Three E’s Found Within Enlightenment Thinking: Ethics, Empathy & Equality-I’m Not Sure You’ve Thought This Through

This blog is still welcoming critiques of reformers, progressives and liberators who seem pretty certain of what they are against, if not always certain, just what exactly, they are for.  I could be persuaded to become a liberal, on certain matters, if I thought that the people seeking to change our current traditions, customs, and laws understood just which habits of mind, character and ideas they will rely upon for our freedoms going forward.

Which knowledge should become the basis to guide the moral foundations for new laws and the rules which we all must follow? Which customs should become the basis for new arrangements, gradually hardening into traditions?

Who should be in charge of these institutions going forward and how should their authority be limited?

A 20th century address of some of those claims to knowledge:

‘But my object is not to refute Rationalism: its errors are interesting only in so far as they reveal its character.  We are considering not merely the truth of a doctrine, but the significance of an intellectual fashion in the history of post-Renaissance Europe. And the questions we must try to answer are: What is the generation of this belief in the sovereignty of technique? When springs this supreme confidence in human ‘reason’ thus interpreted? What is the provenance, the context of this intellectual character?  And in what circumstances and with what effect did it come to invade European politics?’

Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 17).

The Puritan past of Boston directs many Bostonians, nowadays, into acting like members of something like a church of high-liberalism.  Very buttoned up behavior but not necessarily the same holy denials.

I would be more comfortable leaving my freedoms to many high liberal priests if I thought they were more competent.

I’m not sure many people have thought these changes through:

‘The effect of modern liberal doctrine has been to hand over the facts of moral and political life into the maladroit hands of social and political scientists, and the results have been intellectually disastrous. For moral issues, shuffled into the logician’s column, turn into formalized imperatives; transferred by the device of generic man to the sociologist, they turn into culturally determined norms. As likely as not, the psychologist will regard them as neurotic symptoms. Politics similarly loses its autonomy, dissolved into a set of reactions to supposed external causes. The criterion of a “value-free science” is no doubt scientific in excluding propaganda from intellectual investigation. But it is merely superstitious when it turns “values”—in fact the subject matter of ethics and politics—into an intellectual red light district into which no thinker may stray, on pain of losing his respectability.’

Minogue, Ken. The Liberal Mind“. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. (Pg 17).

The actual Communists, committed Socialists, and narrow dogmatists, well, they’re pretty up-front about their intentions and aims.  Once the rational ends of man are known within these doctrines, every single one of us becomes the means to reach these ends through radical revolution, the logic unfolding towards its murderous outcomes.

Apart from people pursuing defunct ideologies, frankly, I think most people go along to get along.  If enough truths about a particular injustice emerge through radical protest, social change, and appeals to reason and non-reason, then many everyday people slowly follow the logic of social reform.

There are moral gains and there are freedoms, but they don’t come without costs.

Many of these changes weren’t driven by deep knowlege claims nor ‘science,’ but rather by committed social and political actors with visions of the future.

Something I think might help unite the Anglosphere, even though I think America might still have the largest stores of healthy religious conservative tradition:

In dealing with the Enlightenment, frankly, I’m a little more comfortable with the English/Scottish liberal tradition than the German idealism found on the Continent.

A quick quotation.  Leo Strauss On John Locke:

‘Hobbes identified the rational life with the life dominated by the fear of fear, by the fear which relieves us from fear.  Moved by the same spirit, Locke identifies the rational life with the life dominated by the pain which relieves pain.  Labor takes the place of the art which imitates nature; for labor is, in the words of Hegel, a negative attitude toward nature.  The starting point of human efforts is misery:  the state of nature is a state of wretchedness.  The way toward happiness is a movement away from the state of nature, a movement away from nature: the negation of nature is the way toward happiness.  And if the movement toward happiness is the actuality of freedom, freedom is negativity .’

Strauss, Leo.  Natural Right And History.  Chicago:  The University Of Chicago Press, 1965. (Pg 250).

According to Strauss, the rational life for an individual, from Hobbes to Locke, is defined negatively, respectively as either a removal from fear or a removal from pain. And more broadly: Strauss has Locke remaking Hobbes’ more intrusive Leviathan into a smaller role for government:  to secure them in their lives, liberty and estate (property).   The key formulation of nature here, though, remains the same.

The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy elaborates:

‘Leo Strauss, and many of his followers, take rights to be paramount, going so far as to portray Locke’s position as essentially similar to that of Hobbes. They point out that Locke defended a hedonist theory of human motivation (Essay 2.20) and claim that he must agree with Hobbes about the essentially self-interested nature of human beings. Locke, they claim, only recognizes natural law obligations in those situations where our own preservation is not in conflict, further emphasizing that our right to preserve ourselves trumps any duties we may have.

On the other end of the spectrum, more scholars have adopted the view of Dunn, Tully, and Ashcraft that it is natural law, not natural rights, that is primary. They hold that when Locke emphasized the right to life, liberty, and property he was primarily making a point about the duties we have toward other people: duties not to kill, enslave, or steal. Most scholars also argue that Locke recognized a general duty to assist with the preservation of mankind, including a duty of charity to those who have no other way to procure their subsistence (Two Treatises 1.42). These scholars regard duties as primary in Locke because rights exist to insure that we are able to fulfill our duties.’

And of course, there’s this problem:

‘Another point of contestation has to do with the extent to which Locke thought natural law could, in fact, be known by reason.’

So what does Strauss offer instead as a possibility for man and nature?  Nature revealing itself to man without the use of his reason…or through his reason without a lot of Enlightenment metaphysics? Or through some return to Natural Right?

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.  Here’s another quote:

 That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

From the Declaration Of Independence.

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