Problems in Philosophy Term Paper

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The Greek philosopher Plato's concept of justice in "The Republic" demonstrates his belief in the path towards rationality of the individual and society. In his discourse, he talks about the rational individual as a just individual and is guided by the pursuit of the common good. The philosopher demonstrates this by justifying that in one's pursuit to achieve self-discovery and self-realization, it is inevitable that one should interact with his/her society. Once the individual realizes his/her fullest potential and demonstrates this by committing just acts, then society in effect becomes influenced by this act of justice. However, Plato also clarifies that a just and unjust individual may pursue different paths and goals in life, but in the end, both individuals contribute to the coherence and harmony in the society. The just individual showed what behavior is desirable because it is beneficial for the society, while the unjust individual becomes an example of what human society should not be. In sum, justice is synonymously associated with rationalization of society and is demonstrated by the strengthening of social harmony. Plato's thoughts resounds Charles Taylor's arguments in "The Ethics of Authenticity," wherein the latter argues that a pursuit for individualism should bring about understanding and harmony in society, and not eventual disintegration of society, which is actually the characteristic of modern society. The Greek philosopher's subsistence to moral ideas, such as the concept of justice, is parallel with Taylor's belief that rationalism should entail the reflection of humanism -- that is, discovery of one's self as a human capable of making choices, expressing and elucidating emotions and thoughts, as well as appreciating the worth of humanity. By recognizing these important factors, individualism is thus achieved without being isolated or alienated by human society.

In Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics," he pushes forth the idea that happiness can be achieved by subsisting to three kinds of lives, which are motivated by either pleasure, politics, or contemplation. He notes that happiness is almost always associated with pleasure. However, he argues that this is not the case, since happiness can also be achieved by engaging in a "virtuous activity," the "best activity," which is contemplation. A contemplative life that ultimately leads to "perfect happiness" is achieved through reason, which is, once again, an argument for the rationalization of society as it progresses over time. That is, Aristotle posits that in order to achieve rationalization in human society, individuals must seek happiness by seeking knowledge and truth in life. In effect, self-discovery and self-realization happens when reason is used to live a contemplative life, leading to humanity's happiness.

However, one of the main ideas of Aristotle's ethics, that is, pursuing happiness by living a contemplative life, shows that happiness is achieved by the individual only, and the philosopher does not delve into the individual's relationship with his/her society. In effect, Aristotle deviates from Plato and Taylor's subsistence to rationalization as a path towards social unity and harmony. This means that Aristotle, while he acknowledges humanity's need for happiness, does not realize that perfect happiness is indeed achieved through pleasure -- that is, pleasure gained from interacting with other people. Aristotle's discussion of the pursuit of happiness in human society demonstrates Taylor's description of a disintegrating or "fragmentation" of human society as a result of harboring the wrong conception of individualism. The contemplative life, in Taylor's terms, means losing one's individuality, the true essence of being human, and losing freedom to choose the path an individual wishes to take to achieve happiness.

"Confessions" by St. Augustine discusses in detail the philosopher's opinion concerning the different kinds of individuals that live on earth. While most of the time he talks about the 'humble and faithful heart' of individuals, St. Augustine also brings into focus his preoccupation on people having "restless hearts," individuals who continue to seek truth through knowledge, not realizing that the truth is actually residing within their hearts after all. His study of the "restless heart" is a criticism of Aristotle's subsistence to reason, as well as Plato's subsistence to rationalism through moralistic ideals. What the philosopher proposes in "Confessions" is that life should not be spent in pursuing self-discovery and self-realization through knowledge, but by reflecting upon each individual's "hearts." Those who have the restless heart cannot reflect internally because they are preoccupied with things they deem more important and significant to their lives -- that is, achieving intellectual development and expressing one's opinion and expression in order to contribute social progress in the society.

St. Augustine's thesis in "Confessions" offers a critical look at rationalization and individualism, and this line of argument makes him parallel with Taylor's objective in "The ethics of authenticity." However, a marked difference between St. Augustine and Taylor's analyses is that while the former discourages the path towards rationalization and individualism, Taylor, meanwhile, supports this, and does so by advocating that rationalization and individualism should be pursuit with the welfare of human society in mind. While Taylor's thesis is moderately expressed, St. Augustine's discussion is deterministic to the point of being extreme, since he considers human knowledge as detrimental to the development of a righteous individual with a "faithful" and "humble" heart.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, in "The origin of inequality among mankind," elucidates on the role that individual freedom plays in civil society. For the political philosopher, the creation of a civil society "mutilates" humanity because of the gradual loss of individual freedom that each person receives every time they are made to formulate decisions that are compromised by thinking about the welfare of civil society. By this, Rousseau means that the "institutionalization of society" over time has progressed to benefit only limited individuals who interests to pursue other than the common good. While members of the civil society entrust their freedom to it to promote the common good, the institution that is the civil society, meanwhile, hinders people from exercising their freedom to make choices in their lives according to their own judgment. Social realities created by the civil society limit the opportunities for the individual to exercise his/her freedom as a human being. In effect, the creation of an organized institution in the society hindered social progress as civil society delimits the potential and capabilities of the individual to become a productive human being. Rousseau's arguments reflect Taylor's thoughts in "Ethics," an almost exact discussion of the detrimental effects of the rationalization of the society without taking into consideration the welfare of society in general, or the "common good." Evidently, Rousseau would assent to Taylor's claim that the institutionalization of society through the civil society is a manifestation of the loss of "subjective principles, significance, and choice" of the individual in society. S/he loses subjective principles and meaning in life when the individual has no purpose to live but to conform to the norms and rules imposed by civil society. This is also an evidence of the loss of choice within the individual, where s/he is indirectly compelled to live a life that is imposed by the society and not decided upon by the individual.

In the "Second treatise of government," John Locke espouses his primary thesis, which offers consent for the establishment of a civil society in order to regulate the properties of humanity. Believing that humans, by nature, subsist to barbaric and savage means of acquiring property that is more than what s/he deserve to have, Locke offers his support to the civil society, who acts as a mediator between humanity's want of properties and need to protect and regulate each person's tendency to take more than one property to his/her name. Thus, he considers the civil society as the "regulator" of society in general, tempering humanity's "brutish" and civilized ways. Locke's discussion of private property as it relates to the institutionalization of the civil society is evidently a direct contrast to Rousseau's criticism of civil society as a detriment to rationalization of human society and social progress. For Locke, civil society is an imperative element in human society if it needs to attain a certain kind of progress, an argument that is mainly based from his belief that human nature is inherently chaotic, and that humans are "short, mean, and brutish."

Locke's ideas in "Second treatise" is an anti-thesis to Taylor's discussion in "Ethics": while the former supports the establishment of a civil society, Taylor shows disapproval of its institutionalization, for it only results to the eventual disintegration of human society as each member of the civil society pursues interests of their own. In a civil society, the individual loses his/her 'individuality,' and humankind becomes a homogenous group of individuals who seem to subsist to one goal or objective in life, and that is to attain material progress through intellectual development. These adverse effects of the institutionalization of the civil society to the individual demonstrates that the path towards modernization of society is an arduous process that leads only to benefit the individual without taking into account the common good of human society.


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