An Undergraduate Journal of Philosophy
Volume XI 2009
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Contents Volume XI 2009
On Ways of Worldmaking
Tommy Hanauer (Indiana University of Pennsylvania)
Socrates Critique of Democracy
Eva Melinkova (Florida International University)
Arête and Eudaimonia - The Summum Bonum: A Comparative Analysis
Tim Bock (Clarion University of Pennsylvania)
Civil Liberties and Manufacturing Consent
Hannah Bailey (Edinboro University of Pennsylvania)
Violence Is As American As Apple Pie
Mat Sines (Edinboro University of Pennsylvania)
Laurel Gibbons (Edinboro University of Pennsylvania)
Janua Sophia is published once yearly by the Philosophy Department at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and is dedicated to recognizing exemplary philosophical work at the undergraduate level. Essays submitted are blind refereed. Normally, there are two referees for each submission.
We are grateful for continuing support from Provost Rose Bartelt and Dean of Liberal Arts, Terry Smith. Funding for Janua Sophia comes from Edinboro University and from the PASHEE Interdisciplinary Association for Philosophy and Religious Studies. For information about subscribing to Janua Sophia, contact the Editors at the Philosophy Department of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA 16444.
Cover design by Shannon M. Fera. Photograph (from the Great Wall of China) by Seth T. Miller.
Copyright 2009 by the Philosophy Department, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
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The phrase "Janua Sophia" is a synthesis of the Latin janua meaning 'doorway or passage way' and the Greek sophia meaning 'wisdom.' So, literally "Janua Sophia" means 'doorway wisdom.' This concept can be understood in two ways: the doorway to wisdom or the wisdom of the doorway. Both are relevant, but it is the wisdom of the doorway which is the focus of Janua Sophia. A doorway is the point of transition between two places: a balanced center which connects two realms.
The Roman god Janus, whose name is derived from janua, is the god of both beginnings and endings. Typically, Janus is depicted as dual-faced, in symbolism of looking simultaneously forward and backward. The major time of sacrifice to Janus was the first day of the New Year, being the temporal expression of these qualities. From janua, the English language derived the name of the month January. Accordingly, the time of minor sacrifice to Janus was the first day of each month.
Traditionally, temples to Janus had a doorway facing the East and a doorway facing the West. It is thus the humble mission of Janua Sophia to be like a doorway in thought, connecting the East and the West.
Shannon M. Fera
Co-founder of Janua Sophia
In Ways of Worldmaking Nelson Goodman makes two infamous, controversial, and highly misunderstood claims: (1) There is a multiplicity of worlds, and (2) we, conceptually and metaphysically, create those worlds. Admittedly, on the surface of things, these two claims sound insane, or just plainly stupid. But, be assured, Nelson Goodman, is no more a fool than he is a mental patient, and people who think he is either one just misunderstand what he has to say. He has reasons for thinking the way he does. In this paper, those reasons will be explained, and how we should understand his claims that there are many worlds, as opposed to just one, and that these worlds are made, as opposed to just being found.
Consider these quotes from Goodman that supposedly reveal what he “actually” meant in regards to world-making:
The many stuff - matter, energy, waves, phenomena – that worlds are made of are made along with the worlds (6).
We make worlds with languages and other symbols yet when I say that worlds are made I mean that literally… (Qtd. in Scheffler, 669).
I am afraid that my remarks above about conflicting truths and multiple actual worlds may be passed over as purely rhetorical. They are not…(110).
On face value, it seems that Goodman is saying that, physically, worlds are made. Matter, energy, and whatnot are all created by us. So we ask him, how can this be? How exactly are worlds made? In what ways are there many worlds? And what do you have to show us as proof of these claims? These are exactly the questions Goodman seeks to answer in Ways of Worldmaking. In order for Goodman to be able to show that we make worlds and that there are many worlds, he needs to show us that (1) no world exists without conceptions, or that ‘existence’ is dependent on a conceptual framework, or “versions” as Goodman calls them (this means breaking the dichotomy of reality vs. appearance), (2) versions are the things that impose structure on experience and we create versions, and (3) that some versions conflict in an irresolvable manner, but are nevertheless right world versions. If he can show us these, he can show that worlds are made when versions are made. The line of reasoning is that, if the existence of worlds is dependent on conceptions, and versions are the things that make up our conceptions, then, worlds are created when versions are created. Hence, when we make versions, we also make worlds.
Let us start by examining how Goodman solves task (1) – that existence is dependent on conceptions. Goodman begins by first making an argument against the traditional view of how we interact with and understand the world we think we experience. We think that our concepts correspond with, or refer to, an independent reality. But, Goodman says “frames of reference belong less to what is described than to systems of description” (2). He then remarks “we are confined to ways of describing whatever is described” (3). These “systems of descriptions” can be called world-versions. There is no “reality” which we can imagine that is not perceived or described, because whenever anybody is asked to describe the way the world is apart from all conceptual frames, they will inevitably fall back on the use of concepts, and thus into systems of description, or versions. What Goodman does here is show us how worlds “themselves” belong more to systems than systems belong to worlds. He is attempting to break down our entrenched, realist, dichotomy that separates subject from object. The idea is that the worlds we experience are not part of some “substratum” underneath, but that they are dependent on our conceiving of them. Consider this quotation:
Talkof unstructured content or an unconceptualized given or a substratum without properties is self-defeating; for the talk imposes structure, conceptualizes, ascribes properties. Although conception without perception is merely empty, perception without conception is blind (totally inoperative). Predicates, pictures, other labels, schemata, survive want of application but content vanishes without form. We can have a word without a world, but no world without words or other symbols (6).
There are no worlds that are independent of concepts. What we call the “given” is actually the “taken.” For this reason Goodman also believes that observation is theory-laden, meaning that it must always fall back on interpretation, and that without interpretation there is nothing that is actually being observed. For example, Goodman says “All measurement is based upon order…only through suitable arrangements can we handle quantities of material perceptually or cognitively” (14). He later on says “…any organizing into elements is an imposition, and if we prohibit all such impositions we end with nothing” (98). Without the interpretation and the organization we have nothing to say we are observing or indeed organizing at all. Goodman says that “whatever else may be said of modes of organization, they are not ‘found in the world’ but built into a world” (14).
This, then, is Goodman’s first premise: that no world exists without conceptions. He explains this by demonstrating how structure is imposed on “reality,” as opposed to our commonsense realist view that structure is a part of “reality.” Structure, in other words, is no more a part of the ‘real’ world than the idea of the ‘real’ world is about the ‘real’ world. Our “solid foundation” is nothing more than our world-versions. All we learn about any world is contained in our versions of it (Goodman 4). From this we can conclude that, for Goodman, a world without the imposition of concepts is not a world at all. Now we can move on to address the second premise Goodman needs to prove if he is to show that we make worlds; that versions are the things that structure our experience.
So, how do we make worlds? “We make worlds by making versions,” and we make versions by imposing structures (Goodman 94). Goodman describes five ways in which structure-imposing, and subsequently world-making, is done. These include: (a) Composition and Decomposition, (b) Weighting, (c) Ordering, (d) Deletion and Supplementation, and (e) Deformation. We will only discuss one of these, Composition and Decomposition. Before making sense of these processes Goodman stresses that worlds are not made out of nothing--Worlds are made out of ready-made worlds (6). As he says, “Worldmaking as we know it, starts from worlds already on hand; the making is a remaking” (6).
