Τhere is a difference between thinking about society and thinking society. It is questionable whether the Western tradition in thinking has ever thought the phenomenon of society in itself, its sociation (Vergesellschaftung) through a kind (είδος) of movement sui generis with its own peculiar ontology, namely, a social, sociating ontology. A preposterous claim that can be comfortably dismissed out of hand from a securely superior, more knowledgeable position such as that of empirically-based social science? Or a challenge that we must first learn to even countenance the ontological question concerning sociation and thus to think society as such as a mode of being, and a somewhat presumptuous claim that political philosophy and social science per se do not think the very element in which their thinking moves?
What does it mean to think society as such? Hasn’t the tradition of Western philosophy already thought society as a sociation of human beings living together in communities? Don’t other species of animals and even plants also form societies or sociations? What is the specific nature of human society? What is sociation as a mode of being? In Aristotle’s Politics we read that “man is by nature a social animal”, a ζῷον πολιτικόν. The social or political animal congregates around the pole of the πόλις, living together in communities. This famous Aristotelean definition of humankind’s essence, of what it means to be a human being as a social being, is closely linked with that other essential definition of man as τὸ ζῷον λόγον ἔχον, the animal that has the λόγος, or language, through which it reasons. Accordingly, humankind would be sociated first and foremost by virtue of having the power of speech as a means of communication.
The sociation of human community in the first place would be linguistic in nature or essence through the practice of humans’ talking with one another. Human community would thus be founded fundamentally on language employed to communicate in a context of common, shared living-practices, with language itself having arisen evolutionarily as enhancing survival chances of the human species. These basic definitions of human society seem to be hardly controversial statements and would presumably be accepted by both political philosophy and social science as rudimentary, essential, definitional characteristics of social human being. However, their apparent self-evidence is itself problematic for any socio-ontological questioning that takes neither human being nor sociating human being for granted, but rather patiently interrogates their meaning as modes of being. The run-of-the-mill way of thinking human being as the human species (είδος, look) subsumed under the genus (γένος, descent) of animals so well-established in scientific anthropology is one example of how superficially Greek thinking has been adopted and put to use, without the least inkling remaining of the ontological depths of thinking in which such terms είδος and γένος were first employed. There are good reasons to regard modern scientific thinking as the residual left-overs of Greek ontology unwittingly adopted which has long since covertly established its as-yet-unchallenged hegemony.
Further reading: Social Ontology.
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