It is not surprising that exasperated laymen should wonder about the point of moral philosophy; the self-confident often can’t see why intellectuals should struggle to reach conclusions that any decent citizen learned in childhood, while the unconfident may not care for the corrosive effects of all inquiry. It’s rather more surprising that philosophers themselves have often doubted whether moral philosophy was a branch of philosophy at all. Whatever Hume meant when he observed that “reason is and always must be the slave of the passions,” it certainly sounded deflationary, a reminder that moral judgment was less well-founded than our views about mathematics or natural science. John Stuart Mill is best known as a social and political theorist of a utilitarian bent; yet his System of Logic runs to two stout volumes of his collected works, while his essay Utilitarianism runs to barely sixty pages.

Keynes described G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica as the Bible of Bloomsbury. Yet its philosophical content mostly amounted to attacks on philosophers who supposed that there could be arguments in ethics at all. Its impact was an emotional one, and derived from Moore’s scrupulous description of his unargued intuitions of what was, as a matter of fact, good—friendship and beauty. None of this is reassuring. If philosophy is supposed to provide us with good reasons for our beliefs, it is disappointing to learn that in this most important area, it has so little to tell us.

Recent writers have reacted very differently to the thought that philosophy can do little to ground our moral convictions in anything beyond themselves. Alasdair MacIntyre’s Whose Justice? Which Rationality?1 marks the end of a roundabout journey from 1950s Anglicanism to 1990s Catholicism, which has been sustained throughout by the conviction that moral reasoning can only take place within a particular way of life, and absolutely not outside a traditional setting of some sort. Negatively Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature2 has followed the same course in denying that philosophy can of itself provide foundations for a form of belief. For Rorty, all beliefs are justifiable only within some particular society’s habits of belief. In recent essays he says that he wishes us to read this claim optimistically, as saying that our belief in toleration, democracy, the sanctity of private life, and the other liberal pieties is as solidly founded as nuclear physics or computer science, though he rather spoils the effect by insisting that all are only “ways of talking” popular in our liberal capitalist society.3

Bernard Williams’s Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy4 denies that relativism makes any sense when applied to scientific reasoning. Nonetheless, Williams also doubts that a particular set of moral principles could be shown to be literally the “dictates of reason.” Instead of calling on his readers to subscribe to Thomism with Alasdair MacIntyre, or to settle for the virtues of liberal capitalism with Richard Rorty, Williams calls for a less rationalistic and less ambitious ethical inquest into the nature of the good life. “Morality,” thought of as a set of ideal rules that Reason or Conscience legislate upon their adherents, is beyond philosophical rescue, in Williams’s view; but the search for answers to questions of the good life is neither vain nor intellectually disreputable. We must abandon Kant to find better sense in Aristotle.

Innocence and Experience is part of the same conversation, but speaks in a very different (and very engaging) voice. It is, for one thing, an extremely personal voice. Philosophers often pay lip service to the banality that what any of us cares about, writes about, and thinks about will reflect his or her personal experience. Having acknowledged it, they generally carry on writing as if they represent what Henry Sidgwick seriously thought they should represent—“the point of view of the universe.” Stuart Hampshire takes seriously both the need for a personal voice in philosophical argument and the failure of most philosophers to speak in their own voices. In many ways, Innocence and Experience is an argument against the idea that philosophy is best treated from the point of view of the universe, but the book and the argument begin as autobiography, with an engrossing account of Hampshire’s own youth and early career.

He presents it modestly enough as a few “fragments of biographical information” that will enable readers “to understand why one particular set of themes has been pursued and neglected others.” That decidedly understates what emerges—Hampshire’s unwavering support of social and economic justice, his fascination with the gulf between the morality of public life and the morality of private life, his recognition of ambivalence and uncertainty as central rather than peripheral features of moral reflection, and an acute sense of evil as a positive force in social and political life.


