Discussion Question 1

We talked a bit today about ‘What-is-X?’ questions, and we examined an example in the Euthyphro with the case of the question, ‘What is Piety?’ For Socrates, not all answers count as good answers to these types of questions, but now you have an idea of what an appropriate sort of answer should look like. In particular, we don’t want an answer that only gives us a particular instance of an X (i.e. doing action A is pious), but a general description that captures all and only the characteristics shared by all things that are X.

Let’s take what we learned and apply it to a modern case that I (and maybe you) have been thinking about a lot recently: civility in modern politics, i.e. what is civility? While there a disagreement about whether we ought to be civil to one another despite our political views, it seems like there is pretty wide agreement over what actions count as civil or not (e.g. we might disagree about whether or not one ought to kick someone out of a restaurant for being part of a political group you strongly disagree with, but it seems most agree that such an action is a breakdown of civility). So what is civility? Try to formulate a sentence definition of the right sort, and then give a couple of sentences defending your reasoning. Not each answer has to be unique, but if you agree with someone else try to give further reasons or considerations in response to their post.

Some things to think about (but not necessarily to respond to): How is civility different from politeness (if it is)? from etiquette? Is civility the same for every sort of civil society? If so, it must not appeal to facts about our particular society. If not, it must. Is civility something that applies most directly to actions? or most directly to a person’s character? If civility is political, what makes it political?

8 thoughts on “Discussion Question 1

  1. In my opinion, civility is an agreed upon standard of what defines a civilian and the proper treatment of that civilian. To be a civilian of a society, one is expected to integrate and adhere to certain standards of that society (ex. laws, education, language, physical appearance, decorum, etiquette, manners etc..) Civility is fluid and changes as society changes and is an unspoken agreement within each civilization based on societal influences. The definition of civility then changes for different cultures, time periods, and religions. To be civil and treat another with civility indicates an action therefore I believe civility is a physical and verbal interaction with another based on an agreed upon definition of the proper treatment of said civilization.

    To bring this larger idea into today’s political climate, we have seen a changed sense of what is means to be an American Citizen. The harsh division of the two political sides has created two different civilizations within one country. The rising tensions and differences in fundamental ideological ideals has created different standards and expectations thus creating two different versions of civilians. When the two sides clash, civility is lost because both sides refuse to acknowledge that they are part of the others’ “civilization”, thus treating another as if they are not worthy of civility. This type of disregard has happened endlessly throughout history especially in matters of racism, sexism and classism.

  2. In my opinion, while civility and politeness are often used as synonyms, civility extends beyond basic niceties that are typical of ‘polite’ behavior. The root of civility, I believe, stems from the concept of treating others with respect, even when faced with differing opinions or values. Civility is being able to stand one’s ground, yet approach disagreements in a way that pays its dues to both one’s own opinion as well as their so-called ‘opposition’. Civility also differs from etiquette, in the sense that etiquette should be the practiced norm when interacting with people—yet another extension of politeness that is demonstrated through behavioral customs.

    There’s another aspect of civility which I think also exists: civility is being able to look at the opinions/values of others without debasing them, despite the existence of one’s own ideologies, which may be in disagreement. That is not to say that to be civil, one must not speak up about their own ideas at all—in fact, it is just the very opposite. I believe that civility lies specifically in one’s ability to express their own thoughts with a degree of respect towards the opposition. The word ‘civility’ also suggests that there is the idea of society, or ‘civilization’, which implies that the entire notion would mean that to be ‘civil’ is an act that expands beyond the self and instead indicates some sort of connection to a group, which draws back to the earlier definition of functionality in the face of disagreement.

  3. The civility is what people (especially senators) expect their “opponents ” to behave politely when they attempt to achieve a certain degree of political goal. And for their expectation towards behaviors of opponents, it also includes other characteristics like authenticity, which could be bring more efficiency to communication, and at the same time, self-consciousness, helping provide a clear logic behind an issue. Furthermore, for constructing a successful political goal, different parties have diverse opinions and are sometimes at odds with each other as they own different systems of evaluation. It has become the problem of concern now as the success is a normative concept which could not be examined by people in a relatively short term. So does civility. It means differently according to cultural backgrounds and the degree of civilizations about societies. Though it seems to be really difficult to hold on civility during political meetings, and as people will be annoyed when they opponents try to weaken their ideas, civility is what others expect people to behave in a polite and decorous in public, which includes appropriate expressions, friendly gestures and patient listening skills.

    You may ask that the reasons for acting in a polite way as civility owns such a confusing normative definition. To begin with, we could analyze the motivations behind civility. Maybe it is a kind of respect towards one who devises a strong argument that you are one hundred percent agree with. Maybe it comes out with no reason as there are certain personalities of you opponents, like persistence, courage and independence, even you hold the opposite view. The latter seems to occur without a reasonable motivation, but in fact it just likes piety is what God loved in euthyphro. Love could be unfounded as a type of emotion, so could civility. What’s more, civility always requires higher acceptance, a rational attitude for a win-win situation in the futures. You can still hold your ideas but absorb others’ to strengthen your claim.

    Civility is always regarded as a kind of politeness, and actually it mainly focuses on the interest from two sides of campaigners. Being uncivil could be aggressive and harms the interest of the other, which will bring potential problems to itself, like the inability to cooperate in the future. Politeness, however, is a necessary expression of attitudes during social interaction among individuals. In a nutshell, civility has the tendency towards political purposes.

