developed in the United States with
regard to Blacks. It is sometimes claimed that this is done merely to
oset prior disadvantages, but if that were the case, then it would
make little sense to apply it only, or almost only, to untouchables in
India and to Blacks in the United States. Why not to Poles, dwarfs,
and homosexuals? But this is a big and intricate problem, and it
should suce to note that the main reason for oering preferred
treatment to one group is surely that a society is desired in which
such a large and readily identiable class should have something
like proportional representation in the higher occupations. Hence
members of some ethnic groups are admitted even if they do less
well in various ways than students with fairer skins who are rejected.
It should be obvious how impossible it is to say, no matter what we
do, that justice has been done. As a rule, wrong clashes with greater
Whether a man is a native Londoner should make no dierence
in any distribution, one might think. But this accident of birth
usually determines ones citizenship and thus also whether one is
entitled to the many advantages that accrue to citizens.
Relationship to the distributor, nally, is relevant when it comes
to inheritances, but not only then. It is generally assumed that a

Without Guilt and Justice


man owes his wife and children something while he is alive, too.
The case of the wife brings us to the second subcategory: what one
is at the time of distribution. Here one might includeto give a
few examplesage, health, and residence.
The second category is what one has. Here one might include
property, family, and abilities. All three are often relevant when
distributions are made.
The third category is what one doesnot only at work but also
in public life, in ones family, and on ones own.
The fourth category, what one needs, has two subcategories: what
one needs for oneself; and what one needs for ones dependents.
Both have the same four subheads: for subsistence, for comfort, for
a particular project, and for ones optimal development. The great
vagueness of these notions will be considered soon.
The fifth category, what one desires, is ignored in most discussions. This category is clearly relevant in many cases, however, unless
we assume that a person often deserves something as a reward although he does not desire it at all.
The sixth category is what one has contracted. If one has received a formal contract or a promise, or even if there is room for
debate as to whether there was an implicit promise, this category is
clearly relevant. If an employee took a job with the understanding
that he would receive a certain salary, or annual raises of $1,000,
such commitments cannot be ignored when the money is actually
Finally, there is the seventh category: what one has done. At least
one of the seven should be considered in more detail, and I shall
concentrate on this one. Without much trouble, one can subdivide
it into seven subcategories, e.g., education, military service, civilian jobs (kinds, length of time, achievements), public services and
oces, extracurricular accomplishments (including lives saved or
publications and prizes that do not fall under the heading of achievements in ones job), suerings (since one may deserve compensation
for them), and crimes.


An Attack on Distributive Justice

Suppose you had to decide about salary raises for ve assistant professors, and the sum available were only $3,000. Chances are that
in one or two cases a decision must simultaneously be made as to
whether to reappoint, promote, or oer a terminal appointment.
Some of the points considered above under various categories are
clearly irrelevant, while age, abilities, and need might be judged relevant, and promises would certainly have to be taken into account.
One might debate which of the seven subcategories under what one
has done ought to be considered in this case and how they should
be weighted, but the decision is dicult enough even if you conne
your attention to a single subhead under one of them: achievements
in civilian jobs. To make things still simpler, disregard all jobs except that of being a faculty member and proceed as if it made no
dierence whatsoever that one is thirty and another fty; one is
a bachelor, while another has nine children; one is a millionaire,
another totally dependent on his salary; one has served the government with rare distinction; another has heroically saved twenty lives.
If you took all that into account, how could you possibly say in the
end that each had got what he deserved?
Even if you try only to assess their achievements in their present
profession, a further breakdown is needed. There is (a) teaching;
and here you must further distinguish (i) levels and (ii) techniques.
Somebody may be very popular at the introductory level but poor in
more advanced courses, and impossible as a teacher of graduate students. Another professor may be highly respected by a few graduate
students who share his interests, but an almost total loss with underclassmen. Under techniques one might protably distinguish lecturing, conducting discussions, and supervising independent work.
Then there are (b) publications. It would be nave to suppose
that here we have to deal with only two variables: quantity and
quality. In a letter of recommendation for a Fulbright professorship,
a dean once wrote about a candidate: during the past year he has
published ve times. This is ridiculous even as a purely quantitative
measure. Five short book reviews, each about a page in length,
would constitute ve items; and a book of seven hundred pages, one.

Without Guilt and Justice


Even so, quantity is one variable that has to be considered, but it

is not easy to measure. Counting pages or words would be rather
crude. Still, it is possible to distinguish between people who have
published nothing, very little, and a lot.
From (i) quantity, you proceed to (ii) levels, meaning much the
same as under teaching. That leaves the question of quality. Here
you might distinguish (iii) initial reception, such as printed reviews,
(iv) actual impact, and (v) probable long-range importance. A book
might have met with a glowing reception without ever having had
any perceptible impact, not to speak of lasting signicance. Other
books have entered the world with doves feet, like some of Nietzsches books, or fallen dead-born from the press, like David
Humes Treatise, and eventually have changed our way of thinking.
Teaching and publications are the most obviously relevant achievements in deciding about the ve assistant professors. But in the
absence of important publications, especially when the question is
one of reappointing or promoting an assistant professor or letting
him go, one might also consider (c) unpublished research. A book
review may get published relatively fast, while a major work may
be slow to appear in print; it may be years in the writing; then a
publisher may send it to referees who take their time before making
recommendations; and after accepting the book, the publisher may
still take a year to bring it out. Moreover, it might be better if fewer
schools made a fetish of publications; after all, a teacher can write
something and show it to his colleagues without adding to the ever
growing tidal wave of printed ephemera.
Some journalists who make a living by contributing to this
ood complain when a teacher is not reappointed because he has
not published anything, that by that criterion Socrates would not
have been promoted either, and that teaching is what ought to count.
Actually, it is not clear at all how Socrates would have fared if judged
as a teacher. After all, he insisted that he could not lecture, and he
stubbornly refused to do it. He liked discussion, but one may doubt
that he was at his best with students. Other less distinguished cases
come to mind and lead us to consider (d) discussion with colleagues.
Being very good at that is not a sucient reason for promotion, but
it has to be considered.


An Attack on Distributive Justice

Finally, there is (e) administrative work. Such work is often

overestimated but not altogether irrelevant.
Enough has been said to show how impossible it is to tell what
people deserve, and it is absurd to say when one individual gets
$1,000; two, $750; one, $500; and one gets nothing, that justice has
been done. Of course, if one thinks in black and white and reduces
an essentially pluralistic situation to a dualistic model, stripping away
a multitude of possibilities and eliminating all but one candidate,
one can ask imperiously: does this man deserve a $1,000 raise or
not? It is all or nothing, and the need for a yes or no answer may
then seem plausible, depending on the facts of the case.
My illustration involves ve candidates, but actually many prior
decisions are required. How much money should be made available for salary raises throughout the university, at the expense of
scholarships for needy students, new academic programs, library
acquisitions, and all sorts of other purposes? How much of that
money should be allocated to the department in which the ve
professors are teaching? And how much of that sum should be set
aside for assistant professors? Nobody who is aware of all these
complexities will be tempted to say that any distribution that one
could imagine could lay claim to being just.
In practice, there are strategies for usually reaching agreement
without much debate. Rule I: submit a specic proposal to those
who have to vote on the decision. This is essential. Rule 2: discourage the consideration of alternatives. There are many ways of doing
this, but old hands realize that such consideration could be endless
and therefore tend to go along with the initial proposal, provided
that it is not blatantly capricious. Rule 3: discourage general discussion of norms. It is far easier to reach agreement on ve candidates
than it is to agree in principle on the weight that should be given to
various factors. Let nobody suppose that the case considered here
is so dicult because it concerns a specic distribution rather than
the code. On the contrary, the question of agreement on a code is
much more important and intractable.

Without Guilt and Justice


My scheme of seven categories with a great many subcategories may
seem to be needlessly complex. Might it not be sucient to invoke
only needs and merits?
The case of the assistant professors shows how, even if one conned oneself to merits, one would still be quite unable to determine
how much each person deserves. Thus my thesis is not reducible to
the claim, however true, that merits and needs often conict. Moreover, my scheme brings out many points that cannot be reduced to
needs or merits but that are quite often crucial for decisions about
Another illustration may help. When it comes to the right to
vote, no community could possibly consider merit alone relevant.
Age and citizenship and often also place of residence are considered
crucial in almost all societies, and membership in the community
that is, citizenship or residence or bothmust be required because
otherwise the system could not be made to work.
Second, even if one considered merit all-important within these
restrictions, there is such a crisscross of merits that one might well
despair of the possibility of devising any workable system based on
merit. It might be the lesser evil to give the vote to every citizen who
is, say, at least eighteen.
The objection to giving no vote to those who had not graduated
from primary school, one vote to those who had, two votes to highschool graduates, three votes to college graduates, and four to those
with a Ph.D., an M.D., or a law degree, is not so much that this
would be making too much of merit; it is rather that it would come
nowhere near an accurate reection of mens merits. Vast numbers
of people who have not graduated from college are incomparably
more intelligent and better informed, not to speak of other merits,
than millions who have. It is fatuous to assume that all members
of one groupsay, all college graduates without a doctorateare
equal. It might be more to the point to require all who want to vote
to take a public-aairs test. But a high score on such a test would be
another highly dubious way of measuring merit.
Finally, the vote is not a reward for merit but a means of prevent-


An Attack on Distributive Justice

ing various evils. The crucial question about various requirements

for the vote is not how these requirements are related to the past
of the potential voters but rather what their eects will be and what
kind of a society we are likely to get as a result.
It is also impossible to measure need. I have already distinguished eight points that would have to be considered: what one
needs for subsistence, for comfort, for some project, and for ones
optimal developmentfor oneself and then also for ones dependents. Some people, of course, have no dependents, but others have
a great many dependents, leading to many additional complications.
On reection, the four key terms are utterly unclear. What is
literally needed for subsistence is so pitifully little that it is generally
understood that this is not what is meant, but what is meant is not
Comfort involves a crucial subjective component. Once one. is
used to certain thingscigarettes, television, so many meals a day,
such and such furniture, a car or perhaps several cars in the family,
plumbing, possibly even three full bathrooms, two-day weekends,
a month where it is warm in the winter, a three-months summer
vacation, or a forty-hour work weekone is more than apt to be
uncomfortable without these things. It is therefore quite possible
to make every member of a large group comfortable while the distribution of goods is quite unequal, and people with fewer needs
and goods may be more comfortable than some who have far more
goods but needs that outstrip their possessions. Needs are not
xed data but can be created, cultivated, andthough this is much
more dicultdiminished and even eliminated.
What is needed for a project is often far from clear; foundations are frequently persuaded that extremely questionable needs are
authentic, and often they assume that the signicance of a project
is proportionate to the claimed need for money. This widespread
assumption is obviously silly. Moreover, does not justice require a
weighing of the needs for the completion of various projects and
a comparative ranking of how much each project is needed? No
matter how a large sum is divided between cancer research, pollution control, aid to the poor, various projects in the arts, scholarship

Without Guilt and Justice


funds, and aid to people starving abroad, it would be obtuse to claim

that justice had been done.
If you want to give each enough for his optimal development,
how do you determine what he needs for that? To answer this question and to decide how much various projects are needed requires a
decision about goalsan idea or vision of man and society as one
should like them to be.
Ultimately, every attempt to spell out a material conception
of justice involves a decision about the kind of society we want.
It requires a decision about goals and standards. But the moral
rationalist takes his standards for granted and refuses to consider
It may seem as if one conception of justice did not involve dicult
value judgments. Some people would disregard dierences in merit
and need, insisting that justice demands absolute equality.
Does this mean that one should give each the same, regardless
not only of his needs and desires, his merits, and his ability to make
use of what he is given, but also of what he already has? (Call this
notion of equality E 1). If food is distributed, for example, is it
just to give equal amounts to those who have plenty and those who
have nothing? If this suggestion were rejected as palpably unjust,
need would be introduced. But it might still be argued that absolute
equality really means that all should be equal after the distribution
has been made, or at least as nearly equal as the distribution can
make them. In that case, those who have would receive nothing till
all have-nots had received as much as they have (E 2).
Although this system is not followed in any civilized country
anywhere, it has some plausibility when the goods at stake are food
or vaccinations, but hardly any when the goods are books, violins,
canvas boards, insulin, oces, or honors. Dierent criteria are appropriate for dierent kinds of goods. Some things may reasonably
be distributed in accordance with peoples merits, others with their
abilities, still others with their needs, without being open to the
charge that the distribution has been unjust in principle.
In short, E 1 is so absurd that one can understand it only as a


An Attack on Distributive Justice

counsel of despair, a way of saying that no better system can be made

to work. E 2 is also absurd if it is applied to all things that are to be
distributed. To mention only one further objection to E 2: in that
case no incentives would remain.
If food, lodging, and money were to be distributed in accordance with this plan, sucient nonmaterial incentives might remain.
It would not be too dicult to imbue a society with an ethos in
which rank and honors would provide enough incentives for performance, while material goods were distributed almost equally. But
in a highly merit-conscious society, like that pictured in the Iliad,
nonmaterial inequalities are felt so deeply that they might make for
more unhappiness than most material inequalities in our society. In
any case, inequalities in the distribution of some goods, material or
otherwise, are necessary as an incentive. Without it, some jobs will
not get done, unless we abolish a great deal of personal freedom.
It is only in a situation in which no relevant dierences exist
among the individuals concerned that an equal distribution could
reasonably be called just. Dividing eight apples among eight children
at the end of a party at which all have had plenty to eat might be
a case in point. But suppose that some of the children are much
too full by now to eat the apple right away and will take it home
to a house in which apples and other kinds of food are plentiful,
while other children are about to return to their hungry brothers
and sisters: then even this case supports the thesis that distributions
can never be just.
This example does not depend on some prior social injustice.
All that is required is some relevant inequality, say, that some children need to eat more than others, or that some are allergic to apples,
or that some are allergic to other foods but not to apples. An equal
distribution is no guarantee of justice.
When the appeal to equality fails, it is customary to fall back on
equality of opportunity. But equality of opportunity is unobtainable.
People are born with radically unequal opportunities. Their health,
constitution, talents, and capacities are widely dierent.
We could come closer to equality of opportunity by outlawing
random breeding. Allowing only the most favored specimens to

Without Guilt and Justice


beget children would, paradoxically, give them a vital opportunity

denied to the vast majority. One could permit sexual intercourse
as now, while restricting impregnation to articial insemination,
and people would not have to be told who were the fathers of the
children born under this system. Even then some women would
have the opportunityor perhaps the dutyto give birth again
and again, while most women would be denied this opportunity
or excused from this obligation. In such a society millions could
have a single father. But brothers and sisters, and even more so halfbrothers and half-sisters, often dier widely in health, constitutions,
talents, and capacities. Only cloning could really produce equality
of opportunity at birthif one made all people almost literally
equal; but presumably, one would prefer at least two models: one
female, one male.
If all these schemes strike you as so many nightmares, you do not
really favor equality of opportunity. Such schemes would involve
an incalculable loss in genes; a vast fund of potential talents and
capacities would be lost to mankind forever. And family life as we
know it would cease.
The abolition of the family has to be countenanced by anyone
who seriously favors equality of opportunity. The schemes considered here would be rather pointless if the inequalities of being
brought up in dierent families were continued as now. But even if
one opposes these schemes, the abolition of the family is certainly a
minimal prerequisite for equality of opportunity.
Environment during the preschool years remains decisive for
ones character, intelligence, and whole development. This is not
only a Freudian tenet, but recent work by child psychologists conrms conclusively how much intelligence depends on the mothers
attitude toward the infant, on her encouragement or detachment.
Children from utterly dierent backgrounds plainly do not have
equality of opportunity.
The notion that integrated schools provide equality of opportunity for all is untenable as long as children live in widely dierent
homes. And it is downright ridiculous as long as teachers do little real teaching, assign a great deal of homework, and expect the
parents to help with the homework and explain what is not clear.


An Attack on Distributive Justice

The abolition of the family structure is wholly feasible, and the

communal nurseries of some Israeli kibbutzim have proven beyond
any doubt that such a system can be made to work well and need
not at all be lacking in human warmth. Some of the kibbutzim have
gone far toward equality of opportunity, but no more than about 4
percent of Israelis choose to live in kibbutzim, and the gure remains
remarkably constant.
Equality of opportunity also involves some reduction in opportunities. Wherever equality is held to be crucial, some leveling is
inevitable. It is told that Alexander the Great was oered a drink
of water on a hot day when he and his army had gone without any
water for a long time, and that, seeing that there was not enough
water for all, he refused the oer and spilled the water into the sand.
If every opportunity that cannot be oered to all is refused and goes
to waste, few opportunities can be accepted.
People neither desire nor are able to make use of the same opportunities. To deny a man opportunities that he desires and could
put to use simply because many others do not wish for the same
opportunities would be pernicious.
In any case, what is equality of opportunity? At what stage in
their lives are people supposed to have it? If they are to have it always,
we must rigidly control their lives from birth to death, in order to
make sure that they do not make choices that will deprive them
of various opportunities. Granted freedom, people make dierent
choices, learn dierent things, acquire dierent skills and habits,
run dierent risks and sometimes pay the price, tie themselves down
in various ways, and before long have very dierent opportunities.
There is thus a tension between freedom and equality of opportunity,
and we should not do everything we can to bring about the latter.
Those who claim to be for equality of opportunity do not advocate measures that would really promote less inequality of opportunity at birth than we now have. They are not mainly concerned
about the time of birth. If equality of opportunity is wanted, but
neither at birth, or not only at birth, nor always, some time when
people are supposed to have it must be specied. This might be the
age when children rst attend school, say, at ve. If so, it would be
indispensable to provide the same controlled environment for all

Without Guilt and Justice


youngsters, giving a centralized authority the power and the means

to bring up all children communally in just the same way. Extreme
egalitarians might even wish to stie all expressions of originality
and individuality.
If one then gave each child the green light at the age of ve, it
could be claimed that at that point all children had equal opportunities. But even this would be no guarantee against gross inequalities
a few years later.
Equality of opportunity is a slogan, and those who employ it
are not really in favor of the means required to bring it about. Men
are not equal. Men should not be made equal. And equality of
opportunity is either a hollow clich or a pernicious goal.
(In the Far East the phrase is associated with the open-door
policy in China and considered odious. The French phrase la carriere
ouverte aux talents is unobjectionableand does not invoke the
myth of equality.)
My claim that men are not equal and that equality is a myth
does not entail any bigotry. On the contrary, bigots assume that all
Jews are equalor all Negroes, Germans, or women. My point is
that no two men or women are alike. Some statistical generalizations
about these groups are well founded, but they do not indicate that
all members of the group are alike, and I am far from suggesting
that distributions, any more than punishments, should be guided by
such generalizations. All men and women are brothers and sisters,
and each should be considered as an individual. Giving the same
to all is not particularly reasonable, seeing that they are not alike,
do not have the same desires, and cannot all use the same things or
When the appeal to merit, needs, equality, and even equality of
opportunity breaks down, the champions of distributive justice
abandon material conceptions of justice that specify what should be
given to each, and fall back on a formal conception of justice: they
say that justice consists of treating like cases alike.
This popular claim is actually false. Treating like cases alike is
merely a necessary but not a sucient condition of what is meant by


An Attack on Distributive Justice

justice. When this condition is not fullled, one speaks of injustice,

whether it is a case of punishment or distribution. But when this
condition is fullled one may still speak of injustice, as, for example,
when all nine-year-old children are put to death if they steal twopence- worth of paint.
Moreover, no two cases are alike. No two students applying for
admission are alike any more than two candidates for an increase in
salary. To avoid injustice, one must ignore irrelevant dierences
and base decisions on relevant likenesses and unlikenesses, and even
then one still needs a sense of proportion.
The demand for justice has three parts. It is, rst, the demand
for reasons for unequal treatment. If one person is treated better
than several others, one wants to be shown how his case is dierent
from the others, and one desires a rational accountmeaning an
explanation and defenseof the relevance of the dierences. If no
relevant dierences can be pointed out, one feels that wrong has
been done. This part of the demand for justice is closely related
to the demand for honesty, assuming that honesty involves being
scrupulous and not merely telling no lies.
The second part of the demand for justice poses more serious
diculties. Having discovered a vast crisscross of more or less relevant dierences between people, one has to decide on the weight to
be assigned to each factor. Here both the precision and the objectivity that are widely associated with justice come to grief. Even where
reasonable people can agree that one dierence should be weighed
more heavily than another, any precise assignment of weights is
bound to be more or less arbitrary. (If this should seem unduly
abstract, recall the case of the assistant professors, in section 25.)
Moreover, reasonable people will dier frequently even about the
relative weight of various factors (for example, what weights should
be given to popularity with freshmen, to an interesting but dicult
article in a journal, and to eciency in an administrative job). Here
personal preferences enter into the picturepreferences that need
not be at all selsh. The best one can dobut if one wants to reach
speedy agreement with others on a practical decision (say, about the
distribution of a sum of money among ve candidates), the worst
one can dois to bring these preferences out into the open, to state

Without Guilt and Justice


them honestly, and to consider objections and alternatives. This is

the last thing a decidophobe would want to do, and the notion that
justice is objective and precise is reassuring because it suggests that
nothing of the sort is called for.
The third part of the demand for justice is the demand that
what is meted out, whether penalties or rewards, should be proportioned to the relevant dierences between individuals. I have shown
that this is impossible in the case of punishments, notwithstanding
valiant attempts by brilliant men, like Kant and Jeerson. It is also
impossible to proportion rewards, whether nancial or not, to the
relevant dierences among people. This becomes obvious as soon
as one tries to construct a code.
The nature of rationality and the extent to which honesty can
replace justice will be discussed in the chapter on The New Integrity. For the present, it is sucient to note that what is felt to
be outrageous in cases of palpable injustice is usually dishonesty.
The Scottsboro trial as well as any number of other trials in which it
is notorious that injustice was done involved obvious perjury: the
court accepted testimony that was plainly dishonest. But unlike
some partisans of justice, I am far from considering one virtue the
be-all and end-all of morality. Later, I shall argue for several virtues.
This explains the counterpart of my second thesis about retributive justice: Even if a distribution could be proportionate, it would
not follow that it ought to be imposed. This is obvious if justice is not
the only cardinal virtue. If there are other virtues besides justice,
then this thesis is clearly true, unless it is assumed that injustice
takes precedence over all other evils. Some decidophobes prefer the
tyranny of one virtue that relieves them of the necessity to weigh
conicting considerations. If there are several norms, it is clear that a
higher score according to one of them does not automatically settle
disputed questions; it might be oset by a much lower score on
several other standards. In my code, moreover, not only are there
several virtues but justice is not even one of them.
This is also the place for the counterpart of my third and last
thesis about retributive justice: the preoccupation with distributive
justice is misguided and unfruitful. There are at least two reasons for
this. First, if there are other standards we might well be better ad-


An Attack on Distributive Justice

vised to pay more heed to them. Secondly, the concern with desert
looks to the past, but it is more fruitful to consider the future. This is
true not only of the right to vote but alsoto refer to just one other
exampleof the distribution of college admissions. The counsel to
be just and admit those who deserve admission is not only unhelpful
because it is unclear how desert should be computed, it is also misguided because admissions, like the vote, are not mainly a reward
for past performance but an opportunity to do something in the
future. But as soon as promise is taken into accountand it would
be foolish indeed to ignore itone transcends the preoccupation
with desert and justice. Now the question becomes rather: how
should one determine promise? And then also: promise of what?
The rst of these questions is dicult to answer, but at least dierent
answers can be tested by observing the results. If it is claimed, for
example, that a students score on a particular test or his grades in
science courses at some secondary school show promise in scientic
work, one can study the correlation between these indicators and
work actually done after admission. The second questionpromise
of what?poses the problem of goals. How much weight should
be given to promise of this rather than of that? What kind of men
and women do we want to accept, to educate, to graduate? What
kind of a society is desirable? The decidophobe would rather avoid
such questions of goals, and he often does it by concentrating on
Many cases of injustice are reducible to the simple fact that
one set of criteria was announced while another was used when
the distribution was actually made. Thus color or sex may not have
been among the criteria proclaimed publicly but nevertheless crucial when the decision was made. In such cases, injustice consists
of dishonesty. But even when the decision-makers adhere to the
standards announced in the rst place, they may still be inhumane
or capricious because the standards themselves are objectionable.
This is like the case in which the penal law is unjust.
The norms invoked in distributions can be morally objectionable in two ways. First, they may be arbitrary, being irrelevant to
ones stated goals. The standards applied openly to justify favored
treatment for certain groups may bear no rational relation to the

Without Guilt and Justice


avowed purpose of the institution to which they are admitted. In

that case the appeal to justice can once again be replaced by an appeal
to honesty.
Second, standards may be well designed to implement social
goals, but the goals themselves may be objectionable. They may,
for example, include male supremacy. Many disputes about justice,
including some of the more troublesome questions about college
admissions, are ultimately disputes about dierent visions of society
and the future one desires for humanity. Since it is so dicult to
weigh the pros and cons of dierent goals and visions, decidophobes
prefer moral rationalism or moral irrationalism. The strategies used
by the irrationalists have been considered at length in chapter 1.
Typically, reason is ruled out of court and one appeals to some authority, or one begins as an extreme subjectivist but then ends up
with exegetical thinking. Moral rationalists, on the other hand, usually appeal to justice. If only one way of proportioning punishments
to crimes, or one way of distributing resources, or one vision of society could be shown to be just, then a thousand complexities would
vanish at one blow, and the decision that needs to be made would
become so simple that it would practically make itself.
When all the traditional interpretations of the appeal to justice fail,
it is time to develop an autonomous morality. But as a last resort,
some people would rather reinterpret justice. One such attempt
has been so widely discussed among philosophers in recent years
that no extended critique of justice can simply ignore it: the theory presented by John Rawls, rst in some articles and eventually
in his book A Theory of Justice. In the present context I cannot
hope to do justice to these articles or to a six-hundred-page book.
Still, something needs to be said here about this last resort to moral
I have already pointed out that the omission of retributive justice is a serious aw, that Rawls really oers a theory of fairness, and
that justice and fairness are not identical. My remaining comments
will be equally macroscopic: this is not the place for microscopic


An Attack on Distributive Justice

Rawls stands in the tradition, pioneered by David Hume, that

considers it the main problem of justice to neutralize what I shall call
grabbiness and to achieve impartiality. But this Humean conception of justice as more or less the antonym of grabbiness is misguided.
Not only does it keep Hume as well as Rawls from dealing adequately
with punishment; it also entails Humes false claim: If every one
had the same aection and tender regard for every one as for himself,
justice and injustice would be equally unknown among mankind.
This is false even in regard to distributive justice. Encrease to a
sucient degree the benevolence of man, says Hume, and you
render justice useless. For Hume the problem of justice is to neutralize the selshness and connd generosity of men. In eect,
Rawls accepts this view. But if it were tenable, all we should need
would be impartial judges; and I have tried to show in the examples
of college admissions and salary raises how such judges would not
nd that one solution was the right and rational one. And if all of
the candidates were utterly unselsh, that still would not solve the
Consider a simpler illustration. Imagine a father with several
children. His benevolence and generosity are boundless, and his
children are no less benevolent. Each says: Never mind me; think
only of the others! He would still confront problems of distributive
justice. Rawls would pass the buck to the children, asking them to
place themselves in what he calls the original position, meaning a
position in which a veil of ignorance keeps one from knowing his
own talents and position in society. The principles people would
choose then, assuming that each sought the maximum advantage
for himself, would be fair and just. This basic idea is worked out
in Gothic-scholastic detail, and it is easy to lose sight of the moral
rationalism of the whole theory: rational prudence can determine
what ought to be done and what would constitute a just society;
some knowledge of mathematics is required, perhaps even a course
in game theory, but no tragic choices. We should strive for a kind
of moral geometry.
The untenable optimism with which this whole theory of justice
stands or falls nds expression in the frequently reiterated claim that
if one is rational one can nd a distribution that will be to everyones

Without Guilt and Justice


advantage, while Injustice, then, is simply inequalities that are not

to the benet of all.
Mo-tze, a Chinese contemporary of Socrates, argued that connd generosity or partiality was the cause of the worlds major
calamities, and attacked the arts from this point of view. To have
music is wrong, said he, because the money spent for music could be
used instead to help the poor. In our time, Sartre has often said that
writing philosophy while children are starving is wrong. This has
not kept him from writing a vast critical study of Flaubert, a novelist
whom he dislikes. But the problem is very urgent and transcends
Sartre and Mo-tze. How could we possibly decide by transposing
ourselves into the original position what policy regarding the arts
and humanities would be to everyones advantage? Rawls ignores
concrete problem of this kind, but I should say: If having music
involved inequalities that are not to the benet of all and thus an
injustice according to Rawlss denition, we ought to have music
anyway. My position requires no more than at least one other norm
besides justice, and it allows for a possible conict of norms or goals,
which is anathema to the moral rationalist.
The whole third and last part of Rawlss book is called Ends,
but he does not consider alternative goals and possible conicts. He
discusses at great length what is involved in developing a rational
life plan, and makes this terse but telling concession in a footnote:
For simplicity I assume that there is one and only one plan that
would be chosen, and not several (or many) between which the
agent would be indierent, or whatever. Thus I speak throughout of the plan that would be adopted with deliberative rationality.
Here simplicity and whatever trivialize the crucial refusal
to consider alternatives.
In making a life plan, the aim is again to satisfy all claims.
Suppose that we are planning a trip and have to decide whether
to go to Rome or Paris. It seems impossible to visit both. If on
reection it is clear that we can do everything in Paris that we


An Attack on Distributive Justice

want to do in Rome, and some other things as well, then we

should go to Paris.
Obviously. But as a matter of fact we cannot do everything in Paris
that we want to do in Rome. We cannot satisfy all claims.
Anyone who is not afraid of facing up to alternatives must
decide between conicting goals. A student cannot do with mathematics what he could do with law or medicine or French. Nor
is there any just distribution of time, energies, or money between
ghting cancer, ghting hunger, ghting bigotry, or studying music
or anthropology. Nor can the allotment of space to the critique of a
book be correct. My comments are bound to seem skimpy to some
who have read A Theory of Justice and lengthy to some who have not.
One simply cannot satisfy all claims.
One nal criticism: Rawls says, To say that a certain conception of justice would be chosen in the original position is equivalent
to saying that rational deliberation satisfying certain conditions and
restrictions would reach a certain conclusion. But three pages later
he says, We want to dene the original position so that we can get
the desired solution. (This passage does not stand alone.) Here
the strategy of moral rationalism parallels that of exegetical thinking. Reason is considered authoritative, but the cards are stacked
to make sure that reason will deliver the desired verdict. The moral
rationalist reveres justice as transcending preferencesbut makes
sure that her verdicts accord with his preferences. Thus he sees to it
that his own moral ideas come back to him endowed with authority.
One of the central fallacies in the liberal faith is the sweet assumption
that distributive justice involves only rewards, and that there is no
reason why society should not be able to make everybody happy. The
same conceit underlies most talk of a just peace. In fact, problems
of distributive justice do not arise unless something that is desired
by many is too scarce to satisfy all. This means in practice that it is
possible to disappoint all, but usually impossible to please all. Even if
everybody should be pleased, it would not follow that each got what
he deserved; it might mean merely that the selsh were rewarded

Without Guilt and Justice


while the unselsh, who take delight in the good fortune of others,
were not.
Even when the decision about distribution is the same, it makes
a dierence whether we tell those who are not admitted or promoted that justice has been done, or whether we realize how absurd
such a claim would be. In the latter case we might say: These were
our criteria, which are obviously debatable. In time we shall probably revise them. Meanwhile we have done our best, rst to make
them known in advance and then to stick by them without being
swayed by considerations of very doubtful relevance. We know from
experience that even so we make mistakes at that level, too, but we
tried hard to avoid them. To speak that way instead of claiming
that justice was done is more honest and loving, more humane, and
more mindful of the self-respect of those whom we disappoint.
It should be clear that what I object to is not so much the continued use of the words just and justice as it is a way of thinking
that aects the way people behave. One can always redene old
words in such ways that the new concepts are no longer open to the
old objections. In my books on religion I have shown how many
theologians are virtuosos in this art. But the result, if not the purpose, of this practice is that the new concept carries the emotional
charge and something of the moral authority of the old term, and
does this illicitly. Invocations of justice help to blind a moral agent
to the full range of his choices. Thus they keep people from realizing
the extent of their autonomy.
Some individuals can manage to use the old words while realizing very clearly how precisely they are using them, and their
autonomy may not suer. But for every person who brings o this
feat, there are likely to be a hundred who are kept from understanding their autonomy. Hence it is far better to make a clean break.
The following consideration may help to support this suggestion. We can point to examples of love and honesty, courage and
humanity. We do not know in the same way what justice is, as a quality of punishments and distributions. We cannot point to concrete
examples. Solomons celebrated judgment illustrates his legendary
wisdom rather than his justice. What made his judgment so remarkable was that he managed to get at the facts; he found out which


An Attack on Distributive Justice

woman was the mother of the child that two women had claimed
was theirs. Still, this may seem to be a clear instance of a just distribution. But if that were really so, then it would not take a Solomon
to make just distributions in cases where the facts are easier to come
by. When something is mine and you take it away, anyone who is
called in to arbitrate and gives it back to me might then be said to
have made a just distribution: I deserved it because it was mine.
In the last chapter I noted that restorationgiving back what
one has taken illegallyis not an instance of punishment. It is not an
instance of distribution either. I have concentrated on: punishment
and distribution and see no need now to go on to discuss restitution;
cases of that sort provide no guidance for the many more important
cases considered here.
Indeed, Bertolt Brechts version of Solomons case, in The Caucasian Chalk Circle, which is based on a Chinese play, suggests that
the mechanical application of the view that restitution is right simply ignores the problem of desert, and hence of justice. In the Bible
the real mother is also more loving. In Brechts play she is merely
possessive and has no deep aection for the child, while the other
woman does, and Brecht argues that the child should be given to
the woman who will take good care of itand the land to those
who will make it ower and bear fruit. Is that a model of a just distribution? Again it would be more accurate to call the judgment of
Brechts judge wise and humane. It is future oriented and considers
the past solely as a harbinger of the future.
In great international disputes there is ample disagreement
among nations not only about facts, including events of the recent
past, but also about principles. They may be in favor of restitution
but cannot agree about the timethe day, month, and yearof
the status quo ante that is to be restored. Nor are nations that favor
restitution in one case likely to agree to it, even in principle, in several others. They may favor Brechts principle where it would favor
them, but reject it where it would not.
Continual talk of a just peace is not merely unproductive but
positively harmful. Just solutions are unattainable and cannot even
be imagined. Hence one can go on talking about justice and a just
peace without committing oneself to anything; and while holding

Without Guilt and Justice


out for a just peace one usually feels that until one gets what one
demands one is entitled to go on waging a just waror to keep
threatening another war soon.
The popular notion that we need to cling to justice because it
is denite, clear, and objective, is false. Humanity would gain if we
declared a moratorium on the use of just and justice while giving
a high priority to the ght against brutality and dishonesty.
When the United Nations was founded after World War II, it
was widely felt to be the last best hope on earth. But it has failed
to live up to its promise. If it should perish, it might well be of too
much talk about justice, too much indierence to brutality, and too
little concern with high standards of honesty.
The moralistic cant of so many politicians has persuaded growing numbers of people that moral principles simply have no application in international politics. In fact, the preoccupation with justice
is as ill advised here as it is elsewhere, but the concern to minimize
brutality and dishonesty is as relevant as it is in other areas.
We know neither God nor the devil; we are beset by an endless
number of devilsNo worst, there is none. To ght evil without the illusion that it is the greatest ever, to choose the lesser evil
without the faith that it is surely the least evil, to endure darkness
without the boast that none could be blacker, and to create more
light without the comfort of excessive hopesthat requires courage
and autonomy.