To continue, the “worldmaking” process Goodman calls “composition and decomposition” refers to how we conceptually take things apart and put them back together. This process is done through “dividing wholes into parts, kinds into subspecies, analyzing complexes into component features, drawing distinctions, and other similar activities” (Goodman 7). This is assisted by sorting things into kinds by using kind-terms, labeling, and categorizing. These procedures mark identity, and identification “rests on organization into entities and kinds” (Goodman 8). Goodman follows this by saying “The response to the question ‘same or not the same?’ must always be ‘same what?’” By this he is asserting that the things we denote, just by being denoted, make them dependent on a conception. We may indicate different people but the same family, or, to use Goodman’s example, different towns but the same state. To this Goodman says, “Identity or constancy [constancy of depth, volume, shape, kind, or material, etc] in a world is identity with respect to what is within that world as organized” (8). This process of organization belongs to what Goodman calls “composition and decomposition,” and is one of the ways in which versions impose structure, and by doing this, they literally make “worlds.” To make his point more understandable, consider the following quotations:
As nothing is at rest or is in motion apart from a frame of reference, so nothing is primitive or is derivationally prior to anything from a constructional system (12).
Allmeasurement furthermore is based upon order. Indeed, only through suitable arrangements and groupings can we handle vast quantities or material perceptually or cognitively (13 -14).
Nothing in a world exists, not even the world itself, before it is put into context, a constructional system, or in Goodman’s words, a version. Again, underneath this idea lies the thought that worlds are not independent entities, they are not “things-in-themselves” and our experience of them as subject versus object is an unfounded assumption. We impose reality because we impose structure. This is how we make worlds. Thus, Goodman has answered the second premise – showing us that versions are the things that impose structure on experience, and that we are the creators of those versions.
As already established, Goodman can show us that worlds are made when versions are made if he can show us that (1) worlds are dependent on conceptions, (2) versions are the things that make up our conceptions, and (3) that some true versions conflict in an irresolvable manner. Goodman has answered (1) and (2). Now he is left to prove that some true versions really are in irresolvable conflict, so that we may conclude that there are many worlds. His reasoning is that since we cannot accept equally valid contradictory beliefs as belonging to the same world, our best explanation is to say that they belong to different actual worlds. He says the world depends upon “rightness” rather then “rightness” depending upon the world. The criterion for rightness that Goodman identifies is: “Speaking loosely…a version is taken as true when it offends no unyielding beliefs and none of its own precepts” (17). Goodman’s examples of “unyielding beliefs” include “laws of logic, short-lived reflection of recent observations, and other convictions and prejudices ingrained with varying degrees of firmness” (17).
He’s not saying that these are the only unyielding beliefs, but he’s simply referring to certain systems that don’t contradict themselves and are in a certain harmony (or coherence) with the versions and worlds which they are a part of. He proceeds to give examples of truths that are in conflict with each other. From these he concludes that because there is a contradiction that is irresolvable, it is better to accept both statements as true, but in regards to different actual worlds. A single example should suffice here.
Imagine a universe where our discourse is limited to include only a square segment of a plane with two pairs of boundary lines, one vertical and another horizontal. We also assume that there are points in this universe. Which statement, then, is true?
(1) Every point is made up of a vertical and a horizontal line
(1) Every point is made up of a vertical and a horizontal line
(2) No point is made up of lines or anything else
(2) No point is made up of lines or anything else
There is no reason to find one more valid then the other. They both correctly describe the assumed universe. Goodman says, “Together they say that every point is, but that no point is made up of lines” (115). These statements then cannot be true of the same world because they contradict each other. As Goodman says, “they are worlds in conflict.” We cannot separate them into denoting different ways of describing the same world because saying that would be saying nothing about the points or lines. It would be an evasion.
So, Goodman has managed to show how worlds “in themselves” are empty, and are indeed no worlds at all. Everything rests on systems of description, concepts, or versions, which as he says could all be called “our worlds.” He showed how we then use concepts and versions in order to impose structure on reality and by doing so we create reality. For Goodman, reality itself is relative (20), and therefore so is everything it constitutes. By making versions, we thus make worlds. To show that there are many worlds, Goodman gives an example of how some true statements conflict and that, therefore, they describe different actual worlds.
Goodman’s argument often gets rejected because there is an impulse to say, “Well, sure we impose structure and create versions, but so what? That doesn’t mean anything about the world, let alone that we ‘create’ it.” It seems as if Goodman is making a logical leap. It is completely acceptable that we make “versions” and that we can only interact or experience ‘the world’ through these versions. That idea can be traced back to Kant. But, it does not follow from this that we make worlds or that there isn’t just one and only one real ‘world.’ Discourse dependence doesn’t imply existential dependence.
This objection rises out of a common misunderstanding of Goodman’s views. People immediately assume that when he talks about making worlds, that he is talking about creating “things-in-themselves,” to use Kant’s terms. The “thing-in-itself” is a mind-independent object that exists in the “real” world, the one that we all imagine we inhabit and experience. The assumption is that when Goodman says we make worlds, he actually means that we make “worlds-in-themselves,” physical matter that exists independently of our minds. If this was indeed what Goodman meant, then the objection would certainly hold. The conclusion that we create worlds in themselves does not follow from the idea that we create, have, and are confined to, versions of worlds.
But this objection is based on a misunderstanding. The way Goodman should respond to this objection is by pointing out that he isn’t talking about “worlds-in-themselves,” as all of his opponents assume he is doing, because in his philosophy “Worlds-in-themselves” are not worlds. As Goodman argues, we cannot reach the “things-in-itself” because we cannot get past our conceptual boundaries. There are no realities we can “know” or “understand” without being able to describe them, or predicate their properties, and therefore, every “reality” is inevitably tied up with, and belongs to, our conceptions. Goodman would find it funny to even talk about a world completely independent, separate and “in-itself,” because to talk about it is to already make it dependent on and a part of our conceptions. As a result, it is imperative to understand that when Goodman talks about making worlds, he is not talking about the making of worlds-in-themselves. This, however, complicates the issue. What, then, is Goodman’s definition of “world?” If we don’t know what it is that we are making, how can we know that we are making anything at all? To our dismay, Goodman never defines “world.” The only things we have to work with are the things he says about them.
Israel Scheffler, one of Goodman’s biggest critics said that “[the word] ‘World’ in Goodman’s usage was ambiguous, at times applying to what he called “right world versions”, at times applying to the things referred to by such versions” (668). The only thing Scheffler fails to point out is that they can be both! Different passages in Goodman suggest all kinds of different interpretations of “world.” Compare these three quotations, for example:
I. ...We may want to define a relation that will so sort versions into clusters, that each cluster constitutes a world. But for many purposes, right world-descriptions and world perceptions, the ways-the-world-is or just versions, can be treated as our worlds [my emphasis] (Goodman 4).
II. …worlds and even the stuff they are made of – matter, anti-matter, energy, or whatnot – are themselves fashioned by and along with the versions (Goodman 96).
III. All we learn about the world is contained in right versions of it; and while the underlying world…need not be denied to those who love it, it is perhaps on the whole a world well lost (Goodman 4).
In (I), the word “world” can be substituted by version, or “right versions.” But in (II) worlds are the things that are made with versions. And yet in (III), “world” is treated as the metaphysical thing-in-itself. You might say, then, that the meaning of the word depends on the context, but this is not so for Goodman. For him, the word “world” has no absolute or fixed meaning. The meaning is decided upon. If he were to give a fixed meaning to the word, his philosophy would become the thing it rejects: absolutism! The answer to the question depends on our choice. This idea can be seen most clearly in the following quote, which may summarize Goodman’s attitude towards the notion of ‘real world’ in general:
The realist will resist the conclusion that there is no world; the idealist will resist the conclusion that all conflicting [world] versions describe different worlds. As for me, I find these views equally delightful and equally deplorable –for after all, the difference between them is purely conventional! (119).
