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it takes a village

Fevers are frustrating because they make me think deep thoughts while at the same time robbing my follow-through and ability to express them.

Case in point: I've been wondering just why I am so frustrated with politics these days. It's not just the stupey-faced do-nothing politicians and the symbolic "wars" over meaningless symbols while the real outrages go unmentioned because they affect other people. (*waves* at campaign against Mayor Bloomberg's soda-ban). It's more fundamental than that.

And fever-addled thoughts have either clarified this for me or else fed me a red herring. But right now, it seems crystal clear: both Nozick (libertarianism) + Rawls (liberalism) were Kantians. They're both about maximizing personal liberty and the individual's human dignity. Oh, they have different ways of doing it, obviously - but at least when I hear their various arguments, I see this goal lurking in the back. And over the years I've become more and more an Aristotelian. That means that, for me, flourishing has more to do with a community. We flourish when we are well-integrated into a good community, and that means we shouldn't treat other people instrumentally. Which basically means that the politics I see so much of in America has a very different view of human nature than I buy into. No wonder it seems like bumbling vanity half the time.

I'd need a blog post (or three) to flesh out what all this means, I think. That will wait until I'm feeling better. But the more I think about it, the more this seems to explain so much of how I react to the world.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 9th, 2012 08:27 am (UTC)
Sorry to hear that that feverish cold has really taken hold. Hope you feel better soon!
If a Kantian wants to maximize the individual's human dignity oughtn't that to preclude treating other people instrumentally, too? Or am I misunderstanding what you are saying?
Sep. 9th, 2012 12:13 pm (UTC)
Your question has inspired me to write up a post on Kant's philosophy. Complete with graphic! (Yes, I miss teaching philosophy... why do you ask?) I want to wait a few days to post it because Kant + sicky-time dunderheadedness probably isn't the best mix.

But the ninety-second version is: it kind of comes down to what you mean by instrumental. I could have been clearer there. Kant very clearly said that it's wrong to use someone as a mere means. We use each other as a means all the time - the worker who agrees to do what his boss wants in exchange for the paycheck, and the boss who uses his worker as a way to maximize profits. Each person serves as a means to the other person's goals. But the trick is that the worker and the employer both choose to get used. And since they're making their choice, the way I read Kant is, this situation is okay.

Now compare that to a different kind of being used. Let's say I want you to donate money to prevent human trafficking in Vietnam. Rather than try to convince you that the cause is worthy, I lie. I know you have a soft spot for treating AIDS in Africa so I say the money you donate will go to that cause instead. I trick you. And even if the cause is good, there's a sense in which I've wronged you, by taking away your right to choose what to do in this situation. That's treating you as a mere means - and Kant thinks that's very wrong.

The main problem I have with Kant is he focuses too much on the individual. He's so concerned with personal dignity, he doesn't seem to account for the fact that we're in a community, in a certain tradition that carries certain obligations with it. He's too focused on the broad picture - on a kind of universal human race, and anything that doesn't apply to all humans, isn't really a moral obligation. But that's a complicated point and I'll have to explain it in more depth for that to really make sense.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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