If One Wishes to Discredit Capitalism, One Should at Least Understand How It Works
Socialism: A Logical Introduction
Scott R. Sehon
Oxford University Press, 2024; 268 pp.
This is a better book than I expected it to be, but it is not without its problems. Scott Sehon, a philosophy professor at Bowdoin College, is strongly inclined to believe that socialism is better than capitalism, but in the book, his main aim is to set forward some of the main arguments in favor of each system, indicating their strengths and weaknesses. He has an additional aim. He wants to teach people how to reason logically and believes that one way to do this is to state an argument in numbered premises and then discuss each premise. “My next philosophy teacher (at Harvard) Paul Hoffman, first showed me the amazing utility of breaking a philosopher’s argument down into numbered steps.” Sehon succeeds in showing that formulating a sound argument—one with only true premises and no mistakes in inference—is often a difficult task, and he poses some good challenges to those of us who support capitalism. However, I think there are difficulties with some of his arguments, and these are what I’m going to discuss in this week’s column.
By “socialism,” Sehon means a system with “(i) Collective ownership and control of the means of production and (ii) Equality of distribution or redistribution of wealth”; this contrasts with capitalism, a system with private ownership of the means of production. Both of these systems come in degrees, and no system has ever been purely socialist or purely capitalist. Sehon thinks that, other things beings equal, movement in the socialist direction is desirable. Why is this so? Socialism, he contends, better promotes human welfare than capitalism, and so long as socialism doesn’t violate people’s rights, we ought to adopt it. Defenders of the market can offer a parallel argument; capitalism better promotes human welfare than socialism, and so long as capitalism doesn’t violate people’s rights, we ought to adopt it. He calls these two arguments “the master arguments,” and most of the book consists of his analysis of th
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