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When After Virtue first appeared in 1981 it was recognized as a significant and potentially controversial critiue of contemporary moral philosophy Newsweek called it “a stunning new study of ethics by one of the foremost moral philosophers in the English speaking world” Since that time the book has been translated into than fifteen foreign languages and has sold over one hundred thousand copies Now twenty five years later the University of Notre Dame Press is pleased to release the third edition of After Virtue which includes a new prologue “After Virtue after a uarter of a Century” In this classic work Alasdair MacIntyre examines the historical and conceptual roots of the idea of virtue diagnoses the reasons for its absence in personal and public life and offers a tentative proposal for its recovery While the individual chapters are wide ranging once pieced together they comprise a penetrating and focused argument about the price of modernity In the Third Edition prologue MacIntyre revisits the central theses of the book and concludes that although he has learned a great deal and has supplemented and refined his theses and arguments in other works he has “as yet found no reason for abandoning the major contentions” of this book While he recognizes that his conception of human beings as virtuous or vicious needed not only a metaphysical but also a biological grounding ultimately he remains “committed to the thesis that it is only from the standpoint of a very different tradition one whose beliefs and presuppositions were articulated in their classical form by Aristotle that we can understand both the genesis and the predicament of moral modernity”

10 thoughts on “After Virtue A Study in Moral Theory

  1. says:

    What if our contemporary moral discourse were a cargo cult in which we picked up fragments of a long lost once coherent moral philosophy and ignorantly constructed a bunch of nonsense that didn’t work and could not work in principle?After Virtue argues that this indeed is what happened and this explains why our moral discourse is such a messWhy when we argue about moral issues do we make our case in a form that resembles rational argument but the effect seems to be only like imperative statements or exclamations? Why do pro life folks and pro choice folks keep arguing when there is no resolution to their argument?MacIntyre believes we are reenacting forms of argument that once made sense since people once did have a common ground of morality but that we have since lost this in a Tower of Babel like catastropheOur moral arguments today are interminable because the values they express are incommensurable Though the claims of the emotivists are not necessarily true they happen to be true for contemporary moral philosophy when people make moral arguments today they really are just making exclamations of disapproval while disguising these as rational arguments about factsMoral philosophy adopted the idea that moral systems must eventually descend on first principles that everyone must choose for themselves and for which there are no rational criteria you cannot get an “ought” from an “is” The only way to defend any moral framework is in a form that ultimately reduces to “my first principles are better than your first principles nyaah nyaah”Modern philosophy has not found a way out of this predicament The emotivist explanation of moral argument makes the most sense and so people who engage in moral arguments are essentially trying to manipulate others and at the same time to resist being manipulated knowing on some level that there is no resolution which leads to the perpetual histrionic impasse that keeps the news networks and political parties in businessSome philosophers suggest that there are no right answers in ethics or that the whole field of inuiry is bogus MacIntyre says that this isn’t necessarily true but is just the result of the catastrophe that shattered a once coherent ethicsOur concept of “the moral” was invented in the 17th–19th centuries to cover “rules of conduct which are neither theological nor legal nor aesthetic” The philosophical project of justifying these rules developed along with it The classical world didn’t have this concept — moralis or etikos meant something like our word “character” The failure of this philosophical project is “the historical background against which the predicaments of our own culture can become intelligible”MacIntyre works backwards through Kierkegaard Kant Diderot and Hume and says that they were unable to find a rational ground for morality in choice in reason or in passion and desire Each was capable of decisively refuting some of these grounds but each failed to show that their own best guess was rightThe morality that these philosophers were trying to justify consisted of surviving remnants of the virtues like those Aristotle discussed in The Nicomachean Ethics in which ethics is considered to be the science of how we govern our lives so as to best meet the ends of human living the human telosAristotle’s ethics has this structure 1 Humans are untutored; 2 Humans have a telos; 3 Ethics is the tutelage necessary for us to achieve our telos Enlightenment philosophers abandoned the idea of a telos and in so doing lost the only way of making ethical statements statements of fact To Aristotle an ethical statement was true if the ethical rule it described did in fact help people achieve their telos Without reference to a telos ethical statements don’t mean anything at allEnlightenment thinkers who were okay with #1 humans are untutored and #3 moral precepts correct human nature stuck themselves with the impossible task of deriving #3 from #1The insistence that you cannot get an “ought” from an “is” that so perplexed the moral philosophers is MacIntyre insists a bugbear that results from this same undeclared premise that humans have no telos For things with purposes “is” may very well imply “ought” this is a watch; it ought to tell the correct time Good or bad for watches is embedded in the very concept of watch Similarly if a person has a telos his or her actions will be or less ethical to the extent that they assist in achieving it What actions are ethical is a factual inuiry is implies oughtWe still make moral arguments as if they were statements of fact but we’ve lost the ability to articulate what makes them factual To try to fill in the gap we resort to fictions To replace teleology we have “utility”; to replace God’s revealed laws we have the categorical imperative or “inalienable human rights” These are just phantasmagorical placeholders designed to fill in the inconvenient gaps in moral theory but that have no real existence than things like the luminiferous aether which once served a similar purpose in physicsBut we continue to argue as though one of these gambits had succeeded though we suspect that our moral discourse is just a machiavellian struggle to manipulate and deceiveThis leads to petulant “protest” a modern form of moral discourse because rational argument has no hope of succeeding The other dominant variety of moral discourse today is “unmasking” in which foes discover each others’ moral pronouncements to be sham façades that mask selfish and arbitrary desires This amounts to a parlor game since everybody’s ethics have become incoherent and contradictoryAlong with such fictional devices as “right” and “utility” the modern age created “effectiveness” as a moral fetish The bureaucratic manager uses the myth of managerial expertise to manipulate those being managed and to justify the managers’ power The idea of managerial expertise implies a domain of real knowledge about social structures and their inputs and outputs of which the manager has specialized and true knowledge This turns out to be a false claimThe enlightenment also caused the Aristotelian notion of ethics to split into the study of ethics “what is good?” and will “how do intentions become actions?” In the Aristotelian view explanations of human actions only make sense in reference to a hierarchy of goods and to the telos but in the mechanistic worldview human action must be explained independently of any intentions purposes or telos The social sciences of which managers are presumed to be experts are those in which human subjects are seen this wayPeople being manipulated by the practitioners of the socialmanagerial sciences are considered to have no intention or purpose or telos of their own worth respecting but the same is implicitly not the case for the manipulators and social scientists themselvesHuman affairs are systematically unpredictable for several reasons It is impossible to predict the effects of radically new conceptual innovations People cannot confidently predict even their own actions Chance trivialities can have large effects Game theory like situations map poorly to real life situations and even so they imply a necessary level of deceptiveness and recursive counter plotting that makes real world scientific observation and prediction difficult For example during the Vietnam war war theorists working for the US government cleverly created simulations and projections for victory using the best data they had at their disposal — data that was being systematically falsified by other elements of the government who were using their own game