Friday, August 10, 2007

What is man?

In my last post I quoted the following lines from the feminist record for children, Free to Be ... You and Me (1972):

A person should wear what he wants to wear
And not just what other folks say
A person should do what she likes to
A person's a person that way

The last two lines are significant. They sum up the modernist philosophy that the modern West is being refashioned on.

Note that we are not just being told that we should do what we like to. We are being told that doing what we like is what makes us a person - it is what gives us our distinction as a human.

If this is the philosophy that my generation of women was reared on, it's not surprising that when a political party for Australian women was set up recently it was simply called What Women Want.

In general, I think it's striking how important the question of "What makes us human?" is to political philosophy.

The modernist approach to the question is difficult to accept. Modernists seem to think that there is a single quality, like autonomy or (more specifically) "satisfaction of individual desires", which confirms our human status.

This assumes that there are different degrees of being human, which we might or might not attain (which then sets the scene for an over-zealous quest for human equality).

If I were to consider the question of "What makes a person?", I would think more along the lines that we are varied in nature, in the sense that there is an intellectual, an emotional and an intuitive aspect to our nature; that we have basic physical appetites alongside more spiritual and creative faculties and so on.

The particular mix varies between people and doesn't make them more or less human. We remain a person no matter which of these qualities we show.

The aim, though, is generally to live by our higher nature. This means that we won't always do what we want. We might reject a passing want as being incompatible with our better nature or with what we owe to others.

When modernism was less advanced than it is today there was a greater emphasis on the cultivation of character and on the quality of the inner life (art, nature, manhood, virtue etc). The ideals of service and of loyalty were also more prominent.

It's odd to think that we are now considered distinctively a "person" simply because we do what we want to. It would seem to reduce us to the level of the average pet cat.

I believe we can do better.


  1. Since Christianity still permeates the West, there is this pervasive sense that we must improve morally. Maybe this is why everything--even the most ridiculous things--are justified as Progress. But here's the kicker: you can improve--that is, be fully, authentically human--just by doing what you want.

    That's a deal with the devil if I've ever seen one!

  2. I ask myself all too often, how can this all be reversed?

    How do we oppose the ideology of hedonistic permissivism if people generally 'think' emotionally these days?

    To reverse the trend, we need to motivate people into reacting in a way that goes against their modern emotional instincts.

    It would be easier to move the Pyramids to inches to the left, one block at a time.