Monday, December 14, 2009

States of Nature

States of nature were a recurring theme in Search 201 this semester. Various philosophers such as Locke, Rousseau, and Hobbes used this term to describe a hypothetical situation rooted in their own personal philosophy. The “State of Nature” is a term used by social contract theorists to describe the condition of humanity before law and the state. Essentially, a State of nature is a model for human life during pre-political anarchy. States of nature play a fundamental role in political philosophy because they serve as a justification or reason for entering society. What factors determine an individual’s conception of the State of Nature? I think that it is possible to identify a few of these factors by examining individual proposals of the State of Nature.

Hobbes, who first posited the idea of the State of Nature, portrays pre-political society in a Darwinian fashion. He describes the state of nature as a war. Anyone has the right to defend their own personal liberty and safety. Life is characterized as short and brutish under these conditions. Since there is no law, there is no justice aside from natural precepts like a universal endeavor for peace. He also contends that man should be willing to lay down some personal liberties for the sake of that peace. From that point, Hobbes uses those natural precepts to set the stage for the replacement of the state of nature with civil government arising from those mutual contracts. On the other hand we have John Locke, who has a different vision of this prepolitical state. In Locke’s conceptualization of the state of nature, there is no reigning authority or pronunciation of justice. However, a Law of Nature exists to govern this state, a law of reason. Locke says that reason teaches us not to harm each other in terms of liberty, possessions and health, and that violations of this law are punishable. Since there is no enforcement of this law, what should be a state of peace turns into a state of war similar to what was posited by Hobbes. However, unlike Hobbes’ theory there is an obligation to obey the law of nature despite the nonexistent enforcement of this law in the State of Nature.To avoid the state of war and to protect personal property and liberties, Locke says that men enter into society and civil government. Upon the failing or dissolution of the government, humans return to this State of Nature.

What do these two hypothetical conditions tell us about Hobbes and Locke, and what determines one’s conceptualization of pre- government society? As theories written in the 17th century, we can see different sources for these theories. Hobbes’ conceptualization is chaos in absence of government, a war of all against all that is driven by conflict. His path to salvation from this state of war stems from mutual agreements and covenants between men, formed by men in a utilitarian sense. This type if law is positive, or man made. Locke argues that the same anarchy exists, but his natural laws lean more toward something written by Aquinas. Locke’s state of nature assumes theism, whereas Hobbes’ does not. These two hypothetical situations are indicative of the time, and are more theory based than the typical state of nature posited by individuals in the 21st century. The study of biology, psychology, and anthropology makes the modern conception of the state of nature closer to scientific theory rather than political philosophy. Whereas Locke or Hobbes’ theories involve personal conceptions of human nature or formation of society, evidence and research are used mechanistically to define a state of nature that existed. With factual evidence being presented against theory, the validity of these two thinkers is diminished from what it might have been earlier. If there is a modern scientific conception of the state of nature, what is it? Is it possible to merge political philosophy and other fields to determine the true state of nature?

A Common Introspective Thread

As I compiled the list of values I’ve gleaned from the different thinkers that compose the Search program for this class' final paper, I initially thought that I was affected by each for different reasons. For many I certainly was, but I was surprised to find that several on whom I drew seemed to embrace the same message, only in different forms. The thinkers about whom I am referring to are Luther, Kant, and Sartre.

On the surface, each seems to be notable for different reasons: Luther for dissent against the Catholic Church, Kant for his theory of moral objectivity, and Sartre for the contribution and perhaps founding of popular existentialism. But as I analyzed why I was drawn to each, I realized it was because the message of each is built on a common principle: the necessity of introspective self-examination and the open criticism of the motivations of our actions.

Luther’s primary aim was to encourage Christians to abandon the practice of seeking forgiveness through physical deeds, and to refocus on faith and the nature of the heart. Luther cites biblical texts in reference to the importance of faith over deed, and (controversially) suggests that good deeds done for the sake of good deeds are useless, that the only truly good deeds are those done out of faith and good intention. Luther forces his audience, in this way, to critically examine the genuineness of their actions and renders useless those that are not.