On page four of Ways of Worldmaking, Goodman says, “The question of how many, if any, worlds-in-themselves, there are is virtually empty.” (4) It is empty because the answers are made more so than they are found. All that we ever learn about the world is contained in “right versions” of it (Goodman 4), and versions are things that we create. The implication of this idea is captured in the following excerpt: “never mind mind, essence is not essential, and matter doesn’t matter. We do better to focus on versions rather than worlds” (Goodman 96). If you want to understand your reality, you must understand your version, because your version is the only way you have to get to any world at all. As Goodman says, “Complete elimination of the so-called artificial world would leave us empty-minded and empty-handed” (100). And, the world we will be left with, which is supposedly the ‘real world’ is “…a world without kinds or order or motion or rest or pattern – a world not worth fighting for or against” (Goodman 20).
So, as we have seen, the objection against Goodman fails because it does not recognize that when Goodman talks about creating worlds, he is not talking about creating independent entities, or “things-in-themselves.” Even though Goodman says he means that we make worlds literally, and talks about matter and energy as being made, he never defines what it is that is actually being made, just as he never defines what the word “world” stands for in his philosophy. Thus, we do not know what he really means. This seems to be a deliberate move. It serves to show that the world could be made of mental stuff, it could be made of physical stuff, it could be out there - somewhere, or it could be in here - nowhere. It could be many or one. Either way, it doesn’t matter, because the point is that we ultimately decide and “tailor truth” to fit the world we create. The opening statement of Goodman’s book serves as the perfect closing statement of this paper: “The one world may be taken as many, or the many worlds taken as one; whether one or many depends on the way of taking” (2).
Goodman, Nelson. Ways of Worldmaking.
[This essay won 1st prize in the 2008 annual essay competition sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Association for Philosophy & Religious Studies of PA SSHE.]
Democracy is a political system that grants its citizens certain personal and political rights. Personal rights are represented by institutionalized freedoms, such as freedom of speech, expression, and assembly; political rights are represented by citizens’ power to choose their own rulers and therefore determine the course of public affairs.
In Book VIII of Plato’s Republic, Socrates identifies democracy as one of the most unjust political regimes. He describes four types of unjust political regimes: timocracy as an honor-driven society; oligarchy as a society driven by the desire for wealth; democracy as a society in which absolute freedom becomes the paramount value; and tyranny as a society ruled by the unrestricted, unlawful desires of one individual. Socrates identifies timocracy as the closest to the ideal political system, i.e. aristocracy (literally, rule by the best). The other regimes descend in value as listed. Socrates’ low estimation of democracy is based on four inherent critical flaws of this regime – excessive freedom, hostility to authority, protection of privacy, and artificial egalitarianism. Socrates maintains that these very flaws will result in the inevitable transformation of democracy to tyranny. Using the flaws and the nature of people within the democratic system, Socrates illustrates the occurrence of the transformation.
Although Socrates’ theories and examples appear logical and compelling, there are positive aspects of democracy which must be explored. The following discussion elaborate Socrates’ view of democracy and its transformation to tyranny. However, the conclusion will emphasize the positive aspects of democracy.
The first flaw in democracy, Plato finds, is its excessive freedom. The citizens are given a license “to do what they want… and arrange their own life in whatever manner pleases them” (Plato, Republic. 557b). Although the citizens consider their lives to be “pleasant, free and blessedly happy” (Plato, Republic. 561d), Socrates believes the excessive freedom creates undisciplined and disorderly individuals. In fact, Socrates finds the democratic citizens quite whimsical.
Sometimes such an individual drinks heavily while listening to the flute, at other times, he drinks only water and is on a diet; sometimes he goes in for physical training; at other times, he’s idle and neglects everything; and sometimes he even occupies himself with what he takes to be philosophy. He often engages in politics, leaping up from his seat and saying and doing whatever comes into his mind. If he happens to admire soldiers, he’s carried in that direction, if money-makers, in that one (Plato, Republic. 561c, d).
Socrates firmly believes that the citizens can achieve their highest potential only within a society that has a rigid educational and social structure. Only then can the citizens become the best they could be and truly benefit their society.
Out of the excessive democratic freedom arises another flaw in this system, the hostility to authority. Freedom becomes such a paramount value of democracy that its citizens perceive any kind of authority as a threat to their personal freedom. The growing hostility can be apparent in both private and public lives of the citizens. Children feel no shame or fear in front of their parents, while “the old imitate the young for fear of appearing disagreeable and authoritarian” (Plato, Republic. 563a). The teachers in such a community becomes afraid of their students, while the students despise their teachers and tutors. In public affairs, the resentment towards authority manifests itself in the citizens’ choice of their rulers. They only appoint rulers who are pliable and provide them with plenty of freedom. They insult “those who obey the rulers as willing slaves and good-for-nothings and praise and honor rulers who behave like subjects” (Plato, Republic. 562d). Socrates believes that this hostility can only lead to a lawless society since the citizens eventually start ignoring even “the laws, whether written or unwritten, in order to avoid having any master at all (Plato, Republic. 563d).
Another flaw of democracy that coincides with the excessive freedom is the protection of privacy. Socrates maintains that the protection of privacy allows the citizens to stay apolitical, even if they have the potential to become great political leaders. Indeed, “there is no requirement to rule, even if you are capable of it… and there is no requirement that you not serve in public office as a juror, if you happen to want to serve, even if there is a law forbidding you to do so” (Plato, Republic. 557e). Socrates believes that the best society should have a right to compel their most talented individuals to “labor in politics and rule for the city’s sake, not as if he were doing something fine, but rather something that has to be done” (Plato, Republic, 540b).
The last flaw of democracy criticized by Socrates is its artificial egalitarianism. Democracy is founded on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal consideration. Every citizen is, therefore, given an equal opportunity to participate in public affairs regardless of his character, knowledge or capabilities. Socrates, however, holds that not all people are equal, and that certain individuals are innately physically and intellectually superior to others. These naturally superior individuals should be fostered by their society to become its political leaders. Socrates believes that a society cannot become truly successful while it prefers artificial equality to natural merit and ability.
Having identified the flaws of democracy, Socrates states that these very flaws will lead to the transformation of a democracy to a tyranny. When the citizens start “calling insolence good breeding, anarchy freedom, extravagance magnificence, and shamelessness courage“ (Plato, Republic. 560e), the transformation becomes simply inevitable. To best illustrate this transformation, Socrates first divides the “democratic society into three parts in theory, this being the way that it is in fact divided” (Plato, Republic. 564c).
The first group is the class of the politically engaged citizens. These individuals hold political offices, establish new laws and rules, and determine the course of public affairs in general. They claim to aim at the welfare of the community and its citizens, but their true goals are their personal benefits. Even though these individuals are not naturally best suited to be the community’s leaders, they become the most influential people in their society nonetheless. They maintain their power through careful rhetoric, constantly trying to please the other citizens who could potentially become hostile towards their authority.
The second group is the class of the affluent citizens. These people acquire their wealth by being naturally the most organized. Although they are the smallest group, they own almost all of the society’s wealth.
The last group includes everyone else, “the people - those who work with their own hands… They take no part in politics and have few possessions, but, when they are assembled, they are the largest and most powerful class in a democracy” (Plato, Republic. 565a).
