21 March 2015

Happy Nowruz! ... with a handful of quotes from Vladimir Solovyov

A very happy Nowruz, and much love and respect, to all my gentle readers and friends who are celebrating the holiday in the Iranic and Turkic nations of Central Asia (including Iran, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan)! Wish you all a most auspicious, felicitous, peaceful and successful New Year; may you be blessed with all you need and may you strive ever after the truth in your own lives!

Speaking of truth. I have of late been reading the great Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov’s The Justification of the Good: an Essay on Moral Philosophy, and I think I have been thoroughly annoying all of my Facebook friends by posting quotes I think are particularly poignant. Solovyov often gets misread, and the only remedy for such misreadings is, well, to read the man!

On utilitarianism:
It is clear that the supposed connection between the good which each desires for himself and the true or real good, as the utilitarians understand it, is simply a crude sophism based upon the ambiguity of the word "good".

First we have the axiom that each desires that which satisfies him; then all the actual multiplicity of the objects and the means of satisfaction is designated by one and the same term "good". This term is then applied to quite a different conception of general happiness or of the common good. Upon this identity of the term which covers two distinct and even opposed conceptions the argument is based that since each person desires his own good and the good consists in general happiness, each person ought to desire and to work for the happiness of all. But in truth the good which each desires for himself is not necessarily related to general happiness, and the good which consists in general happiness is not that which each desires for himself.

A simple substitution of one term for another is not enough to make a person desire something different from what he really does desire or to find his good somewhere other than where he actually finds it.
On ‘job creators’ (note that, when Jakim’s translation of Solovyov uses the word ‘profligate’, it never means anything good):
One may quite well admit the fact of the oneness of the human race, universal solidarity and the consequences that follow from it in the natural order of things, and yet not deduce from it any moral rule of conduct. Thus, for instance, a rich profligate, who lives solely for his own pleasure and never makes the good of others the purpose of his actions, may nevertheless justly point out that, owing to the natural connection between things, his refined luxury furthers the development of commerce and industry, of science and arts, and gives employment to numbers of poor people.
On the purposes of the state:
Altruism at its highest religious stage compels us, therefore, actively to participate in the universal historical process which brings about the conditions necessary for the revelation of the Kingdom of God. Consequently it demands that we should take part in the collective organisations - especially in that of the state as inclusive of all the others - by means of which the historical process is, by the will of Providence, carried on. Not every one is called to political activity or to the service of the state in the narrow sense of the term. But it is the duty of every one to serve, in his own place, that same purpose - the common good - which the state ought to serve also.
On the moral dimension of Antigone by Sophocles:
It is impossible to agree with the usual view of Antigone as the bearer and champion of personal feeling against a universal law, embodied in the representative of the state - Creon. The true meaning of the tragedy is entirely different...

Antigone had heartfelt affection for both her brothers, but sacred duty bound her to the one who needed her religious help. Being the pattern of a moral individual, Antigone at the same time is the representative of true social order, which is preserved only by the fulfilment of duty. She does not in the least conceal her feelings, and yet as the motive of her action she refers not to her feelings but to a sacred obligation which has to be fulfilled to the end.

This obligation is not of course an abstract duty, but an expression of the eternal order of reality: ‘I owe a longer allegiance to the dead than to the living; in that world I shall abide for ever. But if thou wilt be guilty of dishonouring laws which the gods have stablished in honour...’

As for Creon, he certainly does not represent the principle of the state, the moral basis of which is the same as that of the family, though with the advantage of a fuller realisation. He is the representative of the state that has become perverted or has put itself into a false position - of the state that has forgotten its place...

The ethico-psychological basis of the bad law lies of course in Creon's bad will. This will, however, is not merely senseless and arbitrary but is connected with a general although a false idea according to which the power of the state and the laws of the state are higher than the moral law. Creon formulates this false idea with perfect clearness: ‘Whomsoever the city may appoint, that man must be obeyed, in little things and great, in just things and unjust.’
On social versus individual morality (or rather, why they are not opposed to each other):
The moral will must be determined to action solely through itself... But the organisation of social environment in accordance with the principle of the absolute good is not a limitation but a fulfilment of the personal moral will - it is the very thing which it desires.

As a moral being I want the good to reign upon earth, I know that alone I cannot bring this to pass, and I find a collective organisation intended for this purpose of mine. It is clear that such an organisation does not in any sense limit me but, on the contrary, removes my individual limitations, widens and strengthens my moral will. Every one, insofar as his will is moral, inwardly participates in this universal organisation of morality, and it is clear that relative external limitations, which may follow therefrom for individual persons, are sanctioned by their own higher consciousness and consequently cannot be opposed to moral freedom...

It is clear that in subordinating himself to a social environment which is itself subordinate to the principle of the absolute good and conformable to it, the individual cannot lose anything.
On the limits of the ‘right to property’:
As to property, to recognise it as the moral foundation of normal society, i.e. as something sacred and inviolable, is neither logically nor, in my own case (and I think in that of my contemporaries), psychologically possible. The first awakening of conscious life and thought in our generation what accompanied by the thunder of the destruction of property in its two fundamental historical forms of serfdom and slavery. And this abolition of property, both in America and in Russia, was demanded and accomplished in the name of social morality. The alleged inviolability was brilliantly disproved by the fact of so successful a violation, approved by the conscience of all. It is obvious that property is a thing which stands in need of justification, and so far from containing a moral norm, demands such a norm for itself.
And another on a similar theme (note the overlap with distributist thinking!):
General equality of property is as impossible and unnecessary as sameness in the colouring or in the quantity of hair. There is one condition, however, which renders the question as to the distribution of property a moral question. It is inconsistent with human dignity and with the moral norm of society that a person should be unable to support his existence, or that in order to do so he should spend so much time and strength as to have none left for looking after his human, intellectual and moral improvement... A society that desires to be morally normal cannot remain indifferent to such a position of any one of its members. It is its direct duty to secure to each and all a certain minimum of well-being, just as much as is necessary to support a worthy human existence.
On the depth of binding moral norms being more important than the breadth (particularly apt for a discussion on globalisation):
However sincerely a man may recognise the absolute demands of the moral ideal, he cannot, in real life, apply these demands to all human beings, for the simple reason that the "all" do not concretely exist for him. He cannot give practical proof of his respect for the human dignity of the millions of men about whom he knows nothing; he cannot make them in concreto the positive end of his activity...

The solution of this contradiction is that moral relations ought to be fully realised within a certain limited environment in which each man is placed in his concrete everyday existence. This is precisely the true function of the family. Each member of it is not only intended and meant to be, but actually is, an end for all the others; each is perceptibly recognised to have absolute significance, each is irreplaceable.
At any rate, I must second wholeheartedly Vladimir Putin’s recommendation of this book! It is amazing; please do pick it up and have a read. Solovyov is a very careful and discerning thinker (albeit very much a man of his time), and even though I think he hews far too closely to Kantian thinking even when he is critiquing Kant, which he does often, I can certainly see why he is now being reappraised and more highly valued in the country of his birth.

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