The paper "The Concept of Self and Society" is a delightful example of a philosophy essay. The concept of self and society is one of the most critical aspects of the philosophy and underlying debate that attempt to present a balanced and historical analysis of the way our lives should be governed. Sandel’s ideas on self and society reflect the basic philosophical ideologies of liberalism and how one should be self-governed. He is, however, well aware of the practical difficulties that Americans are facing especially his recognition of the fact that Americans are losing control over the very forces that tend to govern their lives. Nagel, however, considers the changing views about the way we conduct our public lives have radically changed over the period of time. For example, “Because of the way life is, this results in real damage to the condition of the public sphere: Many people cannot take that kind of exposure, and many are discredited or tarnished in ways that have nothing to do with their real qualifications or achievements.” (Nagel)
This conception of society therefore clearly reflect the manner in which the relation between the society and the individual has blurred. Nagel, therefore, offers a very radical explanation of our relationship with the society in which our private information and self does not matter most and as such society’s collective thinking is shaped by the forces that are probably outside the society itself. This conception, therefore, maybe coinciding with what Sandel mention that Americans are losing control over the forces that control their own lives.
Sandel’s ideas, however, seems to be more influenced by the basic ideas of Kant and Mill and he largely distinguishes between the two to provide an explanation of the self and the society. From a Kantian perspective, he sees the liberation of the individual as something which is beyond any moral or customs. He mentions it very vividly in the following manner: “The liberal ethic derives most of its moral force from the appeal of the self-image that animates it………….. liberal self is installed as sovereign, cast as the author of only obligations that constrain”. (Sandel)
Accordingly, Sandel views the liberal self as someone who is not essentially related with the society but rather he is someone who is free from any constraints and his relations with the society are free from any type of obligations other than the one that he has set for himself. This position is quite related to the Kantian views of self which are mostly based on the metaphysical views of an individual regardless of any binding from the society. Kantian view of self is also based on the multiplicity of an individual wherein self is comprised of the spirit, the soul and the physical body itself. It is our physical self through which we are being recognized by our society as the individual having certain characteristics. Thus self-perception according to Kant is based on the presentation of the actuality.
Sandel further, elaborate on this in the following manner: “we must respect the dignity of all persons but beyond this, we owe only what we agree to owe” This quote further clarifies the Sandel’s views on the relationships of an individual to the society and the overall extent of the relationship between the two.
This concept of self is radically different from that of the Nagel who view this as:” While we should insist on the protection of individual rights of personal freedom, I believe we should not insist on confrontation in the public space over different attitudes about the conduct of personal life. To the extent possible, and the extent compatible with the protection of private rights, it would be better if these battles for the soul of the culture were avoided, and no collective response required. Best would be a regime of private freedom combined with public or collective neutrality.” (Nagel).
This quote indicates Nagel’s viewpoint regarding how a person or an individual shall interact with the society and collective neutrality shall be observed when the conflict between self and society emerge. The conduct of personal life shall not interfere or rather dominate the collective thinking of the society itself.
Nagel however, also view this debate between the self and the society as two different aspects which should not interact with each other. This also means that the person, as well as public domains of people, should be separate and one shall not interfere with that of the other. Nagel therefore in a sense provide a clear understanding of how our collective behavior shall be shaped in the society and how society shall behave or respond to the individual. This means that the society shall not attempt to transgress its limits whereas self shall also keep itself into within certain limits so as to provide a proper balance between the two.
What is fundamentally different between the two approaches of the writers is not the actual role of an individual in society but rather how an individual and society shall interact with each other. Sandel believes that self shall be liberated from the chains of the society wherein Nagel provides much practical insight into how the public and private life have been blurred and there is now probably less difference between the personal values and the self and the society. He maintains that in a society where public and private domains of individuals do not hold much, an individual shall not hold the key.
Nagel further clarifies this in the following manner: “If in the name of liberty one tries to institute a free-for-all, the result will be a revival of the forces of repression, a decline of social peace and perhaps eventually of generally accepted norms of toleration. “
This position is quite explicit on how the relationship between society and self shall be proposed.
In my opinion, Nagel’s view is much realistic considering the new social forces that emerged as a result of post-industrialism in America. The new forces and increasing emphasis on the negation of self are what new society is all about. Though Nagel and Sandel’s ideas are overlapping at some points, however, Nagel has a realization as to whether the society and individual shall be distinct from each other or rather they should be a reflection of each other. Nagel is therefore superior in considering the fact that there are limits to the self, as well as the society and both, shall not transgress into the boundary of another beyond a certain point. Sandel’s analysis however lacking this and view self as an independent and liberated self with no boundaries.