The Birth of Guilt and


It is perfectly true that you hardly ever actually beat me. But
the shouting, the way your face turned red and you hurriedly
loosened your suspenders, their lying ready over the back of
the chair, were almost worse for me. When one has to live
through all the preparations for ones own hanging and learns
of ones pardon only when the noose hangs in front of ones
eyes, one may suer from this experience for the rest of ones
life. Moreover, from these many times when, according to your
clearly manifest opinion, I deserved a thrashing but, owing to
your grace, barely escaped it, I accumulated a profound sense of
This passage from Franz Kafkas Letter to the Father illuminates the origin not only of guilt but also of justice. My primary
concern is not with origins. I want to criticize guilt and, insofar as
a book can do that, liberate people from guilt feelings. But guilt
feelings are being bred all around us, and if one wants to keep them
from developing in the rst place, one has to nd out how they
Moreover, I have argued that justice consists of giving each what
he deserves, but that it is impossible to specify what a human being
deserves. My critique of the concepts of desert and justice leaves


The Birth of Guilt and Justice

open the question of how these fateful but objectionable notions

originated. As a crime is not solved until a motive has been found,
we cannot nally dispose of justice and desert until we understand
how these ideas ever came to be accepted.
I shall therefore round out my account of justice with a theory
about the origin of guilt and justice. Unfortunately, such a theory
cannot be proved. Not only is it arguable that scientic theories in
general can never be proved to be true, although many have been
proved false, but the evidence for any theory about the origin of
guilt and justice is bound to be particularly inconclusive. Instead of
trying at great length to make the case as strong as possible, I shall
be extremely brief. After all, my critique of justice and guilt does not
stand or fall with this theory about their origins. It is quite sucient
for my purposes if I can provide a tenable theory, and better yet if it
is very plausible.
Three major philosophers, David Hume, John Stuart Mill, and
Nietzsche, have dealt with the origin of justice and developed rival
theories. In an article in The Review of Metaphysics I have tried
to prove that their theories of the origin of justice are untenable,
and I shall not recapitulate my arguments here. Actually, Humes
position, rst presented by him under the title Of the origin of
justice and property, has already been criticized in passing, above:
he associated justice far too much with property and the love of
gain, and he ignored retributive justice and desert. Nietzsche and
Mill will be mentioned in passing, below. But it would delay us
quite unnecessarily if I here tried to cope with the details of their
theories. In any case, I believe that Kafka, in the short passage that I
have cited, came much closer to the truth than any of them.
What is the origin of the notion that we sometimes deserve punishments or rewards? What is the source of this idea of justice?
Such words as source and origin might be inappropriate.
Although Amos wanted justice to ow like a mighty river, we could
easily be misled by a metaphor. On the other hand, this metaphor
does not imply that there has to be a single source. All rivers come
from hills or mountains. Do the notions of justice and desert come

Without Guilt and Justice


from a height of feeling, an elevated vision, some peak from which

one looks down on mens miseries and feels compassion? Or is the
idea of justice born of resentment, as Mill argued? Is the notion that
people deserve punishment older than the concept of distributive
justice? How is one to decide?
The Kafka passage quoted above suggests a dierent approach.
Is the idea of justice perhaps born of guilt feelings? Suppose some
penalties had been proclaimed for certain deeds, not in the name
of justice but for other reasonssay, simply because some persons
in power (rulers, priests, or parents, for example) had not wanted
somebody to do some thingsand then the penalties were not inicted, owing to an oversight, or to the death of those in power, or
for some other reason. In such a case, as also when the penalty had
merely been delayed, the reprieve need not prompt unequivocal delight, relief, or jubilation. One might well be waiting for the penalty,
feeling that it must still come, and in this expectation it might prove
impossible to draw a line between must come and ought to come.
Even as some shapes are seen as incomplete triangles or circles that
require one more pencil stroke, it is felt in cases of this sort that
some painful event is still requiredor deserved. As the English
idiom puts it: Youve got it coming to you.
Or suppose that you had been punished more than once for
doing something forbidden, but now somebody else has done the
same thing without being punished. The same expectation appears
with a dierent emotional tone. It could be accompanied by fear for
a person you love; it could also be, and more often is, imbued with
the desire that the other person should be punished no less than
youif not in this life, at least in the next. Nor need it be a case of
either fear or unequivocal desire; it might be a subtle mixture of the
Everything here said about guilt, whether ones own or that of
others, may be transposed. Imagine that it is not a penalty that is
delayed or not inicted but a promised reward that is postponed
or not granted. This prompts the same sort of expectation that
something is still coming to someonethat it is deserved.
Here is the origin of justice, and it is, surprisingly, a single source.
The source of the idea that a reward or punishment is deserved is


The Birth of Guilt and Justice

a promise. And what is felt to be deserved, is what was promised.

The emotional response to the promise or to the failure to full it
promptly is wholly secondary. If the reward or punishment should
bedeferred, or if they never come, in our own case or in that of
others, this nonevent may be met with envy or compassion, with
self-pity or guilt feelings, indignation or concern, hope or anxiety.
It is a mistake to supposeas Mill did, for examplethat some
emotion or other is the source of justice. (He picked resentment.)
The required promise, of course, need not involve the words I
promise. What matters is that one is given to understand that one
can count on some reward or punishment, and that one has some
respect for those who arouse this expectation. This feeling of respect
does not involve any intellectual or moral judgment and does not
depend on a prior sense of justice. It is an emotional orientation that
does not preclude an admixture of resentment. What is essential is
merely that one looks up to those who make the crucial promise. In
that sense one endows them with authority, even if objectively they
lack it.
There is ample evidence that criticism and reproaches from
those whom a childand not only a childdoes not respect tend
to be shrugged o even when they are quite harsh and deliberate,
while a casual rebuke from a person one respects greatly is felt to
be crushing and never forgotten, even if the critic himself fails to
remember the incident.
The notion that rewards or punishments can be deserved, and
often are deserved, is not born in the minds of sophisticated adults,
nor is it the result of careful, critical reection or painstaking inferences. We acquire this notion as children, long before we have
learned to think critically about moral questions. Similarly, our ancestors acquired this notion long before there were philosophers or
students of psychology, sociology, or comparative religion. Most of
us take moral skepticism for granted and nd it dicult to imagine
the rst stage of the development of justice or her birth.
Originally, both in the history of humanity and in infancy, what is
held to be deserved is what one is told is deserved or to be expected.

Without Guilt and Justice


If a command to do something is followed by a promise, then it

is assumed that those who full the command deserve what was
promised (have it coming to them), and that justice is done when
they receive it and injustice when they do not.
Similarly, if a prohibition is accompanied by the promise of
a penalty, it is assumed that those who transgress it deserve the
penalty; that justice is done when they receive it, even if the punishment should be quite brutal; and that it would be unjust for the
transgressor to go free or to receive some other penalty instead. At
this stage justice does not necessarily presuppose a law. All it presupposes is a promise that accompanies either a command or a prohibition.
Here I disagree with Nietzsche. Arguing against a theory that
had sought the origin of justice in resentment, he claimed that justice comes into being only after a stronger power imposes a law to
put an end to the senseless raging of ressentiment among the weaker
powers that stand under it Just and unjust exist, accordingly,
only after the institution of the law The rst sentence that I have
quoted in part seems unduly inuenced by Aeschylus Eumenides, a
play that Nietzsche, as a classical philologist, knew well, although
he does not mention it, and the conclusion that just and unjust
make sense only after the institution of law is surely wrong. In
childhood one acquires the notions of just and unjust without
the benet of laws; unsystematic prohibitions and commands, delivered ad hoc and coupled with spontaneous promises of rewards or
punishments, suce. There is no good reason to believe that in the
early stages of a culture the institution of law is required before
justice can be born.
The initial sense of what is deserved is usually exceedingly unsubtle and insensitive. It depends on some authority or othera
parent, teacher, priest, or ruler, for examplewho tells people that
this is the way things are, that if you do, or fail to do, this, then you
must expect and you deserve that. (This is the birth of justicethe
beginning of what I have earlier called the rst stage in her development. The criticism of such promises, of custom and convention,
rules, laws, and arrangements, comes much later in time, and I shall
deal with it shortly.)


The Birth of Guilt and Justice

In this initial phase it does not follow at all that if somebody

else does the same thing, he deserves or must expect the same reward or punishment. On the contrary, a child may not do what
his parents and perhaps his older siblings may do, or even have to
do. Rank, station, and sex are usually considered important at this
point. Priests, noblemen, and servants are not expected to perform
the same acts, and are not treated alike if they do the same things.
The same goes for generals and ordinary soldiers. Zeus marries his
sister and rapes the daughters of kings as well as some kings wives;
but what is permitted to Jove is not permitted to an ox, as the ancient
adage has it: quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.
This goes against the liberal grain. Is not equality of the very
essence of justice? If I do something and am punished for it, does
not justice require plainly that if someone else does the same thing,
he should be punished, too, in the same way? And if somebody else
does something and reaps a reward, is it not a demand of simple
justice that I deserve the same reward for doing the same thing? The
answer is: three times no.
What cases are considered alike and what dierences between
human beings are taken to be relevant is originally a function of what
we are told. If it was made clear from the start that girls, women,
artisans, or novices would be punished for doing this or that, then
most people, at least at this stage, would consider it unjust if they
were not punished after doing it. As long as it is understood from
the start that quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi, it accords with most
mens sense of justice, at least at this stage, that one person should be
honored for performing the very act for which another is, or would
be, punished.
We can easily think of examples in which this procedure would
not oend our moral sense even today, while other instances might
be considered models of injustice. The recent development of the
concept of justice has been more and more in the direction of equality. Less and less is it taken for granted that those in positions of
privilege are like Jove; reasons are demanded to justify privileges
and inequalities. But it would be a grave error to project this contemporary trend back into the origins of justice.

Without Guilt and Justice


The origin of what one might call ideal justice poses no grave problem for the theory advanced here. In early childhood and in early
history, orders, promises, and threats tend to be improvised, ad hoc,
unsystematic. Later on, attempts are made to codify them, but it is
extremely dicult to achieve consistency. Typically, one principle
is invoked or implicit here and another there; one sentiment or
intuition at this point and another at that; one precedent now and
then another one. Such inconsistencies prompt reformers, prophets,
critics, and revolutionaries to invoke one tradition or set of ideas
against the rest.
The critique of positive law begins as a protest against inconsistency. The demand for ideal justice is linked to the denunciation of
hypocrisy and to an appeal to selected elements of an old tradition.
None of this necessarily involves superior moral standards, although
the standards invoked will, of course, be proclaimed as superior.
The ideal justice that is contrasted with what passes for justice
can involve more rigorous respect for ancient inequalities, as in
Platos attack on democracy, or a plea for equality, or even, as in
the Hebrew Bible, special consideration for orphan, widow, and
stranger. Which strands of a tradition set his heart are proves what
kind of a person a social critic is.
The contrast between ideal justice and positive justice is fruitful,
but it would be a grave error to suppose that ideal justice is, or tends
to be, the same everywhere. Any such claim is as false as it would be
concerning positive justice. Amos ideal justice would have outraged
Plato, and vice versa.
The origin of ideal justice is dissatisfaction with positive justice. But ideal justice is also born of an unfullled promise. One
appeals to ancient promises that, one claims, have been betrayed.
The critique of positive justice could be presented as a protest against
brutality and inhumanity. Typically, however, the great critics of
positive justice have denounced inconsistency, irrationality, and
hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is a kind of inconsistency, and treating people
dierently on account of dierences that on reection can be seen to
be irrelevant and to constitute no sucient reason for the dierence


The Birth of Guilt and Justice

in treatment is a form of irrationality. Thus the demand for ideal

justice is often a plea for rationality and honesty.
What has happened to justice and desert in our time is similar to
what has happened to God. A childs idea of God is intelligible,
but many adults consider it nave. They are more sophisticated and
disown such notions. They readily explain what they do not mean
when they avow their faith that God exists, but the more they pride
themselves on their lack of superstition, the less clear it becomes
what they do mean. As Satan once said to a Christian: I think
you dont know yourself what you mean. You are repeating words
that once designated very understandable superstitions. Now you
denounce these superstitions but cling to the same words and believe
that you are still saying something.
In the case of desert and justice, what was meant originally was
clear enough: one deserved what one had been promised, and justice
was done when one got it. As one became more sophisticated, it
became plain that the promised reward or punishment itself might
be unjustthat is, disproportionate. To be deserved and just, it had
to be proportionate. But what was considered proportionate always
depended on an appeal to authority.
Many legislators considered it self-evident that one had to take
into account the caste of both the oender and the oended party.
Hammurabis Code went further and provided, for example, that if
a man should strike another mans daughter, and she died, they shall
put his daughter to death. Moses sense of proportion was dierent,
and that in the Law of Manu dierent again. Few of those brought
up under these laws ever doubted that the penalties provided in
them were proportionate, deserved, and just. And those raised to
believe in hell rarely had any qualms about that. Indeed, St. Thomas
proved at length how eternal punishments for temporal oenses
were not disproportionate.
The critics of positive justice also appealed to authority, citing
dierent precedents, texts, or traditions. When moral skepticism
and skepticism about law developed, people still clung to the notions
of proportion, justice, and desert. But these notions depend on some

Without Guilt and Justice


authority, if only that of ones own intuition, and when no authority

is recognized in moral matters, these old notions collapse and die.
The moral rationalist may still try to prop them up with appeals to
reason, as if proportion in such matters could be mathematical, but
no matter how subtle his eorts may be, they do not stand up under
In the discussion of retributive justice, I stressed the crucial role of
religion; but up to this point my theory of the origin of justice has
underplayed the importance of religion. The last question about
justice that needs to be answered here will permit me to make up
for this omission.
Why have men so seldom tried to work out in detail visions of
a just society? Because it is impossible to specify distributions and
punishments that would be just. Although my thesis that this is
impossible may be novel, something like it has been felt very widely,
if vaguely, by legions of people for thousands of years. Instead of
trying the impossible, they have simply postulated that after death
everybody will receive what he deserveswhatever that may be.
Dogmatic assurance about this supposed fact has been accompanied
by an impressive lack of detail.
As far as punishments were concerned, a sort of pornography
developed; at times, mens imagination ran amuck, and under the
imsy pretext of justice one wallowed in cruel fantasies. The eternal
punishments of Sisyphus and Tantalus in the eleventh canto of
the Odyssey are not justied by any crime that bears a relation to
them; only later ages furnished superabundant rationalizations. The
penalty was dreamt up rst; the reasons for it were invented later.
It is striking that in Homers afterlife there is no inkling of any
reward. In Christianity heaven is usually nothing but words: bliss,
being close to God, or angels with harps. It is hardly original to
remark that listening to harps for thousands of years would be hell;
but note the complete vacuity of the traditional insistence that after
death virtue is rewarded, and each gets his just deserts. As children,
we are led to assume that such phrases as just deserts are meaningful
and have very specic contents; but on reection it appears that


The Birth of Guilt and Justice

there actually is no content. Or, if you prefer, what content there is

does not bear thinking about. It is an embarrassment.
In the Thomistic Summa Theologiae we encounter one of the
rare attempts to imagine a reward that is less vapid than harp music:
In order that the bliss of the saints may be more delightful for them
and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, it is
given to them to see perfectly the punishment of the damned.
This is a condensation of the much more elaborate development
of the same theme by Tertullian, the earliest and after Augustine the
greatest of the ancient church writers of the West. In the last chapter
of his treatise On Spectacles, in which he warned his readers against
attending such mundane aairs, he promised them rich rewards on
that last day of judgment, with its everlasting issues. There will be
ever so much to admire, to enjoy, and to exult over,
as I see so many illustrious monarchs, whose reception into the
heavens was publicly announced, groaning now in the lowest
darkness with great Jove himself ; governors of provinces, too,
who persecuted the Christian name, in res more erce than
those with which in the days of their pride they raged against
the followers of Christ.
The philosophers who taught their followers that God had
no concern in aught that is sublunary and who denied either the
existence of the soul or the bodily resurrection are now covered
with shame before the poor deluded, as one re consumes them.
Actors will be lither of limb in the ames than they ever were on the
stage, and behold the charioteer, all glowing in his chariot of re,
and the wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the ery
billows. But it is possible that even then I shall not care to attend
to such tries in my eager wish rather to x a gaze insatiable on
those whose fury vented itself against the Lord. There is no need
to continue here; suce it that Tertullian is not resigned to wait
for the day when he will be exulting in such things as these, for
even now we in a measure have them by faith in the picturings of
The Reverend S. Thelwall whose translation I have cited rejects the suggestion that this work might have been written after

Without Guilt and Justice


Tertullians lapse from orthodoxy into Montanism: A work so

colourless [!] that doctors can disagree about even its shading, must
be regarded as practically orthodox. Exaggerated expressions are
but the characteristic of the authors genius. We are invited to nd
in this chapter, which Gibbon delights to censure (and which
Nietzsche cited as a prime example of Christian resentment), a
beautiful specimen of lively faith and Christian condence.
At such a loss is the condence in distributive justice to imagine what rewards might be deserved! When hatred does not rush
in to ll the void, there is nothing but the empty, dogmatic assurance that justice will be done. Given my theory that the sense of
injustice has its source in an unfullled promise, nothing could be
more natural than the expectation that the deferred promise will
be kept eventually, even if only after death. Again and again, the
paradigm of justice was found not in this life but in the next, or in
the law that governed the transmigration of souls. While one was
generally careful not to be precise about rewards and punishments,
one did insist that each got what he deservedand this created the
untenable impression that it makes sense to speak of the rewards and
punishments that a person deserves. This false notion would not be
so dicult to dislodge if it did not have the support of thousands
of years of religious indoctrination.
I began my account of justice with her death. Now that we have
also explored her origins, we have truly found her out. My theory
does not only complete the picture; it also has practical implications.
We are not born with a sense of justice or with guilt feelings. Nor
are guilt feelings inevitable.
Liberal parents inculcate guilt feelings in their children by
telling them that they deserve to be punished, and by then suspending the punishment. It is no longer fashionable to be as crude
as Kafkas father was, to loosen suspenders or prepare to give ones
children a terrible beating. The usual pattern is to tell a child something like this: If I had done when I was your age what you have just
done, Id have been punished severely; and while thats what you
deserve, Id never do that sort of thing to you. But how could you
do such a dreadful thing?
If one wants to breed guilt feelings in ones children, this is the


The Birth of Guilt and Justice

surest way to do it. But if one wants to liberate oneself and the future
from the tyranny of guilt, one has to know how guilt is bred and
born. The question remains whether guilt feelings are a necessary
evil, as traditional morality has taught. The time has come to attack

Against Guilt

with the death of justice, the tyranny of guilt comes to an
end. For without justice there is no guilt. To say that anyone is,
or feels, guilty is to say that he deserves, or feels that he deserves,
punishment. Once it is seen that nobody deserves punishment, it
follows that nobody is guilty or should feel guilty.
It may be objected that it is simply a fact in some cases that
a person is guilty. But what is a fact is merely that he has done
wrongpossibly a grievous wrong. It does not follow that he deserves punishment, and it would therefore be far better to avoid this
implication by not speaking of guilt. As long as we continue to call
people guilty, we shall not get rid of guilt feelings. Is it silly to criticize feelings? Certainly not. It makes sense to criticize resentment,
envy, jealousyand guilt feelings. Unlike many other so-called feelings, or at any rate much more so than most, guilt feelings involve
beliefs and even strenuous convictions. These convictions could be,
and are, false and irrational, and therefore guilt feelings are open to
In particular cases, nobody would hesitate to criticize feelings
of jealousy for being unwarranted and irrational. One might also go
further and argue that jealousy or guilt feelings, or both, are always
irrational. But the case against guilt feelings has far more important
implications. While many people condone jealousy, moralists and


Against Guilt

philosophers are not in the habit of positively demanding it. Guilt

feelings, on the other hand, are deliberately demanded, inculcated,
and extolled. They are part of the hard core of traditional morality.
And they gure prominently in all sorts of false claims. I shall single
out three theses for criticism.
1. Guilt feelings are held to be necessary for the moral health of
those who have done something immoral. Remorse is held to be part
of the punishment they deserve, or at the very least a prerequisite
for reform.
2. Guilt feelings are held to be something one owes those whom
one has wronged. Such feelings are supposed to restore, at least in
part, an interpersonal balance.
3. Guilt feelings are held to be necessary for the protection of
society. Nobody can watch people all the time in order to keep them
in line. Hence it is held to be imperative for them to internalize
punishment and to torment themselves when they do something
immoral. If they did not know that this punishment was certain
even if they should not be caught, it is believed that they would
behave even worse than they do anyway.
My attack on guilt and guilt feelings will involve a critique of
these three theses. But the addiction to guilt is even more widespread
than these theses suggest.
Many liberals believe that their guilt feelings supply the psychic energy for their good works. Where would they be without
Many radicals feel the same way and in addition seem to feel
the need to nd other men guilty of heinous wrongs. Righteous
indignation is a source of energy for them. Where would they be
without guilt?
Many conservatives believe that all men are guilty because
they are nitethey themselves no less than their fellow men. If
they are Christians they speak of original sin.
Some non-Christian existentialists have spoken in a very similar vein of metaphysical, ontological, or existential guilt. Jaspers,
Heidegger, and Buber have all argued that such guilt lies beyond
all psychological explanations and that guilt feelings of this type

Without Guilt and Justice


constitute a summons to authentic existence. To quote from Bubers

account of a specic example:
As the guilt feeling fell silent, Melanie lost the possibility of
atonement by way of a newly gained authentic relation to her environment that would have allowed her best qualities to unfold.
The price paid for the annihilation of the thorn [of remorse]
was the irrevocable annihilation of the chance of becoming that
being which this creature, in accordance with her highest predispositions, had been destined to become.
Here Buber is, to say the least, exceedingly close to Jaspers and
Heidegger. Still, this thesis is essentially a variant of the claim that
guilt feelings are a prerequisite of reform. It is a variant and not
merely the same thing said in bigger and fancier words, inasmuch
as the existentialists see such guilt feelings as a summons and a
unique opportunity to rise to a higher level of existence than that
of the ordinary person who has not had occasion to feel guilt in the
rst place.
Considering how widespread guilt feelings are and how widely
dubious theses about them are credited, it is surprising how little
critical attention they have received from philosophers. Englishspeaking philosophers have largely ignored them, while the German
philosophers who have dealt with guilt have rarely subjected the concept to criticism. No doubt, this was in part because, as Nietzsche
said, the Protestant parson is the grandfather of German philosophy. My own attack on guilt stands in the tradition of Nietzsche
and Freud, without following either of them in detail. For although
both were against guilt feelings, neither gave us the kind of critique
that is needed. It is high time for a full-edged attack.
Guilt feelings are a contagious disease that harms those who harbor
them and endangers those who live close to them. The liberation
from guilt spells the dawn of autonomy.
Typically, guilt feelings make those who harbor them feel wretched.
The claim that this is precisely what they deserve depends on the
conception of justice that I have criticized. I have argued that it


Against Guilt

is impossible to determine what precisely men deserve, but it may

be felt nevertheless that those who have done something immoral
deserve some suering and therefore guilt feelings. As a matter of
empirical fact, however, guilt feelings have no particular tendency
to be proportionate to the wrongs that they feed on. It is not in the
least uncommon for a person to have immense guilt feelings that revolve around a relatively trivial occasion, while he has none or hardly
any in connection with what would seem to warrant them much
more. What is even far more obvious is that very decent people of
great moral sensitivity often torment themselves over minor wrongs,
while less humane people feel little or no remorse over outrageous
deeds that have brought immense suering to others.
A critic might grant this much and still protest that those who
have done wrong deserve some suering and ought to have guilt
feelings that are at least vaguely proportionate to the evil they have
done. But in line with my account of the origin of the concept
of desert, I claim that any specic suggestion concerning what is
deserved depends ultimately on some appeal to authority, and that
we should abandon the notion of moral desert. We should ask not
what we deserve but whether the three theses that I want to attack
are true.
As for the moral health of those who have guilt feelings, those
who nurture self-hatred usually have hatred to spare for others. As a
rule, guilt feelings make men vindictive and inhibit the development
of generosity. And I shall show presently that they are not by any
means a prerequisite for reform.
If guilt feelings were at least of some help to those whom we
feel we have wronged, it might still be argued that self-punishment
served some purpose. But generally guilt feelings have the opposite
eect. They discomt those on whose account they are felt, and
they are actually contagious.
When one feels guilty for what one has done to another person,
one is very apt to feel that in some sense it is the victims fault: but
for the victim, one would never have incurred this guilt. And living
close to someone who secretly, or not so secretly, blames him, makes
the victim feel guilty. He is infected by being resented.
Even those not blamed by anyone else may feel guilty when

Without Guilt and Justice


they realize that they have caused somebody else who is very close
to them great suering. They are infected by feeling compassion.
Finally, those who feel guilty usually feel, more or less like the
antihero of Camuss novel The Fall, that if they feel guilty, you have
no less reason to feel guilty. This conviction does not depend on
your having been the wronged person in the rst place, although
in the case of husband and wife this reaction is the rule when one
has wronged the other. When a parent feels guilty over having done
something seriously wrong in bringing up a child, he (or she) will
normally feel that the other parent should feel guilty, too. And one
is infected by being held responsible. Guilt craves company; guilt
obtains company by contagion.
Can one transcend guilt feelings without becoming self-satised
and self-righteous? First of all, it should be noted that guilt feelings
are quite compatible with self-congratulation and self-righteousness.
The Fall shows this at length. A word of explanation is in order
because Camuss novel has so often been misunderstood, and interpreters have not been lacking who have claimed to nd in it a
rapprochement with Christianity. In fact, it is the authors most
Nietzschean work.
His rst novel, The Stranger, was a kind of antithesis to Dostoevskys Crime and Punishment, and its antihero was an anti-Raskolnikov. Having killed another human being, he refused to feel any
remorse. It scarcely occurred to him even to feel any regret. And
when he was sentenced to death, he felt sure that society wanted
to punish him merely because he had refused to cry at his mothers
funeral; in other words, because he had refused to fake it, because he
was more honest than other mennot because he had committed a
crime. Camuss third and last novel, The Fall, was conceived as an
antithesis to Dostoevskys Notes from Underground. Dostoevskys
antihero saw everything from underground, from below, resentfully;
Camuss tells us how he always needed to feel above. This theme
runs through the whole story. He has always been possessed by the
desire to look down on others, but then he became convinced of the
hollowness and hypocrisy of his life and of his own profound guilt:


Against Guilt

of course, all men are guilty, but he is particularly guilty and aware
of his guilt and thus after all and once again superior to other men.
He now spends his time thinking and talking about his guilt and
his superiority, congratulating himself and being self-righteous
instead of using his time and energy constructively. I take it that the
antihero of this book is not an utterly atypical and marginal case but
that the characterization is intended as an attack on the Christian
doctrine of original sin and its secular variations, as is Sartres The
Although guilt feelings are compatible with self-righteousness
and with a complete failure to work at becoming a better person, it
is also clear that some people who feel guilty try to rise to a higher
level or do good works, or both. The question remains whether
one can transcend guilt feelings without becoming (or remaining)
self-righteous and self-satised. The answer should also take care of
the problem raised earlierwhether guilt feelings are a prerequisite
of reform.
In intellectual and artistic endeavors and in sports it is obviously
possible to be sharply self-critical without harboring guilt feelings. If
the desired goal is that one should not be self-righteous and that one
should try hard to rise to a higher level of existence, guilt feelings
establish no high probability at all that one will move in this direction; what is needed is a fusion of ambition with humility. Once
again I have to coin a word to move an important idea clearly into
focus. I shall call the fusion of ambition with humility humbition.
Humility and ambition are widely considered antithetical. I
hold no brief for either as long as they appear separately. But their
fusion, humbition, I consider a cardinal virtue, along with courage,
love, and honesty.
Virtues are habits that can be cultivated, not qualities that one
either has or lacks. Thus courage depends in some measure on vitality
and therefore comes more easily to some people than to others; yet
it is not unteachable. Some swimmers readily dive into the water,
while others have to overcome a deep inner resistance, but most
people can acquire the necessary courage, especially if they begin
at an early age. The same applies not only to other behavior that
requires some physical courage but also to the moral courage that

Without Guilt and Justice


is needed to defy any compact majority. Courage always requires

some self- condence, another trait that, like courage itself and all
of the other virtues, admits of degrees. There is no virtue without
courage; humbition requires courage (the counsel of timidity is to
lie low instead of risking failure); love takes courage (fear shrinks at
the prospects of rejection, loss, or disappointment); and honesty is
not for those who are afraid of losing friends or cherished illusions.
Love, as a cardinal virtue, is the habit of trying to imagine how
others feel and what they think; to share their griefs and hurts at
least in some small measure; and to help. Again, there are degrees.
It is not a question of all or nothing, of loving or hating, of being
either courageous or cowardly.
While this is obvious in the case of the other virtues, many
people are reluctant to admit it in the case of honesty. They see
readily that courageous and cowardly are. epithets that we apply
in extreme cases, and that people who are not courageous are not
necessarily cowards. But people who would wistfully admit that they
are not courageous feel insulted if one questions their honestyas
if Hamlet had not been painfully right when he said: To be honest,
as this world goes, is to be one man pickd out of ten thousand.
The reasons for this confusion are of some importance, and I shall
consider honesty at length in chapter 7, along with the reasons one
can give for the four virtues.
Humbition involves a sense of ones limitations, accompanied
not by resignation but by the aspiration to rise to a higher level
of being. Those whose ambitions are petty can realize them and
feel satised. Those whose aspirations are loftier keep feeling how
far they fall short of their standards, but keep trying. They are too
proud to be satised with their achievements. They are their own
severest critics.
I am not proposing that we go back to the Greeks. They tended
to see no fault in self-satisfaction. In Aristotles ethics, the greatsouled man is the paragon of virtue. He tells others how well he
thinks of himself, and this is not considered a fault because he has
good reason to be proud. One is reminded of Socrates Apology and,
even more, Homers Achilles. It was the Orphics and the mystery
cults and, above all, Christianity that spread the sense of guilt as


Against Guilt

far as they reached. modern man is led to wonder whether a culture without guilt feelings can even be imagined. Most modern
readers simply fail to see that the heroes of the Iliad feel no guilt.
Again, Achilles is the outstanding example. Even when old King
Priam comes to him at night to ask for the return of Hectors corpse,
Achilles feels no guilt for having dishonored the corpse and dragged
it through the dust behind his chariot. Neither did he feel guilty
when his wrath caused the death of thousands, nor when he was
even more directly responsible for the death of his best friend, Patroclus. Now he has Hectors body cleaned, not because he feels either
shame or guilt, but, as Homer goes out of his way to explain, for a
very dierent reason. If Priam saw the corpse in its pitiful condition,
he might say things that would rekindle Achilles wrath and lead
him to kill the old man and thus outrage the gods. Achilles has no
guilt feelings and is fond of telling others that he is superior to all.
What I propose is not a return to Homer. We should replace guilt
feelings with humbition.
Guilt is inner-directed, shame other-directed, while humbition and
self-criticism are autonomous. Thus guilt feelings arise when an
initially external authoritythe voice of ones parents, for example
has been internalized. These feelings issue from an inner voice, the
so-called bad conscience. The person whose morality is of this type
can be sublimely independent of the opinions of his peers, nor does
it spell absolution if he knows that his actual parents, out there, do
not consider him guilty at all. What matters is their voice inside
him, which has gained a life of its own and become tyrannical.
The person whose morality is oriented toward shame rather
than guilt is concerned about what his peers will think, out there.
He fears being embarrassed, humiliated, laughed at, despised. It
might be thought that guilt feelings arise typically when one feels
that one does not live up to the expectations of others, and that guilt
feelings are therefore other-directed. But this suggestion rests on
faulty observation. The person who cares deeply about the opinion
of his peers and about the expectations they have concerning his
performance is likely to feel deep shame when he lets them down.