theory ish reasons for using deceit in the service of victoryAll we really should expect from social scientists are “usually”s Managerial pretensions to expertise and thereby to the power and money that come with positions like President of the United States or CEO are based on unfounded claims for the precision and accuracy of the social sciences When somebody claims to be doing something because of managerial expertise you can be sure they are really disguising their own desire or arbitrary preference just the same as if they claimed to be fulfilling the will of god maximizing utility or respecting inalienable human rightsNonetheless the contemporary vision of the world is bureaucratically Weberian — Max Weber mixed with Erving GoffmanMacIntyre says that we are like the Pacific islanders who had taboos they could not explain to the explorers who visited them Whatever reasons originally led to the establishment of the taboos had vanished so all they could do to explain their odd customs was to say “but to do otherwise would be taboo” MacIntyre says that Kamehameha II could abolish the taboo system abruptly and by fiat precisely because it had no foundation anyI’m reminded of Hannah Arendt’s recollection of Nazi Germany “the few rules and standards according to which men used to tell right from wrong and which were invoked to judge or justify others and themselves and whose validity were supposed to be self evident to every sane person either as a part of divine or of natural law without much notice collapsed almost overnight and then it was as though morality suddenly stood revealed in the original meaning of the word as a set of s customs and manners which could be exchanged for another set with hardly trouble than it would take to change the table manners of an individual or a people”MacIntyre says that Nietzsche was our Kamehameha Nietzsche thought he was abolishing morality but in fact MacIntyre says he was only pointing out the futility of the enlightenment project of rationally justifying the fragmentary remnants of classical ethics — our taboosIf the classical ethical philosopher asked “what sort of person am I to become and how?” the modern ethical philosopher asked “what taboos must I follow and why?” It was a doomed project because the taboos had become dislodged from their justifications and the whole framework in which those justifications made sense had been abandoned The virtues became nothing but tendencies to obey the taboos with the taboos being somehow fundamentalWhat’s the alternative? In the background of our moral philosophy and in the virtues we sympathize with but don’t understand enough to be able to justify is the ghost of an earlier and coherent ethical systemThe characteristics of “heroic” societies are revealed in the myths of antiuity In these societies everyone had a purpose just by virtue of being born into a particular station in society with relations to particular people Nobody is defined by their “hidden depths” or their inner lives but by their actions relative to their roles; a person is what a person does Morality and social structure are the same thing You can’t “step outside” your society and judge its moral system in comparison to some other system A story like a saga isn’t just a story about a life but is a representation of a life that is already understood to have the form of a story Virtue is what enables you to fulfill the role you have and to conduct yourself in your storyThis heroic background was refined by the Greeks in several ways The tragedians Sophocles in particular focus on what happens when the moral system produces contradictions A person has two contradictory ethical obligations that cannot be reconciled and the tragedy that results is just that there is no right way to proceed The Sophists insist that virtues are relative and the right way to proceed is whatever gets you what you’re after Plato and later Aristotle hoped to show that the virtues don’t actually conflict and aren’t as flimsy as the Sophists would have itMacIntyre next recaps The Nicomachean Ethics But he points out problems with trying to bring Aristotle’s ethics into the modern era For one thing they reuire a telos for human beings but Aristotle's idea of this was based on his now ridiculous seeming metaphysical biology Also if Aristotle’s virtues were closely tied to his particular society and to the roles available in it as we have learned such virtues must be how can these be relevant to us today? Further Aristotle views human life as perfectable — he thinks we can ultimately remove the conflicts from it; MacIntyre thinks it’s likely that conflicts are basic and like the tragidians concluded are unavoidableHealthy undecayed accounts of virtue have three things in common a concept of practice an idea of the narrative order of human life and a moral tradition that develops out of theseBy “practice” MacIntyre means some sort of occupation or activity that is deliberate and well defined and traditional at least to the extent where it can involve internal goods — that is rewards that exist only within the practice itself and not in terms of what the practice enables you to gain outside of it For example if you play chess well the reward you get is the internal good of having played a good chess gameExternal goods are zero sum the objects of competition Internal goods are about personal excellence; when we succeed in attaining internal goods this tends not to detract from the good of those around us but to enhance them MacIntyre says that a virtue is that which enables us to achieve internal goodsThis doesn’t mean that all practices are good Nor does it mean that any practice and associated set of virtues is as good as any other for that would lead us back to the same problem as our current catastrophe When you see that life has a telos and therefore there is a practice of life you see that life itself has its virtues — you can extrapolate from your idea of the internal rewards of a practice to the idea of The Good in life as a whole In this way the idea of a practice and the understanding of the narrative nature of human life lead to the development of a coherent moral traditionThe modern view of life makes this difficult Life is divided into stages and further into roles “work life” and “home life” for instance and we are encouraged to view behaviors atomistically rather than seeing our lives as unified and ourselves as engaged in large scale narrativesBut human activity is intelligible and our actions are within a narrative context An action isn’t just part of a narrative but is part of many narratives from many points of view These narratives are unpredictable what happens next? but that doesn’t mean they lack telos or that the telos is merely retrospectively assigned The only way I can answer the uestion “what am I to do?” is if I can answer the uestion “what stories am I a part of?”When you ask yourself whether or not you are behaving ethically right you are trying to justify yourself You justify yourself by accounting for your behavior that is to say telling its story putting it in a narrative context complete with its telos By doing this you create a context in which the virtues will shine forth as the sort of excellences of character that advance you to your telosThe concept of virtue MacIntyre has described was destroyed he says by the cult of bureaucratic individualism that emerged from the enlightenment Employees for example do not typically engage in a practice associated with internal goods they are motivated by salary or other external goods; the typical modern person is not a practitioner but a spectatorconsumer engaged in what MacIntyre calls “institutional acuisitiveness” or “aesthetic consumption”Today people in our culture are unable to weigh conflicting claims of justice because they are inherently incommensurable John Rawls and Robert Nozick represent sophisticated philosophical justifications of something akin to popular uasi socialist liberal and property rights libertarian perspectives respectively MacIntyre notes that even if you accept either or both of their arguments as valid this resolves nothing since it is their premises that are incompatibleInterestingly neither Rawls nor Nozick relies on the concept of desert which is central in the popular versions of justice they are trying to provide philosophical support for MacIntyre says that this is because desert reuires a social context in order to make sense and the thought experiments that Rawls and Nozick rely on assume atomistic individuals without preexisting communities or cultures The popular notion of desert MacIntyre says is yet another remnant of premodern justice that shines through the cracks left after the catastropheBecause there is no common ground on which disagreements can be argued “modern politics is civil war carried on by other means” — nothing but power masked by rhetoric But this is not because Nietzsche disproved morality He successfully defeated the various enlightenment projects of justifying morality but he left the Aristotelian ethical framework unscathedWhat to do about it? Our task in this post catastrophe world MacIntyre says is to construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages we are not entirely without grounds for hope This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for uite some time”

