Monday, November 05, 2007

the philosophy of a Society

There are, it seems, certain philosophical assumptions underlying the way any modern society–let modern society here mean simply one with some manner of established political order and one whose citizens analyze data in a scientific method–goes about the business of being. There are in particular two assumptions betrayed by the two attributes given to this society which, when expounded to their respective logical conclusions yield interesting assumed philosophical truths, or facts.

In Aristotle’s mind, the ideal constitution of a community(if I may use a very basic and not precisely Aristotelian term for the group of people) exists to serve the common good, i.e. the safety and well-being of the people within the community. This is accomplished, we see in reality, through regulation. Laws are established an enforced by the governing body which presumably will maintain in the community a social environment conducive to this common good for the people. This is outlawed, that is not, all according to what will preserve this good. In the United States, this good is outlined in the nation’s Declaration of Independence as the certain, inalienable rights granted to man: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Each proceeding of these rights is contingent on the existence of the previous rights. Liberty is impossible without Life, and Pursuit is impossible without either; the latter of the three is also well-founded in Aristotelian philosophy in the Ethics.
Such a political establishment is relying on a philosophy of good, which, while certainly influenced by the Greeks, is very basic. There is a common good, as opposed to a common not-good, or bad, which serves as the authority on which the governing body works. The political structure is assuring the Good of the people within it, and it is submitted to, not on account of itself(in the case of the ideal constitution), but on account of the authority of the Good as right or just of itself. This Good is an immaterial idea (thus excluded from existence within a strict Materialistic world-view) and therefore cannot be defined simply by observation within nature. This existence outside of nature makes the Good, by certain classical definitions, supernatural. It is, also, presumably standardized, given that it is authoritative and given that we have written it into law, that any action by a person in the community at any time may be set against it and judged according to its relativity.

We are then left with, whether it is well-founded or not, a practically evident, assumed authoritative, standardized, and supernatural Good.

Now, of course one may argue that this Good is not actually supernatural in origin, but is instead simply taken from the apparent consensus of the people. There are some notable difficulties with this suggestion. Because the scientific acquisition of knowledge has left us wanting several necessary definitions in establishing the Good, man’s notions relieve the Good of its standardization, and thus of its substantial authority. For example, with the controversial topic of abortion, man lacks an adequate, but necessary definition: human. Without an established parameter of humanity inside or outside of which to place the unborn, man is left bifurcated into those who assume the freedom of choice to be paramount, and those who reserve that position for the freedom of existing. On the more individualized level you will find men who oppose convention on all manner of topics, from gender roles, to murder, to truthfulness of tongue, all for their different rational, scientific, self-serving, or common-sensical reasons. Also, this idea that the Good is formed by the opinion of man implies two unscientific assumptions: 1) that the individual’s opinion is authoritative(theoretically eliminating the need, and even the justification, for a political establishment), and 2) that the greater the number of opinions of a topic, the more authoritative it becomes, making "more" better in some sense than "less", therein ultimately appealing to some assumed Good(circular reasoning ensues). On a more practical level, this idea evidently can decrease the efficacy of the political establishment and fuel division within its members.

The scientific method is defined as "principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition of and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses" [Webster’s]. This method stands at the core of all the physical and natural sciences, and of the gathering of any empirical data whatsoever. There is one major unspoken assumption underlying this method, so fundamental to modern thought and ontologically attributed to our Society. This assumption has been termed the Principle of Sufficient Reason, or PSR, and is stated as such: "that there must be an explanation (a) of the existence of any being, and (b) of any positive fact whatever" [Rowe, Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction]. By means of the sciences we seek to identify the individual sufficient reasons acting within nature, always assuming of course that there is one to uncover. The principle is also fundamental in St. Thomas’s Cosmological Argument, where, because every being cannot be a dependent being(as this would imply an infinity of dependent beings, the whole of which itself having no sufficient reason), there must be one self-existent being(the initial sufficient reason), which Thomas identifies as God. This conclusion is the inevitable logical implication of our basic assumption of the PSR, but allow us to term this "self-existent being" the Reason For, instead of the Thomistic term "God", with all of the associations entailed to it.
The Reason For may be material, implementing the first cause of causes within the series of dependent beings which we find ourselves in, though it is likely, as our Good is, immaterial, or supernatural, having no need therefore to account for the material substance of its own form.

Here, whether well-founded or not, we are left with a practically evident, assumed (most probably)supernatural Reason For.

Thus, the Good and the Reason For stand as fundamental assumptions beneath much of the action of our Society. They must either be agreed to, or discarded, with intellectual integrity then demanding a complete restructuring of the Society, at least in how it's members, as individuals, aspire and how they relate to other one another(i.e., be a community) and in how we understand and attain knowledge. If they, being immaterial realities, are agreed to, then we must immediately discount the strict philosophy of Materialism which cannot with them co-exist.

It is noteworthy that these two concepts, simply as they are here described, have not historically been strictly denied the title ‘god’. Also of note, it must be recognized that the conceptions of God within the world’s major monotheistic traditions all encompass–among other things, of course–these two fundamental assumptions of our Society’s practical philosophy. These Gods are, by nature, the standards of good and truth, as well as, by nature, the givers of being (Creators, if you will) of all that is, "seen and unseen".
As you probably guessed, I myself do not see these overlaps as coincidence, nor as evidence of man's having a thorough grasp of philiosophy and ardent skill at designing his 'Gods'.

Now I say all of this with humility enough to submit to the logic of the real philosophers, among whom I’m not counted, lest I find myself feigning authority while talking off my own subject, in ignorance(the way Lewis saw Freud as often having spoken). However, in light of what little training in philosophy I have had, these observations do seem to me clear enough, and the inferences rather straight-forward. Clear, straight-forward, and of course, very interesting.
And, unusually enough, just like my last post, all these thoughts I worked our initially while in the shower. Huh.


Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I see, as a necessary corolary to philosophy, they have trained you in wordiness! ;)

I've been toying with possible replacement words for "supernatural" because of the connotations (rightly or not) associated with it (ghost stories, big-foot, aliens, whatever else comes on unsolved mysteries). I wonder if trans-natural will suffice. I do not think that God or miracles or whatever are "non-natural" just perhaps "non-material" and participating in those ranges of nature to which empirical science cannot approach.

I think your basic point is very much in line with what I have been arguing almost continuously on my political theory blog posts - there must be a common foundation, a common Good, upon which a society is founded and around which it is organized. In our case there are a number of supposed goods which may in fact be contradictory to one another, so that in fact our political life in this society is by its very nature incoherent. But nobody seems to bother much about this - we just go on voting and buying things.

This is one more reason to advocate a state church and a monarch - even if they are only moral or philosophical statements about the reasons for and nature of governing authority in society. The Brits just don't even realize how lucky they are. They might even want to be more like us! CrazY!

Nance said...

I think Wright coined the word 'transphysical' in his discussing the Resurrection, very similar to your vaporators in many respects. ;)
You seem to be in favor of broadening the definition of 'nature', more than of getting rid of 'super-nature', which would still be accurate, but with the odd connotations; "trans-natural" seems to emphasize more nature-as-multi-faceted(I don't dissent there), whereas I'm just using "nature" to means, roughly, 'the cosmos', if you will. For my part, I'm really just borrowing the "nature, supernature" terminology from Lewis(who else?).

But I think you're absolutely right--while these sorts of foundational assumptions seem apparent in the structure of our society, most people seem content to completely ignore them and their ramifications.

And speaking of wordiness, check out