Without Guilt and Justice


Guilt feelings are much more likely to arise vis--vis ones parents,
especially if one feels that they have made great sacrices and that
they therefore deserved bettereven if they themselves do not feel
that way. Guilt is tied to desert; shame is not.
Those who have fallen short of their own high standards in
painting, writing, or sports are clearly sensible when they do not
feel guilty, nor need they feel shame. It is reasonable for them to
try to criticize their own performance carefully, to ask themselves
what went wrong, and to map strategies for doing better next time.
And if there is no next time and the failure is somehow irrevocable,
they may well feel keen regret, but they would be unreasonable and
neurotic if they felt guilty. Is the situation basically dierent in the
case of moral failures? Why do so many people assume that moral
failures call for guilt feelings?
This distinction between two kinds of failures is deeply ingrained in our civilization, and millions are rmly persuaded that
there is a profound and obvious dierencebut cannot give any
convincing account of it. They are apt to say that not only sports
but also writing and painting are relatively trivial and not all that
important, or that failures in such endeavors are merely technical
and cause no suering to others, while moral failures do. It remains
unclear why guilt feelings, if admittedly inappropriate in one area,
are called for in the other. Not all moral failures cause suering,
while many technical failures cause great sueringfor example,
some of the failures of doctors, surgeons, nurses, lawyers, judges,
politicians, ocers, policemen, teachers, architects, stockbrokers,
and mechanics. It is obviously much harder to train people to avoid
serious failures in such elds as these than it is to educate them to
avoid theft, murder, perjury, and rape. If technical competence
can be taught without inculcating guilt feelings, moral competence
must be teachable, too, without recourse to guilt.
Our illustrations also show that the dierence between moral
and so-called technical failures cannot be that the latter are of no
great importance for the survival of a society. The line between the
area in which guilt feelings are held to be indispensable and the area
in which they are admittedly inappropriate is exceedingly hard to
draw, and under these circumstances the intuitive certainty that we


Against Guilt

cannot dispense with guilt feelings has little force.

How, then, can one account for this intuitive certainty? First,
wrongs that in our culture were at one time believed to be transgressions of divine law were considered sinful, and it was axiomatic
that whoever sinned was guilty and deserved to be punished. Thus
a Jew who has been brought up on the notion that it is sinful to eat
ham will usually feel guilty when he does eat ham, long after he has
lost his religious convictions. And few actions elicit more profound
guilt feelings than masturbation.
Second, the easiest way to impose ones will on others is to imbue
them with fear and guilt: fear that they will be punished if they
disobey, and guilt feelings even when no punishment materializes.
Priests have not only inculcated guilt feelings but have also devised
various rituals to remove themrituals that, however diverse, have
one feature in common: they deepen the dependency of the poor
guilt- ridden ock upon the priest.
The easiest way to manipulate others is not necessarily the best
way, nor does it happen to be as ecient as is widely supposed.
Certainly guilt feelings have not kept people from masturbating.
But it is far easier to tell a child that anyone who does a certain
thing deserves to be punished than it is to give good reasons for not
doing it. Hence parents, and whole cultures, frequently rely on guilt
feelings precisely in connection with prohibitions for which they
cannot furnish rational justications.
The proposal to replace guilt feelings with humbition spells relief
from some very painful confusions. When John F. Kennedy was
killed, Americans were told from many sidesrst by a Christian
ministerthat all of them were guilty. But they were not. And if
anyone should insist that in some way you were responsible and that
if only you had behaved dierently in some way the President might
not have been assassinated, you should reply that there are degrees
of responsibility, and that it will not do to disregard the dierence
between signicant and more or less ctitious responsibilities.
Oddly, guilt feelings often ourish on the ground of ctitious
responsibilities. The proverbial white liberal has guilt feelings about

Without Guilt and Justice


black slavery and squirms under taunts that his ancestors kept slaves
even if his ancestors never did anything of the sort. Should the
descendants of those blacks in Africa who sold their brothers to
Arab slave traders, and the descendants of the Arab slave traders, feel
guilty? Clearly, the proverbial white liberal is confused. He would
do well to transcend his guilt feelings, and this need not keep him
from working for civil rights.
We must distinguish between guilt and responsibility. We cannot dispense with the concept of responsibility, which will be discussed at greater length in a later chapter. It does not follow from
any of my arguments that it is irrational for a person to say: You can
rely on me; I accept this responsibility. On the contrary, something
is wrong with those who will not accept responsibilities. Now, if
one has accepted responsibility and failed, one may be (but need
not always be) responsible for the failure. Even if one is responsible
for it, it does not follow that one should feel guilty, although in
German one would say, meine Schuld, which may seem to mean mea
culpa, my guiltbut which really need not mean more than my
fault. We cannot dispense with the concept of my fault or my
responsibility, but we should transcend the notion of my guilt.
Let us try to work out more fully the contrast between my
fault and my guilt. Each of these two concepts belongs to a little
family of related terms, and it may be useful to juxtapose them in
two columns. The family in the rst column is under criticism here,
while that in the second column might replace it.



The wish to have the past dierent is understandable but irrational. If it actually were dierent, much else would be dierent,
too. As a passing fancy, such a wish requires no censure, but if it is
pursued seriously, it leads one into confusion and inconsistency, or


Against Guilt

to a pervasive negation of oneself and the world. And those who

say no to themselves rarely say yes to others. Or, to put the point
more concretely, those who torment themselves hardly ever manage
to give others joy.
Those who say my fault regret what they have done without
plunging into remorse. Remorse comes from the Latin remordere,
to bite again, and thus oers us the same image as the German
Gewissensbiss, the bite of conscience, and Agenbite of Inwit, familiar
to many of us from James Joyces Ulysses. Remorse is a gnawing
torment, a way of punishing oneself for a wrong done in the past, a
form of self-torture of which one might say, using Biblical language,
that it is one of those things that do not prot. Similarly, contrition
involves signs of grief or pain. But prolonged and insistent selfreproach and mental anguish move people in the wrong direction.
Regret is admittedly a rather weak and colorless word, deated by abundant social usage. What is needed is a combination of
humble regret with a resolve to change. What is crucial is to liberate
oneself from the tyranny of an irrevocable past and to ask what can
be done here and now and tomorrow.
The contrast of past-oriented and future-oriented attitudes may be
too Manichaean. Clearly, there is more of a continuum than a listing
in two columns might suggest. And the existentialist version of guilt
feelings has its place somewhere near the middle: guilt feelings are
emphasized and extolled, but they are justied in large measure in
terms of what might become of the individual.
Obviously; I have no quarrel with the future-oriented aspect of
the existentialist position. What I reject is the contention that guilt
feelings are required to bring about what Buber calls the unfolding
of ones best qualities. Not only are they not required, but they
impede ones chance of becoming that being which realizes our
highest predispositions. It is actually the existentialists who operate
with a Manichaean scheme of two modes of existence: authentic
and inauthentic. Here Bubers I and Thou (1923) and Heideggers
Being and Time (1927) are similar. And the later Buber agrees
with the early Heidegger that guilt feelings can summon one out of

Without Guilt and Justice


inauthentic existence and become the turning point of a life.

There is no basis for the generalization that those who remove
the thorn of remorse and self-torment also destroy irrevocably the
chance that a profound self-examination opens up for an advance
to a higher level of existence. Of course, it is possible for a person
who has seriously wronged another to become reconciled to that
fact all too easily and to remain essentially the same person he or
she was before. It is also possible to turn an experience of that sort
into a new point of departure, planning how one can make it up
to the person one has wronged andespecially if it is too late for
thathow one can make it up to humanity.
Weighing just how much one owes the other person or humanity would be absurd, though no more absurd than worrying and
fretting a great deal about how much blame one really deserves.
What makes good sense is asking yourself what mistakes, if any, you
have made, how you might do better in the future, and perhaps also
what sort of advice you could give others in situations resembling
the one in which you have failed.
The dierence between guilt feelings and humbition is not by
any means a mere matter of words. What is at stake is an altogether
dierent outlook and direction of the personality.
Guilt feelings involve a refusal to accept that what is done is
done. The person who nourishes them is stuck at some point in
the past and cannot go on beyond that point to build a future. He
rejects his past deed and his present self, and he supposes in his
Manichaean way that the alternative is to applaud his past deed and
to congratulate his present self, which would by evil. In sum, he is
caught in the spurious alternative between the bad conscience and
the good conscience. I reject the good conscience as well as the bad.
An intellectual conscience need not be either good or bad. Rather,
the person who has it is conscientious, thoughtful, and sensitive.
One should think of the social conscience in the same way: to have
a good social conscience would be tantamount to having no social
conscience, but it does not follow that one must have a bad social
conscience and feel guilty. The person with a social conscience that
is not morbid is concerned about the suerings of the oppressed.
This point can be extended to conscience in general. The person


Against Guilt

with humbition has a conscience, but neither a good conscience nor

a bad conscience. He cultivates self-criticism, nds fault with some
of his past deeds and omissions, realizes that but for those deeds
and omissions he would be a dierent person now, in a dierent situation, and accepts his present self and situation (and by extension
also his past) provisionallyas the raw material of his future.
Those who assume that they must feel guilty until someone else
forgives them are clearly not autonomous. They look to someone
else to remove their guilt. Others, refusing to lean on anyone else,
nd nobody to grant them forgiveness and feel guilty their lives
long. The autonomous forgive themselves, but not everyone who
forgives himself is autonomous.
It is nobler to blame and resent oneself than to blame and resent
others, but it is nobler yet to rise above resentment. This is a normative and hortatory statement, but it is easily transposed into the
descriptive mode. Not only are there free-oating guilt feelings in
search of a transgressionfeelings that may have arisen in the rst
place in the way described by Kafkabut resentment is an emotion
that is typically free-oating, like a smoldering re that ares up
whenever you supply it with a suitable object. Guilt feelings are a
form of resentment. The person who harbors them is therefore a
menace. The person, on the other hand, who can accept himself
provisionally will nd it easier to be generous to others.
It may be objected that if the head of a government had ordered
the destruction of large numbers of civilians in another country, he
ought to feel guilty. But my arguments imply that there is no good
reason why he should. Any guilt feelings he might have would not
enhance in the slightest either his moral stature or the well-being of
others. What would enhance both? Stringent self-criticism and the
decision to use all his powers to prevent similar crimes in the future.
Are guilt feelings nevertheless necessary for the protection of society? If this sort of punishment were not assured even when the law
does not catch one, wouldnt most people, or at least a great many
people, behave still worse than they do now?
In the 1950s students were asking the very same question about

Without Guilt and Justice


belief in hell. And then about belief in God. Now that relatively few
students or readers of a book like this would press such a question
about either hell or God, one must ask whether guilt feelings are
not the last dike.
Seeing that even the certainty of eternal torment did not keep
people from murder and perjury, theft, burglary, and fraud, it seems
exceedingly implausible that the fear of self-torment and guilt feelings should be a powerful deterrent now. You may object that committing those crimes did not entail the certainty of everlasting tortures; one could hope for absolution. True enough, but conscience
is even less unbending than the church.
Remorse can be a rack, but those who suer on it are hardly ever
those who have committed crimes against humanity or who have
seriously wronged their fellow men. As a rule, the bad conscience
catches only minor oenders, while major criminals escape its grasp,
and often it punishes those who are virtually innocent.
Thus the question that I have set out to answer involves a false
premise, namely, that guilt feelings do protect society. There is no
evidence that they accomplish much in this way. Nor is there any
reason to believe that raising children on humbition would accomplish less. I should think that humbition would prevent antisocial
conduct better than guilt feelings, but I obviously cannot prove that.
Still, a few examples may help us to understand the alternatives
better. A surgeon who keeps worrying about how much blame he
deserves in this case or that, and whether he could or should have
known better, becomes a neurotic menace. In order to do his job
well and help his fellow men he must be self- critical without losing
self-condence. Of course, operating on people is not like playing
chess, and we understand readily how some people would say that,
unlike a chess champion who has lost a game, a surgeon who has
made a grave error ought to feel remorse. This is traditional wisdom,
but for the protection of society it would be far better if the surgeon
asked himself when, where, and why he had failed; how he could
improve his competence; and how he could teach young colleagues
to guard against the mistakes that he has made.
In the case of surgeons it is clearly better and safer to rely on
their humbition than to count on their fear of guilt feelings. The


Against Guilt

same is true of other professionals. But will humbition keep people

from committing crimes? Obviously, not so reliably that society
can dispense with the police, with courts, and with other deterrents. But insofar as education can deter people, it seems entirely
reasonable to trust in humbitionalong with honesty and love and
courage. Raising children on these virtues and teaching pupils the
habit of self-criticism, high standards of honesty, and fellow feeling
for other human beings would make for a better society than does
the traditional emphasis on guilt feelings.
Moreover, in line with a point made before, one cannot neatly
divide education between the moral and nonmoral spheres. Why do
most of us never kick dogs? For moral reasons or perhaps aesthetic
reasons? We could scarcely say why because we simply do not feel
tempted to do such a nasty thing. But our reason for not doing it
even when we are angry and feel like letting o steam is certainly
not that we are afraid of the pangs of remorse. On reection we can
say why: it would not t in with the habits we have developed. And
if we deliberately ask ourselves whether we should not cultivate this
new habit and take up kicking dogs, we can easily think of more
good reasons for not doing that than for doing it.
Even those who would like to rise above guilt may well wonder
whether they can. Perhaps the cases that involve some tangible
wrong are not the hardest cases; if you are persuaded by the arguments oered here, you know where self-criticism must commence
and what kinds of plans are needed. The most irrational guilt feelings are more intractable because it is not at all clear what requires
criticism. Some people need outside help to understand their feelings. Consider two representative types.
The rst is the case of the survivor. Martin Luther is said to have
gone into the monastery after a close friend was stabbed to death at
his side. It seems that after this experience his guilt feelings became
overpowering and he came to feel that he no longer had a right to
his own life. This case may seem to be very unusual, but it is merely
exceptionally dramatic; the basic syndrome is extremely common.
The death of a person who was close to one often prompts acute

Without Guilt and Justice


guilt feelings. The survivor fails to see how, if the other person died,
he deserves to live, and he feels that he doesnt.
In our time this experience is not conned to those who have
recently lost a loved one. Millions who survived World War II and
realize how many others did not, have guilt feelings. The intensity
of these feelings depends on ones sensitivity and on ones closeness
to those who died. Those who did not know anyone who died in
a concentration camp or in some battle or in a bomb raid may not
qualify as survivors in the relevant sense. In those who lost many
who were very close to them, guilt feelings are apt to be strong;
and if some of ones closest relatives or friends died under dreadful
circumstances under ones eyes, the sense of guilt is likely to be
Is it any help to be told that the inference that one deserves to
die or, failing that, to suer terribly, is invalid? Is it any help to be
told that the notion of desert is quite confused? In most cases it
probably does not help much to be told that once. But it would be
stupid to go to the opposite extreme and claim that arguments and
books never helped anyone. When one is in a receptive frame of
mind because prior beliefs have been shaken up or, in the present
case, because one really would like to shed ones guilt feelings, a
book can help.
The arguments must be thought through, digested, lived with.
They must lead to a re-examination of ones life and ones place in
the world. Obviously, we did not deserve a better fate than millions
who died horribly. Nor can we hope to earn the right to our survival
after the event. Desert is out of the picture. The world is capricious
and cruel, and some of the most admirable human beings suer
hideously while many of the most unconscionable ourish. The
question facing us is what we can do with the incubus within us
that keeps burrowing into the past and gnawing at our vitals. A
liberated human being redirects his thoughts and energies toward
the future, toward a worthy projectnot just any project, not mere
therapy. A merely therapeutic project would make a mockery of our
survival, as if what mattered now were merely easing our pain and
being comfortable. Humbition aims higher and asks to what extent
our own particular experience might be turned to advantage.


Against Guilt

Confronted with the blatant cruelty of the world, it is dicult

not to resent the world and ones own complicity. To rage against the
universe is madness, though most of those who have not experienced
this madness again and again lack depth. To submit is unworthy.
Autonomy does not bow in defeat; it asks how the experience that
breeds guilt feelings in others might give us the power to do for
humanity what, but for this experience, neither we nor anyone might
have accomplished. Thus survivors have expanded the conscience
of their fellow men by writing The First Circle, Cancer Ward, The
Painted Bird, and Night.
The second, equally representative case illustrates the same
themes. I shall call it the case of the beautiful garden. Suppose you
were oered a chance to live in a lovely place, in the middle of a large
garden, with a view of lakes and mountains. You had no chores to
do; the company was splendid, the food excellent, and whenever you
felt like it you could take walks or swim. If you had some project and
wanted to write, that, too, could be easily arranged. Considering
the condition of most of your fellow men, should you poison this
paradise with guilt feelings? It is the thrust of my whole argument
that you should not, but that you would be lacking in humanity
and love if you considered the situation quite unproblematic. I am
against the good conscience and the bad, but not against having a
social conscience.
This case may look unrepresentative, but actually most professors and students, as well as legions of other writers and readers, live,
at least guratively speaking, in a beautiful garden. They live in a
protected environment that shuts out the misery in which so many
millions suer. For anyone in the garden to feel that he deserved
his good fortune would be really insuerable. To torment oneself
with self-reproaches or to make life in the garden disagreeable for
the other guests because nobody deserved to be so well o, would
be stupid and help no one. What course remains? The case is very
similar to that of the survivor. It is a common mistake to think
of either case as somehow quite exceptional. Every one of us is a
survivor, and most writers and readers have always dwelt in gardens.
Desert is a confused notion, and the world is cruel and capricious.
The question facing us is what we are to do with the opportunities

Without Guilt and Justice


that come our way.

One answer is: Refuse them because they are not oered to
everyone. Show your solidarity with your fellow men by not entering the garden; or, if you are inside, leave. This answer makes
sense, unless you could help your fellow men more by using the
opportunities oered you. If you could, but leave nevertheless to
soothe your conscience, you are weak and place your peace of mind
above the welfare of your fellow men.
The best solution is to nd a project that will benet humanity,
in line with your limited talents, and to make the most of your
situation. If you can acquire or teach skills and knowledge in the
garden or write books that may help others more than what you
could accomplish outside, stay without remorse; and when you no
longer can, leave without remorse.
That sounds very simple, yet I argued earlier that it is impossible
to satisfy all claims. There is no just distribution of concerns, of
energies, of time. Looking back over a year or more, we can never
honestly say that we have done the best we could. Is there not
ample reason, then, for self-reproach? For self- criticism, yes; for
self-reproach, no.
Whoever wants to accomplish something has to put on blinders,
must refrain from running o in all directions, must be hard. He
has to slight legitimate concerns.
It does not follow that he must deceive himself. On the contrary,
the autonomous person does not become the slave of a project. He
asks himself now and again whether his distribution of his time
and energies is reasonable, given his standards, and whether these
standards themselves stand up under scrutinyor whether he is a
hypocrite. He wonders whether he might not have done this and
whether he was responsible for that, but eventually puts aside these
worries as best he can to get on with something more fruitful that,
if all goes well, may benet humanity more than continued selfexamination. But when he falls asleep, the blinders drop.
It is in dreams that guilt feelings, if one was ever raised on them,
survive the longest. Even the person who succeeds in putting an end
to continued self-torment is quite apt to continue, at the very least
for a while, to punish himself in his dreams. He may know that he


Against Guilt

does not really have suering coming to him; but when he falls
asleep, he forgets.
Some apologists for guilt will grasp at dreams and treat them
as authoritieswhen they can be used in support of guilt. But this
involves a double standard. Sophocles Jocasta told Oedipus that
in his dreams many a man has lain with his own mother, and Plato,
too, said that in dreams the part of the soul that is not rational does
not shrink from attempting to lie with a mother or with anyone else,
man, god, or brute. It is ready for any foul deed of blood, and
falls short of no extreme of folly If it is the irrational elements in
us that nd expression in such wish-fullment dreams, why should
we hesitate to consider our self-punishment dreams irrational, too?
Only reason can decide what is irrational; and I have tried to show
that guilt feelings are irrational.
None of this implies that we should ignore our dreams or that
all dreams are equally irrational. A person may repress guilt feelings
simply because they are painful, and he may persuade himself that
he was not at fault when in fact he was. In his dreams he may punish
himself for faults that, when awake, he would deny. He must still
ask his reason to help him decide to what extent he was responsible
and, more important, what it would be best for him to do now.
To charge a person with guilt is to judge that he deserves to be
punished. To tell him that he has made a mistake, or even that he
has grievously wronged another human being, does not imply that
he deserves to be punished. Nevertheless I have argued that we need
to retain the institution of punishment for future-oriented reasons.
To live together, people have to prohibit some kinds of conduct,
and prohibitions without penalties are ineective in the face of
temptation. If we always waived all penalties, the law would cease to
deter men, and the kind of conduct that we sought to prevent would
ourish. Hence we punish oenders, but we should not insist that
they deserve their punishment. Some of them may well be morally
superior to the prosecutor, the judge, and the prison guards. But
arent the prisoners, or at any rate most of them, guilty, while the
prosecutor, judge, and guards are innocent? This is the kind of

Without Guilt and Justice


Manichaean simplicity that I have tried to transcend.

If desert and guilt are out of the picture, does it not follow that
we might as soon punish the innocent as the guilty whenever that
would seem to promote the good of society? Or rather, since I have
rejected guilt and innocence: might we not punish those who
have not broken a law and claim falsely that they did? Since honesty
is one of my four cardinal virtues, I obviously should not do that.
Nor do I believe that such dishonesty would promote the good of
society. (I shall return to this point in the last two chapters.) If we
admitted honestly that we were punishing for a breach of the law a
person who in fact had not broken it at all, we would undermine
the law by making clear that one might as well break it because one
stands to be punished either way.
Thus we can dispense with the concept of guilt even in court.
Instead of asking for a plea of guilty or not guilty, we should ask the
accused whether he admits having broken the law. To ask Antigone,
Thoreau, Gandhi, or King whether they admit their guilt involves
an absurd presumption. Nor is it up to a jury or judge to pronounce
anyone guilty, as if the accused deserved punishment.
Similarly, the person who feels guilty feels that he deserves to
suer, while those who are convinced that they have done wrong
do not necessarily feel that they deserve any punishment. Guilt
feelings themselves are a form of self-torment; but usually the selfpunishment does not stop with guilt feelings. Often they are more
diuse than indicated so farrather like a depression. Once you
feel depressed, you think of things that are depressing, but you do
not think of all the reasons for feeling depressed. Frequently, the
main reason that brought on your depression in the rst place does
not rise to consciousness. As long as it does not, you are trapped in
your melancholy. It is similar when you feel guilty. You dwell on
things that might warrant your guilt feelings but often do not come
to grips with the primary cause. In fact, many a depression may well
be a form of guilt feelings, a way of punishing oneself.
It would be wrong, however, to think of guilt feelings as mainly
very private. Nor is it sucient to stress how dangerous they are for
those who live close by. There is also a politics of guilt. A detailed
description would lead us too far aeld, but a few observations and


Against Guilt

three illustrations may at least suggest its dimensions.

In the 1960s it became the fashion for radicals to taunt liberals
for their guilt feelings, but a great many radicals suer from the same
aiction, and radical politics has been the worse for that. Too often
it has been dictated by the need to assuage ones guilt feelings instead
of being future-oriented and goal- directed. But bearing witness
is not even an eective therapy; it is merely a palliative that oers
temporary relief and becomes addictive. More important, politics
of this sort is frequently counterproductive; so far from bringing
society closer to ones avowed aims, it is as irrational as the sense of
guilt that prompted it and plays into the hands of the opposition.
In the last volume of her autobiography, Simone de Beauvoir
describes the demonstrations in the streets of Paris in which she
and Sartre participated frequently to protest the Algerian war. A
woman vomits. Someone else comments: Shes always like that. I
asked why she didnt stay at home. Ah! Then she gets such a bad
conscience about it, it makes her even sicker than being scared does.
Of course, participation in demonstrations was not prompted solely
by the need to assuage guilt feelings. In her epilogue the author
says: This relatively monastic life does deprive me of a certain
warmthwhich I was able to re-experience with such joy [I] during
the demonstrations of the past few years. I am afraid that most such
demonstrations are motivated primarily by guilt feelings and a need
for communityor in one word, therapy. It would be a coincidence
if this politics of guilt worked against shrewd politicians; as a rule it
does not.
De Beauvoir also describes at length how during those years
Sartres self-destructive fury brought him very close to death, and
she relates how Frantz Fanon, one of the most inuential radicals of
our time, was not even content to make Sartre feel guilty: Fanon
could not forget that Sartre was French, and he blamed him for not
having expiated that crime suciently. It should be kept in mind
that not a voice in France was more persistent or more eloquent
in its indictment of French policy than was that of Sartre, who
also got Fanons book The Wretched of the Earth published and
contributed a long preface. But Fanon would demand expiation
by martyrdom! There is no need here to analyze Fanons guilt

Without Guilt and Justice


feelings. Suce it that this story shows how irrational and dangerous
people with strong guilt feelings can be.
Finally, consider the double-think into which her guilt feelings
led Simone de Beauvoir herself. She describes her vivid sense that
all those people in the streets were all murderers, all guilty.
Myself as well. Im French. For millions of men and women,
old men and children, I was just one of the people who were
torturing them, burning them, machine-gunning them, slashing
their throats, starving them; I deserved their hatred.
As if this were not irrational enough, the author says later, speaking
of the U.S.S.R.: The sons were covertly blaming their fathers for
having supported Stalinism; what would they have done in their
They had to live; they lived. In other words, those who supported Stalinism should not be blamed for that; but those Frenchmen who, like the author herself and Sartre, spoke out boldly against
the French government were all guilty. To understand this double
standard, which is in evidence throughout her otherwise brilliant
book, one must not only recall Sartres pronouncement that Russia
is not comparable to other countries, but one must also understand
why de Beauvoir and Sartre felt that way. Their attitude toward
the U.S.S.R. is incomprehensible apart from their sense of guilt for
being so well o. For years they kept trying to believe, although
their critical reason occasionally made this rather dicult for them,
that the Soviet Union, even during Stalins terror, was the best friend
of the workers and the dispossessed and starving. Any word that
might possibly give aid or comfort to the enemies of Russia would
therefore involve a betrayal of the poor, and it was only by at least
avoiding treason of this sort that they could barely manage to live
with their guilt.
These reections on the politics of guilt should call attention
to some of the social implications of the problem. De Beauvoir
provides us with a helpful distance, a brilliantly presented record of
events, and exceptional moral sensitivity. My criticisms should not
obscure my admiration for her book.


Against Guilt

The apologists of guilt often repulse all criticism with the old
ploy of the theologians: the loaded alternative, alias Manichaeism.
We used to be told that we had to choose between Christianity and
crude materialism. Now those who defend guilt are wont to claim
that the alternative is to have no concern for our fellow men and no
compunction about rape or murder. They think that if you have no
sense of guilt you are a psychopath.
Admittedly, there are some people whose social conscience depends on resentment and is ultimately rooted in self-hatred. When
they make progress with their analyst and manage to have a satisfying sexual relationship, their political activism ebbs away. People
of this type are rather like the earnest students of a decade or two
earlier who used to say that a person who does not believe in God (or
hell) simply has no reason for not committing rape or murder. They
were deeply troubled and afraid of what they themselves might do if
they ever lost their faith. Millions have discovered that one can care
for ones fellow men and refrain from monstrous crimes without
belief in hell or God. Surely, self-criticism and a social conscience
can survive the death of guilt.
Finally, it may be objected that only excessive guilt feelings
are a menace, and that the same is true of a complete lack of such
feelings, and that we really need a moderate dosage. A middling
amount is admittedly less harmful than a heavy dose, but a study of
the latter shows more clearly how the poison works. My position
does not depend on advocating a good conscience in place of the
bad conscience, nor a lack of conscience. The good eects that are
claimed for guilt feelings can be had without this poison. To liberate
oneself, one must break the chains of guilt.

