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Philosophy and the Problem of Society

Prof Frederick V. Rael has been teaching for almost 18 years in various local colleges and universities in the Philippines.

Our two fictional characters sat down in an aisle while still figuring out their location. Pedro begins another topic of conversation.

Pedro: You know Juan, I have observed that many politicians in the Philippines are corrupt.

Juan: I agree. But, I think all countries have corrupt politicians.

Pedro: But, in the Philippines, there is plenty of them. There is a need to overhaul the whole system to achieve that perfect society or ideal society in our country.

Juan: Is there such a thing as an ideal society?

Pedro: I want to believe that there is.

Juan: Well, you may believe what you want, but definitely, I want to return to our country even if it is not a perfect one.

Pedro and Juan have touched another controversial philosophical issue, which is the problem of society. It is an intriguing one since every one of us wants to live in a society where all our needs are sustained. We always dream of a place where politicians are honest and the whole system works for the welfare of the people.

If you were to create a model society, how would you design it? Is it a society where the government’s power is greater than an individual’s freedom? How should resources be distributed to the people? How would you achieve a fair system? Is your model a design coming from god or an agreement of all people? Luckily for us, philosophers have created various frameworks on how society is supposed to be organized. This issue has become the tug of war between “what is” and “what ought to be” for the attainment of a liveable society.

Plato’s Ideal Society

In Plato’s world of ideas, he postulates a model of society in which there exist, three social classes, those who are born of gold (intellectuals/guardians), born of silver (soldiers/ protectors), and born of brass (artisans/slaves) (Bolarfinwa, 2011). To achieve an orderly existence, everyone must perform his/her social obligations. He also claims that man possesses a soul with three attributes, which are the reason, spirit, and desire. Every man uses one of these faculties to contribute to establishing an ideal society. Peace and order are maintained by pursuing the purpose of each individual as a guardian, a soldier, or a slave. In other words, it is either you are destined to be a leader, a soldier, or a slave, which is determined by the type of soul you possess. Plato’s model was followed during Ancient times due to its attractive features to the elite sector of society.

The Divine Right Theory

Many of us are familiar with the Divine Right Theory or the biblical perspective since it is one of the oldest explanations in the origin of society. The St. Philosophers were the ones who provided the philosophical insights and rational arguments in the existence of god and a perfect universe during the era when paganism and atheism were dominant in Europe (Gilson, 2013).

One of its strong premises is the existence of a perfectly good God. God created man in his image and with free will. As God’s creation, man is inclined to choose righteousness. It was based on Genesis 1:26 which states that" Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."

They further argue that the universe was created by a benevolent God, therefore, every creation has a divine purpose. Consequently, evil is a product of an on-going process of attaining perfection that is innate in all the things created. The universe that includes human societies is perfect and out of that perfection is the ultimate purpose of goodness. This belief has become very popular to many people all over the world especially those who adhere to the tenets of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Through God’s will, everything will come into perfection, just pray for it, as St. Philosophers advises us all.

Social Contract Theory

For those who don’t want to attribute the creation of an ideal society to a certain divine being, the principles of Social Contract Theory would be appealing. For this batch of philosophers, they believe that society is not a divine creation or a thing that only exists in Plato’s world of ideas. For Jean Jacques Rousseau, man is naturally good. Society is like the legendary Garden of Eden where there is equality among men. However, inequality started when someone shouted “this is mine” which became the basis for the concept of private property. To maintain an orderly society, all men entered into a contract and surrendered their rights to the whole community, which he called the general will or social contract. If the government fails to do its duty, we must overthrow it according to Rousseau (Erckel, 2009).

For John Locke, the state of nature is a life of reason and simplicity. Men did not need a government. Men had natural rights particularly the right to liberty, life, private property, right to judge, and punish. Through their innate rational ability, men agreed to enter into a contract to surrender the right to judge and punish. If the contract fails, Locke also advises that a violent revolution ought to be done to change the contract.

For Thomas Hobbes, the state of nature was despicable, nasty, and brutish. It was a condition of anarchy and depravity as every man was at war with everyone. To maintain peace and order and for self-preservation, men entered into a social contract. The society needed an absolute monarch or mortal god, which he called the leviathan.

