Is Liberalism Obsolete? What does this question mean? What are we really trying to get at, when we ask this question? Let us take note that there are two rather expansive and indeterminate words in this question; indeterminate, because of the way the question has been asked. Namely, the words Liberalism, and obsolete.
It is out of fashion these days to begin a philosophy talk with definitions, but I cannot help but do so in this case, because otherwise you will have no idea what I am asking you to agree to in this argument.
A common line of attack on Ayn Rand, from “professional” academic philosophers, is to go after her for her defense of egoism. This has always seemed disingenuous to me. Or, at best, uncharitable. The argument goes something like this:
Ayn Rand defended selfishness as a virtue Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic did the same thing Socrates humiliated Thrasymachus in that dialogue Therefore, Ayn Rand’s defense of selfishness is obviously wrong But, anyone trained as a philosopher should be able to recognize the problems with this argument without much effort.
This is for my friends here, who wonder how it is that I can claim that Plato and Aristotle are not as diametrically opposed as the dominant narrative about them claims. The following is an extended snippet from Plato and Aristotle in Agreement? Platonists on Aristotle from Antiochus to Porphyry , by George E. Karamanolis. While the snippet isn’t a definitive refutation of their supposed opposition, it is the beginning of a sustained argument that claims to show just that.
Aristotle’s understanding of the soul is derived from his theory of substance in The Metaphysics. By way of the hylomorphic combination of body-as-matter and soul-as-form, a unique individual is generated and equipped with the capacity to act in ways that living things act. Is this theory a “middle way” between the view of living things as purely material (where life is a sort of emergent property, dependent on matter), and dualism (the view that the body is is a dependent “container” of a Platonic Form)?
In the first book of the Politics, Aristotle argues for the view that man is a ‘political animal’. To assess the claim properly, we must first understand what he means by the term, and we should understand the reasoning he uses to defend it. Thus examined, we will find his position interesting, but ultimately unsatisfactory. However, it may be possible to shore up his case.
Aristotle’s ‘political animal’ (zoon politikon) is not the creature we might expect today – a conventional construct enfranchised by legal edict and duty-bound only to his own individual happiness as a free agent in a democratic nation-state.
Socrates’ story is famous enough. Melisas accused him of corrupting the young, and worshipping gods contrary to the state. The charges were false, and thus, the subsequent conviction was unjust on its face. Yet, Socrates, committed to his principles (ostensibly), went to his grave defending the judgment on the grounds that it was a greater injustice to disobey the law, and that no good man would trade an evil for an evil.
The Categories is Aristotle’s first attempt to outline a theory of being, in addition to the work’s central focus, which is to provide an account of the ways in which we think about being, and beings. In total, there are ten categories of thought about being, but the core of his theory of being begins with the first category. This is what he called “substance”. This essay will summarise Aristotle’s conception of substance as he presents it in The Categories, briefly explain what distinguishes substance from the other categories, and offer some additional thoughts about the metaphysics of being, in relation to Aristotle’s mentor, Plato.
It seems to me, that the problem of desire has three plausible attitudinal responses:
The hedonic approach: there is a never-ending supply of desirable things, and life is best lived by pursuing them all. Want is sated when all desirable things have been had. The goal, then, is pleasure at all times, as an equivalent to happiness.
The ascetic / Buddhist approach: the things to be desired are never-ending, which means there will never be a time when all desirable things are had.
In the Physics, Aristotle says that we aim at understanding, which he says is to be able to give a full account of “the how and the why of things coming into existence and going out of it”. In other words, to understand something is to be able to give an explanation of how and why a thing changes. That explanation is what Aristotle means by ‘cause’. Today, thinking of explanation in terms of causes is not an alien notion.
Kant’s critique of Aristotle is fascinating to me. He uses Aristotle’s own standard against him: to say that virtue consists in achieving excellence in the unique purpose of a human life, and that this unique purpose can be identified by isolating the unique features of the organism as opposed to other organisms, you then have the problem of explaining how it is that the unique feature of reason could be better suited to helping humans achieve excellence at attaining ‘material ends’ (aka ‘happiness’), than the much more efficient and much less costly instinct, which all other animals have as well.
Aristotle’s argument in Physics II 8 can be summarized as follows:
Dogs typically develop teeth good for biting and chewing. A typical result is not a coincidence. So it’s not a coincidence that dogs develop teeth good for biting and chewing. If the development is not coincidental, it must be “for something”. So the dog’s development is “for something”. (that is, it is goal-directed) The problem with this argument lies in premise 4.