Social and Political Philosophy
16 November 2000
Annette Baier discusses the seemingly opposite positions of individualism and shared responsibility in How Can Individualists Share Responsibility? She analyzes de Tocqueville's concepts of individualism and egoism in the context of a (feminine) moral philosophy of social responsibility and ontology.
Baier writes: " . . . it is hard to see how essentially individual responsibility for action can be geared to essentially collective rights or goods and to essentially shared responsibility for the 'general will' that divvies out the individual tasks and goods that particular persons get as their individual allotments." She is not damning radical individualism in favor of compulsory responsibility. Rather, she refutes the masculine Kantian view of social order as an external force (and hence, an arbitrary and negative constraint on the individual); proposing instead that being social is an intrinsically unavoidable facet of existence, a positive and natural impulse for humans.
Baier's model of social interaction as ontologically necessary seems more robust than Kant’s narrow view of individual responsibility, at least for explaining human interaction (which is indeed the basis of social and political theory). As such, as a social and political philosophy, this feminine view of intrinsic "togetherness" seems more useful than the twin masculine stances of individualism and egoism.