23 Jun 2010

Sample Essay: Philosophers

If there is one certain aspect to this world, it would be that we all have our own opinions, even if we are not willing to admit to them. Philosophers form their opinions based on rationalisation and logic and for this reason, their opinions are often used in the law, politics and even in education. Some of the philosophers who have influenced the way we think in modern times, lived and thought, thousands of years ago, while others are more contemporary. Of these philosophers we examine the ways in which Plato, More, Machiavelli, Locke, Marx, Plunkitt and Bernays would answer the following questions: What is the problem with society? What is the solution to the problem? Who should rule? Of the above questions, the most pertinent is almost always who should rule.

Plato remains one of the most famous philosophers of all time and he believed that the core of societal cohesion lay in the family. The family unit was paramount to the proper survival of society as a whole. In today’s world he certainly would have been close to the truth given the breakdown of family units. For Thomas More, the book Utopia probably describes his philosophy in the most efficient way. We no longer connect with nature and that where punishment is concerned, the punishment is not related to the crime. For instance, if theft is punished with execution, then the perpetrator might as well kill the witnesses or even the victim – the punishment will be the same. In modern times, much debate surrounds the three strikes law, where incarceration does not seem parallel to the crime committed. Machiavelli did not share More’s opinion. Machiavelli believed that the only way to reach a goal (politically that is), is to eliminate the opposition. The problem thus would be that we try to live side by side and tolerate one another rather than simply ‘doing away’ with what we do not like. In another fashion though, he would encourage the idea that pretence is far from successful within a society. It is quite pointless pretending that we like one another, thus harbouring unseen grudges and leading to eventual conflict. John Locke believed the problem to be a lack of equality. There is definitely little argument to the contrary, but whether the solution to this is possible or not, remains to be seen. Karl Marx on the other hand had similar (though not the same) ideas as More. He had idealistic views of the perfect society, something that sparked the introduction of communism to a modern world. Although he cannot be called the father of the umbrella term ‘communism’, he did believe that capitalism was largely the problem in modern society. George Washington Plunkitt believed in an honest day’s work and while he did not conform to Marxist policy entirely, he supported the under-dog. He became popular because of this and largely believed that much of society’s problem lay in the inability to do an honest day’s work. Edward Bernays had a thoroughly modern yet controversial consumerist perception of society. Furthermore, he undertook to examine women’s problems in modern society. His method had a duel perspective: first of all, he showed the world how easily they could be manipulated and secondly, showed the world that this was necessary. The problem thus is that we are too easily influenced and yet not influenced enough. Certainly, if we were all to behave in a proper manner, it would have to be through the process of public relations rather than conflict.

How do we solve these problems in the philosopher’s eyes? For Plato, the solution lies in the family. The family unit needs to be solidified. This is a functionalist approach, grading society as a set of institutions that need to perform duties in order for society to function. The family unit is the smallest of these institutions, so if the family is not complete or is dysfunctional, then the greater institution will also be at risk of collapse. The paternal function in this case is thoroughly necessary since the father is the cohesive, disciplinary faculty within the family. Many women today are single mother’s attempting to perform the duty of both parents. In terms of Thomas More, punishment has to be parallel to the crime. The same punishment cannot be extolled on all crimes. This means that ‘just deserts’ must be meted on the offender and that the punishment must be suitable for the crime. Certainly, it makes little sense that individuals should be able to unleash punishment on others, as ‘just deserts’ is often mistakenly taken to mean. This means that a father cannot be able to punish his daughter’s rapist, but that the rapist must obtain the same punishment that was given to his victim. The problem of ethics always arises. There is also no single definition for capital crime, given that in some countries, the punishment for rape is almost worse than for murder. Machiavelli’s solution is perhaps the least complicated, but also the least ethical. With the current racial and ethnic tension displayed in most countries, it is not possible to simply eliminate those who cause trouble. However, even if segregation is not an ethical approach, it certainly does lend itself to a more peaceful existence. Hitler’s approach to the Machiavellian perception was perhaps the most drastic and also the most inflammatory, but in the end, if Hitler had succeeded in eliminating Jews and Gypsies, the Machiavellian approach would have worked. Despite this, there is no proof that this solution works in the long term. In the short term, everyone is happy but eventually begin to fight amongst one another – a feature of humanity. John Locke would see the solution as simple: the creation of equality. Although modern society has attempted this, the success has been limited. Another feature of humanity is greed and to Karl Marx, of no one owns anything, no one wants anything. This is a solution towards the conflict of capital and commodity, but cannot work in reality. Plunkitt might conclude that the solution is to make sure that everyone is reasonably employed and completes a day’s honest work. Yet the production of employment has fallen short of the needs of the people over recent years. Furthermore, the interest in criminal activities offers the individual a far easier and more exciting manner of earning a living. Finally, public relations may be a solution for Bernays and learning to manipulate ones surroundings solves the problem of tolerating those around one. A good orator would solve the potential problems that society has, because a good orator is able to sway the public.

Who should rule? Indeed, a troubling question because no one society is ever happy with their rulers. Democracy is the foundation of modern society, with a public elected president ruling a country. Yet for Plato there has to be a representative of each faculty of society. For instance, if the components of a society include black, white, Jew, Muslim, Christian and atheist, then a member of each group should be able to have a say in how the country is run. Thomas More, in Utopia suggested the feudal society, with the highest level of ruler being at the top. In many cases still today, this occurs and is not necessarily failure or success. In one aspect, Machiavelli and More share similar ideals, for Machiavelli, there can be only one ruler at a time. In his case, there should not be contestation to the ‘throne’, because the ruler has taken his position by force. In the modern world there are few examples of this rule, although Africa has the most recent attempts at this. Locke seeks equality, which would mean that rule must be democratic and each participant be given equal opportunity. In this sense, he is closer to Plato’s theory than any other philosopher. Marx encourages the rule of the people and the functioning of society as having a common goal. For Plunkitt, the honest man must rule and this would most often be the under-dog. This means that in theory, the ruler would encourage honesty and transparency as a whole over society. Bernays is a controversial context, because in his world, the media would rule. Certainly, this appears to be true. The media does seem to shape the way we think and feel. Other than that, Bernays would advocate a manipulator as the ruling party, simply because those who follow him are loyal to what he says to them.

In conclusion, there are clear problems with all theories, but this does not mean that they are incorrect. In fact, each philosopher had definite grounds upon which their theories are based. However, society is not prescriptive. In other words, it cannot conform to a single model of thought. This remains a political problem and a universal one at that.

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