The Nature of Man Civic Issues

Murder.

Rape.

Theft.

All elements of our state of nature, at least according to Hobbes. On the opposite side of the spectrum resides Aquinas, arguing for a more benevolent view of man. Either way, they were both legendary philosophers; they just happened to have two very different views on mankind. Nonetheless, the debates they raise all rely on a very explicit quandary: what are men inclined to: good or evil?

First of all, it is imperative to note that Hobbes does not have a summum bonum – a greater good. The idea of a greater good generally shapes the outlook of any person on life and the purpose of it. Therefore, prior to divulging into the inner thoughts of Hobbes, it can already be discerned that he views mankind negatively. If there is no greater good then facilitating your fellow man is futile.

Hobbes delivers innumerable examples of this reasoning in Leviathan. He states that, “where [there is] no law, [there is] no injustice” (Hobbes, “Leviathan”). By this reasoning, Hobbes develops his “State of Nature” theory. Simply stated, the theory suggests a hypothetical society where there are no laws or government. This world is, unsurprisingly, corrupt and evil.

However, there is salvation from this inert state of destruction: the Social Contract. Hobbes proposes that the only reason man does not digress into this state and accepts a social contract is a fear of death, the desires of a “commodious living,” and a “hope of industry to obtain them” (the desires aforementioned) (“Leviathan”).

Some people believed that Hobbes ideas were insane, so he called them out. He wrote, “Let him therefore consider with himselfe, when taking a journey, he armes himselfe… he locks his chests; and this when he knows there bee Lawes… what opinion he has of his fellow subjects …Does he not there as much accuse mankind by his actions, as I do by my words” (Hobbes, “Leviathan”).

In other words, if we take precautions against our fellow man, even though there are laws that serve as deterrents, we too believe in Hobbes’ pessimistic view of man’s habit. However, Hobbes is not alone in his reasoning. Hobbes’ theories transcended generations, even inspiring one of our founding fathers James Madison.

In Federalist #51, he states, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary” (Madison, “Federalist 51”). In layman’s terms, Madison believed that men were not angels, that man is fallible.

Overall, it is indisputable that Hobbes’ possessed a despondent perspective on humanity.

On the other hand, Aquinas had a brighter view of mankind. He wrote that, “Because in man there is first of all an inclination to good in accordance with the nature which he has in common with all substances” (Aquinas 165). Interestingly enough, Aquinas also believed in a special exemption for virtuous people from law.

He prescribes, “Wherefore in this sense the good are not subject to the law, but only the wicked” (Aquinas 175). I heartily dissent from Aquinas’ position on this matter.

The main flaw in his argument lies in the fact that who is to determine the definition of a “good” man? Is “good” a measure of ethical quality or utility?

Nonetheless, it is limpid that Aquinas believes in the good of mankind.

In conclusion, the musings of both Hobbes and Aquinas have validity. Regardless, I believe that mankind is not inherently good or evil. Throughout history, humanity has committed amazing acts of benevolence and horrendous acts of evil. To describe human nature as explicitly good or evil is a misnomer, for humanity is too diverse to be limited to either or.

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas. (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 16 February 2017. <http://www.sophia-

project.org/uploads/1/3/9/5/13955288/aquinas_law.pdf>.

Hobbes, Thomas. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 February 2017. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/3207/3207-

h/3207-h.htm#link2H_4_0115>.

Madison, James. “The Federalist No. 51.” The Federalist #51. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 February 2017.

<http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa51.htm>.

Civic Issues Prompt #2

Mental Health on College Campuses:

More and more students need mental health services. But colleges struggle to keep up

Mental health is a severe problem on college campuses; this is evident. The above articles corroborate my sentiment.

I find the first article to be very interesting. The idea of using rental dogs to relieve stress is pretty cool. I would definitely invest in renting a dog from the local humane society to help myself, as well as the shelter. This is all taken from the caption of the photo at the top of the article.

