Professions and the Public Interest in American Life

Syllabus and notes for USC Philosophy course Phil 141g


Philosophy 141g

The Professions and the Public Interest in American Life

Fall 2007
Mon/Weds 2:00-3:15—-in THH 201
Instructor: Dallas Willard
Office MHP 205D; phone: 213-740-5181


In 1968 the distinguished American sociologist, Talcott Parsons, wrote that the professions have “become the most important single component in the structure of modern societies.” This is even more true for the America of the 2000’s, as the increasing complexity of life makes it increasingly difficult for the individual or the public to know itself and its needs. The human necessity, or at least justification, for the professions stands in precarious balance with the power, status and mythafications surrounding them. Professional process, power and aura can easily lead to harm of the individuals involved, as clients or practitioners, and to corruption of social and political life away from American democratic and egalitarian ideals. A philosophy of society adequate to contemporary life therefore requires an understanding of how the professional sub-structures in society operate and how they can best serve.

By public interest (or “the public good”) we understand those goods which all members of society may reasonably be presumed to benefit from, directly or indirectly, or at least have access to. For example, the public has an interest in commerce, legal institutions and processes, public order, health care, education, housing, transportation, and information flow. That there should be corresponding activities in society, and that they should be well conducted by certain qualified individuals, is, precisely, in the public interest. That is, it is in the interest or for the benefit of all citizens, and of all citizens more or less alike—and, it is reasonable to think, of society as whole.

If the interests of the public are to be well served, the activities involved in each of the areas of “public interest,” in the sense indicated, must be well done. This requires extraordinary dedication and training on the part of individuals engaged in those activities, and well as significant regulation of what they do. Because of the special knowledge such regulation requires, however, it must largely be regulation by others trained and immersed in that same activity. Special dedication, training, knowledge and self-regulation, when institutionalized in the appropriate respects, form a profession as a social entity.

The benefit to a society of well-functioning professions should be very obvious, and will be developed at length. But it is increasingly obvious in American life now, perhaps more than at other times and places in history, that professionalism has built into it tendencies that diminish the potential for public good when allowed to run free. Among these are inclinations to maximize the egoistic rewards and financial advantages that derive from the professional status as explained above. Being-a-professional is a status and an identity in society at large, which gives recognition and social power, along with remarkable financial opportunities, to many practitioners. It simultaneously shelters them from judgment by the public which they are supposed to serve.

This may have two unfortunate results, among others:one is individual obsession with personal advancement (status and rewards) within the professional framework. The professional may in fact come to focus upon such advancement to the detriment of the excellence of their performance in their social role. The other is that the qualities most prized within the profession may not be the ones most conducive to the relevant public goods. This is usually a highly contested matter, but, for example, if uncovering “Watergates” becomes the standard of recognition in journalism, will not much good that could come from a broader interpretation of “news” or information flow be lost to the public—e.g. detailed information on situations in financial, educational, cultural and other segments of life, which most likely are of greater importance to the citizen than anything of a sensational, muck-raking, crook-finding nature? And will not significant harm be done by a sensationalized press, as with the “Nannygate” incidents of some years ago? Similarly for medicine, law and education. What comes to be recognized and rewarded as “good work” and “success“within the professional circles may well be in conflict with the public good that the professions exist to serve. (E.g. “specialization” and research in medicine or elsewhere.) Then you will frequently hear things defended as ‘professional’ that seem obviously harmful to society, if not clearly immoral. “Being professional” actually becomes used as a point of evaluation that is independent of public service.

The distortion of professional function and its effects on the public interest are many-sided phenomena of grave consequence for the quality of life in any society. They far surpass specifically moral questions and are a major issue for understanding what a modern society is and how it functions well or badly. It is by no means a new topic, but it is one of currently renewed interest and significance. Two major works published on it in the last two decades: Derek Bok, The Cost of Talent: How Executives and Professionals Are Paid and How It Affects America (1993), and William Sullivan, Work and Integrity: The Crisis and Promise of Professionalism in America, (1995). A sharper critique is in Ivan Illich, Disabling Professions.

The chief aim of this course is to provide understanding of how professionalization, the organization of important segments of life into professions, positively and negatively influences contemporary American Life. After a brief general introduction to the issues and problems of social philosophy, it considers how the professions interact with the larger social and political processes of American life, as well as the effects of professionalization on individuals. Extensive study is made of certain topics, such as: (1). How well the profession serves or does not serve as a structure contributing to personal identity and meaningful life for the professional, (2). The extent to which society can permit a profession to dictate the terms of its own existence, (3). The relationship between professions and the middle class, and (4). How a balance can be maintained between the profession’s legitimate requirement for self-regulation and the interests of the public and of the individual lives which it exists to serve.

Two significant issues are kept in the open throughout the course: (I). The effects of professional ‘status’ on other relationships vital to a social system: e.g. family, friendship, community and economic relations. (II). The problems of government regulation of the professions: problems caused by the general dependence of governmental processes (in legislatures, courts and regulatory agencies) upon “expert testimony” from the professions, and by the fact that the professions claim to alone possess the knowledge and expertise required in order for the government to regulate them and, in general, to perform its (the government’s) own functions well.