  2. says:

    I began this book around September 2015 then reviewed the first half in January of 2016 in advance of a hiatus in reading I resumed in April but this time I wasn't alone It had looked like such fun that Dennis wanted to study with me First we backtracked and did some review and then we forged ahead reading out loud mostly me I read over half the book out loud And then I took notes on every paragraph since that's the only way I could digest it My notes constitute in effect a condensed and semi digested version We also discussed and argued as we went as I've done with some of you as well and it's still not any easier to review It's like math or a foreign language The author keeps building his edifice If you don't keep track of where you are you'll get lost and despite everything you can lose track of where you've beenIn my review of the first half of the book I wrote how farfetched it was that MacIntyre could ever convince me we're in a new dark age That was hyperbole to me as Steven Pinker would say those were the words of believers in some lost cause they are trying to keep alive Then in Chapter 18 MacIntyre is explicating Nietzsche's Übermensch via whom post Enlightenment society is to escape pseudo concepts such as utility and natural rights but instead brings forth something far worse this man who in his will to power bursts all constraints wears a mask is beholden to no one but himself lies rather than tell the truth And so he writes we may expect society to breed these great men from time to time AlasThose words have a kick to them It's what we were reading when the election happenedI've left the review of the first half as is other than a few corrections Then I'll touch on high points from the remaining chapters and on to conclusions and closing thoughtsThoughts at Near the Halfway Point from January 2016The Enlightenment Project that is the attempt to establish a secular and rational basis for morality is a failure All attempts to do that are mere masks for what you want The society we have is a reflection of that basic fact So says Alasdair MacIntyre This is the new dark ages Even if the first part were true that morality as we know it today is a sham I don't know how he could convince me of the second part about the dark ages or of the seeming implication that past times before the paradigm shifted was betterAnother conseuence of the failure of morality are our interminable arguments Our lived reality which always reflects the philosophical paradigm that is in effect is deeply emotivist emotivism being the doctrine that all evaluative judgment and particularly all moral judgment is nothing but an expression of preference That being the case there is no moral basis on which to settle any argumentEach society is represented by characters for whom personality merges with social role for example that of the headmaster in Victorian England or the Prussian officer Other societal roles don't reuire that synthesis think of a clergy person who could go through the motions even if he has lost his faith The character in Alasdair MacIntyre's sense can't do that; Characters are the moral representations of their culture The three characters we have today are the manager the therapist and the rich aestheteOrganizations have aims assumed to be value neutral yet unavailable for conscious scrutiny; the personal is the realm for debate over values but no resolution is to be had Modernity celebrates the individual's release from the confines of social identities and telos while leaving us stripped of telos and identity A breakthrough? Not so fast according to Alasdair MacIntyre Picture from Münchhausen's Pigtail or Psychotherapy Reality by Paul Watzlawick With me so far? The philosophers of the Enlightenment sought to find rational bases for morality for example Kierkegaard and radical choice and Kant reason But each attempt involved a first cause beyond which reason couldn't go And Hume saw Kant had failed so he used the passions as his basis for morality We thus have the various philosophers debunking each others' theories which reminds me of religions critiuing and defaming each other thus doing the work of atheists for them The only reason their moral theories worked at all was that their bits and pieces had a previous life in a prior social system and philosophical paradigm from which the philosophers had unwittingly retrieved them The picture I get here is of the cartoon figure zooming along so fast that when he runs off the precipice he is suspended in the air momentarily before dropping like a rock In other words the moral theories can still seem to make sense even though they have lost their foundation We still talk as though they are true even while living the emotivist lifestyle that reflects our actual philosophy It is that philosophy Alasdair MacIntyre claims has let us downSo the Enlightenment Project only worked according to him because its philosophers were coming out of a shared Christian moral tradition part of a sweeping classical tradition in which people had a purpose an end; a telos good was anything that contributed to that purpose while bad detracted from it Thus in the classical tradition a role did carry moral weight and unlike within our present system you could derive ought from is that is values from facts By rejecting everything but reason the modernist philosophers could deal only with means not ends Thus it is that thought reflects practice and the modern self reuires a new social setting the individual in his emotivist culture within which meaning has fallen out from under himOne of the implications is that in the culture we have rights cannot be established; rights reuire a socially established set of rules The author asserts that claiming rights without the reuisite social order is like presenting a check for payment in a society without money Thus it is that rights like utility is a fiction We're taught to see ourselves as agents but become engaged by modes of practice aesthetic or bureaucratic that are manipulative in other words treating others as means not ends He goes so far as to say that like witches and unicorns there are no such things as rightsWithout any rational way to decide we have protest which used to be a positive a la Protestants or protesting the truth but now we have protest against Given its predicament protest is reduced to preaching to the choir and has acuired its uality of shrillness Since what passes as morality reduces to preference and predilection the function of protest is unmasking to which everyone is vulnerable with defensive unmasking as doing unto others before they can do unto you he credits Freud for that insightHe uses these issues to further elaborate the stock characters of our society the aesthete the therapist and the manager The aesthete he says is the least likely to be deceived by our societal fictions utility rights etc The therapist is most likely to be deceived and not only by moral fictions yet to keep on keeping on despite being unmasked as with psychoanalysis Lastly are bureaucratic managers of all kinds government and in the business world the coin of whose realm is manipulation that is means not ends It is in MacIntyre's discussion of the fiction of managerial effectiveness that he shows his kinship with Nassim Nicholas Taleb's thought management science being an oxymoron and Fortuna his black swan The game is not the real thing nor the map the actual geography We all want predictability so our own plans will prevail so we aim to keep ourselves unpredictable to others play our cards close to our chests while making others predictable In bureaucracies predictability and effectiveness are mutually exclusive since achieving the former would entail total control while the latter reuires flexibility and spontaneity The fiction of managerial effectiveness functions as the belief in God functions for those for whom that is a fictionIt is one illusion and a peculiarly modern one the illusion of a power not ourselves that claims to make for righteousness Hence the manager as character is other than he at first sight seems to be the social world of everyday hard headed practical pragmatic no nonsense realism which is the environment of management is one which depends for its sustained existence on the systematic perpetuation of misunderstanding and of belief in fictions The fetishism of commodities has been supplemented by another just as important fetishism that of bureaucratic skills For it follows from my whole argument that the realm of managerial expertise is one in which what purport to be objectively grounded claims function in fact as expressions of arbitrary but disguised will and preference p 107The example that comes to mind is our manager in chief the US President the role not the current inhabitant of the White House who was Barack Obama at the time of this part of the reviewIn the final chapter that I have read the author says Nietzsche's role is to have shot down our societal roadrunner who had found himself unsupported and out over open space Nietzsche demolished the moral fictions British emotivism and French existentialism to reveal our true state that is unless Aristotle's telos or something like it can be supported That touches on Jonathan Haidt's Westerners who found themselves tongue tied when trying to express moral intuitions other than those involving fairness or harm The Righteous Mind Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion It also is consistent with Steven Pinker's description of the function of political correctness in guarding against resumption of past moral failures The Better Angels of Our Nature Why Violence Has Declined and how it is that PC is showing failure in its functionFor Aristotle honor is secondary to that for which it is deserved but in emotivist society success is only what passes for success Honor in pre modern societies was due to position in the social order Today an insult is considered a private matter How this all contrasts with Pinker's value system in which honor systems are the source of evil and modernity the wellspring of the better angels of our natureYet it is not of course just that Nietzsche's moral philosophy is false if Aristotle's is true and vice versa In a much stronger sense Nietzsche's moral philosophy is matched specifically against Aristotle's by virtue of the historical role which each plays For as I argued earlier it was because a moral tradition of which Aristotle's thought was the intellectual core was repudiated during the transitions of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries that the Enlightenment project of discovering new rational secular foundations for morality had to be undertaken And it was because tha project failed because the views advanced by its most intellectually powerful protagonists and especially Kant could not be sustained in the face of rational criticism that Nietzsche and all his existentialist and emotivist successors were able to mount their apparently successful critiue of all previous morality Hence the defensibility of the Nietzschean position turns in the end on the answer to the uestion was it right in the first place to reject Aristotle? For if Aristotle's position in ethics and politics or something very like it could be sustained the whole Nietzschean enterprise would be pointless This is because the power of Nietzsche's position depends upon the truth of one central thesis that all rational vindications of morality manifestly fail and that therefore belief in the tenets of morality needs to be explained in terms of a set of rationalizations which conceal the fundamentally non rational phenomena of the will p 117If a premodern view of morals and politics is to be vindicated against modernity it will be in something like Aristotelian terms or not at all p 118 There you go What about all the killing over whose system of the good would be enforced? What about people outside the going system and therefore unavailable for honor or people who don't care for their position in the system? MacIntyre does some initial talking about philosophers whose claims have been refuted but who don't accept that they've been refuted Might not his proposed system suffer from the charge that it embodies his preferences? He is not writing for the masses here He uses terms he doesn't translate and concepts he doesn't deign to explain There is a degree of esotericism in the formal sense We could call this modernity he condemns Protestantdom; I flashed on that just before the last chapter I've read But at least he carries his arguments to their logical conclusions and comes out and says what they are No hypocritical half assedness hereThis book was referenced in both Justice What's the Right Thing to Do? and The Sacredness of Human Life Why an Ancient Biblical Vision Is Key to the World's Future although for two different aspects I got curious At any rate I want to review what I've read so far also because I'm studying it alone have had to pause to accommodate other reading commitments and have reached something of a turning point in the bookOh yeah the title My husband is taking Greek and he says Aristotle's Metaphysics didn't originally mean transcendent It just meant it was written After Physics And Alasdair MacIntyre is an Aristotelian among other things Disclaimer the unread portion could make me change any overarching conclusionsThe Rest of the Book from February 2017Chapter 10 The Virtues in Heroic Societies This is my favorite chapter in the whole book MacIntyre says heroic societies read Homeric society his main case may or may not be historical but for his purposes it doesn't matter Traditional societies treat heroic societies as what came before Here and in the next chapters he broadened my understanding of a number of the Greek virtue words I was expecting he'd treat bible stories as outgrowths of heroic societies too but the author exhibited hands off of scriptureChapters 11 and 12 on classical society ie Athens and then Aristotle In Homeric society there are only the kinship group and friends and their roles What you see is what you get Owe ought In classical society there is complexity as now there's the added ingredient of the polis There still is no existence outside social role but the catalogs of the virtues are different And there's the false turning to which MacIntyre alludes but never explains that Socrates made I think MacIntyre is referring to Socrates' making himself an arbiter of what to do over and above the good decreed by the city a fatal early turn in a direction MacIntyre decriesYet MacIntyre acknowledges that no society may ever have actually conformed to Aristotelian idealsFor MacIntyre as I wrote in the first half of my review liberal modernist individualist society that is post Enlightenment society is what's bad Dedication to pluralism signals departure from the tradition of the virtues By the end of the book he repeats those three words or their stand ins so often that reading them is like cuing the silent movie villain music that plays whenever the guy with black hat and twirling mustache appearsAs with Marx for MacIntyre there are no better or worse forms of modern society It's all bad lacking any foundation and mirroring defective philosophy and with political conservatism being merely the conservation of a slightly earlier form of liberal individualismRemember from the first half of the book the emphasis on emotivism and the insolubility of our social dilemmas If this whole book seems easy to dismiss as so much BS there are our current dire straits to remind you otherwiseBy Chapter 13 Medieval Aspects and Occasions Christianity has made its entrance along with various new virtues The known world has just emerged from recent forms of heroic society eg Arthurian with thinkers and theologians trying to deal with their own inner paganism while creating institutions to bring forth civilization from chaosWhat has yet to be invented in the twelfth century is an institutional order in which the demands of divine law can easily be heard and lived out in a secular society outside the monasteriesIn subseuent chapters we have MacIntyre forging his concept of a virtue out of the multiple and contradictory catalogs of the virtues across the ages First virtues are what enable one to seek the inner goods deriving from a dedication to practices in sort of an apprenticeship in which one acknowledges the need to learn and develop one's skills and capability inner goods being human capital so to speak in contrast to outer goods such as wealth and fame Virtues exist via traditions virtues being the dispositions that sustain practices and uests for the good and a tradition being a living argument about what a given community or enterprise ought to be And the crux of the matter We connect with our history and with the future through the stories we tell We have been drafted into a certain role or roles that we must come to understand if we are to figure out why others respond to us as they do And we have to know what stories we're in to know what's the right thing to doThe above entails a telos that no no of science and modernity I knew that so I've tried to cover it up when writing about it but what else is it when one claims to have discovered one's purpose or to feel he or she is carrying out one's intended role? MacIntyre's picture is the mirror image of the existentialism on which I cut my teeth ie radical freedom and the artificiality of all social rolesThere is the appearance of circularity at times with the good defined in terms of the pursuit of the good There is the fact MacIntyre sees all the good aspects and none of the ill of the tradition he supports and the reverse for the one he abhorsThere is his making of distinctions without differences between the path to which he commends us and the one he considers a dead end That being that we should invest no energy in liberal pluralistic modernity cue that villain music but should repair forthwith to some monastic stand in for the duration There is his comparison of noisy messy present day reality not with the reality of other times but with the ideals of those timesThere is the possibility that the foundational order for which he yearns comes not from right thinking but from powerAnd there are conflicting story lines but there is no sheer chance or luckYet the thesis of this book cannot be summarily dismissed Look at the fix we're inEven so it's liberal democracy for me With all its warts

