Governance is one of the most critical issues in philosophy since it illustrates a conflict between people’s right to freedom and their willingness to live in an ordered society. Peter Cave’s chapter “Man or Sheep” discusses this concept in great detail, exploring the benefits of centralized governments and their influence on individual freedom. College can be viewed as a state due to the existence of a clear governance structure and rules that students must obey. The present paper will seek to relate the concepts and ideas introduced by Peter Cave to student life in college, showing that, while some degree of governance is required, colleges should make adjustments to promote freedom of thought and expression among their students.
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One of the first concepts that are introduced in the text is competitiveness. Cave refers to the work of a political philosopher Thomas Hobbs, stating that humans are competitive by nature, and this quality prevents them from living an ordered and peaceful life without a government in place (89). The concept of competitiveness can be easily applied to the contemporary academic environment, where student rivalry is intense. Most students want to outperform their classmates by getting better grades or receiving praising comments from professors.
Nevertheless, I do not agree with Cave that this rivalry is due to human nature (89). Instead, the educational system and the college “government” have created a framework to encourage students to compete. First of all, the work of all students is marked based on the same scale, and thus grades can be used to compare us. Students who outperform others can receive grants, scholarships, and other forms of support from their college.
Secondly, most colleges in America offer benefits for students who are excellent in sports and might even apply lower admission requirements to those showing outstanding performance in one or more sports. This contributes to the competitive environment by creating variability among students and the opportunities available to them. Thirdly, tutors and professors have their expectations regarding student performance and students compete against each other to earn their professors’ respect. As a result of these factors, college becomes an environment for people to fulfill their ambition, usually at the expense of others.
While discussing competition as part of human nature, Cave implies that it is essential for people to have some form of external control to leave peacefully (89). According to the author, governance is needed to establish “security and opportunity”, which would allow people to lead reasonable lives (Cave 90). However, when we apply this idea to college life, it appears rather faulty because here, the external control is what contributes to rivalry.
Would students still compete against each other if there were no grades impacting their prospects? Or would they pursue their interests without constraints and learn more about concepts or subjects that will be useful to them in future work or life? In the latter case, the absence of external control would have a positive influence on students and their motivation to learn. It would also help to ensure that all students have equal opportunities to succeed in their academic career.
Another important concept covered in the chapter is the concept of democracy. In a way, democracy is perceived as consent to governance because it enables people to influence those in power (Cave 91). Nevertheless, the principles of democracy do not apply to the college environment, where students have little influence on policies, laws, and rules. In my college, students can only choose their representatives, by they have limited influence on other people in the college “government”.
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For instance, the leaders of different departments and faculty members are not chosen by students and are thus less motivated to go beyond their regular duties and to help students learn better. Of course, some tutors and professors are excellent teachers and mentors, but there are also those who merely deliver the material and grade the students’ work. If colleges were like democratic countries, every faculty member would have been committed to creating an inspiring classroom environment and ensuring that each student receives the needed attention and support. This, in turn, would have had a great influence on learning and motivation and allow students to be more successful in their academic career.
Benefits of Governance
As part of the exploration of the conflict between governance and personal freedom, the chapter also discusses the various benefits of having a government. For example, the author states that many people benefit from services provided by the government, such as protection against external threats, policing, and healthcare (Cave 91). This is also true for college governance because students have the opportunity to receive financial aid, housing, assistance with job search, and a variety of other perks.
Without governance structures, colleges would probably lose a significant share of funding, preventing students from using some of these benefits. The “government” of colleges performs a variety of duties that students would not be able to fulfill on their own, such as renovating facilities, creating events, hiring new staff, and making strategic decisions. From this viewpoint, the government is a necessity that enables students to gain the most from their college experiences.
Laws and Disobedience
Finally, the existence of laws and disobedience are also among the key discussion points in the text. Cave argues that, in most cases, obedience to regulations is a rational choice, as it enables citizens to reap the benefits of governance discussed above (94). In the academic environment, the conflict between governance and disobedience is a lot more complicated. As shown in the first section of the paper, the college “government” plays an integral part in fostering competitiveness among students. Many of the benefits provided by governance are only available to those at the top of their class, which contributes to inequality of opportunity.
As a result, many students wishing to access these benefits disobey the rules of college by plagiarizing, cheating, or relying on the professors’ favoritism. However, this does not mean that disobedience in education cannot be avoided. On the contrary, enhancing the academic environment would assist in reducing the incidence of misconduct by disrupting the existing link between college governance and students’ disobedience.
While there are numerous drawbacks to having a centralized form of governance in college, they are mostly justified by its benefits. While governance promotes competitiveness and indirectly leads to misconduct, it also enables students to obtain a high-quality education, use college facilities, and pursue their academic interests. Without governance, this would not be possible, and students’ freedom would be limited by the lack of these opportunities. Therefore, abolishing governance in education would not remedy the issues that exist in the contemporary college environment.
An ideal solution to the problem would be to reform the college “government” from authoritative to democratic, as this would enable students to have more influence on college policies. For instance, allowing students to vote for faculty members would help to ensure a high quality of teaching, thus promoting academic outcomes without increasing competitiveness among classmates. Choosing a college president and other powerful figures would also enable students to gain more benefits from the “government” and have a better college experience by voting for candidates that promise positive changes.
For colleges, a democratic form of governance would also be beneficial in several different ways. Firstly, it would help to establish a connection between students and faculty, which would have a positive influence on the number of new and returning students. Secondly, it would assist in managing expenses by only spending resources on efforts that students need. For example, if the faculty was planning to invest in a new garden, but students vote for a renovated gym, it would be better to listen to students instead of spending money on things that do not enhance their college experience. Thirdly, a democratic government would show the college’s commitment to individual freedom and meaningful leadership, since it would allow students to voice their opinions freely.
Overall, the analysis of the college environment using Cave’s theory and concepts shows that the current style of college governance has some drawbacks that limit individual freedom. There are also some other issues that are supported by an authoritative form of government, such as increased rivalry, misconduct, and inequality of opportunities. Nevertheless, without a centralized form of governance in colleges, students would lose access to many benefits that contribute to their academic experience. The only viable solution to the problem, in this case, would be to apply the principles of democracy to colleges and allow students to take a more active part in decision-making. This solution would benefit both students and colleges, thus remedying the issues successfully.
Cave, Peter. “Man or Sheep?” What’s Wrong with Eating People? 33 More Perplexing Philosophy Puzzles, edited by Peter Cave, Oneworld Publications, 2008, pp. 89-94.