AFTER VIRTUE by ALASDAIR MACINTYRE
CHAPTER ONE – A DISQUIETING SUGGESTION
Thought experiment. Imagine that science was decimated. And later only the forms of it were known, but not the methodology or the reasons behind it. Neither a phenomenologist nor an existentialist would be able to detect the difference.
The language of morality is in the same state of grave disorder.
TO understand how this happened we need to trace the rise and fall in history. The term rise and fall imply standards. Standards of achievement and failure, order and disorder, divided into stages are what Hegel called philosophical history and what Collingwood takes all successful historical writing to be. This is not analytic or phenomenological.
CHAPTER TWO – THE NATURE OF MORAL DISAGREEMENT TODAY AND THE CLAIMS OF EMOTIVISM
Contemporary moral disagreements are done via disagreements that are interminable. There seems to be no rational ground for any of them.
A – A just war is one in which the good to be achieved outweighs the evils involved.
B – I cannot wish that my mother had an abortion with me so I cannot will it widely.
C- Justice demands equal opportunity.
These are listed with other contemporary positions. They all have three salient characteristics:
1 – They adopt the scientific logical formula of rigor. They are logically valid. But we have no way to decide between them.
2 – They purport to be impersonal rational arguments.
3 – The arguments have deep histories we should respect. But we go for moral pluralism complacently. The terms involved: ‘virtue’ ‘justice’ ‘ piety’ and ‘duty’ have changed their meanings over time.
It has gone from a state of order to disorder. This is shown in the lack of precision in meaning. The unhistorical treatment of such ideas means that Kant is no longer Prussian, Hume not Scottish.
But perhaps there is, then, no stability we can call upon.
One argument that would argue this point is emotivism.
‘Arson being destructive of property, is wrong.’ But the moral and the factual parts of this statement are distinct.
C.L. Stevenson is Emotivism’s most sophisticated proponent. He said that the sentence, ‘this is good’ means roughly the same thing as ‘I approve of this’. But by identifying the relevant kind of approval as moral approval the argument becomes circular. Approval is not necessarily moral.
There are two other reasons for rejecting it. One is that it is dedicated to characterizing as equivalent in meaning two kinds of expressions which have different functions in our language. Good and moral aren’t the same. If I explain 7 x 7 = 49!! the emotive part has nothing to do with its meaning. Perhaps we should then just use emotive theory as a theory about use. Then the sentence is trying to influence someone.
Emotivism is an eighteenth century argument coming from Hume. Only in this century has it become a big one on its own. Intuitivism is it’s progenitor (by G. E. Moore).
Keynes and Wolfe and them loved it. Moore’s principia ethica said that good is indefinable. Secondly all is utilitarian. It just means such and such an action is the best. And third, the personal and aesthetic enjoyments are the best we can imagine.
Note that the three propositions are logically independent. One can be an intuitionist without being a utilitarian.
Their praise for this book was over the top silly. Why? It was only their own personal preference? They liked casting off the burdens of the past? Rejection is at the core of many of their writings. They see moral arguments as lost.
In contemporary argument too we see decisions being masks for personal preference. That is what Emotivism takes to be universally the case. It does it without investigation , because there are no standards to be discovered.
Emotivism failed amongst analytic philosophers for this reason. It is not a theory of the meaning of moral expressions.
Yet the opposite of emotivism is just that by which we have universal rules. And if you keep asking, “but why should I believe that?” you find no first principle. It will end in the expression of preferences of the individual will.
In saying that morality isn’t what it used to be, he says that people nowadays act as if emotivism were true. Lets discover the past to see the change.
CHAPTER THREE – EMOTIVISM: SOCIAL CONTENT AND SOCIAL CONTEXT
A moral philosophy characteristically presupposes a sociology. The questions and concepts are applied in a real world. This has oft been seen as the task of oral philosophy.
The social context of emotivism is based on the obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non manipulative social relations. To treat someone as an ends is to give them good reasons, but then let them decide. Emotivism is caught up in its own needs.
What would the world look like through emotivist eyes? It would make you a consumer. James is all about rich consuming aesthetes. The last enemy is boredom. Hence the bureaucratic need to steer themselves towards a cost benefit gain in order that it may survive. Questions of ends are questions of values. This is the emotivist style end that Weber says bureaucracies embody.
