tiistai 9. elokuuta 2016

James Mackintosh: Discourse on the Study of Law of Nature and Nations (1802)


Law of nature and nations (or in Latin, ius natura et gentium) is something I have had more occasion to deal with in my German Idealism blog, as the topic was one interesting many pre-Kantian philosophers in Germany. Indeed, Mackintosh himself mentions Christian Wolff as one of his predecessors, although he doesn't have much to say about him – Wolff is mostly, he says, just a follower of Samuel Pufendorff.

Mackintosh's short essay is not meant to be more than an introduction to his lectures on the topic. Thus, he is not able to give more than a history and an outline of the issues involved in law of nature. Even the short history is of a philosophical interest. Mackintosh states that most of what he would present in his lectures is not novel, and indeed, much of it has been revealed by ancient philosophers, like Aristotle and Cicero.

Yet, what modern philosophers have been able to add to these ancient truths is justification. While Aristotle had merely accepted some moral certainties, modern philosophers have at least tried to base them something else. This foundational ground of law of nature, according to Mackintosh, is metaphysics, by which he apparently means study of human nature. We don't have Mackintosh's actual account of human nature, but his general idea accords with the strategy held by previous theories of law of nature – what humans should do is based on an account of the supposedly fixed and immutable essence or nature of humanity, which thus gives infallible knowledge on the best of humanity.

Indeed, we can at once see that this emphasis on the metaphysical grounding of ethics is meant to work as a sort of defense of traditional morality. Mackintosh especially picks out two institutions that had become an object of criticism lately: marriage and private property. These two instances form a clear example of the problems the idea of an immutable law of nature would face these days. Mackintoch admits that property and marriage are institutions with a history, still, he wants to say there's a clear standard according to which the most modern forms of these institutions are better than the earlier forms. Furthermore, he goes even so far as to suggest that particularly with marriage, no further development is possible, because the development in the equality of men and women has a natural limit – Mackintosh is here clearly supposing that these two genders again have some natural essence that cannot be breached. What Mackintosh does not answer in this short introductory essay is the question whether humanity might not be historically determined species, that is, that there might be no immutable essence of humanity, at least not in a strong sense required for basing a universal system of morality.

Moving on from private ethics to public politics, Mackintosh immediately speaks against the fiction of an original social contract, which he deems leads either to highest despotism (in Hobbes) or to highest anarchy (in Rousseau). Instead, he returns to the Aristotelian notion of humans as essentially social animals – human beings have always existed in some type of communities. By this method, Mackintosh can outright assume that humans have mutual obligations toward one another. He also clearly favours the conservative notion of a slow development of communities and their constitutions and denies the possibility of making up a good constitution in a fortnight. Yet, his ideal of a state is not medieval, such as we've seen with some French conservative thinkers. Instead, Mackintosch thinks that the purpose of state is to guarantee the liberty of citizens, that is, making them free of all disturbances, including those instilled by governors. It is then no wonder that Mackintosh especially congratulates the English constitution.

We might find it strange that an account of ethics and internal politics should be combined with an account of what we would call international affairs and what Mackintosh still calls law of nations (he does know the word ”international”, which had been recently coined). Yet, in a sense this does make sense – nations could be regarded as individuals, and indeed, they usually were represented by individuals or monarchs at the time of Mackintosh. We don't get much information on what Mackintosh would have lectured about the international law, but he appears to believe that all intercourse between nations presupposes some general rules. Still, he does admit that one can again develop the international affairs, especially through diplomatic pacts, and he seems to believe current Europe to be the highest point in the history of international affairs.

torstai 4. elokuuta 2016

Thomas Robert Malthus: An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798)


Out of all figures I’ve thus far investigated in my blog, Malthus appears most current. Population of the world has been rising almost exponentially during the last century, and especially the Third World has suffered from this. When a superpower like China has felt forced to use such drastic measures as their former one-child-only policy, we can truly speak of a global issue.

Behind Malthus’s work lies a simple consideration. He notes that without any restraints, population would rise in a geometrical progression – if a family would have in average, say, three children, the children of this average family would have around nine children, these children would then produce 27 children and so on. This is of course a very rough estimate, but we can accept at least that the rate of reproduction would be quite high.

Now, Malthus noticed that population of his time did not show as great tendency of continuous growth, although such leaps might happen sporadically. The natural conclusion was that something restrained this growth. Malthus surmised quite naturally that it was the limited number of resources and especially food, which constrained continuous population growth. True, more people could produce more food, but the growth happened, Malthus stated, only in arithmetical progression. Malthus really had no reason to suppose that the food supply would grow in arithmetical progression, but the important point was more that the growth of food production would eventually fall greatly short of the growth of population.

What is especially interesting in Malthus’s account is his idea of the actual mechanics by which the limitedness of food supplies affects the population growth. One means Malthus indicates is misery. If there are more mouths to feed, but not that much more food to give them, people will not get as much to eat as earlier. This leads to malnutrition, diseases and ailments caused by it, and in the most extreme case, to starvation. After a while, the population will have lowered to a level, when the worst effects of misery subside – and the population starts to grow again in the more favourable conditions.

Malthus’s view of this cycle of hunger and reproduction battling one another is quite bleak, but what to do, he says, it is just a law of nature (a common excuse from people who notice a problem, but won’t do anything about it). Indeed, Malthus goes at some point even so far as to suggest that any attempt of a society to regulate this cycle is doomed to failure – if you try to give the poor something to eat, they’ll just reproduce even more and the problem is created anew. With the optimism of an English clergyman, Malthus supposes that it is all just God’s plan to awaken some moral sense in humans – when we see suffering around us, we’ll start to feel pity – and that all will be made better in the afterlife.