As with many other middle-class Englishmen, Hampshire’s politics were indelibly marked by the Depression and the war. As a sixteen-year-old schoolboy, he saw the effects of the slump in the silent shipyards of Merseyside. He reached Oxford in 1933 as Hitler came to power, and was part of an undergraduate generation that could hardly help thinking that capitalism was in terminal decline:

It was difficult for undergraduates then not to think about the worldwide recession, of the throwing of coffee into the sea and of the destruction of food while there was hunger among the unemployed and their children in industrial cities everywhere. Children without shoes in the winter streets were not an unusual sight, and the shoe manufacturers were dismissing their workers because they could not sell their shoes.

With Hitler curing unemployment by rearmament, it seemed that capitalism had gone mad, that it could only sustain full employment by the production of the means of total war, and that it would therefore end in universal destruction.

Though this was a climate which turned many young men into Marxists, Hampshire was not tempted. As an undergraduate philosopher, he encountered the Vienna Circle, whose intellectual program involved a ruthless scrutiny of traditional systems of metaphysics, almost all of which were dismissed as nonsense. Having drunk deeply at this logical positivist spring, writes Hampshire, “I was able to see all those political programmes which are founded on a theory of history as founded on a consoling illusion, whether it was Hegelianism, Marxism, Comtean positivism, or liberal doctrines of progress.” What the Depression did do was turn him into a lifelong anti-Conservative.

Like many students at the time I knew that I was not on the side of the British Conservatives and I also knew that I never would be. For most Conservatives love of property, and of the secure possession of wealth, easily outweighed all other moral commitments.

If their selfish indifference to the poor and unemployed was one ground for Hampshire’s dislike of 1930s conservatism, an equally strong reason was the “sordid” and “servile” behavior of Conservative British governments in the face of the Nazi and Fascist dictatorships of mainland Europe. As a young fellow of All Souls’ College, Hampshire was a colleague of some leading advocates of the policy of appeasement.5 It seemed to him that there was no injustice these Conservative appeasers would not tolerate, no boot they would leave unlicked in the interests of doing down socialism and protecting private property. Though he had no time for the pacifists of the left who hoped to stop fascism without preparing for war, their crime was gullibility. His Conservative colleagues were simply indecent. All this made Hampshire readier than he has been since to answer “the fatally over-simple question,” Which side are you on? with a “not the Conservatives’.”

During the war, Stuart Hampshire served in intelligence, and after the Allied victory, had to interrogate a number of leading Nazis, including Eric Kaltenbrunner, the head of the Gestapo and all of the SS other than the Waffen SS. This was an experience as decisive for him as any during the Depression. The moral lesson it taught was not a pleasant one:

I learnt how easy it had been to organise the vast enterprises of torture and murder, and to enroll willing workers in this field, once all moral barriers had been removed by the authorities. Unmitigated evil and nastiness are as natural, it seemed, in educated human beings as generosity and sympathy: no more, and no less, natural, a fact that was obvious to Shakespeare but not previously evident to me. It became clear that high culture and good education are not significantly correlated with elementary moral decency.

If this experience seemed to show that a debased and brutal Machiavellianism had become the political style of the twentieth century, another event characteristic of the times raised questions about the selective vision and the tendency to self-deception of friends on the left. Among the members of British intelligence who turned out to have been working for the Soviet Union as much as for their own country, several were friends of Hampshire’s, and he was duly interrogated about their motives. He was, and remains, puzzled about their intellectual commitments as much as their political ones. It seemed that they had felt that they could not just react against the obvious misery and injustice they saw around them. Before they could take their own feelings of indignation seriously, they had to swallow the pseudoscience of Marxism–Leninism–Stalinism, as it used to be called, and turn their indignation at the injustice of capitalism into a colder, scientific sort of understanding. The moral effect on them was obvious enough, however. Having converted their indignation into the allegedly scientific conviction that the right side would inevitably win, they could overlook the fact that the right side was sustained by prison camps, torture, mass murder, and lies.


