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On Political Means and Social Ends

Ted Honderich

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The moral and political arguments, judgements and commitments of Britain's outstanding radical philosopher.

What society ought we to have, and what can we do to try to get it? This book sets out to answer these questions beginning with a new essay on the foundation of a liberalism of means and ends, John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. It goes on to consider the culmination of liberal thinking in John Rawls' A Theory of Justice. It argues that liberalism is good intentions not carried forward into rational commitment. Conservatism, in its past and its present guises, is also made clear in its reality. So too is the leftism of the past, including G. A. Cohen's attempt to save Karl Marx's theory of history. Both are discarded.

The book argues for another political and social morality - the generosity and fellow-feeling of the Principle of Humanity. It is a consequentialist rather than a mysterious morality, and its essential idea is that we should take rational steps to rescue the badly-off from lives of wretchedness and other distress. This is the commitment that led to Ted Honderich's human and passionate response to 9/11, After the Terror - the most controversial book of serious philosophy published in Britain since A. J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic in 1936.

A further chapter considers hierarchic democracy - the democracy we have as distinct from the democracy we think we have - and the necessity of mass civil disobedience. The book ends with an essay that adds to the thinking of After the Terror, particularly on the moral right of the Palestinians to their resistance.


1. John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, and a Question About Liberalism
2. Conservatism, Its Distinctions, and Its Rationale
3. Trying to Save Marx's Theory of History, by Teleology, and Failing
4. The Contract Argument in a Theory of Justice
5. The Principle of Humanity
6. Consequentialism, Moralities of Concern, and Selfishness
7. Hierarchic Democracy and the Necessity of Mass Civil Disobedience and Non-Cooperation
8. After the Terror: A Book and Further Thoughts.

About the Author

Ted Honderich has been the Grote Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic at University College London, and a Visiting Professor at Yale and also the Graduate Centre and Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. His most recent book is the philosophical autobiography Philosopher: A Kind of Life. He is the editor of the internationally-acclaimed reference work The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, and the author of books including A Theory of Determinism, Conservatism, and Punishment, The Supposed Justifications, and of papers on the nature of consciousness, mind and brain, and causation. Other edited books include the anthology Philosophy as It Is, and Essays on Freedom of Action and Social Ends and Political Means.


Inherent interest and importance’
Masterful argument