Socrates tells us that the politicians from the first group are always scheming how to get a share of the wealthy citizens’ possessions. They try to do this by inciting the two other groups against each other. They publicly accuse the rich of being oligarchs, appropriate their wealth and promise to distribute it to the poor. Although some distribution of the confiscated wealth does take place, the politicians keep the greater part for themselves. Consequently, “those whose wealth is taken away are compelled to defend themselves… and when they see the people trying to harm them, they truly do become oligarchs and embrace oligarchy’s evils” (Plato, Republic. 565b). The oligarchic behavior of the rich makes the poor revolt, and soon the entire society finds itself in the middle of a civil war.
In Socrates’ opinion, it is precisely at the time of a civil war that the tyrant arises. He will ascend to his power first as the leader of the poor, representing and protecting them against the reactionary rich and the scheming politicians. The poor themselves appoint this leader “as their special champion, nurturing him and making him great” (Plato, Republic. 565c). He is the ultimate populist. He is the ultimate demagogue. He appeals to fears, expectations, and emotions of the people through perfect rhetoric and propaganda, and makes grandiose public promises for a better future. “During the first days of his reign and for some time after, he smiles in welcome at anyone he meets, saying that he’s no tyrant” (Plato, Republic. 566d). He even fulfills some of his initial promises. He sets about the relief of debtors and the distribution of the land to the people, making himself look gracious and selfless. He calls the rich and anyone who opposes him the ‘enemies of the people.’ He brings some of them to trial on false charges, banishes some, and kills others, justifying these atrocities by saying that he only committed them in the interest of the common people. It is at this time, that the tyrant demands his own private bodyguards. He justifies his request by claiming that he needs the bodyguards to protect him from the ‘enemies of the people’. And the citizens are glad to grant his request since they look upon his bodyguards as a popular militia, which is there to protect their interest.
When all the ‘enemies of the people’ have been dealt with and the threat of civil war has passed, the tyrant starts a war with a foreign enemy in order to solidify his own rule. The tyrant hopes that the tumultuous state of war will make people feel again in need of a leader, and there is one more benefit the tyrant gains from this war. The citizens become poor through having to pay for war expenses; they become more occupied with their day-to-day survival and less concerned about the enormous growing power of the tyrant.
Despite the citizens’ preoccupation with the continual war, there will still be some individuals, “the courageous, high-minded, and knowledgeable” (Plato, Republic. 567b), who dare to criticize the tyrant’s rule and his growing power. But the tyrant will have to do away with such people if he intends to maintain his supremacy. He won’t even hesitate to use his bodyguards against the citizens, turning the once-popular militia into an instrument of exploitation and oppression.
The transformation of democracy to tyranny is now complete. The society is in the perpetual war stage, and the tyrant has denuded it of its very best citizens. There is nothing and no one to restrain his insatiable desire for absolute power. “The people… have escaped the smoke only to fall into the fire, exchanging service to free men for the tyranny of slaves. That freedom which knew no bounds must now put on the livery of the most harsh and bitter servitude” (Plato, Republic. 569b,c).
Socrates’ account of the inevitable transformation of a democracy to a tyranny is certainly thought provoking. In the 20th century alone, the pattern of an evolution of a demagogue into a tyrant has been reenacted on more than one occasion. We can cite several examples in the 20th century of tyrants who began their reigns precisely as Socrates says, as the ultimate populists: Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Saddam Hussein (Roochnik, Plato’s Republic. 80).
However, in his critique of democracy, Socrates neglects to emphasize the positive aspects of this system. It was precisely the democratic freedom of speech and protection of privacy that allowed Socrates to engage in the dialogue of Republic. Socrates would not be able to follow his intellectual thoughts as freely as he did in any other political system. Indeed, he himself states: “…it looks as though anyone who wants to put a city in order, as we were doing, should probably go to a democracy” (Plato, Republic. 557d). Although Socrates viewed freedom of speech and protection of privacy as the ‘defects’ of the system, it appears that these very principles seem to be the conditions necessary for the possibility of philosophy.
Another positive aspect of democracy is the wide scope of opinions that goes into the process of determining the course of public affairs. Democracy is founded upon the belief that the widest popular discussion and participation is likely to yield wiser decisions than a discussion limited to the few. Aristotle argues for this aspect of democracy in his Politics when he declares:
The many, of whom each individual is but an ordinary person, when they meet together may very likely be better than the few good, if regarded not individually but collectively… For each individual among the many has a share of virtue and prudence, and when they meet together, they become in a manner one man, who has many feet, and hands, and senses; that is a figure of their mind and disposition. Hence the many are better judges than a single man… for some understand one part, and some another, and among them they understand the whole” (Aristotle, The Politics. III.XI.2-3).
The equal consideration and opportunity that democracy ideally offers to its citizens is another positive aspect of democracy. The equal opportunity system creates a naturally competitive environment that allows the most talented individuals to rise to the leading positions of society. Through this positively stimulating environment, society achieves structure that Socrates promotes as a root of any successful society.
The last positive aspect of democracy that needs to be emphasized is its appreciation of dignity and worth of human life. All citizens are considered equal, not in their mental and physical attributes, but equal in their common humanity. All humans are capable of feeling pain and affection, and we all have a “desire for self-respect”. Bernard Williams identified this “desire for self-respect” in his article The Idea of Equality as a “human desire to be identified with what one is doing, to be able to realize purposes of one’s own, and not to be the instrument of another’s will” (Williams, The Idea of Equality. 93). The democratic principles of equality and protection of privacy provide all citizens with plenty of opportunity to pursue their interest and desires, and freely choose and realize the purposes of their life.
Socrates’ critique of democracy certainly represents an important challenge to our present political system. The undisciplined and disorderly citizens, the lack of well-trained leaders, and the hostility to authority it promotes easily point out the inherent weaknesses of this political regime. However, the wide scope of opinions it encompasses, the appreciation of dignity and worth of human life, and the equal consideration and opportunity it offers have proven to be quite beneficial to many societies. After all, democratic freedom of speech and protection of privacy are the very principles Socrates himself built his life around.
Cooper, J. M., Hutchinson, D. S. “Plato, Complete Works”. Republic. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1997.
Roochnik, D. Plato’s Republic. Chantilly: The Teaching Company Limited Partnership, 2005.
Aristotle. The Politics. Trans. Sinclair, T. A. Bungay: Penguin Books Ltd., 1981.
Pojman, L. P., Westmoreland, R. “Equality”. The Idea of Equality. Williams, B. A. O. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1997.
A study of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle will show that a major interest of these philosophers was how to answer the question of “What is virtue?” or “How might one live the best life?” In our modern times when we hear this word “virtue,” most often our thoughts go immediately to the moral implications of the word. For example, one might say, “That is a virtuous man,” signifying that the man is of a high moral character. Or one may quote something akin to the proverb “Patience is a virtue,” signifying a human character quality. However true these definitions of virtue may be, they seem only shadows of the concept that preoccupied Socrates and Plato. What are the necessary components in creating a life that lives up to the greatest good? The simple possession of good character traits does not seem to add up to a life worth living. There must be some fundamental action or function that allows a being to reach the summum bonum, or a life of the greatest good.
Virtue, or arête in Ancient Greek, is a deep and foundational concept that gives significance to the good life. There may be various aspects of virtue in a given person or object, however arête refers to the total and final collection of all these aspects, and applies to the overall excellence of said person or object. For example,
the arête of a knife might include having a sharp blade, as well as a strong handle forged of durable steel; the arête of a man might include being intelligent, well-born, just, and courageous. Arête is broader than our notion of moral virtue. It applies to things (such as knives) which are not moral agents (Reeve, 10-11).
But, how does this definition of arête apply to human beings specifically, and how does this application contribute to eudaimonia or the good life--the life worth living? What is the best life?
