The Philia Proposal continued


One cannot create, plan or even attempt to rebuild a city like Florence.  It has to grow - like an ecosystem.  And this is why cities like Florence and regions like Tuscany can be said to be resilient.  Left to themselves, they evolve, grow new centres and repair local damage without ever losing their organic harmony.  This is apparent in Frances Mays’ beautifully illustrated book on Tuscany  which shows how public places invite and support a sense of community reflecting Philia values.

Resilience is the bouncing back of an ecosystem, human or physical, individual or collective, to its original form after a shock or a stress.  This concept is closely related to Philia by the emphasis on interconnectedness.  Aristotle thought that human beings are by nature political animals - zoon politikon - meaning that it is in their very nature to live in communities.  Thomas Hobbes, who inspired a certain form of liberalism, believed the opposite to be the case: that man is a wolf to man - homo homini lupus.  Adopting the Aristotelian rather than the liberal perspective has important consequences.  Social engineering corresponds to a vision of society as a passive machine, an artificial collection of private individuals.  The Aristotelian concept of society as a living community of social animals requires what I would call a “natural model of social action”, a model inspired by Hippocratic principles, the first of which is “firstly, do no harm”: Primum non nocere! Social change in this perspective consists chiefly in removing obstacles to communities’ self-healing powers.  Five types of social actions flow from this natural model for social action 

Liberating Actions
A liberating action removes the obstacles that prevent people’s natural sociability. Some of these obstacles can be legal, financial, psychological and institutional. Our systems of caring have often unwittingly created dependency on services. Creating individualized funding or direct payments could be an example of a liberating action.


Inhibiting Actions
These actions are about avoiding or stopping certain behaviours. For example boycotting a certain product or socially irresponsible corporation are inhibiting actions. ‘Turn off the TV Week’ or ‘Buy Nothing Day’ are other examples. Producing consumer guides and rating systems promote inhibiting actions. In social services stopping the use of terms like client and caseload could inhibit the treatment of people as objects within the system.

Catalytic Actions
Catalytic actions could also be considered homeopathic. They are the small actions of ‘the right dose at the right time.’ When the timing and dose are just right the effect is large. Such actions may trigger a breakthrough in how people or communities view themselves. Our systems of care often override timing or prescribe the same dose for everyone.

Inspiring Actions
Inspiring actions connect people to meaning. They remind us that there is something larger than ourselves. Viewing art, writing or reading poetry, engaging in dialogue and walking in a beautiful garden can all be acts of inspiration. How can our systems of care inspire both those giving and receiving care?

Nurturing Actions
People and communities need daily nurturing to remain intrinsically at their best. Nurturing actions consist of planning time and space to make room for the small miracles of daily lif: the sense of wonder one feels at beauty glimpsed in a finely crafted object or furniture, a painting briefly lit by a ray of sunshine ... As Blake said :

He who binds to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy

But he who kisses the joy as it flies

lives in eternity’s sunrise

Perhaps we need to learn to see eternity’s sunrise in the smile of the strangers we meet and that, smiling back, we choose to include in our world.


  1. Simone Pétrement, La vie de Simone Weil, Fayard, Paris, 1973, Vol.  2, page 346

  2. Simone Weil, Écrits- de Londres et dernières lettres, Paris, Gallimard, 1957, p. 13.

  3. Mortimer J.Adler, Paideia Problems and Possibilities, Macmillan Publishing Company, New-York 1983, p.8.

  4. Lewis Mumford, Culture of Cities, Harvest HB 187, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc., New York, 1970, p. 51.

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