August, 2009 browsing by month


The Mortar of Capitalism

Monday, August 31st, 2009

“Knowledge is of little use, when confined to mere speculation.” This motto captures the “the practical side of the Scottish Enlightenment,” because many of the Scotts greatest contributions to the world were in the form of inventions rather than theory. For instance, two Englishmen invented the steam engine, but James Watt perfected it into a practical invention. It is Watt who everyone recognizes as the inventor of the steam engine, not the Englishmen. This same pattern of perfection for practical purposes can also be seen in other Scott contributions towards medicine, road construction, railroads, gasoline, and even scientific areas such as geology and biology. While the rest of the world was speculating on how things could be beneficial, the Scotts were acting in their own rational self interest to provide value for these speculations.

Scotts were able to innovate like they did because they were in a petree dish for entrepreneurship considering that the very origin of capitalism had sprung from their homeland and was deeply woven into their redefined culture. Without this critical support for innovation, the rest of the world was sluggishly inventing, while the Scotts were innovating at an exponential rate. This is why, with every new acquisition of some theory or concept, the Scotts improved upon it and were able to make the concept into something greater than just an idea. Ideas are just bricks. Bricks can be piled to make a wall, but that wall will never reach its fullest height and grandeur without the mortar of capitalism.


Scots challenge question

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Benjamin Rush, one of the American founders and signatory of the Declaration of Independence, studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh from 1766 to 1768 and was heavily influenced by the great philosophers and thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment. Page 389 of the reading lists Rush as a founder of the American Philosophical Society (APS) and cites the motto of the APS (based on the Select Society?) as “Knowledge is of little use, when confined to mere speculation.” How does this motto “capture the practical side of the Scottish Enlightenment,” and what does it suggest as a context for how effective collective decision making processes are constrained and empowered through the acquisition and application of knowledge?

The State As The Upholder Of Virtue

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

It may seem inappropriate to credit the state as the source of virtue among its citizens, that credit seeming more rightly given to other sources: be they societal/cultural; religious; or the merit of ones own character.

However, it seems imprudent to deny credit to the state, who has provided means for anything that causes her people to embrace virtue. For example, the very existence of  a particular culture can be appropriately credited to the state as a defender from alien conquest and assimilation. Likewise relating to individual merit, individuals are free to pursue their vision of moral and intellectual virtue solely because a state cultivates an environment in which personal liberty is preserved. Without the states protection of a societal environment favorable for moral uprightness, the achievement of moral and intellectual virtue would be hindered.

I would argue that moral virtue is and should be dependent on the state, and that a state should be judged by it’s ability to allow its citizens to ‘direct their lives toward an honourable end’. In her role the state should follow Aristotles doctrine of the mean; acting upon her citizens in neither excess nor deficiency.

This verdict does not absolve one from personal responsibility, deflecting such responsibility to the state. Rather it reinforces personal virtue. The environment created by the state to promote virtue should be harnessed by the citizenry. Those citizens being the keepers of a virtuous condition and being culpable should their posterity not inherit the same virtuous heritage.

– A Davis

Man’s Search For Truth

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Aristotle himself draws a distinct line between intellectual and moral virtue “Intellectual virtue owes both its inception and its growth chiefly to instruction,…Moral goodness, on the other hand, is the result of habit”. Intellectual growth is and should be the responsibility of the state up to a certain age and education level. Every child deserves to have their minds stretched, to be pushed to new boundaries and filled with the excitement of new ideas. Due to economic inconsistencies not every family can afford the luxury of and education. It is the responsibility of the state to prevent and demolish glass ceilings that would stop any American citizen from reaching their intellectual potential. Through education citizens will find intellectual virtue.

However moral virtues are a personal endeavor created by rational thought, the one trait that according to Aristotle, separates us from the beasts of the world. A human being should never be forced or coerced into acting virtuously. Forcing moral virtues rids them of the joy and “happiness” that true morality brings. Government regulation of morality would poison the beauty of a thoughtful act of service. It is a hope that at some point our government and its leaders will serve as an example of morality and goodness, but until then every citizen should be left to their own personal search for moral Truth.





