Archive for the ‘human nature’ Category

The virtue and vice of the analytic tradition of philosophy as it has developed (and floundered) in the 20th and now 21st centuries is its focus on dialectic, and this especially over and beyond rhetoric. This may in fact be considered its substantial difference from the continental tradition, for while the continentalists may concern themselves over the dialectic what they are really doing, as I am using the terms in their classical sense (and this will provide an etymology of “the dialectic”), is focusing their efforts on a rhetorical process.

Understood classically, rhetoric is “the art of speaking with persuasion.” It treats of the psychological mode in people as its fundamental category, to see why what is said has such an import on the ultimate ideas which people will implicitly or explicitly act upon. Dialectic, on the other hand, is “the science of treating meanings (ideas) as themselves.” It seeks to “get past” people’s psychological modes, to hash out for-itself that which is meant and what applies to the real.

That I treat one as art and another as science is, I hope, a rhetorical distinction not lightly glanced over, and I should be subject to it even if I were to pretend that I were being plainly and strictly analytic, or participating in mere dialectic. This illuminates the problem of communication, or speaking, in that our rhetoric remains a substantial part of what we say. I believe we can take this to mean that there is really no such thing as dialectic per se, void of rhetoric; likewise, though, there is no rhetoric per se. They are both intrinsic parts of the action we call communicating, the act of “meaning to another, beyond oneself.”

It is relevant to focus and dwell on rhetoric because, no matter the supposed analytic ideal of a “perfectly logical argument,” you cannot crack the egg of understanding in another without prying them open with rhetoric. Even the notion of a merely dialectic discussion is rhetorical. I believe the idea of a “non-rhetorical argument” should be treated as economic models: ultimately oversimplifying and not anything you can find out there in the world. Does this make it beside the point? No. It remains useful, but this to the extent that it does not make of itself the world. This is because the world is filled with people for whom rhetoric is substantial. This is not some cute sociological observation, but rather a description of people as they are. People are rational creatures, but they are also rhetorical creatures. The idea of the purely logical man is not something we can assume of reality. For while logic/dialectic is an essential element to who we humans are, and we would not be human without it, nor should we even attempt to go outside it, rhetoric remains a structure we are placed within and cannot go beyond because it is the very condition of meaning to another at all.

The rhetorical inheres to the dialectical, and the dialectical inheres to the rhetorical.

Logic is just another rhetorical game. It is not a wrong game, but its psychological attributes ought to be appreciated. It is something we undertake and understand from a psychological mode of being human, and were one to remove the psyche, one should also remove the care for logic at all. I am loathe to call it strictly a passion, but logic is a tool we use to fit our purposes. Logic cannot instruct of itself. Its explanation and reason is external.

I do not mean by any of this that dialectic can be done away with, as though we should simply drift off into the dialectic and cease trying to get anywhere. It is only that one cannot truly see the world without knowing something about the glasses they are wearing. But there is nothing to see without the glasses on, without an instrument facilitating the sense. The instrument cannot be left out of the equation! How one sees something is crucial to knowing what one sees.

I will admit that this creates a problem. If rhetoric is substantial and fundamentally colors our view of the world, how can we truly know of the world? For now, my answer is that truly knowing of the world does include rhetoric; one should be not themselves if they try to go without it, since it is an essential element of being oneself as a human. But then how do we get out of the rhetorical circle, with the rhetoric we adopt being arbitrary? After all, if the rhetorical circle cannot be escaped, then you cannot transition yourself to another rhetoric on a reasoned basis. Ah, but that is to miss the point of what I am saying! Rhetoric is substantial, and its substance can be examined for fault. No rhetoric leaves itself without some way of looking at itself, for the glasses analogy aside, rhetoric is truly an apperceptive sense. It perceives itself, such is the matter of the dialectical inhering to the rhetorical!

Therefore, I propose a new project. The study of rhetoric as substantial in facilitating what we are able to understand.


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Which is logically prior? Property or society? Is there such a thing as property rights, and then we can form society, or must society be formed in order to recognize property rights? I think it is clear that property rights precede society, and that they are a precondition of society. For, if society is prior to property, then there could be society without property, but then in what does that society subsist?

