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Now that the semester is coming to a close students are stressing out about what grades they are going to receive and many have started making excuses for why they did not get the grade they were aiming for. A majority of these excuses revolve around the professor; for example, “he/she grades too hard,” or, “it is impossible to get an A in his/her class.” If students are complaining about the professors they have now, imagine the amount of complaints there would be if some of the philosophers we have studied in this class were professors and they ran their classroom like they thought that political systems should be run—that would give students something to complain about; especially if Hobbes, Burke, or Rousseau were their professors.

If Hobbes was a professor, students would legitimately never know what grade to expect. His political theory was that of an absolute sovereignty where whatever the sovereign does is justified because “every subject is author of every act the sovereign doth” (Hobbes 190). By enrolling into his class students would be entering into a social contract with him, thereby establishing him as their sovereign. He could grade however he wanted because his sovereignty would be absolute. If he wanted to fail the brightest student and give an A to the student who failed every assignment, there would be nothing anybody could do about it. The only time the students could resist his authority is if he put them in a situation where their life was in danger.

If Burke was a professor, his class would be extremely difficult. In his “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” he makes clear his belief that only “distinguished magistrates” and exemplary people should be ambitious because ambition is plausible only for them (Burke 507). He thinks that ambition shouldn’t be exercised by the “swinish multitude” because the “swinish multitude” can only ever be “swinish multitude”—nothing more, but possibly less (Burke 517). If the “swinish multitude” tries to be ambitious the only result is disappointment, or a fiasco like the French Revolution. Applying this idea to his classroom, only the few students that come from distinguished families or perform exceptionally well would pass his class. He would fail all the rest of the students to save them from the disappointment that would result from their own ambition.

Rousseau’s class would also be very difficult to excel in because in order to do well, one would have to be concerned solely for the proficiency of the class as a whole rather than concerned about being one of the best students in the class. In his treatise, “On the Social Contract,” he supported the idea that civil society can exist peacefully only when “each of us places his person and his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will and as one we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole” (Rousseau 432). Rousseau says that the “general will” is not the wants of each individual but rather the common good of society as a whole; what is good for one person is not necessarily beneficial for society as a whole (Rousseau 437). Political systems become corrupt when people develop vanity and egocentrism. Therefore, to get an A in Rousseau’s class, students would have to be concerned more for the knowledge of the class as a whole rather than their own specific grade. If students care only about their grade and being better than all the other students, Rousseau would fail them because those actions are vain and egocentric and do not benefit the classroom as a whole. I think it would be hard to be in a class like this because it is difficult to put others before ones own self, especially when it comes to competing for grades.

Having Hobbes, Burke, or Rousseau as a professor would be a one of a kind experience that would (for once) justify excuses for a disappointing grade.

Citations

Burke, Edmund. “Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. By David Wootton. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company Inc., 2008. 502-21. Print.

Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan.”Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. By David Wootton. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company Inc., 2008. 116-277. Print.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “On the Social Contract, or Principles of Political Right.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. By David Wootton. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company Inc., 2008. 427-87. Print.

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How Sexism Hurts Men

It is hard to walk on a college campus or surf Facebook without hearing a guy making a sexist joke.  The most common utterance: “Make me a sandwich, woman”. (By the way, from the first 5 seasons of Top Chef, a cooking competition, 4 of the winners have been male. Maybe the men should be making the sandwiches.)  Since the time that has marked a distinction between male and female, men have been the hunters, women the gatherers, men the breadwinners, and women the bread bakers. In the past, women were degraded to a status that did not allow them to voice their own opinions and be taken seriously, with the exception of a small number of extraordinary women.  In the United States today, women are treated with more equality, but as is made evident by the sexist jokes, there are still ideas of bigotry looming in society.  Don’t men know that sexism has and only will continue to hurt them?