Hampshire thinks that one reason why “perceptions of injustice had to be disguised and deformed by philosophical theory before they were thought to be respectable” is to be found in the view of the appropriate objects of knowledge to which most Anglo-American philosophers have subscribed during the twentieth century. Most of them have endorsed a version of empiricism, and it has almost always been associated with the idea that only statements of hard fact deserve to be called objectively true, while moral judgments are merely subjective, expressive of the utterer’s feelings, but not true or false. This may well be right, but it poses a difficulty that Hampshire doesn’t raise—why should people whose view of scientific virtue is Humean and empiricist turn into Marxists, committed to the dialectic and similar items from the lumber room of Hegelian metaphysics? One answer, no doubt, is that 1930s’ Marxism played down its Hegelian origins. But another might be that some of us are attracted to seemingly hard-boiled doctrines just because they are hard-boiled; we want to be tough-minded, not tender-hearted. Bravado, rather than empiricism, is at fault.

The questions that the events I have mentioned raised in Hampshire’s mind are the ones that dominate Innocence and Experience, and they are not the usual subjects of academic philosophy. Seeing friends unmasked as double agents sharpened a self-conscious interest in duplicity that had already been fueled by wartime work in espionage.

Deception and concealment in politics, and the complexity of motive that leads to treachery, have always attracted me, both in reading history and occasionally in actual experience during the war. I have difficulty in imagining that purity of intention and undivided purposes can be the normal case in politics. I believe that very many people feel divided between openness and concealment, between innocence and experience; and, outside politics, they often find themselves divided between love and hatred of their own homes and of their own habits. The evidence for this belief of mine comes rather from fiction than from moral philosophy, which always presents a tidier picture in the interest of some prevailing epistemology.

Still, Hampshire is a philosopher, professionally and no doubt emotionally committed to securing what intellectual order he properly can. What, then, does he offer in place of the simplicities that experience shows to be so painfully inadequate? His approach was once summarized by the English philosopher Mary Warnock as “Aristotelian existentialism.” Like all short answers, that one needs a good deal of filling out, but unlike many short answers, it goes to the heart of the matter.

Like a number of other recent writers, Hampshire prefers Aristotle’s account of practical thinking to anything offered by Hume or Kant. Talking of the goodness and badness of events, characters, objects, and forms of art rests on “a conditional wanting formula”; to call something good is to say that it will do for you what it is that we want from that kind of thing. Critics of Aristotle have complained that Aristotle relies too heavily on untypical examples; he can talk of a “good knife,” for instance, because a knife has an obvious function that determines its goodness very straightforwardly. Hampshire disputes this. Take those other Aristotelian examples, good friends and good tragedies. To know what a good tragedy or a good friend is, we need to know what tragedies will do for us that melodramas and comedies cannot, what friends can do for us that good companions cannot:

One looks, in fact or in imagination, for the pure case of tragedy or friendship as opposed to the mixed cases, the central and complete specimens as opposed to the borderline or partial cases. If you want to see a real tragedy, or to find a real friend in a new place, and not just to find entertainment or a good companion, I will know what you want to find in the play and in the person, knowing what makes a tragedy a good tragedy and a friend a good friend, knowing what tragedies characteristically do for one, and what friends typically, and at their best, do.

Judgments of goodness, in Hampshire’s view, are not logically odd and are certainly no more suspect than other factual judgments. They are not expressions of approval—to call a man a skilled cut-throat is not to approve of his trade; and they are not dictated by reason, either.

But if Aristotle is right about how practical judgment works, as, about very much else, he is crucially wrong, Hampshire argues, in one of the conclusions he draws from his analysis. Tying goodness to the functions that things perform, Aristotle was led to ask, What is a good man? as if there were some single aspect of human life, or some feature of a human being that gives point to all the rest. Add to that Aristotle’s conviction that the faculty of reason was the highest human faculty, and we get the idea that there is one good life, and that it is the life which displays as wide a range as possible of the characteristic human virtues, harmoniously organized by, and under the command of, reason.

The existentialist Hampshire criticizes this image of the good man twice over. First, Aristotle exaggerates what Hampshire thinks is the correct perception that there are common minimum standards of decency and common standards of a minimally good human life into the claim that there must be a single best life for individuals and society. Second, he exaggerates the correct perception that thinking has a vital role in ethics and politics, turning it into the claim that the kinds of life that are rich in reason are better than any other. Yet, as Hampshire asks, what general argument could there be to lead us to “value the study of mathematics more highly than the study of history, or to value logic more highly than sculpture, or to prize and encourage scholarship more or less than natural science”?