Society is the widespread respect of property rights. At leas, that is how I would understand it. If people do not have a respect for property rights (and such could conceivably be the case if society is somehow prior to property), then how do people cooperate? What forms the basis of that cooperation? Cooperation assumes each individual has something of their own to bring forward, namely, their own participation, their own labor, their own consent, and so on. Cooperation assumes, in other words, a kind of property or ownership, namely the ownership of the immediate products of the self, such as labor, consent, opinions, and so on.

One might object that this kind of ownership does not make sense, since ownership must be of tangible things. I can own a hammer, I cannot own my labor. However, this doesn’t seem to make much sense. How can I acquire except with that which is my own? If I do not put my labor into it, I shall fail to acquire the hammer. It doesn’t make much sense to say I gift myself the hammer, as though the labor comes not from me but somewhere else. I think this is why it makes sense to say we own the immediate products of our self. While it may not make sense to say we “own our selves” in a literal sense, since one must be a self in order to own at all, I’m certain this is what “self-ownership” means; the immediate products of the self, i.e. the body, the labor, the opinions. I am representing, after all, opinions that I lay claim to, and I can’t present something as my opinion unless I lay claim to it in some sense. This is a kind of ownership, an ownership of consent to ideas. (Note: Not the ownership of ideas. Ideas are abstractions. Consent or agreement with them is concrete, an activity of the self.)

What of Crusoe? On his island by himself, it wouldn’t make sense to ascribe property to him. There is no one from whom he would need to protect or assert his property rights against. This might be the case, but I don’t see why that is a problem, since we clearly still recognize that what is Crusoe’s is Crusoe’s, and that property represents a limitation on the actions others might have on his island. What this means is that property is something that prepares us for society. There is a use to marking out what is and isn’t Crusoe’s even if he is by himself, since that would mark out what he can offer to others and what others can do, assuming he would meet other people. This is to say that property is a precondition of society; even if we are by ourselves, we mark out what is ours in order that, if we can, we can interact with others with equal respect to what is each our own.

This illustrates an important point. Property is not merely a precondition of society, but its purpose is the facilitation of society. Property has a social telos. Since property is intrinsic to human action and life, human action has its end in social activity, such as the development of rich and meaningful relations with other people. If we try to put it the other way, then one ironically defeats the point of coming together. Why should we come together? To acquire more? What is better about acquiring more for ourselves or others, unless it was something we valued before we came together? What’s the purpose of coming together? It must ultimately be because we acquire more than we would if we remained apart, and this not just to acquire more material goods, but intellectual, aesthetic, and social goods. I can get sustenance by myself without others, but I cannot get these important human goods without society.

Someone might object that, while this is all well and good, it seems that there are examples of propertyless societies. What of tribes? Everything in the tribe is held in common. Yes, that is the case, but I would note that holding everything “in common” is still an ownership. After all, when you have two tribes meet, each tribe recognizes what is its own. Further, there are still tasks delegated to individual members of the tribe, and this because of what that person happens to own that they can contribute, such as their own labor, their own wisdom, their own guidance, and so on.

This would ultimately explain why the degree to which society respects property is how well off that society will be. A society is ill to the degree it does not recognize what is another’s own. A people who are ready to expropriate the property of another, who are given to voicing their envy and disreputable claims against others for their productiveness, inevitably leads to a society that looks suspiciously upon those who would act to accumulate to their property by the honest means of trade and exchange. This ultimately leads to the breakdown of cooperation and the breakdown of society. If you take away respect for property, you cannot keep society in place, because there is nothing for society to be centered around. There is no reason to come together if it profits no one.

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I will admit that there is one, and only one, good argument in favor of government to which I can see the force of persuasion it brings forth. While I do not think it in the least decisive, it is still an argument which natural law-minded and conservative individuals such as myself could at least sympathize with in principle. That argument goes something like this.

We can recognize that there are certain non-consensual duties the individual is beholden to by nature, and even preferably (and by this is meant that the duties occur in a context clearly recognized as preferable for the individuals on which those duties hold). Those duties occur within the context of the family, such that each member of the family is beholden and obliged to put the good of the family above themselves, and in order to secure this there are also certain authorities dispersed to the parents over their children. The husband has a duty to his wife viz. his being a husband and vice versa, which is of a more symmetrical nature, but we can recognize that those duties are voluntary, i.e. they hold under the voluntary agreement to marriage. What is our focus is the duty children have to their parents, such that they are non-consensually obligated to submit to the parents’ authority. The children are the responsibility of the parents and thus also at their disposal in order to raise and educate them to be members of society.