John Stuart Mill said, “But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race…” (Mill, On Liberty, 600)  This makes sense.  Even wrong opinions are useful, contain some amount of factuality, or at the very least, exemplify how not to act, as long as they do not inflict harm on others.  Wrong opinions can also later be proved true or beneficial.  For example, Martin Luther King Jr. broke many laws in his pursuit of equality for African Americans.  Numerous people believed his opinions were wrong, yet today many can see that he still aided in creating a better society.  Imagine the benefits today’s society could have gained if women around the world were not restrained from voicing their opinions for many centuries. From a utilitarian standpoint, the larger the number of people who express their views, including women, the greater the benefit for the most people. 
While a vast majority of opinions are useful, Mill thinks there are a number that are unacceptable because they place harm on others. (Mill, On Liberty, 620)  However, the discussion of what exactly constitutes harm would be a whole other blog post.  For my purposes, harm is physical or mental damage. (Merriam-Webster) Since women’s opinions were suppressed in the past, what proof is there that demonstrates women’s opinions are harmful to others?  The evidence proving a woman’s views are harmful is surely not enough to suppress a whole gender’s worth of opinions and deem them useless.  Nevertheless, there are always going to be women and men whose opinions will cause harm to others and are ineffectual.
It was not until August 26, 1920, that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was signed into law in the United States giving women the right to vote. (Ann-Marie Imbornoni)  This means there were decades of oppression of women’s political opinions before this date.  “The majority of women of any class are not likely to differ in political opinion from the majority of the men of the same class…” (Mill, The Subjection of Women, 679)  If this is true, then why wouldn’t men want women to vote?  Men, obviously—well hopefully—vote in an election for the candidate they want to win.  Allowing women to vote would probably double the votes for a particular candidate, making a large number of men happy.  The delay in women’s suffrage turns out to be a possible hindrance to males’ political advances.
“In politics, again, it is almost commonplace, that a party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform, are both necessary elements of a healthy state…” (Mill, On Liberty, 616)  In this case, a healthy state can be thought of as a healthy relationship among its citizens.  If only one party was allowed to express their opinions, this “healthy state” could end in turmoil and suppress many of its citizens.  The same can be said when it comes to men’s versus women’s opinions.  In the past, (and for some still today) the relationship among men and women could be compared to a dictatorship.  With women’s opinions being ignored, the dynamic between males and females could hardly be called “healthy”.  If women had been able to express their views, it might have made for a healthier society or “state” and more respect among all citizens, not just men.
It is also necessary to mention the women who fought against the control placed on them by men and were able to share their advantageous opinions. “But it is quite certain that a woman can be a Queen Elizabeth, or a Deborah, or a Joan of Arc, since this is not inference, but fact”. (Mill, The Subjection of Women, 679)  Countless women were suppressed by male superiority based on belief, not evidence.  These false beliefs have resulted in a lot of what ifs.  If women had always been able to express their opinions, might we have more Queen Elizabeths or say Oprahs?

Regardless of your personal opinions about feminism or sexism, it is clear that women’s opinions have proved to be just as valuable as men’s in more recent times.  While I would not say women are at the same level as men just yet, American society has made huge strides when it comes to equality.  Sexism looks to be more a thing of the past than the future, which is good because men do not seem to realize that it has been hurting them for all these years.

Works Cited

Modern Political Thought. Edited, with Introductions. by David Wooton.  Mill pages 600, 616, 620, 679.

http://www.businessinsider.com/top-chef-winners-where-are-they-now-2009-2

http://www.infoplease.com/spot/womenstimeline1.html

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/harm

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Recently in one of my classes, we read an article about vocational education written by Mike Rose, a professor in the School of Education at UCLA, entitled “I Just Wanna Be Average.” Through many first hand experiences, Rose explains how vocational education institutions do not encourage their students to be ambitious. When reading this article, I thought of Burke and how he would love the standards vocational education schools hold for their students because he also did not encourage ambition.

The main point of Rose’s article is that people can only float to, and not surpass, the mark that is set for them and that vocational education systems set the bar very low. Rose tells the story about how he tested into the vocational track of high school where he was not encouraged to succeed. In this poor learning environment, he “did what he had to do to get by, and did it with half a mind” (Rose 177). The article is composed of many anecdotes about the poor learning environment in a vocational education school. For example, one day in class the teacher asked one of the students their opinion about working hard and doing the best that one can do to achieve great things; the boy answered, “I just wanna be average” (Rose 178). The students in this education system were being taught to be content with mediocrity and to not even try to become something they might have once dreamed of being.

Burke would highly support an education system like the one Rose attended. In his “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” Burke expresses his belief that ambition is impractical; some people are naturally born unequal to others and unless they are an exceptional person (like himself and Rose) then they can’t change. According to Burke, ambition only applies to people like “distinguished magistrates,” and there are a limited amount of those exemplary people (Burke 507). Burke says that people need to be “taught to seek and recognize the happiness that is to be found by virtue in all conditions; in which consists the true moral equality of mankind” (Burke 504). In this statement he basically says that people need to be satisfied with what they are given and if they aren’t then they should be taught to be. He also says that “inspiring false ideas and vain expectations into men destined to travel in the obscure walk of laborious life, serves only to aggravate and embitter that real inequality which it can never remove” (Burke 505). Burke implies that regardless of ambition most people are destined to fail in their endeavors.

