the only easy day was yesterday

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Tragedy of a Formalist Mindset

Among many other worries a somewhat privileged and educated young person ponders, I am partial at the moment to the extent to which a formalist mindset should indoctrinate the mind of a person in America, and to what extent utilitarianism should play into this persons social and political considerations.

Short Definitions that work with what I wonder:

Formalism: A social/political position which takes the stance of 'if i want to do it, you have to be allowed to do it as well, all as long as no human rights are being violated' The Constitution of the U.S.A. is a strictly formalist document. "All Men Are Created Equal."

Utilitarianism: The most good for the largest amount of people over the longest period of time. The application of American law is utilitarian.

The problem is that formalism is a doctrine which preaches that one has no right to interfere with another's life unless that person in violating another person's human dignity. (human dignity is the right to autonomy, free will and decision, land, etc.)

So the question is: at what point does a formalist, such as any American, get involved with politics, if they are hardpressed to find themselves as morally allowed, in a sense, to interfere with anyone else's lives?

Well, that's simple, any laws that are being changed or reorganized must be doing so in order to further enforce the formalist way, so that people will not be violated and have freer lives.

The problem comes with things like the recent propositions 94-97. the main question of a formalist being with his concern for his fellow men. He cannot prevent them from gambling, thus he would love to foil the indian tribes to take advantage of his mentally weaker brothers-in-humanity; but he has no right to either prevent the indians from doing bussiness in itself, or the brothers from doing whatever the hell they want.

does the question become protecting them from themselves? how does the formalist work his way around these issues? how can we prevent sales of guns, alcohol, the legality of casino's, and all such things which we KNOW are detrimental to the people who participate (both the psychological states of the sellers and buyers)?


The W said...

is formalism like relativism?

im not sure that formalism is compatable with democracy, or government in general. even the most enlightened monarch would be stepping on someones toes. formalism might be an okay way to live ones individual daily life, if one wants to, but when it comes to public/governmental life it seems as if formalism is incompatible. unless that is the formalist can find a way to say something like gambling, guns, and alcohol impede on the human rights of those around the individual partaking in them.

Jasper Yate said...

the constitution is formalist to the 9's, so to speak. the platitude "every man is created equal" is a dumbed down version of saying that for you to do whatever you want you have to protect the rights of everyone else to do what they want. when we litigate on individual cases we are being practically utilitarian, because we apply the law on individual and actual basis. formalism is the reason that our government and out country have been so succesful, but also the reason that we are such a wholly ignorant society.

The problem here is that formalism is really the ultimate and most refined philosophical doctrine of ethics. It's obviously in need of change for new developments that Kant and his predecessors and successors did not see, but it is largely an undeniable doctrine of ethics.

The reason people keep on going with ethics is because of this problem (in my opinion); that people are bound to self-destruct because they will particiapte in whatever luxuries formalism allows.

i cannot doubt it, though, because it produces stability, and most of all it produces this autonomy of it's people: built into it's doctrine is that we have no right to tell others what to do, if they so choose to waste away in casino's then that is their own business and we have no right to interfere. It's an impenetrable force of ethics, people are just too lazy to embrace it. For a large part if we could prractically educate people enough we could take fuller advantage and probably agree more on these issues, but as it stands i cant fin how to deal with letting people selfdestruct like theyre so heart set on doing.

its not that it isnt compatable, so much as its a tragedy of what to do when you fully understand it and follow it: do you vote? how do you find it to even have beliefs with which to direct your political life, they are infringing on others' beliefs as well, which you have no right to do.

formalism is nothing like relativism. it is only like relativism in that it is borne of an idealist philosophy, which means that the world is somewhat 'displayed' to us through our own consciousness, and not simply as things in themselves. relativism is stupid, and formalism isnt really sums it up. there is real reason behind formalism, and none behind relativism.

to continue the converstation, though, i want to focus more on what the theoretical life of a formalist person should be like. should they follow formalist customs and apply them utilitarianly to their lives? how do they advocate their own beliefs, such as anti-gambling, or anti-gun-sale, without crossing the formalist boundaries; can they at all even do so? if i believe that anyone can do whatever they please insolong as they do not violate anyone elses right to do so (this includes the right not to be murdered or harmed against ones will), how can i possibly even want to impact or influence any other life? they are going to do exactly what they were going to do anyway, and when they are influenced by me maybe theyll go off into a world of influened people who are all going to do what they want, and rightfully so, anyway. is influence anything in a society that strives for everyone to be independent?

The W said...

you can argue for a position, as long as you dont infridge on someone elses rights. people always have the capacity for reason, so its not like you telling them whats on your mind will force them to be like you. theoretically you could then be one of those dudes on the corner arguing for a cause or a candidate as long as you do not directly particiapate in the process by which your opinion squashes voting.