It will be maintained that the specifically moral dimension of professional life is fundamental to its nature and function. The professions can serve public goods well, only if the individual members of the particular professions routinely act in ways that supremely promote the specific public good for the sake of which their particular profession exists; and only if they do not, and are not prepared to sacrifice that good for their own personal gain, monetary or otherwise; and only if they are appropriately vigilant to ensure that members of their profession by and large conform to this morally ideal pattern—and when called-for, to the extent of self-sacrifice. This is a thesis which the Instructor will maintain in this course, open to critical discussion and possible refutation. If it is true, excellence as a professional is never a mere matter of technical expertise and facility, nor is the attainment of professional status primarily a matter of personal success. One could be as proficient as possible, and also highly regarded and well-rewarded, but yet be a failure in their profession. Thus, the professions must also be considered as avenues of moral fulfillment and meaningful human existence. This is how they have been viewed for most of their history.

The treatment of the professions in this course is heavily historical, because the professions just are historical realities. Though they have an essence, they are not creations of pure rationality, and therefore they cannot be understood without consideration of their histories.

Our usual procedure in class time will be to emphasize and outline main points, lines of reasoning, and historical processes. Much of the time will be given to working through assigned readings. Often, at the end of a class period, the Instructor will comment on main points to watch for in the readings for the next class. Please bring those readings with you to the next class meeting, so that you can mark them as we work through them. Thus, for the next meeting you should bring the readings from Plato and John Dewey.

Required Texts:

  • Callahan, Joan C., Ethical Issues in Professional Life, New York, Oxford University Press.
  • Dewey, John, The Public and Its Problems, Denver, Alan Swallow, 1927
  • Frankl, Viktor, Man’s Search for Meaning, paperback.
  • Haber, Samuel, The Quest for Authority and Honor in the American Professions, 1750-1900, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1991.
  • Hatch, Nathan O., ed., The Professions in American History, Notre Dame, IN.,
  • University of Notre Dame Press, 1988. (Out of Print: Available as a CourseReader)
  • Illich, Ivan, et. al., Disabling Professions, London, Marion Boyars, 1977.
  • Macpherson, C. B., The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy, New York, Oxford University Press, 1977. ( Out of Print. In first “Course Reader”)
  • Maxwell, John C., There’s No Such Thing as “Business” Ethics, Warner Books, 2003

In addition to the Hatch book, there will be two other “Course Readers” with various selections, including the Macpherson book as a whole.

Other shorter selections may be made available as handouts from time to time. Especially, current articles and news stories directly bearing on matters being discussed as we go through the course.

References will also be made to:

  • Bledstein, Burton J., The Culture of Professionalism: The Middle Class and the Development of Higher Education in America, New York: Norton, 1976
  • Bok, Derek, The Cost of Talent, New York, Free Press.
  • Friedman, Lawrence M., A History of American Law, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1973.
  • Geison, Gerald L., ed., Professions and Professional Ideologies in America, Chapel Hill, Un. of North Carolina Press, 1983
  • Kimball, Bruce A., The “True Professional Ideal” in America: A History, Cambridge, MA., Blackwell, 1992
  • Kraybill Donald B., and Phyllis Good, edd., Perils of Professionalism, Scottsdale, PA., Herald Press, 1982.(Selections from this in the last “Course Reader.)
  • Plato, The Republic, Raymond Larson, translator, Arlington Heights, IL., AHM Publishing Corporation, 1979. (Selection in 1st Course Reader)
  • Sullivan, W. M., Work and Integrity: The Crisis and the Promise of Professionalism, New York: HarperCollins, 1995. This may be available as a text.

Formal Requirements Of The Course

One mid-term (7th week) and a two-hour final exam. The Professor grades the exams.

Three five-to-eight-pages-or-so papers, due in weeks 4, 11 and 15, on assigned topics. These will be handled by the Teaching Assistants.

Attendance and prepared participation in the weekly discussion sections. (Attendance and participation in these sessions will be thoroughly noted by the TA’s.)

Attendance at lectures. (Please note: Attendance at lectures is not optional for this course, and attendance sign-up sheets may be passed out from time to time.) There is a great deal of reading, for your benefit. But you will be held responsible on tests only for the reading material explicitly covered in class.

Please note: The subject matter and readings may look a little scary, but the Instructor will see to it that the material is presented in a way that is suited to a 1st year University level student.

Papers will be marked as one day late if turned in after 3:15PM on the day they are due, two days late after 3:15 of the next day and so on. For each day late, one grade level (e.g. from A- to B+) will be lost. Valid excuses permitted.

Your use of a lap-top computer in class is permitted on the condition that nothing other than notes on the current lecture will be present on the screen during the lecture.

All cell-phones and other electronic devices must be turned off at the beginning of class.

Main topics dealt with week-by-week, and assignments:

Week 1: August 27-31

  • The ‘Good Life’ and Public Goods. What is “the public good”? Public goods. How society is essentially ORGAN-ized, and how any Desirable Human Existence Depends upon the organization of Society into ‘specializations’ or ‘divisions of labor’. From Plato to Henry Ford.
    The special position of the state, as coercive power in society, is discussed, along with the crucial role of specialized knowledge and skill in governance. The professional is seen as a trustee of the public good.
  • Readings: Selections from Plato, Republic, BK II (in Course Reader).
    • Dewey, The Public and Its Problems, Chaps. 1 & 2.
    • “Evident Truths,” (last selection in 1st“Course Reader”).
  • Recommended readings during weeks 1-3:
    • Hatch, The Professions in American History, 1-12
    • Kraybill & Good, Perils of Professionalism, 7-24
    • Kimball, The ‘True Professional Ideal’ in America, “Introduction.”
    • Plato, Republic, Books VIII & IX.
  • Discussion Sections: They do NOT meet the first week of classes!


