Tradition and Thought

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  1. profile image0
    Sooner28posted 5 years ago

    The conservative Edmund Burke is famous for his defense of tradition as a guiding political principle.  However, for people who blindly follow tradition, John Stuart Mill has a very interesting argument against it in his book, On Liberty.  I will lay out my interpretation of his argument, and then explain how it is connected to the claim that tradition can be followed without question, which seems to be a favorite amongst the anti-gay crowd!  Remember, this is my interpretation of the essence of this particular argument.

    1.  Human faculties (thought, perception, judgment, etc) are only exercised when a real choice is made. 

    2.  Actions based entirely upon tradition require no real choice. (People do what others are doing around them, and they do not question.)

    3.  Therefore, human faculties are not exercised when tradition is blindly followed.

    4.  If human faculties are not exercised in any action a human being performs, then ape-like imitation is the only other alternative to guide what actions will and will not be taken.

    5.  Therefore, ape-like imitation is all that is needed to follow tradition.

    To me, Mill is attacking people who use tradition as a crux, instead of thinking for themselves.  This is most readily seen with many of those against gay marriage.  They claim marriage has been defined one way for thousands of years, and who are we to change what has been the tradition for so long?  A tradition can be valuable or not, but it should not be blindly followed without questioning it's very value.  Mill isn't denying that some traditions are good guiding principles, only that following them without asking why they should be followed leads to "ape-like imitation."

    The argument laid out like this is known in logic as "standard form," for those who are wondering why it looks a little different.  Additionally, if you disagree, you must disagree with one of the premises I interpret Mill to be using.  Premises are just the logical term for reasons.  The possible places for disagreement are premise 1, 2, or 4.  The argument is valid.   The only question would be the truth of the premises.

    PLEASE do not respond and try to deny subconclusion 3, or final conclusion 5.  It isn't helpful to simply disagree with an argument without explaining which REASON (premise) you disagree with.  I hope this leads to some interesting debate!

    1. Josak profile image60
      Josakposted 5 years agoin reply to this

      The point is entirely correct, we see whole movements throughout history simply aimed at following what came before out of a misplaced romantic notion of it, nations where such ideologies gain favor quickly stagnate and eventually fail, thus nations have to struggle against that foolish ideology to remain dynamic and adaptive and thus thrive, human intelligence is such that we are always developing new better ideas, new better technologies and these quickly lead to improvements if tested and those that function are followed.

      1. Barefootfae profile image60
        Barefootfaeposted 5 years agoin reply to this

        So Socialism and Communism fall under all this too right?

        1. Josak profile image60
          Josakposted 5 years agoin reply to this

          Aspects of them, we have learned that some parts work and some don't, those countries that have integrated the two from the working parts of both are flourishing, those nations who have stuck to old ideas or failed to experiment have in turn been overtaken and now wither.

  2. Haunty profile image82
    Hauntyposted 5 years ago

    I think I disagree with premise #2. Actions based on tradition do require choice, as I actually choose to act upon tradition, because I have decided that it is the best course of action under given circumstances.

    On the other hand, if you follow tradition blindly, without ever questioning it, that might be called ape-like imitation. But who does that?

    1. profile image0
      Sooner28posted 5 years agoin reply to this

      I was thinking of that very objection actually.  Isn't it a choice to blindly follow tradition?

      I think I could improve the phrasing on this to make it more precise.  I think it's clear Mill's point is that for there to be a real choice, there must be the exercise of "human faculties."    Actions based on tradition are not using any of our higher faculties at all.  There is no thinking in the sense of, "is this true?"  Or, "is this moral or immoral?"  Rather, it's a choice to follow the crowd without investigating the grounds whereon the tradition is based, hence not a "real choice."

      As to your question of who does that, I ask that you simply observe the world around you.  In the United States, many people blindly accept capitalism.; in some parts of the Middle East, it is blindly accepted that women are inferior to men; finally, most seem to assent to the proposition that war can, theoretically, be justified. 

      This isn't an argument AGAINST any of the positions I laid out, though some are obviously morally questionable.  The issue here is how people come to their beliefs, that there is a real choice because the "human faculties" are used to determine whether or not to follow the tradition.

      I hope this makes sense.

      1. Barefootfae profile image60
        Barefootfaeposted 5 years agoin reply to this

        Which tradition are we posting a screed about and does that article apply to liberals as well?
        That is so obviously aimed at Conservatives.

        1. profile image0
          Sooner28posted 5 years agoin reply to this

          It is the principle conservatives use to guide their decision making, so obviously yes it is aimed at conservatives.  Edmund Burke is the father of modern conservatism.  I did openly say that.

      2. Haunty profile image82
        Hauntyposted 5 years agoin reply to this

        It does. I apologize if I'm going to be too blunt this time, but this is how I've always felt about this question.

        I strongly dislike the kind of people that you mentioned. To think that capitalism is the only way is more than narrow-minded. It's limiting, counter-productive, obstructive, and short-sighted. To think that women are inferior is more than stupid. It's complete ignorance and also a punishable crime, imo.

        Generally speaking, people are not equal in any possible sense of the word. Those who follow tradition blindly, because they have developed no sense of morality / curiosity / good judgement / whatever are clearly inferior to those who don't.

        On the other hand, it is also true that human faculties are influenced by lots of things (chains of events). There is the law of cause and effect which states that every effect that happens in the universe must have had a cause. If you think about it, there is no such thing as chance, as you can always think of the causes or laws that influenced the outcome of an event.

        The environment you live in and the experiences you've had will determine your choices to a huge extent. In fact there are studies (of the brain) that show that choices are first made on an unconscious level even before you become aware of the fact that you have made that choice. This is called Beraitschaftspotential. This says that the way we exercise our free will is not exactly active, but rather a passive way, meaning that we make our decisions unconsciously based on external factors and then free will only comes into play when these decisions become conscious and we can decide to NOT take action on them. Sorry about my grammar, but I'm typing in a hurry. I have a hub about it called something like Free Will or Free Won't, which is featured on my profile, if I'm not being very clear in what I'm trying to say here.

  3. LauraD093 profile image80
    LauraD093posted 5 years ago

    Sooner28 I always enjoy your forums (although I usually need half a pot of java to speed up my old brain before responding) This may somewhat philosophical and out there a bit but just bear with me. Change is a proven constant- change invokes fear in some people-what they have left is the need to hold on to traditions to feel safe and still in control. What I mean is that in order for any society to flourish change needs to occur. Josak is correct taking those aspects of change that work and combining them to strengthen a country is a process that should happen organically but often does not due to stupidity and fear. Japan's economic status in the World Market is a good example to illustrate governmental and societal evolution. As a country where were they on the world stage after WWII? Those against gay marriage are eventually going to have to move on to other things more important then defining it. How about those things effecting our environment? Gay or straight for or against change will matter not a bit if we have no planet to continue these endless archaic debates.

    1. profile image0
      Sooner28posted 5 years agoin reply to this

      I completely agree.  Change is an inevitable aspect of life.  There have always been forces in any society that fought against needed changes, such as giving women the right to vote, or treating African Americans equally.  There was vehement opposition to both advances from large groups within American society. 

      I think Mill's argument (or at least what I interpret him to be saying) is a knockdown against tradition as a guiding political principle.  Is the traditional way of doing things the most moral and effective?  If so, it can stand on its own against severe questioning.  If not, it needs to be thrown out for something better.  I'm simply taking the position of Thomas Paine who claimed law did not receive legitimacy because it had been law for many years, but only if it was just.


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