Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
In association with the The Adler-Aquinas Institute and Aquinas School of Leadership
Member of the Alliance for Liberal Learning

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Adler on Anarchy

Recently, Max Weisman sent out emails with writings of Dr. Adler on the subject of Anarchy. Specifically, Dr. Adler rebutted the arguments by philosophical anarchists on the basis that human nature requires a certain about of coercion and punishment in order to achieve the greatest good and that it would require, as Mills said, humans to have the nature of angels. Thus, anarchy is simplistic and naive and could never work. The coercive power of the state is good rather than the lesser evil.

These argument are based upon the belief that human nature is at least partly evil and that the ills we see in the world are a result of that nature. From Aristotle to Catholicism to evangelical protestants, the basic view has been similar: There is a list of things that every human needs to be truly happy, therefore, there is a moral duty to obtain those things, therefore anyone who doesn't appear to be seeking the things on the list is wrong, bad and worthy of punishment, coercion, psychiatric treatment or at least some form of correction. American legal theory is also based upon such beliefs.

This worldview is not the only viable option. Buddhist thought, for example, regards human nature as intrinsically good but that people have become disconnected from that nature so that the evils we see in the world are not a result of human nature, but of a disconnection from it. By getting in touch with that inner goodness, we address the root causes of suffering and reduce or eliminate it from our lives. Notice that the agreement on the list of things that humans need to be happy is there, but there is a departure that there is any moral quality to this list. Instead of labeling people who suffer or cause suffering evil, wrong, bad and declaring them worthy of punishment, we could also choose to consider such people as being tragically disconnected from their own needs or ignorant of their own nature. This, by the way, was the belief of Socrates and Plato - that evil was caused by ignorance rather than nature.

My own view is that if human nature is, in fact, intrinsically evil, then there never was any hope for us in the beginning. How can evil people come up with conceptions of good to begin with? I think human nature is intrinsically good and that this forms a common bond between us all and a basis of cooperation. When we deal with people in a way that appeals to their basic goodness and to their fundamental needs, we can experience getting our needs met through compassionate giving. Check out www.cnvc.org for some additional thoughts on this worldview.

Dr. Adlers rebuttal of anarchism is subtley based upon his worldview as a neo-Aristotelian. Before we accept his rebuttal, I think it relevant to first debate the merits of Aristotelian ethics. Lets start with the behavior of one of his star pupils - Alexander.

4 comments:

  1. Are the sins of the student to be laid upon his teacher?

    ReplyDelete
  2. This post is from Pat Carmack:

    "These argument(s) are based upon the belief that human nature is at least partly evil and that the ills we see in the world are a result of that nature. >From Aristotle to Catholicism to evangelical protestants, the basic view has been similar,,,This worldview is not the only viable option. Buddhist thought, for example, regards human nature as intrinsically good but that people have become disconnected from that nature so that the evils we see in the world are not a result of human nature, but of a disconnection from it...My own view is that if human nature is, in fact, intrinsically evil, then there never was any hope for us in the beginning."

    The blogger is seriously mistaken: the Catholic view was never that human nature is intrinsically evil - exactly the opposite is the case. Catholic teaching has always been that God created human nature intrinsically good, but that man, through sin, has wounded, harmed, injured (choose any of a number of similar verbs used buy the Church Fathers) that good nature, inclining it to sin (not determining it to evil, but leaving it with a tendency thereto). The remedy for this fallen condition is grace and the practice of the virtues.  By these means the inclination to sin may be completely healed, even to the restoration of original innocence - that is very far indeed from a view of human nature as being "intrinsically evil."

    In short, the Catholic worldview, though radically different from the Buddhist view as stated above (which, by the way, is that of only some Buddhist schools - there is no guarantor of orthodoxy in Buddhism), actually resembles it more than the blogger's mistaken description of the Catholic view. In any case, it is quite misrepresented in the blog.

    As an aside, the Protestant view on the matter varies much. Early Calvinist and Lutherans did indeed view human nature as intrinsically evil and corrupt, and so salvation required hiding that evil and corruption from the Father under the mantle of Christ's blood. But the nature remained evil nonetheless. Many Calvinists (Reformed) and Lutherans no longer share those views.

    ReplyDelete
  3. To Max:

    Yes. The sins of the student are to be laid upon the teacher IF the behavior of the student is consistent with those teachings. I believe that Aristotelian ethics is coercive. Any ethical system that makes a moral imperative out of human needs cannot help but being coercive. I see that Alexander was an embodiment of believing that he knew what was good and right for everybody - anyone who disagreed was obviously wrong and stupid and needed their butt kicked.

    To Pat:

    Thank you for the correction.

    It seems like the word "intrinsic" is what you are sticking on. Certainly, there is disagreement on exactly when, why and how human nature got to be corrupt. Nevertheless, pretty much all Christians accept that it is corrupt. That was what I intended by the word intrinsic. Do you agree with the general position that Christians see human nature in the here and now as corrrupt and tending toward evil?

    ReplyDelete
  4. This post is from Pat Carmack:

    To seanross

    This is a delicate point: if by "corrupt" one means dis-integrated in will, memory or intellect (to varying degrees) and hence having a tendency or pull to evil, then Catholics would agree. But insofar as we are touching on our nature itself - our essence or form - it is perfect and wholly good. The traditional description is that original sin "weakened our wills and darkened our intellects," not that it made them evil. The changes are accidental. Our nature remains good.

    To clarify this point some have noted that the devil himself is good, insofar as he exists. Likewise, his will always seeks a good, but a good so disordered, so much less than what he should choose that we call it an "evil" choice. But that is merely a shorthand for a choice far less worthy, profoundly below the good he ought to choose. His angelic nature - his essence or form remains good - though he has gravely misused his powers of volition and intellect.

    The notion that a nature can be evil, human nature included, is incorrect in scholastic thought.  But its powers may be so misused that it never achieves the end for which it was created. Contrariwise, it may so well use its powers as to gradually become wholly integrated and so ordered to the good that it regains original innocence in this life. Catholic theology calls this state transforming union (with God). There is no living human for whom this state is not possible of achievement - because no nature is ever rendered evil.

    ReplyDelete