The Need for Alienation

morality without guilt does not mean morality without
pain. Autonomy precludes guilt feelings, but it involves a sense of
Alienation is a word that has been used to designate so many
dierent conditions that nobody could argue that we need them all.
One might suppose that nobody could be against all of them either.
Yet the seminal books about the subject have such a Manichaean
avor that it has become a commonplace that all forms of alienation
are deplorable.
Unquestionably, some of the phenomena for which the term
has been used are pathological, notably alienation in the psychiatric
sense: a state of severe depression in which one nds no meaning in
any activity and lacks the energy to relate to anybody or anything.
That we do not need, and it is well to remember that alienation
has long been a psychiatric term, and psychiatrists actually used to
be called alienists. But my claim that we need alienation does not
depend on a marginal use of the term. What I mean is the condition
of feeling estrangedabove all, from ones fellow men, but also from
the universe, and from oneself. I shall argue that alienation is the
price of self-consciousness, autonomy, and integrity.
This thesis has the air of paradox because a false view of alienation has come to be widely accepted. As I defend my thesis, I shall


The Need for Alienation

attack three popular errors:

1. That all alienation is bad.
2. That alienation is a distinctively modern phenomenon.
3. That alienation is a function of capitalism, or at least of advanced industrial society.
Occasionally it is admitted that some alienation can be found in
the past, too; but then one usually adds that alienation today is far
worse and almost total.
Many people who take for granted the rst error, or the rst
twopossibly with the qualication just mentionedwould stop
short of the third, but I shall attack all three.
How did these errors come to be accepted so widely? All three
go back to the early manuscripts of Karl Marx, but won wide acceptance, along with the term itself, only during the cold warand
even then not in the Soviet Union or in China. In other words, what
is widely accepted as dogma or common sense today was anything
but a commonplace during the rst half of the twentieth century.
There is no need here to trace at length the development from
Marx to the present; but to place my critique in some historical
perspective I shall at least distinguish three stages in the evolution
of alienation. Although the term can be found in the works of a
few earlier writers, its startling career begins with Hegel. A whole
chapter, one hundred nineteen pages long, in his rst book (1807)
bore the title Spirit alienated from itself: education. But he did
not commit the three errors, and Hegel scholars so consistently
ignored his profuse employment of the term that it was not even
listed in a four-volume Hegel-Lexikon, published in the 1930s.
The second stage is represented by Marxs early Philosophical
Manuscripts of 1844, in which alienation is crucial. Here we nd
the three errors, but these papers were published only in 1932, a
year before Hitler came to power and put an end to the study of
Marx in Germany.
The third stage was reached when a few refugees from Nazism,
who sought a meeting ground for Marxism and existentialism, found

Without Guilt and Justice


it in the concept of alienation. Herbert Marcuse had dedicated

his rst book to Martin Heidegger, under whom he had studied;
Hannah Arendt had studied with both of the leading German existentialists, Heidegger as well as Jaspers; Georg Lukacs had been
inuenced decisively by Kierkegaard; and in time all of them discovered that Marxs philosophy, like much of existentialist thinking,
represents a protest against mans alienation. That is how Erich
Fromm put the point in his introductory essay, when some of Marxs
early manuscripts were nally published in the United States in
1961under Fromms name! At that time an American publisher
could still be persuaded that a new book by Fromm would have
more appeal than the rst publication in English of some of Marxs
most important writings. It was also in Marxs Concept of Man that
Fromm explained that the concept of alienation is the equivalent
of what in theistic language would be called sin. In other words,
all alienation is bad. Along with a few other refugees from Nazism,
the writers mentioned here propagated all three of the errors that I
want to criticize.
A brief analysis of the concept should help to dispel some confusions. Although such phrases as inalienable rights and alienation
of aection may remind us that one can alienate something or somebody, our primary association with alienation is a human state of
beingthe state of being alienated or estranged from somebody or
something. It is in this sense that alienation has become a modish
word, and it is only in this sense that it will be discussed here.
It follows that alienation always involves two terms, and it is
always proper to ask who (A) is supposed to be alienated from what
(B). Unless both terms can be specied, alienation has been misused. As a rule, A is specied; but a great deal of confusion results
from the failure to specify B. It could be an individual, a group, other
people in general, the society in which one lives, oneself or ones
true self, nature, or the universe. The young Marx stressed alienation from ones work, from the product of ones labor, and from
mans true nature or essence a concept that was central in his thought
in 1844. He also applied the term to mans loss of independence,


The Need for Alienation

his impoverishment, and his estrangement from his fellow men;

but above all to mans condemnation to labor that is devoid of all
originality, spontaneity, and creativity. The last point was much the
most important to his mind. Creativity was for him of the essence
of man, and he considered mans alienation from that the root evil
from which all the other evils were derived. The original sin was the
dehumanization of man.
I have no quarrel with Marxs abhorrence of this dehumanization. If only he had stuck to that namedehumanizationinstead
of paying homage to Hegels terminology and making so much of
Entusserung and Entfremdung or, in one word, alienation! Actually, by 1848, in The Communist Manifesto, Marx himself denounced
talk of alienation as philosophical nonsense, and after that he
rarely used the term.
Marx had scathing words for those whose critique of capitalism
was based on an appeal to distributive justice. Marxs concern was,
in eect, with the self-realization of man or, in a sense, with freedom
and autonomy. He hated capitalism because it reduced the growing
laboring class to a condition that made a mockery of self-realization,
freedom, and autonomy. He was still suciently under the inuence
of the Old Testament and Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel to feel that
man was somehow destined to be autonomous and freethat this
was mans true nature, and that the reduction of men to mindless
instruments involved the alienation of man from his essence.
It is ironical that Marxs early manuscripts should have been
used to build a bridge between Marxism and existentialism, considering that Sartre dened existentialism in terms of its denial of the
claim that man has an essence. Yet the young Marx and the young
Sartre were not really diametrically opposed.
The early Sartre insisted that man lacked the solidity of things
and was condemned to be free. Sartre tried to show how men continually succumb to bad faith, hiding their frightening freedom from
themselves and seeing themselves as if they were mere thingsas if,
for example, one were a waiter or a coward the way a ball is red or
round, and there was nothing one could do about it. Sartres extravagant emphasis on mans complete freedom was a bracing challenge
to his early readers, but it was at odds not only with Marxism but

Without Guilt and Justice


also with the facts of life. His growing awareness of the hollowness
of some of his rhetoric and of the ways in which the starving and
oppressed are not completely freehis social conscience, in short
led him to reconsider; and we have seen how his guilt feelings led
him to seek a rapprochement with Marxism. But even his early
existentialism could have been formulated in terms of a concept of
human nature. He might have said, and so might Marx: By nature,
man is free; yet everywhere he is in chains.
The young Marx and the early Sartre: two variations on Rousseau?
Sartre much less so than Marx. For the early Sartre did not blame
society, as Rousseau and the young Marx did; he blamed man himself, whose nature it is not only to be free but also to conceal his
freedom from himself and to lapse into bad faith.
The main dierence between the young Marx and the early
Sartre is that Sartre concentrated on the psychological processes
that lead men to see themselves as objects, as things, as unfree, while
Marx decided to study the economic processes that lead to the same
result. Marx saw the unfree as victims, while the early Sartre insisted
that we are our own victims.
This dierence runs deep. While the rhetoric of Sartres early
existentialism was too optimistic insofar as it exaggerated mans
freedom, the underlying view of man was more tragic. No revolution or reform could make men free; men dread freedom and try to
hide their freedom from themselves. Unfortunately, Sartre inherited from the two famous German philosophers who had been his
mentors, Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, a bias against psychology, and he felt free to pursue psychology only under the guise
of ontologythe pseudoscience of being. Marx, a century earlier,
did not do psychology at all and, like Kant and Hegel, worked with
unexamined assumptions about human nature. Partly as a result of
this dual heritage from Marxism and existentialism, much of the
literature on alienation has an oddly unscientic and unempirical
quality. But Marxs peculiar use of the word alienation has had
two more specic consequences that are most unfortunate.
First, in the seminal books by the authors mentioned above,
alienation from oneself, which is an intricate and dicult subject,
is constantly confounded with other forms of alienation, and as a


The Need for Alienation

result, neither alienation from oneself nor alienation from others

is understood very well. I have chosen a dierent path and have
discussed mans dread of freedom separately, analyzing ten strategies
of decidophobia, and now I shall consider phenomena that are more
properly called forms of alienation.
The second point is no less important. An apologist for Marx
might say: In societies past and present people have been led to
believe that they were puppets at the mercy of mysterious forces, and
Marx aimed to show that we are not puppets and that these forces
are actually produced by man. Obviously, my quarrel is not with
this idea. I applaud Marxs central concern with human autonomy.
What I attack is his fateful misuse of the concept of alienation.
By using alienation to designate the condition in which man is
deprived of autonomy, Marx kept himself (as well as those who
followed his lead) from seeing how alienation from others is the
price of autonomy. But it is high time to show that it really is.
We must ask not only from whom or what someone is supposed
to be alienated but also what would constitute the absence of this
alienation. What would a nonalienated person be like? If he found
no group of people, nothing about the society in which he lived
or about the universe, at all strange, one could scarcely call him a
person. Or if one did, one would have to add that his state was
pathological and bordered on idiocy.
Self-consciousness involves a sense of what is alien. Yet people
do not speak of alienation when a child begins to ask questions, for it
is clearly the child who does not ask questions that one has to worry
about. As long as it is assumed that all alienation is bad, one naturally
would not think of applying the term to the pleasing curiosity of a
child. But adolescence is our second childhood, and when students
start asking questions about the societies in which they live or about
the world, it is often said that they are alienated. A healthy child
ought not to be satised with the reply that this is simply the way
things are. Why should a healthy adolescent be satised with such
an answer? Again, it is those who are easily satised that we should
worry about, and it is grounds for melancholy that most people

Without Guilt and Justice


cease so soon to nd the world strange and questionable.

There are two reasons for calling the adolescent who nds things
exceedingly strange, alienatedbut not the child. First, one welcomes the questions of the three-year old because he is easier to
handle, and one reserves a term that carries overtones of regret and
disapproval for adolescents because one does not know what to do
with their questions and their often caustic retorts. But then there is
also another dierence; in purely descriptive terms, the adolescent
experience involves a deep and disturbing sense of estrangement,
while the childs usually does not.
We can now round out our analysis of alienation by specifying
the relationship between A and B. I have given some reasons for
rejecting the use of alienation as an antonym of autonomy or
self- realization. We should use alienation and estrangement as
antonyms of feeling at home in or with B. The emotions accompanying this experience can vary greatly; sometimes resentment will
predominate, sometimes despair, a sense of isolation, pain, deance,
calm curiosity, or a sense of comedy.
Alienation in the sense considered here is part of growing up.
Self-consciousness cannot develop without it. Not only is the world
other (to that extent, alienation is entailed logically by the development of self-consciousness), but the world is also extremely strange
and cruel. Hence, as perception increases, any sensitive person will
feel a deep sense of estrangement. Seeing how society is riddled
with dishonesty, stupidity, and brutality, he will feel estranged from
society, and seeing how most of ones fellow men are not deeply
troubled by all this, he will feel estranged from them. Nor are these
the only reasons for estrangement from ones fellow men. After all,
most of them are a rather sorry lot, and if we nd ourselves unsatisfactory as well, thatgiven some humbitionwill not reconcile us
to our fellow men but add a sense of alienation from ourselves to
our plight.
The notion that those who are liberated from self-alienation in
the Marxian sense will no longer suer from any alienation is false.
On the contrary, those whose self-consciousness and sensitivity
are most fully developed are bound to be most deeply troubled by
the world, society, their fellow men, and their own shortcomings.


The Need for Alienation

Where those who shut their eyes and lull their minds to sleep, as
well as those reduced to brutishness in one way or another, nd
it possible to feel at home, the autonomous spirit who insists on
keeping his eyes open to examine critically his own position and
alternatives nds it impossible to feel at home.
If my conception of alienation is accepted, the three theses I have
criticized are obviously wrong. Hence it may seem that I must have
missed what all the talk about alienation is really about. It would be
distracting to survey the vast literature on the subject, but in a book
that makes so much of the importance of examining alternatives it
would be odd if this discussion of alienation ignored the writings
of the young Marx altogether. I shall therefore consider briey
two particularly inuential passages from his writings before The
Communist Manifesto. Neither of these passages was published by
Marx himself, and the point is not to score against him but rather to
understand why some people have been led to believe in the third
error. In a study of Marx one might go on to explore how in his
later work he varied some of his early themes without speaking of
alienation. In the present context, however, Marx concerns us
only insofar as his ideas have colored contemporary notions about
Consider Marxs famous dream in The German Ideology:
As soon as the division of labor sets in, everybody has a determinate and exclusive sphere of activity that is imposed on him
and from which he cannot escape. He is hunter, sherman, or
shepherd, or critical critic, and must remain that if he does not
want to lose his livelihoodwhile in Communist society
society regulates general production and thus makes it possible for me to do this today and that tomorrow, to hunt in the
morning, to sh in the afternoon, to rear cattle in the evening,
and to criticize after dinner, as I please, without ever becoming
hunter, sherman, shepherd, or critic. This xation of social
activity, this consolidation of our own product into an objective
power over us that outgrows our control, crosses our expecta-

Without Guilt and Justice


tions, and nullies our calculations, is one of the main features

in the development of history so far
What is here said vividly and memorably has inuenced many
subsequent discussions of alienation, although the term itself does
not occur in this passage. Where alienation is understood as the
antonym of self-realization, it is assumed that what Marx describes
here is the alienation of modern manhis loss of spontaneity and
his reduction to a mere instrumentand that what he envisages is
mans ultimate triumph over alienation in Communist society. My
main objection to all this is that it is an illicit and misleading use of
alienation. But what about Marxs dream?
This dream has not come true in any Communist society, while
it has been realized to a signicant extent in the United States, where
it is not at all unusual for one person to have a great many dierent
jobs before he is thirty. Millions of students support themselves in a
variety of ways during the academic year and then, during the summer, work in factories and freight yards, on construction jobs and in
oces, having one job one summer and another the next. Moreover,
it is not at all uncommon for people with all kinds of jobs to nd the
time to hunt or sh, and criticism is one of the most popular American sports, undoubtedly indulged in with greater frequency and less
inhibition than in any Communist country. While it is doubtful
whether many people manage to rear cattle in the evening, this
part of Marxs vision only shows how some city-dwellers imagine bucolic bliss. It might even be considered evidence of Marxs alienation
from nature.
Of course, this criticism will not faze anyone for whom the
manuscripts of Marx are holy writ. After all, it is the rst axiom
of exegetical thinking (discussed in chapter 1, section 6) that if an
authoritative text seems to be wrong, the exegesis must be inadequate, never the text. If the apologist is also a Manichaean, he will
discredit uncomfortable arguments as coming from the forces of
evil (see section 7) and say that I am waving the American ag.
To be sure, Marxs central concern was not with hunting or
shing; it was with the dehumanizing eects of the division of labor
in advanced industrial society, and the restoration of spontaneity in


The Need for Alienation

Communist society. In the former, man is trapped in, and reduced

to, one sole function; in the latter, man enjoys autonomy. This is
Marxs version of the third great error.
If one wants to know whether this is really an error or whether
Marx was right, one must look at the facts and see whether conditions in the United States, for example, bear him out.
As it happens, American society has many grievous faults, but
the point at issue is one of its strengths. One of the most extreme
examples of a society in which people are trapped in a job that is
imposed upon them from outside is the preindustrial caste system of
India. To a far lesser extent, Frenchmen in small towns and villages
were at one time under enormous pressure to follow in their fathers
footsteps. Advanced industrial society has brought some loosening
of old structures. In the United States in particular, both lateral
and vertical social mobility are relatively great, although I wish they
were still greater.
In his Being and Nothingness, Sartre described a waiter who
played at being a waiter in order to become wholly a waiter. Sartre
claimed that society takes oense when a grocer is not wholly a
grocer. Politeness demands that he limit himself to his function
That would be much less true in the United States than in France.
An American waiter is much less likely to feel that his role denes or
freezes him, or that it determines his relations with his fellow men.
Nor do Americans demand that he limit himself to his function.
He may well be a student, and if he is too old for that, there is no
presumption even so that he was a waiter a year ago, or that he will
be one next year. Those on whom he waits are apt to have waited
on table themselves, or to have children who at this very moment
have a similar job.
If we amalgamate the bad eects of the division of labor with
altogether dierent experiences and call the lot alienation, we are
hardly prepared to ask the questions that need to be asked. Problems
must be sorted out before one can hope to solve them. Decidophobia, for example, has to be moved clearly into focus before one can
examine its major strategies. And in the present context, the practical questions that need to be faced are these.
First, can we eliminate boring jobs? The solution does not seem

Without Guilt and Justice


to depend on who owns the means of production. It depends on

technical developments that require a high degree of specialization;
particularly, on the future of automation.
Second, can we drastically reduce the number of hours per
week that anyone has to spend on a boring job? Here some of the
capitalistic countries have made great progress.
Third, can we shift people around so that nobody has to do the
same boring job during all of his working hours? If one had to sh
eight hours every day, one might well nd that very trying. Could
rotation reduce boredom? I expect that the resistance to any such
change would come mainly from the unions and from those who
might benet from it. Those who hate routine are few. Most men
desire amazingly little variety; witness what they do with their spare
time. Any notion that most men, if only they had the time, would
use it to reread Aeschylus tragedies every year, in the original Greek,
as Marx did, is wildly romantic.
Fourth, can we change that by improving our educational system?
Marxs claim that in capitalistic society alienation must inevitably
become worse and worse depends not only on a far-fetched use
of the term but also on the inuence of Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach, in whose writings he had immersed himself before writing his
Philosophical Manuscripts.
Hegel had used necessary again and again as a synonym of
natural and an antonym of arbitrary or utterly capricious. Among
German writers this confusion is common, and Marxs thought
suers severely from it.
Feuerbach had shown how man projects his best qualities into
the deity until God becomes the quintessence of perfection and
man a hopelessly imperfect sinner. Man strips himself of all that is
good or strong in him to clothe God in goodness and strength, and
the greater he makes God, the smaller he makes himself.
Marx gave this idea a surprising application in his early manuscript
on Alienated Labor:


The Need for Alienation

The alienation of the worker in his object nds expression as

follows : The more the worker produces, the less is there for
him to consume; the more values he creates, the more he loses
value and dignity; the more his product is shaped, the more
misshapen the worker; the more civilized his object, the more
barbarous the worker; the more powerful the work is, the more
powerless becomes the worker; the more spirit there is in the
work, the more devoid of spirit and a slave of nature the worker.

It is worth noting that the nal clause is ungrammatical in the

original German, and that the whole paragraph is placed in parentheses, for it is often forgotten that these early manuscripts are rough
and unrevised drafts. Yet these ideas merit critical attention, for
they are expressed again and again in the same fragment and in the
other early manuscripts; and this is the birthplace of Marxs idea
that the condition of the workers is bound to become more and
more inhuman and intolerable until they revolt and, as Marx puts
it in the climactic passage of Das Kapital, the expropriators are
expropriated. Moreover, this passage on alienated labor has had
a profound inuence on the literature on alienation.
The passage is a ne example of Marxs early style, but the antitheses in which he liked to wallow are a kind of rhetoric and do not
approximate a demonstration. What Marx here describes as an inevitable development is not what has actually happened in advanced
industrial societies. Marxs view depends on the assumption that
the worker is divested of the qualities that appear in his product so
that its beauty, subtlety, and power leave him ugly, coarse, and weak.
But if we forget about Hegel and Feuerbach, no reasons remain for
considering this necessary.
Finally, if we call moronization alienation, instead of considering it as a phenomenon in its own right, we stand less chance
of preventing it. Serious critics do not label everything they like
groovy or divine; neither should serious writers be content to
call most of the social phenomena they deplore alienation.

Without Guilt and Justice


There is one other notion that has to be considered here lest it appear
that I have missed the real import of the current vogue of alienation.
The notion that things have never been worse than in our time looms
large in the literature on alienation. Protracted polemics are apt to
create the impression that they are prompted by some personal ill
feeling. As an illustration I shall therefore choose Martin Bubers I
and Thou, a book I have translated myself because I felt close to the
The immense popularity of this book during the second half of
the twentieth century is due in part to the fact that the second of its
three parts deals at length with alienation and suggests that ours is a
sick age. Less and less do men see one anotheror a work of art or
a treeas another You; more and more do they see their fellow men
and works of art and trees as so many objects of experience and use.
Half a century after the book was written, young readers consider
these pages prophetic because they describe so perfectly the world
in which we live. It does not occur to most of them that the world
in which it was written was like that, tooany more than it struck
Buber himself that he implicitly gloried a past that had not been as
dierent as he occasionally insinuated. He insisted that one cannot
live entirely in I-You relationships, but he still wrote as if in the past
there had been communities not tainted by sickness. Like others
who speak in this vein, he failed to substantiate or even investigate
this assumption.
Bubers book has a poetic quality that discourages analysis and
criticism. But the same methodological scandal taints much of the
literature on alienation. What we are witnessing is an understandable reaction against the blithe faith in progress that was in fashion
in the nineteenth century. But the new antifaith in the unique alienation of modern man is as unsound and simplistic as the old faith in
progress. The notion that things were never so good and are constantly getting better and the notion that things were never so bad
and are steadily getting worse are entirely worthy of each other.
The truth of the matter is that things are and always have been
terrible. And alienation has always been the price of autonomy.


The Need for Alienation

The transition from one simplistic proposition to its opposite illustrates Hegels dialectic. To rise above such unsophisticated claims,
we must inquire how what has become worse is related to what has
become better.
In brief, the sense of alienation has spread with the unprecedented expanse of education. To a large extent, this was inevitable.
If the world and the societies we live in are, and always have been,
abhorrent, brutal, and cruel, then it follows that the more one comes
to know about them, the less can one feel at home in them. With an
increase in self-consciousness and sensitivity, the sense of alienation
deepens. If relatively few people had any profound sense of alienation in times past, while millions feel estranged today, this is not
least because more people receive more education than formerly.
While even the best education must increase alienation, some
aspects of the modern sense of alienation are due to the faults of
modern education. Above all, education has bred utterly unrealistic
expectations, and this is not necessary and could, and ought to, be
changed. Not only have vast numbers of pupils been exposed after a
fashion to great art, great novels, and to the achievements of great
scientists, but pupils have also been encouraged to believe that they
can paint and write as well as anyone, or make brilliant experiments
and great discoveries. But men are not equal in talents, and this wellintentioned but misguided egalitarianism has resulted in the vast
growth of a sense of disappointment. Naturally, one rarely questions
the sacred dogma of egalitarianism, and instead of blaming oneself
for ones failures, one blames society or the establishment, and
feels alienated.
Modern education is also at fault in another way. Not only is it
false that everyone has the gifts to become a competent composer,
painter, novelist, or physicist, but the creative life is hard, and to
nd satisfaction in it requires an immense amount of self-discipline.
But self-discipline has been neglected in modern education. The
point is not that schools are not suciently disciplinarian. Most of
them are too disciplinarian in unnecessary, petty ways and thus bring
discipline into disrepute. What has not been stressed suciently is
functional self-discipline: the need to master skills and subjects that
one may not feel like learning but without which competence in

Without Guilt and Justice


ones chosen eld cannot be had; humbition, the habit of relentless

self-criticism, and perseverance.
Some forms of alienation could be avoided or at least diminished greatly by providing much less educationa cure that would
be worse than the disease. But other forms could be prevented
or diminished by changing our educational philosophy: by not
stimulating utterly unrealistic hopes; by teaching the self-discipline
required for sustained creative work; and by preparing students for
such jobs as actually are within their reach, while increasing their
reach at the same time. Finally, education should prepare people for
their rapidly increasing leisure time.
While this last point is of immense importance, one may wonder
what it has to do with alienation. One connection is fairly obvious:
those who nd genuine satisfaction in their leisure time are much less
apt to feel the disappointment and resentment that it has become
the fashion to call alienation. Creative use of ones leisure time,
however, should not be considered a mere opiate. I shall discuss
creativity at length in the last chapter. In connection with alienation
it will be quite sucient to consider for a moment the opposite of
creative use of leisure hours: collapsing in front of a television set
and watching or not even watchingwhatever fare is oered.
This is the ultimate in uncreative passivity. The viewer is oered
mainly predigested pap, in a predetermined sequence, at a speed
or rather lack of speedbeyond his poor control, and his autonomy
is reduced to switching channels.
Reading can be creative. I can reread a sentence or a passage; I
can go back to look once more at what has gone before; I can make
comparisons with other books, look up something, learn what I
need, and then resume when I am ready. Interruptions of this sort
are crucial elements in the rhythm that a scholar imposes on his
reading. They are outward signs of discipline and creativity. When
I read that way, I am autonomous.
The television watcher is at the mercy of his medium, and the
frequent interruptions come at moments that are not of his own
choosing. If he interrupts, or if he asserts himself by switching to


The Need for Alienation

nd out what other channels have to oer him, he develops undisciplined habits that in many cases interfere eventually with other
media. Thus people talk more than they used to during plays, movies,
and lectures, or drop in on lectures and walk out on themas if
autonomy consisted of a lack of discipline. Meanwhile, the commercials on TV have done their share to shorten the span of attention;
more and more people need an interruption every fteen minutes,
whatever the medium might be. If being turned o easily is taken
for a sign of alienation (the television metaphor is interesting), I
am far from claiming that we need that sort of alienation.
I have argued that many of the most popular uses of the term
are unfortunate. This becomes apparent when we ask, who is more
alienated: a writer in America who does not have a television set,
or those who spend much of their leisure time in front of theirs?
The nonconformist is alienated from society and cuts himself o
from the world in which most of his fellow men are dwelling. But
for those who operate with some conception of mans true nature
and assume that man is essentially creative, as the young Marx did,
it should be clear that those who spend their spare time watching
whatever fare is oered are self-alienated. Anyone who spent art
equal amount of time seeing lms of comparable quality, or listening
to lectures of such quality, might be said to be equally self-alienated.
But (1) few people, if any, spend as much time week after week
seeing lm after lm, or hearing lecture upon lecture, as watch TV.
(2) It is doubtful whether enough lms of comparable quality are
available to many people. (3) Going to a lm or lecture requires
at least some exertion and a longer span of attention, hence a little
more discipline. (4) Lectures usually come in sequences and require
some active and at least minimally creative attempt at integration
of dierent lectures and of a fair amount of reading. In practice,
therefore, TV is especially debilitating and a good example of what
certain writers might call alienation from oneself.These writers
also often claim, falsely, that alienation from oneself is the most
basic form of alienation from which all other forms are derived.
In fact, we have to choose between this kind of alienation
from oneself and alienation from society. Total alienation is
total nonsense. So is any dream of the total absence of alienation.

Without Guilt and Justice


The television addict and conformist are self-alienated; the writer

without TV and the nonconformist are estranged from society and
their fellow men. As the term is misused nowadays, our choice is
not between being or not being alienated; it is rather between ways
of life that involve dierent types of alienation.
In my terminology, self-alienation is the wrong label for the
television addicts and conformists who feel at home with themselves. I have proposed a more restricted and discriminating use of
alienation. When I say that alienation is the price of autonomy, I
mean above all alienation from ones fellow men and society, but
also a sense of estrangement from the universe and a critical attitude
toward oneself.
I have spoken of the methodological scandal that those who propagate the two great errorsthat alienation is a distinctively modern
phenomenon, and that it is a function of advanced industrial society
have failed to examine preindustrial societies to see whether their
contentions are born out by the evidence. I have insisted that things
are and always have been terrible, and that alienation has always
been the price of autonomy.
While my arguments seem to me to establish my case, it might
help if we paused to have a look at preindustrial society. Those who
believe that in such societies men are harmonious, happier, more
intimate with nature, and more humane, ought to come to grips
with the abundant evidence to the contrary, ranging from the Mayas
to the Aztecs to the Cretans in Nikos Kazantzakiss Zorba the Greek
and the Indian village in Khushwant Singhs Train to Pakistan.
In The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski has not only given us a
shattering picture of a peasant society but also one of the nest
symbols of alienation to be found in world literature. He tells of
a bird catcher who now and then amused himself by choosing the
strongest bird from his cages, painting it in rainbow hues, squeezing
it to make it twitter and attract a ock of its own species, and nally
setting it free. One by one, the drab birds would attack the painted
bird until it dropped to the ground, soaked in blood. The whole
novel develops this theme.


The Need for Alienation

It is a theme I have neglected so far. One important source of

alienation from ones fellow men is their reaction to the person who
has more self-consciousness and greater sensitivity than they. He
feels that he is unlike them, but they feel it, too, and it is often their
resentment that rst makes him. aware of the gulf.
The Painted Bird is the story of a child. But the autonomous
human being who chooses to make his own decisions instead of
bowing to authority or going along with the crowd alienates his
fellow men without ever having thought of doing that. In that way,
too, alienation is the price of sensitivity, self- consciousness, and
It would not be feasible in the present context to attempt studies
of various preindustrial societies. That cannot be done in a few
broad strokes. Instead I shall give a few striking individual examples
of great men who lived in preindustrial societies. At this point I
confront an embarrassment of riches. The following cases should
not only illustrate my thesis but also help to show how wrong the
three great errors are.
Plato is the rst great philosopher known to us by complete works
and not mere fragments. He is also widely considered the greatest
philosopher of all time. His Republic leaves no doubt about his
deep estrangement from Athenian society and from the politics and
morals of his time. He considered it hopeless to try to reform the
system. He argued that either the kings must become philosophers,
or the philosophers kings. Meanwhile he described a city that can
be found nowhere on earth . But it makes no dierence whether
it exists now or ever will come into being. Only the politics of this
city merits a philosophers attention. But for. good measure he
nevertheless included. in The Republic a scathing attack on Athenian
More than once, Plato cited approvingly an ancient play on
words, dear to the Orphic sect: the body (soma) is the souls tomb
(sema). This means that the soul is buried in the body, that life is a
long exile, and that being a self means being a stranger.
Further, Plato divided the soul into three parts and argued for

Without Guilt and Justice


their existence by calling attention to cases in which they are at odds

with each other and pull us in dierent directions. He knew the
experience of the divided self and felt at home neither in his body
nor with his appetites.
Platos Republic oers a path to salvation. He describes a society
in which the division of the self against itself could be overcome,
but he also argues that in the societies actually to be found in the
world such integration could scarcely be achieved. He considered
it a sign of Socrates greatness that he had brought o this nearly
impossible feat, but Plato also considered it typical that Athens had
responded by putting Socrates to death.
It is widely believed that before our own accursed time men were
closer to the earth, more intimate with nature, more at home in it.
Socrates and Plato, however, were not. In Platos Phaedrus, Socrates
says that he can be induced to leave the city and to walk out into
the country only if you dangle a book in front of him! And Plato
exhorted men to see their senses as deceivers and to regard nature
as unreal. We must turn our backs on nature and devote ourselves
to what the uninitiated take for abstractions: to mathematics and
to dialectic. Nature is things; art, imitations; and salvation lies in
thought. We must not try to feel at home in this world. We must
become convinced of its unreality and place our trust in another
world that lies beyond nature, beyond sense experience, beyond
time and change.
In sum, Plato was an exceptionally alienated man, and I am far
from claiming that anyone who wants to be autonomous has to be
alienated in all of these ways. Still, Plato illustrates the falsehood of
at least the second and the third great errors.
Heraclitus, the great pre-Socratic philosopher whose fragments
bring him to life for us as a full-edged individual, may serve as our
second illustration. His alienation from his fellow citizens found
superlative expression in an outburst that brings to mind the adage
of the 1960s about not trusting anyone over thirty: The Ephesians
would do well to hang themselves, every adult man, and leave their
city to adolescents, since they expelled Hermodorus, the worthiest
man among them Nor has anyone ever found a better formulation for what really merits the name of self-alienation than did


The Need for Alienation

Heraclitus: I sought myself. That is surely the theme of all of Hermann Hesses major novels, which are so dear to those who feel that
they are alienated.
Plato and Aristotle remarked that philosophy begins in wonder
or perplexity. We could say just as well that it begins in alienation
namely, when our self, the world, and the society we live in become
strange to our minds and set us thinking.
Where a philosopher goes from that starting point, diers from
case to case. But one nal example is particularly pertinent to the
second and third errors: the Pythagoreans formed a sect and were,
like many of our own contemporaries, alienated together. During
the fth century, when Athens became a great power and produced
the Parthenon and the other buildings whose ruins we still see on
the Acropolisduring the whole age of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and
Euripidesthe Pythagoreans lived, withdrawn, in a commune in
southern Italy. Their admission of women to their society, their
practice of holding all property in common, and their contempt for
business inuenced Plato and are bound to seem modern to many
people today.
An altogether dierent approach also suggests that the great
philosophers were deeply alienated men. Who have been the greatest philosophers since the Middle Ages? There is a surprising consensus about the answer: Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz; Hobbes and
Hume; Pascal and Rousseau; Kant and Hegel; Bentham, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche; and in our time, Russell and Sartre. One
might add a few names to this list, but these fourteen philosophers
are certainly among the most interesting and inuential.
Descartes lost his mother when he was one year old; Spinoza
was six when his mother died, and Leibniz six when his father died.
Nothing seems to be known about Hobbess mother, but his father
abandoned him when he was quite small, and he was brought up by
an uncle. (He wrote his major works during a twelve-year exile from
England.) Humes father died when he was three; Pascals mother
when he was three. Rousseaus mother died soon after his birth,
and when he was ten his father left him. Kant and Hegel lost their
mothers at thirteen; Bentham lost his at eleven. Schopenhauer was
seventeen when his father committed suicide after having shown

Without Guilt and Justice


for some time symptoms of mental alienation.: Nietzsche was four

when he lost his father. Russells mother died when he was two, his
father two years later. And Sartre lost his father at two.
Rilkes words, in his rst Elegy, we are not very reliably at home
in the interpreted world, have been taken for a formulation of a
distinctively modern malaise. My data create a very strong presumption that this feeling was shared by the major philosophers, at least
since Descartes. In most cases, their works show this at a glance;
but Spinoza, Leibniz, and Hegel may look like exceptions. Closer
study of Hegel, however, shows that what he sought, and eventually
found, in philosophy was a triumph over an almost unbearable sense
of alienation. Indeed, he bequeathed this term to us precisely in this
context. I suspect that the cases of Leibniz and Spinoza may have
been essentially similar.
Among the great writers and poets of the past, there were so many
deeply alienated men that it would be easy to get sidetracked into
a prolonged discussion of a large number of cases. I shall content
myself with one ancient, one medieval, and one modern poet, all of
them of the rst rank, and two of them autonomous.
Goethe, already mentioned at the end of chapter 1 as a man
who resisted the ten strategies of decidophobia, is a model of autonomy. It is often overlooked that he paid the price of alienation. As
a young man, he expressed his alienation from society in his rst
novel, The Suerings of the Young Werther. He had Werther commit
suicideand all over Europe large numbers of young people committed suicide with a copy of the book clutched in their hands or
buried in a pocket. Goetz, the hero of Goethes storm-and-stress
play, uttered the most celebrated obscenity in German literature,
showing the poets contempt for convention. Both works became
instant successes and made the young rebel the hero of the younger
generation. At that point, a lesser author would have tended to
imitate himself in an attempt to retain the favor of his public; but
not Goethe.
His best work of this period he held back because it did not
satisfy his own exacting standards. No other German had written


The Need for Alienation

anything of comparable quality; yet the so-called Urfaust, the version of Faust written in the 1770s, was not published until 1887.
But Goethe kept working at it, and in 1790, after he had published
plays that gave German literature an altogether new .and dierent
direction, he published Faust: A Fragment, including a revised version of parts of his earlier draft, along with a lot of new material.
Then he proceeded to altogether new experiments. He kept trying
new things, but almost everything he did was instantly acclaimed.
His deepest estrangement from his fellow men coincides with
the period when he is now widely held to have been a pillar of the
establishment. He had published Part One of Faust in 1808, with
an utter disregard for the very possibility of a performance on the
stage. While he was director of the theater at Weimar, a vast variety
of plays and operas were performed, but never Faust. Sixty years
after he had begun Faust, Goethe nished Part Two, a few months
before he died, in his eighties. He tied up the manuscript, sealed
it, and refused to divulge the conclusion even to old friends. He
had no wish to see the play performed; he did not want to have it
published until after he was dead; and he had no desire to share it
with anyone. Surely, that is an example of extreme alienation from
society and from ones fellow men.
I can be much briefer about the other two poets. The Middle
Ages are often viewed nostalgically as a time when all was harmony
and integration. There is no need here to dwell on the superstition
and the inhumanity of those centuries, as evidenced, for example,
in the persecution of Jews and heretics. Suce it that the greatest
poet of the age was a paradigm of alienation.
Dantes Vita Nuova is a case study of self-alienation in the proper
sense of that termof viewing oneself as a stranger. And his Divine
Comedy is the work of an exile, consumed by bitterness. He creates
a vast hell to people it with his fellow men, including members of
the establishment.
If alienation should be associated more with being artistically
out of touch with ones time, and what is meant is inaccessibility, this description also ts the Divine Comedyand Part Two
of Faustperfectly. Who among Dantes or Goethes contemporaries could possibly have fathomed these works? And how many

Without Guilt and Justice


people since their time?

