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Philosophy Midterm

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In John Stuart Mill’s On Individuality, As One of the Elements of Well-Being, his view of utilitarianism can be interpreted as human contentment and what goes along with making one fully satisfied with his or her true happiness. One must be independent, unique, and capable of thinking for oneself to unlock the key to a blissful and satisfied life (page 32-33). Within Things Fall Apart, the citizens of Umuofia do not think for themselves, they worship their individual gods, and follow the role their society has given them. Mill believes this is morally corrupt and a repetitive lifestyle, where one cannot be living. “He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his plan for himself, employs all his faculties (page 34).” The life the people of Umuofia live is all that is known to them until the British come in. The British bring the idea of worshipping one god and living a more diverse life to the community. They want to allow the citizens of Umuofia to live a more utilitarianism life despite the fact they are also setting up a government for them to follow and obey rules under. Mill states this is still acceptable due to the fact one must see “reasoning and judgment to foresee, activity to gather materials for decision, discrimination to decide and when he has decided, firmness and self-control to hold to his deliberate decision (page 34).” Because Umuofia was never before approached with new ideas and ways, they thought no differently of their own rules and gods. Given this, Mill interprets it as “The traditions and customs of other people are to a certain extent, evidence of what their experience has taught them…but, in the first place, their experience may be too narrow; or they may not have interpreted it rightly (page 33).” With the British’s arrival, the people of Umuofia began viewing many customs differently, which led to their ability to think for themselves. Whether they agreed with the British or not they at least formed new opinions towards their lifestyle. Okonkwo was a prime example of someone who challenged the ideas of the British. He strongly believed the British were trying to oppress their civilization and he tried to get others to oppose the British. Regardless of Okonkwo’s feelings, Mill’s concept of utilitarianism was established. Despite the British’s rulings and actions to be harsh in the eyes of Umuofia citizens, Mill states despotism is not wrong as long as those under the authority can still have individuality (page 36). Mill goes on to say authority can present many benefits for others. The new rules and government brought the people of Umuofia new ways of laboring if they chose, allowed the women to be in a different light, and gave them the opportunity to start thinking for themselves. Diversity was never an option for the Umuofia citizens and according to Mill each person has a “diversity of taste” to distinguish their specific feelings towards anything within this world; an ability no one can take that away (page 39).

In Alasdair MacIntrye’s views, traditions and the unity of Umuofia is a natural and standard way of life. MacIntrye sees life as a circle, where one is on a quest for himself and for his brethren. MacIntrye states: “The unity of a human life is the unity of a narrative quest…the only criteria for success or failure in a human life as a whole are the criteria for success or failure in a narrated or to-be-narrated quest (page 116).” As discussed earlier, the Umuofia people were unified. The citizens lived and worked together in a conformed way, believing and living in similar ways. The cultivation of yams benefited both their families and friends. This also kept all of the men at the same labor status, unless they were a part of select group of men who had earned specific titles that enabled them to be higher up on the chain of command. MacIntrye also states each person must have a virtue, social identity, goods (external and internal), and practices within his or her life (page 116). Without virtues one would not have the structure and unity to go throughout his or her life. Virtues provide one with a need for success in his or her field of choice, providing immense satisfaction within, once gaining that title or successes (page 116). The people of Umuofia serve their gods and families on a daily basis as raised and taught to, gaining satisfaction in knowing their actions are morally correct. Under MacIntrye’s view, social identity is not allowing for one to be known for his or her ancestors past (page 117). In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo’s father was known as an agbala; however this did not hold Okonkwo back from gaining every title himself. Okonkwo was not held back due to his father’s debts nor was he told he could not do something for being his father’s son. The social roles and goods can differ from culture to culture according to MacIntrye because each culture is inherently different from one another and requires different perspectives (page 117). “Every practice requires a certain kind of relationship between those who participate in it. Now the virtues are those goods by reference to which, whether we like it or not, we define our relationship to other people with whom we share the kind of purposes and standards which inform practices (page 113).” For the people of Umuofia, MacIntrye’s views of internal and external goods speak greatly to the people of Umuofia. MacIntrye sees external goods as materialistic goods gained from a competition or labor of some sort. Internal goods are viewed as the fulfillment gained from a competition or labor. Umuofia men gain their obi and fields for cultivating yams from their labor put into farming the yams. Umuofia women gain their children and husband from their dedication to their husband with feeding him and following his rules. The men gain the satisfaction of being stable with their yams and love from their wives and children. The women gain the satisfaction of knowing their children have a place to sleep and a husband who loves them and allows them to live on their land. MacIntrye’s perspective on a practice is where one has “standards of excellence and obedience to rules as well as the achievement of goods (page 113).” Umuofia people obediently farm their yams, serve their husbands, or do anything the gods ask of them. As a whole, MacIntrye sees traditions as an important factor within everyday life. MacIntrye states “a living tradition then is a historically extended, socially embodied argument and an argument precisely in part about the goods which constitute that tradition. Within a tradition the pursuit of goods extends through generations, sometimes through many generations (page 118).” For this reason it can also be stated MacIntrye would see the British invasion against the people of Umuofia making them worse off. Traditions are a stable part of life, being a historical part of life that is a vital importance to society. By the British invading, traditions are broken and new traditions are being forced upon the society, ruining past historical importance and a comfortable way of living. And something the British does not fully realize is that no matter what they do, the citizens of Umuofia will never fully pledge their loyalty to them. Umuofia will always be against a new, “civilized” life.

As for my take on the situation, I can see where both philosophers are coming from, however I agree with MacIntrye. MacIntrye’s take on living as a whole and staying unified makes sense for the community of Umuofia. Umuofia citizens are conformed to their own way of living but they are content. Sure, there are some that question values of the gods but even we question how our society goes about governing. MacIntrye respects the fact that traditions are a vital part of society. Umuofia worships the gods they choose to worship, they follow orders from these gods, they never disrespect the gods and who are the British to say that they are wrong? The British invaded purely on the notion they could gain more money from this civilization. The British saw converting Umuofia to Christianity and setting up a government as a way to swoop in and enforce taxes upon them. With these taxes Umuofia would have to earn a living, pay taxes, and be taken advantage of. These people had no say in the matter. The British acted as if “because we are a more powerful civilization we feel we can take over your land and profit for our benefit.” They led some Umuofia people to believe they would benefit greatly from this converting to Christianity. But in the end all that really came of it was a new belief system, stamping out of traditions, and corruption of the Umuofia lives. Mill’s view of utilitarianism is a great concept at first, seeing how he only wanted human happiness for everyone but under MacIntrye’s view utilitarianism would allow conflict. Everyone can’t have everything they want out of life because in order for someone to get what they want someone else must lose the opportunity of gaining that same thing. It just makes sense to agree with MacIntrye who sees the British’s invasion as morally corrupt. Umuofia was not harming anyone or anything and should have been left to practice what they believed to be morally sound.





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