Kant’s message is similar, but whereas Luther was concerned with religion, Kant is concerned with the treatment of others. Though it is easy to get caught up in his clear commitment to duty and action and actually being moral, the three formulations of the Categorical Imperative attempt to inspire self-examination of maxims and intentions. For Kant, the only way to act dutifully is to act out of good will, and his formulations offer very specific criteria for how to do so.

Lastly – and perhaps this one is more of a stretch – it seems Sartre is trying to get at a similar idea. Sartre suggests that because man’s existence precedes his essence, a predetermined human nature does not exist and he is therefore capable of determining his own nature. But as the cliché demands, “with great freedom comes great responsibility.” Sartre is quick to mention that as we attempt to create an image for ourselves, we create an image of we think man ought to be and, in a way reflect all of mankind. He demands we ask ourselves, “What would happen if everyone did what I am doing,” and that he who does not simply “lies to himself” in “some kind of bad faith” (Sartre 25). So it seems that even Sartre is dedicated, in a very similar and serious way, to the self-examination of our actions and their consequences.

The Hypothetical Universal Decision

In “Existentialism is a Humanism,” Sartre claims that a man’s total freedom and control of himself and the course of his life leads a man to feel anguish. This anguish arises from the individual’s constant need to make decisions and bear the responsibility of those decisions. Essentially, when a man has total freedom, he is responsible for making the decision that he views as the best decision. This does not mean the best decision for him, but the best decision for all of man. When a man then makes that decision and follows through with it, he is saying that that is the decision that everyone should make if given the choice, and he should ask himself “what would happen if everyone did what I am doing?”
I found this reasoning to be very similar to part of Kant’s Categorical Imperative, which states that your actions are moral if you can will the maxim behind your action as a universal law, and if your maxims could be adopted as a law in a kingdom of ends. Now, the large scale importance of one’s decision has clearly been emphasized, but I wanted to bring up one more question that naturally accompanies those listed above. On top of asking “what if everyone made the decision that I am about to make?” you should also explore what would happen if everyone chose differently than you. While this may seem absurdly obvious, I can’t help but feel that asking this question would help to clarify the outcome of the decision, especially if the decision involves stress or emotional involvement. These factors can often blur the morality of a given decision, especially when making the decision has immediate benefits for you, such as avoiding a tragedy or keeping an item of sentimental or other value.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On Stereotypes

(This is Cole not Will, apparently my account no longer works...)

There are two sides to this coin. The side more often represented states that everyone should try to be equal and calls for an end to stereotypes. I think this is good. But I feel like it unevenly distributes the blame and responsibility. I don’t think it is appropriate to tell someone how he should think and judge others. The problem people have with stereotypes is that they make generalizations about a group of people that do not necessarily apply to every individual within that group. If they did, then people couldn’t complain because the stereotype would be true. However, the fact is, stereotypes are not unfounded. They do not come into being simply out of a whim. A stereotype is something that has been observed to be at least somewhat consistent within a given group. The problem is, most stereotypes reflect a characteristics that their respective groups do not appreciate being “called out” on.

Like I said, as much as I wish it were not the case, stereotypes are not unfounded. Jews are stereotyped as tight with their money; unfortunately I have witnessed several Jews only affirm this stereotype. I know blondes that aren’t dumb, but there are obviously enough who are to make a stereotype out of them. I’m sorry if I offend anyone in saying either of these things. The point I am trying to make is that it is unfair to completely blame someone for stereotyping. These views are not unfounded, and the group is just as much responsible for embodying the stereotype as one is for acknowledging it. So yes it is unfair for someone to judge you based on external features such as your skin or your hair. However, that person is not completely to blame for his opinion. It does little good for me to tell someone that stereotypes are bad because they do not accurately characterize an individual, when in that person’s experience, the stereotype has in deed been realized nine times out of ten.

No, for stereotypes to cease this requires action from both sides. Instead of complaining about being stereotyped against, people who feel this way need to take an active stance in demonstrating the inaccuracy of such claims. You have no place to complain about a stereotype if you yourself only affirm it. For people to stop placing validity in stereotypes, the stereotypes need to be untrue. It is unfair to fault someone for having an opinion, if that person he has found his opinion to be reasonably true. I realize there are plenty of stubborn and closed-minded people with unwarranted prejudices. However, if we can expect to end stereotypes it will take action from both sides.

