Thanks to everyone who came out last week to discuss the relation between the student and the teacher. I thought it was a great topic, kudos to Charles for bringing it up. We'll be meeting this week at our usual time and place, thursdays eight o clock, at Yeats pub, and we will be running rides from Connelly at 7:30.
This weeks topic:
"When Nature gave man tears,
She proclaimed that he was tender hearted"
"Mandeville clearly sensed that for all their morality, men would never have been anything but monsters if Nature had not given them pity in support of reason: but he did not see that from this single attribute flow all the social virtues he wants to deny men. Indeed, what are generosity, Clemency, Humanity, if not pity applied to the weak, the guilty, or the species in general?"
"Christianity is called the religion of pity. Pity stands opposed to the tonic emotions which heighten our vitality: it has a depressing effect. We are deprived of strength when we feel pity. That loss of strength which suffering as such inflicts on life is still further increased and multiplied by pity. Pity makes suffering contagious."
Rousseau talks about two values being at the center of man's existence, and these are self interest (the desire to avoid suffering?) and disgust at the suffering of others. The emotional extension of this visceral reaction would then be pity. What does it feel like to pity someone? Does pity beget solidarity or superiority? When is pity helpful and when is it damaging? Rousseau takes a very critical stance against rationalist narratives of society, claiming that philosophers are able to rationalize themselves out of behaving with respect to their natural inclinations of pity, which would otherwise drive them to help those who are in dire situations. He chiefly cites the emotional connection between the mother and child as that of pity should the child be suffering. Natural instincts he argued, hold society together in a way that is more meaningful and functional than any argument.
So what do we think of this? Does pity play a central role, or any role at all, in organizing society? Does pity necessarily lead to help coming from the pitying party? Does pity conflict with rationality, or is it possible to take pity as a premise for rational behavior? An uglier way of putting this might be, could pity be based in self interest? Is pity really what drives mothers to act on behalf of their child, and is that relationship a sound model for how a society should be organized (it's certainly not the traditional western one ::ahem::)? There may be a bigger question at hand than simply pity itself, i.e. where does emotion end and rationality begin in political discourse, or how can the two be dialectically related in order to promote the betterment of society?
Within the context of a discussion there's not much of a bigger boo boo than substituting emotion for argument. However, for Rousseau, there's a bigger context than a discussion that's at stake, where power is operative, and rationality may not survive alone.