Sharp Blue: The limits of utility


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Today I’ve mostly been reading about the Roman conquest and unification of Italy and the First Punic War in Scullard’s book. Concurrently, on Brin-L I’ve been discussing Utilitarianism and states, mostly with Erik. It’s been an interesting discussion, ranging over such topics as the moral differences between murder and deaths in war, the monopoly of states on violence, the relative values of human lives (and whether these are observer-dependent), the exact utility function that the government of a state should be trying to maximise, and whether utility or rights are most important. (Well, the conversation hasn’t covered the last one except tangentially, but I’ve been thinking about it and will probably post on that topic soon.)

As usual, I’ve rapidly realised that I know very little about political philosophy (and certainly haven’t given it enough thought yet), and consequently I’ve been asking more questions than I have been providing answers. When I finish with Roman history, I think I’m going to have to give myself a crash course in political philosophy. I’ve been finding Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia hard going, so I’ll probably take a step back and borrow Wolff’s Introduction to Political Philosophy from Paul as a starting point. After that, though, I have no idea where to go next. Any ideas would be welcome.

Wolff was my tutor at university and I like his Introduction a lot. It should point you towards further reading.

The other big book, along with Nozick's, is of course John Rawls' A Theory Of Justice. They are both often recommended but I don't think either are gripping reads. I prefer secondary sources and checking of certain sections rather than methodically reading either.

Martin is right that A Theory of Justice is not exactly gripping reading, nevertheless I think it is probably a far more important and influential book than Nozick's. Unfortunately, he later decided that his theory didn't really work in he sense he originally meant and atempted to recast it as Political Liberalism, which is much less interesting. I've never read the Wolff book, though I did meet him once.

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