The major concern of Platonic philosophy was human excellence and the development of a life worth living. It is considered by Plato to be the most the most fundamental and necessary pursuit that one might undertake. In the Apology, Socrates says, “I say that to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living” (38a). This is the Socratic or Platonic standard for eudaimonia: to discuss and examine life is that which leads to the good life. Eudaimonia, often translated as happiness, can be translated literally as “having a good guardian spirit,” which means “the state of having an objectively desirable life” (Honderich, 252). However, this concern for excellence is not only related to the individual, rather it is seen to be a value that contributes to the society as a whole. When the individual stops discussing virtue and examining their own life, the overall excellence of the society begins to dwindle. That is to say, a complacent, thoughtless, self-satisfied society is formed. The result is a ruinous and vicious society guarded by the strong and power-hungry instead of by the excellent and the good. This is because the discourse on virtue is the proper form of education according to Plato, and it is precisely this education, that is the cornerstone of the virtuous society. Education is not merely the exporting of facts from one learned mind to the uneducated mind, but the cultivation of the soul, which provokes a deeper change within the individual. Wrong choices or “the bad life” are derived from an ignorance of the good, not a lack of factual knowledge. So then, it seems necessary that the first step in creating a strong and efficacious society is the proper education of the individual.
Education isn’t what some people declare it to be, namely, putting knowledge into souls that lack it, like putting sight into blind eyes…the power to learn is present in everyone’s soul and that the instrument with which each learns is like an eye that cannot be turned around from darkness to light without turning the whole body (Republic, 518b).
Take an addictive behavior for example. The addict becomes accustomed to a way of life created by wrong choices. One can easily agree with the premise that all addictions are bad. We will define addiction as any behavior that cannot be controlled, yet is necessary to the function of an individual’s daily life. To make this point even more concrete, we will say that an alcoholic becomes an addict first by a lack of knowledge of their own body, i.e. they do not understand their physical history or their personal ability to cope with alcohol. Second, they continue to make this wrong choice until it becomes a physical habit. Finally, due to the habitual wrong choice, they are controlled by their behavior rather than reason and temperance, thus creating a character flaw, or a lack of excellence.
This pattern can also be seen in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Despite the fact that the main purpose of this allegory is to draw an outline for the education of the soul, one can substitute the ignorance of the prisoners for the addiction of the addict. In both cases, the soul is held imprisoned and kept from the pursuit of the good. When the imprisoned soul is freed from its fetters and dragged up the steep slope and out of the cave into the light of day it begins to realize the poor substitute that it had been given in its former state. Socrates discusses this point with Glaucon, “What about when he reminds himself of his first dwelling place, his fellow prisoners, and what passed for wisdom there? Don’t you think that he’d count himself happy for the change and pity the others? Certainly” (Republic,516c). Likewise, when there is intervention and the addict is able to release the hold on his or her addictions, the newly achieved “light” in this person’s life is held higher than the former imprisonment offered by their vices. This renewal provides the change in direction for the soul, and enables the soul to become more excellent. Socrates says that “education is the craft concerned with doing this very thing, this turning around, and with how the soul can most easily and effectively be made to do it” (Republic, 518d). It simply is not enough to tell the addict that their behavior is wrong when their faculty of learning is pointed in the wrong direction. Rather one must guide an individual beyond their behavior and affect a change of soul into making good choices. Without knowledge of the good we are no better than slaves in a dimly lit world, who are told what to think and who have no chance to achieve the best life.
Socrates states, “If you interpret the upward journey and the study of things above as the upward journey of the soul to the intelligible realm, you’ll grasp what I hope to convey” (Republic, 517b). One must be released from their bonds through proper education, then strive with difficulty up the “rough, steep path” of philosophy to the life worth living, or to the examined life. It is in this way that one must learn to pursue the good and the beautiful in order to become more excellent.
In the knowable realm, the form of the good is the last thing to be seen, and it is reached only with difficulty. Once one has seen it, however, one must conclude that it is the cause of all that is correct and beautiful in anything, that it produces both light and its source in the visible realm, and that in the intelligible realm it controls and provides truth and understanding, so that anyone who is to act sensibly in private or public must see it (Republic, 517b).
These actions committed by those who have seen the light of the good help to create a more harmonious or excellent society. It is necessary for those who have seen the form of the good to return to the prisoners of the cave and help them make the ascent up the slope toward the actualization of arête, the actualization of the virtuous life. To quote from Socrates, “It is our task as founders, then, to compel the best natures to reach the study we said before is the most important, namely, to make the ascent and see the good” (Republic, 519c). When we have cultivated this desire in ourselves for the good, and have sought to help others along the same path in pursuit of virtue, we are moving in the right direction, toward the Good. We have started to live a life worth living. However, this is by no means a stopping point, the pursuit of arête can never be a completed journey, because we ourselves are not the good. The good is something beyond us and out of our reach. The good may become more accessible or intelligible to us, but it, according to Socrates, is never something attainable. Since arête or virtue is not wholly attainable, its lack creates a desire within the individual who has “seen the good,” and this lack spurs that individual onto love of the good and perpetual pursuit of the good.
If we return to the questions that were posed at the beginning, and ask again, “How does virtue apply to human kind?” and “What is the best life for us?”--we will see that arête exists only when humans exercise their reason and struggle to maintain the good. That is the function of the human soul. The best life for us is the life in which we seek to enter the discourse and strive upward towards the form of the good. This discourse that we must enter into, if we are ever able to achieve the good life and become more virtuous, is the same discourse that has been going on since the days of Socrates in Athens, and the same discourse that will continue as long as there are people who will ask the question “What is virtue and how can I live the best life?”
Like his teacher Plato, Aristotle continues the tradition of virtue ethics. However, unlike Plato, Aristotle is less concerned with the constant dialogue and “upward struggle” over a ‘life worth living’. Instead, Aristotle looks deeper into the virtues mankind possesses, what it means to be virtuous, and what is the highest level of virtue one can achieve. It is not impossible, according to Aristotle, for one to achieve ‘a virtuous life’ or ‘a life worth living’ as was the case with Plato. For Aristotle there seems to be an end, rather than this constant struggle. What is also of concern to Aristotle is the concept of happiness and how that relates to the overall virtue of a person. Aristotle seeks to expand Plato’s definition of eudaimonia by making these virtues necessary for happiness. Aristotle believes, contrary to Plato, that the moral virtues are defined by their attainable qualities because they are things in themselves, rather than only ideals that regulate the soul based the form of the good. For example, courage actually exists in and of itself, rather than being some imperfect version of and ideal form of courage. Striving for arête, or the virtuous life, is not the conclusion of Aristotle, but rather the terminus of eudaimonia attained by the exercise of reason and the contemplative life.
Aristotle claims that “Every art and every inquiry, and similarly ever action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim” (Nicomachean Ethics, 1094a). Aristotle stays in agreement with Plato on the definition of what is arête. The Good is seen to be that for which a thing strives, and as such becomes the ‘thinghood’ of the object in question. Thus, the Good for a human being is that which makes a human being excellent or virtuous. According to Aristotle, excellence is predicated upon happiness and moral virtue.
When presented with the question of what is the highest good, or summum bonum, most would answer ‘to be happy’. “Verbally there is very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with being happy” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1095a). However, most people in our modern time would consider happiness to be that which makes one feel good about their current situation, and not necessarily what makes them better persons or more virtuous. A person may say they are happy because they achieved a high mark on one of their important exams, or because they are surrounded by a group of friends that generate good feelings, or they have secured some new promotion in their vocation. However, this concept of happiness is very far from what the Ancient Greeks would define as happiness. It was not seen to be an emotional state of being, but rather the overall state of one’s life, that is to say, the action of living and doing well. This concept of excellence is not contained within the concept of happiness and therefore must also be based upon other factors. “For Aristotle happiness is to be identified above all with the fulfillment of one’s distinctively human potentialities. These are located in the exercise of reason, in both its practical and its theoretical form” (Honderich 333). It is only through this exercise of reason that one can achieve the highest good of human excellence.
