Introduction to the Philosophers

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Introduction to the Philosophers
Philosophers deal with the most fundamental questions of life. “What is the nature of good and evil,” they ask, “or the nature of humankind?” “What is the nature of truth, or the nature of morality?” Different philosophers answer these questions differently. Some, like Locke, approach them from the standpoint of an optimistic assessment of human nature, while others, like Hobbes, are more pessimistic. Some philosophers, like Rousseau and Rawls, affirm the egalitarian principle that all people are fundamentally equal and, thus, should receive equal treatment, while others, like Plato, reject the notion of equality altogether. Of course, the general point of view taken by a philosopher will determine that philosopher’s position on any number of values. Thus, if you want to find support for or opposition to any given value, the best place to look is philosophy, since the wide variety of answers to these fundamental questions provides support for virtually every value.
Philosophers set with a pessimistic view of human nature are likely to respond negatively to such values as liberty, privacy, equality, and individualism. Philosophers with an optimistic view of human nature are likely to take the opposite point of view. Philosophers who see human nature differently are likely to reflect different views of the Social Contract. Locke, whose view of human nature is optimistic, sees the Social Contract as an agreement that maximizes individual freedom. Hobbes, whose view of human nature is pessimistic, sees the Social Contract as necessary to regulate individual conduct.
The way philosophers view human nature will have a lot to do with the values they prize. For instance, Santana primarily affirms the value of the aesthetic because according to his view of human nature, beauty is the essence of what is human. Philosophers like Kant and Rousseau place a high value on knowledge and self-actualization, because they view human beings as being primarily rational and capable of improvement. Likewise, while most philosophers have a concept of justice, that concept is determined to a large extent by their view of the essential nature of human beings and/or the world. The traditional American view of justice, informed as it is by Jefferson and Locke, sees justice as stemming from maximization of the individual. More leftist and socialist societies tend to reject the philosophy of individualism found in Locke and Jefferson. They reject any theory of justice based on protection of individual power at the expense of community. These philosophers, including Marx and to some extent Rousseau, view the human condition as one of equality. These philosophers view societies that emphasize individualism as unjust because they allow the physically, mentally, or economically strong to oppress the weak, thus violating the value of equality, which is their essential ingredient for justice.
In looking at these philosophers, you must understand that they are human beings responding to events in their own time. One of the reasons why, for example, Plato hates democracy is that he is responding to the abuses of Sophists. Locke and Rousseau oppose government power over the individual because at the time in which they lived the pendulum of history had swung in the direction of excessive government power over the individual. Their writings were a response to the evils they saw in expansive government power. The reason why it is important to place philosophers in a historical context is that while they are addressing fundamental issues, they are doing so in the context of current events.

Philosophers will offer support for a variety of values that you can use as standards or criteria for evaluation. You will be helped in your reading of philosophers if you understand each of them as being a participant in a great societal debate spanning all of human history. These philosophers, in their time, attacked the philosophers that had come before them and provided a new path. The issues we confront today in Lincoln Douglas debate are essentially founded on the same issues that have perplexed human beings throughout the ages. Thus, your arguments will be informed by these great philosophers who have been, in essence, the Lincoln Douglas debaters of yesteryear.