Now, the actual content of the article also fascinates me. The lead sentence is such a common occurrence in the current times, ” a campus seemingly full of young, healthy college kids — Benjamin Johnson didn’t see a lot of serious physical emergencies.” This leads to the concerning fact: the decreasing quality of our mental health is the silent disease. It is filled with stigma and many times the deliberation of how to solve the problem is pushed to the sides.

Another quote from this article really resonated with me, “Seeing firsthand mental health crises and feeling pretty powerless to do anything about it.” This attests to the problem of mental health. How can we solve a problem that we feel powerless to?

Also, the article has certain graphics that may prove helpful in creating my group’s pamphlet.

Another interesting point the article makes is the fact that there is a more diverse group of students on today’s campuses compared to in the past. Therefore, the psychological services on campus need to diversify to meet the current needs. So a question that could be posed to assist in the deliberative process is: How will the increasingly diverse student body on college campuses affect our response to the mental health crisis?

Now, the second article has a very stunning photo at the very beginning. The photo utilizes bookbags to depict the more than 1,000 college students who commit suicide every year.

The second article, a New York Times piece, also accounts the mental health story of an international student. This is an interesting perspective, as confronting a mental health crisis, as well as culture shock, can lead to an even harder time overcoming the underlying issues.

In the body paragraphs, the piece focuses on different studies on the mental health of college students. For example, the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute found that a record of 11.9% of students in 2016 felt “frequently” depressed” Moreover, the Institute also found, for the first time, that 47% of students felt that their mental state was above average as compared to their classmates.

A more interesting report, conducted by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State, discovered that upwards of 26% of college students had purposely injured themselves (e.g. cutting, etc.) in the 2015-2016 academic year. Even more shocking, the suicide attempt rate increased to 33.2% from 23.8% from 2011 to 2016.

This article, as well as the previous one, also mentioned the increasingly diverse student body on college campuses. There are more students with older parents. There are more international students. There are more students of color. There are more LGBT+ students. There are more problems than ever and the outdated systems of dealing with mental health are not keeping up. In an everchanging world, these systems have remained static.

Adding on to the mental toll of college is the astronomical price of tuition. Students who attend college on scholarships feel the intense pressure to attain good grades to even stay in college. This affects both academic scholars and athletes here on scholarships.

According to the New York Times article, four colleges, Duke, Davidson, Johnson C. Smith University, and Furman, are pairing together to study the mental health of the class of 2018. Utilizing a$ 3.4 million budget, the colleges will follow their respective students from freshman to senior year. The project will ask volunteers about their family background, eating habits, physical activity rates, and much more to gain a sense of how different variables affect the mental health of college students.

Another promising study is the UCLA Depression Grand Challenge. this study will analyze 100,000 people to discover the causes of depression. The research team will analyze students, staff, and faculty members.

Overall, from analyzing the two above articles, I propose two questions to assist in the deliberation of the mental health topic:

  1. How does the increasingly diverse student body on college campuses affect the way we must solve the mental health crisis?
  2. How can we as a university end the stigma around mental health issues?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Civic Issues Prompt 1

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/03/undocumented-immigrants-dreamers-protrection-donald-trump

Today, as in any other day, undocumented immigration is in the headlines. DACA, the State of the Union Address, and seemingly every-other tweet from a certain account speak to the controversy that is undocumented immigration. In today’s civic issues post, we will be discussing the comment section under the linked article (above).

An interesting point that I am going to focus on is the question posed by Gastil under Disagreement and Persuasion in Chapter 2: If conversations are so often among like-minded persons, can the really be deliberative? The premise is if we only talk to people that are like-minded we miss out on constructive critique. We do not have to defend our positions; and, as a result, our knowledge of the subject may fail or falter once confronted with dissuading evidence. In this way, we discover that deliberations and debate, even within a public forum such as a comment thread under a news article, can prove to be a source of intense discussion that can sway the masses, or even you.