English morality plays and Japanese Noh plays possess stock characters that are immediately recognizable to the audience. The specific roles are specific to cultures.
They are not like roles in general. They have dramatic and moral associations. The centrality of characters sets cultures apart. The Victorian school master is one. The Prussian officer another. They are the moral representatives of their culture.
Individuals and roles embody morals and beliefs in their intentions. A catholic priest for example.
Often there is a distance between the individual and the character they embody.
In our own time our characters are emotivist. The bureaucrat and the rich aesthete being two. And we must also add the therapist.
The modern self, that is the emotivist self, finds o limits set to that on which it may pass judgment. It lacks any such criteria. The disagreements between different emotivists are smoothed over with the term pluralism.
For Sartre the central error is to identify the self with its roles. This creates bad faith and intellectual confusion (we occupy now accidentally). For Goffman the central error is to suppose that there is a substantial self over and beyond the complex presentations of role playing. But both still suppose a ghostly ‘I’ flittering from role structure to role structure.
The self thus emotively conceived, is utterly distinct from social embodiments and lacks any rational history of its own.
In many pre-modern societies, I am brother, cousin and grandson, or this tribe member were not characteristics that belonged to human beings accidentally to be stripped away in order to discover ‘the real me.’
Greek speaking, to know oneself is to find oneself placed at a certain point on a journey with set goals. Thus the proverb, ‘Call no man happy until he is dead’
So the world today is bifurcated into the public and personal self. And political debates reflect this divide by being about individualism v. collectivism. The contending parties agree to the two being opposites: individualism v. bureaucratic state.
Of course this switch to emotivism has changed the meaning of words, to which we now turn.
CHAPTER FOUR – THE PREDECESSOR CULTURE AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT PROJECT OF JUSTIFYING MORALITY.
He will show that the root problems of academic philosophers and the problems central to our everyday social and practical lives are one and the same. Both are offspring of a culture in which philosophy did constitute a central form of social activity.
The French enlightenment wasn’t deeply rooted in its popular culture. What the French lacked was threefold: a secularized Protestant background, an educated class which linked the servants of government, the clergy and the lay thinkers into a single reading public and the new alive type of university.
Hence what we are dealing with is a culture that is primarily Northern European on Southern soil.
We forget how new the idea of morality is with the enlightenment. In Latin, as in ancient Greek there is no such word until our word ‘moral’ is translated back into Latin. Certaily ‘moral’is the etymological descendant of ‘moralis’. But ‘moralis’, like its Greek predecessor ‘ethikos’ – Cicero invented ‘moralis’ to translate the Greek word in the De Fato – meaning ‘pertaining to character’ where a man’s character is nothing other than his dispositions to behave systematically in one way rather than another, to lead one particular type of life.
It is only in the later seventeenth century and the 18th , when the distinction of morality from theology, the legal and the aesthetic has become a received doctrine that people seek justifications for morality.
The first time the distinctively modern standpoint appears is in Kierkegaard’s Enten-Eller. It comes in 1842 in Copenhagen.
Enten-eller has three central features to which we ought to attend. The first is the connection between its presentation and its central thesis. In it K. wears a umber of masks and thus helps launch a literary genre.
It involves the choice between the ethical and the aesthetic. Whether or not to choose to look at the world in terms of good and evil. But the choice can have no reason for choosing one or another. It is like the W W I generation that returned determined that nothing was ever going to matter to them again.
Bertrand Russel found he was no longer in love with his wife on a bicycle. K would have said that sudden flashes can have no reasons. But how can that which we adopt for no reason have authority over us?
K had seen the basis of the ethical in choice. Kant sees it in reason. Practical reason, according to Kant, employs o criterion external to itself. Hence his arguments against the use of happiness or God’s revealed will.
Kant’s failure provided K with his starting point: the act of choice had to be called in to do the work reason couldn’t do. Kant’s appeal to reason was the historical heir of of Diderot’s and Hume’s appeals to desire and the the passions. His was a historical response to their failure, just as K’s was to his. Wherein did the earlier failure lie?
TO answer we must first note that all of them pretty much believe in the same morality. Diderot was into the enlightened long run view that desire and passion would choose if wise. The younger Rameau had three replies. First, why should we have any regard for the long run if the immediate is sufficiently enticing. Second, isn’t this just a desire argument? And third is this not the way of the world, preying on others.
