A blupete Essay

Descartes, Part 4 to blupete's Essay
"The Siren's Song"

Any discussion of dualism -- a concept which one will have to comprehend before passing on to any discussion on how man might go about organizing himself and others (assuming he should bother at all) -- would have to include reference to the French mathematician and philosopher, Rene Descartes (1596-1650). It was Descartes who formulated the axiom, Cogito ergo sum, "I think therefore I exist." He was a dualist, that is to say, a man is of two natures, a spiritual nature and a temporal nature. Descartes, while he accepted some ideas were developed from experience, was steadfast in his belief that certain ideas were innate. By pure deduction Descartes evolved for himself entire universes that neither he, nor anyone else, could perceive by the use of their natural senses. All that was necessary for Descartes was intense self examination and intense reason and through this process all would be revealed. The philosophy of a socialist whether he appreciates it, or not, is Cartesian; he or she is as steadfast as Descartes in the belief that through pure reason humans can build a better world. Socialists are hardly ever discouraged by reality or are they much concerned with the true nature of man; theirs is a world they spin out of their heads, and, because they never in their schemes have to look beyond themselves, they have the pleasure of always being right.

Now, I think most everyone would agree, a stable and efficient society is important; but one should wonder about a society that will use force (legislation) to make the individual give in to the desires of those who have set themselves up as knowing what is best for everyone. Those who subscribe to such a theory, as we have seen, subscribe to Plato's theory of man. It is this theory upon which, in these times, our society rests. The theory, - so attractive in its statement - is that the community is to permit government to use persuasion and force with a view to unite all citizens and make them share together the benefits which each individually can confer on the community for the benefit of the community: it is a false theory. When, in its legislation, in its use of force, government suppresses the welfare of the individual; when its efforts are aimed to foster the attitude that one should not proceed to please oneself, government commits a fatal error in the achievement of its laudable object, the betterment of the whole. The essential problem in proceeding in this manner is that individuals cannot contribute to the whole, indeed will be a drain on the whole, unless they are allowed to be free and productive, that is to say allowed to suit themselves. Men did not evolve into robots; they did not come to possess the independent spirit, so characteristic of man, by serving others; man came to be the superior being, -- that he clearly is -- because of the exercise of free choice, free choice the essential ingredient in the evolutionary process.

Down through the ages many thinkers and writers took their cue from Plato and speculated on social reform; most of them come from relatively recent times. Humans came out of their Dark Ages and into their Renaissance during the middle part of the second millennium, but a few hundred years were yet to pass before they started to seriously address their political and social situations. The Romantic Period (as a defined period, it does not go much beyond the limits of 1800 and 1825) heralded an encompassing age which covered certainly all of the 19th century and which, in many ways, is still with us; an age, as described by John Stuart Mill[6], which is characterized by people who have become "destitute of faith" and "terrified at skepticism."


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[Essays, First Series]
[Essays, Second Series]
[Essays, Third Series]
[Essays, Fourth Series]
[Subject Index]
Peter Landry

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