Essentially human: Democracy in the thought of Yves R. Simon

Diane M Caplin, Marquette University


This study unearths the philosophical anthropology implied in the political philosophy of Yves R. Simon. It originated in a hypothesis that political disagreements over public policy and state responsibilities arise from fundamentally different conceptions of human nature. Such conceptions are rarely articulated; instead they are assumed, and the root of the disagreement is rarely investigated or debated. The aim here is to make Simon's philosophical anthropology explicit and to show what view of human nature undergirds his understanding of democratic government. The dissertation opens with a review of the substance metaphysics of Aristotle and Aquinas. This pre-modern world view is behind Simon's contention that civil associations are grounded in human goodness and generosity, not merely in human limitations and deficiencies. For Simon, community, not contract, is the best model for government. Simon opposes individualism but does not tolerate the absorption of individual persons into unnatural social organisms. Each citizen of democratic community, even with obligations to the good of the whole, retains a unique dignity and moral status of his or her own. The second chapter explores the relationship between Simon's philosophy of authority and his philosophy of law, with its heavy reliance on the Thomistic understanding of the natural law. Here, authority and law contradict neither one another nor the highest democratic value; both are essential to the pursuit of freedom. The third chapter considers freedom, arguing that the self-government of democratic citizens is impossible, absent an ethics of virtue. Using unpublished materials from Simon's classes at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, I spell out Simon's claim that prudence is freedom's virtue because it is the virtue that perfects human choices. The fourth chapter traces Simon's philosophy of democratic equality and his arguments that political progress for human equality must be tempered by the ultimate values of democracy: freedom and community. The title of the dissertation hints that there is an essential relationship between Simon's understanding of democracy and his philosophical anthropology. The study reveals that such a claim is warranted.

Recommended Citation

Caplin, Diane M, "Essentially human: Democracy in the thought of Yves R. Simon" (1993). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9325670.