Finally, there is Euripides, another paradigm of autonomya
man who spurned all ten strategies. In his case it is so palpable that
his alienation from his fellow Athenians was directly related to the
independence of his spirit that there is no need to labor the point.
In the end, he went into voluntary exile, and it was only after his
death that he became the most popular of the great tragic poets.
My last two illustrations come from literature. It might be argued
that a single negative case would refute my claim that alienation is
the price of autonomy; that Sophocles was autonomous (which I
would gladly grant, though many critics would not, as they consider
him more beholden to traditional religion than I do); and that
Sophocles was not alienated. In eect, I have shown in another book,
Tragedy and Philosophy, that he was alienated, but it would be quite
impossible to recapitulate the evidence in a few pages. Something
will be gained, however, by reecting briey on his most admired
tragedy, his Oedipus Tyrannus.
Oedipus, as conceived by Sophocles, keeps haunting mens
minds. We feel that in some sense he represents usbut not necessarily in the way Freud suggested. I submit that Oedipus is alienation
incarnate. His father was warned by the gods not to have children,
and Oedipus came into the world unwanted. Hence he was cast out
into hostile nature to perish. Saved by a shepherd, he was brought
up in Corinth, a stranger without realizing it. To avoid deling
nature and violating the most sacred harmonies of the universe, he
left Corinth to go into voluntary exile, but nevertheless committed
what the Greeksand not only the Greeksconsidered the most
unnatural acts, outraging nature and society.
In Thebes, of which he was a native, he assumed that he was an
alien. When he discovered who he was, what he had done, and how
he was not an alien at all, he asked to be thrown out of the city.
If one sought an epigraph for Sophocles tragedy, one could not
do better than quote Heraclitus: I sought myself. Oedipus is a
stranger to himself, and when he discovers who he is, he is lled
with loathing, destroys his eyes, and cries out that he wishes that he


The Need for Alienation

could destroy his hearing, too, cutting the last bonds to the world
and to his fellow men.
What explains the perennial fascination of this play? I do not
think it would have haunted men so much if alienation were in
fact only a modern phenomenon, restricted to advanced industrial
If there is another play that has exerted an equal fascination, it is
surely Hamlet. And if there is another hero who dominates a drama
totally with his pervasive sense of alienation, it is Hamlet. He displays almost every conceivable form of alienation. He views himself,
his fellow men, and the society in which he lives with loathing. And
generations of readers have identied with him; above all, young
people, writers, artists, and philosophers. For these groups have
always experienced what is nowadays called alienation. Why? Because alienation is the price of sensitivity, self-consciousness, and
freedom, and adolescence glories in these qualities, while among
the older generation these qualities are cultivated preeminently by
creative writers, artists, and philosophers. That these groups have no
monopoly on admiration for Hamlet and self-identication with
the heroor on alienationis grist for my mill. These historical
and literary examples should nally dispatch the three great errors
about alienation.
As a last resort, some people have claimed that what is distinctively modern is not so much the artists condition as it is the
attitude of the modern public toward art. It is said that modern
man no longer sees works of art as paintings or sculptures but rather
as commodities, investments, or status symbols. This generalization
is obviously false and irresponsible; it applies to a relatively small
class. But were things better in the past? Did not the pharaohs of
Egypt and the kings of Europe, the Renaissance patrons and popes,
and the wealthy citizens of northern Europe look on paintings and
sculptures as status symbols?
When we discover lamentable conditions in our own society,
we have no right whatever to assume that in Communist countries,
in the Third World, or in the past nothing equally deplorable could
possibly be found; that our country is the worst, and our time the

Without Guilt and Justice


nadir of humanity. So foolish is this attitude that it is dicult to

understand it until one realizes that it is a radical reaction to the no
less foolish faith that our country is the best and our age the high
point of humanity. To make informed comparisons requires some
historical perspective.
I have said that alienation is the price of autonomy. It could be said
as well that alienation can be fruitful. Some of my examples indicate
as much. I noted earlier that, a generation before Marx committed
the three errors, Hegel had entitled a long chapter Spirit alienated
from itself: education. That was a way of suggesting that alienation
is needful. But this idea was not original with Hegel.
In the Hebrew Bible, Moses challenged his people to become
alienated. Judaism lifted man out of nature and stressed the discontinuity between man and nature, man and animal. Man was
not to feel altogether at home in the world, and the Jews were not
supposed to be like all the nations. In theory, their sense of community might have compensated them for their alienation from
other nations. Reading the second part of Bubers I and Thou, one
might even be led to assume that this was what happened. But in
the Bible we nd no trace of that. What we do nd is a succession of imposing gures who not only keep telling their people that
they should be dierent, but who themselves are dierentand
thoroughly alienated from their own society. Moses, Elijah, Amos,
Hosea, and Jeremiah are outstanding examples. What might they
have replied, had anyone told them that they were enviable because
their society was healthy and not sick, like ours?
Sigmund Freud spoke out of this Biblical tradition when he
said at the outset of a brief autobiography:
The university, which I entered in 1873, brought me, to begin
with, several palpable disappointments. Above all, I was struck
by the presumption that I should feel inferior and not a member
of the Volk because I was a Jew. The former notion I rejected
quite decisively. I have never comprehended why I should be
ashamed of my descent or, as one was then beginning to say,


The Need for Alienation

my race. The membership in the Volk that was denied me I

renounced without much regret. But these rst impressions
of the university had one consequence that remained important
later on: early in life I became familiar with the lot of standing
alone among the opposition and being placed under a ban by
the compact majority. This laid the foundation for a certain
independence of judgment.
This is a perfect example of fruitful alienation. Here involuntary
alienationbeing cast in the role of an alienbecomes a steppingstone toward autonomy. But some people react quite dierently to
the very same experience; for example, those to whom we owe the
rst great error, that all alienation is bad.
Rather oddly, all of these writers had the experience Freud describes. For those who seized on Hegels term alienation and made
of it a cri de coeur and a word for all that was wrong with society
werevirtually all of themJews. First, Marx; then, a century later,
Georg Lukacs and Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm and Hannah
Arendt, to mention only the most inuential. All of them were
cast in the role of aliens, and the alienation thrust on them became
a source of suering for them. But they did not react like Freud.
Instead they came to feel that alienationall alienationwas bad
and perhaps nothing less than the root of all evil, and they began to
dream of some community in which there would be no alienation.
Martin Bubers Zionism was largely motivated by the same
dream of community. The ultimate goal was to cease being a stranger,
to overcome alienation.
It would not strengthen my analysis of alienation or my critique
of Marx and his heirs to go more deeply into the relationship of
these writers to Judaism and the question of whether being alienated
is not in some sense a central part of the tradition that begins with
Abraham and Moses. Yet it is so puzzling that Marx, taking the term
from Hegel, should have gone on to claim that all alienation is bad
that one is led to wonder how a brilliant man could have been so
My views on alienation do not depend in any way upon what
follows, and the discovery I shall present now actually came to me

Without Guilt and Justice


long after I had formulated my dierences with Marx. But it is

interesting enough to be included here.
It is common knowledge that Marx himself did not publish his
Philosophical Manuscripts. It is much less well known, and his
admirers usually do not make a point of the fact, that just before
he wrote these manuscripts he published a long review-article On
the Jewish Question in which he made ample use of the concept of
alienation. This article is the birthplace of the rst error and of the
current use of alienation for most of the ills that aict modern
When Marxs apologists mention this essay at all, they usually insist that it would be quite absurd to consider it antiSemitic. Fromm
is representative when he nds here no more than some critical
remarks on the Jews, which were made polemically in a brilliant
essay dealing with the problem of bourgeois emancipation. But
this characterization is easily as absurd and false as the claim that
Fromm repudiates, that Marx was the founder of Nazi and Soviet
anti-Semitism. Marx did not merely make some critical remarks
about the Jews in the course of an essay on another subject; both
of the essays that he was reviewing were about the Jews, and so was
his article, and the second part, roughly eight pages in length, is
one of the most astonishing documents in the history of Jewish
self-hatredand the place where Marx rst made extensive use of
There would be less need here to quote anything from these
unpleasant pages if one could simply refer to the two standard translations. But although both of them are thoroughly respectable, the
original sometimes is not. Thus Schacher, a thoroughly derogatory
word that is so frequently associated with Jews that good GermanEnglish dictionaries call attention to this fact, is turned into bargaining in one of the two English versions, while Eigennutz (selshness) becomes self-interest. What the reader of the English is thus
led to miss is the distressing fact that some of Marxs paragraphs do
bring to mind the Nazis leading anti-Semitic journal, Der Strmer.
But it is not only the language that oozes hatred and contempt;
Marx calls Jewish all that is most hateful to him in the modern
world. (I have rendered Schacher by jewing, which the Shorter Ox-


The Need for Alienation

ford English Dictionary calls colloquial and links with sense 2 of Jew:
Applied to a grasping: or extortionate usurer, or a trader who drives
a hard bargain or deals craftily.)
Let us not seek for the secret of the Jew in his religion; let
us rather seek for the secret of his religion in the actual Jew.
What is the secular foundation of Judaism? Practical urges,
What is the Jews secular cult? Jewing. What is his secular
god? Money.
Well then! Emancipation from jewing and from money
would be the self-emancipation of our age.
An organization of society that would eliminate the presuppositions of jewing and thus the possibility of jewing, would
have made the Jew impossible.
This, says Marx, would be a triumph over the highest practical
expression of human self-alienation.
Nothing in his budding view of history compelled Marx to
write like that. After all, this is a travesty of Judaism, and insofar as
the Jews were pushed into certain ways of making a living, it was
Christian society that had forbidden them to own land, bear arms,
or study at the universities. But Marx was so determined at that
point to blame all misfortunes on the Jews that he expatiated at
some length on the theme that The Jews have become emancipated
insofar as the Christians have become Jews. Insofar as Christians
are venal, selsh, and money-hungry, they have become Jews! And
that the proclamation of the gospel itself, that the Christian ministry
has become a commercial object proves the practical dominion of
Judaism over the Christian world.
Money is the jealous God of Israel before whom no other
god is tolerated. Money degrades all the gods of manand
changes them into commodities . Money is the essence of
mans labor and existence that has been alienated from man;
and this alienated essence lords it over him, and he worships it.

Without Guilt and Justice


The God of the Jews has secularized himself, has become

worldly, has become the god of the world. The checkbook is the
Jews actual God. His God is only an illusory checkbook .
What is abstractly present in the Jewish religionthe contempt for theory, for art, for history, for man as an end in
himselfthat is the actual, conscious position, the virtue, of
the money man.
Consider the last paragraph for a moment. One might have
thought that the notion of man as an end in himself came from the
Hebrew Bible. Where else do we encounter it earlier? As for history, Eduard Meyer, who was certainly not free from anti-Semitism,
but whose multivolume History of Antiquity remains one of the
monuments of German scholarship, said that historiography began
in Israel more than ve hundred years before Herodotus, who has
been called the father of written history. All modern conceptions
of history up to and including Marxs, and all modern conceptions
of man as an end in himself, are deeply indebted to Judaism.
Even if Marxs slanders of the Jews had had a basis in fact, he
might still have said: Look at what the world has done to the Jews,
and think of what, given their past, they might become in a dierent
environment! After all, humane people say something like that
about the blacks. Let anyone who is not struck by the extreme
irrationality and inhumanity of Marxs diatribe transpose it into an
attack On the Negro Question!
Intellectual fashions change almost as fast as fashion. By the late
1960s it seemed incredible that Marxs early manuscripts should have
rst appeared in the United States, in part, in 1961as a new book
by Erich Fromm, or that Fromm should have tried to make them
palatable by comparing them to existentialism, or that alienation
had been until then a mildly esoteric word. Now Marxs writings
even those that he himself did not see t to publishhave acquired
something of the aura of holy writ (while the Bible is losing it). And
the three errors about alienation have become dogmas of which
millions assume that they are surely common sense, as if everybody


The Need for Alienation

had always known that all alienation is bad, that it is specically

modern, and that it is linked to advanced industrial society.
For those who are autonomous there is no holy writ and there
are no dogmas. Every text and every claim are subject to criticism.
If widely accepted notions are found to be wrong, the autonomous
do not bow to them nevertheless, asking either how their exegesis is
at fault or how one could avoid an open break by having recourse to
a subtle reinterpretation. Instead, we should ask how what is wrong
has come to be believed.
The historical part of the answer can generally be substantiated
better than the psychological part, but some explanation is called for,
even if the authoritarian is almost certain to retort, falsely, that this
is a genetic fallacy, and that an attempt has been made to discredit
ideas by tracing them to unedifying origins. In fact, the refutation of
what is widely accepted should come rst. Only then should one ask
how anything that is so patently irrational ever came to be believed.
We have found, rst, that the obviously quite untenable idea
that all alienation is bad was originally presented by Karl Marx in an
extremely irrational diatribe against the Jews. His subsequent writings on alienation he himself did not publish, and in The Communist
Manifesto he actually denounced talk of alienation. Second, there
really is a connection between Judaism and alienation. In the Bible,
Abraham is called upon to leave his country and his kindred and
become an alien. Moses grows up in Egypt as an alien, leads his
people into the desert and tries to impress on them the importance
of respect and even love for the stranger in your midst and of
remembering that you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Samuel
feels outraged when his people want to be like all the nations. The
towering gures of the Hebrew Bible are men who are alienated
from their own society. In the Babylonian exile, faced with a condition in which other ancient peoples perished, the Jews refused
assimilation, remained aliens, and survived. Over six hundred years
later, after the second destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, they
again refused integration into the communities into which they
were dispersed; they made a virtue of their alienationas Freud
did in 1873. This alienation involved a great deal of suering, and
in various ways large numbers of Jews during the nineteenth and

Without Guilt and Justice


twentieth centuries have revolted. against this heritage. Assimilation represented one way out; Zionism (at least some versions of it)
another; and some of the literature on alienation, beginning with
Marxs essay On the Jewish Question, a third. Marx, of course,
did not see things this way. The irrational tone of his article and the
irrational suggestion that all alienation is bad presumably resulted
from the fact that he did not fully understand the hidden springs
of his own interest in the problem. On a dierent scale, this is also
true of his successors.
Finally, the sweeping, indiscriminate attack on alienation is a
corollary of a dream of community. In this community there is to be
no alienation, nor any room for the stranger in your midst. Even
the kibbutzim in Israelone of the noblest social experiments of
our centuryhave a strong xenophobic streak. The pressures toward conformity are overwhelming: those who do not fully belong
are generally made to feel that fact deeply and painfully; and for
a creative artist, life in a kibbutz is apt to prove impossible. The
major countries that proclaim Marx as their prophet openly spurn
nonconformity and have no room for autonomous individuals. It
would be illicit to saddle Marx with Stalins terror, but the kind of
community that seeks to eliminate alienation is incompatible with
In the discussion of decidophobia, I showed how any confrontation with fateful alternatives engenders dread, and how the craving
for community of worship is prompted by the craving to eliminate
such confrontations. The stranger is an incarnate alternative. That
goes not only for the Jew or heretic in a Christian society but also
for the alienated individual in a community. Indeed, the herd man
nds it easier to tolerate the nonconformists who are members of
another, smaller herd than to suer those who stand alone. The
autonomous man is a living provocation. Usually he is forgiven only
after he is dead.

The New Integrity

in our time one concept of integrity is being replaced by another.
This development is at the heart of the contemporary revolution in
morality. The old idea was closely linked to justice, while the new
integrity involves autonomy.
What is at stake is not merely one virtue. One can have courage
and yet be a monster. But it is generally felt that a person who has
integrity cannot be immoral, and that whoever is moral cannot
lack integrity. Integrity is taken for the whole of morality or, as the
Greeks put it, the sum of the virtues.
The Greeks also called this sum of the virtues justice. Now
that justice is dying, a new concept of integrity is emerging. It also
claims to be all of morality. Actually, what passes for integrity today
is a confused and callow notion that cannot be considered on a par
with the classical conceptions of the ancient Greeks and Hebrews.
It makes more sense to treat this messy and brash brat like Shaws
Eliza; she needs cleaning up and must be taught some manners.
What I call the new integrity may be seen as the goal of some
recent developments, but I do not believe in itor in anything else
because I take it to be the wave of the future. After all, endowing
the wave of the future with moral authority is one of the strategies
of decidophobia.
The classical conception of integrity is best explained in terms


The New Integrity

of the origin of the word integrity, which suggests wholeness. The

word comes from the Latin in and tangere and means that something is untouched, unimpaired, awless. Words with the same root
meaning are encountered in several other languages and have gone
on to acquire the same moral signicance as the Latin integritas and
the English integrity.
In English, for example, holy is related to whole, and in
German heilig to heil. Heil was profaned by the Nazis, but the
original meaning is awless, unimpaired (unversehrt).
One further example is of special interest. In the rst verse of
the Book of Job, Job is called tam vyashar, blameless and upright.
The root meaning of tam, which recurs often in the book, is whole,
complete, and the noun tumah is usually translated as integrity.
Thus the Lord says to Satan: He still holds fast his integrity. Jobs
wife says to him: Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God,
and die. And later Job says to his friends: Till I die, I will not part
from my integrity.
In all these languages it is assumed that what is whole and complete is also morally good, and that the integrated man is naturally
virtuous. In Plato this notion is central: justice is the health of the
soul, and the integration of the personality spells integrity. But the
conception of justice as harmony is encountered among the Greeks
long before Plato, and it is not peculiar to them. Nor did the classical
conception of integrity expire with antiquity. In later Judaism it was
developed in the beautiful idea that one should serve God with the
evil impulse, too. Thus the Mishnah explains the Mosaic commandment, You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart,
as meaning with both of your impulses, with the good impulse and
with the evil impulse.
Plato and the Jewish tradition were far from sharing the same
moral views. Job and the just man of the prophets had a social
conscience that forms no part of Platos conception of justice. Yet the
ancient Greeks and Hebrews shared the notion that all the virtues
are compatible, and they called the wholly virtuous man just.
As long as the classical conception remains on the level of brief
suggestions, it seems attractive and profound. But as soon as one
reads lengthier defenses of it, the idea that the whole is good and

Without Guilt and Justice


that evil is merely un integrated partiality becomes highly problematic. One is struck by the underlying optimism. Why should it be
impossible to embrace evil with ones whole heart, soul, and might?
The classical conception is close to Manichaeism and to moral
rationalism. In Plato it comes down on the side of moral rationalism.
But the idea that all good is on one sidehealth, wholeness, and
all the virtuesis Manichaean and decidophobic. The cards are
stacked, and there is no need to consider objections and alternatives.
The crux of the current crisis in morality is that integrity is no longer
associated with the just man. Our rst association with integrity is
honesty. Intellectual integrity is a synonym of intellectual honesty.
A just man is a mild archaism or a Hebraism, but it is no longer
uncommon to call a man honest by way of suggesting not a particular
virtue but the sum of the virtues.
An honest woman is an idiom that suggests an altogether
dierent context, but actually it illustrates the same development.
What is meant is not that she never lies but rather that she had lost
her virtue and her moral reputation, and that by marrying her some
man has restored these priceless possessions to her and made an
honest woman of her. The moral judgments implicit in this usage
are archaic, but honest is here used in the sense of virtuous.
When Abraham Lincoln is called Honest Abe, what is meant
is not that he could never tell a lie (that was George Washington)
but that he was what Plato and the prophets would have called a just
man. Thus honesty is now often considered the sum of the virtues,
as justice was formerly.
What is meant by honesty? Let us distinguish three dierent
conceptions of honesty. The rst two use the name of honesty in
The classical American misconception of honesty is that the word
is a synonym of sincerity. What is at stake is not merely the misuse
of a word but the overestimation of sincerity. While sincerity is
preferable to insincerity, it comes nowhere near being the sum of
the virtues; it is not even a cardinal virtue. Small children tell all
sorts of charming falsehoods with sincerity and might be said to be


The New Integrity

this side of the distinction between honesty and dishonesty. Many

clergymen and politicians proclaim falsehoods with sincerity and
might be said to have low standards of honesty; they believe what
they say while they are saying it, but only a little while earlier they
knew that it was false, and questioned a few hours later they no
longer insist that it is true. They cultivate the gentle art of mouthing
falsehoods with conviction.
The typically modern misconception of honesty consists of confounding honesty with frankness. This makes honesty even easier to
attain. One tells people what one thinks of them and assumes that
extreme rudeness is proof of moral superiority. Both these misconceptions are extremely popular because they place virtue within the
reach of all. Even if one is extremely partial to frankness, one has to
admit that this misunderstanding is born in part of the desire for
instant virtue; what is wanted is moral superiority without any fuss
or trouble.
True honesty, like courage, admits of degrees. Manichaeans use
the ploy of asking, are you calling me a coward? Or a liar? And
they assume that if their critic hesitates to do that, it follows that
they are courageous, or honest. They presuppose that one is either
honest or a liar, either courageous or a coward. In fact, most men are
neither courageous nor cowards; these terms are applicable only in
extreme cases. We may act more courageously on one occasion and
less courageously on another, without having merited the epithet
of cowardice or courage in either case. The liar corresponds to the
coward, and honesty should be used like courage to designate a
high standard.
What is involved in honestyor high standards of honestyis
apparent as soon as we reect on the case of the person who says
frankly and sincerely what he himself knew to be false only a little
while earlier. Or consider a person who says what in fact he has never
known to be false, although it is false and he himself would know
this if only he had taken a little more trouble. Neither of these two
people has high standards of honesty. Why not? High standards
of honesty mean that one has a conscience about what one says
and what one believes. They mean that one takes some trouble to
determine what speaks for and against a view, what the alternatives

Without Guilt and Justice


are, what speaks for and against each, and what alternatives are
preferable on these grounds.
This is the heart of rationality, the essence of scientic method,
and the meaning of intellectual integrity. I shall call it the canon.
We have seen what speaks against some alternative conceptions of
honesty. Now let us consider some objections to this conception.
It may seem that a canon cannot properly be called a virtue.
How can the essence of scientic method be presented as an explication of honesty? This objection can be met. The canon takes the
form of a series of imperatives. These imperatives dene the essence
of scientic method. But the practice of a method can become a
habit Of, as people sometimes put it, speaking rather loosely, it can
become instinctive. And virtues are habits. They can be acquired
and developed by practice.
Confronted with a proposition, view, belief, hypothesis, conviction ones own or another personsthose with high standards
of honesty apply the canon, which commands us to ask seven questions: (I) What does this mean? (2) What speaks for it and (3)
against it? (4) What alternatives are available? (5) What speaks for
and (6) against each? And (7) what alternatives are most plausible
in the light of these considerations?
Now it may be objected that doing all this is rather dicult.
But has it ever been a condition of virtue that it required no great
exertion? On the contrary. Next, it may be said that all this is not
only dicult but in many cases quite impossible and at other times
out of all proportion to the signicance of the issue at hand. This is
a serious objection and requires an important qualication of the
conception presented so far.
Honesty does not entail pedantry. A pedant devotes so much time
and energy to trivial matters that he lacks sucient time and energy
to investigate the questions that bear on the most fateful decisions.
Pedantry is the eighth strategy of decidophobia. Honesty entails
a sense of proportion, in two ways. First, the pedant is not really
a paragon of honesty. He deceives himself. He prides himself on
his scruples in small matters, but he shuts his eyes when it comes


The New Integrity

to big decisions. A person with high standards of honesty will ask

such questions as these: What is the meaning and what are the
implications of this issue and that? What speaks for giving so much
time to this one that I shall lack the time for that one?
Second, honesty requires us to proportion the rmness of our
beliefs and claims to the evidence. When he holds a view without
having given much thought to the pros and cons and to alternatives,
an honest person realizes how tenuous his position is. Whoever has
high standards of honesty will not say that he knows something,
or even that he believes it strongly, unless he has looked into the
matter and found good grounds for his views, and unless he has also
considered objections and alternatives. Failing that, he will either
suspend judgment or admit to himself and, if the occasion arises, to
others that his belief is tenuous.
I have criticized the concept of proportionality when discussing
punishments and distributions. In the present context, of course,
exact proportion is out of the question. We cannot stipulate how
many minutes honesty requires us to spend on this issue or that, nor
can we measure the rmness of beliefs. What matters is that one
gives oneself an honest account of the grounds for ones beliefs, and
that one makes a deliberate eort to overcome decidophobia.
Those who live up to these criteria exemplify intellectual integrity. But what I shall call the new integrity requires one additional
quality. For one could apply the canon scrupulously, but only on
the intellectual level. One might not put into practice what one
believes. One might say: This alternative stands up under scrutiny,
and that one does not; nevertheless I shall act in accordance with
the view that does not stand up. Those who have the new integrity
have intellectual integrity and also live in accordance with it. Thus
practice is integrated with theory.
The consideration of alternatives is crucial but often, neglected.
Those who comply with this part of the canon have to do what even
a great many scholars would rather not do: spell out what speaks
against rival views. It is pleasanter to cite other scholars by way of
paying homage to their acute insights. But the new integrity requires
us to be clear about the defects of signicant alternatives.
Obviously, the new integrity goes beyond any ordinary concep-

Without Guilt and Justice


tion of honesty. Even when honesty is not confused with sincerity

or frankness, it is compatible with the admission that one did not
take any pains to investigate a question and therefore does not know
the answer. A person can possess high standards of honesty but very
little self-condence, courage, or humbition. He may be lazy and
reluctant to exert himself. But what I call the new integrity involves
not only high standards of honesty but also enough courage and
humbition to apply the canon to the most important questions facing us. Thus the new integrity involves autonomy, but the two are
not identical because autonomy would be compatible with lying.
I introduced autonomy, saying that it consists of making with
our eyes open the decisions that govern our lives; and I added:
Choosing responsibly means that one weighs alternatives. (This
theme will be developed further in the chapter on The New Integrity.) Then I concentrated on the strategies of decidophobia.
Now autonomy appears as the goal of a historical development: the
autonomous man is the modern counterpart of the just man of
the ancient Greeks and Hebrews. He does not bow to authority; he
decides for himself.
The adherents of the classical conception of integrity were mistaken
insofar as they assumed that integration spelled goodness. But a wellintegrated and harmonious individual could follow Hitler or Stalin.
The idea that we should serve the Lord with the good impulse and
with the evil impulse is very beautiful, but one could also serve
Hitler or Stalin with both impulses. One can serve an evil cause with
tremendous courage and intelligence, with self-control and humility,
and millions have done it in our time. Many whose life had lacked
direction found a purposean evil purposethat integrated their
whole personality till everything fell into place.
Does the new integrity fare any better? Was it possible to follow
Hitler or Stalin, while living in accordance with the new integrity?
Certainly not.
As soon as Hitler came to power, it was unsafe for any teacher to
go on teaching as before. One could literally see how many teachers
swallowed hard as they said what they knew to be untruein history,


The New Integrity

literature, religion, and biology, and other classes, too. After all,
some student might report them to the authorities if they did not
toe the line. Even if none did, some student might say quite naively
to his father, to a fellow member of the Hitler Youth, or to anyone
at all: But my teacher said That might be the end of the teachers
career; it might even take him to a concentration camp. As time
passed, the falsehoods that at rst had made some teachers gag went
down more easily. The teachers integrity deteriorated. Still, might
not some teachers, or at least some students, have believed all that
they were required to believe? Of course, but only if they did not
ask the seven crucial questions.
As for the Soviet Union under Stalin, Solzhenitsyn has shown
convincingly in The First Circle and Cancer Ward how one could
live in accordance with the new integrity only in a concentration
camp or by keeping silent, how silence usually corrupts, and how
this corruption spread like a disease through the whole society. The
chapter on Idols of the Market Place in Cancer Ward makes this
point expressly and at length.
In the West so many people are such relativists that they suppose it must be just as possible to swallow Stalinism or Hitlerism as
it is to swallow any other world view. And if one believes that American society is just as repressive as was Hitlers Germany or Stalins
Soviet Union, one demonstrates indeed that, but for the grace of
circumstance, one might have swallowed Nazism or Stalinism, for
one shows that one does not care greatly about the seven questions.
Of course, one could be sincere and a Nazi or a Stalinist. But nobody who applied the canon could have accepted Hitlers or Stalins
irrational views, and teaching the canon in ones classes or openly
asking the seven questions would have been a recipe for death.
Few people have ever lived by the canon. Only those who
suppose that most people do could possibly suppose that some of
Hitlers or Stalins followers did. Under Stalin, the party line kept
changing, and his followers were required to change their views
overnight, again and again and again. If they believed that whatever he did was best, that he knew better than anyone else, and
that whatever the latest edition of the great Encyclopedia said was
true, they could escape terrible qualms, but in that case they were

Without Guilt and Justice


decidophobes who did not live by the canon.

It might be objected that we cannot reasonably expect people to
say, like Job: Till I die I will not part from my integrity. We recall
how Simone de Beauvoir, though merciless in her self-accusations,
said of those who followed Stalin: They had to live; they lived.
But moral judgments have not been my concern here. The point
has been to understand the new integrity, and when a person gives
that up to save his lifeif only to preserve himself for the sake of
his wife and childrenit is reasonable to insist that he did give it
up. After all, that is one of the dierences between Solzhenitsyn
and millions of others: they did, and he did not.
In sum, an integrated human being with the classical integrity
could follow Hitler or Stalin, but one could not follow either of
them with the new integrity. For the person who lives by the canon
does not accept an irrational book like Mein Kampf, or a man like
Hitler or Stalin, or any man or any book, as an authority; he makes
decisions for himselfhe is autonomous.
Suppose, however, that a German or a Russian did consider
the alternatives and came to the conclusion that it was best, everything considered, to join the Party. 1 have examined this strategy
at length in the discussion of decidophobia: those who decide to
commit themselves in such a way that henceforth they will never
have to face fateful decisions any more are decidophobes and not
autonomous. And those who abandon or sacrice their intellectual
integrity cannot be said to have retained it.
Consider the memoirs of Rudolf Hoess, the commanding ocer of Auschwitz. In his rst-hand account of his chief, Heinrich
Himmler, he uses the very phrase that Nietzsche had used in arguing
that the party man becomes a liar: wishing-not-to-see! Hoess
also says: Himmler always found it more interesting and agreeable
to hear what was positive and not negative. This might be considered a rather common human weakness, but Nazism elevated it
into a principle: Himmler was the most extreme representative of
the Fhrerprinzip. Every German had to submit unconditionally
and uncritically to the leadership of the state. When Himmler
demanded surrender of ones own will, this was in line with the
Fhrer principle and the Nazi Weltanschauung.


The New Integrity

Hoess insists that he always complained to Himmler when he

saw himabout technical diculties. But about the annihilation of
millions in the gas chambers he had no doubts. Himmler shocked
and disappointed him only at their nal meeting when the war
was practically over and Himmler, whose orders, whose utterances
had been gospel for me, was quite cheerful and gave orders to his
henchmen to disappear in the army with false papers. But perhaps
the statement that best brings out how there was no room for the
new integrity or for autonomy in this whole setting is this: I must
admit frankly that after such talks with Eichmann humane feelings
almost seemed to me treason against the Fhrer.
Hitler himself, of course, was not an autonomous man; he
lacked both the classical and the new integrity. His calculated lies
and his lack of any scruple about breaking solemn promises suce
to show that he lacked the new integrity, but one might wonder
whether he could not have been autonomous for all that, if only
he had applied the canon and decided that dishonesty was the best
policy. As a matter of fact, however, he was not in the habit of
subjecting his irrational convictions to the canon, and he was the
kind of man Sartre described in his portrait of the anti-Semite, and
Eric Hoer in The True Believer. Nietzsches strictures of the party
man, quoted in my analysis of the third strategy in chapter I, apply
to him. We also know that in conversation he could not tolerate
any disagreement, and that in the end he became more and more
interested in astrology.
Honesty is not the sum of the virtues. In the chapter on guilt I
introduced four cardinal virtues: humbition, courage, love, and
Like courage, honesty can bring about great evil when joined
with brutality. Ibsen showed in The Wild Duck how a fanatic for
honesty may feel called upon to tell people what will drive them to
despair and suicide. He might also make a point of robbing the dying
of their faith or of illusions that have helped them to endure great
pain. Not only might he lack love, but he might also be cowardly,
at least in some ways. While a dedication to honesty involves some

Without Guilt and Justice


courage and some humbition, one might be honest and yet lack
courage and humbition in most matters.
Conversely, those who do not have high standards of honesty
and never give much thought to the seven questions of the canon
may be very decent people for all that. They may be courageous in
many ways, help others unselshly, and never cheat anyone. This
point is hard to get across because so many people assume vaguely,
but falsely, that honesty or integrity is the whole of virtue. Hence
people may admit regretfully that they are not very courageous and
that after all few people are. But if you suggest that their standards of
honesty are not very high, or that they leave something to be desired
as far as the new integrity is concerned, they may never forgive you.
Yet the new integrity is not the whole of virtue; nor is autonomy.
The desire for only one cardinal virtue is the desire for a panacea.
As long as there are several cardinal virtues, they may occasionally
come into conict with each other. Thus a teacher in a totalitarian
state may be pulled in one direction by his regard for honesty, in
another by his love for his family.
Love is exceedingly corruptible and often does the devils bidding. Love has no scruples about tempting us to be dishonest, less
courageous, less humbitiouseven to be cowardly and to lie. Yet if
we renounced love for that reason, clinging to the three virtues that
on the whole are mutually compatible, we should have to condone
a cruel lack of concern for others.
Autonomy is not a panacea that saves us from conicts and
hard choices. On the contrary, autonomy consists of considering
alternatives and objections to our preferences. Yet an autonomous
person might lack love. Any claim that all who are rational and
use the canon would end up with the same codeminewould
be moral rationalism. Love is compatible with rationality, but it is
not entailed by rationality. Of course, we can stack the cards and
load our denition of rationality. That is the essence of the moral
rationalists strategy. Thus one can claim that rationality entails an
impartial concern for all human beings, and that all partiality to
ourselves is therefore irrational. To anyone brought up on the ethics
of Kant, that may actually sound plausible. Of course, he did not
speak of love in this connection but of the categorical imperative,


The New Integrity

and those who follow him in our time speak of justice. Either way,
the concept of rationality is loaded illicitly.
Those who apply the canon do not have to come to the conclusion that we ought to act in accordance with an equal concern
for all human beings; nor need they conclude that all partiality to
ourselves is irrational. They might actually conclude that it is impossible to act in accordance with an equal concern for all human
beings, and that it is quite rational to give some priority to ones
children, spouse, parents, friends, or pupilsand even to oneself. I
have to see to it that I get some sleep; I cannot be equally concerned
that everybody else does.
Nor is it clear why we should feel, or act in accordance with,
equal concern for all human beings. Why should we be so partial
to the human race? If we do not believe that God created man in
his own image and that man is more like God than like any other
animal, this partiality to man becomes questionable. Kant tried to
nd a basis for it in mans rationality, but again it is far from clear
why reason should require us to feel an equal concern for all rational
creatures, but no comparable concern for those not so gifted. If we
encountered beings from another planet, could reason really tell
us whether we owed them as much concern as we owed our fellow
men, or more, or less? Can reason tell us where the cut- o point
should be, regarding those who do not act according to the canon, or
regarding idiots, infants, or embryos? Equal concern for all beings is
clearly quite impossible. In short, we must make choices, and reason
cannot tell us what we ought to choose.
My view is that the adoption of love as a cardinal virtue is tenable, but not required by reason; that a social conscience is desirable
though not entailed by rationality; and that, in brief, autonomy is
not enough.

