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

Written by Josh Light on 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


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