Their argument is over which desires are to be honored. But this question cannot be answered without a criteria outside of desire. Hume chooses those of those of a 17th century conservative. The levelers and Catholics he called deviant.
But why not break promises whenever it serves us? Sympathy is his answer. Adam Smith used it in the same way. He chose passions by debunking reason. Kant his by debunking passions.
After their failures the morality of our predecessor culture and subsequently our own lacked any public shared rationale or justification for morals.
CHAPTER FIVE – WHY THE ENLIGHTENMENT PROJECT OF JUSTIFYING MORALITY HAD TO FAIL
K. Kant, Diderot, Hume and Smith failed because of their specific historic background. All agree on what morality is: Promise keeping and justice. These come from their shared Christian pasts. Reason and passion were both predicated on being key features of human nature.
Their historical ancestor, Aristotle, used a teleological scheme. In it he said there was a fundamental contrast between man-as-he-happens-to-be and man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-essential-nature.
TO achieve that good of rational happiness which is peculiarly human, the desires must be put in order and educated by the cultivation of habit based on what ethics prescribe.
It remains basically untouched throughout Aquinas, Maimonides and Ibn Roschd. They just add the Christian sin concept in place of error.
The large area of agreement is shattered by Protestantism and Janesenist Catholicism. They say that reason can’t supply our true end. That power was destroyed by the fall of man.
Aristotelian science sets strict boundaries to the powers of reason. Reason is calculative; it can assess truths of fact and mathematical relations but nothing more. In the realm of practice, therefore, it can speak only of means. About ends it must be silent. Reason canot even, as Descartes believed, refute skepticism; and hence a central achievement of reason according to Pascal, is to recognize that our beliefs are ultimately founded on nature, custom and habit. The teleological view of humans is rejected by K. Smith and Diderot. Kant sees no teleology in nature. To understand this is to understand why morality had to fall. Without a teleological framework the whole project of morality becomes unintelligible.
Folks said we could not get ought from is. Even syllogisms logic only applies within its own system. That depends on your use of the word ought and moral. A.N.Prior used this one. He is a sea-capitan. He ought to do whatever a sea-captain ought to do. An is can entail and ought.
But there is no moral there, said the no ‘ought’ from ‘is’ crowd. ‘This watch is inaccurate and irregular in time-keeping.’ Implies and evaluation. It follows that the concept of watch cannot be defined independently of the concept of a good watch.
Now clearly the set of criteria is factual. The no ‘ought’ argument must exclude functional concepts from its scope. Yet classical Aristotelian views (Greek and mideaval) involve function centrally. The relation of ‘man’ to
‘living well’ is analogous to that of ‘harpist’ to ‘playing the harp well’ (nicomachean Ethics, 109 5a 16) For according to that tradition to be a man is to fill a set o froles each of which has its own point and purpose: member of a family, citizen, soldier, philosopher, servant of God. It is only when man is thought of a s an individual prior to and apart from all roles that ‘man’ ceases to be a functional concept.
What you should do in a role isn’t, however, moral, it is evaluative.
What I have described as a loss of traditional structure was seen as a gain by many. The self had been liberated from outmoded forms of social organization. Every action, I sthe bearer and expression of more or less theory-laden beliefs and concepts; every piece of theorizing and every expression of belief is a political and moral action.
CHAPTER SIX – SOME CONSEQUENCES OF THE FAILURE OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT PROJECT
On the one hand the individual sees himself as a free agent. But then he has no basis for morality. Morality then just becomes an instrument of human desire.
Benthem saw old morility as shot through with superstition. He wanted to base morality on a science of psychology. Pleasure and pain vary in intensity, duration and number. Rational minds will pursue the GHP.
Mill tried to distinguish between higher and lower pleasures. And in On Liberty he connects happiness with creative powers. Happiness is not unitary. Strict utilitarians never answer the question, which of the many ways of attaining happiness should I pursue. It helped with legislation. But the use of a helpful fiction doesn’t make it any less a fiction. Utilitarianism mutates into Sidwick’s emotivism.
Again analytic philosophers didn’t like Utililitarianism, pragmatism or emotivism because it seemed that they provide no reason or meaning. And humans do make meaning and morals. The analytic philosophers thus revived Kant.
To illustrate, again, why this attempt fails he’ll look in detail at Gewirth’s 1978 Reason and Morality. But he smuggles in the idea of rights. He says we have a right to any logically chosen good. But rights are a social creation.