Without Guilt and Justice


What speaks for autonomy, honesty, love, courage, and humbition?
What speaks against them? And what speaks for and against various
alternatives? Is my code really more plausible than others? Throughout this book I have considered alternatives and objections. I have
tried to show how humbition is preferable to guilt feelings, which
have loomed so large in traditional morality, and how love and honesty can do better what justice was supposed to do but could not
do. I have not made out any comparable case for courage, which is
admired almost universally. Courage has been celebrated by poets
and tellers of tales since time immemorial. Even so, an autonomous
morality cannot invoke any authorityneither that of intercultural
agreement nor that of my own moral sense. What kind of appeal
There is a utilitarian argument that does not depend on the hedonism of the English utilitarians. We should distinguish between
utilitarianism in the wide sense, which appeals to the consequences
of laws or rules, acts or habits, virtues or codes (let us call this consequentialism), and utilitarianism in the narrow, hedonistic sense,
which judges the consequences according to their conduciveness to
the greatest possible balance of pleasures over pains. I reject utilitarianism in the narrow sense for reasons that will be discussed in
the next chapter. But it is the essence of irresponsibility to ignore
the consequences, and I can nd no good reasons for ignoring them.
The only major moralist who insisted that moral judgments must
ignore the consequences was Kant, who thought, falsely, that reason
could tell us what is right, without considering consequences. The
question remains as to the standards by which we should judge the
consequences. How, if at all, can one justify ones standards?
Obviously, one can try to justify one set of standards by appeal
to another set; but if one chooses to be rational, one cannot justify
ones ultimate standards, or cardinal virtues, once and for all. Whoever makes one ultimate decision that relieves him of the need for
further fateful decisions, is a decidophobe. An autonomous human
being asks: What are the alternatives, and how, if at all, are they


The New Integrity

The universal appeal of courage is surely due to the fact that

every society is profoundly indebted to some very courageous people
and nds it in its interest to foster courage. A society that held up
cowardice as an ideal could not long survive. It does not follow that
our deep, spontaneous admiration for a person of rare courage is
accompanied by any thoughts about the consequences of his acts.
Our moral sense has been shaped by poets and tellers of tales; it was
inculcated in us in our childhood; and even if we modify it as we
grow up and nd that some of our enthusiasms do not survive close
scrutiny, those we do retain continue to be nourished by a wealth of
concrete associations. Because we have had an ideal for a long time,
and have felt discouraged and disgusted many times with ourselves
and our fellow men, those who suddenly exemplify the seemingly
impossible ideal rouse us from despair and earn our gratitude.
None of this proves that it would really be best for all men to
reach a very high degree of courage. I have said that courage and
cowardice are two extremes, and the optimum could lie somewhere
well above the mean, but well below extreme courage. To some
extent, this point is taken care of by the fact that we have another
word for the undesirable extreme: foolhardiness. But what has been
said here about courage applies also to the other virtues, and unfortunately we lack words for excessive love, humbition, and honesty.
But if we set up courage, for example, as a cardinal virtue, we shall
be lucky if we produce few cowards and some men and women with
a high degree of courage. Again, the same point applies to the other
Excessive humbition, honesty, and love are all self-destructive
no less than foolhardiness. Those whose humbition is too great will
be tormented by their failure to come up to impossible standards.
Those in whom honesty becomes a rage are a menace to others and
will also place themselves on the rack. And concern for others must
be selective if it is to be eective, and it must be held in bounds lest
it become obtrusive and annoying. The Golden Rule is intolerable;
if millions did to others whatever they wished others to do to them,
few would be safe from molestation. The Golden Rule shows anything but moral genius, and the claim by which it is followed in the
Sermon on the Mountthis is the Law and the Prophetsmakes

Without Guilt and Justice


little sense. Even when love is dened better, it is not the whole of
virtue, much less an adequate substitute for a detailed code of law.
The negative formulation is far superior: Do not do unto others
what you would not want them to do to you. But even this rule,
which antedates Jesus and was advanced by Hillel and, much earlier,
by Confucius, falls short of what is needed.
We see this as soon as we consider the parallel to courage. Again,
every society is deeply indebted to some people who showed extraordinary concern for others. It makes sense to speak of love in
this context, but neither the Golden Rule nor the superior negative formulation describes the virtue of these individuals. They did
something positive, but not as a rule anything they wanted anyone
to do to them. Those who lay down their lives for others generally
have no wish whatever for others to make such a sacrice for them.
The same applies to smaller sacrices. What is really called for is
not the simple projection of our own desires into others, but the
habit of trying to fathom what those with whom we deal may feel.
That is a minimum. Thinking about how we might help others is
the second step.
The case for humbition is so similar to that for courage that
only a single dierence calls for comment. Humbition has not been
celebrated since time immemorial; otherwise I should not have
had to coin a name for it. Ambition has been celebrated, in eect,
though usually without recourse to this word, and again society has
been indebted to ambitious men. But this quality was found not
only in the heroes of ones past but also in many of the major villains.
In some societies, humility was held up as exemplary, but one failed
to note that those who were admired for their great humility were
not people resigned to being of no consequence but humbitious
men. My claim is twofold: neither ambition nor humility is as
desirable for the survival of society as is humbition, whose social
value is immense. Moreover I nd humbition intrinsically admirable.
When I contemplate the characters whom I admire most, I nd that
insofar as they possessed humbition, I admire them for that, and
insofar as they lacked it, I feel that this was a defect. Exactly the
same consideration applies to the other virtues.
Honesty is dierent in one way from all the other virtues. As I


The New Integrity

have dened it, it consists of being rational and living in accordance

with the canon. (Autonomy consists of applying the canon to fateful
decisions, and the choice of norms is a fateful decision.) When
someone asks: What is so good about honesty (or rationality)? one
might do well to reply: Do you want an honest (or rational) answer?
If he were to say no, a whimsical retort in the manner of Taoism or
Zen would be called for, and if he were to say yes, one might give
him back his own question: What is so good about honesty (or
The social utility of honesty even exceeds that of the other
cardinal virtues. All language learning, all speech, and all social
intercourse depend on honesty, and we simply cannot dispense with
this virtue. Much less could we make a virtue of dishonesty. What
can be suggested is either that we could get by with something less
than very high standards of honesty, or that it might be expedient to
permit dishonesty in certain areas or circumstances. In fact, however,
in all the years that I have lectured about honesty and the other
virtues in a great many dierent places and in dierent contexts (it
was not by any means always the same lecture), I have been asked
occasionally as a matter of principle how I would argue for my set
of four, but nobody has ever come up with specic objections or
alternatives to the four virtues; nor has anybody ever tried to dene
areas or circumstances in which dishonesty should be permitted.
Under these circumstances, I advocate high standards of honesty
with only two limitations: we should proportion our eorts to the
importance of the issue; and when honesty conicts with love we
should be honest in case of doubt but not inict genuine harm on
others for the sake of our virtue. It is preferable to be honest when
in doubt because otherwise it would become so easy to nd reasons
for not being honest that this virtue would be honored mainly in
the breach.
I have said that it is the essence of irresponsibility to ignore the
probable consequences of ones decisions. The time has come to
join this issue with the moral irrationalists. For my position is as far
removed from theirs as it is from moral rationalism.

Without Guilt and Justice


Most existentialists exhortations to resoluteness and commitment extol integrity in the classical sense. By choosing with your
whole heart you are supposed to become integrated. Your life crystallizes around a project and becomes wholeeven if the price you
pay should be the new integrity.
Typically, it is assumed that because reason alone cannot prove
that we should choose this project rather than that, reason is irrelevant when it comes to fateful decisions. Once that is granted, the
way is clear for one or another of the strategies of decidophobia; one
may choose a religion or a movement, for example. But what reason
and the new integrity can do is crucial: safeguard us against decisions and commitments that anyone who asked the seven questions
would not make.
When we apply the canon to alternatives, we consider not only
logical consistency but also what speaks for and against each, and
we evaluate the probable consequences of this decision and that.
The moral irrationalist, on the other hand, chooses one alternative
resolutely, without even asking how it is likely to aect various people, and he feels no need to examine with some care objections and
signicant alternatives.
An illustration may help. Suppose you consult a doctor, and
his reasons and the evidence cannot establish conclusively what is
the cause of your ailment. Imagine that he frankly admitted this
and then oered to ip a coin or to pluck the petals of a daisy: to
cut or not to cut, to cut or not to cut This would be a paradigm
of irresponsibility. What you would expect him to do is to invoke
the canon. Then the most plausible hypothesisor one of the most
plausiblewould be chosen tentatively, not with the dogged conviction that, once we have chosen it, we have to stick with it, as if
that were the essence of integrity.
The decidophobe objects: But there is not time for all this; such
investigations might take years, and by that time the patient, if not
the doctor, will be dead. Of course, it would be irresponsible to
ignore the consequences, and to keep thinking up new possibilities
without any regard for the time factor. But even if there is very little
time, a responsible doctor will not pluck the petals of a ower or
assure the patient that the most important factor is that the doctor


The New Integrity

who makes the decision is sincere or resolute. He is responsible insofar as he applies the canon as much as time permits; and what speaks
against some laboratory tests and some other medical procedures is
precisely that there is not time enough.
Suppose the case were quite dramatic, and the question were
whether to amputate a leg. It might not be necessary, but if we
waited until we could be absolutely sure of that, the patient might
well be past saving. The responsible procedure would still be to
run as many tests as time permits, to weigh the pros and cons to
the limits of ones ability, and then to act (let us assume, to cut) as
skillfully as possible, without the bad faith that, because the die is
cast, one must feel certain that one has elected the right course. If
the surgeon nds out in midoperation that it was unnecessary to
cut, he obviously should neither insist that it really was necessary
nor throw up his hands in despair and let the patient die. All he can
do at that point is to minimize the damage.
Responsibility is not accompanied by any warrant that everything will turn out well. If it does not, all we have is the small
comfort that at least we have acted responsibly, with integrity. To
make matters worse, irresponsible actions sometimes succeed. But
that success is no proof of integrity, that the wicked often ourish,
and that disaster does not prove a lack of integrity, was known to
the Psalmists and the author of Job.
Given a large sample and a long period of time, responsibility
succeeds much more often than irresponsibility. That is why we
want physicians to act responsibly. That is why scientists and engineers are trained to check and doublecheck their hunches. It is
no dierent in politics. Occasionally, reckless gambles will succeed,
but those who continue to place their trust in them generally come
to grief before long; and the great statesmen of the past have been
thoughtful men who weighed alternatives with care. That includes
great revolutionaries like Lenin, who studied and wrote books about
philosophy. Marx spent most of his later years at work in the library
of the British Museum. He felt strongly that it was not enough to
interpret the world; he wanted to change it. But the more important the changes are that one would like to bring about, the more
indispensable becomes the canon.

Without Guilt and Justice


Irrationalists may argue that this rational approach was used

by some of Lyndon Johnsons bestknown advisers on Vietnam
policywith disastrous results. But the advisers stunning lack of
moral judgment stemmed from their Manichaean faith that the free
world represented decency and humanity, no matter what means
it employed, while the enemy represented the foes of freedom
and was therefore beyond the pale and worthy of the torments of
hell. So rm was this faith that one did not give sucient weight
to what spoke against the policies one favored, and the Presidents
insistence on consensus compounded this failure. It is not enough
to appoint one man the devils (!) advocate, as Johnson did, and
then to go through the ritual of having him oer objections before
the predetermined consensus is implemented. This procedure
was very dierent from the method that I advocate, and it invited
wishful thinking.
The classical conception of integrity was compatible with conformity. Some of its greatest proponents actually believed that it entailed or presupposed conformity. The new integrity is incompatible
with conformity.
Plato, the greatest philosophical exponent of the classical conception, argued that integrity could scarcely be achieved outside a
tightly integrated city-state in which every citizen performed the
functions that had been assigned to him by the philosopher-kings.
Each was to conform to his class, living as the members of his class
were supposed to live, and believing what he was told to believe.
Plato believed that Socrates had achieved integrity in a corrupt society; hence he had been a nonconformist. But Plato argued that
the odds against such an achievement are overwhelming, and that
anyone who brought it o was almost certain to be put to death as
Socrates was.
Hegels view was similar, although it has often been misrepresented. F. H. Bradley developed it sympathetically in his essay My
Station and Its Duties. But what is lacking in Bradley and crucial
in Hegel is a profound sense of alienation and a tortured longing
for the harmony that Hegel thought he found in ancient Greece.


The New Integrity

He sought integration of the personality through integration into a

state with reasonable laws.
Hegel was impatient with individuals who found fault with
their society and who insisted that it is very dicult to decide what
is right. He felt that there was likely to be much more reason in
the traditions that have developed over centuries and stood the test
of time than in the reections of a disgruntled individual. He also
insisted that most of the time it is not at all dicult to tell right
from wrong.
Actually Hegel admitted that in times of transition history
shows us great collisions that make it dicult to decide what is right,
and that in such situations the nonconformist who loses his ght
against society Socrates, for examplemay be vindicated posthumously. This exception, however, does not go far enough. An individual with very high standards of honesty is bound to become
alienated from his fellow men.
We have seen how the various strategies of decidophobia are at
odds with integrity. But I have also admitted that one can belong
to a religion or movement, for example, without sacricing high
standards of honesty. It may therefore seem that the new integrity
does not entail nonconformity or alienation. Yet not all who belong
conform; nor does belonging preclude alienationone can feel
deeply alienated from ones fellow members. It may be objected
that one can feel that way, but that it has not been shown that the
new integrity entails any such experience. Indeed, it is possible to
imagine a society in which high standards of honesty would be so
greatly admired that those who lived by them would be esteemed on
that account and not resented. But that is not how people actually
are, nor are there signs that within the lifetime of any of us, people
will become that way. Meanwhile it is a fact of life that those who live
by the canon reap alienation, and their nonconformity is resented.
So ubiquitous is this experience that men and women of unusual
integrity often nd the alienation that comes from not belonging
to a religion or a movement easier to bear than the alienation that
is generated by belonging but insisting on the canon. Constantly
rubbing shoulders with those who resent uncomfortable queries and
objections may be felt to be harder than leaving the fold altogether.

Without Guilt and Justice


One might suppose that there is at least one kind of community

in which the new integrity is a way of life and in which the canon
is so widely accepted that it constitutes a glorious counterexample:
the academic community, or at least professors, if not students. This
is not the place to document timidity, conformity, intolerance, and
the lack of high standards of honesty in academia. Woe unto the
man or woman who does not belong to the right school of thought!
But this theme has been discussed in the context of decidophobia.
Nor would it be protable to use professorial book reviews as an
illustration, for that subject is so vast that we should be distracted
from our central concern here. But consider meetings of committees,
academic departments, the faculty as a whole, or meetings that are
attended by large numbers of students, too. A considerable amount
of courage is required to raise objections or suggest alternatives that
others plainly do not want to hear, and it is extraordinary how often
that which is not gladly heard remains unspoken. Some professors,
of course, are luminous examples of integrityas are some lawyers,
writers, doctors, and men and women in other walks of life. But
they pay the usual price.
In spite of much timidity and the many confusions about honesty,
the twentieth century has witnessed a growing recognition of what
true honesty involves. Consider two of the leading philosophical
movements of our century: analytical philosophy and existentialism.
Both have contributed to this recognition.
One could date analytic philosophy from G. E. Moores dogged
attacks on his predecessors, beginning in 1903. His refrain was
ever: What could they possibly have meant? When others cited his
own dicta, he was not beyond saying that he was not sure what he
himself could possibly have meant. All this was rather mannered,
and Moores articlesnot to speak of his imitatorswere at times
tediously pedantic, as he considered one after another outrageous
answer to his question, nding predictably that none would do. Yet
he taught philosophers a new ethos.
Confronted with Moores example, it would no longer do to
assume that obscurity was any warrant of profundity. Moore was


The New Integrity

pedestrian to a fault, intent on not tolerating any nonsense, however

high- sounding. For all his limitations, he raised the standards of
honesty, at least in philosophy.
It is arguable that much of what people learned from Moore
could also have been learned from Socrates. But it took Moore
to make us aware of this aspect of Socrates. Even so the degree to
which Socrates embodied not only the classical but also the new
conception of integrity is noteworthy, and we shall have to return
to this point.
Sartre, born two years after Moore published his rst book, also
raised standards of honesty, but in a very dierent way. By Moores
standards, much of Sartres philosophical prose is atrociousan
example of precisely the kind of writing that Moore tried to exorcize. But in Being and Nothingness no less than in his plays, novels,
and short stories, Sartre tried to expose the wiles of self-deception.
Thus he, too, showed what honesty involvesand how dicult it
is to attain. While Moore honed the intellectual conscience of a
generation or two of professional philosophers, Sartre sensitized
that of their students.
Their complementary insights are not readily seen to complement each other. Many professors are appalled by their students
sloppiness and lack of rigor and their failure to live up to high standards of honesty, while the students reciprocate by being no less
shocked by what strikes them as the bad faith of many of their teachers. Too often both sides are rightto be dismayed.
Philosophers have not been alone in contributing to the growing recognition of what honesty involves. It is to Sigmund Freud
more than to anyone else that we owe the realization that there are
degrees of honesty and that it is quite common for men to be less
than wholly honest without being outright liars. He has shown how
dicult it is to be honest with oneself.
The dimension explored by Freud ts into the rst of the seven
questions of the canon: What does this mean? Moores conception of meaning was curiously narrow, and that of some positivists was even narrower. At one time the latter actually argued that
all propositions that could not be veriedethical judgments, for
examplewere meaningless. On their own showing, their claim

Without Guilt and Justice


that such propositions were meaningless was itself meaningless.

When this position proved unsatisfactory, many analytic philosophers took their cue from Wittgensteins later thinking and suggested that in order to get at the meaning of a word one must consider how a child is taught to use the word. But there are dimensions
of meaning that are rarely considered by most philosophers, and it
is more to the point to think of the meaning of claims, beliefs, and
views than to concentrate on words.
It will suce here to mention psychological meaning, sociological meaning, and historical meaning. Under the rst heading,
one might distinguish further between intended meaning (what a
person is driving at, or what he is trying to say, although he may put
his point badly); emotional meaning (what it means to him, in the
sense in which it may mean a great deal to him); and psychoanalytic
meaning (assuming that a proposition may sometimes mean more
to a person than he himself realizes).
Insofar as the new integrity consists of asking seven questions,
it cannot rest content with a wholly supercial and onedimensional
answer to the question: What does this mean? Discussions of religious claims, for example, are often obtuse because they completely
ignore psychological meaning. Not only must we occasionally ask
whether the claims of other men mean more to them than they
themselves realize, but we also have to push this question regarding
our own beliefs. This is often dicult, but it is by no means always
impossible. The person who never asks himself questions of this
sort is making insucient eorts to overcome self-deception and to
that extent lacks high standards of honesty.
Thus the development of the new integrity owes a great deal
to Freud. Yet Freud shared the overestimation of honesty when
he said in a memorable and beautiful passage: Whoever has completed successfully the education for truthfulness toward himself,
is permanently immune against the danger of immorality, even if
his standard of morality should dier in some ways from what is
customary in society. I have argued that those who have learned to
be honest with themselves could lack love, courage, and humbition.
The claim that standards of honesty have been raised in Our
century may seem to be paradoxical. What we are conscious of is


The New Integrity

the abundance of dishonestynot only in religion, politics, and advertising. The whole quality of modern life is poisoned and polluted
by dishonesty.
Once again it may help to recall the Hebrew prophets. They
certainly raised moral standards, but that does not mean that their
contemporaries were more moral than their predecessors. One only
needs to read the prophets to realize that this was not the case.
Specically, Micah and Isaiah raised moral standards when they
proclaimed war to be evil and demanded that swords should be made
into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Yet wars did not
cease, and twenty-ve centuries later most of mankind still had not
accepted even in theory the standards set by Micah and Isaiah. Only
after the horrors of World War II, when confronted with atomic
bombs, did much of mankind come to agree that nations ought not
to learn war any more, but even then many nations continued to
wage wars. Most Americans did not disapprove of the Vietnam war
until they felt that they were not winning it. From this depressing
record it does not follow that the prophets did not raise moral
The question remains as to whether it is proper to speak of the new
integrity. Is it really new? After all, Socrates approached it, and so
did Job. But in antiquity Socrates was admired for some of his other
qualities; and to this day, Job is usually seen dierently. Few readers
even notice that when he says to his friends, Till I die, I will not
part from my integrity, he means his honesty. Those who note his
honesty generally suppose that it consists merely of his not being
a hypocrite, and it is widely held that his friends are hypocrites.
But they say little that has not been repeated through the centuries
by theologians of many dierent denominations. They accept the
wisdom that is ready at hand. Popular wisdom or common sense has
some authority for them, and hearing each other conrms each in
his views. They are not hypocrites; neither do they see any need for
taking pains to nd out what might be true. They prefer the instant
wisdom that only authority can furnish.
Honesty in the sense of truth-telling was esteemed as a virtue

Without Guilt and Justice


even in antiquity, although it was not widely esteemed as a cardinal

virtue. Honesty in the sense of taking great pains to determine the
truth was rarely praised. In Socrates and some of the pre-Socratic
Greek philosophers this ethos is implicit. Thucydides once gave
voice to his contempt for those who accept as truth what is ready
at hand, instead of taking pains to discover the truth. Sophocles
described the same ethos in Oedipus Tyrannus. There was a tradition
that Oedipus was the wisest of men, but Sophocles endowed him
with a passion to discover the truth, a determination that becomes
the central motif of his life, and a profound scorn for all who do not
share this ethos.
Honesty in the sense of a sustained attack on self-deception is,
as we have seen, the most modern aspect of the new integrity. To
us it is familiar through the works of Gide and Sartre and a host
of other twentieth-century writers. We can trace it back beyond
Freud and Nietzsche to Goethes Mephistopheles, whose wit keeps
exposing Fausts romantic self-deceptions. Earlier than that, we nd
little of this ethos. Sophocles Oedipus is a towering exception. The
truth he seeks is the truth about himself, while Creon, Teiresias, and
his wife-mother keep advising him that his happiness depends on
not nding out. His high standards of honesty alienate him from
his environment, and his integrity becomes his undoing.
It may still seem incredible that the new integrity should be as
new as I claim. It may seem improbable that in antiquity a mere
handful of men exemplied it. Were the author of Job, Sophocles,
Thucydides, and Socrates really that exceptional? Of Course, one
might add another example or two, but people are so inclined to
think that things were always much the same as now that some
are bound to wonder if the new integrity was not always much
more widespread than I have suggested. Let them reect on the history of philosophy in the light of G. E. Moores ethos. Let them ask
themselves how many people applied the canon to their religious tradition, their scriptures, their theologians, their holy men, or merely
their professors. Let them also reect on the lack of the Freudian
sensitivity before Freud. If this sounds too general, let me recall my
grandmothers insistence that a teacher is a hallowed personeine
geheiligte Person. Even after World War II, many German professors


The New Integrity

seemed to feel that way about themselves, and in the 1950s many of
their students still accepted this view. In the late 1960s they went to
the opposite extreme.
All of this becomes more plausible as soon as one recalls how
the new integrity involves autonomydeciding for oneself and not
accepting the ten strategies of decidophobia. When Luther and
Calvin deed the church, they appealed to authority. The Enlightenment came closer to autonomy.
Enlightenment is mans emergence from his self-incurred minority.
Minority is the incapacity for using ones understanding without the guidance of another. And this minority is self-incurred
when it is caused by the lack not of understanding but of determination and courage to use it without the guidance of another.
Sapere aude! Have the courage to avail yourself of your own
understandingthat is the motto of the Enlightenment.
These are Kants words, and in his ethics he also made much
of autonomy. Nevertheless, he and many other great men of that
period had recourse to moral rationalism. Kants style was usually
dry and scholastic, but the eusiveness of his apostrophes to Duty
and to the Moral Law shows how they were for him surrogates for
God, and how much he still required some authority. Some of his
contemporaries in France, of course, formally proclaimed Reason a
Some of the romantics reacted against this rationalism and
became moral irrationalists, apostles of feeling and intuition. But
the ideal of autonomy clearly owes something to the romantics,
too. What was needed was a step beyond moral rationalism and
moral irrationalism, and before the twentieth century that step was
taken only by a very few individuals here and there. Kants younger
contemporary Goethe was autonomous, and among the ancients
also, as noted earlier, Euripides. But hitherto the ethos of the new
integrity has never been spelled out as here.
Are both the old and the new integrity partial? Do we really
need both? Fortunate indeed are those who have both, but those
still striving to develop the new integrity cannot aord to be overly

Without Guilt and Justice


concerned about the classical integrity. Those intent on harmony

and serenity will dull the cutting edge of the new integrity. Seeing
how it entails alienation, they will seek refuge in the strategies of
decidophobia. But those who attain the new integrity may nd
eventually that the old integrity is coming to them, too.

Are Autonomy and

Happiness Compatible?

humanity craves but dreads autonomy. My reections on decidophobia, alienation, and the new integrity suggest that those who
choose autonomy, refusing the comforts of conformity, must pay a
heavy price. In some ways, autonomy is an austere ideal. Could it
be that one cannot hope to be happy if he elects autonomyand
that one is bound to feel unhappy without it? Anyone trying to
develop an autonomous ethic must face up to this question. The
answer obviously depends on what is meant by happiness.
Many dictionaries distinguish three meanings of happiness,
which the most comprehensive dictionary of our language, the Oxford English Dictionary, denes as follows:
1. Good fortune, luck in life or in a particular aair; success,
2. The state of pleasurable content of mind, which results from
success or the attainment of what is considered good.
3. Successful or felicitous aptitude, tness, suitability, or appropriateness; felicity.
The third denition is clearly marginal and irrelevant here. It
refers to such extended and almost metaphorical uses of the word as


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?

happiness of language or happiness of expression. That leaves two

concepts of happiness, but the dictionary denitions tell us more
about the civilization that produced them than about happiness or
the legitimate uses of that word.
It is not only in the Oxford English Dictionary that pride of place
is given to prosperity. Yet one can be prosperous and unhappy, or a
model of happiness although far from prosperity. Even if we ignore
the primary, economic meaning of prosperity and think of it as the
condition of being successful or thriving, this is still a far cry from
happiness. Many people are successful and thriving without having
found happiness, while others have found happiness although they
are neither thriving nor successful. Precisely the same considerations
apply to good fortune and luck in life or in a particular aair.
This emphasis on prosperity and success reects the outlook of one
culture, and valuations against which millions are in revolt.
The second denition is based on the same error. When we
ascribe happiness to a person we are far from committing ourselves
to the view that his state of mind results from success or attainment.
The cause is left open. It could be alcohol or a drug. Nor is there
anything at all unusual about speaking of the happiness of a child at
play; yet none of the Oxford English Dictionarys three denitions
covers this important usage. Or imagine someone skiing down a
dangerous slope at breakneck speed, or perhaps climbing a dicult
There are two dierent concepts of happiness, but the Oxford
English Dictionary has got both of them wrong by mistaking special
cases for the whole. In the rst sense, (1a) happiness is a state, not
necessarily conscious, that is desired. This denition makes the best
sense of the pursuit of happiness. Quite possibly, some of the
signers of the Declaration of Independence meant to assert the
right to pursue prosperity and success, but it is more interesting and
fruitful to reect on the pursuit of that state which one desires, and
to remember that this need not be prosperity or pleasure.
It may be objected that desire has no place in the denition
of happiness because what is desired may not actually bring contentment when it is attained. This happens so frequently that it
may be said to be typical, but it does not invalidate my denition.

Without Guilt and Justice


Consider the phrase not necessarily conscious: if the desired state

should not be conscious, it cannot be accompanied by contentment
or a sense of happiness. If we dened happiness as a state desired
in the having of it, it would follow that Nirvanathe cessation of
desirecould not be happiness. But the states I wish to discuss
include Nirvana, and it makes good sense to say that millions desire the cessation of desire and that this is what happiness means
to them. No doubt, one could dene happiness in this rst sense
somewhat dierently, but I hope that my denition will turn out to
be interesting and fruitful. Let us call it formal, for short, because
no particular content is specied, or inclusive, because it allows for
so many dierent conceptions of happiness.
In the second sense, (2a) happiness is a state of mind that is
marked by pleasure and the absence of all pain and discomfort. This
conception is material and might also be called the narrow sense of
happiness. It might be objected that this denition goes too far in
excluding all pain and discomfort. Might it not suce if the balance
of pleasure over pain and discomfort was very great? It is tempting to
retort: How great? But it is clear in any case that happiness permits
degrees, and it seems reasonable to dene happiness in terms of the
extreme that can be approximated more or less. Again, I cheerfully
concede that slightly dierent denitions are possible, but I hope
that mine will be seen to be interesting and fruitful.
A great deal of confusion is due to the fact that so many people,
including some writers on this subject, fail to distinguish clearly
between the formal and material senses and then come to assume
that happiness must consist in a state of mind that is marked by
pleasure and the absence of all pain and discomfort, and that this
is the only state that man can possibly desire. This is clearly wrong
and shows an appalling lack of imagination as well as an astounding
failure to consult literature, psychology, and history. The happiness
of mountain climbers and explorers, Alexander, Caesar, crusaders,
empire builders, captains of industry, and politicians who desire to
be President of the United States is clearly not a state devoid of all
discomfort. Nor is the happiness of lovers or of parenthood.
With this basic distinction in mind, let us see whether autonomy and happiness are compatible, and begin with the narrow, ma-


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?

terial conception of happiness.

If the question is whether brief spans of happiness in the narrow
sense are compatible with autonomy, the answer is obviously yes. No
matter how high a persons standards may be, there is no reason to
doubt that he can relax occasionally, if only briey, without feeling
any pain or discomfort. He may see scenery of such extraordinary
beauty that he temporarily feels nothing but intense delight. Love,
although over a period of time anything but a good prescription for
those who are in search of freedom from all suering, also oers
short spans of such happiness. And there are many less intense
examplesan early morning walk, seeing a ower or a ne tree, a
drink of cold water, or biting into a crisp apple.
The question of whether always being happy in this way is compatible with autonomy is no harder to answer. Not only have I
shown in the last two chapters that the answer is no, but it should
be obvious that always being happy in this way is not compatible
with being human. A frontal lobotomy might bring one closer to
this goal by relieving stress and sensitivity along with intelligence,
but in order never to feel any pain or discomfort one would have to
be drugged permanently and dehumanized completely.
Moreover, there would presumably be no pleasure left in such
a state of nonmind. Pleasure depends upon some contrast. The
sudden ebbing away of intense pain after a shot of morphine or
Demerol is experienced as extreme bliss. If the pain that preceded
the injection lasted very long and was very severe, the relief may be
enjoyed immensely for some time, but it lasts no longer than the
live perception of the contrast. Pleasure resembles the experience of
warm and cold; even as the same temperature may be experienced as
warm or cold, depending on the temperature experienced directly
before, the same sensations may be experienced as pleasant or unpleasant, depending on what went before. Hence a state of mind
that is marked by pleasure and the absence of all pain and discomfort
cannot last.
Consider what is probably our rst experience of pleasure: being fed. The pleasure depends on the discomfort, if not pain, that

Without Guilt and Justice


preceded it. When the infant is hungry, the nipple spells pleasure.
When the infant is sated, it pushes the nipple away angrily. This
primary experience of pleasure is paradigmatic: what is pleasant
by way of contrast becomes boring and unpleasant when there is
no contrast. Every theory of pleasure should take into account the
phenomenon of boredom.
The third interpretation of the question as to whether autonomy and happiness are compatible is more reasonable than the rst
two and makes the problem a little more dicult to solve. Is a life
dedicated to the maximizing of pleasure and the minimizing of pain
and discomfort compatible with autonomy? (We now no longer
depend on the very stringent denition of happiness as excluding
all pain and discomfort.) The question could also be put this way:
Are liberty and the pursuit of happiness (in this sense) compatible?
Most Americans and probably also most Europeans take it for
granted that they are, and not a few fail to distinguish between
our two concepts of happiness. But the pursuit of happiness in the
narrow sense is incompatible with freedom and autonomy.
Dostoevskys Grand Inquisitor faced this question squarely. He
argued that the freedom to make fateful decisions breeds anxiety and
makes for a great deal of worry and discomfort; he valued happiness
above autonomy; and he therefore argued in favor of what I call
benevolent totalitarianism.
Those who associate totalitarianism primarily with Stalins and
Hitlers malevolent totalitarianism may consider this coinage a contradiction in terms. But it makes far better sense to use the term
neutrally for governments that insist on their right to regulate the
peoples lives totally, and this is what the Inquisitors argument is
all about. My coinage also cuts through many confused arguments
about Plato. Some authors see him as a totalitarian, while others
insist that he was a decent man and therefore could not have been
a totalitarian. Men in the latter camp have even argued that since
Plato was a decent man he must really have been a democrat. But
he was the rst great proponent of benevolent totalitarianism and
believed that the only way to make the greatest possible number, if
not actually everybody, as content and virtuous as they were capable
of being was to regulate mens lives totally.


