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Foundations of Modern Social Theory
Final paper Prompt #2

The
effectiveness of an argument is determined by the entirety of its components.
In order for people to be convinced of something and thus end up believing it
there needs to be a full layout of all that exists regarding the argument and
even if some parts of it are strong as a whole the argument is defined by its thorough
power. The same is true in the science of social theory. If these theories are
to be considered or used at all for any sort of deeper understanding or
clarification they must indeed be solid. When looking into a theory one should
examine its entirety by evaluating its power, parsimony, internal consistency,
interpretive insight, value relevance, rhetorical force/beauty and elegance of
argument, and its fruitfulness. Using this criteria, a theory’s effectiveness
and power can be decided.

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          Immanuel Kant is known as the founder
of modern social theory. He was 18th century German philosopher who
revolutionized social theory. Before him previous theory was derived from
people who believed and studied the works of those before them. There was very
little original thought and what there was he deemed ridiculous. He changed all
of this by looking at life through his own perceptions and experiences and thus
the way he thought, he theorized about regardless of those before him. His
theory on the morality of man and Kantian thought as a whole is defined by
universalism. Therein is where the power of his theory lies- it’s transcendent and applies to all
aspects of life so many can use and understand it. While a number of theories
are quite specific in their scope and their audience this principle of morality
blankets all of that and thus understanding of the theory can help with all
aspects of life rather than just a niche or abstract part as some others. The
core of humanity and society itself relies upon the existence of some sort of
morality or goodness in people. Without this the world would find itself in an
utter state of chaos with all acting in their own good or at least not feeling
a need to care for other that are not the self. Kant describes this morality as
being built on the categorical imperative. This theory is a general principle
that he believes all people must follow in order for society to be effective
and functional.  For Kant, what he
believes is important are the intentions of the person. Whatever consequences
do or could arise from the action are irrelevant to him In this way if the
person is not motivated by morality but rather a want or desire for personal
gain then the action is not justified. In order for there to be justification
for an action it must be done with morality and justice in mind. In order
however to assume that this can even be possible though the matter of free will
must be settled. If someone is not free to do as they wish then it is all
predestined and doesn’t matter. An issue that Kant runs into is the idea that
if the universe is governed by laws, then everything is determined already by
these laws. The question becomes do people really have free will? He is able to
justify free will by holding morality as the center of his reasoning. As long
as morality exists then there also exists some rationality. From this existence
of rationality there must be some will to rationalize. Because of this then in
order to rationalize people need  free
will. However this concept completely relies on morality. If morality is just
another law then people only have free will to the extent that the law of
morality lets us have this will. If not people fall into being determined by a
predestined morality.

          Emmanuel Levinas is a 20th century
French philosopher  The scope of the
theory he presents is just as wide as that of Kant as it deals with all of
humanity and how it interacts with one another. Yet it can be argued, that in
fact the power of Levinas’s
theory is even greater than that of Kant, With Levinas, he argues that what he
is talking about is even more baseline than morality. While morality and ethics
in that nature are important, what Levinas sees and writes about is the thought
that everything comes down to the relation between a person and “the other”.
This situation drives all else that can possibly happen. Kantian theory is not
as deep as this because before his theory of morality can even come into play
there needs to be some interaction between a person and another. The self can
act however it pleases, yet the main interaction that the self will have will
be with “the other”. It is through the face of the other that the self can be
revealed to the world of “the other”. All that is not the self is considered “the
other” and thus “the other” is infinite. What strikes the self and causes a
differing reaction to that before interacting with “the other” is not that the
self looks at the other and sees similarities to the self, but instead sees all
that is different. This reaction to “the other” does not restrict the free will
of “the other” but instead gives the self the responsibility for “the other”.
Kant’s theory and Levinas’s theory are views that do not fall exactly in line
with one another, but as theories they can both exist in the same universe to
be pondered.  Levinas is correct in his
view that his theory is more foundational than that of Kant because there needs
to be this interaction Levinas describes before morality. This does not take
away from Kant’s view of morality because it is very important and a truly
universal topic necessary for balance.

