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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 220

A Conflict of Versions is American economist Thomas Sowell's 1987 treatise on the origin of social and political disagreement.

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As a sociological text, A Conflict of Visions does not have characters as they appear in literary writing. Instead, Sowell categorizes humans into groups of beings who have adopted one of two competing "visions," and these corporate personalities form what could be called the book's "characters."

The first vision is the constrained vision of man. The mass of people subscribing to this vision accept "the moral limitations of man in general, and his egocentricity in particular"—they believe that only incentives can inspire men to do good deeds. In the way it views the American legal system, the "constrained vision" supports the idea of a strict textual judiciary. It also is generally skeptical of the innate goodness of social equity.

Competing with this vision are the mass of people who subscribe to the "unconstrained vision," which believes in "the essence of virtue." In the way it views the American legal system, the "unconstrained vision" supports the idea of an activist judiciary. Further, it calls for the direct intervention of political power to achieve egalitarian goals such as social equity. It sees "transfers of material benefits to the less fortunate not simply as a matter of humanity but as a matter of justice."

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