For the Ancient Greeks, the virtue of an object was fully contained in its ability to perform the function, or ergon, for which it was intended. However, it was not only this function that was the good of the object, but rather the degree at which this object performed its function. That is to say the quality of performance determined the good that came from the object. When we look at object classes--be they tools, instruments, vessels, or humans--we can see that each holds some virtue. But some of these virtues, in the case of inanimate objects in particular, do not possess some teleological purpose, but serve only as means to an end. For example, a master potter creates a drinking vessel out of clay. He chooses the best materials at his disposal. He refines his clay of impurities, takes extreme care to eliminate all air pockets from the vessel so when it is fired in the kiln it will not break apart, measures his dimensions carefully, and creates the most excellent vessel he has the ability to create. One can easily see and experience that this is a masterpiece of pottery, but this vessel does not serve itself, it was created for the purpose of another end, namely to hold liquid for the purpose of drinking. Now, according to the Ancient Greeks, this may be the most virtuous vessel in all of Hellas, but it contains neither the ability to possess the highest good, nor the capacity to be happy. While it is good in its own right, it is unable to be anything other than a means to an end. “But the chief good is evidently something final. Therefore, if there is only one final end, this will be what we are seeking, and if there are more than one, the most final of these will be what we are seeking” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1097a). It appeals to reason that the very best thing for mankind to seek is that which does not lead to more seeking. As such, the object that we pursue as the highest good must therefore be something that is, in and of itself, worth seeking.
Now such a thing happiness, above all else, is held to be; for this we choose always for itself and never for the sake of something else, but honour, pleasure, reason, and every virtue we choose indeed for themselves (for if nothing resulted from them we should still choose each of them), but we choose them also for the sake of happiness, judging that by means of them we shall be happy. Happiness, on the other hand, no one chooses for the sake of these, nor, in general for anything other than itself (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1097b).
As even virtue and reason seem to seek some higher good, that is to say happiness, they too become means to an end rather than ends in themselves. Likewise, they are means for achieving excellence. To return to the example of the drinking vessel one can see that the function of this work of art is to be used for containing a drink and the good of this vessel is contained within its function. We must then ask, ‘What is the function of man?’ ,if we are to understand in full how one may achieve the supreme good.
A person, in the course of their lifetime, exercises many faculties, ranging from the mundane tasks such as breathing, eating, and sleeping to much greater and worthwhile tasks like creating, governing, participating in interpersonal relationships. But these things seem to exist only as facets of what a human really is; there must then be some greater function that encompasses all human potential.
What then can this be? Life seems to be common even to plants, but we are seeking what is peculiar to man. Let us exclude, therefore, the life of nutrition and growth. Next there would be a life of perception, but it also seems to be common even to the horse, the ox, and every animal. There remains, then, an active life of the element that has a rational principle; of this, one part has such a principle in the sense of being obedient to one, the other in the sense of possessing one and exercising thought (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1098a).
One can then see that the function of man is not simply to live, or to bring about the satisfaction of our desires as a banal animal, but rather to either live in obedience to the rational principle or to exercise thought about the world by the possession of said principle. It is not enough to simply live in obedience to this principle, as the possession of something is quite useless without the exercise of it, and moreover, it is impossible to live in obedience to something that remains unused. Aristotle then goes on to say, “Thus we conclude that man’s function is an activity of the soul in conformity with, or at any rate involving the use of, ‘rational principle’ (Wheelwright 169). If it is the case that the function of a person is the exercise of this ‘rational principle’ then it can be seen that excellence is contained with performing this task well, “and if a function is performed when it is performed with its own proper excellence; we may conclude that the good of a man is an activity of the soul in accordance with virtue” (Wheelwright 169).
Since happiness, for Aristotle, is equated with the exercise of reason and reason as the means of attaining the good, it can be deduced that happiness is the same as the good. However, being happy for only a season or virtuous for a moment is not enough; happiness must endure throughout a person’s life. “For there is required, as we said, not only complete virtue, but also a complete life” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1099b). For Aristotle, it is impossible to separate a person’s continuous life from the end result of their life, because a truly virtuous man will persevere in pursuit of the good until the end of his life. It is only this man that may truly be called happy, as he has done everything within his power to pursue that which gives significance to life—namely, the exercise of reason in accordance with the function of mankind.
For none of man’s functions is so permanent as his virtuous activities…and of his virtuous activities those are the most abiding which are of highest worth, for it is with them that anyone blessed with supreme happiness is most fully and most continuously occupied, and hence never oblivious of. The happy man, then, will possess this attribute of permanence or stability about which we have been inquiring, and will keep it all his life (Wheelwright 175-176).
It is these virtuous activities that are worth choosing for their own goods, or ends in themselves. It is these ‘actions of soul in accordance with virtue’ that compromise happiness, or the greatest good.
Now those activities are desirable in themselves from which nothing is sought beyond the activity. And of this nature virtuous actions are thought to be; for to do noble and good deeds is a thing desirable for its own sake (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1176b).
Since these actions are in accordance with virtue and also are good for their own sake, one can then see that their exercise is what Aristotle considers to be the pursuit of happiness or the pursuit of the highest good. No soul may be called happy without having evidenced a pursuit of virtue. The soul that pursues virtues is one that is in pursuit of the highest and noblest good.
For, firstly, this activity is the best (since not only is reason the best thing in us, but the objects of reason are the best of knowable objects); and, secondly it is the most continuous, since we can contemplate truth more continuously than we can do anything (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1177a).
It is this life of contemplation that completes reason, and as such, completes the function of mankind. It is the highest exercise of this faculty, and thus strives for the highest level of happiness. It is the greatest act of the soul in accordance with virtue.
He who exercises his reason and cultivates it seems to be both in the best state of mind and most dear to the gods…and he who is that will presumably be also the happiest; so that in this way too the philosopher will more than any other be happy (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1179a).
So then, in contrast to Plato, the greatest good in life is not struggling for an unattainable form of the good, but rather striving to exercise ones faculties of reason in order to live in accordance with virtue by action of the soul. By coupling complete virtue with a complete life, Aristotle creates a system whereby the good life might be attained. If the soul does not perform this function, it can neither be said to be a virtuous soul, nor to possess happiness. Happiness is a result of the exercise of reason, and reason aims at achieving the good. This then is what makes a person happy and is the summum bonum, the greatest good. It is the nature of the soul actualizing its proper function.
Aristotle, “Nicomachean Ethics.” The Basic Works of Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon.
---. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. Philip Wheelwright.
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Ed. Ted Honderich.
Plato, “Apology.” Plato: Complete Works. Ed. John Cooper.
---. Republic. Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Ed. C.D.C. Reeve. Indianapolis, Hackett Publishing Company, 1992.
[This essay won 2nd prize in the 2009 annual essay competition sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Association for Philosophy & Religious Studies of PA SSHE.]
(This forum will be a regular feature of our journal devoted to invited student essays on topics we judge to be of contemporary interest. The style will be more informal and is our version of an “op. ed.”—The Editors)
In the last eight years of United States history, civil liberties were systematically removed from the American public, and more power was placed in the hands of the government. Strangely enough, however, an outcry comparable to the atrocities of these acts has not been heard. How is it possible that Americans, who believe their nation offers the most freedom and opportunity, allowed this to happen? Unfortunately, we didn’t have much of a choice, and many never knew what hit them. Our consent was manufactured, and our true opinion never mattered.