Nonetheless, if this shows that there is no determinate answer to the question, What is the best life for man? it leaves much else in Aristotle intact, including strong counterarguments to the exaggerated relativism offered by Richard Rorty. To call a procedure or a state of affairs “just” is not merely to call it “just by standards prevailing in such and such a society.” An important aspect of justice should, Hampshire argues, be treated as timeless, and non-local. The kind of justice he has in mind is procedural: it is the use of regular and reasonable procedures of weighing opposing interests and opposing moral commitments that transcends any particular social setting. What gives color to the relativist’s claims is the obvious fact that the content of such interests and commitments certainly varies with history, and it is a matter of opinion where the balance between one interest and another must be struck. This does not mean that all statements about justice and injustice are covertly relative any more than it means that statements about aesthetic value are covertly relative.

That justice is the basis of all civilized life Hampshire believes should be taken for granted, and he is hardly unusual in saying so. Where he departs from recent arguments about the nature of justice is first in his concern with the possibility of societies whose rulers simply aim to flout the dictates of justice, knowingly and deliberately. Indeed, he is unusually eager to insist both on the fact of evil as a positive force, and on the possibility of its embodiment in the workings of an entire nation-state.

Nazi Germany he characterizes as a regime dedicated to evil; and evil here is not to be understood, as it has been by liberal writers such as John Rawls, as a privative notion—that is, as the striking absence of various kinds of good. Hitler’s pursuit of evil was a positive thing; it was the attempt to substitute force for argument, to achieve what Hampshire graphically describes as the carpet-bombing of the moral landscape. We are so used to writers pointing out how much of everyday life in Nazi Germany went on as normal, how early Nazism incorporated elements of socialism and populism, and commitments to economic growth, and how few ordinary Germans subscribed to anything like the creed that Hampshire heard from Kaltenbrunner that Hampshire’s picture may strike some readers as sociologically thin or naive. But his point is not to deny that Hitler got power by making many of the promises other politicians made, and to some extent kept himself in power by keeping them.

The point, rather, is that the goals of absolute domination and justice are polar opposites. A regime which has as its long-term aim the ability to smash whomever or whatever gets in the way, without any inhibition from law or principle, has declared war on justice as such, and, as Hampshire later observes, for public purposes the destruction of justice is what evil amounts to. Philosophers who have flinched from the thought that anyone might simply pursue evil for its own sake have often tried to find room for a morality of force or a morality of domination. Hampshire will not do so. As he interprets Nazi doctrine, it did not call for the substitution of a peculiar morality for Christian or liberal morality; it deliberately created a moral vacuum:

The Nazi fury to destroy had a definite target: the target encompassed reasonableness and legality and the procedures of public discussion, justice for minorities, the protection of the weak, and the protection of human diversity.

Hampshire means the example of the Nazis to teach its own lesson about the need for justice. The example of the Nazis ought, he says, to have rid philosophy of a curious innocence that is visible in liberals particularly. Too many of them have thought that once we arrived at a few general truths about the central human goods, it would then be quite clear what social policies ought to be pursued to secure them. Hampshire breaks with other contemporary discussions of justice for the second time in denying precisely this. Justice is not just a barrier to all-out evil; it also thwarts the all-out pursuit of particular conceptions of the good. It frustrates Savanarola’s attempt to turn the Florentines into a community of saints as much as it frustrates Al Capone’s attempts to turn all Chicago into his fiefdom.

Those with a passion for particular conceptions of the good life will only be brought to take procedural justice with sufficient seriousness when they see that there is no possibility of the sort of rational harmony envisaged by Hume or John Stuart Mill or Henry Sidgwick. It then makes sense for the holders of such drastically different conceptions of the good to acknowledge the need for procedural justice as a barrier against the great evil of uninhibited domination.