The main point is that people can change the contract anytime since it is a product of the general will. If everybody agrees to the existing system, then such an agreement should be followed. However, it is a natural right to assert drastic changes if the contract is no longer working for the general welfare.

Capitalism

Adam Smith formulated the famous economic model, which is capitalism. He starts by saying that man is a naturally rational, free, and self-interested individual. Everyone, he argues, pursues their interest. Out of self-interest or the invisible hand, capitalism was born. This invisible hand is the foundation of all human activities that reinforce a capitalist economic structure. This view is manifested in his famous saying, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their self-interest (Fulcher, 2015).”

In other words, every one of us should be left alone to do our thing and should be free to accumulate private property as much as we can. The government’s role is merely for security purposes and the protection of that private interest. Thus, inequality is a result of the inability to think rationally, ineffective use of freedom, and failure to recognize the potentials of self-interest. Smith asserts that the government should allow the people to decide for their own sake and should not interfere in the workings of the invisible hand.

Communism

Karl Marx formulated an anti-thesis to capitalism, which he called communism. As a factory worker himself, Marx saw the evils of Capitalism, which he argues as oppressive and exploitative (Holmes, 2009). Although Marx agrees that man is influenced by his material condition, he is neither good nor evil. He believes that capitalism is what exists but it is not what ought to be. To satisfy the material needs of the people, the state must use force to redistribute equally the wealth and resources to the population. Individual freedom and self-interest should be limited because the government should have the authority on regulating human activities and control the mode of production for the welfare of the common good.

Marx also claims that the history of society is a struggle between the exploiters and the exploited, ruling class, and the oppressed. The oppressed has to organize themselves and engage in a violent revolution in the establishment of communism or the classless society, With its appealing arguments for the masses and the poor, Marx’s Communism has become the model of society by some countries like China (Mao’s era), Russia (Stalin and Lenin’s era), Cuba (Fidel Castro’s rule), and North Korea.

Conclusion

Pedro and Juan’s discussion about an ideal society have been a long-standing issue for the poor countries in which living a comfortable life remains to be a dream. In the Philippines, the eradication of corruption, poverty, inequality, and the achievement of an ideal society is quite elusive. Certainly, Plato’s ideal society is no longer applicable in today’s era. On the other hand, social contract theorists propose to assert our natural right to change that agreement. But, Smith suggests to us that we ought to pursue our interest instead of performing some kind of benevolent act for others. Marx would naturally advise us to participate in an armed struggle to introduce drastic changes into the system, which is ideologically convincing but realistically impossible. For most people, they just leave this philosophical issue to God and believe in the power of prayer.

References

Bolarfinwa, O. (2011). An Evaluation of Plato's Ideal State. Retrieved from,

https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=MHRssl9o3QYC&printsec=frontcover&dq=plato%27s+ideal+society&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjOlb7Z-b3rAhVqyosBHVz5BbwQ6AEwAHoECAAQAg#v=onepage&q=plato's%20ideal%20society&f=false

Gilson, E. (2013). The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. Retrieved from,

https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=Na1HkQb-P5wC&pg=PT131&dq=St.+philosophers&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwimqImc-r3rAhU-y4sBHcJWCUUQ6AEwAnoECAUQAg#v=onepage&q=St.%20philosophers&f=false

Holmes, L. (2009). Communism: A Very Short Introduction. Retrieved from,

https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=OasVDAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=communism+an+introduction&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjWneOT-73rAhWBP3AKHRm2BmYQ6AEwAXoECAMQAg#v=onepage&q=communism%20an%20introduction&f=false

Fulcher, J. (2015). Capitalism: A Very Short Introduction. Retrieved from,

https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=6JZJCAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=capitalism+an+introduction&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiZ5JnJ-73rAhUbPXAKHdI_DTUQ6AEwAHoECAAQAg#v=onepage&q=capitalism%20an%20introduction&f=false

Erckel, S. (2009). Classical Social Contract Theory. Retrieved from,

https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=7VdZNur2HkIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=social+contract+theory+an+introduction&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjxyf39-73rAhVBE4gKHQslBesQ6AEwAHoECAIQAg#v=onepage&q=social%20contract%20theory%20an%20introduction&f=false

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Frederick V Rael