  3. says:

    Intertextuality Update fairly obvious in the course of my current re read of A Confederacy of Dunces that author here has simply taken protagonist there and channeled him as non satirical MacIntyre is Ignatius Reilly The worm is the spiceA fairly conservative endeavor overall Outworks note for instance that “Marxism’s moral defects and failures arise from the extent to which it like liberal individualism embodies the ethos of the distinctively modern and modernizing world” xviii Marxism’s purported “moral impoverishment” FFS comes “as much because of what it has inherited from liberal individualism as because of its departures” therefrom id The text is not about Marxism however though he concludes also with some thoughtful commentary such as “”Marxism is exhausted as a political tradition” but “this exhaustion is shared by every other political tradition within our culture” 262 OH NOS We know nevertheless that it will get motherfugly when dude seeks “the lost morality of the past” 22 and “ traditional modes of existence” 35 Great fear here then of all that is solid melting into air When we get to “fragmentation of morality which accompanied the rise of modernity” 205 we are well into Griffin Modernism and FascismPaxton Anatomy of Fascism territoryArgument proper proceeds upon a clever apocalyptic hypothetical drawing specifically upon A Canticle for Leibowitz wherein science is blamed for some sort of catastrophe and abolished somewhat effectively—but then later an attempt to revive it is very partial recalling only words without access to the underlying referents “everything conforms to certain canons of consistency and coherence and those contexts which would be needed to make sense of what they are doing have been lost perhaps irretrievably” 1 In this setting “the language of natural science continues to be used but is in a grave state of disorder” 2; because “the techniues of analytical philosophy are essentially descriptive and descriptive of language of the present” the ‘grave disorder’ aforesaid would never be revealed thereby Similarly phenomenology is worthless to expose the ‘grave disorder’ All the structures of intentionality would be what they are now The task of supplying an epistemological basis for these false simulacra of natural science would not differ in phenomenological terms from the task as it is presently envisaged 2 Author advances the hypothesis that “in the actual world which we inhabit the language of morality is in the same state of grave disorder” id We have rather a “simulacra of morality” id—curious What indeed was the catastrophe to produce our grave disorder? In Miller’s Canticle for Liebowitz it was global thermonuclear warfare of course I suspect one might make the case that the cause is the same for us with respect to morality ie did we finally jump the shark in 1945? though dude doesn’t lay that down except to state somewhat dogmatically that “a central thesis of this book is that the breakdown of this project of an independent rational justification of morality provided the historical background against which the predicaments of our own culture can become intelligible” 39 We know that there’s been a catastrophe because author finds “no rational way of securing moral agreement” 6 This lament assumes of course that there had previously been some way of securing moral agreement; I for one controvert this assumption he states “the language of morality passed from a state of order to a state of disorder” 11 but this is postulated rather than rigorously developed He identifies “conceptual incommensurability” of rival theses as the problem wherein “every one of the arguments is logically valid” but “the rival premises are such that we possess no rational way of weighing the claims” 8 using jus ad bellum termination of pregnancy and employment discrimination as topoi to demonstrate incommensurabilities My own position is that it is elementary to prefer the correct answer in each uestion as the rival positions are irredeemable but whatever there wouldn’t be a book here if he just killed off the stupid right away—it is in fact not difficult in the slightest to prefer rationally one set of premises over the other There is a fatal euivocation here in the argument which is fallacious to the extent that the rival arguments are valid but they are not sound—we can assess the comparative truth values of the premises despite the fact that the arguments are valid otherwise normally with reference to rigorous interrogation of historical processes say as all issues will have a determinative historyAuthor considers this alleged state of catastrophic disorder to be “emotivism” “the doctrine that all evaluative judgments and specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference expressions of attitude or feeling insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character” 11 12 That is GE Moore’s “naïve and complacent apocalypticism” 16 which had reduced morality down to “personal affections and aesthetic enjoyments include all the greatest and by far the greatest goods we can imagine This is the ultimate and fundamental truth of moral philosophy” 15 OH NOS? The result is “unsettlable interminable arguments of own culture” 59 Does this constitute dialectical impasse as noted by the Hegelian theory of tragedy? Text discusses the Philoctetes and the Oresteia at length NB keys to the Hegelian theory Ie we should be clear that the point of the exercise up front is that we have an ethical catastrophe aptly described as the reduction of the ethical to the mere aesthetic Author proposes to rescue us from the grave disorder of this reductionWorks through and subjects to discipline therefore the various standard positions Bentham Kant Kierkegaard et al; Rawls v Nozick; with some excellent refutation of Burke and burkeans at 221 ff; Hume’s alleged “universal human nature” turns out to be “the prejudices of the Hanoverian ruling elite” 231 c; the stoics; and so on Much interesting commentary—and I mean that in the most severe sense possible—author is very smart and this text is full of cool observations nearly every page has an insight that connects across centuries much like reading Toynbee’s macro history things about which I’d been thinking for years resolve in several sentences Great little bit for instance regarding ‘psychological continuity’ doctrine 217 ff—the body changes the mind changes but the self remains as a narrative “The self inhabits a character whose unity is given as the unity of a character” 217 which is wonderfully suggestive of a baudrillardian simulacrum wherein the self is merely a copy lacking an originalAnd that indicates one of the great things about this text that it certainly is suggestive of other connections even if it doesn’t necessarily make them So for instance when dude is working through the sophists he states that they originate in a “wish to provide a consistent and coherent redefinition of the central evaluative expressions” of Greek philosophy 139 They “generated inconsistency” at various points via “using expressions which themselves embody a non relativistic standpoint inconsistent with the relativism which led him to use that vocabulary” id The sophist “wishes to employ the conventional vocabulary” in both praising justice and praising injustice as what is in the interest of the stronger say id This reveals that sophism is a sort of agambenian state of exception an anomic breach of the constitutional order necessary for its maintenance inscribed directly into the nomos of that constitution But it is also Kant’s antecedent position of choice—the relativist reuires the protections of non relativism in order for relativism to find any purchase This leads to the inference that the APoC is in the SoE There’s another line of reasoning earlier where nietzschean eternal recurrence becomes ludic nihilismUltimately however the critiues of modernity and liberalism must end the cool insights must be exposed as incidentals and dude shall be compelled to lay his cards on the table “moral judgments are linguistic survivals from the practices of classical theism which have lost the context provided by these practices” 60—the loss was produced by liberalism ie “the achievement by the self of its proper autonomy” id the uestion becomes “whether we view this decisive moment of change as loss or liberation as a transition to autonomy or to anomie” 61 which is kinda gross as an undecidability Denies the existence of rights “There are no such rights and belief in them is one with belief in witches and unicorns” 69 which is the type of philistinism that only non attorneys can muster Similarly denies the overlap of science and empiricism “indeed something extraordinary in the coexistence of empiricism and natural science in the same culture for they represent radically different and incompatible ways of approaching the world” 81 States that “the salient fact about the social sciences is the absence of the discovery of any law like generalizations whatsoever” 88 Following upon these proclamations is the source of the leibowitzian catastrophe the forms and claims of kinship although not the same in fifth century Athens as they had been in earlier centuries survive in substantial form The aristocratic household preserves a good deal of Homer in life as well as in poetry But the Homeric values no longer define the moral horizon just as the household or kinship group are now part of a larger and very different unit having earlier lamented that the effect of the Oresteia is to remove moral decision making from the oikos to the polis OH NOS There are no kings even though many of the virtues of kingship are still held to be virtues 132 This leads to the conclusion that “the conception of a virtue has now become strikingly detached from that of any particular social role” id Virtue has been radically decentered and this is an apocalypse for some