  • Week 2: Sept 3-7—Democracy—Democratic ideals and institutions are added to the mix of social and political order. Brief historical discussion is provided, emphasizing special social benefits, problems and dangers of democracy. Democracy as an ideal of human character and well-being.

Week 2: Sept 3-7

Democracy—Democratic ideals and institutions are added to the mix of social and political order. Brief historical discussion is provided, emphasizing special social benefits, problems and dangers of democracy. Democracy as an ideal of human character and well-being.

  • Readings: Dewey, Chapters III-VI
    • Macpherson, Life and Times of Liberal Democracy (in Course Reader)
    • Callahan, Ethical Issues in Prof. Life, pp. 26-46.
    • Discussion Sections focus on Dewey, Chap. 4, especially on his view of how the “public” gets “eclipsed.”

Week 3: September 10-14

  • Clergy/Minister/Priesthood
  • Lawyer
  • Doctor/Medicine
  • The Soldier (Knight)
  • The Courtier

Two case studies: Accounting and Business and the Formation of Capitalist Society.

  • Readings: Continue Macpherson, see study notes attached.
    • Selections from International Encyclopedia of theSocial Sciences, and Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, at beginning of the Course Reader.
    • Brandeis, "Business—A Profession," (Course Reader)
    • Ruskin, "Unto This Last"/"The Roots of Honor," (Right after Brandeis in Course Reader.)
    • Maxwell, There Is No Such Thing as "Business" Ethics.
    • Haber, The Quest for Authority and Honor in the American Professions, pp. ix-14.
  • Discussion sections focus on Callahan 26-45. Work through the study questions on pp. 44-45.

Assignment: Five page paper, due the second class meeting of next week (Sept 19th), on topic to be specified.

Week 4: Sept. 17-21

Professions in the American Historical Context:

  • RELIGION/CLERGY. General social role of religion. Special knowledge and function of experts in an overwhelmingly Protestant culture. The vast importance of the clergy for the American historical context. Saints, pastors, evangelists and crazies today. Problems of regulation. “Separation of Church and State.”


  • Readings: Haber, The Quest for Authority and Honor in the American Professions, 1750-1900, pp. 15-44
  • Hatch, Chapter 4
  • Recommended: Kimball, pp. 18-106.
  • Discussion Sections focus on Chapter 4 of Hatch, and whether or not Clergy should still be regarded as a profession.

Week 5: Sept. 24-2

Professions in the American Historical Context:

  • THE LAW/LAWYERS & JUDGES. General social role of legal institutions and practices. Peculiarities of the American context and experience that shape specifically American (democratic, egalitarian) legal practices. The lawyer as entrepreneur and as the Knight of Justice. Problems of regulation
  • Readings: Haber, pp. 67-87
    • Hatch, Chapter 2
    • Recommended: Kimball, pp.106-197
      • Friedman, A History of American Law, pp. 13-126.
  • Discussion Sections focus on Haber, pp. 67-87, and especially the controversy between Blackstone and Wilson over the foundation of law. (82ff)

Week 6: Oct. 1-5

Professions in the American Historical Context:

  • MEDICINE/MEDICAL DOCTORS. General social role of the medical doctor. The colonial and frontier experience. Doctor as a scholar and a gentleman. Emergence of licensing and medical schools. The impact of advancing science and technology on medical practice. The American obsession with health and death. The issue of cost and availability in the American context. Problems of regulation.
  • Readings: Haber, pp. 45-65
    • Hatch, Chapter 3
    • Recommended: Kimball, pp.303-309
  • Discussion Sections focus on Hatch, Chapter 3, and especially on the role of the AMA in elevating the profession of Medicine. (You might want to glance ahead at Illich, pp. 41-67.)

Week 7: Oct. 8-12

Professions in the American Historical Context:

  • Egalitarianism, Religion and the Professions in Mid-19th Century middle America: Cincinnati and Memphis.
  • Readings: Haber, pp. 91-190
    • Bok, pp. v-41 (handout)
  • Discussion Sections focus on Callahan, pp. 130-141.
  • Assignment: WRITTEN EXAM, Oct. 15, on questions selected by the Instructor from review questions earlier distributed. In class.

Week 8: Oct. 15-19

Professions in the American Historical Context:

Exam Oct. 15 IN CLASS

  • A new start: Professions re-established in a new social order, 1880-1900. Especially medicine, which becomes a new model for professionalism. The physician a man to be honored for knowledge and self-sacrificing devotion —though not very well paid.
  • Readings: Haber, pp. 193-273 & 319-358.
    • Hatch, Chapter 3 (review)
  • Discussion Sections focus on Haber, pp. 276-293, issues around academic freedom and authority of university professors.

Week 9: Oct. 22-26

Professions in the American Historical Context:

  • The Educator, The Professor, The Engineer, emerging into Professions with the growth and constant reorganization of American society and the vast expansion of “applied science.”
  • Readings: Haber, pp. 274-318.
    • Hatch, Chapters 1, 6, 7
    • Hough, “The University and the Common Good” (in Course Reader)
  • Discussion Sections focus on Hough, “The University and the Common Good.”

