Front Page Titles (by Subject) V: Self-Knowledge, Autonomy, and Liberty - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1980, vol. 3, No. 2
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V: Self-Knowledge, Autonomy, and Liberty - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1980, vol. 3, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Self-Knowledge, Autonomy, and Liberty
The debated conceptions of what constitutes the individual's true self account for the sometimes warring political notions of individualism and collectivism, autonomy and dependence. The relevance, then, of the knowledge of the self or “self-knowledge” to political liberty is intimate and inescapable. Our optimistic or pessimistic judgments of human nature, our confidence or disillusionment in our ability as individuals to cooperate socially, economically, and politically, in short, our natural capacity to be both free individuals and social beings—all depend on our self-knowledge. Psychological issues are, therefore, central to the debates on the relationship between the individual and the community. Peter McCormick's lead summary highlights the relevance of self-knowledge to political liberty by tracing the historical evolution or rival notion of the self in political thought. The remaining summaries delve into related themes of egoism (pro and con), social psychology, free will, responsibility, and autonomy.
The Self in Political Thought
“The Concept of the Self in Political Thought.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 12(December 1979): 689–725.
The concept of the individual is a central characteristic of modernity, separating our times from the Middle Ages as clearly as the concepts of God, sin, and salvation separate the Middle Ages from antiquity. What elements comprise this pivotal component of modern political and social thought?
The concern for human individuality emerges as the typical consequence of the breakdown of a highly integrated society in which each person receives his identity from his assigned place in the social hierarchy. The Middle Ages offers the historian a fine example of such an organically structured society. Once the mystique of this kind of civilization begins to wane, however, an awareness of the autonomous, differentiated, self-starting individual emerges.
McCormick examines five conceptions of the individual as they have existed at various times in Western history: the agonal self, the liberal ideal, the hidden self, the essential self, and the manufactured self. He does not claim that his typology exhausts the possibilities of individuality, but it does serve to point out that the concept is not a simple one and that its complexity deserves close examination.
The notion of the individual first arose in ancient Greece (especially in Athens) after the decline of the earlier Greek city which based itself on religion and tribalism. The view of the self which evolved to fill this vacuum differs radically from modern conceptions. Instead of beginning with an inner self which gradually reveals itself in actions, the Greek “agonal” (“competitive”) self becomes an individuality by the utterance of great words and the performance of admirable deeds. The Greek individual is thus created from without rather than from within. More than all other types, the agonal self requires an audience for its gestation, birth, and maturation.
The final vestiges of medieval civilization took many centuries to disappear. As a result, the Enlightenment stands as the formative period of modern individualism. The first type which it produced was the “nonproblematical” or “liberal” self. This directly comprehensible child of the social contract thinker needs no genesis, since it arises spontaneously from simple human motivations such as self-preservation (Hobbes) or pleasure versus pain (Utilitarianism). No unconscious desires or unfelt appetites cloud the liberal self's confident understanding of its motivations. In addition, while it may cooperate with others to establish varying forms of social existence, the self of liberalism remains impervious to social conditioning.
The reductionist naiveté of the liberal conception gradually gave way to subtler insights. Among the utilitarians, for example, J.S. Mill postulated a hierarchy of higher and lower pleasures, while Jeremy Bentham observed that, since no individual can know directly the appetites of another, all men are inscrutable to their fellows. This growing awareness of difficulties and ambivalences gave rise to the anguished and problematical “hidden” self. Here, as in Max Stirner and Friederich Nietzsche, the individual must engage himself in a painfully heroic quest for his authentic individuality. Society, so necessary to the realization of the agonal self, usually obstructs the discovery of the hidden self through its rules and hypocrisies.
To put an end to the eternal question mark and ambiguity of the hidden self, some thinkers resorted to choosing artificially one of the formulated elements of individuality and calling it the “essential” self—as in Hegel's Geist or Marx's laboring self. In this new form of reductionism, development of one particular quality becomes the goal of the wise man and the just society.