End of the Year Response

Looking back at my Search courses I believe that the course has left a postive impression on me. At the beginning of my first year I was excited to be reading Gilgamesh and the Iliad, but I couldn't see how the course was supposed to shape my value system. As the year went on I learned how to look deeper into my own value system and see what things I've studied had a great effect on me. When we came into this second year I was excited to learn about more philosophies, but this years readings didn't have that great of an impact on me at the beginning of the semester. When we started talking about Human Rights, Feminism, and Globalism I started to realize where this course was taking me. In my opinion Search has ended openly for me to address some major social boundaries that have recently hindered or helped the world. I think the program, through its readings and discussions have helped me look at situations through your eyes and my own. Even though some of the reading assignments and papers were painful to get through, I think this course has been a positive influence on myself. I wanted to pose the question out to the class if anyone needed to still respond to a blog. Do you think the Search program has left a positive or negative impression on you?

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Female Feminist

Many posts have discussed the topic of Feminism in reference to the uneasiness that men feel when the topic is discussed.  I am actually more interested in the way in which even women tip toe around this subject.  In my own experiences, I find this subject to very threatening.  It is not difficult for me to understand the men’s view, when I myself whisper the word in public.  Why is this word so socially unacceptable even to women?

In class someone brought up the idea that many women don’t want to be linked to the extreme cases of Feminism that have been seen throughout history. It seems that if a woman is to identify herself as a Feminist, they are lending themselves to the sole identity of a workingwoman who remains independent and refuses all the preconceived characteristics of the stereotypical housewife.  This is where the problem occurs.  The idea of Feminism is not in itself threatening, but the outdated definition of the word causes many women who actually do believe in their rights, to stand back and keep their mouths shut on this subject. 

I am guilty of doing just that.  Instead of standing up and saying that I believe in women’s rights, I would rather brush over the word whenever it comes into a conversation.  The word Feminism goes onto the list of topics you just “don’t” talk about in public: Politics, God, and Sex.  It is very sad to think that even women go around this word.  It seems that many want to rename the concept.  This could also be due to the fact that a percentage of women actually want to stay home and raise their children.  Many can’t identify with being a Feminist because if they do want to be at home, then they may seem hypocritical.  However, it is possible to be a housewife and still believe in equal pay and equal opportunities.

This is mostly seen as a negative subject in reference to males, but I think that many women are also uncomfortable with the connotations that come with the word itself.  This may just be my opinion, but I usually have to think twice before I affirm that I show Feministic ideas.  I feel like I get the concepts of the movement, confused with the stereotypes when the stereotypes themselves should not interfere with the actual value behind the cause.  Even though I do believe in the equalities between men and women, I just don’t know why I can’t get past the word.  I sometimes feel like I don’t want the word Feminist to be a describing factor of my character, which is interesting to contemplate.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Perspective of Feminism and the Male Response

When we discussed feminism in class a couple of weeks ago in class I became extremely curious when we brought up why men would take a feminism class. I have been dwelling on why men are so hesitant to learn about the importance women have had on history, especially in America. I guess the stereotypical pro and con on a guy taking a course on feminism is that he'd be one of few guys surrounded by women and can work on his "game" while learning a thing or two on women's rites. A con is that maybe your one of the few lucky guys in a class surrounded by girls, but you learn they are outraged with their treatment from men over the years and will all hate you if you speak. I think both these stereotypes are false and that men don't always understand what role they can play in a feminist movement. There lies the big question men have about feminism, what could I learn by taking this class? What role could I possibly play in a dominantly female movement? I feel that we could learn a lot out of taking a course on feminism. I personally learned many interesting facts about feminism just reading "Feminism: A Very Short Introduction." I think if all men could gain a sense of the inspiration women have about not being seen as inferior, then we would be more understanding in some of the actions women take to prove they are just as important to this society as males. I think the main and true reason men are afraid to take a feminist class is that we would fear that we couldn't offer incite into a movement that revolves entirely on women. I think that men are more afraid that we are looked on so negatively in the past for a strong feminist that our input would be shut down. I personally think that for feminism to reach a new "wave" it would need to be one where men are educated on the importance of reaching equality. These are my thoughts on the topic, but I'd be curious to know what anyone else thought on this.