23-12-09

Book III: Of Morals - Conclusion

"The interest, on which justice is founded, is the greatest imaginable, and extends to all times and places. It cannot be possibly serv'd by any other invention. It is obvious, and discovers itself on the very first formation of society." David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Penguin Classics, 1985, p. 669.


Call it the Roddenberry-principle: you can't imagine, can't conceive of, a society that is composed of intelligent individuals in which there's not a basic notion of justice, & fairness. So much so that even the biggest bands of thieves have some code of law internal to them and that any perturbation of the current laws is invariably justified - with recourse to some 'higher' principle of justice.

That much I consider obvious although it is certainly not obvious that the justice that prevails in any such a conception is just or the fairness so conceived, even remotely, fair. The latter will be my concession to those that like to call their adversaries naïve but it will be a concession made only for the purposes of the argument induced by a reading of Hume which is more particularly my reading. A reading that considers that quite a lot is entailed by Hume's treatment of morals & that consequently lots of the merely contingent human inventions are, in fact, not only just but, also, unavoidable long term consequences of any society where civility is sustained through sufficiently long periods of time (i.e. where no breakdowns are experienced on account of some majority perception that whatever a game life is it basically is a negative sum one in which at least some others need to outright loose before anybody at all can win).

To illustrate my premise:

  • do not say: "despite everything mankind has achieved it still degrades into beastly behaviour";
  • but say: "despite all of those things we do not have yet, doing what is good is still the most common motivator of human action".

When resources are scarce life is a struggle for life and hence a non-zero sum game where this non-zero sum is negative (i.e. necessity knows no law). The denial of this is the essence of the modern political spinning of win-win scenarios that, necessarily, can only be win-win by abstracting the loss to others as irrelevant or unavoidable - & hence the marriage in modern politics between 'realism', 'common sense' & 'win-win' in an attempt to subvert an intuitive longing for cosiness into a blatant disregard for those that loose out 'because they didn't try hard enough'.

But insofar as human invention succeeds in alleviating this struggle for life (to retain only the form of the struggle & the form of the game, where the essence still is non-zero negative sum but where the sum is not expressed in life or death) we'll see, as Hume observes, that we all can gain (at least life-wise) if we focus our energy on the increase of human inventivity and, hence, if we cooperate. So much so that a 'weak' society will, in circumstances of non-scarcity, will tend to win over time from what is a belligerent society (more often than not by inducing internal revolts, within this latter society). Let me say in passing that one of the crucial human inventions that's often forgotten is the invention of reducing the human population by other means than by war, famine or other destruction (and that any cosy politics that avoids 'engineering' the population growth cannot but be unjust and unfair - to be explicit: people without the means for children should first get the means and only then the children - most opting after even the most basic education that they don't want to have children if it means not having a life of their own).

Coming back to the premise illustrated by the above two bullets - the reason why we still have so much problems of injustice and unfairness is because we did not have a sufficient amount of time under which to develop justice and fairness and/or (but for the moment the following is still the most important) because there still is too much scarcity and hence too much struggle by humans to live for us to be able to take the moral high ground. That being as it may it is self-evident that once what will emerge once both conditions are being met with progressively more perfection: the justice of the type argued by Rawls to be fair (but without the artificial reasoning to establish it as it will establish itself as reasonable once scarcity has been suppressed and all the human energy will be dedicated to the struggle for being inventive where individuals will continue to loose but where the whole cannot but win).

More than this: all of this justice as fairness is entailed by the very first justice in the Humean sense. The progress is not one of content (because there is only form to it, and no content, see elsewhere) but one of increasing applicability both class-wise (in a first movement) and geography-wise (in a second movement). This progress can't but be accompanied by an at least perceived loss of some individuals (that are used to winning at the expense of others in a condition of scarcity). The latter is what war, essentially, is made of. The solution does not lie solely - and not even primarily - in coercing the individuals that stand to loose into their loss. Doing this is as stupid (in most - but not all! - contexts) as coercing an unjust and unfair society to adopt what is the established practice of jusice and fairness in more evolved societies (Iraq and Afghanistan spring to mind). Maybe I'll be able to draw out this comparison another time (maybe piggybacking on something in Rawls' Law of Peoples) but suffice to say here that in line with the conception of justice outlined the coercion is in the realm of non-zero negative sum games whilst the patience for evolution counting on the just and the fair being contagious principles is the one that will prove most effective (and just these exceptions where war certainly is justified as an ultimate threat: a lack of education - specifically for women - and a clear breakdown into a less just and more unfair society because of an onset of new scarcity - whatever and whomever is finally the cause of such an onset, the justification of war is independent of who is guilty in bringing about the scarcity - see WWII).

In the end maybe this is the thought: we don't need to engineer people nor society but we do need to engineer away any scarcity of life-threatening tangible goods and if necessary (contra Roddenberry this time) by decreasing the competition for these goods on the demand side (whenever we feel a restriction on the supply side).

(And now I will trun back to language and intention!, for those that were worrying)


Whilst writing this I was listening to Sonny Rollins, soneymoon, Get Back 2007.

15:48 Gepost door Guido Nius in Actualiteit | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: hume, optimism, imagination, dynamics, universals |  Facebook |

De commentaren zijn gesloten.