The remainder of Innocence and Experience explores the tensions Hampshire sets up between private and public goods, between the political and the moral, the businesslike and the intensely personal. It would be unfair to summarize many of the details of the discussion, which proceeds with a delicacy of touch and a fastidiousness of argument that it takes Hampshire’s own prose to capture. Some facets of liberalism have always seemed to be as much a matter of tone as of argument, and it is a tone that Hampshire has always known how to catch. He tackles with great deftness the positive value of individuality, arguing that each reflective person will properly aim at his or her own conception of a good life, neither deriving it from general principles nor thinking it mandatory for others. Personal style, the imaginative creation of a distinctive path through life, the pressures of a memory which necessarily differs from one individual to another all have a part to play. The idea of normality has to be dispensed with:

A person’s history, consciously and unconsciously remembered, has twisted her imagination, which has been starved at some points and over-developed at others. Certain rhythms and shapes and landscapes are intensely significant for her; others, which are normally accounted beautiful or beneficent, are for her inert. There is no reasonable requirement that she should twist herself back, against the grain, towards some imposed normality of concerns and interests. On the contrary: if one takes the standpoint of humanity as a whole, and not of the individual, there is no call for the repetition of a type, nor even of an ideally balanced human being.

History is a braid of different strands, and the supposed need to “belong” on which conservatives always lay such stress can be satisfied by a relaxed acceptance of our own difference.

The thought that we weave our lives out of memory, hope, and imagination allows Hampshire to do justice to the importance of sexual love in people’s lives in a way that neither Kantian prescriptions nor utilitarian calculation seem to do. Sex is something moral philosophers generally keep away from, when they do not produce manifestly inadequate prescriptions for its “control” or “use.” Taking it seriously without treating it as a threat to peace and good order seems impossible. A moral philosophy that centers its attention on imagination at least has a chance of improving on that gloomy state of affairs, and it is a chance that Hampshire takes. He reminds us that there is more to imagination than art and sex. “To think of the imagination only in association with the creation and enjoyment of art and with erotic feeling is plainly wrong.” Having said so, he nonetheless suggests that it is in sexual love that imagination starts. “Sexual love seems the bedrock, biologically necessary, original case of the power of the imagination” though “the cultivation and elaboration of sexual love in all its varieties is the work of culture as much as nature.” Nor is the connection between imagination and erotic feeling on the one hand and individuality on the other a wholly contingent one.

For the best part of thirty years, moral philosophers have encouraged one another to infuse their philosophy with the insights of poets, playwrights, and novelists. Hampshire writes as if it has never crossed his mind not to employ all the intellectual and imaginative resources at his disposal:

Throughout Western literature and in Western philosophy, from Plato onwards, sexual love has been associated with the desire to know an individual person with a peculiarly violent curiosity, which becomes a desire to enter into another inner world, and to take possession for a time of another person’s consciousness through the body that expresses that consciousness. The object of desire is the embodied soul of a singular person coming to the surface in an individual style of moving and standing and looking and talking. The imagination of the lover is set in motion by the particularities and distinguishing features of the person loved.

Hampshire goes on to write with similar power of the engrossing effect of art, and its capacity to provide a terrain on which the individual imagination can run free.

In according the imagination such great power over our lives, Hampshire rejects the reductionist notion of physiologically based needs or drives, but does not at all play down the strength and urgency of the needs which the combination of natural impulse and imaginative reshaping produces. We are both driven by our needs and lured to explore their implications. What we are offered by art is a kind of space where that largely unconscious exploration can take place. So our enjoyment of art and our discovery of ourselves can take place simultaneously:

The vast capacity and scope of the art of Shakespeare or of Titian create a space into which a great variety of fused memories can enter: suggestions of happiness, of loss, of transience, of love, of innocence, and of old age. Into these inchoate and unparticularized suggestions, as into a vast, unfurnished cave, each person insinuates some highly specific version of these indefinite themes, which he finds sharply realised in the specific forms of the works before him.