The first comment sets the tone for the rest of the thread. “aleatico” writes with a matter-of-fact tone that is not open to deliberation. This type of tone is not conducive for deliberation, as no other person can possibly change the opinion stated. “chiefwiley” then responds to “aleatico” in the same manner. Surprisingly, both commenters are civil. However, both are also so cemented in their beliefs on undocumented immigration that this small-scale deliberation or debate will not broaden either’s understanding.

Another concerning comment was by “proudprogressive”. They said, “So…how long do you figure it will take Rump to get the death camps up and running again?” This is terribly alarmist, describing an extreme as a vain attempt to evoke emotion, the logical fallacy of argumentum ad passiones. Their comment does not add any useful information to the discussion forum because they do not utilize facts. Their comment is intended to start an argument, not host a deliberation.

There are hundreds of more comments under the article that could possibly host a deliberation. However, I will not read 316 comments to determine something that is more than likely possible.

Overall, this article discusses a topic that is more conducive to a debate rather than a deliberation. The immigration discussion has two very distinct sides, with various fringe positions off of it.

 

Constitutional Interpretation

Whether the Constitution is living or dead is a question that has perplexed legal minds since the ratification. Perpetuating this quandary is Ronald Dworkin, writer of “Taking Rights Seriously”. In his prose, he compares and contrasts the two schools of thought designated “judicial activism” and “judicial restraint”.

First, Dworkin notes that judicial activism must meet certain requirements. He writes, “Only if such moral rights exist in some sense can activism be justified as a program based on something beyond the judge’s personal preferences” (Dworkin 8). Complementing his reasoning are the ideas of the Warren Court. No other Court in the history of the United States was so progressive in terms of racial equality. Handing down the precedents set in cases such as Baker v. Carr and Brown v. Board of Education, the Warren Court established just what judicial activism is. It relied in a “living” interpretation of the Constitution. However, they were not without their critics, as is evident by the likes of Governor George Wallace and others asking for the impeachment of Chief Justice Warren. They dissented by stating those “moral rights” undoubtedly exist for African Americans as laid out in the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause. It states, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property…” (Staff, LII).

Secondly, a key point of the judicial activism perspective is the belief that the Constitution is a living, breathing document. At its center, the dogma of a living Constitution is not a revolt against the integrity of the original document but instead keeping the document applicable to the modern-day struggles of the 21st Century in order to avoid curbing the rights of citizens. However, Dworkin warns that “Judicial activism runs the risks of tyranny.” He is not alone in this fear. It is a legitimate concern that nine people in the United States hold the power to manipulate the words of our most sanctified document to fit an agenda: whether it be a good or bad one.

This is where the argument of judicial restraint comes into play.

Dworkin poses that judicial restraint is somewhat irresponsible in a democracy. He references Learned Hand, who said, “It is wrong to suppose, that claims about moral rights express anything more than the speakers’ preferences” (9). In other words, it would be wrong, tyrannical in fact, to allow the minds of Justices to determine what morals are, as morals are defined explicitly by the mind of the beholder.

How can a person conclude what moral rights exist, let alone persist that another’s morals are, in fact, immoral?

Furthermore, proponents of judicial restraint propose that the judiciary is taking the place of the legislature when deciding cases via a living Constitution. Dworkin muses, “it [The Supreme Court] is usurping the place of the legislature, for the job of the legislature, representing the majority, is to decide whose preferences shall govern” (9). However, a fault in this argument occurs since the beliefs of the majority can become oppressive. If the “tyranny of the majority” determines that one race of people is, contrary to the rhetoric of the Constitution, subjugated below another, then does the Court not have the moral and legal duty to “usurp the place of the legislature”?

