Individual and Society

When one speaks of human beings, one speaks of individual organisms.  It is possible and relevant to speak of “societies”, but societies are comprised of individuals.  One might object that an organism is composed of organs, but this discussion is about conscious value, so that is irrelevant.  I suggest that individuals are capable of holding conscious values not identical with those of any other individual or those of a social group.  A social value is a compromise among the values of many individuals — a popularity poll.  Thus the criterion of meaning or value, even on the social level, becomes the individual thought.  These thoughts are combined and modified in society’s values.  There is of course the reciprocal influence on forming new individual values.

An individual is satisfied or dissatisfied.  A society may be dissatisfied, but the result is that individuals are dissatisfied insofar as they are members of society — i.e. insofar as they depend on it.  One could say a society is dissatisfied only insofar as it is composed of dissatisfied individuals.  True, but the society is not thus unitarily dissatisfied — only the dissatisfied individuals are.  This is true of other feelings and states of mind both society and the individual are subject to.  The point is that the individual is the ultimate criterion of meaning and value in conscious humanity.  

Now, we need an arbiter among all these opinions if we are to have social values.  I am not suggesting that this arbiter is necessarily always applied faithfully, but we do need some ground of communication.   One might suggest utility or something like that, but then another might ask “Utility to what end?”  Obviously there is something underlying.  I suggest that in their dealings with one another men at least pretend to some kind of rationality.  On the public level, I think the type of rationality to be applied should be empirical rationality.  Why?  One might offer claims for intuitionism, mysticism, formal logic or whatever.  However, I think these are matters of individual choice — a part of personal decision making.  On the social level, we can only deal with that which is open to all — otherwise, it is not a social question.  Of course empiricism makes certain demands upon the individual to accept sensory perception, the idea of cause etc., but these things are most publicly demonstrable.  It would be far more difficult to demonstrate the “will of God” for example.  What is the consequence here for public morality?  I will not go into this in detail here, but only as far as it affects certain broader tenets.  I think it says that one cannot say “It is every man’s duty to help his fellows”.  One cannot empirically prove this.  This type of statement is a matter of acceptance.  And since the individual is the ultimate determiner of his own morality, those individuals who do not accept it are not transgressing their duty!  One cannot say “It is best that the individual should submit to the will of the majority”.  Of course it is in the best interests of the majority who hold a certain opinion, but it is not in the best interests of the minority individual who doesn’t hold it.  Thus, it is best that the majority should act upon its will and that the contrary individual should act upon his will.  In other words, the individual must decide whether these tenets apply to him or not.  The criticism of these two tenets makes it clear that too often a society claims rights for itself that are based on nothing but their own verbiage.

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