people Lotsa working through Athenian virtues Aristotle’s ideas Very cool actually even if in support of raising a corpse several millennia buriedSo yeah we’re in aretaic ethics “Aristotle has cogent arguments against identifying that good with money with honor or with pleasure He gives it the name of Eudaimonia as so often there is a difficulty in translation blessedness happiness prosperity” 148 For author “Aristotle treats the acuisition and exercise of the virtues as means to an end” 184 And the end? it is with the virtues and the telos which is the good life for man on Aristotle’s account The exercise of the virtues is itself a crucial component of the good life for man id That is the end of Aristotelian ethics is an aestheticsThis shows up again in the discussion of Franklin’s utilitarian ethics According to Franklin in his Autobiography the virtues are means to an end but he envisages the means ends relationship as external rather than internal The end to which cultivation of the virtues ministers is happiness 185 Dude desperately wants to throw Moore’s emotivism under the bus but is unable to do so if virtue is simply a matter of aesthetics—he even argues that “the authority of both goods and standards operates in such a way as to rule out all subjectivist and emotivist analyses of judgment De gustibus est disputandum sic” 190 That is taste is disputable a fatal admission if one is attempting to pull ethics out of aesthetics So in killing off Moore's emotivism we are here only killing off the relativism and keeping the aesthetics which strikes me as a bakhtinian monologism a single tone of seriousness Whose tone then?There are hints of who sets the single tone of seriousness here It is mature enough to admit that ‘virtues are of course themselves in turn fostered by certain types of social institution and endangered by others” 195 For liberal individualism a community is simply an arena in which individuals each pursue their own self chosen conception of the good life and political institutions exist to provide that degree of order which makes such self determined activity possible Government and law are or ought to be neutral between rival conceptions of the good life for man and hence although it is the task of government to promote law abidingness it is on the liberal view no part of the legitimate function of government to inculcate any one moral outlook 195 Jefferson’s preferred virtues were good for a “society of small farmers” whereas “the institutions of modern commercial society” threaten them id All that is solid melts into air Duh? This text is probably one of the important recent instances of anti capitalism from the Right however with statements such as “the tradition of the virtues is at variance with central features of the modern economic order and especially its individualism its acuisitiveness and its elevation of the values of the market to a central social place” 254 He also rejects “the modern political order” 255 “Modern systematic politics whether liberal conservative radical or socialist simply has to be rejected from a standpoint that owes genuine allegiance to the tradition of the virtues; for modern politics itself expresses in its institutional forms a systematic rejection of that tradition” id—so what’s left? Fascism? Aristocracy? Primitivism? Theocracy?And the content of the aesthetics? “We have then arrived at a provisional conclusion about the good life for man the good life for man is the life spent in seeking for the good life for man” 219 which is kinda the same type of self reflexive argument that Heidegger deploys in defining dasein as I recall it and is again the same type of philosopher centric argument articulated by Plato—truly nothing new under the sun vanity of vanities at least for rightwing greasers In that connection I am so pleased that dude brought it up we must recall the excellent bit from Derrida’s Aporias regarding Heidegger It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of what is being decided so authoritatively and so decisively at the very moment when what is in uestion is to decide on what must remain undecided loc cit at 54 What I have come to understand in reading this text then is that there is an authoritative moment of decision in electing an aretaic ethics over a deontology say In going aretaic then one is essentially deciding a list of undecidables ab initio As a means to an aesthetic end of course virtue ethics can only always take into consideration those items that author wishes to leave undecided—Moore’s emotivism—for his position and Moore’s are in the end substantially identical mere aesthetic wishes elevated to Hume's unintentionally comical ‘universal human nature’ Similarly I as some kind of kantian am well aware that in adopting deontological principles I have disregarded the content of virtue ethics and instead seek out obligations to discharge To assume obligation as the key to ethics is to become some sort of Kantian just as to assume virtue as the key to ethics is to become some species of emotivist As a Kantian am finding virtue ethics violative of the categorical imperative at least insofar as these aesthetic principles are not universal law In disagreeing with author’s conclusion we might further point out that the logical extreme of aretaic ethics which is not at all obligation oriented but self oriented as a mere aesthetics is randian objectivism which would take the rational maximizer of Smith’s Wealth of Nations and strip it of all obligation to anything outside the self as perhaps found in Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments ie the eponymous ‘virtue of selfishness’ The objectivist would howl of course at the comparison as author here is generally anathema to Randians and of course author finds market participation and cappy individualism if such can be said to exist in any meaningful sense to be distasteful and it is truly an aesthetic determination But stripped of those incidentals the focus on an aesthetic ends to ethics can mean only one thing This is John Galt speakingRecommended for those who think that pagan teaching is the devil’s work readers who think we have something to learn from heroic society and citizens of the universe

  4. says:

    A big reason that modern debates over moral issues seem completely interminable and unresolvable is that we no longer have a shared idea of what the goal of a society should be nor correspondingly any idea of the ultimate purpose of an individual living in a society In this book Alistair Macintyre compellingly argues that our contemporary moral reasoning is nothing than the detritus of a previous moral order that made clear sense the Aristotelian tradition Enlightenment philosophers succeeded in destroying the old moral order wedded as it was to a defeated natural science but failed in their goal of rebuilding a new morality that they could justify rationally As such moral discourse has devolved into emotivism; an attempt to simply force personal preferences on people using moral language As a result moral discourse has become merely a battle of wills and attempted manipulation without any means of actually resolving moral uestions and moving forward see for instance the US debate on abortion placing society into what Macintyre describes as a state of permanent civil war Without being able to have real moral debates much effort is focused on exposing other bad faith character assassination and simple information warfare During the period when Aristotelian ethics reigned the moral ualities we cite today were tied to a now alien concept known as the virtues The virtues served a specific purpose to make human beings good at being human But the whole notion of what constitutes a good human no longer has any clear meaning Lacking a teleological vision of our society and conseuently of individual lives we have no idea what attributes to encourage Older societies used to make sense of their purpose and the purpose of individual lives by situating them into narrative stories Today there is no story that we have to tell about ourselves nor about the virtues that we should cultivate to make our narratives successful We still use the old moral language tied to the virtues but they have been divorced of the context that made them make sense By way of analogy when we describe what makes a good watch we can identify ualities such as effective timekeeping durability and tuning as ualities that make it good But when we are talking about human beings the answer of what ualities make one good are no longer clear They have become entirely subjective and both utilitarian ethics and rights based philosophy have failed to find any clear ground for rebuilding a coherent moral discourse Returning to the Aristotelian conception of morality where morality had a specific purpose to cultivate virtues would reuire a return to communities with specific goals and ideas about their telos Such communities do exist on the fringes today but as a whole the societies we live in are completely undirected Macintyre describes this as our descent into a dark age a characteristic of previous times when conceptions of the virtues were lost and the world became a battle of wills I'll be reflecting on this book for some time It was challenging at times and I don't feel ualified to give a complete account of it other reviewers have done a capable job But I'm very much impressed with his powerful articulation of the ephemeral basis upon which our contemporary moral reasoning is based The next time I hear a politician the uintessential Enlightenment bureacratic managerial character of our time using moral language to argue a position it will be hard to avoid thinking about the emotivist manipulation they are inevitably employing in doing so Nietzsche got it partly right by seeing through the hollow morality of his time but rebuilding it would reuire going a bit further back

