Dependent vs Interdepenent

In recent discussions around the term Dependent Rational Animals, a book I hope to return to reading and not just skimming the first few chapters, commenter Boonton and I went back and forth a bit over the use of the term “Dependent.” Mr Boonton argued for inter-dependent instead of “dependent.” In those discussions I had argued that dependence of all necessarily implies interdependence so that the insistence of the “inter-” was superfluous.

But, on reflection, I think that this is wrong. Preferring the term dependent to interdependent is more than an acknowledgement that dependence (of all) necessarily implies inter-dependence. In one of his objections it was pointed out that dependence brings to mind a wife and children depending on a wage-earner. Yet this is exactly right. We are all exactly like the child or the wife depending on others for so much. The notion that the provider in that situation is not dependent is the crux of my mistake. Humans are social creatures. We depend on social interactions to bring out the human nature in each of us. The independent wage earner with a flock of dependants who look to him for sustenance is the myth. There is no (truly) independent person. This isn’t to deny ethical/moral autonomy and independence as a thing to esteem and to acknowledge. But that independence is contained within the context of a network of social and physical dependence.

For further grist for the mill, I refer to this excerpt from a publisher’s blurb on the aforementioned book:

n Dependent Rational Animals, Alasdair MacIntyre compares humans to other intelligent animals, ultimately drawing remarkable conclusions about human social life and our treatment of those whom he argues we should no longer call “disabled.” MacIntyre argues that human beings are independent, practical reasoners, but they are also dependent animals who must learn from each other in order to remain largely independent. To flourish, humans must acknowledge the importance of dependence and independence, both of which are developed in and through social relationships. This requires the development of a local community in which individuals discover their own “goods” through the discovery of a common Good.

One response to “Dependent vs Interdepenent

  1. independent wage earner with a flock of dependants who look to him for sustenance is the myth. There is no (truly) independent person.

    Well yes and no. Instead of a wife or child consider a deadbeat. I’ve had deadbeats living with me for various periods of time. They depended on me but I did not depend on them. There are relationships that humans have that are entirely one sided. Usually these are not very healthy but there are times where they are unavoidable (say due to a severe illness). Other times they just sort of happen for a while before the parties go down other (hopefully more interdependent) paths with other people.

    I like the term interdependence because to me it has a more positive connotation than dependence. Dependence has a negative connotation bringing to mind people dealing with addiction and other like issues. Interdependence, IMO, has a more positive connotation. It assumes the person makes a positive contribution but is not playing a ‘sucker’ who is feeding a flock of ungrateful dependants off his hard work.

    Additionally, definition wise dependence can be a one way street. While the image you’re going for is not the “independent wage earner with a flock of dependants”, such an image can work with the word dependant. It cannot with the word interdependent.

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