Who Do I Say That I Am?

I don’t agree with Adam that individual responsibility emerged within a tradition, or only ever existed within a space framed by groups. Individual responsibility may be a relic of the state of nature, if one ever existed.

The Durkheim and Foucault schools seem to rightly identify that the individual is shaped by structures and institutions, wherever the individual does not practice volition. But the individual retains volition over the shaping of self in every respect. The individual can only exercise that volition selectively. And the individual should be careful about rejecting the formative structures without extensive deliberation, per Hayek.

The teleological consequence that Durkheim and Foucault aim at (and here I must beg the reader to contradict me if they understand better, because my familiarity with these writers is strictly third-hand) is that certain structures shape the individual badly, in particular “capitalism,” which I put into scare quotes because theirs is a stylized capitalism, but so is mine.

Adam’s thesis fizzled in the examples. But what I understand is that he would warn libertarians not to presume volitional action on the part of those agents that seldom act volitionally. I think a more robust model would first compare the marginal benefit to marginal cost to the individual of thinking volitionally about a particular habit.

How much instruction in virtue is needed? Most pedagogies of virtue guide the individual through a program of deliberation over habits. But we are short on instruction in virtue.

Perhaps the best lesson to learn about virtues is concentrated in the problem of faction, as rightly identified by Adam Smith and Richard Whately. Where deliberation over a habit is discouraged, or completely blocked, we should suspect that the habit is supportive of faction, rather than sympathy. Mill thus placed a great emphasis on liberty of conversation. Precisely those habits that structures discourage individuals from deliberating on are those habits that are most suspect of forming vice in the individual to the benefit of some in-group sympathy.

Finally, virtue is best exemplified and then caught, rather than taught. But who will take the initiative to demonstrate? Particularly when the students might be few, and might not absorb the lesson apart from repeated demonstrations? Those who subjectively value the increase in virtue should expect to have to shoulder that burden personally. The only true route to reform, whether of society or the individual, is through personal expense.

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