Finally, in the twentieth century, a new view emerges which completes the circle and brings the individual to the verge of extinction: the “manufactured” self. Both the Fascist “new man” (created through the activity of an inspired and willful elite) and the Skinnerian “conditioned man” (produced by appropriate rewards and punishments) undermine the elements of uniqueness and inner-inspired motivation so crucial to modern notions of the individual.
Prof. McCormick concludes his study with the observation that the scope of his paper does not allow him to answer two questions relevant to his theme: (1) Does the five-item typology presented here exhaust the potentialities of a philosophy of the self? and (2) Is it possible to look forward to a finalresolution to the problem of the individual?
Autonomy, Self, and Will Power
“Autonomy and the ‘Inner Self.’” American Philosophical Quarterly 17(January 1980):35–43.
In philosophical writings as diverse as those of Aristotle, Kant, Nozick, and Sartre, the notion of autonomy is closely linked with the concept of a person as a moral entity. Prof. Young examines one aspect of the moral dimension of autonomy: “What does it mean,” he asks, “to exercise one's freedom in such a way as to order one's life according to a plan or conception which fully expresses one's choices?”
Self-direction, for Young and Dworkin, includes such cognitivist factors as conscious choice of first-order motivations (convictions, desires, principles, etc.), reflective evaluation of motivations received second-hand, freedom from undue environmental manipulation, and authenticity. However, two elements complicate this cognitive picture. Self-deception may delude us insofar as our real desires are concerned, while chronic weak will in accomplishing those desires may cast doubt upon the depth of our conviction. Nevertheless, Young feels that, even in the face of repeated failures to accomplish one's goals, a recurring remorse is probably sufficient indication of a person's real preferences.
The deeply rooted pattern of self defeating behavior known as neurosis represents another threat to the task of unifying one's life according to an integrated hierarchy of self-chosen values. Autonomy, is founded upon sophisticated self-awareness. Neurosis, on the other hand, results from a fear and repression of knowledge. Psychology can aid the neurotic's painful search for autonomy by uncovering his neurotic pattern of evasion.
The remainder of Young's article deals with a neglected aspect of failed autonomy: weakness of will.
As stated above, repeated failure to achieve one's goals does not necessarily indicate a failure of autonomy. However, where such failures relate to a person's broad conception of his life's direction, there will almost certainly be a dimunition in global autonomy. Yet, as common as this nonattainment may be, some philosophers of note have argued that there can be no gap between belief and action for a free agent. Such a position leaves no room for the common sense notion of weakness of the will—the state in which a person has the desire and ability to accomplish his goals, yet does not do so.
Young reiterates that remorse following failures generally indicates that values are authentic. To what then can one ascribe the failures? Here weakness of will offers an explanation. For reasons of expediency, self-indulgence, lack of sufficient effort, etc., the self-appointed task has not been accomplished. The will to do was evidently lacking. In the course of this discussion, Young replies to Gary Watson's recent objections to the common sense position concerning weakness of the will.
Prof. Young reasserts that selfawareness is a significant factor in any victory over one's “worst self.” Nonetheless, in going beyond theory to winning the victory in actuality, it is the will, he declares, that holds the key.
Self-Knowledge: Goethe, Kant, and Hegel
Discovering the Mind: Goethe, Kant, and Hegel. Volume I of a Trilogy. McGraw-Hill: New York 1980.
How has the discovery of the mind been furthered or impeded by major modern intellectuals? Goethe and Kant can be seen as symbolic alternatives in the modern quest towards greater self-knowledge. Hegel, in turn, represents an attempt to reconcile Geothe and Kant, and fails to be either clear or convincing to the degree he follows Kant rather than Goethe. This suggests that Kant's influence on some subsequent thinkers is largely “a disaster,” while Goethe is a continuing source for a deeper grasp of human consciousness.
Goethe's major contributions to our greater self-knowledge include: (1) a new model of “autonomy”—the creative and independent use of all human passions; (2) the view that a man's mind has no essence apart from his deeds; (3) the need for the mind to be understood through all its stages of development; and (4) the view that a proper scientific method can require multiple hypotheses founded on a rich sensory experience (a “poetic science”). In addition, the force of Goethe's own character and living example inspired others to discover their own minds.
