December 12, 2006


Caption: For Denny Dimwit, bantam rooster and noted free market economist, utopia is a BIG HEN.

This is the second post in a series on what a just society might look like. If this is your first visit, please scroll down to yesterday's entry.

This series is the result of a challenge from a Goat Rope reader to think about that subject as a step on the way to getting there.

Back in the early days of Goat Rope, there was a series on the connection or lack thereof between economics, politics, and human happiness. Here's the link. Look for March 27-31. There's a little bit more in the April 3 post.

Short version: El Cabrero thinks Aristotle was onto something when he said in The Nicomachian Ethics that happiness is the goal or end (telos) of life because we want it for its own sake but want other things for the sake of happiness.

He also argued that happiness is not the same as pleasure, although pleasure would be one component of a happy life. Instead, happiness had to do with the all round development of a person's potential throughout the course of a lifetime. He also thought that politics exists for the sake of the good life.

This was what Jefferson et al were getting at when they talked about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

In order to have a good chance of developing the human potential and having a happy life, you need some material basics and a decent and open society. You also need to work at it.

A political democracy with checks and balances probably provides the best framework for this for most people to achieve this. But formal democracy is not enough: people also need a good education, access to health care, a means of gaining a livelihood with an adequate standard of living, etc.

Obviously, we can't force people to be happy or to develop their potential, but we can take steps to make people less miserable and remove some of the obstacles that may keep people from fully developing.

But while it's hard to say where the fixed limits are of developing human potential or improving social life are, perfection is not an option in part because people have a really great knack for screwing things up.

Next time: the limits.


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