Week 10: Oct.29-Nov. 2

The 20th Century Rush to Professionalization:

  • Really, now, who isn’t a professional? Can’t we all be? Who doesn’t want to be a “real pro”? Who can afford not to be? Jobs, guilds, unions, bureaucracies and professions. In what sense are Journalists, Counselors, Military personnel, business people, ‘professional’ sports figures, entertainers, etc. etc. professionals? Are they? Are there professional criminals? How do professions differ from gangs or secret societies such as the Masons?
  • The “Professional” has status, “standing.” The advantages of being (recognized as) a professional: Identity, power, freedom, pride. The comparative personal social and economic disadvantages of the non- professional. To what extent can we justify the differential.
  • Assignment: PAPER DUE NOVEMBER 7 AT CLASS TIME, Topic to be specified.
  • Readings: Kraybill and Good, pp. 13-58. In Reader.
    • Callahan, pp. 3-21, 35-46, 388—464
    • RECOMMENDED: Bledstein, The Culture of Professionalism, chapters 4-6.
      • A. Etzioni, The Semi-Professions and Their Organization, Free Press, 1969.
  • Discussion Sections focus on Callahan, pp. 87-103, especially the idea of contract, and its alternatives.

Week 11: Nov. 5-9

How Professions and Professionals Can Hurt People and the Public:

  • The brain drain away from service callings (Bok). The displacement of society’s financial resources. The crippling of clients and citizens. The manufacturing and manipulation of ‘need’. Impact on family, communal life and collegiality of the professional. The guarded and lonely professional.
  • Readings: Callahan, 49-121; review Kraybill and Good.
  • Discussion Sections focus on Illich pp. 4-39 and the concept of disabling professions.

Paper due at class November 7

Week 12: Nov. 12-16

And: Can religious faith stand against the harmful tendencies of professionalism? Can professional ethics? Can legislation?

    • Readings: Callahan, pp. 127-129, 172-175, 263-281, 300-340.
      • Illich, Ivan, et. al., Disabling Professions
    • Discussion Sections focus on Callahan pp. 263-274, and what sense can be made of corporate responsibility.

    PLEASE NOTE: For the following week, the class will meet for the lecture on the 19th, but not on the 21st, due to the massive absences on the day prior to Thanksgiving. This will be made up by the meeting on Dec. 13 (see below). Discussions sections will not meet in the week of Nov. 22-26.

    Week 13: Nov. 19-23

    What, exactly, happens when professional structures do not ‘perform’? How the Public Interest or Public Good Is Injured. Moral Character and Professional Performance.

    • The Savings and Loan scandal and Enron, etc: Where were the accountants and lawyers. The “Keating Five.” The interaction between government and the professions in these cases. Dependence of the government upon professionals for the articulation and enforcement of regulations of the professions. Collusion between professions through mutual recognition, social bonding, of professionals as professionals.
    • Why we cannot simply trust justice to lawyers. From justice to “process.” And similarly we cannot trust education to teachers. Or delivery of health care to doctors. Nothing personal, of course! But how can we effectively do otherwise than trust them?
    • Readings: Sullivan, pp. 127-237 Illich, Disabling Professions.
    • Discussion Sections focus on Illich, pp. 93-109
    • Assignment: PAPER DUE DECEMBER 5 AT CLASS TIME. Topic to be assigned.

    Week 14: Nov. 26-30

    How Professions can “Disable” the Public
    Some proposals for re-directing professional structures in contemporary society.

    • Finally, words in praise of the true professional. The hope of society lies in professionals in a humanly adequate community. What kind of people must they be?
    • Back to Dewey and “The Search for the Great Community.”
    • The primacy of the ethical to civilization.
      • What can the individual do? The Reinhold Niebuhr thesis concerning “Moral Man and Immoral Society.”
    • Readings: Dewey, Chapter V (re-read)
      • Willard, “On Being a Good Human Being,” (Handout)
      • Reinhold Niebuhr selections. (Reader)
      • Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
      • Richard Taylor, “Does Life Have a Meaning?” (Reader)
    • Discussion Sections focus on Taylor, “Does Life Have a Meaning?”

    Week 15: Dec. 3-7

    Morality, Meaning and Professional Status. Catch-up and Review in Lectures. A Synoptic, final lecture on the Professions and the Public Good in American Life.

    • Readings: Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.
    • Discussion Sections focus on “Part Two” of Frankl. Relate to Taylor.


    Dec. 13—Meeting (2-4PM) to answer questions about the review questions for Final Exam.

    Final Exam: Friday, Dec. 14, 2-4PM

    Some Sample Paper Topics

    • What is the difference between a job or occupation and a profession?

    • How is the public interest or “public good” to be understood?

    • Division of labor as essential to social well-being

    • Professions in the America of 1750-1776:Main issues.

    • “Protective democracy” compared to “Participatory Democracy” (Macpherson)

    • Professional services and status in the Memphis of 1830-1880

    • How did doctors gain control over the supply of doctors in the period 1890 and later?

    • Evaluation of the salaries of CEO’s in the late 1900’s.

    • Some proposals on how to break the power of Physicians (or Lawyers, etc.) to control government regulation of their professions

    • Is moral character essential to excellent professional performance? Why or why not?

    • Explain Illich’s concept of disabling professions

    • Can a bad person be a good Doctor, Lawyer, Clergy, etc.”? Can a good Doctor, etc. be a bad person?

    • Meaning in life in the Professional context.

    • Etc., etc.,

    *Students will be guided as to how to develop their papers on these topics without writing at great lengths.

    Phil. 141g, The Professions and the Public Interest in American Life Sept. 5, 2007

    For your discussion sections next week (Sept. 10-14) your reading is pp. 26-45 pf Callahan, ETHICAL ISSUES IN PROFESSIONAL LIFE. In preparation for your session, do the reading and work through the study questions spanning pp. 44-45.

