Friendship, humanness and sainthood

Many people genuinely do not wish to be saints, and it is probable that some who achieve or aspire to sainthood have never felt much temptation to be human beings.

That is George Orwell writing on Gandhi, who took love of others to such an extreme that he denounced close relationships, and thereby in Orwell’s view ceased to be human. I was lead to Orwell’s essay by the first pages of philosopher Stephen Asma’s recent book Against Fairness, in which he among other things takes up the virtues of favoritism. I do not know if the framing the issue as a conflict between preference and fairness is a good one, but how we do in fact care differentially about others, and have few problems doing so, is an interesting topic.

There is probably a gigantic literature on universalist vs particularist ethics or something like that, but what is brought to my mind is Friedrich Hayek:

If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed, rules of the micro-cosmos (i.e., of the small band or troop, or of, say, our families) to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilisation), as our instincts and sentimental yearnings often make us wish to do, we would destroy it. Yet if we were always to apply the rules of the extended order to our more intimate groupings, we would crush them. So we must learn to live in two sorts of world at once. (p. 18, 1988, The Fatal Conceit)

Even if Orwell and Hayek may have had different opinions about the actual rules of both “orders”, they have in common that they suggest that there is something essential in the micro-cosmos, a point denied by those elevating sainthood to the ideal.

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