The theme of innocence comes frequently to the surface in the discussion. Since memory drives our individuality, it is not to be wondered at that we constantly recur to our own pasts. In doing so, we are bound to experience emotions of regret, not for the elaborate reasons set out by Freud, but just because experience is so often the experience of compromise, or disappointment, the acknowledgment of impossibilities, and the settling for the second best. We look back behind all this, and seeing the world prospectively again, inevitably feel pangs of nostalgia and regret. It is not that childhood is a time of unalloyed happiness, a Wordsworthian paradise,

rather, the imagined country of innocence is totally free from the strains of a perpetual contrivance of means to ends, which a person of experience and of practical wisdom masters. In the garden of innocence there is no activity of the kind which presents itself merely as work and as merely instrumental to something external to itself.

Among the many pleasures of Innocence and Experience, one that is rare enough in philosophical writing, is the pleasure of seeing a wholly adult intelligence unabashedly accepting the fact that adult life imposes pains and losses that it is foolish to try to escape, and an act of bad faith to deny.

If the emotions associated with the lost innocence of childhood are treated kindly, political innocence is not. Hampshire has always written fairly bleakly about the demands of political power, and one of the many motivations of his kind of liberalism is a powerful sense of the contrast between the delicacy and fastidiousness of the considerations that must enter private and personal deliberation and the grosser, utilitarian calculations appropriate to political action. Aptly, it is Machiavelli he takes as both interlocutor and stalking horse when he turns in his closing chapter to the political ethics he has come to espouse; and one way, perhaps the only way, in which Hampshire is firmly on the same side as Machiavelli is in thinking that innocence is flatly inconsistent with the exercise of power. Machiavelli’s taste for violence and duplicity is emphatically no part of a decent politics; but Machiavelli’s insistence that the statesman cannot save both his soul and his country recognizes an important truth. There are two different moralities at stake, and both have their claims on us:

The virtues of innocence, which are not necessarily the “monkish virtues,” realize conceptions of the good which can inspire strong emotions and great admiration: absolute integrity, gentleness, disposition to sympathy, a fastidious sense of honor, generosity, a disposition to gratitude. The virtues of experience can equally inspire strong emotions and great admiration: tenacity and resolution, courage in the face of risk, intelligence, largeness of design and purpose, exceptional energy, habits of leadership.

This is no abstract conflict but one felt on the pulses. Hampshire writes with some fierceness of his contempt for those on the prewar left who spoke out against fascism and at the same time urged the British Labour party to vote against rearmament, against conscription, and thus against all the measures which were essential to defeat fascism. Yet he is no enthusiast for power for its own sake; he was happy himself to leave his postwar work in the British civil service and return to academic life; and he writes movingly of the images of unworldly tranquillity summed up in the Quaker meeting house’s plain white walls, plain wooden benches, and clear glass windows. Nor is there any way of striking a balance between the demands of innocence and experience; the very idea of trying to achieve an optimal blend of these entirely opposed ideals of life is a reductio ad absurdum of utilitarianism.

A striking feature of Hampshire’s politics is his continuing commitment to an expansion of justice for the dispossessed. Hampshire’s deceptively cool prose masks a fierce radicalism. It is not a radicalism that expects to be uncontentious, however. Although it is true that Hampshire insists on the place of uncontentious justice—the minimal, procedural justice that is the basis of all political decency—he insists as firmly that distributive justice goes far beyond that. The justice to which the dispossessed must appeal is not something on which we shall readily get a consensus. Hampshire praises John Rawls for restoring “justice to its ancient place as (apart from love and friendship) almost the whole of virtue in relations between people, and the first of all virtues in basic social arrangements.” But Hampshire has none of Rawls’s concern with political consensus: he neither anticipates our securing a consensus, nor does he mind its absence. We cannot expect a consensus because all ideals of distributive justice raise issues about the good life that cannot be finally settled. Suppose one offers for universal acceptance Rawls’s proposal that social advantages should be distributed in such a way that the situation of the least favored will improve. Disagreement would reign. Rawls’s notion of justice

entails an ethics of re-distribution of material advantages, designed to avoid any increase of the differentials between rich and poor. Conservative thinkers who attach high priority to property rights in all their thought about justice cannot accept Rawls’s basic institutions as just.