The education system that Mike Rose was enrolled in put into action what Burke believed. Burke thinks that ambition doesn’t apply to the average person so it shouldn’t be encouraged, and the students in the system that Rose attended were not encouraged. The system had very low expectations for its students, so the students could only rise to a certain mark and (with the exception of Rose) no further. Even if they wanted to surpass the low standard, they were at a loss of where to start. The students eventually took on the mindset that being average is fine. Burke would admire people like the boy who said “I just wanna be average,” and would encourage more people to think like that. He would give two thumbs up, three if he could, to vocational education standards.

When reading this article, I was not only struck by the similarities between vocational education standards and Burke’s ideas, but I also realized how I disagree with both of them. People can aspire to be anything that they set their mind to and they should not be discouraged in their efforts. Like Mill, I believe that autonomy should be encouraged. Although Mill believes, like Burke, that some people are smarter than others, he also believes that people learn something from the experience of failing.

Works Cited

Burke, Edmund. “Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France.” Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. By David Wootton. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett publishing Company Inc., 2008. 502-21. Print.

Rose, Mike. “I Just Wanna Be Average.” Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing. By Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen, and Bonnie Lisle. 7th ed. Bedford Books, 2007. 174-85. Print.

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Kant defines enlightenment as “man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity”. (Page 522)  This means using your own reason to make decisions and not being influenced by others.  People should practice autonomy, not paternalism.  To go about this, citizens should do research and make judgments for themselves.    People are allowed to discuss others’ opinions and think about them, but should ultimately use their own convictions to make every decision.  This idea of enlightenment is often encouraged in the American government, yet many do not practice their rights.  It is becoming increasingly important for people to use reason when making decisions, yet some groups of citizens are denied the resources to achieve this.  Whether by their own actions or those forced upon them, most Americans are far from enlightened.

American Presidential candidates begin campaigning months and months before the actual election.  This is the perfect opportunity for citizens to act in an enlightened manner.  Candidates present all of their positions on major topics and give their negative feedback on the others in the running.  All of this information is easily found on the internet and television; it is essentially handed out on a silver platter.  The state is providing the populace with a way to be autonomous without the state being paternalistic itself.  With all of these resources available, people still don’t use reason when stepping into the voting booth.  Numerous young voters mark the ballot with the candidate who best reflects what their parents hold as valuable or what they learned in church.  People who make decisions in this manner are essentially asking others to act paternalistically. Kant would be rolling in his grave if he heard of this happening.  Another hindrance to the populace becoming enlightened is the system of an Electoral College.  Many people do not find the significance of voting since their vote cannot directly elect the President and therefore, do not take the time to educate themselves about candidates and current issues. 

            There are many resources in society that make it easy to be enlightened on certain issues, yet there are groups of people who are left out.  In the United States, Amendments to the Constitution eliminate the possibility of marginalization in voting.   However, impoverished children are not always given the same education as middle and above classes.  They often cannot buy books and other school materials and states frequently do not provide enough funding for adequate resources.  Outside of the United States, many people in third world countries are denied the right to participate in the education system at all because of their poverty or even because of their sex.   All of these factors contribute to a less enlightened society.

            The way the internet has taken over the world allows for people to obtain information at a much faster rate than ever before.  Yet, citizens still chose to allow others to make decisions for them.  On the other hand, many marginalized groups, such as the impoverished are denied the resources to enlighten themselves.  In one way, the government encourages citizens to form opinions and do research, and in another, it denies certain citizens from being educated.  At this point, America is nowhere near the smallest bit of enlightenment.

 

Modern Political Thought. Edited with Introductions by David Wooton. Kant page 522.

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As a student athlete throughout my high school tenure, I would always hear coaches mutter the phrase, “This is not a democracy, this is a dictatorship!” It would always come after some comment from a player about why we do this or that, maybe a suggestion, and even sometimes, heated moments between the player and the coach. Much unlike a democratic leader, Thomas Hobbes’ sovereign leader was a single ruler who all obeyed. In hindsight though, are athletic teams really run without democracy? Does the coach hold a position much like that of Hobbes’ sovereign? A sovereign leader in sports has been proven to work the best.