No longer having any valid backing in the culture (religion or natural teleology) there was no longer any reason to listen to philosophers.
But everyone carries on as if one of these projects had succeeded. He brings up the difference of meaning and use again. But the emotive response is exactly what one would expect if they had failed and that is what we have.
We seek to be independent moral agents, as taught, but the only way we can incarnate our principles is to direct them towards others in a manipulative manner. The incoherence of our attitudes and our experience arises from the incoherent conceptual scheme we have inherited.
TO get this we must also understand the place of three other modern concepts. Rights, protest and unmasking. Rights in the sense that we ought not to be interfered with. These are the negatively defined 18th century rights. They provide a universal grounding for moral stances. But the concept of ‘right’ is found nowhere until the late medieval language or until the mid-nineteenth in Japan.
But every reason asserted to substantiate ‘rights’ has failed. They are phantasmagorias. Like utilitarianism, these fictions are defined as having objective impersonal criteria backing them up. They do not. Rights were created in the service of creating the idea of autonomous moral agents. Utility was created for a very different purpose.
Hence we can understand the debates over individualism (rights) and collectivism (utility).
It also then becomes clear why protest becomes a distinctive moral feature of the modern age and why indignation is a predominant modern emotion. To protest in Latin was to be for something and only tangentially against something else. But now it is nearly universally negative over the invasion of someone’s rights in the name of someone else’s utility. Protest is shrill because it isn’t an argument. It is directed at those that share the concepts of rights.
Each generation (from evangelicals, to enlightenment, to DH Lawrence, to the bloombery group) showed the false premises of their antagonists belief system. So emotivism just put a stamp on what all already believed. Unmasking the arbitrary is a most characteristic modern activity.
Freud was an ultimate in this.
He here reviews his argument. Remember that emotivism informs the characters (the therapist, the aesthete, and the manager, and the bureaucratic expert) of our modern society. They also trade in moral fictions: rights and utility.
Aesthetes bored go to therapists for one more aesthetic experience. The therapist is an expert unmasker. Each of the competing schools of psychology have undermined each other. They continue as though this weren’t true though. The therapist and the aesthete have no fictions which are their own. The manager however . . . their claim to being efficient and effective in controlling social realities as being moral is a fiction.
WE are not oppressed by the power of bureaucrats and corporations, but by our impotence. The corporate dudes don’t only not control us, they don’t control their corporations. When they are correct it is like the clergy who is lucky enough to pray for rain right before it does. If true, it becomes important to manufacture the illusion of expertise and control. They are based upon emotiveness and have no basis upon which to do the things they do. They hide and create belief the way Carnap and Ayers (modern emotivists) say God does.
First the manager finds a morally neutral fact (fiction in the mode of science) then he claims to have law like generalizations he can work with. But facts as such are a product of the 17th and 18th century. They are the thing that is severed from value.
We look at their history next.
CHAPTER SEVEN – ‘FACT’, EXPLANATION AND EXPERTISE
‘Fact’ is in modern culture a folk-concept with an aristocratic ancestry. Lord Chancellor Bacon initiated facts as collector’s items. Aubrey became the enthusiast of this for the Royal society, but failed to recognize the absence of a real value free fact.
We and the middle ages folks see very different skies at night. Empiricists claim that we at least see the same raw thing. But to make the world one of pure perception would make the world uninterpretable and incomprehensible. Empiricism sought to make seems and is collapse into a closed realm. Science, on the other hand, wants to increase the space between seems and is. They only deal with certain aspects of experience and ignore all else. The words experiment and experience diverge.
The theory of experiments puts the visions in contexts. There is thus a big incompatibility between science and empiricism. They did agree, however, on excluding the classical world view of Aristotle. Thus the arrogance of supposedly stripping away theory and interpretation of the world, made the enlightenment sneer at the middle ages and call them the dark ages. They do not see it as a transition from one theoretical stance to another. The Enlightenment is consequently the period par excellence in which most intellectuals lack self-knowledge. The blind proclaimed their own vision.
In the middle ages, efficient causes were in a world to be ultimately comprehended in terms of final causes. Every species had a natural end. They move towards that end over a lifetime. Hence virtues and vices are gone. Aristotle could not contrast the sphere of morality and the sphere of the human sciences. Protestants and Jansenists were the first to reject this Aristotelian world view. Man ceases to be a functional concept. The explanation of action becomes physiological. Kant recognizes that actions that are moral cannot have a scientific mechanical explanation. Fact and value are therefore, permanently severed.
