Our time is one of great change in nature, society and thinking. The Enlightenment’s doctrine of individual liberty and promise that science would deliver endless human material progress appear about to implode in the destruction of democracy and the environment. Yet like cornered beasts those who cling to them become more extreme in their defense against the proponents of new, life-affirming alternatives. These last are many and diverse, more and less total and therefore poor matches for the visceral appeal and monolithic might of the status quo.
A competitive position requires several elements, the first of which is a vision of an ideal. For the current object of popular aspiration is the American Dream of a life of comfort and prosperity that nearly every person strives to achieve. Its advantages are that people in large numbers actually seek to realize it and it is an individual objective. Because the problems we aim to resolve are due largely to excessive materialism and radical individualism, our ideal must be moderate and collective. The vision that satisfies this condition is that of a just world which includes both human and environmental justice.
For humans justice is a universal object of desire, indeed the thing that they love and strive for above all else. Moreover justice is never one person’s exclusive possession or privilege but is rather an attribute belonging to institutions, societies and practices, actualized through people’s collective intentional effort. Therefore an essential part of the ideal of justice is cooperation among people, ultimately unity as a whole body of which each person is a part.
Political bodies which have defined jurisdictions are such whole, indeed living, bodies that are wholes in virtue of the harmony or justice among all their people. Insofar as justice is lacking they are not unitary polities but merely so many individuals occupying a certain geographic place. Where such unity does exist it is the product of their individual wills precisely to achieve justice among all the people. So striving for justice is a function of human collectivities and individuals as parts of them.
Polities moreover are not merely analogous to nature’s ecosystems but forms of natural living systems as well. They are organic parts of living communities, while the latter by nature are parts of ecosystems that all belong to the entire biosphere. Individuals are parts of all of these living wholes performing different functions in their capacities as parts of different ones. A person, for example, serves certain economic functions in their community, is a citizen and interacts with the local land, air and water resources, ultimately having some impact on the global environment. Within these systems each part functions to achieve the unity, that is, the justice of all the parts.
Having a multitude of different functions, an individual organism’s life is the indivisible unity of them all, what was known in Ancient and Medieval philosophy as their essence. As living unities the functioning of essences is not mechanical but teleological, meaning that organisms strive to live, to fully actualize their essential natures. Human nature consists of animal functions plus those of reason and citizenship.
It is obvious that living things have essences, and we are immediately, though subtly, aware of them in acts of intuition. Intuitions of large organisms such as whales and big ancient trees are especially salient, in fact intuition of trees has just been acknowledged in the Wall Street Journal!https://www.wsj.com/articles/why-a-tree-is-the-friend-we-need-right-now-11623513601?mod=hp_listc_pos4 Meanwhile we are also indistinctly conscious of the essences of other people and not just our sensory images of them.
Recognizing intuition of essences is another component of the worldview we want and need. For it is immediate apprehension of the very lives of the things around us, revealing the intersection of our lives with theirs. The modern outlook that originated with the Enlightenment claims that our awareness of things is nothing more than sensory images of them that exist in our heads or minds. With this view we are not only alienated from objects as if we are spectators seeing images on a screen, but we don’t even know if the images are true or fake representations. Targeted by propaganda and postmodernism’s rejection of truth people are skeptical and cynical, lacking rational conviction in their beliefs about the world. Intuition restores truth to our knowledge of things.
Essentialism, which is confirmed by intuition, re-establishes proper human agency. Science asserts that our actions are determined by elementary particles, neurotransmitters, the God-almighty neoliberal market – every kind of force except human will. But everything a human essence does is an intentional act that by nature serves that individual and the larger living wholes or essences of which they form parts. This is to say that acts serve the aim of justice within these whole bodies and are performed in the individual’s capacities as such parts.
People are individuals and also parts of human communities, which by nature are parts of ecosystems that are in turn organic parts of the biosphere. Polities are the parts of communities that specifically serve to realize justice in them. As every member of the community is also part of the polity, every person shares this function in their capacity as a citizen. Also as citizens they serve to realize justice within the larger wholes of which the community is a part – the ecosystem and the biosphere. Full human actualization, which is the ultimate aim of the human essence, is therefore to function as a citizen to achieve justice in their community, between it and nature and within the whole of nature.
The model of political economy for people to achieve self-actualization as agents of universal justice is that of mostly self-reliant yet concordant communities that function as subsets of local ecosystems and governed by participatory democracy. Within these people actualize a broad range of potential human functions in contrast with the present system of human life impoverished by extreme division of labor.
Founded on immediate knowledge of things including the very essence of the universe which is intuited as the ideal of justice, the world view that I have presented has the virtue of truth. It therefore provides a cogent alternative to the prevailing ideology that is now contradicted by the state of universal competition in which the winner takes all, the nihilistic pursuit of freedom plus looming global environmental catastrophe. These last conditions provide plenty of motivation for change but require additional force of compulsion for action. To adopt my conception is to behold the ideal of justice and be driven by one’s essential nature to realize the vision.
This comment is a summary of my essay Justice .