          Another way that theories should be
considered is their parsimony. This factor is especially important in coming to
concise and strong conclusions. Kant holds this as something of high importance.
He is able to take a very universal topic of morality which has many many
moving parts associated with it and is able to break it down into a very simple
idea. There can be no bias or exceptions or rationalizations of what its right
or wrong but at the very core what is important is if the action is done with
the intent of morality. There are certain absolutes that cannot be crossed
whatever the reasoning is so that whoever is acting must do so morally. Now it
may not be as clear cut and simple as this always but there are portions of his
writing that make this the very basic idea. The theory from Levinas is a much
more complex and difficult one to decipher. His core concept is that ethics is
the first philosophy and from that standpoint it is concise. He is saying that
before there is anything else the interaction between one and the other is the
main issue. Kant on one hand, is one of the most well known social theorists
and has works that while transcendent to all, are still not too challenging or
complicated to read. However, the works of Levinas are not at all so easily
read and in fact he is much more tough to understand based off of his strange
pattern of speech and confusing jargon he piles together. This amalgam makes it
quite the challenge to be able to interpret his line of reasoning as some
points. While what he may be truly saying is not difficult in an of itself the
way that he decided to write out his views make it a challenge maybe
unnecessarily to piece together his ideas harming his theory.

          Internal consistency is a very
important part of how a theory holds. For example if the theory does not stay
true throughout the writings of the theorist’s
work, then it is subject to fallacy and thus cannot be assumed as true. For
Kant his thoughts seem to remain consistent throughout his writing. His basic
premise of morality does not change at all and he remains set on the fact that
all that he comes to must be through his own thoughts and experiences. Kant
believes in his own theory that there should be a consistency in how people
act- unchanging in any scenarios. With this in mind his stays true to this idea
throughout his works. Levinas also has a consistency in his works. He maintains
how ethics is the first philosophy. He does not concern himself originally with
any other problems outside of that and sticks with the idea that the
interaction with the other and seeing the face of one different from ones own
self drives an action and a will in order to help and care for that which is
different from the self. These theories both have this consistency in common
which ultimately just strengthens them. Without the consistency flaws would be
opened and leave their argument vulnerable. They stay on topic and do not
change definition or their use of concepts in the middle of their works and
this is foundational in the strength in both theories.

          Interpretive insight is necessary to
look into as well when looking at theories. 
What the person who does attempt to interpret the theory gets out of it
is extremely important. If this insight that the person receives is not of a
high level then there is almost no point in wasting time on such theories as
they do not provide anything worthwhile. For Kant there is great insight that
can be found. Looking into the depths of human morality and understanding
whether or not a decision is the right one can be applicable to all portions of
life.  As such it is seen that in order to keep on the right path
and do the right thing one must abide by these guidelines as defined by
Kant.  Also from Kantian ethics it can be
determined the basis of whether or not a person is “good”. Determining the
quality of a person gives great acumen into deciding the type of people to
trust and associate with. His theory gives actual rules clearly stating whether
or not a person is good by their actions. This is a non biased objective way to
look at people and as such has immense value. With Levinas, it is not
necessarily about a guideline but why humans act the certain way that they do and
what has caused them to act this way. The basic human interaction with “the
other” starts with looking into the face of another and at this moment the self
realizes “the other” and looks upon it another way. Even if there is no verbal
or nonverbal communication between the self and “the other”, the self picks up
on the difference of the face and then will look upon the whole situation
differently. Up until this point the self just knows self and acts as the self
would. When the face of “the other” is seen, the self is not changed to become “the
other” but sees a sense of responsibility and care for the other. It is an
almost altruistic response to seeing another person, yet it strengthens and
changes interactions.

          Value relevance is key to a theory’s use and accuracy. The idea of value
relevance is that there is no bias by the theorist toward a certain item or
mindset either due to upbringing or own personal preference. During their
inception and presentation of the theory, the theorist should attempt to stay
neutral and objective in their ideas. Now, it is quite natural that whatever
they theorize about is of some personal interest to the theorist. This
occurrence is quite natural and makes a lot of logical sense. It seems almost
self evident, but people think about what they are interested in. Critical to
value relevance is staying neutral and not letting the self sway away from
objectivity. Kantian theory it seems revolves a great deal around the idea of
being without bias in all decisions. It is predicated on acting in the right
and moral way. There are certain absolutes that cannot and should not be gone
against for any reason. With this bering the case, Kant has nothing swaying him
toward this ideology but rather is set on establishing principles of morality
and justice. Levinas on the other hand spends some of his works criticizing
others for their own biases. Influenced by the works of both Heidegger and
Husserl he has gripes with both of them for bringing in their own personal
biases to their theories tainting them. With that in his own works he seeks to
keep this bias out and focus on pure theory. In this way he has been able to
stay neutral and keep a value to his theories. Both of these theorists state a
conscious distaste of those who allow biases to come into their works and as a
result do what they can to keep their own out of it. Both of their theories in
nature do not allow for the presence of a bias with Kant hoping for morality
and Levinas a care for the other even though there is a confusion and a
disturbance by the face of the other. Again by holding to this principle both
of the theories are strengthened.

