Monday, June 18, 2007

Beginning at the Beginning

I see I opened a whole can of worms with my "trick" question. In fact, I meant to and I think trick questions are sometimes fun!

However, if we are going to talk sensibly about these issues, we have to get a few things straight to begin with--define some terms, so to speak. Sadly, I'm not a very good philosopher, because while I think we should start at the beginning, I'm not quite sure where the beginning is! My best guess, however, is that we have to discuss a bit what we mean by "society" and "common good." Now, Geoff has stated that the common good is nothing more than the sum total of all the private goods of the individuals that comprise a society. Indeed, a society is merely a collection of individuals. What is central here? The individual, it seems. This is clearly reflected in the ideas of liberalism as well. Do we have any alternatives to defining society, the common good, the whole project of human life as lived in common, on the basis of individual liberties? Would it necessarily pierce a shaft into our freedom if we did not talk about it as the main purpose of societal structure? And what do we mean by freedom? This last is a big one, and for now I am just throwing out some questions for consideration. More later!

Pax +


Mike said...

I just read an absolutely fascinating (and yet very short at only 105 pages) book on this subject called Person and the Common Good by Jacques Maritain. The thesis, as summed up by Hans Urs von Balthasar, is "The individual exists for the society, but the society exists for the person."

Geoff said...

"The individual exists for the society, but the society exists for the person" is essentially what Rousseau said in his Social Contract.

The person doesn't exist for society, but he serves society through his good actions actions in society. And every other member does the same thing. The best example of a "society" on a small level would be something like the Knights of Columbus. Members of the K of C don't exist for the K of C. They exist for God. They serve God through the K of C. The K of C, of course, is only a sumtotal of its members, not an entity that can be served itself.

Geoff said...

I have a question, as well: How did Maritain manage to create a dichotomy between "person" and "individual?"

healthily sanguine said...

We exist for the Kingdom of God.

Geoff said...

True. A good clarification. Though I did mean, "To share eternity with God."


Mike said...

Well, Maritain says, "The human being is caught between two poles; a material pole, which, in reality, does not concern the true person but rather the shadow of personality or what, in the strict sense, is called individuality, and a spiritual pole, which does concern true personality" (e.g. animals are individuals, but they are not persons).

Geoff said...

Hmm. What Maritain says is interesting.

But a person is an individual substance of a rational nature. A human being is composite body and soul. The matter is part of our person, isn't it? The body is informed by the soul, and cannot function without the soul. I can't see how Maritain can separate this composition practically, while still relating "individual" and "person" to our interactions with other people. It is the whole person that interacts with other people. For human beings, a "whole person" includes a material body.

that part of us which is matter exists for the sake of society?

Even animals do not exist for the sake of their society. It is beneficial to the individual animal to be in society, for protection, reproduction, and comfort.