Two documents, The Patriot Act of 2001 and The Military Commissions Act of 2006, wreaked more havoc on our Constitution than many citizens realize. Our nation was thrust into a war having nothing to do with the attack on our soil on September 11th. None of this could have happened without our consent, and the
Following the attack on the World Trade Center, the news presented us with images of great danger. Constantly, images of the towers falling were engrained in our minds, anti-Islamic sentiment was being broadcasted loud-and-clear for the American people to hear, and propaganda filled our houses disguised as the evening news.
In Manufacturing Consent, by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, mass media is described as a way to communicate messages and symbols to the general populace. They say the medias’ function is to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.
This propaganda that the “free press” fed us inspired fear and insecurity, as a result the American people played right into the government’s hands. We went to them for protection, and they promised it; all we had to do was give up a little. So we traded civil liberties for safety.
In a democracy, basic freedoms should not simply be taken away without tremendous outcry. However, with a little help from propaganda and the mass media, it becomes much easier. In The End of America, Naomi Wolf explains that people living in a free society won’t give up their freedoms for any old reason, but if people believe something is for their safety, they’ll give up a lot. Who doesn’t want to be safe? So the government says that they’ll have to listen to some phone calls to catch the bad guys. Sure, why not? Manufacturing consent allows our government to do the inconceivable—anything that serves their interests.
Many don’t seem to have a problem with their consent being coerced. Justin Fox, a writer for TIME Magazine, admits that “societies work better when there's broad agreement about important matters, and if some of that agreement has to be manufactured by the mass media, so be it.” It reeks of the sentiment Anakin Skywalker expresses in Attack of the Clones when he states his frustration with the Republic. “[The people] should be made to [agree],” he says. Herein lies the solution to the Star Wars Galaxy Republic--apparently. But is it a good solution?
We have been led to believe that the society which we live in is a free society; that it is the greatest on earth. However, a society which operates using propaganda as a viable method of coercion does not allow the citizens to freely and intelligently make decisions. If the people are not free to make their own choices, then this government cannot be called a democracy. A government for the people by the people cannot function by citizens who are not free to make their own decisions. Manufacturing consent allows our government to rob us of our rights, leaving the citizens wondering what happened.
There is, of course, the idea that the average American citizen can’t handle the truth. Even if that is so, it is not in the government workers’ job description to censor what citizens can or cannot handle. This excuse is a cop-out which attempts to disguise the fact that there is information our government simply doesn’t want us to know. Last I checked, democracies were supposed to be open societies.
Manufacturing consent allows our government to slowly pull the string, unraveling the democratic process. It’s how our society has been shifting from an open society to a closed one. But how can we combat continuous propaganda in times of crisis? The answer is fairly simple: pay attention. Exercise your civic duty to be well informed and aware. Propaganda feeds off of ignorance, but a well-informed mind can combat false information.
Violence in American society and culture has been as natural as waking at day and sleeping at night since the first colony in Jamestown.
What was once a moral boasting of pride and faith in America's military force has transformed itself into fearlessness. Ever since World War II and the creation and use of the nuclear bomb, American citizens pride themselves on its military power and technology. It is not enough just to be in the exclusive nuclear fraternity. America’s being the first to use nuclear technology as a weapon seems to set America apart from the rest of the world. Americans seem to relish the thought of other nations trembling in fear of our armed forces. An all-too-common misconception regarding
Competitiveness at being violent is another thing Americans tend to take very seriously. Having the most powerful weapons and soldiers is of the utmost importance to many Americans. Television programming such as Mail Call and Future Weapons explain in great length the awesome power of military personnel and technology. This is not only a way to make money for TV networks, but a way of life for some Americans.
Wars in which American blood was spilled on American soil have given us appalling examples of our capacity for violence. The American Civil War cost the lives of over 600,000 soldiers and a huge amount of civilian casualties in just four brutal years. In the Indian Wars of 1850-1890, military records show 21,586 soldiers and civilians dead, wounded, captured or lost. The Indian population lost approximately 45,000 men, women, and children.
American violence goes well beyond the bounds of military activity. Violence in the American people dates back to the country’s birth, including the
Violence learned in the home oftentimes takes the blame as the cause for violence in American society. Many women and some men suffer emotional or physical violence from their partner. Not only are the their partners being harmed in this instance, but surely this is horrifying to behold for a young child watching parents. If witnessing violence is not the most efficient way to learn it, being a victim of violence may be. In 2004, our Department of Justice documented over 872,000 child mistreatment cases as confirmed by child protective service agencies. Violence has been in the American home ever since the creation of the American home and shows no sign of leaving. It is a part of family life for many.
Americans as a culture enjoy violence, and the evidence is everywhere. Out of the top fifty bestselling video games of all time, thirty percent of them have violent titles. The envelope regarding violence in cinematic films is constantly being pushed, and the sale of violent movies grows ever higher. Entire genres of video games have been created such as 'shooters' and 'fighters' whose only goal is to kill your opponent. The vast majority of video games have the objective 'kill the bad guy'. The bad guy is bad because he or she is the one doing the dying, and the 'good guy' is the one doing the killing. Therefore, killing makes you a 'good guy'.
Even in 19th century Europe, the philosopher Nietzsche argued in his Genealogy of Morals that modern culture rests upon an appreciation of cruelty, pointing to “the ever-increasing spiritualization and ‘deification’ of cruelty which permeates the entire history of higher culture (and in a significant sense actually constitutes it).” Enjoying the suffering of others is not simply barbarism of a distant uncivilized land. It's an American trait that is the basis for much of American entertainment.
Americans enjoy the suffering of other people in a variety of ways. The comic value of suffering in other people is one that has turned quite a profit. Television shows such as MTV's Jackass, Viva la Bam, and Wild Boyz are just a few examples on one network. Other popular programming examples are Destroyed in Seconds, Shockwave, and
Americans find this kind of suffering enjoyable because it isn't happening to them or to a loved one. Being in a car accident or suffering a personal injury is an awful experience, but night after night this sort of entertainment pulls in the ratings. On the internet can be found even more brutal instances of human suffering. 'Sports injuries,' 'car crashes,' and 'street fights' are some of the most popular video searches among Americans, especially college students and young adults.
Competitiveness brings up another way in which Americans enjoy violence. Ultimate fighting, professional football, and hockey are all very aggressive and violent sports with a large potential for personal injury. There are even NASCAR fans who watch races just to see devastating car crashes. In football, something like this happened this past year when New England Patriots quarter back Tom Brady was injured in the season opener. Football fans across the country rejoiced as he was carried off the field with a broken ankle. There is something really exciting to many Americans when someone from an opposing team is hurt. The view of an opponent being hurt, weakened or defeated by the might of your side is a very real American institution. Tens of thousands watched CNN in utter glee as the US Military bombarded the Middle East in the months after September Eleventh--thrilled to no end at the flexing of
The idea that American society, culture, and history are violent logically dictates a number of things when examined. When talking about mainstream society as a whole, it means that the society values violence. Simply put, in the land of the free and the home of the brave, acts of violence in many contexts are 'good'. It's something that is taught at an early age and understood as a way to prosper, grow, and live. If this is a lesson children learn and keep with themselves, and pass on to the next generation, then the next generation is going to be more violent than the last. It is this pattern that has led violence in American citizens to become more and more pronounced and prevalent throughout the existence of this nation.