State Virtue is not the Argument, but rather what is the mean?

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Aristotle defined virtuous living as the means that provides humanity with the end, that is happiness.  If happiness is the goal of the public life, then it is through the science of politics that Aristotle argued that we gain this end of all ends.  Such virtues Aristotle described as having a means, that is that each virtue has a right way and a right amount which would produce a virtuous action in the individual, and such would cause a magnification in the happiness of the soul.

When questioning whether the state should impose moral regulations on the individuals in society, there must be some agreement on which laws should exist, otherwise society would disintigrate into chaos and the existance of virtue would be of no worth at all, since the society within which people recieve honor which is a good end of virtue would be abolished.  The argument it seems then does not have to do with whether a society can teach moral responsibility to it’s citizens, but rather with how much and to what degree.  As Aristotle stated, it is only by reaching the mean virtue taking action at the right time, in the right way, and the right amount that leads to the end result: happiness. 

As for how much and to what degree should be taken in instruction of moral behavior, it is a notable fact in psychology that individuals model the behaviors of others whom they seek to be more like.  The reason that they seek to be similar has to do with public honor, or a realization that their actions cause virtuousness which lead the end result of happiness.  Thus it is through example that virtue is taught and moral responsibility is realized in a person’s development.  Instruction of virtues increases intellectual virtuousness, but it is only through a person’s realization that virtue is it’s own reward in happiness that will cause a person to imitate state leaders that have elements of good character. 

-Holly Anderson

Excellence, Virtue, and the State

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Before addressing the importance of virtue and its relationship to the polis, Aristotle makes a number of key observations concerning the individual. In Book I, Aristotle frequently eludes to the fact that happiness is an individual experience and may be acquired through training and cultivation (20-21). Moreover, man is capable of remaining happy throughout his life as long as his engages himself in “virtuous conduct and contemplation” (23). And according to Aristotle, virtuous conduct is best performed through politics. Happiness, therefore, is directly linked to virtue, as a “virtuous life” is one of happiness.

Such a view most certainly contributed to the Ancients’ perception of the state and the importance of civic virtue. While moral and intellectual virtue (both a “mean” and “extreme”) can be encouraged by a state and its institutions, they are utterly dependent upon individual agency and action. Without a voluntary group of individuals choosing to be virtuous, a polis cannot successfully cultivate a higher way of life.

A state consists of a number of institutions ideally designed for the “happiness” of its people. It should be acknowledged that such institutions not only reflect the morality of the populace itself, but can in turn, encourage a sense of morality and virtue among individuals. Nevertheless, it’s prerequisite that the individual remains free to voluntarily develop the virtue and morality encouraged by the state.

Intellectual and moral virtue do not exclusively depend on the state, but it’s impossible to expect the state to remain free of some form of moral encouragement. The state itself is an extension of the individual, and naturally, espouses similar perceptions of virtue and morality.

Is man’s intellectual and moral virtue dependent on the state?

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

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Aristotle states that happiness is, “[…] the end to which our actions are directed”. Every human action is taken in the rational self interest of the individual in question. Aristotle argues that these actions are taken on behalf of generating utility for the individual taking the action, this being in the interest of the person in question. This characteristic of human beings is independent of the state, therefore, man’s intellectual and moral growth will be accomplished even in the states absence because it is in the best interest of man to enhance these virtues.

Persons in opposition of this argument may assert that people take actions for their own rational self interest that cause damage to other persons attempting to act in a similar fashion. This argument is supported by the fact that people within our society steal from each other. Individuals in support of this view argue that the state must exist to prevent this occurrence from happening; however, there is a fallacy to this argument. It is not in the rational self interest of an individual to take from another person that which is not theirs. To take such an action would mean that the individual stealing from another person would be endanger of having their own substance taken from them. Individuals aware of this fact know that to take from another person would only lead to the abolishment of private property, making it unsafe for any person to acquire goods; therefore, in order to maintain ones happiness one must not take property which is not one’s own. Based on this argument, moral virtues do not arise from the state; but arise from the rational self interest of the individual.

