February 08, 2010

Hey, this thing maybe ought to be updated

It's a pity that I don't have much time, and the time I do have I spend doing something else. This isn't exactly top of my mind. Maybe it should be. I have two philosophy courses, and spend two or three hours a day in socratic dialogue. Whatever.

Just a quick note then, today, about man and society. Again.

The human person (individual) necessarily comes before society and its laws, because the society itself would not exist without the individual person. Therefore, it is not just unjust for the societal order to wrong an individual, it is beyond the authority of the state and an intrinsic disorder. This is, perhaps, the basic principal of my political theory. The human person's rights always trump those of the state.

Another way to state this is to look at the end, or final cause of the state. It is ordered for the good of the individuals that live under its care. Not groups of people, but individuals. Not minorities, not lobbyists, not even majorities. The individual person. In fact, every individual, but not as a group - as individuals. You might call this individualism. I just call it common sense.

The logical implication of this is that any law which does wrong to the individual is unjust, and, as Thomas Aquinas would say, "no law at all." Therefore, there can be no enforcement behind it. The individual still should have the option as if the law did not exist. An example would be a person who has absolutely no money, no access to charity (say a traveling beggar in the middle of the country). It would be wrong for the state to punish him for taking food to prevent him from starving, because he has the natural right to do so. The government does have the right to punish larcenists, but each human being has the natural right to self preservation, which supercedes civil law. If the government seeks to punish him, it oversteps its bounds.

A small post. I'll see if I can dump my ideas here more often. This is a good philosophical outlet.


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Blogger Der Wolfanwalt said...

Interesting thesis here...but let's gnaw at it a bit.

What is your basis for choosing the individual as the building block and predicate of society? I don't mean this aggressively; I actually think it makes consummate sense to say that the individual is the building block of society from a soteriological perspective, but then, I'm not sure that I would want to live in a society that was founded purely on soteriological principles...I don't even know that there has been one that worked all that well.

From a secular standpoint - and I am being very broad here in using the word "secular", I grant you - I think that it is less the individual who is the predicate of society. Aristotle made it the household, and with good reason. If we are, indeed, political ("dwelling in a polis") animals, then part of our humanity is predicated upon our membership in a social unit. The most basic social unit is the family. Ergo, I would argue that for Aristotle, at least, the predicate of the larger society is the family.

I also think that there's a lot of merit to the charge that slicing the individual off from the household and making him the sole basic unit of society has done a lot to creating the pseudo-egotism that serves as the root of many modern disorders.

None of this is to say that I disagree with your conclusions, which is classic and absolutely correct. I just wish there was more writing here. (Hint)

February 09, 2010 2:25 PM  
Blogger Ambrose said...

If we grant your position, that the building block/end (because the central unit would also of necessity be the end) is the family, then what is a family? A collection of individuals functioning as one unit? Funny how that never seems to work out to be the case. A family is a collection of individuals who live together, bound together by ties of relation and love, but they cannot be a single unit. How do you explain, then, children growing up and living on their own? Do they cease to be part of the family, then, and start their own, or are all of the 50-odd grandchildren on my dad's side of the family all part of one societal unit? If those fifty people all have individual families (units), then where do you draw the line? 18, voting age? No, that is arbitrarily set by the government. Monetary independence? People can live into their thirties and still be dependents, and yet in all other manners function completely independently from their parents.

A positive argument - the basic unit of society ought to be the smallest whole unit. Clearly, the family is a group made up of individuals, and is not the smallest whole unit. The individual, however, cannot be broken up into further units without ceasing to be a whole, and therefore must be the most basic unit by definition. And, as stated above, the most basic unit is also the end, and therefore the "predicate," "building-block," or whatever.

As to egotism, I think that moderns tend to think themselves the most egotistical, which is in and of itself a very egotistical statement. We are neither the most perverted society, as can be shown by the wall paintings and carvings found in Pompey, nor the most individualistic society, as can be shown by the Renaissance. I wold say, if anything, we are the most apathetic, which could, arguably, be attributed to individualism - if I am, in fact, independent, then I don't need to care about anyone. However, individualism, as I see it, does not necessarily imply independence - clearly we can't be completely independent, we have to have parents. Only individuals, however, can be truly interdependent.

