Dr. Giles and Me (again)

the conceptual superiority of ‘mutual respect in effecting choices’ for justly governing the governance of society

Stephen Yearwood
5 min readFeb 11, 2024

Doesn’t every approach to justice ever proposed — how relations among people, to include a society’s political process and its economy, ought to be governed — come down, one way or another, to people respecting one another? Why is the question for which enquiring minds need an answer.

Like many people here in Medium, Giles seems to have arbitrarily decided that I have nothing to offer in answering that question without bothering to understand what I am offering. I single him out him because, with Ph.D. in philosophy, he obviously has the intellectual training, including a knowledge-base, to deal easily with my attempted contribution and its relation to other ethical constructs that have been proffered. That would include his preferred ethical construct, “recognition,” which is a form of respecting others that follows from believing in the moral equality of all people. Besides, shouldn’t being an academic make him more, not less open to intellectual possibilities?

Specifically, Giles seems to presume that I believe that its being located within material existence in itself gives this ethic an undeniable validity. That isn’t it. Rather, it’s the commonality of the source of the ethic due to its being located in material existence that generates this ethic’s undeniably universal validity. That stands in contrast to any ethic following from a belief (a form of immaterial knowledge): no belief will ever be universal, held by all human beings.

That does make the ethic for governing the governance of society that I stumbled upon* superior as a concept to any approach to justice based on any immaterial knowledge (which in addition to beliefs can also include intuitions, feelings, etc.). That includes basing justice on a belief in the moral equality of all people, a belief Giles and I both hold along with many other people, but it is not held by all people.

Here’s the thing: for us to impose on other people that belief in equality in the governance of the governance of society is as unjust as their imposing on us a belief in some inherent hierarchy (such as gender or ‘race’) would be. Yes, a democratic political process does include majority rule and it is the only just form the political process can take — according to both a belief in equality and the ethic of justice I have developed (or, surely, any understanding of mutual respect). Yet, insisting, based onequality’, that the political process of a society must have a democratic form is unjust because that is only a belief some people — no matter how many, even a majority — happen to hold. Beliefs will always inform individuals’ participation in the political process, but the form of the process itself cannot be justly based on any belief (or any other immaterial knowledge).

The ethic I am proposing has (at least) three advantages over any belief-based ethic for justly governing the governance of society.

I have already referred to the first advantage. Since this ethic follows from an observation within (perceived) material existence, it isn’t a matter of arbitrarily privileging one belief over any others. Rather, it follows from knowledge of that existence that every person perceives every person experiences: human beings have no choice but to effect choices (i.e., choose among perceived alternatives and take action to bring that choice to fruition). The following question is intellectually cheap, but the answer to it is unquestionably, ‘No’: Can anybody verbally deny the validity of that observation without effecting a choice by engaging in that particular speech act (oral or written)?

Beyond that, all beliefs of all people—even a belief held by a huge majority of the members of a community — are, being immaterial, inherently arbitrary from the point of view of any other person. So denying the validity of any belief, no matter how many people hold it—and the applicability to oneself or anyone else any ethic that would follow from a belief — is no more arbitrary than accepting any belief as being valid is. To deny the validity of that observation, though, is a grossly arbitrary act. [Postmodernists use the word ‘privileging’ to identify such acts of arbitrariness.]

Another advantage of this ethic (which also follows from its materiality) is the simplicity of it. It identifies as ‘the minimum condition of justice’ one rule that applies to all actions (which definitely can include speech acts) involving any other person(s) in any way in effecting any choice: ‘no coopting or otherwise pre-empting the capacity of any other person to choose’. That rule is covered in a handful of absolute prohibitions: no killing, harming, coercing, stealing, or manipulating (which includes lying, cheating, etc.). Anyone refraining from doing any such things in effecting any choice — on behalf of oneself or any other person or any entity or cause — is being just enough. What could be simpler?

All of those prohibitions involve “harming” in some way, but harming can include, say, injuring another person physically or emotionally/psychologically or damaging someone’s property or reputation. Also, a person can commit harm without being aware of it. For any society, though, other than protection from external threats, hasn’t the (legitimate) primary purpose of a government always been identifying/legislating, policing, and adjudicating matters (criminal and civil) related to ‘harm’? Any society must sort such things out in some way.

Finally, the political process (which includes the institutions of government as the functional core of that process) is the process of effecting choices for the community as a whole, and the economy (the process of producing/acquiring goods/services) is nothing but choices being effected. That makes this ethic, with the place of effecting choices in it, seamlessly applicable to the governance of both of those societal processes.

Choosing is integral to being human (because of the observation that we have no choice but to effect choices). In a closing nod to Dr. Giles, respecting others in effecting choices does entail recognizing others as fellow humans by respecting their capacity to choose. To act otherwise is to assert that the being(s) involved are not really (fully) human. Verbally justifying such a claim would necessarily involve some reference to some immaterial truth (belief, etc.). Since both the determinant of this ethic (that observation) and its referents (actions undertaken in effecting any choice that involve in any way one or more other human beings) are contained within material existence, any claim of any immaterial truth is utterly irrelevant to the applicability of this ethic — its obligations or its protections.

If curious, there is more on mutual respect in effecting choices for ethically (justly) governing the governance of society: “Alright, Already” (here in Medium, but not behind the paywall). In it I refer to “ethical” rather than “just” governance of governance because in my experience (any form of) the word “justice” seems to be off-putting to people.


*I was made aware of the place of effecting choices in life when I happened to read — way back when, at the behest of my Thesis advisor, Dr. Boadu (now at Texas A&M but then at Atlanta University) — Warren J. Samuels’s contribution in the scholarly compilation, Perspectives of Property (edited by Gene Wunderlich and W. L. Gibson: 1972). In it Samuels examined in great depth the process of effecting choices.



Stephen Yearwood

unaffiliated, non-ideological, unpaid: M.A. in political economy (where philosophy and economics intersect) with a focus in money/distributive justice