By Categories: Ethics

The Views of Mill and Spencer:-

This dream of social reform and the building of a more ideal society was basic to the thinking of JOHN STUART MILL also. He believed that the phenomena of social living conformed to fixed laws just as other phenomena do. However, he recognized that the factors involved in society are so numerous and are changing so constantly that prediction is impossible.

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Thus, the methods of study used in other sciences, those of the laboratory, are not applicable to a study of society. By the method of deduction from many instances we can see tendencies in human social development and can point to them as guides to activity, he taught.

Believing this to be true, Mill held that the task of the social scientists was to investigate social groups to discover how the different forms of society develop and follow each other. Thus, by a study of history we can discover the laws of social progress and development.Then we can point to tendencies in the present social structure and predict that there is a high degree of probability that certain social results can be expected. For example, a study of ancient civilizations will show the reasons for their fall. The historian can point to factors in the social structure which contributed to the downfall of the civilization. Then, if an examination of a present society reveals the same factors as present and operating, it can be predicted with a degree of probability that that society will also fall.

Mill, as many of his predecessors, recognized that social well-being was necessary for individual well-being, that the individual was tied up with the group and that his happiness was dependent upon the status of the group. Thus, he dreamed of a society in which the happiness and prosperity of all was certain, and in which all would share the wealth of the group.

In his Autobiography he wrote, “While we repudiated with the greatest energy that tyranny of society over the individual which most Socialistic systems are supposed to involve, we yet looked forward to a time when society will no longer be divided into the idle and the industrious; when the rule that they who do not work shall not eat will be applied not to paupers only, but impartially to all; when the division of the produce of labor, instead of depending, as in so great a degree it now does, on the accident of birth, will be made by concert on an acknowledged principle of justice; and when it will no longer either be, or be thought to be, impossible for human beings to exert themselves strenuously in procuring benefits which are not to be exclusively their own, but to be shared with the society they belong to.

The social problem of the future, we considered to be: how to unite the greatest individual liberty of action, with a common ownership in the raw material of the globe, and an equal participation of all in the benefits of combined labor. Mill was struggling here with a problem that seems to have become more and more clear since his day: the problem of undeserved poverty and equally undeserved wealth.

Society, as he understood it, exists for the good of all individual members. Therefore, each must have freedom to work and be rewarded for his effort But, the raw materials of the world cannot be the exclusive possession of a few. These belong to all, and must be held by society as the representative of a;ll. Mill believed that a time would come when such would be the case and when society could guarantee economic freedom to all/

HERBERT SPENCER accepted the doctrine that each individual had the right to preserve himself. Indeed, he saw in nature a struggle in which the fittest survived and the less fit perished. Thus, men must be free to struggle and prove their fitness to survive. But, the survival of the fittest among human individuals depends, he argued, upon group life. Isolated from his fellows, even the fittest of men would perish. Therefore society is essential. This necessitates a course of activity in which each individual is restricted by the rights of others.

One may do what he wills in this struggle, but he must not violate the freedom of others. Everyone has the right to act to a certain limit, but no further. However, Spencer would not accept the socialistic thesis of Mill. For him, the state is greatly restricted. Its chief functions are to prevent internal aggression and to protect its members from foreign invasion. Beyond this it cannot go. To own the raw materials of the world and distribute them for the good of all was not a function of the state, to his thinking. In this direction he saw only danger, the danger of complete state control and the inevitable suppression of the individual. Competition among the members of society was to be permitted and encouraged. He believed that society, and the welfare of each individual, was better served by the establishment of as few restrictions upon competition as possible. In this, Spencer was an advocate of the laissez-faire theory. The best life, he taught, was one lived with only a minimum of regulation by the state.

Nietzsche’s Conception of the State:-

FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE had no use for equality or anything that suggested democracy. The will to power is his dominant idea. In the struggle of the universe, this will to power is expressed; and the most powerful wins and has the right to win. If others are weaker and are unable to survive, that is good. The weak should be destroyed anyhow to make room for the strong. He recognizes differences among men and believes that these differences should be magnified.

The more powerful should rule, and the weaker should be ruled. Slavery seems perfectly natural to him; and he feels that women, being weaker than men, cannot be expected to have the same rights as men. Thus, he repudiates all that has been held by that long line of philosophers whose constant theme has been the equality of all men and the right of all to share equally in the goods of society. For Nietzsche, society is merely a field in which the strong have a chance to demonstrate their strength and win their rewards, while the weak are defeated and dragged from the arena to be disposed of completely. Since inequality is characteristic of nature and the natural state of man, it is unnatural to replace it with a forced equality.

The Views of Dewey and Recent Thinkers:-

JOHN DEWEY has shown at all times a strong interest in society and its problems. He constantly attempts to interpret the modern democratic point of view, to reveal its implications, and to forecast its future. He thinks of society, at its best, as a group of individuals sharing their experiences and growing through this sharing. The individual is to be free, but this freedom is not to be that of the older tradition.

As the individual becomes a true member of society he is incorporated into the group in such a way that he can contribute to the welfare of the whole and receive from the whole that which makes him truly human. At all times Dewey recognizes the importance of the individual. He holds that no one should ever be treated as an instrument, as a means to some goal that is not his. Rather, each one should be treated as an end in himself. “Respect for human personality is the chief doctrine of his philosophy.

This is, perhaps, the only absolute known to Dewey and his school of thought Man, Dewey holds, is man because he lives in society. To the extent that his activities in the group lead on to richer and more rewarding activities for him and for all members of the group, he is acting wisely and truly. Society, group life, is the way to this complete and full life since here mutual sharing is possible.

Thus, we may say that two points of view are basic to the great mass of recent writing which deals with matters of the state. On the one hand are those who follow more or less completely the lead of men from Plato to Nietzsche and hold that inequality is the natural state of man. This being the case, each member of the state must take his proper place in the social structure. It is perfectly right and natural, these men argue, that some should be rulers and others should be ruled, and the ruled should not question the acts of the rulers.

Such writers spurn democracy, socialism, and all other systems of human equality and freedom. Plato saw democracy as the open door to anarchy. He would have the philosopher-king rule, and all others take their places in a tightly organized system.

Hegel carried this idea one step further when he held that certain states or groups of individuals were by nature superior to others and therefore should rule them. This, of course, is the basic point of view of all totalitarian systems of government.

Opposed to this entire trend is the democratic tradition which grew out of the Renaissance and came to fruition in the work of men like Locke, Rousseau, and their followers. It holds that all men are by nature free and equal/ This position is basic to the French Revolution and the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

It affirms that there are certain rights with which all men are endowed by their Creator, and which cannot be taken away from them under any conditions. These rights have been listed in many ways, chief of which is “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’* This position led to the influential doctrine of laissez faire, a doctrine which characterized the early years of development in the United States. It limited the authority of the state and magnified the freedom of the individual to work and hold the rewards of his work.

Today philosophers are seeking to discover a balance between these two positions. Complete freedom leads to a crass individualism in which the powerful oppress the weak. Complete regulation leads to the same end, but the oppressors are those who happen to gain control of the government. Dewey—and many modern thinkers agree in this— seeks a freedom within the social group by which both the individual and the group will prosper. A great many of the social experiments of the present are in this direction, seeking to balance individual interests and group interests in such a way that both will be served and neither sacrificed to the other.

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