Saturday, April 17, 2010

Philosophy: To Strive and Flourish

Earlier, I wrote a blog post in which I advocated for decentralized government, in order to counter the dangers of fanatical Utopianism. However, even if the dangers of a centralized Utopia could be countered, it might still not be the ideal, for it remains possible that a necessary component of human flourishing includes a necessary component of achieving flourishing for oneself, which is what I believe the anti-Utopian is getting at when they claim that humans need striving. In the sphere of the virtues, for example, justice might demand that the rich man care for widows and orphans who cannot care for themselves, but it is important that this is a decision of his will. The law could force the rich man to take this action, and this might externally look the same as the case of the one who chooses to care for them, but this justice would be part of the system and not part of the rich man’s life. Thus, he would not be flourishing as an individual, and the law might actually be preventing him from becoming a just man.

Similarly, a man eating food he did not earn does not get the maximum good available from the meal. Certainly, he is nourished, his basic physical need being cared for, but the benefit of the satisfaction of having earned the meal is missing. Ultimately, a hungry man unable to work might need to be fed from the proceeds of another man’s labor, but if a centralized power gives every man food they have not worked for, they have the satisfaction taken from them by default. Instead, it seems better if help comes from those in immediate contact with the hungry man, who can give him only the help he needs and, if possible, help him to stand on his own that he might achieve the fully flourishing life [1]. Since, as mentioned before, a real Utopia would be the best environment for human flourishing, even if that included striving, the best a centralized power could do to create Utopia would be to do nothing, instead leaving it to individuals and local communities.

At this point, it may be asked why I have included local communities and not simply left everything to the individual. After all, if achieving something for oneself is part of flourishing, doesn’t local community interfere in this just as much as central government? However, this is not the case. First, the community is sensitive to the needs of the individual. The work put into a meal is not the only important part of it, other factors such as its satisfaction of hunger are also extremely important. It is better for a man who cannot work to eat a meal he has not worked for, than for him to starve. Ultimately, a local community is better suited to know when he needs charity, and when he needs rehabilitation. Also, in most cases an individual contributes to his community in ways he cannot necessarily contribute to a centralized system, and these are often intangible. The sickly widow may be unable to labor for her bread, but may provide an important area of emotional support in her community. The awareness of this in herself and her community creates a sense of reciprocity and this in turn provides the missing component of satisfaction. As a centralized body is necessarily detached from individuals, it cannot operate in terms of such intangible benefits and thus the component of reciprocity is removed.

[1] I originally considered this idea earlier in my blog, but it was recently brought to my attention that it is explored in the Thomistic principle of subsidiarity. I have not yet had the chance to study into this, so the arguments for it are essentially my own.

Note: As with my last post, this one was taken largely from an essay which I wrote for school (the same essay as the last one in fact)