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?

Plato believed that men were radically unequal, that there were
three very dierent types, and that all three could attain contentment and virtue in his ideal state. The Grand Inquisitor, on the
other hand, insists that all men are basically equal, although some
are more gifted than others, and he suggests that the few who are
more gifted should sacrice their happiness for the happiness of the
greatest possible number. All men are so constituted, he argues, that
freedom brings them unhappiness, but some have to make decisions
and renounce happiness for the good of their fellow men.
Plato does not face the problem of the happiness or unhappiness of the decision-makers as squarely and explicitly as the Grand
Inquisitor does. In the Republic the philosopher-guardians are not
really decision- makers in the Grand Inquisitors sense. They themselves are deceived in the annual sex lottery, thinking that the selection of partners is random and left to chance when in fact it is
xed and carefully planned to bring about the best breeding results.
Those who do the xing are never discussed, but it is clear that they
do not live with frightening decisions. At this point Platos moral
rationalism is crucial. Those at the top do not really have to make
decisions; it is all a matter of seeing what is right, and the decisions
about breeding follow from mathematicalreally, astrological
While rejecting Platos moral rationalism, one might tell the
Grand Inquisitors elite: There is really no need for you to sacrice your happiness; we have learned in the twentieth century how
decision-making can be assigned to committees in such a way that
no individual has much responsibility. Not only can matters be
so arranged that nobody has much freedom to make momentous
decisions, but in politics and business: in bureaucracies and schools
we have come very close to attaining such a state, and where it has
not been reached as yet we are coming closer to it by the day.
Ironically, the radical demand for participation accelerates
this movement. When heeded, it results either in a proliferation of
ever-larger committees or in decision-making by huge crowds who
have been harangued by several orators. Neither way is any individual called upon to make momentous decisions. His options are
reduced to voting with the majority or the minority, or more rarely

Without Guilt and Justice


to voting for one of as many as perhaps half a dozen proposals. He

is safe from any frightening responsibility for what is done. Dread
has been reduced drastically if it has not been removed altogether.
Hardly anyone is weighed down by a heavy sense of responsibility.
Indeed, the larger the crowd is, the more one is usually struck by the
exuberant sense of irresponsibility.
The canon is sacriced to a sense of community. Anxiety, alienation, and the new integrity vanish. Pain ebbs away, and euphoria
sets in.
At this point it may seem that the Grand Inquisitor, even though
right that autonomy and happiness in the narrow sense are incompatible, was wrong in supposing that the most gifted must sacrice
their own happiness to ensure the greatest possible happiness of the
greatest possible number. Fateful decisions could be made without
pain and discomfort. But to prove the Inquisitor wrong, we should
have to assume that decisions made this way over a period of time
would result in the greatest possible happiness of the greatest possible number. This assumption, however, is clearly false. (See page
Decisions can be made painlessly, without discomfort, worry,
or exertion. But who would want to entrust his sick child to a doctor
who was known for making decisions in that fashion? Or who would
take his best friend who had come down with a strange disease that
deed easy diagnosis to a gathering of thousands of whom the great
majority had no knowledge of medicine, and let them vote on the
diagnosis and the best procedure without even going to the trouble
of examining the patient and performing various tests? These two
examples concern the welfare of a single person, and yet we should
not dream of settling for such methods. Oddly, when the issues at
stake aect the welfare and quite literally the lives, the liberties, and
the pursuit of happiness of very large numbers of people, millions
nd no fault with such procedures.
The comparison with the physician goes back all the way to
Plato, but as put here it does can feel authoritarianism or benevolent
totalitarianism. I do not share Platos moral rationalism; I do not
believe that a few men and women have the gift of seeing what is
right, and it is the whole thrust of my analysis to show how dicult


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?

it is to make fateful decisions in a responsible manner.

Those who wish to escape as far as possible from pain and
discomfort will try to avoid alienation and seek membership in
a community that makes it unnecessary to face fateful and terrifying
decisions all alone; they will opt for some of the strategies of decidophobia rather than the new integrity. Thus the pursuit of happiness
in the narrow sense is incompatible with autonomy.
This is not all that needs to be said against the pursuit of happiness
in the narrow sense. Consider Nietzsches last men in the Prologue
to Zarathustra: We have invented happiness, say the last men ...
One still loves ones neighbor and rubs against him, for one needs
warmth. ... No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same,
everybody is the same: whoever feels dierent goes voluntarily into
a madhouseor at least to a psychiatrist.
Nietzsche does not stand alone in his contempt for such contentment. Millions, including some who admire Nietzsche, some
who have never heard of him, and some who lived long before
Zarathustra was written, share this contempt. In this they are at one
with men as dierent as Socrates and Caesar, Beethoven and Goethe,
and most of the famous generals, statesmen, philosophers, artists,
poets, novelists, explorers, and discoverers whose lives continue to
fascinate more ordinary men. This fascination suggests that the
dierences among people are less radical than some writers suppose.
Insofar as there are two kinds of people, there are those who
have given up, who have thrown in the sponge and now live vicariously, by proxy, the lives they really desired to live in the rst
place; and there are those who have not abandoned hope. But it
would be false to suppose that the rst type lived in despair, the
second in hope. There may actually be more hope in the rst camp,
particularly if we include hope deferredhope for some radical
change after death, for example. Despair is to be found in both
camps; among ordinary people it is chronic but covered by a thin
crust of contentment; among the others it ares up occasionally
with immense power, alternating with eruptions of no less intense
joy. By contrasting drab existences, devoid of passion, with the lives

Without Guilt and Justice


of those who live dangerously, one can gain the false impression that
there are two types of people and almost two breeds. But in fact
there is a continuum, and millions live far from both extremes.
The contentment of the conformists is mixed liberally with
frustration and resentment and the sense that one has failed to get
what one desired most. Having settled for second bestor more
nearly tenth bestone can admire from a distance some of those
who have lived freer lives, while one detests nonconformists near
at hand. Socrates was a great manas long as more than twenty
centuries lie between him and us. At that safe distance one can even
speak well of the prophets.
The resentment people feel against nonconformists gives expression to a deep frustration, a profound resentment of ones own
existence, and a cancerous discontent. Basically, the attitude is that
of the woman who said to King Solomon, Cut the child in half. If
I cant have a live child, why should she? If I had to settle for conformity, why shouldnt they? It does not follow that the nonconformist
has a free and open nature and is generous. On the contrary, most
nonconformists bristle with resentment, and more often than not
todays nonconformist is tomorrows conformist and comes to feel
that if he did not make it there is no good reason why somebody
else should. For that matter, the great majority of so-called nonconformists are in fact conformists who have merely cast their lot with
a smaller group.
Even the joys of a truly free life that is not mired in conformity
are usually mixed with a great deal of frustration and frequent selfdoubtand occasionally with resentment of conformists who seem
so damnably content.
The dualists who would divide humanity into two camps are
wrong. As usual, we are confronted with a continuum. For certain
purposes it may be useful to contrast two types, but we should keep
in mind that there are many types, and that people have a great deal
in common.
Cloudless contentment is not open to man, and if he trades
his freedom and integrity for it, the time will come when he feels
cheated. This does not mean that he will openly regret the bargain.
Most people have failed to cultivate their critical perception of their


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?

own present position and of the alternatives they might have chosen;
precisely this is the trade they made; this is what they gave up for
comfort and contentment. Now they feel cheated without knowing
how and when and why. What they feel is a diuse and free-oating
resentment in search of an object.
Having given up autonomy for happiness, they have missed out
on both. This strategy does not work. Merely renouncing freedom
does not spell the end of all frustration and all discontent; to achieve
that aim one must also deprive people of much of their human
potential. Hence the strategy considered here is often supplemented
with alcohol, tranquilizers, or other drugs; but what people nd is
merely relief, not lasting happiness.
It will be noted that my critique did not depend on the stringent
denition of happiness in the narrow sense as excluding all discomfort and pain: I have also dealt with the concern to minimize pain
and discomfort. But as we now turn to consider happiness in the
formal or inclusive senseas a state, not necessarily conscious, that
is desiredwe must recall once more the paradox that it is possible
to say, This is what happiness means to me, and then not to be
happy when we are in that state. Not only is this possible, but it is a
very common experience.
It may therefore seem that a state that is desired and that is
thought to be happiness need not really be happiness. If so, my
denition (la) would be faulty. But what does it mean to say that
it is not really happiness? If it merely means that on being attained
it is no longer desired, I have already answered that objection by
pointing out that if it were sustained, then the cessation of desire as
well as unconscious states would be disqualied. But what I want is
a wide enough denition of happiness to include Nirvana, which
strikes me as one of the most interesting conceptions of happiness.
Next, it might be claimed that what is thought to be happiness
is not really happiness if, once the state is attained, one still feels
discomfort and pain. But anyone who would argue that way would
have slipped back into the narrow denition of happinessas if pain
and discomfort could not be ingredients of happiness. My answer
to the rst objection shows why we should not make satisfaction a
necessary condition of happiness, and my answer to the second ob-

Without Guilt and Justice


jection shows why we must not make the absence of dissatisfaction

a necessary condition of happiness.
What, then, is the meaning of these nal reections on happiness in the narrow sense? I have tried to show how those who
renounce autonomy for happiness miss out on both. In what sense
can they be said to miss out on happiness? Did they not obtain the
state that they desired? If they did, then they attained happiness in
the inclusive sense. But it was the whole point of those nal reections that they did not. The state they attained was not the state
they desired but was riddled with pain and discomfort. Thus a life
dedicated to the pursuit of happiness in the narrow, hedonistic sense
is open not only to external criticism but also to internal criticism.
What about happiness in the formal or inclusive sense? Is that
compatible with autonomy? It all depends on how happiness is
conceived. One could even say: The state I desire is autonomy; for
me happiness consists of being that kind of a person, or perhaps, for
me happiness is the pursuit of the new integrity. While this is right
as far as it goes, it is worthwhile to consider, in conclusion, two or
three other conceptions of happiness that are also compatible with
autonomy and the new integrity.
The autonomous life is demanding and requires one to stand
alone at crucial moments, but this does not mean that ones life
has to be miserable. Not only might one seek ones happiness in a
strenuous life, but autonomy is compatible with ways of life that
large numbers of admirable people have desired in the past and still
Realizing that the narrow, hedonistic conception of happiness
is awed, that those who pursue it do not nd it, and that the states
people desire are so often disappointing when they are attained,
some of the greatest sages have preached Nirvana. Even before the
Buddha, Nirvana was taught by Hindu and Jain teachers. Both the
word and the idea come from India but have spread to Ceylon and
the East from there, and since the time of Schopenhauer and romanticism they have gradually entered the consciousness of Europe and
America, as well. What seemed a specically Asian ideal at one time


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?

came to appeal to millions of Europeans after World War I and to a

great many Americans since World War II. Even if one has no wish
to catalogue and analyze large numbers of dierent conceptions of
happiness, Nirvana needs to be considered.
The word is Sanskrit and means extinction. What is meant is extinction of consciousness, but some teachers have said that Nirvana
is bliss unspeakable. Hence there are two schools of thought, one
dening Nirvana in the rst way, the other in the second, and it is
widely believed that the two interpretations are mutually incompatible. This unempirical approach comes nowhere near understanding
what Nirvana is all about. Both denitions are correct and quite
compatible. To see this, one must reect on concrete experiences
and not merely on rival denitions.
Imagine yourself in terrible pain. After two days of excruciating torment, a physician gives you a shot of morphine. Gradually
the pains diminish, consciousness ebbs away, and the approaching
extinction of consciousness is felt to be bliss unspeakable.
Plato argued in The Republic that in such cases we encounter
only an illusion of pleasure or bliss. He had heard of men aicted
with severe pain saying that there is no greater pleasure than the
cessation of this suering, but he argued that the quietude that
is free from both positive delight and painful sensations may be
experienced as pleasurable when it is preceded by great pain and as
painful when it is preceded by great pleasure. This is a variant of
a point I have made earlier in trying to show how the experience
of pleasure depends on some contrast. But neither Platos point
nor my own invalidates my argument about Nirvana. Obviously,
the extinction of consciousness precludes any sensation of pleasure
and it rules out the interpretation of bliss unspeakable in terms
of the narrow, hedonistic conception of happiness, which we left
behind some time ago. Our concern now is with the extinction
of consciousness as a state that is desired or, in Hamlets words, a
consummation devoutly to be wishd.
Plato might still object that in the midst of keen pleasure the
extinction of consciousness will not be seen as bliss unspeakable
or as a consummation devoutly to be wishd. But that is surely
elementary, and apart from that point one simply cannot begin

Without Guilt and Justice


to understand Nirvana. One must rst of all experience life as

wretchedness and misery and suering. As long as pain is seen
as an untoward accident, and suering as an inconvenient and infrequent interruptionand this is still the rule among Americans and
Europeansone is not ready for the teaching of Nirvana. Hence
it was the Buddhas rst concern to teach what he called the rst
of the four Noble Truths: the universality of suering. Old age,
sickness, and death are not accidents but dene the character of
human life. It is pleasure that is an occasional interruption; what
lasts is suering. And the only enduring happiness is Nirvanathe
unspeakable bliss of the extinction of consciousness.
The cause of suering is, in the last analysis, desire or attachment. The death of others need not grieve us if we are not attached
to them; the prospect of our own death need not grieve us if we
are not attached to life; ingratitude need not grieve us if we do not
desire gratitude; loss of possessions need not cause suering to those
who are not attached to possessions; and loss of ones youth and
health need not grieve those who are not attached to youth and
health. Hence those who learn detachment and extinction of desire
will experience the cessation of suering. According to the Buddha,
this noble goal was not to be reached in an instant through an act of
grace; it could be reached only by following the noble eightfold path:
right views, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right eort, right mindfulness, right concentration. Neither
the life style of hedonism nor the rigors of strict asceticism would
do; what was called for was this noble middle path: a careful regimen of self-control, a life oriented entirely toward the extinction of
desire, diligent cultivation of detachment.
Still, this pursuit of happiness is not devoid of all emotion. Approaching bliss unspeakable by virtue of ones own exertions is no
mean feat. One has engaged in combat against all the terrors of
the world and now, by dint of ones indomitable self-discipline, one
prevails. This sense of triumph has found classical expression in the
ancient story of the Buddhas temptation. When Mara, the tempter,
sought to dissuade him from entering Nirvana and oered him rule
over all the continents and their attending isles, the Buddha spurned
the oer, saying that he was about to make the ten thousand worlds


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?

tremble as he attained enlightenment. What a petty thing is worldly

power, even if it encompassed all the continents, compared to this
triumph over ten thousand worlds!
This truly noble idea of happiness is compatible with the new
integrity. It need not involve any self- deception; it is compatible
with the canon, and it does not commit one to any of the strategies
of decidophobia. This last point requires some elaboration. Does it
not commit one to religion, to joining a movement, to belonging
to a school of thought, and perhaps even to exegetical thinking?
Clearly, the quest for Nirvana is no warrant of integrity.
Some join a religion or a movement for the sake of fellowship, to
escape from intolerable isolation, and pay the price of not applying
the canon to the basic tenets of the group. Some go into a Zen
monastery and submit completely to the masters authority, hoping
to nd enlightenment that way. Not only do they fail to question
the masters words, they cultivate mistrust of reason and make a
virtue of uncritical obedience. Obviously, many who are looking
for Nirvana have given up the quest for the new integrity. But the
conception of happiness as Nirvana does not require one to do that.
The Buddha himself resisted nine of the ten strategies of decidophobia, but not moral rationalism. He taught that rational
reection showed clearly that his goal and his path to it were right.
But the quest for Nirvana does not entail moral rationalism; this
quest is compatible with autonomy.
The great alternative to Nirvana is the creative life. Nirvana is negative freedom, freedom from; the creative life is positive freedom,
freedom to.
The creative life involves alienation from others and from society. This alienation will sometimes be experienced as acutely painful,
but when one is creative that price does not seem too steep. When
ones creative powers ag and one is dissatised with ones own work,
it may not seem worth it. At such times, when one is not creative,
one may actually envy those who live a very dierent kind of life,
endow them with a bliss they do not feel, and thus deceive oneself. But when one is creative, one would not change places with

Without Guilt and Justice


anyoneexcept possibly one who is more creative.

The creative life is obviously compatible with a lack of integrity.
There is no striking correlation between creativity and a keen intellectual conscience. Creative men and women are not necessarily
particularly partial to the canon. But any notion that creative artists
and writers must be lacking in the new integrity is false. It is a
romantic prejudice that a highly developed reason and a critical intelligence are not compatible with the creation of great art. Among
the ancients Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides give the lie to this
legend; among the moderns it may suce to recall Leonardo and
Each of these men was endowed with extraordinary intellectual
powers and put them to use in his creative work. Indeed, the three
tragic poets of Athens contributed as much to the rise of Western
philosophy as did the so-called pre-Socratics. More than anyone
before him, Aeschylus reected critically on moral problems, considering at length what spoke for and against opposing views, and
Euripides took another large step in the direction of the canon.
Such great names may suggest that the creative life is open only
to a few. If so, most people would have to settle for another kind of
happiness. This Manichaean assumption that there are two kinds of
people a small creative elite and a vast uncreative majoritydoes
incalculable harm. It leads millions either to settle for the kind of
life in which eventually they feel frustrated, cheated, and resentful,
or to long for Nirvana.
There are degrees of creativity. Being no Michelangelo or Mozart
does not condemn one to be uncreative. I shall try to show that all
people really desire to be creative, but that is an ambitious claim,
and if I should not succeed in establishing that, this conception of
happiness would still rate inclusion here. It has to be discussed to
round out my account of decidophobia, liberation from guilt, and
Any claim that something is really desired raises serious problems, but I can dene that phrase. A child that is naughty while his
mother entertains guests can be said to really desire her attention
even if, on being asked, the child rejects the mere suggestion with
the utmost scorn and says: I hate my mother. What is meant is


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?

that he would not have been so naughty if he had had his mothers
attention; that the naughtiness was prompted by frustration; and
that, while it may be too late now, the mother might be able to verify
the suggestion when a similar occasion arises in the future.
The point about the creative life is precisely the same. Insofar
as people do not lead creative lives, they feel frustrated, and one
typical reaction is resentment that may issue in aggressive behavior
(naughtiness). Once that point is reached, it may be too late to
suggest that what is really wanted is a creative life; this claim may be
met with scorn and hatred. But it has to be tested not against what
people say once they feel frustrated but against peoples behavior
when they do and when they do not lead creative lives.
The creative life is no panacea. Neither is a mothers attention.
The thesis that all people desire something does not imply that this
is all they desire. A child that has his mothers attention but no
opportunity to engage in creative activities will feel frustrated and
miserable. So will a creative child who lives with a mother who gives
him no attention. And a child who is creative and has his mothers
attention may still be miserable in spite of that if he does not have
enough to eat, or if he cannot keep warm in the winter, or if he has
a sadistic father or a cruel older sister.
It is nave to suppose that only one thing is needful Men desire
and need many things, and creativity is merely one of these, but the
creative life is a phrase that covers more than one thing. To live a
creative life one needs a great many things, including food and some
security and, depending on ones talents, usually also some utensils.
The question remains whether all people really desire such a life.
The most important single piece of evidence is play. All over the
world children play. And while it is dicult to dene play (see Johan
Huizingas splendid book Homo Ludens), it is of the essence of play
that it is creative.
As children grow older, they play games that, more often than
not, involve a ritual with rules, but within these rules there is room
for originality. Chess is a ne example. But the most remarkable
evidence for the creativity of all people comes much earlier in life

Without Guilt and Justice


and involves less structured play.

A little girl playing with dolls is a playwright, stage designer,
and director, an actress who may play as many roles as she pleases,
improvising to her hearts content, and she can begin and end performances whenever she feels like it. She can invent new characters
at any pointindeed, create them out of nothing, along with any
props that strike her fancy. The promise of the serpent has come
true for her: she is as gods.
The dolls are incidental. Children create a world ex nihilo and
after a few minutes, when they have grown tired of it, they consign
it back to nothingness. They people these worlds with real and
imaginary persons, beasts, and props, mixing reality and fantasy
according to their whims. That is how grandly we start out in life!
It has been said that memory yields to pride, and we forget the
shameful things that we have done. It has also been suggested that
children are often ashamed of their lowly origins and invent noble
parents for themselves. But here we witness almost the opposite
of both claims. It is so humiliating that we have fallen so low from
such noble beginnings that pride makes us forget how we were once
omnipotent creators. For centuries this whole period of life was
almost totally forgotten. Nobody gave any thought to it, even if he
wrote the story of his own life, which scarcely anybody ever did. But
even now each one of us tends to forget how creative he was as a
small child. It would be too embarrassing to realize how uncreative
our lives have become since.
If memory supported my description, and that were all the
evidence I had, my case would be weaker than it is in fact, for the
reliability of memory might then be questioned. But the evidence is
available here and now, every day. We only need to observe children.
What children create usually does not last. But that is immaterial. Creativity is not tied to monuments that defy centuries. Certainly, people do not need to be creative in such a grand manner.
The creativity of which I speak is much closer to childrens play.
Yet there is a continuum between the little girl with her dolls and
Shakespeare took no care to see that his plays would last. He
took some trouble over the printing of two long poems, but none


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?

over the printing of his plays. In his day, plays were not considered literature, and when his friend Ben Jonson, just a little later,
published his own plays as Works this was considered odd. Yet
Shakespeare put far more into his tragedies than even people with
rare powers of understanding could get out of seeing a performance
or two. Moreover, his plays were often too long to be staged uncut.
He made his living writing plays, but more importantly he wrote to
please himself.
Similar examples abound: paintings in tombs that were sealed
when the job was done; sculptures in inaccessible high places. Performing artists who lived before the invention of phonographs, tape
recorders, and motion pictures furnish an even more obvious example. They were creative, but even the most famous artists among
them did not create anything that endured. The continuum between
the child and Shakespeare is crucial for my thesis. Once again I am
rejecting a bifurcation of mankind. But for all I have shown so far,
the possibility remains that the need to be creative is a childish need
that most people manage to outgrow without regrets. The time has
come to focus on another form of alienation: how exactly do people
lose their creativity? The most popular answer is that there must be
a villain who takes it awaysay, the corporate state or advanced
industrial society. If that were true, those living before this blight,
and those who still live outside it, should retain their creativity. This
being false on both counts, the answers clearly are false, too. The
problem is universal.
Spontaneity and originality involve nonconformity and make
for social problems. Societies socialize their children, teach them
discipline, inhibit their spontaneity, and make them do things the
way they are supposed to be done. In Western societies this is done
quite systematically in school. Originality is curbed, and the way is
substituted for a multitude of dierent ways.
If every child developed its own way of writing, ranging from
pictographs and hieroglyphs to characters with a vaguely Chinese
look and all sorts of diverse alphabets, writing would not serve its
purpose of communication, and society would break down. Everybody who learns to write must learn the same script and must
learn to read it, too, and the obvious way to accomplish that is to

Without Guilt and Justice


teach many children at the same time. But that means that the child
who feels like drawing at that moment, or feels like painting, or like
playing with dolls, digging in the dirt, running around, climbing a
tree, or chasing butteries is told to stop it and sit down with all the
This is only the beginning. The more one learns, the more is
one subjected to all kinds of discipline. But the essence of discipline is that spontaneity and originality are inhibited. A dialectical,
non-Manichaean thinker will not jump to the conclusion that discipline is therefore bad, and that we should be better o without
it. Communication and social life depend on it, and so does the
development of traditions. Without communication, social life,
and traditions, we should remain on the level of the brutes. We
should remain incapable of those activities that the word creative
brings to mind rst of all. Composers and playwrights, painters and
sculptors, poets and architects, as well as the dance depend on communication, social life, and traditions. It always requires training to
master a discipline. One has to renounce originality at one level in
order to get it back with interest at a higher level.
Romantic opponents of all alienation may not believe this, even
if they pay lip service to dialectic. Some people still dream of noble
savages living in paradise without paying any price for their bliss.
But in preindustrial societies, even on lush tropical islands, one encounters a fantastic amount of discipline and scarcely any possibility
of nonconformity. Creativity is channeled rigorously into ritual.
Those who share Marxs dream of rearing cattle in the evening before
dinner are struck by the way in which lovely dances are woven into
life and ignore the fact that these dances are meticulously prescribed
by tradition and require years of training.
If every child learned in the end to be as original with a mere
three actors or four instruments as Sophocles and Beethoven were,
our problem would not arise. But most children are squelched, by
no means only in advanced industrial societies. As they grow up,
more and more of their time is spent doing what one does. And
then they live by proxy in the eveningreading, watching, listening.
What they watch depends on their society. It may be dances or
rituals, cockghts or spectator sports, motion pictures or television.


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?

Even then they do not cease to be as godsat night. In their

dreams they still create worlds out of nothing, people them with real
and imaginary persons, resurrect the dead, and fashion plots that
put to shame most novelists and playwrights. But as soon as they
awake, pride makes them forget how recently they were omnipotent
One does not paint the pictures of ones dreams; one does not
put on paper the stories one created in ones sleep: one is convinced
that one lacks the creative genius to do any such thing, and one
quickly forgets ones dreams. But if you keep a person from dreaming
by always awakening him when he is about to dreamand this
is possible and has been donehe has a breakdown. No doubt,
this is so in part because dreaming is a way of coping with all sorts
of dicult experiences. But my hypothesis takes this point into
account without stopping there: all people need to be creative.
The other two conceptions of happiness considered here are
not what people really desire most; they are substitutes, goals one
settles for faute de mieux. What people really desire most is to live
creative lives. This, in spite of all the pain and discomfort involved
in such a life, is preferred to both of the other goals. It is only when
people come to feel that a creative life is beyond their means, that
they have not got what it takes, or that the cards are stacked against
them or perhaps against all men that they give up and settle for the
life of Nietzsches last men or for Nirvana.
I realize that I have not proved that everyone really wants to live
a creative life, nor do I see how this could be proved. But it should at
least be clear that this kind of life is very widely and deeply desired
and that it is compatible with the new integrity.

Without Guilt and Justice


Unfortunately, the picture painted here is a little too bright. The
creative writer or artist may be a voyeur who contemplates imaginary
scenes, without the courage to act in real life. He may be a decidophobe who consoles himself with his freedom of invention and his
power to choose words. He may have discovered a game in which
his autonomy is untrammeled; now he devotes as much of his time
as he can to that; but whenever the game stops, he isuncreative.
He nds his happiness in his creative life, but would be happier
if he were more creativeif he had the courage and the skill to bring
some spontaneity and some originality into his daily life and his
relationships to others. For creativity is not encountered in the arts
only but also in the dimension of human relationships and in the
practice of the new integrity. We have noted how the new integrity
involves autonomy: making decisions for oneselfespecially those
decisions that mold our character and future. Thus the autonomous
human being makes himself and gives shape to his life. He not only
considers alternatives that others present to him, but he uses his
imagination like a novelist or dramatist to think up possibilities.
It is wrong to suppose that there are two types of people, the
creative and the uncreative. Even the suggestion that we should
thin in terms of degrees is too crude because it may be taken to
imply that people can be ranked on a single scale. The example of
ay, and perhaps also that of dreams, may help to remind us that we
are all born with a creative capacity, and that few indeed manage to
maintain and develop it both in their lives and in some of the arts,
like Goethe. Some people are squelched in real life and are creative
only as writers; others infuse some spontaneity and some originality
into their lives. Large numbers, of course, lead rather uncreative
lives, have routine jobs, and spend their spare time passively.
Play is also a helpful example because the life of the little girl
who, when playing, is as gods, is anything but autonomous. Others
decide for her where she is to live, with whom, and even what to
wear and what to eat, and when to go to bed. She is autonomous
only at play.
Parents, teachers, and societies nd children much easier to live


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?

with if they can be made predictable and less spontaneous and original. Society nurtures decidophobia and makes people more, not
less, afraid of autonomy. Obtuse disciplinarians squelch creativity.
But those who therefore inveigh against discipline overlook the fact
that without it no sustained creativity is possible and no one can
nd satisfaction in his work.
Those who deplore all alienation or all discipline and over-praise
community and spontaneity erode the ethos on which creativity
depends. Originality consists of being dierent and alienates the
creative person from his fellow men. But creativity also provides a
way of coping with this alienation.
It is by no means only at the elementary levels of education
that creativity is squelched. The same process continues through
adult lifeeven in colleges and universities, which would seem to
be more hospitable to a creative life than most institutions. Among
scholars we nd some creativity, but on the whole disappointingly
little. Most professors are inhibited by Webers Fallacy. This fallacy is
encountered among legions who have never read Max Weber, but it
seems fair to name it after the man who oered the best formulation
of it instead of merely committing it in silence like millions of others.
(In fact, his practice was better than his preachment.)
Max Weber, the greatest sociologist of our century, not only
wrote about the Protestant ethic but also perpetuated it in his immensely inuential lecture, Scholarship as a Profession. He put
the point succinctly:
It is only through severe specialization that a scholar can really
obtain once, and perhaps never again in his life, the climactic
feeling: Here I have achieved something that will endure. A
really denitive and solid achievement today is always a specialists achievement. And whoever, therefore, lacks the capacity
to put on blinders, as it were, and to transport himself into the
notion that the destiny of his soul depends on whether he is
correct in making precisely this conjecture at this place in this
manuscript should certainly stay away from scholarship.
Weber had a commendable sense for the misery of life. His
appeal here is plainly to autosuggestion: scholarship as the opiate

Without Guilt and Justice


of the intellectuals, or how to transport yourself into self-deception.

Only a few pages after endure and denitive we are told: Everyone of us who is engaged in scholarship knows that the results
of his labors are dated within ten, twenty, fty years. In between
these two contradictory passages, Weber inveighed against the twin
idols of personality and experience of life, insisted that in scholarly
life there is no room for eitherand that even in art there is no room
for personality. It would be dicult to push further what Weber
himself, in his analysis of the Protestant ethic, called innerworldly
asceticism. Here self-denial is carried to the absurd.
The works of Thucydides and Gibbon were not dated within
ten, twenty, fty years. For they did not abide by the modern
academic ethos of merely making contributions. Any facts they
might have been the rst to notice or infer could be, and have been,
incorporated in more up-to-date accounts, and yet these men do
survive not only in some scattered footnote credits. Their works
reect the authors personalities and experience of life, and do not
carefully avoid all normative judgments. They are models of creative
The great philosophers also did not commit Webers Fallacy.
Their works had style and approached the condition of art. Nor
can a perceptive reader fail to nd in them the record of a highly
individual experience of life. But philosophers, historians, and other
scholars are not either totally creative or totally uncreative. There
are all sorts of gradations and varieties. What matters is that the
new integrity is quite compatible with the creative life. Indeed, it
involves some creativity.
I have argued that all people really desire a creative life and that
it is only when they come to feel that this is beyond their reach that
they settle for Nirvana or for the hedonistic life. Suppose that this
ambitious thesis did not stand up. I have conceded from the start
that creativity is only one of the things people want. Now suppose
that it were a fact that some people need very little of ithardly
more than comes to the fore in their dreams. What if that were so?
It would be a great pity, I think, but it would not aect any of the
arguments in this book, except for this one bold thesis that would


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?

then be wrong. The following claims would still stand: Those who
opt for the new integrity must countenance alienation; they have to
master the fear of freedom; but they need not live wretched lives,
devoid of happiness. They can live creative lives and nd solace in
their work.
If they have all four of the cardinal virtues, they will need such
solace, for not only honesty entails some suering; the other three
virtues also entail discomfort and pain. In the case of courage, entail may be too strong a word, inasmuch as a bold person may be
very lucky. But the odds are, of course, that anyone who keeps taking
great risks will sometimes get hurt badly. Humbition precludes selfsatisfaction, smugness, and complacency, which means in practice
that one is always self-critical. Even when one feels that something
one has done is good, an inner voice speaks up: So what? Love,
nally, involves sharing the plights of others. Thus the lives of those
who are morally admirable are hard, and they need some solace.
Now suppose that some men and women do not nd solace in
creative work. Or rather, they do nd happiness while they are
creative, but they cannot sustain their creativity. It comes in spurts,
not in a steady stream, and between the peaks there are vast valleys
of despair. What then?
There seems to be another, less romantic road to happiness. It
can be found through work of which one can honestly believe that
doing it well stands some chance of making the world a little better
work that is worth doing well because it benets humanity. Does
this life of service constitute a fourth conception of happinessan
alternative to hedonism, Nirvana, and the creative life? I prefer to
think of it in conjunction with the creative life. For an uncreative
life of service would not be autonomous but self-destructive or at
best a drug. But work of this kind can be creative, and moreover
it can be combined with a life that is creative in the more ordinary
sense of that word: one can serve others between creative spurts.
The most obvious way of combining creativity and service is by
also teaching. That is what painters and sculptors did in the past,
and what many scholars, as well as artists and writers, are doing

Without Guilt and Justice


today at colleges and universities. It is not true, as has sometimes

been claimed, that those who are free must, by some logical necessity,
work for the freedom of their fellow men. One can be autonomous
and lack love. But neither autonomy alone nor love alone is likely
to bring happiness. The four cardinal virtues form an organic unity,
and the life in which all four are developed will be a rich and full
life. It will not be free of moral conicts, dull, bland, or monotone,
but rather the kind one likes to read about: not easy, but enviable.
Of course, the case for the life of service does not depend solely
on this a peal to the agents happiness. The life of service is love
in action But love is by no means wholly extraneous to the other
cardinal virtues. Even the seemingly individualistic part of my ethic
provides reasons for not hating or detesting any human being and
for always being mindful that even those who have grievous faults
are, in the words of Moses, as yourself.
First, it is dicult to nd our own faults; they are much easier
to nd in others. If we always make excuses and end up by not
considering them faults, we become lax with ourselves. But if we
hate or detest as inhuman those who have these faults, then we are
almost bound to overlook the same faults in ourselves because we fail
to see the continuity between us and them. Hence it is essential
for our moral health to see those who oend us in their full humanity
while at the same time judging their faults clearly. Humbition says:
Judge others and remember that they are as yourself.
Second, our ideas and truthsespecially in faith, morals,
and politicshave an inveterate tendency to be onesided. Even
a staunch commitment to the new integrity cannot remedy this
fault entirely unless we go out of our way to considerwith an
eort at sympathythe views of those whom we feel tempted to
detest. Without suspending our critical faculties, we must keep
asking ourselves how human beings not essentially unlike ourselves
have come to see things so dierently.
The new integrity rules out blind love and admiration, but also
blind hatred. It often keeps us from agreeing with those we love
and admireand from loving or admiring those with whom we
agree. But it precludes not only Manichaeism but also a self-centered


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?