Deontology vs. Consequentialism
A moral theory tells you what you should do (what is right, what is good, or what you ought to do). This is an independent question from the question of what people will do or what they are likely to do. So long as what you claim should be done is possible, it is irrelevant to the moral question whether it is actually likely to be done. When we speak of something being “good” or “right,” we mean “all things considered.” For example, it is obviously good (objectively) that we defeated Hitler, but it was not good for Hitler. Something being “good” or “right” objectively is a matter of its being good for everyone (considered as a whole, not considered one by one.)
There are two ways in which you can justify a value as being the appropriate value criterion by which to judge the resolution. You can defend a value based on its ultimate worth or the consequences it produces. The ultimate worth (deontology) standard states that a value or action is good or bad in and of itself. The value is of intrinsic worth. We can determine its worth by examining the value on its face. Its worth is independent of the consequences it produces. The effects or consequences standard states that no value or action is good in and of itself. Everything should be based on the effects or consequences it produces. If a value produces desirable consequences, it is good. If it produces undesirable consequences, it is bad.
There are three ways in which the ultimate worth of something can be realized. First, some philosophers argue that all people know the rightness or wrongness of doing something by intuition. The most respected of the intuitionists is Kant. Kant argues that each individual, through his or her soul and conscience, knows right from wrong. It matters not how intelligent the person is. It is the sense of moral duty inherent in all of us which dictates how we evaluate things. Secondly, we can determine the intrinsic value of something by determining whether it is part of the natural law. The conditions of humanity which inhere in the state of nature are said to be guaranteed by natural law. Natural law principles are intrinsically valuable because they are the only principles which were present prior to the establishment of social order. Locke identifies the natural rights of humans as life, liberty, and property. Other philosophers view equality as embodies in the natural law, since in the state of nature, all people are equal, no person being superior to another. Finally, we can determine intrinsic worth through the process of reason. Rousseau and Rawls reject the notion of natural law, claiming instead that humans can, through rational thought and debate, ascertain the basic principles of justice binding on society. They agree that life and liberty are intrinsically valuable, but only because it makes sense that humans would place value in these principles.
You can attack the ultimate worth standard by indicting each of the three methods by which it is delivered. First, the process of intuition and reason cannot uncover universal principles of right and wrong. People have different values and different moral beliefs. As such, people disagree as to what is just and unjust. The process of reason is equally reliable. How can humans reason to moral principles? By definition, reason involves the objective testing of conclusions. It is impossible to objectively test someone’s conclusions about morality. There is no common frame of reference for what types of values and actions are moral. Morality is an inherently subjective concept. It is impossible to test conclusions about such a subjective and ambiguous principle. Attempting to reason value conclusions, then, is no different than the process of intuition. Humans will “reason” to very difference conclusions about the worth of values. Their conclusions cannot be scientifically judged.
Finally, the natural law principle is flawed. There is much disagreement over what principles can be drawn from the state of nature. Hobbes argues that the state of nature is chaotic and violent. Humans live only for self-preservation. Rousseau argues that intellectual thought is non-existent in the state of nature. People live only to satisfy their instinctive wants and needs. It is difficult to see life, liberty, and property as the natural conditions of humans. Further, there is no reason to believe that we should strive to retain natural law principles. The reason people established governments in the first place was to escape the state of nature. Why should we seek to emulate the conditions of an era which humans actively sought to overcome.
The consequences standard (consequentialism) states that the worth of a value can be determined only by its effects or consequences. No value is good in and of itself. And humans can never secure agreement on which principles are worthy or more worthy than others. The best method to evaluate something is to determine whether the effects is produces are desirable or undesirable. In America, we value majority rule. We value majority rule, not because of anything innately desirable about it, but because it is the system of government most likely to produce freedom and equality.
The effects or consequences standard is most often associated with utilitarian philosophers. Utilitarian philosophy states that an action is just if it produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
Bentham and Mill argue that a worthy principle or act is one which produces the most happiness (or pleasure) for the most number of people. There are not absolute principles of right and wrong. Right and wrong is determined by how much pleasure is received by how many people.
The major criticism of utilitarianism is that it treats all values as equals. Since, by definition, utilitarians reject any notion of intrinsic worth, they are forced to view all pleasure as equally valuable, regardless of how it is achieved. Seemingly immoral actions are just as long as they produce more pleasure than misery. Pleasure derived from helping a person in need is of no greater value than pleasure derived from reading a dirty book. Utilitarianism also treats each person in the same manner. No one person is viewed as more needy or more worthy of support than any other. Essentially, each person is no more than a variable in a mathematical calculation of pain and pleasure.

There is a lot of talk about “rights” in Lincoln Douglas debate. It is important that you understand what you mean when you use the word “right.” Also, demand that your opponents make clear what they mean by the word. A right is a kind of claim that you are entitled to something. Here are the major distinctions that you need to understand when talking about rights.

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