Action

It is one thing to specify an ethic, and yet another to fully actualize it.  The Principle of Collective Individuation therefore calls for the process of collective individuation.  Perhaps the greatest challenge is to get from the principle to the process of collective individuation while avoiding the hubristic dangers of the Enlightenment.  We can draw partly upon the insights of Jung, Hayek, and Habermas–and their respective traditions–to get a broad sense of that goal.  Accordingly, we will apply the principle of collective individuation to generate an outline of the ideal action system–with a twist.  The ideal action system, here based loosely on the approach of Habermas, is a map of what the human condition could be.  However, in the following incarnation, we will also draw upon Jung and Hayek to incorporate a profound respect for unconscious and unintended social-systemic processes.

Specifying a functional action system may seem hopelessly unrealistic and ahistorical.  Many people think it is even dangerous to do so.  They would rather make modest improvements than seek an ideal theory.  However, how can one know whether one is making any improvement without some map of the way things should be?  Moreover, to specify a functional system of action, one must to some extent address what constitutes any system of action–past, present, or future.  If we specify the minimum elements of any system of action, then we also specify the minimum requirements of what constitutes anything historical.

All systems of action involve people who interact–and means and ends with and toward which they direct their actions and interactions.  All systems of action involve interacting agents who apply means toward ends.  We will therefore first assume that any action system involves interacting agents.  The possibility of interaction is tied to roles, institutions, obligations, and commitments, which in turn are composed of ideal types.  Hence, (a) grocery store, (b) cashier, and (c) purchase are examples of relatively concrete ideal types.  Ideal types are subdivided into (1) institutions, such as the grocery store, (2) personal types, such as a cashier, and (3) course-of-action types, such as a purchase.  Ideal types refer implicitly or explicitly to meaningful human action, which in turn entails the exercise of choice, ends, and means.  It is largely by interpreting human actions in terms of ideal types that we conjecture continuity and ascertain change within the everyday social world.  In this way, by grounding expectations and corresponding obligations, ideal types are the building blocks of institutions and culture.  For example, if one enters a grocery store, one typically assumes that there will be goods available for purchase and a cashier with which to purchase them.

Such interpretive conjectures concern the explanation and prediction of meaningful human action.  They begin with the assumption that, in some instances, agents have stable preferences and patterned projects–according to ideal-typifications–or that specific changes in preferences and patterns will take place at a designated time.  In such instances, certain outcomes necessarily follow.  Accordingly, one can conjecture that when one approaches the cashier with a bunch of bananas, three tomatoes, and a bag of carrots, he will tally up the price of the goods, he will expect and accept one’s payment, and he will typically give one a receipt.

Interpretive conjectures might be falsified if the observation statements they entail are false.  For example, if I conjecture that I am walking toward a store that is open for business, I can falsify my conjecture by observing that the front door is locked, there is a sign that says “closed,” and that nobody is actually there.  They can also be falsified if they involve logical or physical impossibilities.  For example, the conjecture that someone on earth will actually jump to the moon can be falsified because of its physical inconsistency; it is physically impossible for someone to actually jump from the earth to the moon.

While every system of action involves interacting agents, it also has four aspects: the (1) personal, (2) societal, (3) cultural, and (4) organismal/instinctual.  The personal aspect is the one most immediately accessible to us.  It is the realm of personal psychology or “mind”, which we have already begun to address in terms of means, ends, and agency.  Persons, as the wellsprings of human action, are situated socially, culturally, and bodily, and their actions can have personal, social, cultural, and organismal/instinctual effects.  The organismal/instinctual, via lived bodily changes, needs, and drives, operates at the deep-structural level of the action system.  The desire for human reproduction is an example of a dynamic at the organismal/instinctual level.  Cultural tradition, via institutions, operates at the meso-structural level.  Marriage and the family are examples of institutions operating at the cultural level with which people often associate the desire for human reproduction.  Society, via various organizations and corresponding obligations, operates near the surface-structural level of the action system.  An ongoing commitment or obligation to a marriage or family is an example of a dynamic that operates at the societal level.  Within the personal dimension, affectual motivations for action reflect drives, traditional motivations reflect institutions, and value-rational motivations reflect promises and commitments, and together these motivate choices

We can now return to addressing the process of collective individuation.  It involves four subfunctions, each corresponding to an aspect of the general system of action: (1) individuation, (2) integration, (3) rationalization, and (4) socialization.  Individuation, corresponding to the personal dimension, involves the flourishing of the person throughout the life cycle; it is related to respecting oneself as one who should actively seek happiness according to the principle of individuation.  Integration, corresponding to the societal dimension, involves mutually respectful coordination and actualization of plans for seeking happiness; it is related to respecting other people as ones who should actively seek happiness according to the principle of liber(aliz)ation.  Rationalization, corresponding to the cultural dimension, involves the ongoing maintenance and improvement of knowledge and values according to standards of truth, efficiency, beauty, and morality (which we will address further when we focus on the cultural system); it is related to respecting the full Principle of Collective Individuation.  Socialization involves nurturing the human zygote into infancy, childhood, and adolescence until one becomes a responsible member of the community of adults.  There are accordingly four standards for evaluating the degree of success in the four subfunctions: (1) happiness, (2) respect, (3) rationality, and (4) responsibility.  We evaluate successful human flourishing in terms of the amount of happiness.  We evaluate integration in terms of the amount of mutual respect or solidarity.  We evaluate rationalization in terms of the degree of rationality (truth, efficiency, beauty, and morality).  We evaluate socialization in terms of the amount of responsibility.