Widely regarded as the greatest coach of all time, Vince Lombardi has been known for his hard-nosed, anything-to-win mentality. If any one coach were considered to be an absolute sovereign, many could argue that he be just that. It was Coach Lombardi that once said, “The leader can never close the gap between himself and the group. If he does, he is no longer what he must be. He must walk a tightrope between the consent he must win and the control he must exert” (Vince Lombardi Quotes). This speaks so closely to many of the things that we have learned about being the sovereign. As Professor LaVaque-Manty brought up in lecture, Hobbes’ sovereign is “absolute and indivisible” (LaVaque-Manty). Much like what Vince Lombardi brought to his teams, Lombardi made sure that the gap between him and his players were much the same, making sure to never let the team or his power, be divided. The sovereign’s power is also “nonforfeitable and unimpeachable,” (LaVaque-Manty) which many coaches modeling Lombardi’s ways try to maintain. Coaches are in total control of the team and no one within that team is going to challenge his/her power, much like the sovereign with its people.

Hobbes defines the sovereign at the end of Ch. 17 as

“one person, of whose acts a great multitude, by mutual covenants one with another, have made themselves every one the author, to the end he may use the strength and means of them all, as he shall think expedient, for their peace and common defence” (Hobbes).

Basically, a sovereign authority leads a society, in which all individuals in that society cede their natural rights for the sake of protection. If a good coach were not to act strictly to that description, then he is not a good coach at all. Coaches should act with ‘great multitude’ and use the strength of the individuals on their team to make peace among them and defend the team. Coaches like Lombardi, Bear Bryant, Dean Smith, etc. have never put the individual ahead of the team and because of that, they were able to do what was best for their respective teams: win.

All teams, and especially the successful ones, have had a good leader at the helm. It has rarely ever been the case where a winning coach runs the team in a democratic manner. Athletic teams vary much from that of government and many of the most successful coaches have shown that democracy is no way to run a team. A coach that closely resembles that of Thomas Hobbes’ sovereign has the highest chance of leading a successful group of players.

 

Works Cited

LaVaque-Manty, Mika. “The Hobbesian Commonwealth.” Political Science 101: Intro to Political Theory. University of Michigan. Aud. B Angell, Ann Arbor. 12 Oct 2009. Lecture.

“Vince Lombardi Quotes.” Brainy Quote. 1009. Brainymedia, Web. 18 Nov 2009. <http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/v/vince_lombardi.html&gt;.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. 1651. 123-302. Print.

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Throughout history, disasters have tended to bring people together and cause a feeling of community between people who normally wouldn’t say two words to each other.  However, there is one kind of disaster that does the opposite and actually mimics Hobbes’ idea of a state of nature: epidemic.

In Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, a major plague strikes Athens during the war killing 1/3 of the population of Athens.  Thucydides explains how the citizens began to give up hope and trust in the oracles.  He also says unaffected people were afraid to visit the sick who in turn, “died with no one to look after them.” (Thucydides 154)  These conditions clearly mimic Hobbes’ idea of state of nature.  People abandoning all beliefs and being concerned with nothing but their own preservation is indicative of the true nature of humans.  There were some people who were exceptions to this and helped out the sick with no concern for their safety, but a vast majority of the populace was merely concerned with their own health.  Thucydides also comments on the chaos brought upon by the plague saying that it caused, “the beginnings of a state of unprecedented lawlessness.” (Thucydides 155)  Instead of the cooperation of people, citizens were committing crimes with no fear of sentencing because of looming death and acting with no regards to the law. 

In Rebecca Solnit’s “The Uses of Disaster”, she says that the interruption caused by disaster can, “provide a satisfaction so profound it transcends even disaster’s devastation.” (Solnit, 32)  Generally people do not feel satisfied or a sense of community during or in the aftermath of a plague.  Most of the time, people are avoiding each other in order to not get sick. During an epidemic, people become less concerned about their neighbors’ safety and more concerned with their own well-being.  Solnit also talks about how large groups of people come together to help the victims of a major disaster.  This is the opposite of what would happen in the event of an epidemic.  The coming together of a large amount of people would most likely make the disease spread faster and to more victims.  Ailing people are actually encouraged to stay away from others in order to keep the disaster to a minimum.

On campus today, it is easy to see the affects of a pandemic on society.  When students are spotted with medical facemasks, others make sure to steer clear for fear of catching the H1N1 flu.  We are more concerned with not getting sick ourselves than helping sick individuals.  The affects of H1N1 on campus are a very small-scale example of the conditions an epidemic would cause on society.  Students aren’t running around the street breaking laws and giving up their beliefs but there is a definite attitude change as to how willing they are to help others.