In contrast to Goethe, Kant fallaciously assumed that: (1) “autonomy” means acting in accordance with rules or “laws” we have given ourselves, (which could be obsessive rather than creative or independent); (2) man has an essentially unknowable self behind the realm of his speech and arts; (3) the mind does not develop but has the same necessary structures everywhere; and (4) philosophy can prosper from merely examining the necessary presuppositions of scientific certainties, without the need of rich sensory experience, multiple hypotheses, or unceasing questioning of assumptions. In addition, Kant's character was no model of courage of rich experience; his prejudices and obscure writing style kept him and hers from discovering their own minds.
Hegel had a conception for a phenomenology of the spirit (or “mind”) that echoed and fruitfully developed Goethe's four contributions. Unfortunately, he also accepted Kant's insistence on certainty, completeness, and necessity. Hegel's contributions can be summarized by five points: (1) that views and positions have to be seen as a whole; (2) that each view must be seen in relation to the person holding it; (3) that each position should be seen as a stage in the development of mind or spirit; (4) that a position needs to be seen in relation to fundamentally opposing views; and (5) that men's creativity in art, religion, and philosophy are illuminated by these methods. Unfortunately Hegel's feigned rigor hid these contributions behind a vague Kantian writing style, but this makes the subservient contributions of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard understandable—if not strictly “necessary.”
The Egoist as a “Psychopath”
“Ethical Egoism and Psychological Dispositions.” American Philosophical Quarterly 17(January 1980):73–78.
Moral philosophers have argued against ethical egoism as an internally inconsistent theory, as a solipsism, and as a system which cannot be properly termed a moral theory. However, these arguments have not proved particularly persuasive. As a result, Prof. Thomas presents a new argument which seeks to refute egoism on psychological grounds.
Thomas defines ethical egoism as “the view that a person morally ought to maximize the satisfaction of his or her own long-range interests”—which involves taking advantage of others whenever the egoist does not run undue risk physically, financially, or psychologically. Thomas labels his definition the E (exploitation) principle.
In schematic form, the Thomas argument against egoism runs as follows:
“P1 A true friend could never, as a matter of course, be disposed to harm or to exploit anyone with whom he is a friend (from theion of a friend).
P2 An egoist could never be a true friend to anyone (from P1 and E principle).
P3 Only someone with an unhealthy personality could never be a true friend to anyone (definition of a healthy personality).
P4 Ethical egoism requires that we have a kind of disposition which is incompatible with our having a healthy personality (from P1-P3).
P5 Therefore, from the standpoint of our psychological makeup, ethical egoism is unacceptable as a moral theory.”
To avoid the charge of circularity in this argument, Thomas examines at length the psychological grounds for statements P1 and P3.
To begin, he states that all human beings receive their initial sense of selfworth from others—usually in the form of parental love. As we mature, this need for positive assessment from those around us declines. Nonetheless, no human being can maintain psychological health without occasional approval from at least one person whose judgment he respects and trusts. The psychological principle of reciprocity also makes it likely that we will regard favorably someone who esteems us. However, the egoist must even be prepared to take advantage of a person who values him whenever his interests are at stake. Since the egoist treats those whom he trusts and (probably) likes as if they were enemies, he cannot act as a true friend.
Furthermore, psychologists agree that stability of character is one of the essential dimensions of a healthy personality—that is, a conjunction of positive personal traits which endures through a wide variety of circumstances. Anyone who feels well-disposed towards a person and is yet capable of exploiting that person at an opportune moment manifests clear instability of character. He thus lacks a basic element of psychological health. In fact, the behavior described may not only be termed unhealthy but psychopathic. In Prof. Thomas's view, the true egoist would merit the diagnostic label of psychopath.
Thomas acknowledges that several philosophical approaches might serve to question and perhaps refute ethical egoism. He also emphasizes, however, that a close examination of our human psychological make-up will yield significant material contributing to an ultimate invalidation of the egoist position.