    From the last lecture you should understand:
    • The four objections to “the common good” discussed in the handout, and how these do not cancel the fact that numerous common goods (plural) are rightly assumed to be available to all citizens in a civilized society.
    • How the fact that individuals are not self-sufficient leads to people living together and forming cities, according to Plato (Reader Phil. 141/1, p. 41)
    • How the specialization involved in division of labor leads to professions. The special degree of knowledge and technique required by professions.

    Because knowledge is central to the professions as well as the public good (common goods) we need to keep several points about knowledge in mind. Use pp. 14a-14c to go into details on this.

    The basic human problem is to find knowledge that can serve as the basis for life.

    This problem is imposed by the necessity of choice and the danger of wrong choices.

    Philosophy attempts to find a rational basis for very general questions about life, the answers to which frame all other choices. (See frames top 14c)

    It seeks to find “sound arguments” for important conclusions. (frames mid 14c)

    One has knowledge of a certain fact or subject matter when one is able to represent it as it is on an appropriate basis of thought and experience—including information gained from others as in study or teaching.

    Knowledge thus involves truth and sufficient evidence. (mid 14c)

    There is no perfectly general account of “sufficient evidence.” Different subject matters require different ways of knowing.

    Knowledge does not require that you know that you know. That would entail an infinite regress, and that there is no knowledge of anything.

    Children and unsophisticates know many things without even knowing that there is such a thing as knowledge.

    Possession of knowledge confers the right—and possibly the responsibility—to act, to direct action, to formulate and implement policy, and to teach, other things being equal.

    Belief, feeling, traditions, and power do not give that right.

    Thus knowledge always has political bearings, though it is not political in its nature.

    In a democratic society, decisions are in some sense made by the public. This poses huge problems in a complex society. How can “the public” have any idea of what it is doing and the consequences of its acts? (Pick up at page 14d of the first handout.)

    Phil. 141g, The Professions and the Public interest in American Life, Sept. 10, 2007

    Your assignment for discussion sections this week is Callahan pp. 26-45. If you cannot get hold of this book, be sure to do the two Encyclopedia articles at the opening of the first reader, Phil 141/1, which are part of the assigned reading for this week anyway. Just do them before you go to your discussion section. Compare these readings to “The Marks of a Profession,” spanning pp. 21-22 of the first handout (the one with the schedule).

    For Wednesday’s lecture, be sure to bring the first reader with you, and try to have read the 1st 3 reading assignments (they are in it) listed in the schedule for the week of Sept. 10-14. They are short.

    Try to get the Maxwell book, There Is No Such Thing as Business Ethics and read it over the weekend. It is an easy read. I will plan to discuss it on Monday the 17th.

    Because of the problems getting the books, I AM MOVING THE 1ST PAPER DUE DATE TO SEPT. 24TH AT CLASS. THAT’S 2007. I will specify the topic on the 17th.

    • Now from last time you should know what Willard says knowledge is and why it confers the right and (sometimes) the responsibility to act, direct action, formulate and implement policy and to teach, while mere feeling, belief, tradition and power do not.
    • You should see clearly the connection between the professions and knowledge.
    • You should understand Dewey’s view of the special problem created by the development of American society into a “great society” that is no longer a community, and the resulting “eclipse of the public.” (See references on p. 14d of first handout.)
    • You should know what a “public” is and how publics relate to the state.

    Today we look at Dewey’s solution: Shared knowledge communicated to the community at large by “experts” (professionals?)—Work through the Dewey references bottom p. 14d of handout. Especially the “Criticisms,” next to last frame on 14d.

    CAN ‘DEMOCRACY’ SOLVE THE PROBLEMS OF OUR SOCIETY? This is the problem for Macpherson’s The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy. This book is contained in the first reader, and pp. 14e-20 is entirely devoted to analysis of it. Please use the analysis provided to study the book. We will only cover its main points in class.

    A liberal democracy is, briefly stated, a democracy that guarantees the freedom of individuals. This is understood to mean that it uses governmental force to secure stated rights. See Macpherson’s statement quoted top. P. 16 of handout.

    The ambiguity in the idea of freedom. P. 15 of first handout.

    Now we walk through the four main “models” of Democracy according to Macpherson. See pp. 16 -19.

    See the “Critique” on p. 19. USC: Phil. 141g

    The Professions and Pub. Int. in Am. Life Sept. 8, 97

    The assumption of the American experience is:
    • That the better society is one which provides the greatest amount of freedom or liberty to its citizens, and
    • That the society which provides the greatest amount of liberty to its citizens is one that politically is democratic.

    “Politically democratic” refers to the fact that the officials of the state—and possibly of other social groupings as well—are periodically elected by the citizens. It is presumed that the individuals standing for office are voted for or against on the basis of the public policies they will implement in office.

    It is at this point that Dewey’s concern with the “eclipse” of the public becomes relevant. For how is the public to perceive what is happening and what is best done in a social

    system of such dimensions as we now have (“The Great Society,” which is not yet a “Great Community”)? In a democracy—assumed to be necessary, not optional—how is the public to be enabled to act wisely in its own behalf? This is the perennial and currently unresolved problem of any democracy.

    The issues are further complicated by two concepts of liberty or freedom which turn out to underlie two quite different ideas of democracy.
    • I am free if no one is “telling me what to do,” preventing me from doing what I want.
    • I am free if I am able actually to do what I want to do.

