Interview conducted at Rockford University by Stephen Hicks and sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship.
Professor Capaldi was here lecturing on business ethics. You framed your discussion on business ethics in terms of two broad narratives that have dominated the modern political thought and modern cultural thought: the Lockean and the Rousseauian. So, let me first ask you to summarize the main ingredients, so to speak, of the Lockean narrative. How does that go?
Capaldi: I call it, technically-speaking, the Lockean liberty narrative, and then I would flash that out in comparison to the Rousseauian equality narrative because I think the meaning they give to those terms tells you a lot about where they going. I would make a couple of very broad historical claims, namely, that there has been this ongoing debate or discussion between Lockeans and Rousseauians over a long period of time. And I will even strengthen the historical claim by saying that all the major spokespersons in public policy debates, etc., at one point or another, are defending or attacking either the Lockean or the Rousseauian point of view. To piggyback here on a Keynes remark, just as politicians are invoking some dead economist through a philosopher they haven’t read, I would say that a lot of contemporary theorists are repeating, in contemporary rhetoric, arguments that have been around since Locke first expressed his view and was critiqued by Rousseau.
Hicks: Is it fair then to say, in a historical context, as feudalism was declining, being overthrown, then the question in the modern world is: What are we going to replace it with? And we have two answers, a more Lockean answer and a more Rousseauian answer? Fair enough?
Capaldi: Sure. Locke is looking at this, even philosophically, from a very different point of view. He is thinking of wealth in a post-feudal world as something that is not finite, but can grow.
Capaldi: And it grows through labor and what we’ve come to call technological projects. So, industry, technology, etc. He is in a universe, in his mind, which is capable of potentially infinite growth. He thinks that this growth would be enhanced through a market economy. And in those places where Locke discusses market issues, he clearly comes out in favor of a market being as free as possible. He is certainly very famous for arguing in favor of limited government, and he thinks government should be limited in the interest of freeing the market economy. When he discusses legal matters he is a proponent of what has subsequently been called the rule of law, which, put in simple terms, means you put as many limitations as possible on government discretion so that it doesn’t overstep its bounds and interfere with the market. And finally, in many ways the most important point he makes is that none of these institutions can be understood nor can they work unless you have a certain kind of person, a person we’ve come subsequently to call the autonomous individual, and this is very important to Locke. Now, Locke’s assumption is that society is started on a contract. He means this in a metaphorical sense, but he understands a contract to mean the following: that all negotiation in the contract begins from the status quo. That you can’t have any negotiation unless you begin from status quo. That certainly privileges some people over other people. Continue reading Video Interview with Professor Nicholas Capaldi — Transcript