The understanding of mechanical invariable law like explanation was transferred to the human sciences. The seventeenth and 18th centuries try to give such a law like explanation. It is only with Quine in 1960, that we see what the precise requirements of such an enterprise would have to accomplish.
To create such laws of behavior we would have to create a vocabulary that omits all reference to intentions, purposes, and reasons for action. Just as science had to do to the natural world. That is because beliefs don’t have a truth function. Plus enjoyment and fear are too complicated for laws. But following Quine to his logical conclusion: If we cannot formulate a law like objective science of behavior, we must make reference to the Aristotelian goals. For Aristotle, all human actions must be seen in reference to what is valuable to human values (and not just facts about human values). The science view allows no reference to such values. The is ought distinction rears its ugly head.
Marx saw that to do social science was to apply a different standard to others. You had to guess you knew their motivations and intensions. Originally, assuming different ends, civil servants of different states were different. Now they are standardized. You can take on from one state and put him in another’s. The civil servant comes to define government.
The civil servant has as his nineteenth – century counterpart and opposite the social reformer: Saint simonians, comtians, ultilitarians and Fabians. They all lament that government isn’t scientific! And government responds by being more scientific. Companies go the same path towards having cadres of educated number crunchers. Hence Weber’s characterization of their having their authority by means of claiming to adjust means to ends efficiently becomes true. They claim moral neutrality and the ability to manipulate. Twentieth century social life turns out in key part to be the concrete and dramatic re-enactment of 18th century philosophy. But is it true? DO we now have the set of law like generalizations that Diderot and Condorcet dreamed of?
CHAPTER EIGHT – THE CHARACTER OF GENERALIZATION IN SOCIAL SCIENCES AND THEIR LACK OF PREDICTIVE POWER
Social sciences bureaucratic prestige lies on its ability to function in law like generalizations as scientists. But they haven’t produced one law. But not having made any, their inclusion as advisors to governments is curious. Economists are notoriously bad at prediction. Of science magazine’s top 62 social science discoveries, not one was put in statistical form.
To better this situation we must second guess their basic philosophy.
He points to three social science successes (one being that the most primitive and advanced societies are the least tumultuous) and they all have three similar characteristics. One is they all recognize counter-examples. Secondly, they lack universal and scope quantifiers. Third they do not entail a well-defined set of counterfactual conditionals. Thus they are not really laws. SO what are they? The answer won’t be easy.
We may consider that social sciences have looked the wrong place for their ancestory: Comte and Mill and Diderot and Condorcet. They are trying to answer the questions of the 18th and 19th century masters. But the enlightenment, let us suppose, was dark.
We should look to Machiavelli for ancestry. How is he different? Above all in his concept of fortuna. He realized that there was no accounting for the unpredictable. But even if fate throws us a curveball and messes up our generalizations we have no need to get rid of them. Neither will we ever dethrone the bitch goddess Fortuna. Was he right?
There are four sources of unpredictability in human affairs. First is the nature of the radical conceptual innovation. We cannot, by definition predict and describe coming new radical conceptual innovations and inventions. The second source of unpredictability is the behavior of individuals. A third source comes from the game theory character of social life. The fourth source of unpredictability is pure contingency.
But unpredictable doesn’t mean inexplicable.
There are four areas in which we have predictability. The first is in scheduling. We all work on routines. Secondly are statistical regularities. We all catch more colds in winter. Friends are more likely to murder you than strangers. Without this we could never make plans. Third we know about regularities in nature and fourth we know about what happens to the poor and rich.
We can now talk of the relationship of unpredictability to predictability. We can plan based on predictability and thus can have long term projects and meaningful lives. A moment to moment life would not be able to have human institutions: marriage, war, funerals, family lines. Etc.
The enlightenment folk thought that we’d be able to do away with unpredictability. Our preserving our independence requires unpredictability and we don’t do full disclosure, but we plan based on predictability in the world. We try to be unpredictable and hope the world is predictable.
What can we say about generalizations concerning social life then? One is that they’ll be based on research. But the guesses will not be lawlike. There will be unpredictable outcomes and we won’t know what the scope is. But that is what the successful examples of social science were like. Folk wisdom.
