- these actions are not punished by the law because, while immoral according to many, they do not cause injury to the rights of others.
Adam Smith further emphasizes the centrality of property rights. For Smith, the ownership and acquisition of private property is an essential right that contributes to and maintains individual well-being. Individuals who do not own property are individuals with no real say in their own affairs, and no voice in their government. Smith cites the case of the plebeians in the Roman Empire as an example of a class of people who were purposely kept from ownership of the land as a means of keeping power in the hands of the patricians.
He also makes reference to the slaves of his own day, and to residents of nations where a king may, at his own discretion, dispose of his subjects' property, as examples of conditions under which individuals are not free because they do not control the means of gaining wealth that would afford them genuine control over their own affairs.
Smith holds up the England of his own day as an example of a country which guarantees to all subjects the right to conduct trade, and to accumulate wealth as they see fit - factors that he believes relate to England's impartial administration of justice and general fairness in terms of individual rights and liberties - "the rights of the meanest British subject respectable to the greatest, and which, by securing to every man the fruits of his own industry, gives the greatest and most effectual encouragement to every sort of industry."
Men and women who exercise control over their own physical well-being can demand a form of social intercourse, a style of government that protects these rights and other rights as well. The representative institutions of England contribute both to the personal welfare of the nation's citizens, and to their ability to enjoy the fruits of their labors as they see fit. Again, individual liberty exists alongside the larger society. Conflict is avoided as long as the rights of each person are respected.
The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, took these ideas one logical step further by postulating the idea of maxims universally applicable to all persons and in all cases. Kant states that one should always act according to maxims that are true even insofar as they applicable to everyone, and not to oneself alone. A maxim that works only when applied to oneself does not possess the force of moral law rather it reflects only selfish interests. By designing the maxim to fit all situations one preserves one's own rights without prejudicing the rights of others - if it is true for you, it must be true for everyone else. As Kant describes it in the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals,
On the hypothesis, however, that the will of an intelligence is free, its autonomy, as the essential formal condition of its determination, is a necessary consequence. Moreover, this freedom of will is not merely quite possible as a hypothesis (not involving any contradiction to the principle of physical necessity in the connection of the phenomena of the sensible world) as speculative philosophy can show; but further, a rational being who is conscious of a causality through reason, that is to say, of a will (distinct from desires), must of necessity make it practically, that is, in idea, the condition of all his voluntary actions
The actions of individuals must be rational, and if they are rational they must recognize that fairness is universal. All...
To impose laws that protect or further the happiness of some at the expense of others, or to deny that happiness to certain groups or individuals is to deny the inherently rational nature of those other beings - we are all human beings and we all have rights.
Thus Kant completes the journey from group to individual that was begun by Rousseau. Kant's philosophy provides a moral grounding for the ideas of individual rights that are fleshed out in increasingly economic terms by Locke and Smith. For Smith, economic freedom guaranteed political freedom and natural rights. For Locke, economic freedom was a consequence of the natural right to pursue one's own dreams and welfare. The forms of government favored by Locke and Smith were representative because they believed that, in those forms, compromise could best be achieved. This was a compromise, not between group rights and individual rights, but a compromise made to insure that the rights of one individual were not overridden by the rights of another. In contrast, Rousseau's emphasis on the General Will mandated the submission of the individual to the group. In the fight for individual survival one needed to rely on the help of others in the form of a society, and eventually, a civilization. In order for everyone to survive and for each person to enjoy the maximum possible happiness, individual men and women would have to sacrifice their personal liberties and desires for the greater good. A sovereign people working through a universal democracy would impose itself on the individual for the good of all. It is the opposite of Kant, Smith, and Locke - for Rousseau individual freedom is group freedom.
Kant, Immanuel. Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals. Trans. Thomas K. Abbott. New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1949.
Locke, John. A Letter concerning Toleration. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Liberal Arts Press, 1955.
Locke, John. The Second Treatise of Government. Ed. Thomas P. Peardon. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1960.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Discourse on Political Economy and, the Social Contract. Trans. Christopher Betts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Trans. Franklin Philip. Ed. Patrick Coleman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, trans. Franklin Philip, ed. Patrick Coleman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) 56. http://www.questiaschool.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=28541056
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, trans. Franklin Philip, ed. Patrick Coleman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) 56. http://www.questiaschool.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=26355559
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Political Economy and, the Social Contract, trans. Christopher Betts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) 54. http://www.questiaschool.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=26355573
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Political Economy and, the Social Contract, trans. Christopher Betts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) 68. http://www.questiaschool.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=26355573
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Political Economy and, the Social Contract, trans. Christopher Betts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) 118-119. http://www.questiaschool.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=9293277
John Locke, the Second Treatise of Government, ed. Thomas P. Peardon (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1960) 76. http://www.questiaschool.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=10554027
John Locke, a Letter concerning Toleration, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis: Liberal Arts Press, 1955) 42. http://www.questiaschool.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=74440813
Adam Smith, an Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976) 557. http://www.questiaschool.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=74440813
Adam Smith, an Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976) 587. http://www.questiaschool.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=74440836
Adam Smith, an Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976) 610. http://www.questiaschool.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=8773037
Immanuel Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, trans. Thomas K. Abbott (New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1949) 78.
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