Malthus’s conservative stance is especially striking in his attitude toward the second check of population growth. Malthus calls this check vice, but it is pretty evident he is especially thinking of all sorts of sexual acts that do not lead to reproduction. One might think allowing this sort of “vice” would be at least a partial answer to Malthusian problematic. Indeed, it has usually been the drive for sexual pleasure and not the more ephemeral drive for reproduction that has led to unrestricted population growth – people who desire children of their own tend to desire them in some limited amount, while the desire for sexual pleasure might well exceed any assigned limits. At least we can be happy that Malthus accepts the latter need as a fact of human nature and quickly crushes all hopes of humankind ever getting rid of sexual needs. Indeed, he even quite beautifully describes an ideal marriage as a state in which highest sensual gratification is combined with social virtues, like companionship.

In a later edition Malthus introduced a third check of population growth, and this time one he regarded positively: a custom that people (and especially men) should not marry, before they have the means to provide for their family. Firstly, we might notice that Malthus never imagined this as a law, although he suggested government might give a negative incitement for it by not giving charities to poor families with lot of children. Indeed, this suggested custom is another aspect of Malthus’s idea that this world has been given to us as a place for moral growth – what better way to show one’s morality than to silence one’s desires until one can care for all their consequences?

Furthermore, Malthus’s old-fashioned morals appear in this suggestion even more prominently. Surely one can have children even out of wedlock, but this is something Malthus condemns forcefully. What is even more disturbing is the indication that marriage is a state in which reproduction is an unavoidable fact, and in a sense, even a duty. Indeed, Malthus’s view can be understood only if the person with the most to lose in child rearing – the woman, who will carry all the babies – has an obligation to always accept his husband’s wish for an intercourse. One just has to wonder what Malthus would have thought of families actually planning when and even whether to have children.

tiistai 2. elokuuta 2016

Louis Gabriel Ambroise de Bonald – Theory of political and religious power in civil society demonstrated by reasoning and history (1796)


We've looked at few examples of liberal political thinkers, who have believed in the possibility to consciously and rationally plan the human societies and thus make further progress in human condition. One result of French Revolution was the emergence of an ideology opposed to such liberal philosophies – one that aimed for restoration and conservation of traditional societies. One example of this conservative ideology was de Bonald's Theorie du Pouvoir Politique et Religieux dans la Societe Civile Demontree par le Raisonnement et l'Histoire.

De Bonald's idea of a good society is based on his notion of human beings as essentially dual persons, with intertwined physical and mental or spiritual aspects. Thus, he divides human societies into two kinds: political, in which the physical aspect preponderates, and religious, in which spiritual aspect preponderates. Although these societies have their differences, because they serve essentially different ends, more interesting are the analogies and similarities de Bonald finds between the two societies.

The first important element in de Bonald's view of societies in general is that he believes societies to naturally incline to some necessary, lawful customs. These customs might vary from one society to another, just because the people in these societies are different (de Bonald appears to suggest that this difference is more due to heritage than environment of the people). The customs or laws represent the true universal will of that society – they are not willed by the collection of the individual persons, but in a sense, by the organic unity formed by the interaction of these persons.

The purpose of both political and religious powers is then to conserve these natural laws, de Bonald says. In essence, no progress is required, once the society has found its natural course, and all that is required is that the conservation should happen as efficiently as possible. This requires then that the conserving force of the society must be as great as possible and embodied in one individual: pope, in the case of religious society (or actually God, but even he must have a single representative on worldly plane), and monarch, in the case of political society.

Of course, this monarchic constitution is not meant to be despotism based on mere whims of one person – monarch does not so much make laws that suit him, but just defends existing laws. He does need executive power to effect his role and thus arises the need for various people that help the monarch (priests in case of religious society and nobility in case of political society). Hence, de Bonald explains the necessity of the two estates, while the third estate seems to him a mere afterthought and not an essential requirement of a good society.

It is then no wonder that it is the medieval France which de Bonald holds to be an epitome of a good society. He is quite certain that monarchic France has never really aimed at anything else, but preserving status quo both internally and externally – the only exception he accepts is Louis XIV, although even he could only round French territory with few natural additions. It appears de Bonald has completely forgotten that kings of France had over the centuries engaged in various internal and external conflicts, stealing power from the nobles of their own land, attempting to conquer territories in Europe and in other continents and even attacking the pope, leader of the faith they supposedly also protected.

In contrast to monarchic France, the ideal of all liberals or the constitution of England is seen in an ambiguous light. De Bonald suggests that while usually in monarchies powers cannot and shouldn't be divided, England makes an exception, because it is not an organic unity, but a combination of two societies. One of them is a regular monarchy, while the other is a society of commerce, represented by the parliament. De Bonald is quick to point out that this combination is quite volatile – economical progress makes conserving the traditional feudalistic society difficult.

The worst kind of society in de Bonald's eyes is one that is set up not on any necessary laws, but on arbitrary decisions of individuals – no matter whether of a single individual (in despotism) or of a supposed combination of all individuals (in republic). De Bonald insists especially that a mere vote is not sufficient for finding out Rousseau's ”general will”. The biggest problem for de Bonald is that republic can never really take into account will of every individual, but its decisions always represent the interests of only one faction. In a somewhat tendentious fashion, de Bonald suggests that republics have a habit of starting wars with other countries, that internally they are in danger of slipping into pure anarchy and that from a religious aspect they fall to atheism.