The Economist's Cookbook

Recipes For A More Free Society

  • "The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they know about what they imagine they can design."

    - F.A. Hayek

Materialism and Humanity

Posted by The_Chef On 10:11 PM 1 comments

Antilib in the preceding post had this to say:
"We're in a societal decline because materialism and humanism are competing forces, they just don't play well together. You can emphasize the importance of goods or you can be pro-people, but you can't be both, and the farther the spotlight moves away from people onto material goods, the more apathy, crime, drug abuse, crime, domestic violence, crime, etc. you're going to see."
Now let's examine this. I heartily disagree with antilib and believe that he doesn't properly understand capitalism, humanism, or materialism.
Let's get some working definitions:
Humanism

1.any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate.
2.devotion to or study of the humanities.
3.(sometimes initial capital letter) the studies, principles, or culture of the humanists.
4. Philosophy. a variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and often rejects the importance of belief in God.

Materialism
  1. Philosophy The theory that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena.
  2. The theory or attitude that physical well-being and worldly possessions constitute the greatest good and highest value in life.
  3. A great or excessive regard for worldly concerns.
Does anyone see a conflict? If we accept the Def. 1 & 4 of humanism and Def. 2 of materialism, they go quite well together.

Capitalism does not create social situations, it responds to them. Capitalism is not some sort of chaotic beast rampaging over the lives of the people that live under it. It is a method to creation of wealth, well-being, technology, invention, and creation. To say that capitalism runs roughshod over human nature is completely false. Entrepreneurs and the suppliers of goods and services respond to the desires of their consumers. So if you have a problem antilib, it should be with those consumers, not the producers. They provide what people want. Man is a builder and inventor. man is set apart from the rest of the world as we know it by one very distinct factor: reason.


It is the use of reason which makes man what he is, not some sort of abstract, absolute altruism which will ultimately lead man down the path of self destruction.

Antilib raises an interesting point, but one that I think is fundamentally flawed.

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1 Response for the "Materialism and Humanity"

  1. theantilib says:

    That was a well-structured argument, Jon, and I feel somewhat honored that my commentary inspired it. Firstly, call me a nit-picker, but I feel compelled to correct this erroneous belief that reason is unique to humankind. Crows, chimpanzees, dolphins, and to lesser extents, other non-homo sapien members of the animal kingdom, do indeed possess problem-solving abilities. Though they may not have the overall intelligence to compete with us for resources, reason is in no way a foreign entity to nonhumans. Altruism is not unique to humans, either. I believe the only unique quality man possesses is self-awareness. With self-awareness comes responsibility. Ah, to be ignorant of one's place in the world and the potential impact one's actions have on every other living thing! It almost makes me envious. But I digress.

    Let's say I was referring to definition number one of humanism and definition number two of materialism, emphasis on "worldly possessions constitute the greatest good and highest value in life". One definiton is stating that human interests/values/dignity are of primary importance, while the other states that worldly goods are of primary importance, ergo you cannot reasonably be a humanist and materialist. If you want to go with a broader definition, then, yes, they're compatible.

    What can I say? No, I'm not overly acquainted with the mechanics of capitalism, but I do know that wherever acquisition of material wealth is lauded and promoted as a benchmark for personal success, avarice rears its ugly head and brings out the worst in humanity. Status is another offender.

    I think you mistake my position as anti-capitalism, however, and this is not the case. My case was for "fettered capitalism and globalization", hence my agreement with the pope's argument.

    Incidentally, TheAntiLib is a she.