The History of Social Psychology
“Contemporary Social Psychology in Historical Perspective.” Social Psychology Quarterly 42, 1(1979): 82–93.
The history of social psychology as a field of empirical research covers only some eighty years. Despite this brief period of activity, social psychology has grown prodigiously in complexity and influence. As a social psychologist for the past forty years, Prof. Cartwright assesses the current state of the field in the light of its historical and social context.
Historically, the 1930s and 1940s witnessed the most rapid growth in the number of social psychologists and in the sophistication of their research. This development may be attributed to two factors. First of all, the rise of Hitler provoked a massive exodus of intellectual talent out of Germany. Men of the calibre of Lewin, Heider, Köhler, Wertheimer, Katona, Lazarsfeld, and the Brunswicks decided to settle and work in the United States. These emigrés brought to American social psychology a much needed freshness and originality, while they exerted a direct personal influence on students who would play a crucial role in the field's subsequent development: Asch, Krech, Festinger, Schachter, etc.
In addition, the problems generated by World War II induced the U.S. government to seek solutions by massively subsidizing social research. Investigations of topics ranging from building civilian morale to coping with the psychological problems of a wartime economy produced a tremendous mass of new information, although very little in the area of theory. This need for research also gave rise to ambitious training programs which continued operating even after the war. Their success may be measured by the fact that 90% of all social psychologists who have ever lived are alive at the present time.
While Prof. Cartwright expresses a basically positive view concerning the present state of his field, he nonetheless points to several areas where social psychology is experiencing difficulties. He characterizes these as maturation problems in a quite young science.
He regards, for example, the preponderantly white, American, middle-class status of most social psychologists as a hinderance to examining questions of importance to other classes and ethnic groups. He also feels that fascination with technical virtuosity has too often supplanted a concern for substance in research projects. Even more importantly, the lack of a general theory and the plethora of smaller ones has tended to fragment the field into discrete specialties with little or no relationship to one another. The most damaging of these divisions is that which exists between researchers who stress the psychological and those who emphasize the sociological aspects of life in society. Any developed general theory would have to integrate these two separate and often hostile approaches.
Psychology, Self, and Society
“Psychological Research and its Significance for Modern Man.” Universitas (English edition):21(No. 3, 1979).
In the past fifty years psychology has succeeded in developing objective methods for studying human behavior. These research techniques have led to general statements on the probability of particular human responses under specified conditions. According to Prof. Mitscherlich, however, these advances have been achieved at the cost of a considerable impoverishment of outlook. Academic psychology's elimination of such crucial human factors as individual subjectivity and self-reflection has reduced this science to a kind of “human engineering.” Instead of cultivating and deepening human awareness, it relies to a large extent upon lack of awareness for its success in the “prediction and control” of behavior.
Pre-experimental psychologists, by contrast, viewed their function in almost Socratic terms. They sought to provide individuals with reliable help in the task of self-understanding. They assumed that each person was unique in his responses to the physical and social environment which he encountered. Because he was a decision-making being, the individual was not governed by species-specific behavioral patterns.
The hypothesis that man's psyche can be studied like any other natural object gave rise to laboratory techniques which effectively eliminated any examination of the inner, decision-making man. Experimental psychology's focus upon exterior behavior turned it into a “psychology without a soul,” cut off from actual life-situations and thus meriting the ridicule it has received.
Sigmund Freud, while admitting the necessity of isolating natural laws of behavior, recognized the folly of eliminating so crucial a human dimension. He, therefore, tailored his method to the object of his research. Depth psychology relied on a more cumbersome, long-term observation of emotional processes within the dynamics of a true two-person relationship. A perceptive and trained observer derived general statements concerning human behavior based on the unfolding of this dynamic process.
In Prof. Mitscherlich's view, the results of such human-oriented study have been both fruitful and far-reaching. Developmental and social psychologists as well as researchers in other fields of applied psychology have long accepted notions of the unconscious process and the role it plays in generating conflict and decision. These psychologists have also made extensive use of the theory of defense mechanisms which serve to attenuate a conflict in impulses.
