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Title: Solidarity and the Root of the Ethical
Author(s): WIGGINS, David
Journal: Tijdschrift voor Filosofie
Volume: 71 Issue: 2 Date: 2009
Like ‘altruism’, benevolence or the concern for another, when it is practised unmixed and in the absence of all other concerns except means-ends ‘rationality’, can be a highly dangerous virtue. Once generalized in the pursuit of the greater good, unmixed benevolence all too easily finds itself constrained — in the words of Philippa Foot — to 'sanction the automatic sacrifice of the one for the good of the many'.
What then must curb or direct benevolence? Scarcely sympathy, which is only the catalyst for benevolence and open (in the shape of ‘sympathy with the general interest’) to the same perversion of the originary source as is benevolence. Hardly fraternity either (or so the Lecture contends). Against benevolence and beyond benevolence, Philippa Foot herself appeals to 'a kind of solidarity between human beings — as if there is some sense in which no one is to come out against one of his fellow men'.
In a refinement and further development of Foot’s proposal, but pressing into service (1) Simone Weil’s conception of human recognition of the human, (2) David Hume’s conception of ‘the party of humankind’, and (3) the resources of the Roman law relating to agreements in solido (agreements in respect of the entirety of something), the Lecture seeks to show what explanatory power and precision will be added to the genealogy of morals by the acknowledgement of a primitive response keyed to the human recognition of the human. In identifying the all-important negative thing that any human being owes to any or all other human beings, namely the solidum that is presupposed to the ordinary morality of all interaction between human beings, such an acknowledgement places limits upon claims that may be entered on behalf of aggregative reasoning. It assists in the demarcation of the proper province and operation of Humean 'humanity, benevolence, friendship, public spirit and other social virtues of that stamp'. It makes space for a category (passed over by Hume) of the forbidden and it grounds the defences of the solidum at the root of the ethical. In a further refinement of these ideas, the same acknowledgement explains the sacredness that Hume himself attaches to consent. It vindicates in neo-Humean terms the profound misgivings we are occasioned by the ordinary workings of consequentialist practical thinking, by its impoverished ideas of agency and responsibility, and by the actuality of the domestic policies and international development policies with which consequentialist thinking has been so closely associated.
'Always there will be winners and losers', the saying goes. But let us distinguish here between a truism and a shameless disavowal of responsibility for acts or policies which, in assailing the solidum, menace the inmost core of morality. The Lecture distinguishes sharply between the demands of solidarity which arise from the inmost core of the ethical and all other however persuasive demands. Finally, echoing claims by Nietzsche against the mentality of globalism yet respecting the claims of true internationalism, the Lecture seeks to restore the claims of the local and the personal.