  5. says:

    The poor Enlightenment Trapped by its inherent contradictions we in the West find ourselves locked into playing out the game set by it struggling to make the best of a bad hand until inevitably forced to fold though the precise manner and conseuences of that folding are yet to be determined The Enlightenment’s defenders cut rate Rolands all including Steven Pinker and many other Pollyanas across the political spectrum try their hardest even though it is now pretty obvious that the Enlightenment only awaits a few good kicks to the head to put it down permanently But the open and widespread realization of this looming denouement is uite new When Alasdair MacIntyre first published After Virtue in 1980 it was perhaps the first modern sophisticated attack on the foundations of the Enlightenment It has not lost its power in the past forty years even though it has been joined by many othersTrue as with the major works of other modern politically relevant philosophers such as John Rawls and Robert Nozick both covered and rejected by MacIntyre I am uite sure this is a book that a great many people talk about and very few have read I once read half of Nozick’s libertarian manifesto Anarchy State and Utopia It defeated me but perhaps I was not dedicated enough At least the book was not obviously dumb On the other hand I have not nor will I read Rawls The first I heard of him was twenty years ago when one of my law school roommates educated than me and now a prominent law school professor returned home and announced excitedly he had gone to see the amazing John Rawls speak I of course was unaware that such a talk was even happening on campus or that Rawls existed Curious I asked about Rawls and my roommate offered some summaries of his thought To each summary I posed a response uerying an item that seemed obviously defective in Rawls’s ideas to which in each case my roommate struggled to find an answer Finally he said “I’m not doing a good job of explaining his thought” After twenty years of much other similar second hand exposure to Rawls it’s clear that my roommate was doing a great job The problem is that Rawls’s thought is glaringly stupid except to someone who has already bought into his project which is finding pseudo philosophical justifications for leftist political positions first assumed as conclusive He offers nothing but a giant exercise in uestion begging and he is therefore worthless And why precisely Rawls is worthless is in many ways the subject of this book even if not framed soSuch worship of obviously stupid philosophers is not new MacIntyre spends a fair bit of time on the obscure G E Moore who in the early 1900s was the John Rawls of his day worshipped by everyone from John Maynard Keynes to Lytton Strachey Moore wrote a famous book claiming to prove definitively that “personal affections and aesthetic judgments” were the only goods that mattered as proven by “intuition” even though he claimed to be a utilitarian This was very attractive to people like the Bloomsbury Group and their ilk obviously After expertly dissecting Moore and noting the slavish adoration he received from his acolytes which today seems inexplicable MacIntyre notes “This is great silliness of course; but it is the great silliness of highly intelligent and perceptive people” Why did they “accept Moore’s naïve and complacent” ideas? They “had already accepted the values of Moore’s book but could not accept these merely as their own personal preferences They felt the need to find objective and impersonal justification ” So with RawlsEnough beating up on intellectual cripples though as we’ll see beating up on such cripples is the entire point of After Virtue Why read this book at all? After all while this book is famous and especially famous among conservatives analytical philosophy is not my usual reading It hurts my head Moreover I am always interested in doing than navel gazing we can bracket for now that what I am doing visibly now is writing which is not doing Therefore my purpose in reading this book other than to be able to say I have done so to nods of knowing appreciation is to aid in the construction of my own program for the remade futureHowever in the context of remaking the world I do think books like After Virtue are of somewhat limited value We as a society have long passed beyond the stage when discussion much less discussion of high level philosophy has any use in deciding the existential uestions which ironically is part of the point of this book Two wholly incompatible visions cannot coexist; one must give way permanently in the real world of zero sum games that will ultimately be decided by force not fought on the pages of books That said a revived and remade society has to be well tutored or accurately its ruling classes have to be and at that point the philosophers can become directly relevant again so this book may yet prove valuable to a reborn society I just suspect that’ll be later not soonerIn any case MacIntyre’s basic point is that modern claims of what is moral of which there are many systems falling into several general groups are not only all incompatible with each other but contain within themselves no possible mechanism to resolve their competing claims Viewed from outside all are based on arbitrary premises that cannot be demonstrated This is true for emotivism MacIntyre’s main target the claim that “all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of attitude or feeling insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character” Emotivism is the characteristic philosophical mode of modernism and it in fact embraces this irresolvability of moral claims But it is just as true for utilitarianism the characteristic mode of the major earlier Enlightenment thinkers who invariably denied that claims are irresolvable Ultimately all these systems reuire the individual to make the choice without reference to anything outside himself which is not surprising given that autonomic individualism is the core belief at the heart of the EnlightenmentMuch of MacIntyre’s writing is dense though leavened with funny parts We get “What I have described in terms of a loss of traditional structure and content was seen by the most articulate of their philosophical spokesmen as the achievement by the self of its proper autonomy The self had been liberated from all those outmoded forms of social organization which had imprisoned it simultaneously within a belief in a theistic and teleological world order and within those hierarchical structures which attempted to legitimate themselves as part of such a world order” But we also get “In the United Nations declaration on human rights of 1949 what has since become the normal UN practice of not giving good reasons for any assertions whatsoever is followed with great rigor” Yeah pretty muchMacIntyre examines and dismisses all attempts to justify Enlightenment conceptions of morality from Hume to Kant to Kierkegaard He demonstrates that either their belief that they have found an objective basis for their conclusions on virtue is somewhere between incoherent and totally defective or it is merely echoes of Christianity into which most of these thinkers were embedded so far they could not recognize it a point I make regularly MacIntyre thus comes to focus on Nietzsche after dismissing the others as offering nothing but smoke and mirrors In MacIntyre’s analysis Nietzsche correctly saw the insupportability of the Enlightenment project to justify morality by hanging it on a skyhook so he stands apart or appears to stand apart from all other modern thinkers But instead he fell back into the Enlightenment’s atomism by incorrectly thinking that another type of individualism that of the pre Christian supposed heroic age was the solutionMacIntyre’s main point about Nietzsche is that contrary to the core of his claims whatever the historicity of the heroic age that of Homer its morality had nothing to do with individualism Rather morality was dictated by compliance with assigned social roles with the warrior king at the apex of the pyramid of social roles But the warrior king was not free to choose; for him and for all others virtue consisted in completely and competently fulfilling the role he had been assigned Had he picked actions inconsistent with that role it would not have been heroic or virtuous in the view of the time but contemptible His will was not at all sovereign; it was less sovereign by far than that of the modern believer in autonomic individualism “Nietzsche replaces the fictions of the Enlightenment individualism of which he is so contemptuous with a set of individualist fictions of his own” Thus Nietzsche is no less beholden to the prison of individualism than any Enlightenment thinker and MacIntyre then declares a clean sweep of the Enlightenment fieldWhat does MacIntyre offer in opposition? A return to the teleological conception of man I have often made a MacIntyre type claim that all modern and Left visions of morality are incoherent I tend to phrase this in terms of the echoes of Christianity that all not incoherent modern visions are merely the reverberations of Christian belief and that is certainly true for certain elements that can only be found as central in Christianity such as the Golden Rule But MacIntyre is right that the dividing line is not so much Christiannon Christian as teleologicalnon teleological Christianity is a subset or the culmination of such thought not the exclusive provider What is the end the goal the purpose of the life of each human? If the answer is “I don’t know” or “that is for him to decide” the answers given by all thinkers of and since the Enlightenment the inevitable conseuence is moral incoherence as MacIntyre demonstrates at great length The remainder of the book mostly revolves around demonstrating that no teleology no coherent morality or concept of virtue with side departures into discussions of matters such as the emotivism of the Weberian concept of managementMacIntyre does not say we can even through agreement on teleology come to agreement on what in all cases constitutes virtue What he offers is common ground in opposition to the Enlightenment’s necessary inability to offer any He does not offer an airtight box Thus MacIntyre repeatedly refers to the “table of virtues” by which he means the list of virtues any given society holds as virtues For moderns he means this as a criticism For pre moderns though it is not a criticism but a recognition that even a teleological view of humanity does not dictate a wholly identical set of virtues For example humility the outstanding medieval and Christian virtue did not even have a word for it in Greek just as there were no words for “sin” “repentance” or “charity” and humility was in no way thought of as a virtue by Aristotle MacIntyre multiplies such examples including as between pre modern systems most of all between Aristotelianism and medieval thinking pointing out among other things that Auinas was in his great regard for Aristotle’s conception of the virtues “a highly deviant medieval figure” The author even brings in conceptions of virtue from some people not philosophers examining how their “tables” differ— Benjamin Franklin progenitor of the Prosperity Gospel and Jane Austen noting her reconciliation with Christianity of the ancient conception of virtue as tied to social rolesStill McIntyre believes that despite these disagreements a “unitary core concept of the virtues” can be distilled from these pre Enlightenment lines of thought After uite a bit of windup including technically defining a “practice” to relate to the achievement of excellence that helps define an activity thereby extending “human conceptions of the ends and goods involved” he says “A virtue is an acuired human uality the possession and exercise of which tends to enable us to achieve those goods which are internal to practices and the lack of which effectively prevents us from achieving any such goods” Sounds reasonable though I am far from competent to parse it and obviously it reuires a non emotivist and non utilitarian but rather teleological conception of terms such as “excellence” By this way of thinking MacIntyre says justice courage and honesty are always virtues; other virtues may be society dependent based on practices as technically defined“The virtues therefore are to be understood as those dispositions which will not only sustain practices and enable us to achieve the goods internal to practices but which will also sustain us in the relevant kind of uest for the good by enabling us to overcome the harms dangers temptations and distractions which we encounter and which will furnish us with increasing self knowledge and increasing knowledge of the good” Determining the good is a uest shades of Jordan Peterson and “It is in the course of the uest and only through encountering and coping with the various particular harms dangers temptations and distractions which provide any uest with its episodes and incidents that the goal of the uest is finally to be understood” This uest can never be an individual uest; it is of man as embedded in society and emancipation from multitudinous unchosen bonds is both not a goal and unthinkableThe final paragraph of After Virtue is often cited and its last sentences were taken by Rod Dreher as the basis for his famous Benedict Option Predicting a turning point parallel to late Rome though disclaiming such analogies as generally appropriate away from the “moral community” supporting the “imperium” towards groping in the direction of “forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us” MacIntyre says “We are waiting for another—doubtless very different—St Benedict” What interests me in particular is that the last paragraph is the only paragraph like it in the book Most of the book is dry and highly technical and while there are embedded within it other conclusions to much the same import they are cloaked in the language of philosophy Only in this last paragraph does uite unexpectedly MacIntyre step out from behind the curtain to make an expansive claim of how what he has outlined earlier has fatally affected our society and what must be done in response This makes his conclusion much effective; the book avoids polemic or at least polemic obvious to the layman until at the very last MacIntyre delivers his conclusive hammer blow to the EnlightenmentSo After Virtue is very well done to the extent I can understand it Still as I say what need of philosophical justification for a project that to have practical impact must first have visceral impact? Perhaps the main purpose of this book is to provide intellectual heft for the hypothetical Man of Destiny who may at some point remake the West He does not have to understand it uote it or use it but he can say—Look MacIntyre agrees that there are virtues and we know what they are Since the utter remaking of the ruling classes is critical for any renewal and this is the type of book that influences the influential among the ruling classes perhaps it serves a essential purpose than is obvious “You cannot hope to re invent morality on the scale of a whole nation when the very idiom of the morality which you seek to re invent is alien in one way to the vast mass of ordinary people and in another to the intellectual elite” Helping to provide non alien common ground on basic morality to all sectors of society is perhaps the fate of this bookI think MacIntyre senses both the need for remaking and the role of his book He explicitly rejects Burkean tradition identifying it somewhat unfairly I think with a refusal to acknowledge that any living tradition is a “continuous argument” and with accepting Enlightenment premises and therefore being a doctrine “as liberal and as individualist as that of self avowed liberals” Like me MacIntyre rejects “the conventional conservative role of laudator temporis acti one who praises past times” “It is rather the case that an adeuate sense of tradition manifests itself in a grasp of those future possibilities which the past has made available to the present Living traditions just because they continue a not yet completed narrative confront a future whose determinate and determinable character so far as it possesses any derives from the past” That is to say or practically endorse my repeated claim that what we need is a new thing informed by the wisdom of the past not a return to the past Not nostalgia but a new thing for a new age But MacIntyre does not say what will replace it so that is the uestion that must be answered—not with an ideological program but with a frame that escapes the Enlightenment prison and can be adopted to circumstances as they come into focus

