Saturday, March 11, 2017


306. Public and private causes of action

In the preceding item in this blog I discussed which virtues are a matter of public concern, and which are private. Here is another way of looking at the issue of public and private. I use the multiple causality of action, derived from Aristotle, that I used several times before, in this blog. To recall, this causality includes: who does the doing (efficient cause), and why (final cause), with what material or means (material cause), according to what method, knowledge, skill, or technology (formal cause), under what external enabling or blocking conditions (conditional cause), according to what guiding examples or role models (exemplary cause).

In a market economy, who does what (efficient cause) is a private matter, and in a democracy the goal of action (final cause) also is a private matter. The provision of means (material cause) is a public matter of economy and government. The provision of knowledge and skill, and to a large extent also of enabling technology (formal cause), is a public matter, and so is the institutional environment, to provide the necessary enabling conditions (conditional cause). The exemplary cause also is private: different people have different heroes or role models.

How does this relate to the public and private virtues discussed in the preceding item?

The efficient cause, of who acts where, is largely a matter of private virtues of taking initiative, committing to a choice, and responsibility, and the virtue of courage to do that.

The final cause also is in the realm of private virtue: ‘thymos’, the drive to manifest oneself, ambition, drive for excellence, in a striving for profit, wealth, or respect, or a striving for balance and harmony, or for knowledge, wisdom, or discovery, or for pleasure, or for making a contribution to society, offering care, education, etc., or combinations of any of those.

Especially the conditional cause is in the realm of the cardinal virtues of reason, courage, moderation, and justice, and the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love. Those are public virtues, and procedural, aimed at creating the conditions for people to strive for the good life , in peace and cooperation with each other. Justice must also ensure the conditions for the efficient cause, in offering freedom of initiative and access to the resources needed for the good life, equality under the law, being innocent until proven guilty. It also includes safety and protection from violence.

Public also are the material causes of income, consumer goods, raw materials, and infrastructure, and the formal causes of education, training, science, and research.

In communism, public causes also include the efficient and final causes: who does what and with what goal. In radically libertarian societies, the private encroaches upon much of the material and formal causes, with private provision of services of infrastructure, safety, education, and even justice.

In populism, the largest part of the private swells up into the public. A decent society protects its private parts especially when they are small.