February 09, 2010 7:36 PM  
Blogger Der Wolfanwalt said...

I'm sorry, I should have been more precise in my language there. I kept using "family" and "household" interchangeably. What I was referring to was the nuclear family, the household - what the Greeks called the "oikos," and what we derive our term "economics" from. That very etymological fact is actually significant, in that it is the science of the household, and more economic activity is practiced by units than by individuals. That, however, is beside the point.

Remember, I am making a distinction here between the strictly moral and the political - not to say that the political is amoral, but only that it is concerned with things in addition to morality. The moral universe is absolutely focused on the individual, because as the only thing with a soul, the individual is the only being capable of moral action. States are not moral actors, they are just convenient fictions operated by individuals. Individuals are concerned about states; but it is only the disordered state that is concerned primarily with individuals.

A society, by definition, is oriented toward the collective good. Aristotle and Plato would say that the state exists to lead men to the Good. Our Christian framework provides - ironically - for a more secular state wherein men are free to pursue the Good, though that state is not responsible for leading them there. That is now the Church's job.

So, if the state's job is to leave men "free to pursue the Good," then what exactly does that mandate entail? Laws, clearly, which by definition must restrict certain behaviors of individuals - to the benefit of whom? Those individuals, certainly, because a good law is one that discourages wrong behavior, which would benefit the would-be malfeasor since now he would not act unrightly. However, if the malfeasor acts against the law, the law is designed to punish him - again, in favor of whom? Not the malfeasor this time, since the punishment of the state has no salvific component, strictly speaking. The beneficiary of punishing the criminal (most often in the form of imprisonment or restricted freedom to act) is not any one individual, but the society the individual actor harmed by his crime.

The problem with collectivist thinking like this is that it can easily segue into something like Millsian utilitarianism or something equally distasteful and morally problematic. However, that does not leave aside the fact that a state must, by its definition as a community of many individuals, be focused on the good of the many and not of the one to the detriment of others. This, of course, brings me to your positive argument, and I apologize for not getting there sooner: but I do not see anything strictly compelling in the premise that the basic unit of society ought to be the smallest whole unit. By compelling here, I do not see it as a foregone conclusion that justifies itself. What makes that proposition necessary?

My theorem is that subsidiarity demands the family be the basic social unit. I can present a theological/scriptural argument for it, but for the moment I'll limit myself to the strictly practical.

February 10, 2010 11:40 AM  
Blogger Der Wolfanwalt said...

Subsidiarity dictates that a problem is best solved by whoever is closest to the issue. In any kind of environment that I can realistically conjure, the smallest unit will not be the individual. If it were, then the only reason could be that nobody else was around, which means that the situation of the individual would be that he was not really in a society, which is a defective state for a human being to be in. The smallest natural unit that characterizes a group of humans is a nuclear family - a household or cavehold or whatever sort of hold you happen to live in. After that, you have the extended family, clan, tribe...and you can extrapolate the political structure out from there. The fact of the matter, though, is that man is a social creature, one for whom "it is not good that [he] should be alone." Therefore, talking about a man in isolation is almost never the complete way of looking at him.

As to egotism, finally, I didn't mean to imply that moderns are the most egotistical. I was simply observing that this sort of disordered individualism or "pseudo-egotism" leads to disordered behavior. I would argue that we are probably the most disordered society, on the basis of mere volume. We weren't the first people to abort, but we abort the most; we didn't discover homosexuality, but we've turned buggery into practically a sports league. We probably have played God with nature more so than past generations...but the bottom line is that our dissolute qualities are simply human failings, and we need to deal with them. I was intending to focus on the fact that a lot of those issues revolve around an incorrect emphasis on the individual aspect of human existence over the communal aspect...which is a whole separate line of discussion.

February 10, 2010 11:40 AM  

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