  4. The term civility is interpreted in many ways such as the act of showing respect or a polite act or expression. Civility shares the idea of “citizenship”. To determine what makes an action or event per say, “civil”, depends on the reason behind the action or event. Some people believe that in order to demonstrate civility, that one must refrain from doing would most satisfying to them for the sake of cordial relations with other people. Yet this is not always the case. For example, when politicians hold their campaign against each other, their goal is to obtain more followers and voters, and to do so, one must try their hardest for their benefit even though it will lessen the chance of the opposite party’s attempt to win over voters. But if we determine that the act of doing something for ones personal gain to be defined as “uncivil”, how must campaigns beheld in order for one to be successful without harming the opposing side. In many cases, civility is not discussed because it is assumed to be known and classified as respectable behavior. Another factor also plays into what makes something “civil”, is whether or not the opposite side because it involves them, or is it based on a larger scale involving more than one side. now we enter the scenario where we have to determine who gets to determine what is “civil”. For example in one campaigner makes a statement that the other is coordinating with North Korea and saying that if he or she becomes president, nuclear tests are will be allowed to happen without any restraints. This harms the other campaigners chances of winning over voters and will consider this act to be “uncivil” but the majority of the the people would disagree because it is helpful information to them. The majority of the voters will lean towards the side that provided helpful information to them as an act of civility even at the risk of harming his or her opponent. Thus, civility can be determined by the motive of the action.

  5. In general terms, I believe that civility is principally a mode of personal conduct that is manifested in respectful and tolerant behavior toward others. However, a precise formulation–in other words, a comprehensive list of “civil” behaviors–is rendered difficult by differences in cultural and social norms. Moreover, such a list would violate Socrates’ notion of an appropriate definition, i.e., one that does not hold up specific instances as a general rule.

    Whether civility may be considered a character trait is debatable; ideally one’s civil behavior proceeds naturally from compassion for one’s fellow man, but this is not strictly necessary in order to carry out the actions of civility. It might be the case that one appears to behave in a civil manner, but possesses unethical motives for doing so. The actions of such a person might be indiscernible from those of one who operates with the purest of motives, at least in the short term. We might in light of this attach some notion of consistency to our definition.

    It is also worthwhile to consider how civility differs from mere etiquette, or a formal code of behavior that would have us “going through the motions” of being civil. Appealing to the etymology of the word, we note that civility comes from the Latin civilis, or citizen. Any attempt at a comprehensive definition should therefore respect the idea that civility pertains to the action of working toward a common good, or of holding oneself responsible for the functioning of a group, even if disagreements occur among individuals.

  6. To be civil is to be capable of acting without uncalled for attacks on the character of another. This should apply in all situations, whether a small family dinner that has begun to discuss the heated topic of politics, or the grand stage of two world superpower leaders meeting. It includes a certain amount of politeness, such as letting the other party in a conversation finish their sentences, make points, and not be interrupted. Civility is also not limited to politics, but any issue or argument between two parties. The key is not attacking the person making an argument, but the argument itself. Simply because someone has lied in the past does not inherently invalidate a present argument; it does however allow for a reasonable request of proof on points made. There will of course be cases where the persons character is itself the matter of discussion, where it then becomes civil to talk about. It is in the cases where someone’s character is unrelated that it can be considered uncivil; to call someone out as a homosexual in an argument about legalizing marijuana would be completely unfounded, a simple attack meant to delegitimize someone’s argument with backhanded tactics. For our lying politician, it is valid for the opposition to bring up their track record of untruthfulness because that could be made the matter at hand.

  7. Civility is politeness on a larger scale; since the word “civil” means relating to citizens, civility is also often placed the context of a country or society. That said, the word “civility” can certainly be associated with a specific person or event, but it is still often related to societal norms and conventions, whether this is obvious. Perhaps this is why the word is used often in politics, a topic so big and so closely related to the well-being of every citizen of a country. For example, when most people would agree that kicking someone with different political views from yours out of a restaurant is an uncivil action, note that you could feel personally offended by those views and still be deemed uncivil by kicking the person out; this is because the two people with different views in fact represent larger political parties, and thus make the problem more complicated.

    Civility is different from etiquette in that etiquette is standard rules of a field of human culture that sometimes just happen to be so. For example, in classical music, the audience does not clap until all the movements of a piece are finished; it could have not been this way, but people still follow this rule, and doing so shows knowledge of music etiquette.

  8. The “civility” of an action may be judged by the intent that underlies it. The predominant motive of a “civil” action is benignant (i.e. well-meaning, conscientious, and respectful). Often, when politicians begin to campaign against one another, each promises to uphold the good taste and decorum of “civil” campaigns. Interestingly, no one really discusses what makes a campaign “civil.” This is because the “civility” of an action is intuitively knowable. A candidate considering traducing another would undoubtedly know that making calumnious statements for personal gain is “uncivil.” However, here arises a crucial distinction: actions cannot be “uncivil” solely because personal gain is derived from the losses of another. If one candidate discovers that another is, say, colluding with the Russians, spreading this information is not “uncivil,” it is imperative. Therefore, it is reasonable to infer that the “civility” of an action may be determined by nature its ostensible motive. When McCain’s presidential campaign manager, for example, put out an advertisement that acerbically castigated Bush’s campaign for push-polling, McCain dropped precipitously in the polls because his ad was uncivil in its unalloyed and visible aggression. McCain’s manager, in seeking to capitalize on Bush’s use of a dishonorable tactic, put out an ad so negative that its maliciousness went against an agreement of civility Bush and McCain had made. McCain’s subsequent drop in the polls (which one may see as the people’s court of popular arbitration) proves that the “civility” of an action lies in its perceived intent.

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