Monday, December 14, 2009
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?
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.
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
(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.
Friday, December 11, 2009
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.