  6. says:

    I've often wondered why I cannot seem to construct a coherent rational argument with respect to any of the hot button social issues of our day MacIntyre says I'm not alone; both liberals and conservatives today are trapped in a radically individualist philosophical liberalism that cannot be defended despite three centuries of moral philosophy and one of sociology His counter proposal is that the Aristotelian tradition can be restated in a way that restores intelligibility and rationality to our moral and social attitudes and commitments So now I have to revisit all my previous views and imagine how Aristotle would approach them in terms of relationships which constitute communities whose central bond is a shared conception of goods Not to mention catching up on thirty years worth of anti MacIntyre polemic

  7. says:

    wrong and in many ways absurd but absolutely delightful This book made me want to do ethics when I was just a wee lass studying Medieval metaphysics and logic

  8. says:

    Though I didn't necessarily agree with all the author's ultimate conclusions I found After Virtue to be a cogent and well argued work on moral theory One of MacIntyre's claims against emotivism that he finds to be pervading societal discourse on morality that is morals and virtues reduced to mere claims of preference is that logical reasoning is actually being done in support of those chosen moral standpoints He roots many of the virtues we now intuitively view as good ie courage loyalty etcin their historical traditions going back to the so called heroic societies of myth and legend and particularly to Aristotle He traces the downfall of a common basis for the foundation of morality to the Enlightenment and particularly to the changes in the understanding of natural science which discredited Aristotle's conception of the natural world on which his ethics and metaphysics rested MacIntyre finds the Enlightenment project to find a universal secular basis for the good life for man to have been a failure He denies that philosophical concepts can be divorced from their historical context There is certainly some truth to this on some level but he uses this refusal to give ground to what he sees as academic divisions between the disciplines is sometimes problematic as in his discussion of social science which he sees as founded on emotivism Social science is not philosophy however much it may be grounded in philosophy Likewise MacIntyre tends to regard concepts that do not have deep linguistic roots ie utility and rights as fictions a point which may be arguable but hardly settled He finds Nietzsche's views on morality as the refuge of the weak to be a stronger argument than the claims of other post Enlightenment philosophers though he admits that Nietzsche's superman or man who transcends is problematic if not ludicrous Nietzsche he claims only rejected the then current foundations for moral thought without offering a replacementTo the problem of interminability of moral arguments in modern society that is that people are proceeding from incompatible premises when they advance their arguments MacIntyre suggests a solution of something of a revived Aristotelianism without the Physics as well as without some of that philosopher's odious views such as on slavery Even if the reader has accepted that the philosophers of the Enlightenment did not provide the foundations for a universalizable basis for moral theory and there is room for disagreement there the solution presented doesn't seem uite workable Though the radical individualism of an emotivist society is problematic for moral thought and behavior a return to tradition even defined broadly and with a nod to modernity is not without uagmires of its own

  9. says:

