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Social Philosophy Essay

Social philosophy is the philosophical study of questions about social behavior (typically, of humans). Social philosophy addresses a wide range of subjects, from individual meanings to legitimacy of laws, from the social contract to criteria for revolution, from the functions of everyday actions to the effects of science on culture, from changes in human demographics to the collective order of a wasp’s nest. In Social Philosophy the main concepts will be ‘property’, ‘distributive justice’ and ‘the state’.

The purpose of Social Philosophy allows students to critically assess proposed solutions to philosophical problems, initiated by the idea that knowledge and values are relative to a method of investigation, a ‘form of life’, or design of society. Students will encounter different philosophical positions, giving them the opportunity to experiment with a whole range of new ideas and to use their critical skills in comparing the different positions.

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Students will gain an understanding of the following concepts: scientific method, positivism, induction, deduction, verification, falsification, corroboration, theory-ladeness of observation, paradigm, anomaly, incommensurability, scientific revolution, scientific relativism, cultural relativism, form of life, hypothetico-deductive explanation, Verstehen, hermeneutics, game theory, prisoner’s dilemma, Leviathan, cooperation, culture, sociobiology, evolutionary stable state, leash principle, and determinism. Social Philosophers: * Socrates

Socrates’s contributions to philosophy were a new method of approaching knowledge, a conception of the soul as the seat both of normal waking consciousness and of moral character, and a sense of the universe as purposively mind-ordered. His method, called dialectic, consisted in examining statements by pursuing their implications, on the assumption that if a statement were true it could not lead to false consequences. The method may have been suggested by Zeno of Elea, but Socrates refined it and applied it to ethical problems. His doctrine of the soul led him to the belief that ll virtues converge into one, which is the good, or knowledge of one’s true self and purposes through the course of a lifetime. Knowledge in turn depends on the nature or essence of things as they really are, for the underlying forms of things are more real than their experienced exemplifications. This conception leads to a teleological view of the world that all the forms participate in and lead to the highest form, the form of the good. Plato later elaborated this doctrine as central to his own philosophy. Socrates’s view is often described as holding virtue and knowledge to be identical, so that no man knowingly does wrong.

Since virtue is identical with knowledge, it can be taught, but not as a professional specialty as the Sophists had pretended to teach it. However, Socrates himself gave no final answer to how virtue can be learned. * Baboeuf, Saint-Simon, Fourier, Cabet, Louis Blanc, and Proudhon advocated various ideal systems which ranged all the way from state socialism to a system of anarchy. These schemes were the attempts of dreamers to eliminate the harsh and unjust, social and political systems of Europe by the establishment of an ideal social order.

Impractical as many of their schemes were in detail, their writings were highly serviceable in pointing out the evil of existing affairs and suggesting many means of improvement which were brought about later by less radical measures. Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations gave a great impetus to thought concerning the commonwealth. John Stuart Mill’s Political Economy and his political philosophy embodied in others of his writings were important contributions to the subject of political science.

Mill points out the need of a social science or sociology as a more complete study of human society. Malthus, in his study of the relation of the food supply to the population, startled the world by his conclusions and stimulated interest in statistical inquiry into the condition of human society. All of these writers, as well as others, directed human thought towards social affairs, but formulated no science of society and suggested no synthetic method for its study. * Experimental Social Philosophers. While the number of persons who have given us ideal systems of government is great, comparatively few in number are those who have attempted practical experiments for the improvement of the social order. In some cases experiments in social reform by means of laws and ideals grew out of the practical necessity of coming to terms with an existing situation. In other cases, especially in later times, social experiments were inaugurated in response to utopias presented by the social philosophers of their time or of earlier days.

Among those who stand out from all the rest among the ancients in suggesting practical social improvement are Moses, Lycurgus, Solon, Servius Tullius, and Charlemagne ; while among the moderns are the French revolutionists, the American revolutionists, and men like Robert Owen, Louis Blanc, and Etienne Cabet. While the great lawgivers used the practices of common law and social order already in existence before them as a foundation of their systems, still they were masterful organizers who set forth new plans and forced society to adopt them.

For example, the early Hebrew kingdom was built up on a social basis of tribal customs and laws existing long before but modified by the exigencies of settlement among a hostile people, the Caananites, and connected by tradition with the earlier hero and lawgiver, Moses. Upon that basis layer after layer of law and rule was laid down from age to age by lawmaking prophets and priests, from the Deuteronomic Code, the work of the disciples of the great eighth century prophets, down through the so-called Priest’s Code to the legislation of the Talmud.

