Todays post was intended to be on the topic of the denial of moral responsibility. Yet, a theme as stricken me from recent readings and review of by previous two posts. That is the role and responsibilities in a society. To this I will now give thought and slow diligence.
To begin, in “The Moral Vote” and “Tacit Consent” an underlying theme is present just under the surface, as it seems to me now. That is a discussion of ones roles and responsibilities in a society. I have taken for granted these exists. This cannot be so. The question of what those are, and why they are, must be asked.
Society may be generally understood as a collection of individuals sharing a common history. That shared history means that we are the product of that history. We are a product of society itself. Yet, as Marx and others have observed, we are not passive actors in that history or in society. We each play an equal role in the history of society. In turn we all have an impact on each other member of society. A dialectical relations exists.
That impact is largely developed through communication. In fact, as Habermas states, communication is the means by which society actually operates and evolves. Marx seems to support this as well. Of course communication is both verbal and non-verbal. The things we say, and maybe more importantly, the things we do, speak volumes about who we are and what we are saying to society. If our acts of communication have an impact on the operation and evolution of society we must seriously consider how they are impacting it. We must also recognize that each individual is an integral part of society.
It seems that if each individual is an integral part of society it must mean that for a society to function each individual must be acting in such a way as to improve society. This inherently means that those communicative actions must be directed toward improving each member of society collectively. Of course now the question of why comes up from the depths.
Here one, or I, could make a moral argument for why actions should be directed toward improving each member of society. As these arguments seem too often to fall on deaf ears I will not do so now. Rather I will look toward a more pragmatic argument, and draw loosely from Frankfurt’s recent work.
At the very least if we understand the dialectical relationship between the individual and society it would seem a pragmatic reason why we should act in the best interests of society is that it is in ones best interest to do so. If one wanted to make a Kantian argument one may ask what a world in which everyone only does whats good for ones self looks like; what is the end result of that maxim? That maxim is the antitheses of what a dialectical relationship entails and needs and can not be in the individuals best interest. If everyone is against everyone else, who wins? No one, or at least a very small subsection of society, leaving the rest to suffer.
So it seems that it must be in ones best interest to communicate in such a way as to improve the welfare of everyone in society. In that way one may be assured that his or her communicative actions are being met equally. Yet, perhaps, self interest isn’t enough, and it too needs grounding.
Here again a moral argument could be made. And again I will avoid it. Rather I will now come to a thread of thought within Frankfurt’s resent work “On Inequality”. There he argues that equality itself does not have moral value. Couching arguments, for or against, what comes out of this is a notion of respect. If we don’t have respect for others in our society what does that say about us? Why should someone have respect for ones position if one does not have respect for others? If we have respect of others then we will not attempt to harm them. Or rather, as Frankfurt puts it: “Treating people with respect precludes assigning them special advantages or disadvantage…” (p. 78).
Frankfurt here is taking a balanced stance on action, or in our language, communication. Respect means granting (imposing) neither special advantage or disadvantage, with weight added to “special”. If an individual is given special advantage in society it naturally entails that someone else, or more likely and group of individuals, will be imposed with a special disadvantage. This then again comes back around to the result of our Kantian maxim, which in no way seems in our best interest.
The payout here is that in a dialectical relationship with society individuals need to have respect for greater society and each other. When ourself interest is driven by respect then our communicative action will be directed toward improve the whole of society. Without that view we can see a devolution of society, as I think we are seeing now. It is this way of thinking that is the grounding for social roles and responsibilities. It also justifies, and should be justifiable to all spectrums of the social organization, for my previous and future arguments.