    All value systems after Aristotle have been wrong except when they have been slightly modified through a lens of Christian thinkers like Auinas or Jane Austin at least that’s what the author is going to argue in this book The Enlightenment’s valuing of the individual and the rejection of authority went too far he’ll say The truth is out there as for living a virtuous life and we just need to re channel Aristotle and reconnect with our community character and social standards he will sayThere is a purpose driven life and our meaning for life revolves around the universal truths that supplant any feelings that tell you differently he’ll say The authentic life is not achievable if you discover it on your own he'll say and it is not for you to own your own life and it is best outsourced he'll tell the reader He mostly doesn’t like Nietzsche and would consider him a nihilist lacking of consideration since the author really thinks there is a meaning and purpose from our telos and the only worthwhile narrative that is deserving of our consideration is the myth he appeals to a variation of the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle with some Christian modifications One must determine their own ethics and purpose in life I say Reason is just a label we slap on our thoughts to justify our past acts or plan our future deeds I say Life is complex and our actions and thoughts are always within a greater whole and our meaning comes from any source we can find and synthesize and we are best served when we don’t outsource our values and telos to anything beyond our own judgement derived from our total life experiences and searching Macintyre is forcing meaning and purpose with a telos beyond what reason would dictate He puts himself in the text cleverly between Nozick only individual liberty matters and Rawls perfect euality predominates within an intermediate space which will stamp character on to ourselves from outside of ourselves through a yielding to the will of the community and at times a submission to a stifling conforming norm of the society at large There is a real yuck factor to what he’s getting at and it would lead to a world where our individual nature is beaten down to a pulp There are two books that he basically synthesizes while adding in Aristotle one written before this book The Social Construction of Reality by Berger and the other after Contingency and Irony by Rorty he mentions Rorty very favorably multiple times in the text Macintyre makes a whole lot of pleasant diversions while trying to make his points and that’s why I gave this book two stars not one star because I like Auinas Dante Marx and Aristotle as much as he did and I like Nietzsche Hume Kant Hegel and Kierkegaard as much as he seems to dislike them and he actually understood almost all of the characters he introduces beyond the superficial level; it’s his big overriding system that I don’t like whatsoever I want to note something he really and truly misunderstood Kierkegaard and Kierkegaard’s ‘EitherOr’ he just puts it and him in the wrong context but I’m going to just give him a pass on that since he is writing this book in 1982 and perhaps that’s what they thought in those days Morality is than just character and values in the obtaining of ‘the good’ as he basically lays out his story The world doesn’t just have one narrative and there is at most ‘a good’ we strive for not ‘the good’ It’s a dangerous path when we outsource our beliefs to just one set of values virtues especially when the world is complex and there are multiple moving parts which we never uite get at in our uest for excellence as an individual a member of a community or within a social order basically his definition of virtue Perhaps Nietzsche and his active nihilism and his perspectivism can serve us better than an appeal to Aristotelean ethics BTW you do know that Aristotle would hold pride as a virtue and the Greeks would see hope as an evil worthy to remain in Pandora’s Box while almost all Christian thinkers would see them conversely A conservative is one who blames an individual for a lack of character shaped by an inadeuate community commitment due to a lack of Christian upbringing I see this book as a total agreement with that formulation and I believe that is what the author is trying to get at with his dissing of the Enlightenment and a return to Aristotelian ethics That’s one of the reasons I really reject this book because I think the brand of conservatism the author is advocating has given us Donald Trump and that is too close to making us into Fascists There is no one overriding single Good and we are best served by finding our own meaning purpose and telos and not relying on a myth of a magical distant past

  10. says:

    According to this book after the Enlightenment moral philosophers rejected Aristotle’s teleological philosophy of ethics in search of a rational basis for morality But the effort to find a universal rationality for morality failed Therefore we are just left with Emotivism the belief that moral arguments are ultimately just based on the subjective personal feelings of individuals The author believes that we should return to the teleological morality of AristotleWhat is teleological morality? A sea captain ought to act like a sea captain A watch ought to be portable and tell time accurately because that’s what a watch is supposed to do Likewise humans ought to act human People happen to be a certain way but they could be something else if they fulfilled their purpose as humans Like a person on a uest we should look for narrative unity in life consistent with the role we have in our community in accordance with social traditionThe author discusses a long list of philosophers who attempted to find a universal morality in the scientific tradition and he finds flaws with all of themImmanuel Kant simply stated maxims he already believed by his contemporaries to be virtuous and then stated that they could be universalized but it’s easy to find situations when one should not follow those maxims and well as maxims that can be universalized but are not virtuousMax Weber invented the science of sociology But there is really no such thing as social “science”; human behavior does not follow any law like principlesJeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill were utilitarian Benjamin Franklin believed in utilitarian virtues that would make a person wealthy and successful But “happiness” could be achieved by drinking beer or exercising by being a monk or being a soldier Since happiness means different things to different people how could we create rules to maximize it? The author believes that there are no “natural” rights Utility and rights are moral fictions based on the modern idea of individualismJohn Rawls stated that justice is what would be chosen by a rational person who had a veil of ignorance regarding what his station in life would be Robert Nozick stated that what is fair is to give people what they are entitled to from work and fair acuisition Both theories sound nice but they are incompatible with each other and they are both all about individuals pursuing selfish goals and not about furthering the shared goals of the communityThis leads us to the present day where the philosophy of Nozick supports Joe the Plumber who believes he is entitled to keep what he has earned and does not want to pay taxes The philosophy of Rawls backs up Bill Mahar who supports Estate Gift Taxes and has liberal views about redistributing wealth to foster euality see his Affluenza and the Culture of Dependency March 14 2015The author believes that moral discourse today uses fragments of a conceptual scheme without any context We have moral debates as Emotivists believing “should” statements are ultimately just the intuition of the speaker even though those who express these statements clearly intend to express something different from mere subjective statements of tasteThe author traces the rise of Emotivism back to G E Moore in 1903 According to Kant to influence others for selfish reasons is to treat people as means and to influence others through reasoned persuasion is to treat people as ends Emotivism obliterates this distinctionAnother exponent of Emotivism was Søren Kierkegaard who wrote EitherOr Enten Eller In that book the “either” character is a rich aesthete who just tries to live life as a series of pleasurable moments The “or” character lives a responsible life dutifully honoring commitments to marriage and career We choose one way of life or the other but neither is satisfying so we fall back on religious faithDavid Hume argued that our actions are governed by passions and that morals cannot have a rational basisFriedrich Nietzsche author of The Gay Science rejected any rational basis for morality He argued that values are just an act of individual will and he believed that individuals need to have faith in themselvesToday in addition to the aesthete there are other emotivist “characters” including the Manager of a bureaucratic organization who tries to motivate workers to accomplish the mission for the organization A Manager is an emotivist for social relations and a Therapist is an emotivist for the personal life They both treat ends as being outside their scopeIn contrast to the Enlightenment way of thinking which divides philosophy into rational versus emotivist is the teleological way of thinking Homer wrote tales of heroes excelling in combat and achieving excellence in accordance with their social roles Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics argues that humans by nature move toward a specific telos The author appears to recognize that Christianity is teleological in believing that we are born sinners but that we can reach our telos by following God The author also seems to be a big fan of Jane Austen who he says was the last representative of traditional virtuesSo what is virtue? The author states that a “practice” has internal goods achieved through excellence and virtue enables us to achieve goods internal to practices Some examples of virtues are truthfulness justice and courage This is Aristotelean because it based on character traits that we can voluntarily chose regardless of intelligence or natural ability Aristotle believed that people develop a good character under the influence of teachers and good character leads to voluntary habits An example of virtue would be someone who becomes a chess master and supports other chess players through a chess club that is part of the United States Chess Federation all for the love of chess Patriotism is a virtue when it supports a moral consensus Be all that you can be in the Army but not in support of an institutional bureaucracy that lacks moral authority There are three stages of describing virtue a first which concerns virtues as ualities necessary to achieve the goods internal to practices; a second which considers them as ualities contributing to the good of a whole life; and a third which relates them to the pursuit of a good for human beings the conception of which can only be elaborated and possessed within an ongoing social tradition In this book “virtue” means the Greek word arete which is spelled alpha rho epsilon tau eta in GreekThe author believes that ultimately there are only two choices for moral philosophers Nietzsche or Aristotle The author seems to agree with those who believe that moral philosophy has no rational basis But he also rejects the idea that virtue is simply an individual act of will Rather he believes that a person’s life ought to be a uest that has narrative unity and fulfills a role within a social contextNot sure I understand or agree with this book but it's gotten me interested in philosophy