    And closely associated, but not identical with #2 is a third conception of freedom:

    I am free if I am able actually to do what is good for me, i.e. most conducive to the fulness of my life, the realization of my potentials for the highest and best. T. H. Green has famously described this as “a positive power or capacity of doing or enjoying something worth doing or enjoying, and that, too, something that we do or enjoy in common with others. We mean by it a power which each man exercises through the help or security given him by his fellow-men, and which he in turn helps to secure for them.” (C. Cohen, ed., Communism, Fascism, and Democracy, 2nd ed. p. 485

    As C. B. Macpherson points out, when we speak of “Liberal Democracy,””...‘liberal’ can mean freedom of the stronger to do down the weaker by following market rules; or it can mean equal effective freedom for all to use and develop their capacities. The latter freedom is inconsistent with the former.” (The Life and Times of Liberal Democracy, p. 1) The inconsistency runs very deep, into our basic views of human nature.


    The traditional “market” view of human relations is that each person seeks to maximize his own wealth without any limit, and that the main way of doing this is to get power over others. (p. 26)

    The picture of society and government which emerges from this view of humanity is spelled out nicely by Macpherson on the  spanning pp. 6-27.
    • The imperative to equality. p. 29
    • The problem for Government. p. 34
    • And the case for democracy. p. 36. Mainly protective.
    • The promise of voting (bot. 37), and the threat. (top 38)
    • The “seesaw” p. 41

    The best solution under Model 1. p. 42. “Government is properly the business of the rich...and the good means of” getting it is “the free sufferage of the people.”


    The new picture of man and the good society (pp. 47-48) in terms of the development of “capacities” or human potential of every individual. No more “included interests” (p. 38), so far as right and need to vote was concerned. “Society....need not be and should not be a collection of competing, conflicting, self-interested consumers and appropriators. It could and should be a community of exerters and developers of their human capacities.” (p. 51) “The greatest aggregate happiness was to be got by permitting and encouraging individuals to develop themselves .” (p. 52)

    Property rights are still essential to a just and good society, but within a correct proportion between renumeration and exertion. (pp. 52-53) The current unjust distribution of wealth, Mill thought, was due to its historical origins in conquest and violence. (p. 55)

    Mill’s main problem with outright democracy lay in the fact that, while “people were capable of becoming something other than self-interested acquirers of benefit for themselves,...most of them had not yet got much beyond that.” (p. 56) Hence, “It would be expect the average man, if given the power to vote, to use it with ‘disinterested regard for others, and especially for what comes after them, for the idea of posterity, of their country, or of mankind’.” (p. 56) His solution to this problem (for a while at least) was plural voting. (pp. 57-58) I.e., not”One man one vote.”

    Unequal weighting of individual voting power in favor of knowledge and skill means, according to Macpherson, that Mill cannot be ranked as a “full egalitarian.” (p. 59) See the summary on the difference between Model 1 and Model 2 in full  mid p. 60, and the two basic contradictions which Mill was unable to overcome, mid p. 62. These would suggest that Developmental Democracy is impossible.

    Historically, however, as sufferage was expanded in Great Britain the working class did not, as Mill had feared, impose its will, but basically followed Middle class leadership in government and social policy. (p. 63) And this involved the development of the “party system.” As Macpherson says, “the party system was able to tame democracy.” (p. 64) This is because the party system effectively replaces the citizen vote for policies with a vote for certain people who, allegedly, know how to run the government. That is, elected officials stand as experts in making the good society. Their decisions, not those of the citizens, determine what is or is not to happen in government, and indirectly in society. The parties continue to be under the contol of social powers, including the wealthy. (Hence the fuss over “campaign financing” in current American politics.)

    The combination of Mill’s view of human well-being as development of potentialities with the party system of politics constitutes an essential part what Macpherson calls “Model 2B” of democracy. (mid p. 64) Note Macpherson’s account of the “chief function of the party system” on pp. 65-69. Model 2B is essentially J. St. Mill’s view “minus the plural voting proposal.” (p. 69) “In the end, his hope for democracy came down to a more lively flourishing of pluralistic non-political democratic associations ‘like churches and universities’.” (bot. p. 70)

    Later 19th and early 20th Century social theorists—Macpherson calls it “pluralist idealism” (p. 75)—placed their hopes, generally speaking, in a generously minded social process of “men as citizens rather than as holders of particular interests.” (p. 72; see the quotation from MacIver spanning pp. 72-73.) They were, it now appears, rather foolishly optimistic. Dewey’s The Public and Its Problems is located here. But he had a deeper understanding of the problem than most others under Model 2B. See the summary of Dewey’s position in the last full  on p. 73, and his explicit hope in the “improvement in the social sciences by applying the experimental method and ‘the method of co-operative intelligence’. ‘The essential the improvement of the methods and conditions of debate, discussion and persuasion. That is the problem of the public....this improvement depends essentially upon freeing and perfecting the process of inquiry and of dissemination of their conclusions.” (top p. 74)

    Dewey had no hope in democratic political machinery alone to deal with individual and social problems, and often speaks with scorn of the way voting is actually done. He appealed instead to “democratic humanism....‘a way of life... cannot...depend upon or be expressed in political institutions alone’.” (p.75) Still, both Dewey and the “pluralist idealists””impute a citizen rationality capable of overcoming the imperfections of the actual democratic system.” (p. 76) What they all failed to see was the extent to which the system had survived into the mid 20th century “precisely by reducing the responsiveness of governments to electorates.” (p. 76) Their optimism about citizen rationality blinded them to the failure of Model 2B which led to the mid-20th century ascendency of “Equilibrium Democracy,” Macpherson’s Model 3, pages 77 and following.


    Model 3 is frankly a “pluralist, and elitist equilibrium model.” Study the full  mid p. 77, and the full  mid p. 78.

