Edmund Burke is a politically based philosopher with a conservative bent. He studied society and it’s affect on people. In the 1700’s people tend think of society and the material ways it benefits (or doesn’t benefit) people involved in it.
Burke thought it was really important to also consider the human element of society and how we personally benefit each other through music, science, art and emotions such as virtue.
Basics of Burke’s Philosophy
Consider that people across the world have a need for creative and emotional expression. We have moral, material, scientific and artistic needs that we simply can’t meet all on our own. Therefore we need others to help meet those needs.
“How do we meet those needs?” asks Burke. We meet them by referring to the customs and traditions of the past whenever we can. When the past is not enough we, as a society, agree to help each other. This way all of us can benefit from the efforts we all put in. This is an agreement we all come to, ergo society is a contract between the world’s peoples.
Some individuals dispute the claim the Burke was a philosopher. They consider him for a political theorist rather than a philosopher. He spent more of his working career in politics so tends to talk via political overtones. He digs deeper and thinks more broadly so generally is considered a philosopher and not just a political theorist.
Overview of the life of Edmund Burke
An Irishman born in 1729 Edmund Burke grew up concerned about relations between the Irish and the English. He helped improve British administration in India and opposed the French Revolution. He actively sought to limit the power of British royalty. His ideas formed the basis for the Conservative Party. He died in 1797.
Fleshing out His Ideas
Since we are more than animals, society is more than just economic or material advantages. Society seeks after the common good (our agreements on customs, norms, and values). As such, society changes over time to reflect not only the past but current thought processes. Change needs to occur slowly as that’s the natural progression. Fast-moving changes do not benefit society (ergo his opposition to the French revolution).
On the other hand, he was a supporter of the American Revolution as it was a slow change, predicated by the needs of that society. He urged the British government to strive to understand the colonists and work with them while maintaining their right to receive taxes.
Nuggets of Truth
I have to admit, I struggle with this one a bit. I see what he is saying (for the most part) and agree that society is more than economic or material gain. Each philosophy, if not fully founded on the truths of scripture will be at fault.
My biggest struggle I have with Burke’s idea that society is a contract, is that he doesn’t see society as what it truly should be. He sees it only as a way for us to get what we want and need. Yes, he sees it as more than just economic gain but includes the harder to quantify things as well, but his focus is on individual need and how society helps us gain that.
Society is not just a means to gain advances in science or education. It is more than just seeking the common good or a way to express our moral outlook. Being part of society goes beyond our own individual needs. It is a way for people to showcase the glory of God through helping of each other, showing grace to each other, and exemplifying the attributes of who God is, to a struggling world around us.
Society helps us to see our faults, offers correction and encouragement, helps to sharpen our wits and minds, and gives us something to stand for or against. A faith-based society doesn’t help each other only to meet our own individual needs, but to help because it’s what we aught to do. What God calls us to do. We need to remember that.
Now the lad and I were talking about all this at supper and he mentioned this. I will try to write most of what his thoughts were. Sorry if I miss anything. 🙂 Society is good and it’s what we need. God has put it in place for us and part of meeting our needs as a society means, as a contract between us, is that as society meets our needs we meet the needs of others. It might be a forced meeting of needs, but it is still a shared action. As Christians, we’re more inclined to meet the needs of others because God calls us to do so. AND we find contentment in doing so because we know we are living as we should.
So what are your thoughts in this?
I mostly used The Philosophy Book to help me understand the theories presented. I also looked at the following sources:
- Great Thinkers.
- Merion West.
- Encyclopedia Britannica.
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- I also used World Book Encyclopedia that is part of the SchoolhouseTeachers.com membership. They have an excellent sale right now, so check it out!