Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Virtue requires us "at every step to think out for ourselves what the circumstances demand" (58). Is this too much to expect of a vast democratic citizenry?

Devon MacNaughton

  I believe that the expectation that every citizen "at every step to think out for ourselves what the circumstances demand" is too much to expect. In my experience many people have no desire to think for themselves or are punished for doing so. In my own experience at work upper level management is insulted when you try to create new and improved ways of doing things. While my changes or methods may be better for business, they threaten the intelligence and position of my superiors. They intern try to promote employees that do whatever they say without question. Then again, not saying my ideas and pretending to be a drone would be in fact be another example of thinking for myself what the circumstances demand for my best interest.
Another example of where this would be very problematic would be in the military. If every soldier at every step to think what the circumstance demanded, they would all come to different conclusions of what to do best and would never act like a unit.

In conclusion it would seem that there is a time and place for both the Aristotelian and Platonic methods. Individual thought has its place as does people carrying out orders without question. The key is balance and knowing when one is required for each individual. A soldier could communicate ideas about battle theory/plans, but in the heat of battle it is in the best interest of the group to follow the orders of whoever is the most experienced. 


  1. Following orders is of course essential, in combat. But imagine Aristotle at Nuremberg, or in Jerusalem for Eichmann's trial. He'd probably say Hannah Arendt was right about the "banality of evil" that can spring from everyone just doing their job, accepting limited responsibility for the Big Picture, just "following orders."

    But you're right, Devon, sadly it may be too much to expect most people to think for themselves and risk censure from higher-ups. In that case, democracy fails and maybe we need to send in Plato's Guardians to save us from ourselves.

    I'm not ready to toss in the towel myself. I want to believe that a plurality (if not a majority) of people are still able and willing to be active and responsible participants. Or am I suffering from the will to make-believe?

  2. I’ve thrown in the towel on humanity a few times, only to go back out a pick it up again. Wash, rinse, and repeat.

    I think the broader point that Devon makes is how much studying philosophy applies to our everyday lives. To put it more succinctly, some people in power insist on their ideas based on their position, rather than evidence or rational argument. Prolonged exposure to that sort of situation makes one want to go full-Diogenes: urinate openly in the marketplace of ideas and demand that those in charge step out of your light.

  3. There is definitely the notion in society that overthinking is a bad thing, that obedience to authority is good and noble, and that questioning authority or "rebelling" against societal norms only leads to bad outcomes. Perhaps some of this stems from religion in society where one is requiring to accept and obey God. However, the concept of free will also allows us to question and challenge ideas, which is a good thing, and something that God would most likely promote. Blind acceptance is more dangerous than making rational decisions. I think that the truth is that most people just don't want to think about complex issues. They are fine with watching reality shows, drinking, and pulling a regular 9-5. When it comes to making a tough decision, they simply refer back to a previous time they were in that situation and make there decision out of that. Mostly the decision revolves around religious ethics, which state to follow a prescribed way of conducting one's life.

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