    Democracy is simply a market type mechanism with the voters as consumers and the politicians are the entrepreneurs. (top 79 and all of p. 80) The main difference from Model 2B is that “The pluralism of Model 3 leaves out the ethical component that was so prominent in Model 2B. It treats citizens as simply political consumers, and political society as simply a market-like relation between them and the suppliers of political commodities.” (bot. p. 80) But it seems to work amazingly well. See quotation mid page 82)

    Macpherson’s criticism is that Model 3 is “not nearly as democratic as it is made out to be.” (bot. p. 86-87) And it naturally leads to massive voter apathy. (pp. 87-88) SUMMARY OF CRITICISM, LAST LINE 88-91. Reversion to Protection Model 1, p. 91. Why Model 3 continues to prevail?—”Western societies continue to prefer affluence to community,” and reliance on “experts” to make social decisions. (pp. 91-92)


    This is actually a non-actual model that arises out of Student idealism of the 60’s. It is an attractive idea, that citizens should participate in their govenment and have a direct voice in what is to be done. But no one has ever been able to formulate how it can be done under contemporary conditions. (See top p. 95)

    “We cannot do without elected politicians. We must rely, though we need not rely exclusively, on indirect democracy. The problem is to make the elected politicians responsible.” (bot p.97) Macpherson’s minimal hope is expressed in the first full  on p., 98. His “two prerequisites for the emergence of Model 4” are stated in terms of a “change in people’s consciousness” (bot p. 99) and “reduction...of social and economic inequality.” (top p. 100) The problem of the vicious circle. (mid 100) And Macpherson’s “visible loopholes” in the circle. (pp. 102-107) These are, he says “only...possible, even barely possible, ways ahead.” (top. 107) His idea of how it would work: a pyramidal system. (bot p. 109) “The best we can do.” (top 109)

    • Three circumstances that will defeat the pyramidal system. (pp. 109-111)
    • Getting parties to operate by a pyramidal structure. (bot 113)

    The guarantee that participatory democracy is liberal democracy lies in “a strong and widespread sense of the value of that liberal-democratic ethical principle which was the heart of Model 2—the equal right of every man and woman to full development and use of his or her capabilities. And of course...a downgrading or abandonment of market assumptions about the nature of man and society, a departure from the image of man as maximizing consumer, and a great reduction of the present economic and social inequality.” (pp. 114-115)

    Critique: This only reinstates the vicious circle which Macpherson himself notes.

    Macpherson has no real plan for solving the problems of achieving the Good society or the “Great Community. He replaces blind confidence in the market or citizen or specialist rationality with an equally blind confidence in heightened “consciousness” and a pyramidal organization which he has no reason to suppose would actually work, given the lack of details in how the pyramid is actually to be organized.

    Suggestion: Model 2B could be made to work by ethically developed and responsible professions, which could give some realistic substance to Macpherson’s pyramids.

    USC: Phil.141g The Professions and the Pub. Int. in Am. Life Sept 12, 2007

    Conclusion: Democracy cannot achieve its announced aims as a form of government by political arrangements alone. The problems of democratic action, which in a vast society focus on the nexus of voting and representation, cannot be solved by political arrangements (as the outcome in Macpherson shows). They can only be solved by a pervasive public spiritedness based in a highly developed moral practice and consciousness, especially for those who function in leadership roles. Formost among these social leaders is the professional.

    The profession is a natural and necessary structure of human society: one which emerges as a matter of course when certain social conditions prevail, though its precise form will vary from culture to culture, depending on the primary values that govern the culture and the history of they institutionalized developed. A natural development is one that is conducive to the well being of the whole of which it is a part—in this case of society, and thereby of the individuals that make it up.

    Therefore the division between a grouping that is professional and one that is not is not conventional, or a matter of choice. Similarly with occupations or “functions” generally, or, for example, with a family. Not just anything could be a profession or a family. This is idea is not thought well of today, when all divisions and classifications are thought to be a matter of choice and/or power deployment.

    When, under pressure of special interests, or merely from historical drift and inattention, a natural unit in society loses its integrity as a natural kind, that which replaces it will not have the same real effects as it did, and society as a whole will suffer. That is why questions such as What is democracy? or What is a profession? or What is a family? or What is a school? etc. are of such fundamental human importance. And that is why the idea that What an X is merely a terminological question or a matter of choice, power or convention. We can call anything we want an “X”, perhaps, but the effects, good and bad, will in general pay no attention to what we call them. ‘Professionals’ who are mere experts at something, and whose only interest is money and self-advancement, do not have the same effects in society as others who are also significantly devoted to the administration of crucial public goods through their expertise.

    So what is a professional?

    First some general remarks about how “What is?” questions are to be answered. We must distinguish between the extension (denotation) and the intension (connotation) of a concept or term, such as “professional.” The extension of a concept or term consists of those things to which it more or less clearly applies. The intension of a concept or term consists of those characteristics (properties, relations) which any object must have in order to be in its extension. (Illustrations)

    The extension of “profession” contains, all allow, law, medicine and clergy; quite certainly also engineering and architecture. Note that these did not emerge because certain occupational groupings wanted to be thought of as ‘professions’. Rather, when, later, other groupings wanted to be thought of as professions, what they were wanting was to be thought of and treated like them. These are classical in that they define the class of professions as exemplars. ‘Professional’ sports, for example, or Journalism (see p. 40d of Merrill in Callahan) are clearly not professions. (Of course, why should they be? When we say something is not a profession, we are not saying that it is bad, just that it lack certain characteristics. Merrill allows that Journalism could be a profession, but thinks, for reasons given, that it should not be. pp. 41-43)

    Now once we have established the extension of the concept profession, we can proceed to single out the characteristics which constitute their being professions. This is done very nicely by Barber, (1st full  p. 36 of Callahan) who is effectively followed by Merrill in his discussion of Journalism (pp. 39-44). But the adequacy of Barber’s statement depends upon a proper elaboration of its parts. (Read Barber’s statement.) In elaboration of it we offer the following.