Nevertheless, the split between depth psychology and experimental psychology remains. According to Mitscherlich, academic psychology consciously or unconsciously encourages regressive social processes by its manipulation (in conditioning) of low-level motivation, such as the need for social approval. By relying upon immature emotional functions to exercise scientific control and by excluding critical self-perception, modern experimental psychology actually works against the assertion of individuality and augments already heavy social pressure at the level of “archaic psychic responses.”
Looking toward the future, Mitscherlich finds hope in the possibility that psychoanalysis may extend its curative influence beyond the level of the two-person relationship to the level of society as a whole. The insights of psychoanalysis into the sublimation of human instinct, emotional deformation, rational hypertrophy, and the formative pressure of social conditions might well help alleviate many pathogenic social conflicts and encourage the development of higher ego functions on a mass scale.
Free Will, Responsibility, and Motivation
The Determinants of Free Will: A Psychological Analysis of Responsible, Adjustive Behavior. (New York: Academic Press, 1978.
The author describes freely willed behavior as occurring “whenever an individual has planfully created preferred changes in his environment.” Free will is conceptually linked with competence in striving to meet personal standards and with taking personal responsibility for one's actions. Such competence and responsibility depends upon a predictably responsive environment. Failure of will is associated with ineffective action, powerlessness, and neurosis.
An implicit theory of responsibility is presented in which a person's imputation of responsibility is described as a function of two factors: (a) intentional vs. unintentional, and (b) chosen vs. imposed. Responsibility exists in circumstances where people understand themselves to be in control of their actions, i.e., where their behavior appears intentional and chosen. In those instances where there are no inducing or impelling external influences evident, the causes of behavior are presumed to be internal. Responsibility is not imputed when behavior is generated either impulsively or in response to strong external pressures, even when the behavior is intentional.
Responsibility for behavior is associated with “proactive” (anticipatory) information processing and problem solving, rather than mere “reaction.” High drive states are associated with greater reactivity and, hence, less freedom of choice. In the process of learning methods to achieve drive reduction, the range of freedom is expanded.
The author also explores the relationship of responsibility to Rotter's concepts of internal and external locus of control of reinforcement. Individuals are shown to differ in the extent to which they perceive themselves to have freedom of will. Those claiming greater sense of choice report themselves as more satisfied, confident, and self-disciplined. They also scored higher on tests of information and intelligence.
Research connections between freedom of will and numerous psychological phenomena are discussed. These include achievement motivation, persuasion, conformity, social cooperation, and moral reasoning. The research on the antecedents of personal freedom indicates that individuals with a strong sense of internal control recall their parents as providing predictable, consistent discipline and informative, loving support for attempts to achieve independence. The social structures which promote freedom of choice and personal responsibility are identified as involving the extensive flow of information and trade. The more fluid a society, the greater value is placed on education and the greater is the likelihood of social cooperation.
Free Will, Purpose, and Responsibility
Discovering Free Will and Personal Responsibility. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979).
Psychology, as a result of its emulation of the physical sciences, has created a language and methodology in which human freedom cannot be properly expressed or studied. “To be free is to be without constraint, open to alternatives, and not bound by a fixed course” (p. 10). Since there are always limitations on behavior, freedom is relative, not absolute. Free will and personal responsibility need to be understood in terms of the nature of causation. The author introduces Aristotle's description of four conceptions of causation (material causes, efficient causes, formal causes, and final causes). Psychological science, with its exclusive concern with constitutional and antecedent variables, has restricted itself to a discussion of material and efficient causes. This precludes the consideration of purpose in human behavior. This view is expressed in its classical form in the behaviorist school of psychology. In contrast, psychoanalysis, while adopting the language of determinism, has incorporated the concept of final causation. Human behavior is seen as purposive, although these purposes are seen as operating on an unconscious level.
The author discusses the importance of the differences between demonstrative-and dialectical-meaning relations. Where science has restricted itself to demonstrative meaning, humans also think in dialectical terms. This is a crucial fact which psychologists must incorporate into their theories. It is through dialectical thinking that humans can function in the realm of free thought and can transcend the established categories of understanding. Dialectical though is also involved in self-reflexive thinking, i.e., thought about one's own thinking.