Though all four subfunctions have unique features, socialization is the one most closely related to reproduction.  Any functional action system must include individuation, integration, and rationalization.  However, one can at least imagine a possible system in which there were no more reproduction.  It would involve only people living out their adulthood and old age until they pass away without having any children.  On the other hand, it is perhaps more difficult to imagine a possible system in which everyone were immortal–but we can leave that open as a possibility.  In any case, in terms of their cultural and societal aspects, systems of action themselves can persist across succeeding generations.  That is, cultural institutions (ideally via ingrained habits) and societal obligations (ideally via promises and contracts) can persist even though people pass away.  They can persist through the socialization of succeeding generations, whereby institutions and obligations are passed from one generation to the next.

Aspect Dynamic Subfunction Standard
Personal Choice Individuation Happiness
Societal Contract, Obligation Integration Respect
Cultural Institution, Habit Rationalization Rationality
Organismal/Instinctual Need, Drive Socialization Responsibility

There are several other useful distinctions one can make in relation to the four aspects of the social system.  For example, they entail a classification of motivations roughly along the lines of Max Weber.  The (1) organismal/instinctual corresponds to affectual motivations, having to do with emotions and moods, which can be felt needs or drives.  The (2) cultural corresponds to traditional motivation, having to do with ingrained habituation.  The (3) societal corresponds to value-rational motivation, having to do with conscious preference for a value or end for its own sake.  Value-rational motivation, as proposed in the current analysis, is like following a Kantian categorical imperative.  The (4) personal includes all types of motivation, and in that sense people are situated socially (through organizations and obligations), culturally (through institutions and habits), and bodily (through felt needs and drives), but the personal is unique in that it also includes instrumental motivation.  Instrumental motivation, as we will address it within the current analysis, is like following a Kantian hypothetical imperative.  It concerns selecting one means over another according to some kind of rational criteria, like economic or technological efficiency.

The aspects of the general action system also tend to favor certain relationships or orientations roughly along the lines of Alfred Schutz: the (1) organismal/instinctual, tied to the family, favors the we relationship; the (2) cultural, tied to traditional patterns of behavior, favors the relationship with the predecessor [across the dimension of historical time]; the (3) societal, tied to organizations and obligations, favors the relationship with the contemporary [across the dimension of social space]; and the (4) personal favors the “I” as opposed to the “me” relationship.

These aspects also reflect the organizing principles of past and present societies: the (1) organismal/instinctual, again tied to the family, corresponds to the kinship relations of early societies, which fall under Emile Durkheim’s notion of mechanical solidarity [which we can roughly describe as “top-down solidarity”]; the (2) cultural corresponds to the traditional domination of patrimonial and patriarchal societies; and the (3) societal corresponds to Durkheim’s organic solidarity [which we can roughly describe as “bottom-up solidarity”] of modern societies.  It is dubious to propose stages of social development, but we can see structurally that the former precede the latter.  Patrimonial societies, as instances of traditional domination, are rooted in kinship relations.  Organic solidarity, in turn, as manifested in societal or extended order, is rooted in the ongoing application of principles that emerge from tradition.  This is one way of suggesting that history has sometimes followed a pattern of systemic differentiation, starting from the organismal/instinctual [kinship relations], moving to the cultural [traditional authority], then to the societal [legal-rational authority]. The differentiation of the personal system, which remains outside this schematic, seems to be mostly a modern phenomenon, though paradoxically the charismatic authority with which it is associated is often considered a primitive form.  Drawing from Max Weber’s work, we can accordingly differentiate at least four sources of authority/domination: (1) familial [corresponding to the organismal/instinctual], (2) traditional [corresponding to the cultural], (3) legal-rational [corresponding to the societal], and (4) charismatic [corresponding to the personal].

(The status of the behavioral subsystem became problematic in the later development of Parsons’s system, and perhaps this is why Habermas does not incorporate the behavioral organism as one subsystem in his conception of the lifeworld. Others might read this as one byproduct of Habermas’s tendency toward a disembodied discourse. Our main deviation from Habermas in the current analysis involves associating the lifeworld function of socialization with the organismal/instinctual or “bodily” aspect of the general action system as opposed to the personal aspect. This is the obvious thing to do, since socialization is largely a process of organismal adaptation, not merely to the wider action system, but to the environment as well. If socialization is tied to the human organism—originating in the zygote—ultimately becoming a competent and responsible adult, then naturally it involves the development of the organism into a fruitful and sustainable relationship with the environment. We understand the mental realm as an emergent order not reducible to the physical realm, though it ultimately remains part of the natural realm. The personal system concerns the mental realm, while the organismal/instinctual system concerns the physical realm. They are obviously intimately linked, so much so that we have opted to retain the organismal/instinctual as one aspect of the general action system as the “lived body” and incorporate it into the outline of an ideal lifeworld. Also, in accordance with our understanding of communicative action within the wider context of collective individuation, we assign to the personal aspect the lifeworld function of individuation.)

[References forthcoming.]

The Social System