    • A profession is a practice (action or advice) on the behalf of others of some activity of great importance to the well-being of society generally.
    • The practice is dependent upon a large body of “esoteric knowledge and high skill” (Callahan p. 31d), possession of which confers upon the respective professionals an exclusive right to practice. A profession is always to some degree a monopoly.
    • The professional knowledge and skill required to be professional is acquired only through association and training with superiors within the pre-existing professional group; AND the degree to which one possesses it (is ‘good at it’) can be determined only by professional peers and superiors. This is why the profession as such must be socially organized and recognized, and cannot exist without public support. A ‘profession’ unrecognized (and hence without public support) is no profession. Whether a professional has acted ‘professionally’ and therefore responsibly can only be determined by “expert witnesses” from the same profession. Thus a profession is essentially non-egalitarian.
    • Therefore the members of a profession are essentially obligated to their society and the professional body which it makes possible through its trust, respect and provision. Their service to the profession and society is owed because they owe their very existence as a professional to the profession and society. The professional in professing asks to be trusted by the public, and invokes the profession as certification that she is trustworthy: both in terms of expertise and good intentions. If strictly self-interested he or she is not to be trusted, no matter how good their expertise. (See the pages from Ruskin.) For when the chips are down they will do what is in their interest, not that of the profession, society and the client.
    • Because of the foregoing, the profession and professional status confers a dignified identity upon the practitioner in good standing. “They are! Somebody!” The professional is essentially a person with authority and honor in society.
    • (Be sure to begin your reading of Samuel Haber, The Quest for Authority and Honor etc. Especially note the historical connection in America of the professional role with that of the “gentleman and scholar” in England, and the traditional primacy of university education to professional standing. (pp. x-xi) Note also how “From the beginning...professionalization in America was linked with the ‘art or rising in life’, with upward mobility.” (p. 6) Note also the historical association with the warrior class, and how that was modified under the impact of Christian ideas. (pp. 9-14)
    • The professional is “never for hire” and retrains a certain freedom based upon her special knowledge and social role. She cannot be ‘bought’ or controlled, because of her special knowledge, which means she knows best, and her special dignity deriving from devotion to objectives transcending her self-interest.
    • Finally, being a profession or a professional permits of degrees (Callahan 36c-d) or is a matter of “family resemblance” (Haber p. x) The degree of resemblance is always measured against the class defining members of the extension of the concept profession and professional. They set the type.

    USC Phil. 141g, The Professions and the Pub. Interest in Am. Life Sept 15 2007

    For your discussion sections this week please focus on the clergy (minister, priest, pastor etc.) as professional, utilizing Hatch, ed., The Professions in American History, pp. 7 and 73-90 (Handout) and Haber, Authority and Honor in the Amnerican Professions: 1750-1900, pp. 15-44. (You may also want to glance ahead at pp. 240-273.) Some questions you may wish to think about and discuss in the meeting are: What is the function of clergy? (Recall Plato on “function”) To what extent is it essential to social well-being? In what significant ways has it changed in American history from the beginning to now? Is there a large body of knowledge and skill associated with the practice of ministry in the various religions and denominations. Is the clergy of no significance to the life of the citizen who does not “go to” church, synagogue, temple, etc.?


    Some review questions for the first exam:

    1. Explain how well-being in society depends upon the division of labor (see Plato handout) and how the profession goes beyond the division of labor in making a desirable life possible for individuals in society. Illustrate by discussing two of the occupational groups now commonly recognized as professions.

    2. Explain Dewey’s concept of the “eclipse” of the public and how he thinks the “eclipse” might be removed through social inquiry, moving us from the ‘Great’ Society to a “Great Community.”

    3. What, exactly, is the difference between “Developmental Democracy” and “Participatory Democracy” as Macpherson describes them. In your opinion, is it reasonable to hope that Participatory Democracy can ever come about? (See the “two prerequisites” the “vicious circle” and the possible “loopholes” discussed bottom p. 99- top 108.) Why or why not?

    4. What do you take to be the three most essential marks of a profession? By your standard, which of the following are not professions: military, medicine, architecture, journalism, chemist, business management, engineering, law, education, social work. Of the ones that are, rank them in terms of which are professions to the higher degree, explaining why you put the first one first and the last one last.

    5. Does being a member of a profession confer dignity and a desirable identity (other than “money maker”) upon an individual. Why or why not?


    Thus, not every occupation is a profession. It is not true that “Conscientious ditchdigging is as much a profession as any.” (The words of Thomas Marshall, Vice President under Woodrow Wilson) To say such things is to misunderstand the special and irreplaceable function of the professions. Does this mean that the professional is “better” than the non-professional? Hardly.

    But the major goods in society upon which your well-being depends are in the hands of these professional people, as it definitely is not in the hands of ditchdiggers. In your life you will be in constant interaction with them as clients (or ‘subjects’), possibly as colleagues or fellow professionals, and possibly as a legislator, judge or other leader in government or society.

    Phil. 141g, The Professions and the Public Interest in American Life, Sept. 17, 2007


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