Most large-scale disasters cause people to join together and form communities to help others.  Epidemics and plagues work in the opposite way causing people to separate from one another and revert back to a small-scale Hobessian state of nature.

Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. Trans. Rex Warner. Introduction and Notes by M. I. Finley. New York: Penguin Books, 1972.

Solnit, Rebecca. “The Uses of Disaster: Notes on bad weather and good government.” Harper’s Magazine October 2005. 31-37

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Rousseau defines inequality in two parts: natural and social. Natural inequalities are the differences of “age, health, bodily strength, and qualities of mind or soul” (Wootton 379). Social inequalities are “the different privileges enjoyed by some at the expense of others, such as being richer, more honored, more powerful than they, or even causing themselves to be obeyed by them” (Wootton 379). Furthermore, he believes that natural inequalities are the basis of social inequalities and that social inequalities are justified so long as they reflect natural inequalities.

Throughout part one of his discourse he logically explains the relevance of natural inequalities to social inequalities. Basically he argues that the smarter man will be more successful and powerful than the less intelligent, and that the more intelligent man will be more respected than a less intelligent man. Therefore, the more intelligent man will be socially unequal to the less intelligent man. Usually the more intelligent, or richer, etc. will be in a higher social class. This social class is created from the natural inequalities of man; his conception is quite clear.

Although his logic is clear, his view on natural inequalities is skewed when it comes to women. Rousseau has a rather poor view of women. Throughout his discourse he talks strictly about men. The only time he mentions something about women he says that they “are the sex that ought to obey” (Wootton 392). Basically he is calling women naturally insufficient. Following his theory which claims that natural inequalities are the root to social inequalities, one can determine that women are socially unequal. It can be agreed upon that women are socially unequal both in the sense of his theory and with all the issues of discrimination that women are currently exposed to. If we agree that Rousseau’s theory is correct then we arrive at the conclusion that women must be naturally disadvantaged. However, one can prove that women really are not as naturally insufficient and unequal to men as Rousseau seems to think, and I believe that he knows it too.

First of all, Rousseau’s claim that women are naturally less sufficient than men in the primitive state of nature is contradictory. By saying this, he is implying that women should not have survived the state of nature. That doesn’t make sense since women obviously did; if they didn’t then women would currently be extinct. Furthermore, a simple conversation of the birds and the bees proves that men could not exist without women. Rousseau clearly understands that men need women in order to survive by saying that humans have a “general desire to unite with each other” (Wootton 392). It can be assumed that Rousseau was smart enough to know that fundamental fact. Therefore we can conclude that Rousseau actually doesn’t believe what he wrote about women in his discourse. Upon closer examination of his own statements, I think he would see that he contradicts himself. If he can come to the conclusion that men need women to survive then he can conclude that women can’t be naturally less equivalent than men.

Even if we pretend that he was so dense that he didn’t understand the concept of the birds and the bees, and that he didn’t see his contradiction, one could still prove to him that women are not as naturally unequal to men as he says. One could prove this even if nature didn’t require both male and female to reproduce. Women do have some natural advantages over men that are usually overlooked. The fact that women are naturally smaller and weaker than men can be an advantage when looking for a place to hide from predators. A big man or animal could not fit into the same small nook or cranny that a woman could. Another advantage women would have in the state of nature is that they have more body fat than men do (“Women Fitness”). More body fat means that one has more insulation, so they can survive longer in cold temperatures. Men aren’t the only ones with physical advantages.

Since we can assume that Rousseau did actually understand the details of reproduction, and that women are not as naturally inept as he proposes, one thing remains unclear—why exactly did Rousseau say that women naturally “are the sex that ought to obey” (Wootton 392) if he knew it contradicted his own theory? It is obvious that Rousseau has some bias against women and that he has incorporated that bias into his discourse. He offered no logical explanation as to why women are naturally weaker than men; all he said was that they were. Rousseau may have been a smart and respected man, but he does not have the authority to justify a poor accusation without a legitimate explanation. If we can agree with Rousseau in that fact that social inequalities stem from natural inequalities, then we can conclude that either (a) women really are at a natural disadvantage or (b) that Rousseau is biased and therefore his theory on women being naturally unequal is wrong. Clearly I believe that the correct answer is the latter. What do you think?

Citations:

“Body Fat and Women.” Women Fitness. 2009. Womenfitness.net, Web. 3 Nov 2009. .

Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2008. 371-426. Print.

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