The earlier codes aimed at political, social, and industrial justice, and, dealing as they did with a semicivilized race, they regulated morals and religion as well as civil affairs. They represent the transition from ethnic to demographic society. They recognized classes and defined the rights of each class and gave each individual a place in the social organization. Perhaps no collection of laws in existence ever illustrated more fully the sociological development of law and government than the various codes of the Hebrew and Jewish peoples.

All the social relations in existence at the time were recognized and dearly defined by law. While the rights of the individual were acknowledged, they were always subordinated to the general social order. It was recognized that the individual could not go far in any direction without coming into conflict with the rights of his fellows. They all reflect the social order of the times for which they were intended and set forth an ideal towards which the people were urged by formal enactments ostensibly handed down by an ancient lawgiver of peculiar endowment and authority.

The so-called Mosaic codes, therefore, represent not only the collected laws relating to the Hebrew people, but also ideal societies and practical experiments in social life. These laws have had great influence on subsequent forms of government and legislation and especially on the philosophy of government and social usage. * The laws of Lycurgus, while representing the usages of the Spartans, had for their purpose the carrying out of the new practical plan of government in which the individual was largely subjected to the social order.

Likewise, the laws of Solon represent the transition from the old forms of ethnic society to a newer democracy and as such are somewhat experimental in their nature, although like all others his laws rested upon the best usages of the people. ‘ Yet many of them, based upon existing laws as a foundation, instituted such practical reforms as resulted in the transformation of social order. Of a similar character were the laws of Servius Tullius of Rome, who organized the Roman society on a military basis — the first formal departure of the Romans from the old groupings of ethnic society.

Subsequent attempts at the reform in the land laws of Rome represent practical experiments in government. All attempts to reform society through such experiments have had great influence in shaping the practices and theories of government. The conquest and reorganization of Western Europe by Charlemagne was accompanied by an attempt to establish educational and civil reforms which, though not lasting or continuous in subsequent development, stand out as historical landmarks and possibilities of what may be done by government to modify society. Robert Owen sought to reestablish society on an industrial basis and his experiment at New Lanark was a theory of society put to the acid test. While it eventually failed, he left an influence making for cooperation which was both important and permanent. The modern experimenters, like Cabet and Louis Blanc, and the various communistic societies are important in demonstrating what may not be done by way of social reorganization, rather than what may be accomplished. All of these practical experiments have been useful in lighting up the nature of human society and the peculiar limitations which surround it.

Practical experiments like these testify to a sense of social unity in a nation, and are indicative of the growth of social consciousness. More than this, they give evidence of a telic force in society the socialized human mind aiming to guide it towards a clearly perceived goal. They have inspired social study and helped to establish principles of social order, through a critical discussion of aims of society. * Recent Philosophy. — Recent philosophers following in the line of thought started by the writers mentioned above began to philosophize as to the origin, development, and constitution of society.

Somewhat dogmatically, perhaps, they reached lofty conclusions concerning the nature and destiny of society, which they approached usually from the standpoint of social reform. The Christian socialists of England through the leadership of Charles Kingsley and F. D. Maurice protested against the hard determination of the dominant laissez-faire theory, and advocated the development of the social side of Christian life. They emphasized the social element as essential in the building of a Christian state. The problems of politics and economics, and the peculiar relations of rich and poor were to be settled on the basis of a Christian philosophy.

The preaching by Carlyle, Ruskin, and William Morris of the gospel of a life of the true and the beautiful had a tendency to elevate social ideals. If their social points of view were not always properly taken, their impulses were good and their suggestions of the value of conscious social activity for the common good bore fruit in philanthropic endeavors. * More recently J. S. MacKenzie, in An Introduction to Social Philosophy, defined in a broad and general why the scope and limits of the application of philosophical principles to social questions.

He brought the world of thought a little nearer to a social science. With a keen insight he presented the elements of social order and by his superior analysis of society showed what might be accomplished in the adaptation of social organization to social needs. Nevertheless, it was a critical philosophy rather than a science that he presented to the world. Its service, however, in establishing clearness of thought on social questions cannot be overestimated. Benjamin Kidd, in his Social Evolution, emphasized religion and the power of the emotions in human progress.

But his work is rather a philosophy of civilization and progress than a scientific treatment of the evolution of society. It would scarcely claim to be scientific in premises, analysis, or conclusion, yet it served to arouse thought respecting certain phases of social development. Lotze, in his Microcosmos, brings history to view the social life of the people and lays down some scientific principles for the movement of civilization. Grozier, in his Civilization and Progress, and Nash, in The Genesis of the Social Conscience, brings us close to the organic conception of society.


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