The model of behavior offered by the author involves an analysis of human responses as a function of antecedent conditions and “telosponses” toward future goals (final causes). Human behavior becomes more predictable when consideration is given to the outcomes a person is trying to achieve. The results of psychological research are presented to support the model. Various forms of psychotherapy, including psychoanalysis, behavior therapy, and existential-phenomenological therapy, are shown to incorporate a purposeful image of human activity. Each involves a self-determination process both in its view of the development of emotional difficulties and in their cure. Other areas discussed in terms of “telosponsive” behavior include eastern philosophy, brain research, and the popular “how-to” psychologies.
Political “Groupthink” and Reality
“Identifying Victims of Groupthink from Public Statements of Decision Makers.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: 37(1979):1314–1324.
Irving Janis has hypothesized that decision makers are influenced by social pressures toward uniformity in a group and by a felt need for loyalty to the group. The results may be the suppression of potentially unpopular opinions within the groups and a consequent loss of cognitive efficiency and moral judgment. “Groupthink” is said to exist when these pressures outweigh an independent critical analysis of the problems at hand.
In previous research it was found that groupthink policy-makers generally did not“(a) adequately survey the full range of policy alternatives; (b) consider the full spectrum of objectives that might be affected by the chosen policy; (c) obtain adequate information for evaluating the alternative policies; (d) weigh the costs and benefits of each alternative carefully; (e) take proper account of information that contradicted prior beliefs and preferences; (f) reexamine evaluations of all known alternatives, including those previously regarded as unacceptable; (g) develop sufficiently detailed plans for implementing the chosen policy, with special reference to contingency plans in the event known risks materialized.”
The author conducted an evaluation of Janis's groupthink hypothesis using a standardized content analysis procedure on statements of key decision-makers. Archival records were analyzed for five American foreign policy crises, three reflecting groupthinking (the invasion of North Korea, the Bay of Pigs, and the Vietnam war escalations) and two reflecting non-groupthink processes (the Marshall Plan and the Cuban missile crisis). The research focused on: (a) the tendency to process policy-relevant information in simplistic and biased ways, and (b) the tendency to evaluate one's own group very positively and to evaluate one's opponents very negatively.
The results indicated that decision makers in groupthink crises showed less complex reasoning in their statements than decision makers in non-groupthink crises. Further, in the groupthink crises, political groups with which the decision makers identified were more positively evaluated than was the case in the nongroupthink crises. The expected effect for differences in the evaluation of opponent groups was not obtained. Overall, the results provided strong support for Janis's groupthink hypothesis. It is suggested that content analysis can be used to monitor the quality of the decision making of governmental leaders.
Personal Freedom and Autonomy
“A Libertarian Psychology: Self-ownership—A Condition for Happiness.” The Humanist 39(May 1979):28–31.
The author provides an outline for a libertarian psychology: “An analysis of human conduct consistent with the principles of maximum personal freedom.” The concept of voluntary exchange is fundamental to such a psychological system. Successful personal relationships must be freely chosen, honest, and non-manipulative.
Two principles of libertarian psychology are personal sovereignty and personal freedom. Personal sovereignty involves subjective freedom, the right to think, feel, and choose as one pleases. It carries the obligation to respect the sovereignty of others. Personal freedom is the right to be free of restraints within the external world. There is a right to self-defense to protect both personal sovereignty and personal freedom.
If emotions such as guilt, shame, or anxiety contribute to determining how a person acts within a relationship, it cannot be said to be voluntary. Such emotions constitute a form of self-intimidation. Aside from responsibilities to children, an individual is free to leave any personal relationship for any subjective reason which is sufficiently compelling.
The author maintains that “a loving attitude toward people is essential to personal happiness” and that love can only be maintained in relationships that are voluntary. Love should not be equated with an unfree relationship. The greatest challenge in a close personal relationship is to grant the partner total freedom. “Friends and lovers are people. . . whose self interests are mutual, even at times identical.”