Systems vs. Individuals: Is the Fault of Morality within the Institution or without?

I haven’t fully developed this line of thought, so I’m only presenting something that I’ve observed rather trying to make heads or tails of this.

Many people have looked at certain institutions and claimed that the institution itself is to blame for the social ills.  The reply is that it’s not the institution itself, but rather the individuals within the institution.  Let me give some examples:

1.  Capital Punishment.  According to the systems reply, capital punishment can lead innocent people to their death.  Therefore, the institution (or the system) of capital punishment itself is to blame for innocent people dying.  The individual reply is that we shouldn’t blame the institution (or system) of capital punishment because it’s the best way of dealing with criminals, rather we should just blame the legalities behind it (either corrupt lawyers, bad juries, or inept judges).  So the individual reply is that the individuals are to blame, not the system.

2.  Pornography. The systems reply says that pornography itself as an institution (read: system) is to blame for the sexual inequalities among the sexes.  If we get rid of pornography, then there will be greater equality between the sexes and there won’t be any objectification of men towards women.  Now, the individual reply says that pornography itself isn’t to blame for this.  Rather, it’s the individuals who display objectification and inequalities.  But don’t blame pornography because it’s the individuals.  Now this can go on:

Systems: “But pornography is the reason why these individuals lash out.”

Individual: “There’s no proof of that.  Besides what about the millions of people who view pornography but don’t lash out.”

Systems: “It’s slowly affecting their minds.  They won’t lash out against women, but just wait, it will happen.  The system of pornography is the problem.”

Individual: “If that’s the case, then we should blame the individual, not the institution of pornography.”

And so on. . .

3. Gun Control. I think you’re catching on so I’ll just give the systems (or institution reply) and then the individual reply.

System: The fact that people are aloud to own guns at will is causing more violence in the nation.  Therefore, we need more restrictions with guns because that system is the problem.

Individual: The fact that you can own a gun isn’t the problem.  It’s just that there are a few individuals out there that don’t understand how to properly take care of a gun, or store it.  Maybe give them a class or something but don’t blame the institution of owning a gun, because that isn’t the problem.

4.  Torture

Systems: As we saw in Abu Ghraib, our current interrogation system is flawed.  Just look what happened.  Therefore, we should abandon this type of interrogation and find something else that gives out practical results are abandon it altogether.

Individual: You can’t blame this on the system.  There were a few bad apples at Abu Ghraib and so we should blame the individuals, not the system as a whole.

5.  Marriage. This is mainly coming from a radical feminist perspective.

Systems: Marriage, as an institution, has caused a lot of troubles in our lives.  Women have been under the wing of men and it forces women to not express their full freedom.  Even if they could do whatever they wanted, it’s still a masquerade and they won’t have the full liberties that men do because of marriage.

Individual: Marriage as a system isn’t the problem.  There are bad people so we can’t blame marriage in itself, but rather the individuals in the marriage.

6.  Now so far this seems like I’m supporting the individual answer.  I’m not endorsing nor denying any position, but expounding the differences.  And just so that this won’t sound like I’m fully supporting the individual perspective, how about Totalitarianism?

System: Totalitarianism as an institution is simply wrong.  Look what has happened in history: Stalin, Hitler and so on.  Letting no checks and balances is wrong and so because of that, totalitarianism as a system is simply wrong.

Individual: Again, don’t blame the system but blame the people.  We should blame the individuals Hitler and Stalin, but not the system of Totalitarianism.  In fact, we can find instances of totalitarianism as a good thing: look at King David for example in the Bible.

We can mention lots of others: homosexuality, postmodernism, liberalism, conservativism, capitalism, communism, socialism, even certain religions or just religion in general, atheism, etc.  The list goes on and on.

I’m sure there are more, but I think you get the general idea.  So what shall we make of this?

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
This entry was posted in Capital Punishment, Ethics, Paper Topic, Pornography. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Systems vs. Individuals: Is the Fault of Morality within the Institution or without?

  1. Killer J says:

    I don’t know what to make of it. It is interesting to think about, but hard to come to some definitive conclusion. I guess if I had to choose, I’m on the individualistic side.

  2. shaunmiller says:

    It’s hard to come up with something. The reason I bring this out is because I’ve noticed a lot of people mentioning that some system in inherently wrong. I was overhearing some people, and one of the students said that he was taking a philosophy class. Here’s how the conversation went:

    Student 1: “You’re taking a philosophy class? Why?”

    Student 2: “Well, I’m interested in it. Plus I need it for one of my generals.”

    Student 1: “But doesn’t philosophy make you an atheist?”

    Student 2: (weird look) “I don’t think so. I’m still a believer.”

    So notice that student 1 blamed philosophy as a system for making people atheist whereas student 2 was saying that certain individuals became atheists. At this point, I stopped listening and I thought, “well, are there systems that are inherently bad? But how can we tell?” It seems hard to figure out. I brought a list up above and we could obviously bring out more. But it’s interesting to think about. I’m not even sure where this would fit in philosophy but I think it deals more with psychology or perhaps even sociology as well.

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