My CURF: The Promise of Moderate Cosmopolitanism

As I have already noted in my past blog posts, the goal of my research was to derive a non-egoistic cosmopolitanism from Aristotle’s writings on friendship. However, I think the more interesting question is, what kind of cosmopolitanism does any interpretation of Aristotle warrant?

Before answering the question, I want to quickly summarize the development of my thoughts on topic. I approached the issue by first seeing where Plato stood on the question of egoism in general. Plato posits that the good is oikeion (one’s own) to all humanity and that the good is valued in itself. From this concept of the good belonging (e.g., being appropriate) to everyone Plato goes on to claim that we will only value other’s insofar as they are instantiations of the good – we identify the good in others; more importantly, we only love ourselves in reference to the good as well. This addresses the problem of egoism (we do not love others in reference to ourselves), but it does not address how we can expand concern to others who are not instantiations of the good. How many of us can say we are truly virtuous?

My analysis of Plato then led me to the Stoic notion of okeiosis (appropriation). The Stoics, in contrast to Plato, do explicitly promote cosmopolitanism and specifically a notion of radical cosmopolitanism. By radical cosmopolitanism I mean cosmopolitanism that asks for strict universal concern and equal consideration of interests. The Stoics argue for radical cosmopolitanism by saying that we find our own nature appropriate to ourselves and we identify that very same nature in all humanity, so we ought to find all humanity appropriate themselves. What distinguishes this kind of identification from Plato’s is that the Stoics identify a capacity. Whereas not every person is virtuous, every person does possess the same human nature just in virtue of them being human. Still, the Stoics cling to the concept that virtue is the only good, which contradicts a valuing of other solely in reference to a capacity.

It seems that because ancient philosophy is so hopelessly partial to the virtuous any attempt to derive a coherent notion of cosmopolitanism from it is doomed from the start. And yet, while the radical cosmopolitanism of the Stoics stumbles, there is still the possibility of developing a notion of moderate cosmopolitanism, by which I mean a cosmopolitanism that allows for both universal ethical concern and the assigning of greater weight to our special relations (friends, family, fellow citizens, etc.).

Thankfully, Aristotle leaves the way open for just such a moderate cosmopolitanism. Just like Plato and the Stoics, Aristotle basis appropriation on the identification of a certain quality. Self-love and love for others is based on possessing virtuous character. To extend identification out to a moderate cosmopolitanism, we must quickly revisit the idea of valuing the good in itself.

Since virtue is valued in itself, one will pursue it in all aspects; benefiting a friend – whom you know to be virtuous – will always put you in more of a position to value your own virtue, but a complete stranger does present you the opportunity to value your own virtue as well. Benefiting a stranger presents you the opportunity to value you own virtue, and the more you benefit her, the more you promote your own virtue. Benefiting a stranger also makes her well-being dependent on you, which further establishes a historical connection that demands future assistance.

All I have said so far has been very gestural and I can only present a whirlwind presentation of my general argument here, so I welcome you to read my full paper on the topic if the premise intrigues you. Copy this link to access my paper: https://1drv.ms/w/s!AumdXf5jV-OWhY5h1gDz0szS85ihSw?e=V2D4rd.

Beyond the minutia of my research, I found that philosophical research has been a lot more cooperative than I first imagined. Often, philosophers are imagined closing themselves off in their study like Descartes and meditating on the problems at hand, deriving self-evident truths from their own reason and understanding. In practice, philosophy involves a lot of conversation. It is of course usually beneficial to bring some form of your own writing to discuss, but you must talk about it with someone else nonetheless. Everything that I wrote I talked about not only with my research mentor, but also everyone from high school friends to dormmates. Each time I conversed with others I felt more learned on anything I was writing about at the time. You never really understand your own argument until you express it someone else.

Now that the CURF is over, I can see myself going two ways: researching modern justification for cosmopolitanism or researching different ways of balancing the demands equality and special relations levy upon us. I do believe my attempt to derive a moderate cosmopolitanism from Aristotle has been very useful, but I think it may be best to get a more global view of current understandings of cosmopolitanism. Who knows, Aristotle may just fit well into the modern picture.

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