Social and Natural Environments Compared Quickly

When your correspondent studied philosophy, he thought about philosophers in dialectic pairs, which is itself somewhat philosophical. The form the dialectic concerned the cleavage between the social and natural environments. Politics and political philosophy naturally concern the social environment, the natural is of crucial importance if somewhat less directly so. When thinking about Baruch Spinoza, John Locke came to mind because they were both born in 1632. While Spinoza focused on the natural science, Locke focused on social contract theory and his work informed America’s founding. Locke believed the human mind was a “blank slate,” a tabula rasa, which points towards a common philosophical failing: a tendency to ignore history and nature, the fact that some phenomena of interest are able to be influenced only to a limited extent by human forces.

Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel are inexorably linked as Hegel is Kant’s student. Hegel stressed the natural environment, while Kant stressed the social. Kant’s contributions were largely derived from introspection rather than measurement, so there were largely normative rather than positive. He believed in the primacy of human thought, wrote about perpetual peace, and was an idealist.

Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill are similarly paired. While Tocqueville so relied on observation that some question whether he is even a philosopher, John Stuart Mill was raised as an intellectual project by Jeremy Bentham and James Mill. Bentham is the founder of utilitarianism, the fundamental axiom of which is the greatest good for the greatest number. Your correspondent studied Bentham in a course on British history and found his concepts so simplistic that he assumed they were being presented as a historical curio. Imagine his surprise when he discovered some modern philosophers still studied him seriously. Bentham was mummified and his remains can be found in the form of an auto-icon that resides at University College London.  Mill’s upbringing led him to believe that debating everything is good because it informs the populace and helps them to learn. This seems correct philosophically and academically, but the real world is not a seminar.

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