Our focus is on the non-consensual nature of the arrangement, while also to emphasize that it is right and just. I will agree to as much. But the argument takes this model and argues that it applies to some greater aggregate of society, i.e. “civil society,” and that as such certain duties are owed by the citizens to their state and vice versa, so that although the arrangement may not be voluntary, it is still right to maintain it within reasonable limits.

I guess I will call it “the conservative argument for government,” since I have heard it given by several conservative friends and acquaintances of mine. It’s certainly a good argument and argues for a social superstructure in much the same way that I would. However, there are certain defects to the argument, unlike my own.

The first problem is that government is not a structure which arises according to any natural properties intrinsic to its members, unlike the family. In a family, the roles are distinguished in virtue of the nature of the individuals who compose it; the father, the mother, and the children. They are each given to their role in virtue of the intrinsic relations that hold between them. (I doubt I need to explain biology or even defend the family structure at this point.) The state, on the other hand, has no such natural dispersal of roles. Who rules, and who is subject? There is no analogous procreative process in respect to a ruler and his people. If state governance is natural to who we are and this obliges us to maintain certain duties, then it would follow of a specific property intrinsic to its members that likewise assigns roles. But there is no such thing; the introduction of a state to society and its maintenance is a purely arbitrary state of affairs that needn’t hold. If t were natural to human persons, then its coming to be would have a specific means, much like the formation of a family does. But there is no such specific means, ergo the state is not natural viz. the family.

I think this can be further borne out by an analysis of duty and the preconditions of action. A duty is something which circumscribes rightful action, such that unless we maintain it by our action we are wronging that to which our duty is owed. It is therefore something which holds prior to action; however it cannot be a precondition of action. For instance, one could be completely discharged of duties (e.g. I am not presently a child of my family’s household) but still act despite that.

A precondition of action is simply that which must be the case in order to one to act. In order to act, one must act for one’s own; that is, they need to own the ends of their activity and the instruments used therein. This would be the beginning of a defense of property, since one must be allowed to own themselves, their ideas, their ends of action, and so on, for otherwise people would be unable to act or to be at all. But I’m considering this in terms of duty. When a duty holds, it is the ends of activity that are circumscribed; for instance, if I were a child I could not will to defy my parents’ rightful commands without violating my parents’ right.

Within relations to other people, or social action, there are certain duties that hold. The anarchist is not opposed to such being the case; in fact, it is the relevance of precisely these duties that make me an anarchist. I believe that we might start defining the normative preconditions of social action by something like the categorical imperative , inasmuch as they secure a symmetry between the absolute preconditions of action (i.e. the respect of others’ property); or at least, we can analyze such a rule for providing definitions of normative social action. These would be in order to prevent asymmetrical arrangements of affairs, such that some are obliged to another in a way that others are not without basis in nature, or in order to preserve nature.

I think further analysis of this concept is justified, but I will consider this an opening shot at the conservative argument for government and that a duty-based social order where there arise asymmetrical arrangements must be based on the respective natures of the individuals involved. No nature of state, no state of nature (to invert a phrase).

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I just realized I should probably include a link back to Part 1 and Part 6.

A: Moral virtue is what maintains the coordination of pleasure under the will. Contrariwise, moral vice is what maintains the coordination of the will under pleasure. Now what does this have to do with specific human actions, such as loving, thinking, and working? It is a rule meant to apply to such things, right?

B: The rule is indeed meant to apply to such things. You are wondering how it might be applied in order to provide a catalogue of prescriptions and proscriptions?

A: That is my question.

B: Then let us apply it to a basic human activity, such as eating. How do you think the rule could be applied?

A: I must remember eating, a pleasure of the body, is in order to provide sustenance so that I may further the end of willing. But I don’t see how this leads to a matter of definite practice. I can see that I must be able to acknowledge that I partake in it not for itself, but in how it furthers the activity of the will.

B: That is a beginning. Think on what has been considered a vice regarding eating. How would our rule understand gluttony?

A: Gluttony is the coordination of will under the pleasure of eating. It seeks eating as an end above the higher concern of happiness.