What for Rawls is the just distribution of social advantage is for conservatives of this stamp mere theft. But the dispossessed can, will, and must press their conception of what a fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of social life is like. If they can persuade the well-off, so much the better; if they cannot, we must expect them to press the harder. The great enemy—other than simple selfishness—of our doing all we can to remove gross poverty and violence from people’s lives is the old habit of thinking the status quo is not just how things are but “natural.”

The moral, then, is that we “should look in society not for consensus, but for ineliminable and acceptable conflicts, and for rationally controlled hostilities, as the normal condition of mankind.” In the State, as in the soul, we should not hope for a stable and timeless peace but for a series of shifting compromises, driven by memories of the past as well as by hopes for the future. Nor should we regret this. It is a sign of life, of the imagination at work, and therefore of the possibility of moral and political progress.

Even those readers who find Innocence and Experience generally as persuasive and attractive as I do will have some qualms, as one always does. Hampshire himself acknowledges that his picture of justice as largely a procedural matter, allowing reasonable compromises to emerge between conflicting interests, needs to be supplemented with an account of substantial distributive justice more elaborate than he can offer here. Admirers of Hegel will think Hampshire is unkind in saddling him with the claim that he was in possession of the ultimate moral and political truth that entitled his disciples to impose it on whomever they could. Enthusiasts of John Stuart Mill may resent his appearing here only as a philosophical innocent. In fact Mill, like Hampshire, insisted that we must distinguish the negative, businesslike elements of morality from the positive open-ended exploration of the good life, and that in this process we must both expect and applaud a great deal of unresolved conflict. Readers who have admired Stuart Hampshire ever since his first essay on Spinoza may wish he would explain how he combines his devotion to the great rationalists with the conviction that they are in fundamental error.

These are small points. A larger and more melancholy doubt that Innocence and Experience inspires is whether it can reach the readers it ought to reach. Few writers have Hampshire’s ability to draw on literature, history, and their own experience, along with the resources of twentieth century philosophy, to produce a vision of moral and political liberalism whose intellectual force is matched by its emotional and aesthetic appeal. Yet the virtues of Innocence and Experience work against it too. The fastidiousness and stylishness that make it so attractive to those who will read it make it less likely that it will seize readers in the first place. On that curious border where philosophical reflection and political persuasion meet, we live in a culture of noisy, vivid proclamations of opinion. Richard Rorty’s slapdash demolitions of all philosophical traditions and Alasdair MacIntyre’s demands for a return to the faith could not be more different—except in the way they convey a dislike of nuance, of shading, of partial views and tentative solutions.

Innocence and Experience is not innocent or unworldly; nor is it politically reticent. Just as Hampshire emphasizes the personal sources of his philosophy, he is unabashed about its implications. He is straightforwardly hostile to what passes for the social policy of George Bush and Mrs. Thatcher, and equally hostile to the lying and deception that have become inseparable from American foreign policy. Yet the book breathes a vanished atmosphere. It is no surprise that Hampshire was happy to work for the Labour government that did so much to revive postwar Britain. That experiment was fueled by many of the aspirations visible in Innocence and Experience—a concern for distributive justice rather than all-out egalitarianism, a concern for the welfare of the weak and defenseless that rested on feelings of what it was decent to do for them, far more than on formal utilitarian considerations, and above all a wish to extend educational and cultural opportunities more widely than ever before. This postwar effort was a great success. Still, it was neither a complete success nor the source of a blueprint for reformers forever.

Worse yet, even if the conservative bad-mouthing of the welfare state has been vastly overdone, something needs to be said about the conservative success in making the most of a widespread disillusionment with the welfare state’s achievements. In particular, the passionate attachment to the ideology of private property felt by those with next to no property themselves has to be treated with a certain sympathy if welfare state liberalism is ever to recover its popular appeal. Though one hesitates to say that anything is beyond Hampshire’s range, such a sympathy comes close to being so. It is simultaneously the charm and the weakness of Innocence and Experience that it is so completely untouched by the counterrevolution of the Seventies and Eighties.

This Issue

March 1, 1990