To the individual person this sends mixed messages. The individual grows up understanding that violence can be a good way to get ahead in the world, but the legal system punishes those who conduct themselves in this manner. Because of this, the jail systems are over-loaded, the police force is significantly larger, and this force is frighteningly more powerful. The prison system, which is supposed to rehabilitate the inmates, only immerses them in a sea of violence from which there is no escape. This can create debilitating fear in Americans: fear of being a victim of a naturally violent society, and fear of retribution for simply trying to stay 'ahead of the pack'. This just takes the individual around in the same confounded cycle of fear, aggressiveness, and more fear.
On the other side of that same coin, it can be said that anyone who is not violent or overly aggressive is soft or even foolish. Virtues such and kindness, charity and intelligence, are no longer valued. It might then make sense that the old school curriculum consisting of math, sciences, and English should be replaced with fighting, weaponry, and vocal intimidation. The President of the
There is no questioning the chaos created by fearful and overly aggressive people. Trigger happy people residing in
It's truly a sad state of affairs when people--in a land founded on the idea that men and women should be able to have and celebrate new and old ideas--are too afraid to have or share them. The most cherished freedom Americans have is the freedom of speech, but voices remain silent coast-to-coast because the value system in
The ever growing rate of violence in America, which is valued and enjoyed, will mean the eventual death of civility and free thinking in this country. The blood-stained history of this society--without serious changes being made--will only reinforce brutality and repeat itself on a daily basis. The culture that relishes in violent behavior, and then punishes anyone who exercises violence, must be fated to collapse on itself. The American people have doomed themselves to perpetuate violence, and this is going to create a new people born from savagery and idiocy. Simply put: Being the most ruthless and savage has become the new American dream.
The video, “Peaceable Kingdom,” is about factory farming: what it has done to the traditional way of farming and where it has taken farm animals on the list of priorities. The film begins with a couple who started their own ranch called Farm Sanctuary and introduces a goat that they rescued. They found this goat left in a dark, dirty stall, and his owner never had taken a few minutes to trim his hooves. Because his hooves grew too long, the ligaments in his legs atrophied, and he was crippled for life. The film went on to show chicks being literally thrown into a chute packed with thousands of other chicks being rushed around corners, down the chute, picked up eight or more at a time and thrown down a funnel. The male chicks were taken out of the bunch and literally discarded in a dumpster behind the barn. They were not even humanely killed, they were just thrown away to die slowly. What kind of farming is this? If we were taught human and animal compassion some time in our lives, we would be more peaceful. Horrors like those cited above, human suicide, and homicide would be less likely to take place.
The film moves to the issues of stockyards. It sounds like a rather simple term used in ranching, but the outsider would never believe the things found here. The animals there are packed together in tiny spaces. They are beaten, kicked, screamed at, and shocked. Some are too weak to walk when they get there and they are just left in the alleys to die. The couple at the beginning of the film went to one of these stockyards and saw a pile of dead animals left in a corner. They noticed that a sheep was still breathing and trying to move. They rescued the sheep and brought it back to their animal sanctuary. There they had an assortment of rescued farm animals living in a fenced-in backyard. The neighbor kids would come over to pet the animals and were very touched by the love these abused animals showed them.
While stockyards are horrific places, the animals found there come from equally terrible places known as factory farms. These are giant farms based on mass production that place production far above the welfare of the animals. The barns are dark, smelly, and the animals are packed in. The animals never get to go outside. They are fed, and their manure is taken away by machine because this reduces labor on the farm to maximize profits. In places like this, chickens’ beaks are painfully cut off so they can’t peck each other to death in cages so small they can’t even walk around in. Here, cows are required to produce ten times more milk than they would naturally so they have to be bred to keep producing milk. When the cow is too old to produce milk or gets sick, she is sent to be slaughtered and made into hamburger. Because the cows have to be kept pregnant to produce milk, the many babies they have are taken away at a very young age. The males are sent away and put in crates, tied at the neck and kept anemic to produce tastier veal and the females are raised to become dairy cows like their mothers. The cow will often stop producing milk for a while after the baby is taken away because she is mourning the loss of her offspring.
Howard Liemen is a former farmer who talks to people about not eating farm animals. He used to raise cows, and he understands all the chemicals that go into them. They get a ton of shots, and since they are in such close quarters with each other all the time, they are given antibiotics in their food every day. They dust insecticides in the alleyways to keep the flies and other bugs away, and the cows ingest those in their food and water. Howard was paralyzed from the waist down, and his brother died from all the chemicals they ingested. If this is what it does to humans, think what it does to the cows. All those chemicals get inside of them, and then people eat their meat. How healthy could that be?
The Farm Sanctuary rescues animals from farms like this, factory farms, and stockyards. They hold educational sessions at their farm and give people an opportunity to adopt animals that they have saved. These animals are given a second chance so they don’t have to live out a miserable life in a crowded factory farm or end their life in a stockyard. In a stockyard, a downed cow can go for a dollar and after that, anything goes. It might just be left to die in an alleyway over the weekend, and not even the police can prosecute anyone for the mistreatment of the animal. This is like slavery, the film remarks, where they faithfully serve us and then we kill 51 billion of them each year. The song, “Amazing Grace” was written by a slave ship captain--so perhaps the owners of these factory farms and stockyards can also change.
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Jamie Phillips, Clarion University of Pennsylvania
Matthew Pierlott, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Chuck Ward, Millersville University of Pennsylvania
Bud Brown, Mercyhurst College
Todd Lavin, Clarion University of Pennsylvania
Julia Aaron, Clarion University of Pennsylvania
Tom Manig, Auburn University
Terry Smith, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Frank Hoffman, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Steve Sullivan, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Andrew Colvin, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania
Elliott Wreh-Wilson, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Bradley Wilson, Slippery Rock University
Andrew Smith, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Edward Abplanalp, Illinois Central College
The 23rd annual conference of the Pennsylvania Interdisciplinary Association for Philosophy and Religious Studies will be held in April 2010 at West Chester University. Students are invited to submit papers and panel discussion proposals on any philosophical topic for presentation at the conference. Money prizes will be awarded the top three papers submitted, and all winners will be encouraged to submit their papers to the undergraduate philosophy journal, Janua Sophia. For more information, contact Professor Helen Schroepfer at: email@example.com.
Aporia is an undergraduate journal of philosophy at Brigham Young University. Aporia is published twice each year, in the fall and in the spring. The fall issue is exclusively online; the spring issue appears in print. The deadline for submissions for the fall issue is usually in Spetember and for the spring issue in late January or early February. The staff of Aporia consists of philosophy students at Brigham Young University. For more information, contact them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stance is an undergraduate philosophy journal published at Ball State University. Stance welcomes papers concerning any philosophical topic. Current undergraduates may submit papers between 1500 and 3500 words in length (exclusive of notes and bibliography). Papers should avoid unnecessary technicality and strive to be accessible to the widest possible audience without sacrificing clarity or rigor. They are evaluated on the following criteria: depth of inquiry, quality of research, creativity, lucidity, and originality. For more specific guidelines, see the website at: http://stance.iweb.bsu.edu.
Episteme is an undergraduate philosophy journal published at Denison University. Episteme is a student-run journal that aims to recognize and encourage excellence in undergraduate philosophy by providing examples of some of the best work currently being done in undergraduate philosophy programs. Episteme is published under the auspices of Denison University's Department of Philosophy. Episteme will consider papers written by undergraduate students in any area of philosophy. Papers are evaluated according to the following criteria: quality of research, depth of philosophic inquiry, creativity, original insight and clarity. For more information, contact them at: email@example.com.
Our special thanks to Patti Repko Fowler for her help in proofreading this issue.