B: Yes. Gluttony needn’t even be a caloric excess, if there are more immediate concerns relevant to our will than eating.

A: I can see your point, but then how do we know to structure our desires? Clearly, pleasures are meant to be enjoyed in the case that we do not sacrifice moral virtue, but how am I to know when virtues are at stake?

B: Our finding happiness requires ultimately that our will remain focused upon the permanent beyond this world. Volitional integrity is therefore our highest concern, and this as the focusing upon that permanent beyond. Doing this is moral virtue.

A: That seems to follow of what we’ve discussed before, but I’m not following how this answers my original question.

B: Come back to human action. Happiness is its end. And this lies in coordinating pleasure under will. Coordinating will under pleasure frustrates this end, leading away from happiness. Happiness follows from being perfectly human. As such, for some given human activity, it ought not be subverted as an end in itself, since no such activities are our end in that way in order to provide happiness.

A: So to pursue one given human activity above all is in defiance of our nature as a whole? And we make some given human activity an end above all others when we seek to corrupt it, for this is motivated by the coordinating of will under pleasure.

B: Yes. Happiness is found in being perfectly human, and the corruption of our natures is the coordination of will under pleasure, since these pleasures are naturally ordered for the perfection of our will.

A: In other words, our activities as they are naturally ordered is towards the perfection of our will and subverting them subverts our ultimate end.

B: Yes.

A: It follows then that moral virtue is simply the excelling at being human, in our natures, since we are by our natures ordered towards happiness. Our nature, its aim being happiness, can only bring us to happiness provided we act in accord with this nature.

B: Do you think now you can apply it to specific human actions?

A: Yes, for I only need to understand the end of some given activity. Eating is to provide energy for motion. Speaking is to communicate reality. So on and so forth. That is why gluttony and lying are contrary to moral virtue; they are contrary to the natural end of these parts, and being contrary to our nature which end lies in happiness, their subversion is contrary to happiness.

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A: I have come to discuss something.

B: What would you like to discuss?

A: We have just determined that happiness for humans is possible since each thing is directed towards something it may actually attain. Now, we considered how this leads to the conclusion that happiness is not found in this world. What, then, is happiness like?

B: We are to look at those qualities of this world which are incompatible with our happiness.

A: Yes, this seems something touched upon previously. The pleasures of this world are so in their incompleteness, being beside the point of our happiness. When we must continue striving, we have not found our happiness.

B: So that is one of the qualities our inquiry brings us to. Happiness is marked by a cessation of activity, since there is nothing further beyond which we might act to possess, and after all, there is nothing that will make us happier than happiness.

A: So it involves a kind of perfection. A happy man is a perfect man. For, once something is perfected, there is nothing that can be added that will make a human any better, since he will already be fully himself.

B: Absolutely. But I might note here that we should also say that it must also be an incorruptible state.

A: How do you reason?

B: Let us suppose that a thing, after reaching its state of rest, were moved.

A: Assuming such a thing remained itself, it would immediately return to its perfection, since it will have already achieved such a state in regards to its own end, and will be returned in a time proportionate to the degree it was moved. I mean to say that, were something at its perfection it will move as much to return as it was moved by another thing, though this not because it was already at its perfection. Clearly, a rock does not need to have lain on the ground before in order to go to the ground.

B: Indeed, we can see that is true of things such as stones and even animals, for in their being moved, and assuming they are not destroyed, “it remains itself” as you put it, they are quick to return. But now we can consider especially human happiness. There is a different quality to it. Compared to everything else in this world, what is that?

A: Everything else in this world has its end in the world. Humans have their end outside the world. But this doesn’t seem to show that human perfection is incorruptible.

B: Consider the internal principle of motion in man.

A: Humans will. The activity of man, insofar as we regard it unique in the world, and so I am supposing of importance to what I ask, is what we call volitional.

B: Indeed. And so while something like a stone acts reflexively, without being able to ask why it does so, a human is brought to his own end by the choice of his own will. The quality of this choice is that, in regards to his uniqueness as man, only he can move himself.

A: So a human whose happiness is obtained not in regards to anything that changes or is impermanent, finds this happiness by focusing on something permanent. And so, having affixed the will in this way, he can also not be moved, for there is nothing that moves him but himself, and he has no reason to move himself since he has already precisely what he was moved for in the first place.

