A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Royce on Original Sin

Royce presents a picture of our beginnings as originally a mix of instinctual reactions to our environment. Such reactions are neither informed by some broader purpose nor are they related to each other in a way, which is reflective of a stable personality. For these actions to be considered a kind of conduct, whether good or bad, they must be done for some end and they must connect up with other actions in a way that is reflective of the kind of person who has done such acts.

The move from incoherent reactions to stable conduct comes from the ways in which one’s social environment responds and seeks to train the person and their conduct.. Such training is most often found in the sort of limitations that a community places on the individual. The most pertinent comes from the contrast of what we are and what we aim for and what the community and individuals within that community desires for us.

We begin to have a sense of what we do, why we do it, the meaning behind what we do through “other instances of conduct with which we compare” ourselves. Am I a good clarinet player? One has to see themselves in relations to a group of other players, by which one can self-evaluate one’s self in relation to others. Sometimes this is found in how I differ from others, but it also can be found in those areas that I am alike others.

As Royce writes: Contrasts, rivalries, difficult efforts to imitate some fascinating fellow being, contrasts with foes, emulation, social ambition, the desire to attract attention, the desire to find myself within the social order, my interest in what my fellows say and do, and especially in what they say and do with reference to me, such are the more elemental social motives and social situations which at first make me highly conscious of my own doings.

But this complex process is not only done through contrasting ourselves with other individuals but also with the wider community at large. That may be the church, the nation, and any number of communities where we understand ourselves either in agreement with the “general will” of such communities or find ourselves at odds with them.

Through the community, one begins to develop the means by which one becomes aware of one’s own individuality and yet it is primarily through the level of conflict that this process is able to take place. A person comes “to self-consciousness as a moral being through the spiritual warfare of mutual observation, of mutual criticism …through taking a more or less hostile account of the consciences of their neighbors.”

It does not mean that there is also not a mutual taking in of the other, in a positive fashion, but it does mean that to the degree that an individual is created, there will be some level of contention between the individual and the group from which the individual came out of. Thus it is the very social training that, far from producing socially obedient creatures, which replicate the values and beliefs of the community instead produces the individual who becoming aware of their own individuality finds the community a place of limitation and restriction.

The more social training is used in the formation of the individual, the more the individual self-will is brought forth in opposition to what has produced it in the first place and there the tension arises. How can the individual be that individual without losing the required social cohesion of the community? And how can the community have that cohesion without destroying the individuality, which contributes to the community?

If it was simply an issue that individuality brought the end of social cohesion it may seem as if the community’s interest would be to try to not raise up individuals. But this is not an option for the community. Once they have sought to train the individual, shape their conduct as conduct and not a bundle of reactions, even the laws and group pressures cannot help but provide the basis for contrast that serves in the development of individual self-assertion.

It is this training that creates the possibilities of a moral life, one, which develops the relatively unified personality that provides the basis for self-reflection and self-consciousness. And yet Royce identifies this as an evil since with this moral life comes the social tension, which makes one enemies, in some degree, with every other individual. This becomes the moral burden of the individual, as far as they are an individual; they are at odds with others.

Salvation will be found in this process through his discussion of grace and the role of the beloved community of which volumes have been written. But I wanted to focus on how he treated original sin.

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