The problem with this is that not all individuals act rationally. Which raises the question, should the state dictate our moral and intellectual virtues? If morals are inherently existent without the state, but individuals do not always act rationally, then it becomes the obligation of the state to serve the function of preventing irrational behavior that causes damage to other citizens of the same state. To best accomplish this, the state should impose education upon its citizens. Doing this will cause citizens to become aware of their natural morals and to act upon them because acting upon them will derive the greatest utility for the individual and will result in the joint maximization of all citizens within the state.

-Josh Light

Circumstantial Virtue

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Intellectual and moral virtue is dependent on arguably several factors that perhaps can only be argued and never proven. To say that it is solely dependent on the state is perhaps inviting dispute, but to ignore it completely would be a vast overlook of centuries of history and evidence. The state enforces law for the benefit of society, and therefore enforces habitual maintenance of said laws whether or not all citizens of the state agree with them. It is the acknowledgment and abiding of laws which influence Aristotle’s definition of acting virtue, even if only to be a veneer, a façade for some, but a finishing surface uniting common ideas of the ideal society for the majority of the population. This case can quickly be disrupted however by pointing out corrupt governing bodies which do not reflect the public’s views and seem to have lost sight of their moral compass.

True virtue however, as defined by Aristotle, cannot be legislated, and must be motivated by doing the right things for the right reasons, opening the argument back up as to whether or not our intellectual and moral virtue are not dependent on the state. While they are dependent to a degree on the state, they are not solely dependent so long as we have inherent agency, “something within our power at which we aim after deliberation.” It is human nature to believe we could independently transcend the downfalls of civilization through our own intelligences, but the continuation of laws governing a given society are (at times although not prescribed for all instances) responsible for habitual virtue, not true virtue.  The answer then remains full of circumstantial conditions, and cannot be resorted to a black and white answer.


Rights And Responsibilities

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Our intellectual and moral virtue is not dependent upon the government. Aristotle states that individuals must choose virtue for its own sake. If this is true, then that power can not even be turned over to nor held by the government because, as many have already expressed, the “punishments or rewards” would turn true virtue into a false one.

In addition, Aristotle spends a great deal of time explaining where the virtuous act is “located,” i.e. the mean. Then he delves further into an explanation of what the “mean” is, and comes to the conclusion that “every knowledgeable person avoids excess and deficiency, but looks for the mean and chooses it – not the mean of the thing, but the mean relative to us” (40). Therefore, if the virtuous act is the mean, and the mean is relative to “us” or to the individual (Milo in Aristotle’s example), then how can the government prescribe or teach what is virtuous and what isn’t? If it’s different for every individual, then the amount of laws and instruction that would have to be put in place by the state would utterly overwhelm the system.

Our moral and intellectual virtue is not the responsibility of the government. It is also not the right of the government to define what virtue is. There are certain subject that government does not have a right to alter or define, according to John Locke. And virtue is one of those subjects.

-Richard Christensen

The Feasibility of State Moral Instruction

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

We tend to think of our state more as a Lockean guarantor of the social contract than an Aristotelian schoolmarm dispensing virtue. In other words, we assume that the state watches protectively over the citizens, interfering only when one citizen would deprive another of his or her rights. Under this view, we are independent agents who owe our virtue (or lack of virtue) mostly to ourselves.

This view of the state’s role is attractive for two reasons: First, it assumes (rightly) that the legislature will not have substantially more knowledge of virtue than the citizens. Although we should hope that those who make the laws are always “good statesmen,” the kind who know the soul and virtue, we have seen from experience that not all statesmen are good. Second, it seems supported by empirical evidence; states seem to be more descriptive than prescriptive in their moral views. We can see this in the changes in racial and sexual views in the 1960’s. There was no government mandate that challenged racism; changes won by civil rights leaders trickled up until they were codified by the legislature.

With these considerations, then, it looks like the state is an ineffective moral instructor. Bound as it is to the whims of its population, it lacks the stability to resist extremism (Nazism, for example, or whatever else is your favorite whipping boy); also, the state is no more likely to chance upon goodness just for its being a state than any of its constituents are.