B: So what can we say of happiness?

A: Happiness in man is the perfection of man, and this especially the perfection of his will. Upon being found, happiness becomes a cessation of activity, what we might call eternal life.

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When you bring up what is the very essence of the human, that is, when you discuss that which it is that makes us human, it is unimportant to bring up certain properties like our falling to the earth, possessing reflexes, or even that we breathe and eat. These are not things that distinguish us from other things, and as such can’t be taken to be the things that make us specifically what we are. Stones fall to the earth, vegetation act reflexively, and dogs breathe and eat. These things, while clearly something that bound us and are even important to our being able to continue existing, are not themselves what makes us that we are.

It is like this. While a painting must be painted on some surface, say plaster or canvas, when we consider the painting-qua-painting, we consider that which is captured and represented in the image. To miss this only to give an analysis of the clay content in the plaster or the thread count in the canvas is missing this point; in fact, to point to certain paintings which are defective in having failed to completely cover their surface or have, by age and wear, lost their original luster or have been cracked, revealing the surface underneath is also to miss the point. When you consider these things, you consider not that which makes the painting what it is, but simply the matter on which the painting is drawn.

In much the same way do these underlying characteristics of humans apply. While they are necessary in order that we be, they are not what makes us what we are. What makes us human is specifically that end of human action, to be happy, and that which we act with to achieve it, which is reason. Reason in humans is the efficient cause of happiness in humans, which are our ends.

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When we act, we act with something which is our own. That which is our own, at all times, is ourselves, and the action of ourselves is labor. This is somewhat like the idea of self-ownership (indeed, from this it follows that one “owns” themselves, in a manner of speaking), but focused more on the fact that labor presupposes ownership. Something is owned in order that it might be used; whatever is used is possessed in order that it may be used. Thus, labor presupposes ownership; where something is used, it is owned.

This is to ground private property. If we are ourselves, and by this I mean if we are our selves, then it follows that the idea of property inheres within the concept of personhood. Persons possess in order to use; they own in order to act. If something weren’t possessed, then it can’t be that it’s used. To bring it under one’s dominion is how something might be used at all. That’s what it is for something to be used.

Now, from this it doesn’t follow that whatever one uses is in fact owned by the same person who uses it. For instance, consider the case in which I let someone else read a book of mine. Just because someone else is using the book it doesn’t follow that the book is also theirs. The formula of ownership doesn’t stipulate that. The book remains mine. That something is used only indicates that it is also owned by somebody. The use of something is not always direct and obvious.

This is why I wish to introduce orders of property. This is in order that we might accommodate the fact that something might be used even if it is technically owned by another. In fact, this is only something which follows as a possibility from our original formulation; to be used is to be owned. It doesn’t stipulate that everyone who uses something also owns it.

There are different orders of use, and thus different orders of property.

There is zero order property, which is our possession of ourselves. It is just inherent to the way we speak about ourselves; I am my self, you are your self, we are our selves. The possessive here is not precisely the same as when I might say “That is my hammer,” since ownership of myself stipulates different things than ownership of a hammer. This is what grounds the possibility of private property at all. It is zero order action, in that it is not action per se but just what a person is, which is an actuality.

Then there is first order property. This is what occurs when you directly mix your own labor with something. It is being there and doing something to the property with your own actions, void of intermediation by someone else; first order property is established by first order action.

Beyond this, there is also second order property. This is how we might predicate the fact that someone owns something even if they are not directly mixing their own labor with something, but still acting to manage the property and giving other directives. It is like being the owner of a factory; you might not be the one operating the machinery, but the machinery is still your own property. Second order action is directing others in their own first order action. In these cases, the first order action practiced on something does not confer ownership to the first order actor, since ownership is already in the hands of another who happens to be acting as the second order actor.

We can continue stipulating further orders if necessary. For example, a third order property might be the factory which is owned by a business which is owned by someone. In this case, the third order actor, an executive or manager of some kind, directs others in directing others. And we can see how this might be continued upwards, but to no further profit.

This is to illustrate how it can be understood that first order action does not necessarily confer ownership of what is used to the first order actor, i.e. that business organizations are organic and subsist within the concept of private property.

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