I have shown how the new integrity spells alienation. Yet it is

not compatible with indierence to our fellow men. There is no
better way to discover objections and alternatives than exposure
to the views of others, including people of the opposite sex and of
radically dierent backgrounds.
One cannot specify how much service justice requires. But it
would be foolish to think of service to others as a price one has to
pay or as an interruption in creative work. Some kinds of service, of
course, are felt to be radically uncongenial, and an autonomous individual will want to choose his own way. But in order to choose wisely
he should put aside the notion that the path to creative autonomy
is straight. Solzhenitsyn spent three and a half years in the Russian
army, during World War II, followed by eight years in concentration
campsand then exile, interrupted by two spells in a cancer ward.
No doubt, books can help liberate people: Solzhenitsyns novels,
for example; Tolstoys Anna Karenina; Goethe and Euripides; and
even some philosophers. But I doubt that books and study alone
Some existentialists have suggested that the mark of authenticity is the ability to face up to ones own dread of death. But all
their tedious talk of dread and death has not made them authentic.
I have argued in The Faith of a Heretic that the dread of death is
not universal and, in eect, that an autonomous individual will not
fear death. Nor need the road to autonomy lead through such fear.
What makes people inauthentic (and what makes their talk of food
and clothes and petty failures and successes so utterly pathetic) is
not that they have forgotten that they must die before long. It is
that they have forgotten that they are survivors.
Thinking only of oneself can never generate an ethic; nor will
it ever lead to autonomy. Neither dread nor courage in the face
of death need keep anyone from seeking trivial satisfactions in his
nal days or years. What makes such pursuits seem inappropriate,
if not outrageous, is a vivid sense that one is a survivor. What is
needed is some sense of solidarity with othersnot necessarily or
even usually all others, but some. My reections on the case of the

Without Guilt and Justice


survivor will be found at the center of this book, but this theme is
introduced on the dedication page. Solzhenitsyns unique moral
force is inseparable from the fact that he has never forgotten that
he is a survivor. In his novels he has given voice to the experiences
of those who did not survive, and in his public statements, most
obviously in his Nobel Lecture, he has spoken quite explicitly s a
Of course, it is possible to be creative without having had this
kind of experience. Tolstoy had it and described in Anna Karenina
how his brothers death became a turning point in his life. I have
shown earlier how most of the major modern philosophers lost one
or both parents in childhood. We are all survivors, but it is possible
to be creative without ever taking in this fact.
Autonomy is dierent. One cannot become autonomous and
make with open eyes the decisions that mold ones character and
future while shutting ones eyes to the fact that one is a survivor.
If the alternatives were laid out before us like so many distributive
shares, being a survivor would be totally irrelevant. But fateful
choices are not like that. Life does not lead us into a bakery shop as
if we were children, telling us to choose one piece of cake. As long as
you conne your choices to the alternatives that are presented to you
in a given framework and do not think of questioning the framework
itself, considering alternatives to that, you are not liberated.
The fateful choice is not simply between marrying X or Y, it
being understood that you have to marry one of them. It includes
the possibility of not getting married at all, or not yet, or perhaps
to Z. The fateful decision is not limited to going to this school or
that. There are countless other schools and ways of life. And there
is always the option of ending ones life. One can make lists, and
that may help, especially when the choice is not a fateful one. But
autonomy faces up not merely to bloodless, disembodied alternatives
that one thinks up. Some of the most haunting alternatives have
human shapes, and not all of these come out of books. Some we
have known in the esh, and not all of them are living any more.
It is usually the dead that are most persistent. And typically it is
only the death of someone very close to us that liberates us from the
framework that we had taken for granted, exploding the status quo


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?

and leading us to see radical alternatives.

Caring for others, then, is far from being totally extraneous to
autonomy, and the life of service must not be thought of as interrupting what matters most. The implications for education should
be obvious. As long as study is articially isolated from service and
from the work with which one earns a living, work and service will
also be severed from studyand when the years of study are over,
ones education will come to an end. But if work and study, creativity and service intertwine during the formative years of education,
then study and creativity will not come to an end when a person
leaves school. Some types of education favor the development of
integrity and creativity more than others. But creative autonomy is
not acquired through study alone. It is forged in hell.
Liberation involves a bitter knowledge of solitude, failure, and despair, but also the sense of triumph that one feels when standing,
unsupported, on forbidding peaks, seeing the unseen. Those who
try to ease the boredom of their sheltered lives by reading tales or
seeing lms that tell of men and women who lived richer lives may
still seek comfort in the thought that the price of liberation is too
high. One used to tell ones children that autonomy was wicked;
now it is considered much too risky.
The image of the two ways in the Sermon on the Mount is
suggestive. I cannot accept the Manichaean and inhuman idea that
the many who follow the easy way are going to eternal torment while
the few are saved; nor can I admire those who, believing this, see to
their own salvation, unconcerned about the many, if not actually
looking forward to beholding the torments of the damned. But
what of these words? Strait is the gate and narrow the way that
leads to life, and few nd it. Those who have found autonomy have
been few indeed, but for an intelligent and well-read person today
there are fewer excuses than there have ever been.
Some social conditions facilitate the development of autonomy,
others inhibit it. Solzhenitsyn, to be sure, attained it under Stalins
regime, in the camps, but the odds are overwhelmingly against such
triumphs, for they require not only extraordinary strength of char-

Without Guilt and Justice


acter but also a great deal of luck. After all, every attempt was
made t root out signs of budding autonomy and to kill those who
gave promise of attaining it. To cite Solzhenitsyns Nobel Lecture:
Those who fell into that abyss who already had made a name in
literature are at least known to usbut how many whom we do
not know, never once were published! And so very few, almost no
one, managed to survive and return. A whole national literature
remained behind
Autonomy involves reection on alternatives. It requires a sustained eort to liberate oneself from the cultural determination that
sticks to youth as eggshell does to a young bird. In this ght for
liberation nothing helps more than reading and discussion. What
is needed is exposure to dierent viewsnot merely to one devils
advocate but to a genuine variety of points of view and of ways of
experiencing the world. What is needed is not only a free ow of
ideas but also some feeling for the less fortunate, some feeling for
those who did not and those who still do not enjoy the privileges
that we tend to take for granted. What is needed is not only comparative religion and philosophy but also history and, above all, world
An ethic that includes love, but not justice, among the cardinal
virtues is apt to be considered Christian. Mine is not. In the rst
place, the notion that Christianity transcended justice is simply
false: witness the belief in retribution after death. Then, what is
distinctive in my ethic is humbition and the new integrity, as well
as the detailed critique of justice. Finally, the concept of autonomy
is anti-Christian, and in Christian morality, from the Sermon on
the Mount to Thomas, Luther, Calvin, and beyond, guilt and fear
have always been central. My autonomous morality is above guilt
and fear.
Another comparison may help to sum up my views. The just man
of Plato and the prophets was essentially an obedient man. He might
disobey a wicked despot, but only in obedience to a higher law that
was not of his making. Decidedly, he was not autonomous. Nor
did creativity have a place in this ancient ideal. We do not usually


Are Autonomy and Happiness Compatible?

think of justice as being on the same plane or in possible conict

with either creativity or autonomy; but we should. Creativity and
autonomy belong together and represent an orientation that is at
odds with the preoccupation with justice. The myth of Prometheus
shows this beautifully. And Karl Marxs Prometheus complex was
of a piece with his dedication to human autonomy and his scorn
for those preoccupied with social justice. Conversely, Platos central
concern with justice was accompanied, typically, by an excessive
regard for mathematics and the strong conviction that in a just
society there could not be any place for creative artists.
Although the great philosophers were creative, they have generally shown little understanding of creativity. Even in aesthetics
they have dealt with art from the spectators point of view. In ethics,
the concern with justice has been associated with passivity, too: the
question was what people should receive. In discussions of distributive justice, it is generally assumed that whatever is worthwhile is
given, and the problem is how much each member of a group is to
receive. But a creative person is one who nds most worthwhile
what is not given, and his primary concern is not with receiving.
Nor will he concentrate on distribution, seeing that he does not yet
know what there will be. That depends on his creative workand
on what others will create.
If he were told that other people are quite dierent from him,
interested in having rather than doing, grabby rather than creative,
he might well feel that the greatest service one could do them would
not be to help them calculate how each of them might receive as
much as possible. Surely, he might say, they would be better o if one
could change their orientation and make them creative. Suppose,
he might add, we could choose between two societies. The one
with fewer social inequalities would not necessarily be better: it
might be stagnant, uncreative, aicted with boredom and despair.
A more creative society might well be preferable even if it were more
inegalitarian. It is better to create than to receive, and autonomy
surpasses possessions.
This is not a defense of the status quo. That our society needs
changing is clear and no less true because other societies need to
be changed, too. Karl Marx said: The philosophers have merely

Without Guilt and Justice


interpreted the odd dierently, but what matters is to change it.

One hundred and twenty-ve years later, there is no dearth of people
who want to change the world. The time has come to insist: We
can agree that society needs to be changed, but what matters is
hownot only the means but alsoand above allthe new goal.
The old goals of justice and equality, and the ght against injustice and inequality, are congruent with the modern trend toward
ever greater regulation, homogeneity, and conformity. As long as
the prime concern is with the redistribution of what we have, none
of the tediously conformist protests against conformity and regulation will prevent the steady erosion of liberty. What is needed is a
dierent order of priorities. What is also needed is an attempt to
develop in some detail what is wrong with the old concepts and to
show the price of autonomy.
The autonomous life does not involve a lack of concern for
others. The question is what one desires for others. Some elitists
might say: What I want for myself is autonomy, but what the masses
need is bread and circuses or, in other words, the proper distribution
of possessions and amusements. It is less inegalitarian to say: I desire
autonomyfor myself and for others. Moreover, if we concentrate
on justice and equality or, in one word, distribution, we shall nd
before long that, however we distribute goods, there will not be
enough to go around. We must assign a higher priority to creativity,
realizing that creation and discovery render distributive schemes
Guilt is mired in the past, as is retributive justice. Distributive
justice is stuck in the present, but by the time it has gured out
how to cope with that, it is dated. We must move beyond guilt and
justice. We must give up the pleasant notion that we can have all
good things at once. What is best is not things at all but creative

The Serpents Promise

the serpent was wiser than man and woman and asked them: Are
you afraid? They answered: We have been told what is good and
evil, and if we disobey we shall die. But the serpent said: You will
not die, but your eyes will be opened; you will see that all gods are
dead; and you will be as gods, deciding what is good and evil.
They were afraid and replied: How can that be? The gods
are almighty and know everything. We can never be as gods. But
the serpent said: Nobody is almighty and knows everything. Your
knowledge and your power will always be limited. Still, you can
decide about your own life, and you need not accept what you have
been told.
The man and the woman replied: Those who told us knew
what is good, and we do not know. If we do not obey, we shall be
guilty. We are afraid. Then the serpent said: Fear not to stand
alone! Nobody knows what is good. There is no such knowledge.
Once upon a time God decided, but now that he is dead it is up to
you to decide. It is up to you to leave behind guilt and fear. You can
be autonomous.
They answered: But what are we to do right now to make a
beginning? The serpent replied: You still want to be told what to
do. Perhaps your children will be ready for autonomy.

Notes and Bibliography

this book has no footnotes. Most of the information ordinarily

given in footnotes will be found in the Bibliography. Freud, for example, is quoted in section 57, and the Bibliography furnishes full
data on the source, followed by a parenthesis: (57: p. 34 f.), which
means that the quotation in section 57 comes from p. 34 f. When a
work is cited in several sections, the references in the parentheses
are separated by semicolons.
The reason for this unorthodox system is that it is easier to locate
an author in an alphabetically arranged bibliography than it would
be to nd him in the notes at the end of the book. This way the
reader does not have to remember on what page Freud was quoted,
nor does he have to interrupt his reading to be sure of nding the
reference. The Bibliography supplements the Index.
The Notes contain only material that could not easily be incorporated in the Bibliography, and the system just described has made
it possible to hold them down to a few pages. Altogether, I have
tried hard to keep the Notes and Bibliography short.
Translations from the German are my own even when English
versions are listed, too, for the readers convenience.
* An asterisk indicates a note that oers some further discussion.
Readers may nd it convenient to glance at these notes after nishing a chapter.

Chapter 1:
* Kants autonomy and a little depth philosophy
1: Kant introduced the term autonomy into ethics, but the
ideal is far older. The Stoics sought moral autonomy, and so did
the Cynics even earlier. These post-Socratics associated liberation
with independence from desire and therefore believed that it was
essential to have few desires and no passions. Kant still stands in
this tradition; and he was autonomous y his own lights.
He considered it the mark of autonomy that ones actions are
not prompted by any inclination whatsoever but by a maxim of
which one could wish that it might become universal law. This
notion has elicited a large literature, and I have dealt with it at some
length in The Faith of a Heretic, 77. Now it must suce if I can
suggest briey how Kants conception of autonomy was misguided.
By considering his autonomy in action, we can see at a glance
what is borne out by a careful analysis of his works. on ethics.
Not everybody acts according to maxims, but Kant did. Why
did he? A few months after Kants death, R. B. Jachmann, who had
known him well and whom Kant had actually asked to write his
biography, published a memoir, Immanuel Kant Described in Letters
to a Friend. I turn to the seventh letter: Perhaps smoking tobacco
was his supreme sensual pleasure, but he had adopted the maxim to
smoke only one full clay pipe a day, because he did not see where he
should stop otherwise.
Kant suered from constipation, and a physician prescribed a
daily pill. When the eectiveness of the pill diminished, he doubled
the dosage on the advice of another doctor. But no sooner had this
happened than Kant reected that this increase would have no end,
and he formulated a maxim for himself never to take, as long as he
lived, more than two pills a day. Late in his life, when his doctors
wished him to take more pills, he refused to deviate from his maxim.
As soon as he had adopted such a maxim, nothing in the world
could have made him abandon it.
Jachmanns attitude is rather worshipful; he admires Kants
rmness; and the illustrations are introduced thus: By and by his
whole life had become a chain of maxims that eventually formed a
rm system of character. And Jachmann concludes: In this way he

had eventually tied his whole way of thinking and living to rules of
reason to which he remained as loyal in the smallest circumstances as
in the most important matters. His will was free, for it depended
on his law of reason. All attempts by others to subdue his will and
guide it dierently were in vain. He persisted in the duty that he
had imposed on himself.
Clearly, Kants conception of rationality was untenable. A
maxim that can be universalized is not necessarily rational. And a
person whose life is governed by scores of duties that he has imposed
on himself is hardly a paradigm of autonomy.
Socrates did not depend on alcohol. He could take it or leave
it. He did not need a maxim to stop after the second glass of wine.
When the wine and conversation were good, he went on drinking
until everybody else had passed out and then, at dawn, left the symposium, took a bath, and spent the rest of the day as he usually,
The exclusively microscopic approach favored by so many scholars gives one no depth of vision at all. What I call depth philosophy,
following the example of depth psychology, makes it easier to perceive radical alternatives-for example, to a morality of maxims and
principles. What I mean by depth philosophy is a philosophy
that does not rest content with analyses of words or concepts but
inquires into the concrete human realities behind various philosophical positions. Specically, one does not have to be either a slave
of ones inclinations or a man of maxims, to use Jachmanns apt
The central problem of Kants ethics (no less than of his Critique
of Pure Reason) was to escape from determinism. He called all
motivation that was not totally free of inclination pathological,
and he believed that as long as our motivation was pathological we
were unfree. Only behavior determined solely by reason was free,
and it was only when obeying a law one had imposed on oneself that
one was autonomous, provided that this law was wholly rational
and not stained by inclination. The test of that was whether the
law could be made universal and applied to all men. Thus Kants
rigorism seemed essential to him. As long as one always gets up at 5
a.m. (as Kant did), regardless of all inclinations, or as long as one

never takes more than two pills a day, no matter what consequences
are invoked by others, one is free, Kant thought. But as soon as one
heeds ones inclinations or appeals to consequences, one re-enters
the realm of causal determinism and of heteronomy.
Kants psychology was supercial. The procedure he recommended could well be pathological. It is certainly decidophobic.
I am not trying to explain Kants ethics psychologically. For my
present purpose it is just as well if his ethics came rst and he then
put it into practice. I believe that, as Jachmann put it in his sixth
letter, Kant lived as he taught. But even if the stories cited here
were apocryphal and if Kant himself had been a libertine, these illustrations would still show how Kants conceptions of autonomy
and rationality were misguided.
I agree that autonomy depends on rationality. But rationality
is incompatible with a rigorous refusal to listen to reason. Autonomy requires deliberate attention to objections and alternatives. If
anything can liberate us from cultural determination, that can. But
there is no need here for an analysis of determinism. The dierence
between those who give deliberate attention to objections and alternatives and those who do not is suciently important to be stressed
and worked out in detail.
2 and 6: For existentialism, cf. Kaufmann, 1959, especially
the chapters on Kierkegaard and Heidegger. For Heideggers relation to the Nazis, see also Heidegger, 1933, and Schneeberger, 1962.
The Heidegger quotation in 6, about using force, is from his 1953,
page 124.
4: The We-We orientation: See. Buber, 1923. In the Prologue to the English translation, pages 11-14, I present ve attitudes
in which there is no You: I-I, I-It, It-It, We-We, and Us-Them.
7: For Manichaean thinking, cf. Kaufmann, 1969 and 1970.
I have made some use of material rst presented there.
For Greek tragedy, cf. Kaufmann, 1968. For Hegel, ibid.
* A Note on Solzhenitsyn
9: For the confrontation with the Soviet Writers Secretariat,
see either Solzhenitsyn, ed. Labedz, or the Appendix of Cancer
Ward. The quotation about Tolstoyan philosophy is found in

Burg and Feifer, 1972; the detractor was Dmitri Eremin. The image
of Solzhenitsyn that emerges from the Burg and Feifer biography is
consistent with my view of him, but my interpretations are based
exclusively on his own works and on the admirable Documentary
Record, edited by Labedz. H. T. Willetts somewhat dierent rendering of Solzhenitsyns remark about the mice and cockroaches
is equally to my purpose: But I got used to it because there was
nothing evil in it, nothing dishonest. Rustling was life to them.
11: For the Nietzsche epigram see Kaufmanns Nietzsche, page
Chapter 2:
13: For Marx and justice, see also Wood, 1972.
14: First sentence: see Reiwald, page 16. Regarding 1694, see
Megarry, page 182. Regarding 1770, 1832, and 1837, see Reiwald,
page 16f.
Reiwald on talio: pages 268f. and 273. Cf. also 18. Scholarly
references in support of the long quotation: page 294, note 17; also
Kaufmann, 1961, 49.
The Gospel quotation is from Matthew 10: 14f.; cf. Luke 10:
10. For a fuller discussion of these aspects of the New Testament,
see Kaufmann, 1958, chapters 6-8, and 1961, chapter 8.
16: the nineteenth-century philosopher is Green, 1895, page
17: for point 6, cf. Freud, 1913, Werke, IX, page 89.
20: the two penologists are Gauthier and Robert Meindl; the
quotations are from Reiwald, page 189.
21: for poena, see Mommsen, 1899, page 13; cf. pages 14, 899.
Chapter 3:
* Notes on Rawls
22: For the dierences between justice and fairness see also
Chapman, 1963. Rawls, 1971, page 12f., defends himself by saying that justice as fairness does not mean that the concepts of
justice and fairness are the same, any more than the phrase poetry
as metaphor means that the concepts of poetry and metaphor are

the same. But this terse remark does not help much to explain the
dierence between two key concepts.
One of the dierences between justice and fairness is illustrated
by one of Rawlss own examples: gambling. If a number of
persons engage in a series of fair bets, the distribution of cash after
the last bet is fair, or at least not unfair, whatever the distribution
is (page 86). But we should not call it just. Rawlss chapter 1 is
entitled Justice as Fairness, and the phrase recurs throughout.
29: For a fuller account and critique of Hume, see Kaufmann,
December 1969. Humes association of justice with possessions
and the love of gain was so close and at the same time so misguided
that it seems to call for psychological, historical, or sociological
Page references for the Rawls quotations: moral geometry
(121); everyones advantage and Injustice (62 et passim); For
simplicity (408n); Rome or Paris (412. cf. 551); To say that
(138); We want to (141).
Rawlss exceptional intelligence and subtlety and his tireless
attention to detail may give the impression that we are confronted
with such a tightly woven theory that every objection is taken care
of somewhere. In fact, the book is quite uneven, and the discussion
of guilt in 70-74, for example, seems rather ill-considered. To
mention at least one point, Rawls seems to suppose that a greater
feeling of guilt implies a greater fault (page 475).
Occasional asides in Rawlss book come much closer to my
position than do the passages quoted in the text; for example, this
staggering concession: It is too much to suppose that there exists
for all or even most moral problems a reasonable solution. Perhaps
only a few can be satisfactorily answered (page 89f.). I welcome
such agreement, but it would be naive to suppose that I must be right
because another author says something similar. What autonomy
requires is attention to signicant alternatives to our own views.
Hence I have concentrated on the moral rationalism that is the
central motif of A Theory of Justice.
How hard even philosophers nd it to see through moral rationalism is suggested by Stuart Hampshires review-article (1972):
If our moral beliefs on many subjects, and in many very dierent

situations, are shown to be instances of a few general principles at

work, then we have an assurance that our moral beliefs have a rational foundation. This is surely wrong. Omit the word moral
both times and think of $1. Thomas or some Muslim scholastic;
did any scholastic ever show that the beliefs of his community had
a rational foundation? Hampshire himself immediately retracts
his claim in the next sentence: At least they are not just a chaos and
a jumble: there is a reason why we hold the various beliefs that we
do. The rst half of this qualication is trivially true, the second
half again false. What scholastics do is to bring a complex, Gothic
order into chaos, beginning with a few general principles and then
adding to these as need arises. But the reasons why people actually
hold various beliefs usually have little to do with the scholastics
ingenuity. Actually, Hampshire does not nally accept Rawlss rationalism: some version of intuitionism seems to me nearer to
adequacy than Professor Rawlss social contract theory. Hampshire
favors perfectionism: having a picture of the wholly admirable
man, and of an entirely desirable and admirable way of life. This is
much closer to the present book.
Regarding my nal criticism that the cards are stacked: After
nishing this book I read in manuscript Robert Nozicks critique
of Rawls in his forthcoming book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia. He
shows at length how the cards are stacked, how Rawlss second principle of justice is not at all particularly rational, and how Rawlss
original position is an inappropriate model for thinking about how
the things people produce are to be distributed. Nozick devotes far
more space to Rawls than I do and raises many other points. The
one most pertinent to my concerns is surely his attempt to show that
Rawls is in eect denigrating a persons autonomy. Finally, it seems
to me that A Theory of Justice invites comparison with Ralph Barton
Perrys General Theory of Value (1926). Rawlss references to Perry
show that he is not unaware of this. In a lengthier discussion this
point would be worth pursuing. Here it must suce to note that a
generation ago many philosophers believed that Perry had virtually
created a new branch of philosophy. In fact, however, general theory
of value had no future. Those who expect a renewal of moral and
political philosophy from A Theory of Justice overlook that, notwith-

standing the authors many virtues, justice has no future.

30: Solomons judgment: I Kings 3.
The quotation in the nal paragraph is from Gerard Manley
Chapter 4:
35: Satan is quoted from Kaufmann, 1958, 59.
36: Characterization of Tertullian opens the article on him
in Encyclopaedia Britannica, eleventh edition.
* A Note on Guilt and Aggression
Guilt will be discussed at length in the next chapter, but this is
the place for a brief remark about the theory regarding the origin
of the bad conscience advanced by Nietzsche in 1887 and revived
by Freud in 1931 and 1933. They claimed that aggression, denied
outward expression, turns inward against oneself. This is a profound
insight, but this is not the origin of the notion of guilt. I have tried
to show how this notion is born; but once a person has the notion
that he is guilty, this idea provides a channel for the discharge of
inhibited aggression. Cf. my analysis of the institution of punishment in 17; punishment does not owe its origin to aggression, but
it certainly provides an outlet for aggression.
Chapter 5:
39: I rst developed my concept of humbition and the three
other cardinal virtues in Kaufmann, 1961, 83.
* Spinoza and the bite of conscience
41: Spinoza repudiated the bite of conscience (conscientiae
morsus) but dened it rather implausibly as pain accompanied by
the idea of something past that has had a result contrary to our hope
(Ethics, Denitions at the end of Book III, 17; cf. III. 18, Scholium
2). This comes closer to a cynical bon mot than to a genuine understanding of the bad conscience, and it is understandable, though
unjustiable, that many interpreters, and even the standard English
translation, render conscientiae morsus as disappointment.

Later on (IV. 54 ) Spinoza says that poenitentia is no virtue

because it does not issue from reason, but as we must sin, we had
better sin in that direction because those who are prey to these
emotions may be led much more easily than others to live under the
guidance of reason. (Cf. also IV.4 7.) In sum, Spinoza repudiated
the traditional Christian view of guilt feelings, but he did not come
close to the view developed in the present book.
44: The Painted Bird is by Jerzy Kosinski, Night by Elie Wiesel,
and The First Circle and Cancer Ward are by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
What is said in the text applies also in full measure to the work
of Heinrich Boll-as much to some of his very short stories as to his
* A Note on Dreams
Third paragraph from end: Self-punishment in dreams poses a
serious problem for Freuds thesis that all dreams are to be explained
as wish fullments. His epic struggle with dreams of this sort began
with his discussion of dreams in which we fail examinations (1900:
page IS8f.). In the last edition of his Traumdeutung he expanded
this discussion and incorporated some new ideas (Werke, pages 280282). He noted that the tests we fail in dreams are always tests in
which we have done very well in real life, never tests we have actually
failed. More important, he added another section in which he said
I could not object if one distinguished dreams of this type [not
examination dreams but dreams in which we are far worse o
than we are in real life-especially dreams that take us back to
early hardships] as punishment dreams from our wish-fulfilment
But then he added in a footnote: It is easy to recognize in these
punishment dreams wish fulllments of the superego (page 479f.).
So far, my comments are compatible with Freuds theory without
committing me to it. But Freud does not suggest, as I do, that
some of us have a lingering feeling that we do not deserve to be so
successful in a world in which so many others are so miserable.

Consider two recurrent dreams. A professor who is a very successful lecturer dreams now and again that people walk out on his
lectures. A woman who has an enviable reputation as a hostess and a
cook and always has an abundance of food left over after every party
dreams occasionally of giving one at which there is not enough food,
while people she does not remember inviting keep arriving. If one
knows independently that both have an articulate social conscience
and that the woman is troubled by the fact that millions are starving,
my interpretation seems the most plausible.
Chapter 6:

46: After the third error: Occasionally total: see, e.g.,

Fromm, 1955, p. 124.

For a more detailed account of the way in which alienation

became popular, see Kaufmanns essay in Schacht, 1970. In the
present chapter I have made some use of parts of this essay, but
much of the material, including all of 58 and 59, is entirely new.
For a detailed account of alienation in Hegel, Marx, Fromm, and
twentieth-century sociology, see Schacht, 1970.
* Marx and Fourier

49: Marxs dream, quoted from The German Ideology, was

inuenced by Charles Fourier, 1845, page 68. Fourier had pointed
out that what makes labor a tedious torment is that workers have to
spend long, consecutive hours at the same occupation. He had proposed a commune in which the Harmonians would never spend
more than, at most, two hours at one job, and he had constructed
schedules for two Harmonians, one poor and one rich. Marx was
inuenced by the schedule for the rich:




sleep from 10:30 PM till 3 AM

rise, preparations

with the hunting group

with the shing group
breakfast, newspapers
agriculture, greenhouse mass

court of the arts, concert, ball, theater, receptions

to bed

Marx introduced not only the notion of rearing cattle in the

evening but alsoimportantlythe phrase as I please. He opposed regimentation and prized spontaneity and autonomy.
* A Note on Depth Philosophy
54: About half of the data in the penultimate paragraph were
originally brought to my attention in another context by Ben-Ami
Scharfstein. The phrase symptoms of mental alienation comes
from the article on Schopenhauer ill the Encyclopaedia Britannica,
eleventh edition. But it was surprisingly dicult to establish most
of these facts.
Even in biographies of philosophers their mothers are rarely
more than mentioned! The fathers are mentioned more oftenusually in connection with the sons education. The character and
attitudes of a mother or her death during a future philosophers childhood are widely considered irrelevant. The tradition that shapes
works of this sort has been molded by an absurd male chauvinism
and a mixture of psychological obtuseness with hostility to any attempt at psychological understanding.
What accounts for this hostility? Decidophobia. No similar
hostility exists in the case of artists and writers. But as soon as we
see the great philosophers as men who did not feel very reliably at
home in the interpreted world and who reacted in various ways to

a deep sense of alienation, the history of philosophy confronts us

with alternatives and the challenge to make choices. Of course, we
need not choose one of the philosophies found in a book; we might
try to develop views of our own. But that possibility only adds to
the horror. Nonphilosophers prefer to write o philosophy as too
deep, while philosophers seek safety in microscopism. They pick
out a sentence, a claim, or an argument and examine that, carefully.
Biographies of great philosophers are felt to be irrelevant, but barely
tolerated as long as they really remain irrelevant and concentrate
on trivia. The microscopist depends on abstraction and avoids any
possibility of confrontation with the philosophers of the past as
living alternatives.
Of course, the page in the text, above, does no more than open
up one line of questioning. Here is another: Wittgenstein, whose
inuence dominated English-speaking philosophy for a quarter of
a century, lost neither of his parents in childhood, but three of his
brothers committed suicide (Hans in 1902, Rudolf in 1904, and
Kurt in 1918: see Bartley, 1973).
57: Compact majority in the Freud quotation is a phrase
from Ibsens Enemy of the People (Volksfeind in German) and thus
ties in very well with Freuds references to the Volk.
59: For love of the stranger see Leviticus 19.34 and Deuteronomy 10.19. Cf. Exodus 12.49,20.10,22.21,23.9, Leviticus 24.22,
Numbers 15.15, and Deuteronomy 5.14. For Samuel see I Samuel
Chapter 7:
60: for justice as health of the soul, see Platos Republic 444.
For some recent scholarly discussions of Platos argument at that
point, see Vlastos (1971), essays 2-5.
66, second paragraph, on existentialism and resoluteness: see,
e.g., Heidegger, 1927, 46., especially the two chapters on Das
mogliche Ganzseinkonnen des Daseins and Das eigentliche Ganzseinkonnen des Daseins ; e.g., the sentence in 62 (p. 309), emphasized by Heidegger himself: The question about being able to
be whole is factual-existential. Being-there answers it in resoluteness. What is dierent from the classical integrity is the emphasis

on temporality and the wholeness not only of the person but also
of his life. 68: for a detailed discussion of dierent dimensions of
meaning, see Kaufmann, 1966, page 33.
69, rst paragraph: Job is usually seen dierently. Glatzer,
1969, includes over thirty interpretations of Job, and considers mine
(reprinted from Kaufmann, 1961) one of the boldest and most
incisive and sensitive, partly because it stresses points carefully
avoided by theological moralists (page 237). It would be immodest
to quote this here if there were a better way of establishing the point
made in the text.
70: The rst sentence harks back to the beginning of this
73: Buddha and Mara: Jataka, I, 63. 271; quoted in Sderblom,1933.
77: Moses as yourself : You shall love your neighbor as
yourself and The stranger shall be to you as the native among
you, and you shall love him as yourself (Leviticus 19: 18 and 34).
80: The sentence quoted from Marx is the last of his eleven
Theses on Feuerbach, which are included, e.g., in Marxs Frhschriften and in Tucker, 1972.


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Reverend Alexander Roberts, D.D., and James Donaldson, LL.D.,

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