          As Rhetorical force both of these
pieces are strong in their own right. 
Kant’s theories have
been able to hold up the hundreds of years since he has been dead. He makes
very clear cut arguments that in which he explains his necessary rational steps
to the conclusions he makes. Yet he is by no means infallible as there are
definitely some holes that can be pointed to in his arguments. For example a
big issue is the fact that it is not possible to apply reason to all scenarios
and that sometimes there needs to be judgement in certain cases. When there are
two situations it does not help to decide what do to with the lesser of two
evils. Kantian theory would say to do what is moral and would let society
continue to run however there can be scenarios in which this does not totally
apply and as such there are some issues with Kant. Levinas does not seem to
have these glaring errors that appear in Kant’s work. Levinas as one inspired
by the works of the Nazi Heidegger, fixes and clarifies the errors that
Heidegger falls into and that allows him to have these views. In this case with
Heidegger he falls into this trap of fearing and trying to push away the “they”
as he calls it. To Heidegger the “they” is a way that the world is but not
based on my own accord but based on the views of “the other”. “The other” decides
the they. Yet, for Levinas he sees the view of the “they” as too focused and
rather does not equate the other with the “they”. In this case this is where
the fundamentals of his nazi views can be found by worrying too much about the
they. Using this he is able to carve and argument that in fact the base
interaction with the other is what all life revolves around.

          The fruitfulness of a theory speaks
greatly to the impact its implementation and further research will have. In the
case of Kant using this theory would create a general sense of morality that
extends to all peoples and does not make any biases for anyone due to race
gender or creed. It would additionally create a model for the quality of a
person and rather than leaving it up to a guess or estimation, according to
Kant one could just look at the motivation for actions and based upon that a
person’s true worth can be found and
established. As such a broad and wide ranging a topic as morality is the theory
would lead to deeper looks at peoples motivations for actions. It would make
clear the lines of right and wrong and help those to make decisions that might
be stuck otherwise. The new research it could lead to is endless as even Kant
himself claims that people can only choose what they do so long as they act
within the laws of morality. People are unable to work outside of that and
still do what they would please to do. Since Kant there has been such research
that has been compounded on top of his ideas. Kantian ethics is a huge study
that many people spend their lives on. Most philosophers after him have been
impacted by his own works and if they do not base their own theories directly
off of him, he has an impact on the way that they see morality. Levinas’s work
is not as fruitful, but still creates new research into what makes up the
other. Living in a world where it is not just the self causes us to react
differently to that which we can not experience as we experience the self that
we know and can control. Levinas’s work has not been able to strike up the same
interest and theorizing behind it as Kant’s has. One possible reason for this
is that the morality issue is something that people deal with more often and
are more interested in. Also with Kant’s theory it spreads out to such far
reaching aspects. The issue of morality is so strange to many because it is not
a physical object and no one can quite understand what it is yet without it the
world would not be able to function without some sort of chaos occurring. As a
result this has been dissected by many before and after Kant but as a result
from his own theories countless thinking and theorizing has been done. While
Levinas is indeed important his work is not as influential and well regarded as
the of Kant though since they do not directly compete with each other and they
are separated by a great deal of time Levinas does not fall behind the shadow
of Kant.

          Theories are able to hold truths in
them that allow for others to use them for their own gain and to better
understand how people and are world work. Breaking down these theories allows
for the determination of whether or not the theory has any value in it or
whether it has been flawed in any way. Through this evaluation of both Kant’s and Levinas’s theories it can be
determined how both have great influence and scope in the lives of all people
living in the world. Both deal with very broad and universal topic that shape
the way humans live with one another. Yet the simplicity and universality of
Kant’s theory creates more general interest in his thoughts compared to Levinas
who speaks on less known or pondered ideas. That said, what Levinas does bring
to his theories is quite strong. In fact the basis of his theory could be
argued to be much stronger than that which Kant speaks of because his theory cannot
apply the same in all circumstances like a general principle of morality needs
to. With that said both theories have great intellectual power and stir up many
ideas surrounding them. Their arguments are concise and though both have their
downsides are overall sturdy and can be used. 
Through this continuation of knowledge society can understand more about
itself and leads to a more successful and comprehensible entity. 

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