In the end, the argument between the two schools of Constitutional theory will continue to be fought between mysterious figures in black cloaks, wielding a pen in one hand and the Constitution in another. Arguably, the Constitution is both alive and dead. Without judicial activism, race relations in this union would still be stuck in 1860. On the other hand, without judicial restraint, the Supreme Court would violate the separation of powers laid out in the Constitution.

Either way, the Constitution will persist whether or not her interpreters reach a consensus.

References

Dworkin, Ronald. “Taking Rights Seriously.” (1977): n. pag. Pennsylvania State University.

Web. 25 January 2017.

Staff, LII. “14th Amendment.” LII / Legal Information Institute. N.p., 12 Nov. 2009. Web. 25

January 2017. <https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxiv>.

No Taxation Without Representation

After the French and Indian War, the British Empire was close to bankruptcy. As such, the Parliament hoped to raise revenue for the government by imposing taxes on goods in the Colonies. As anyone with a basic understanding of United States history can recall, the colonies despised this action.

The rally call for revolution soon spread around the fledgling conglomerate of insurgent states like wildfire, a slogan coined by James Otis in 1761, that would change the world forever:

NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION.

This is ironic for a plethora of reasons.

in the modern-day United States, this belief of having a voice in the government on whether you should be taxed has fallen by the wayside, at least, for very specific parts of the population.

First, those working under the age of 18 in the United States pay taxes, but they can not vote in elections. This is a fundamental abuse of power, and it is a tad bit hypocritical on the part of the United States government, a government that prides itself on “liberty and justice for all.”

Another principle held within our present social contract in this country is the idea of “Consent of the Governed.” First mused about by John Locke in his Second Treatise of Government, “Consent of the Governed” ensures the blessings of liberty remain secure for ourselves and our posterity. Furthermore, in Section 140, John Locke mentions:

For if any one shall claim a power to lay and levy taxes on the people, by his own authority, and without such consent of the people, he thereby invades the fundamental law of property, and subverts the end of government: for what property have I in that, which another may by right take, when he pleases, to himself?

Thus, Locke defines the extents of the power of the government within the scope of the social contract that the people have entered and agreed to. However, working people under the age of 18 have had no such opportunity to agree or disagree to this social contract by being denied the right to vote. With their voices silent, these people have been subjected to the overreaching-hand of a government that does not represent them or their ideas.

A man all too used to this narrative, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had something to say about the government passing laws without the consent of the people. In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, he stated, “A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law.” In other words, it is possible to conclude that the tax code is unfair to people working under the age of 18, as they had no part in creating the law.

Understanding that taxing people without giving them a voice in the legislative branch is paramount to understand that this same reasoning can be extended to the citizens of Guam and Puerto Rico.

As per the tax code, Puerto Ricans, “pay Social Security, Medicare, import, export and commodity taxes. Their federal tax bills add up to more than $3 billion a year.” Yet, even in 2018, the inhabitants of the island are forbidden from raising concerns in the federal government as they can not vote for Senators, Representatives, or the President. The same predicament affects the people of Guam; who have the highest percentage of enlisted citizens as compared to their population. Interestingly enough, both Guamanians and Puerto Ricans can be drafted during times of war. This means these people have to go along with the whim of a men or women who they had no chance of voting for.

 

In the end, the same democratic principals that served as the catalyst for the Revolutionary War have been forgotten. The same principals of freedom and equality before the law are null and void in the cases of those working under the age of 18, the residents of Guam, and Puerto Ricans. The United States preaches “consent of the governed” across the world, resulting in wars in Korea and Vietnam, but denies this fundamental right to so many of her citizens.

This is not a democracy.

This is tyranny.

Sources:

  1. https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/250-years-ago-today-no-taxation-without-representation/
  2. 2. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/7370/7370-h/7370-h.htm
  3. http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/kingweb/popular_requests/frequentdocs/birmingham.pdf
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/25/us/puerto-rico-hurricane-american.html
  5. http://www.twn.org/catalog/guides/WarForGuam_PressKit.pdf

 

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