Fortuna can be limited, but not eliminated, don’t take this as a failure. It’s life.
In organizations, predictability and efficiency are opposites. Change and adaptability make for efficiency. Micro management is bad. Totalitarianism is doomed. There is a generalization. But technical expertise, control and efficiency of the manager is a myth. Thus the manager as a character is other than what he seems to be. Government policy seems to be made on emotivism because social control is an illusion made up by skillful dramatic imitation of control.
Managers have limited capability within a limited sphere. They should claim no more.
CHAPTER NINE – NIETZSCHE OR ARISTOTLE?
The contemporary vision of the world is Weberian. You may protest that there is no one vision of the world. There are many stemming from the irreducible plurality of values. TO them he says that pluralism is a bureaucratic Weberian vision of efficient management.
But the Weberian vision cannot be sustained. It disguises and conceals rather than illuminates.
It was this vulgarized sense of modern morality which disgusted Nietzsche so. Captain Cook records that the Polynesians were really lax about sex, but had separate eating for men and women. Them eating together was taboo. What does taboo mean? No satisfactory explanations were given. He says it is because the locals themselves had no explanations.
At first things that are taboo are taboo for understood reasons. But later, the reasons fall into forgotten places and people continue the action. When they get to the second stage they become debatable and they are in trouble. That is probably why the Queen was so easily able to overturn the Polynesian’s taboos with a decree.
If asked and armed the culture could have given reasons to sustain the taboo. But then that assumes that the reasons are a field of study. That isn’t true in the case of taboos.
We need a history of the taboo. Why would you ask for reasons without knowing the history of the reasons? Nietzsche is the queen that overthrew the taboos. In section 355 of the gay science he destroys the entire enlightenment project. If there is nothing to morality but extensions of will, he then argues, my morality can only be what my will creates. There is no room for fictions of rights and utility. I must create new tables of what is good. Let us create ourselves. How to replace the debunked morals is Nietzsche’s big problem.
He steals from Weber. He hits upon prophetic irrationalism. That is immanent in the bureaucratic culture today created by will with no moral underpinnings. Goffman provides the sociology that shows the contrast between purported meaning and that which we actually utter. We are there to fulfill a role and navigate it successfully. There is no why there. There are no objective standards in Goffman’s world.
The standards emerge from the conversations themselves. You can’t get too involved in the conversations because it shows that you don’t have the necessary level of self control. Over involvement will alienate you from others.
Because success is whatever passes for success, it is in the regard of others that I prosper or fail to prosper. Presentation is thus very important.
This thesis is one that Aristotle considers only to reject quickly. For Aristotle, we have honor. We honor based on what others have done or failed to do. It is therefore only a secondary characteristic. But for goffman, even achievement is part of the contrived role playing will. All intention is deflated to appearance. There is no merit, just the appearance of it.
Honor used to mean getting your due. If someone didn’t give you your due, you could punish them. This was the big insult. Insults in Goffmans world are just private emotions.
Goffman, with claims to show what human behavior has always been, thereby says that Aristotle is false. Nietzsche is Goffman’s great predecessor. He borrows the phrase ‘the great souled man’ from Aristotle but nothing else. Nietzsche sees Aristotle’s philosophy as just another mask of the will to power.
Nietzsche buries the enlightenment project, which buried Aristotle. So Nietzsche’s question may be, was the enlightenment right to bury Aristotle? If not then Nietzsche dies because his whole project was based on the irrationality of the enlightenment basis for morality. So the question is do we reject everything, as Nietzsche or take Aristotle?
Nietzsche points out that the Enlightenment folk don’t answer the questions: What am I to become? In modern life this question can only be answered with indirection. The modern questions are: What rules ought we to follow? And why? Rawls and Dworkin see right and following the rules as synonymous. There is no backing. But suppose that we need t o attend to virtues in the first place in order to understand the function and authority of rules. On this point Aristotle and Nietzsche agree.
Both consider the classic virtues that came before them.
CHAPTER TEN – THE VIRTUES IN HEROIC SOCIETIES
In classical cultures the chief mode of moral education is the telling of stories. Jews, Christian, Icelandic and Greek tell of their lost heroic age. These stories created the historical memory and provided a moral background to contemporary debate. Their contrast to the present was always illuminating.
What are the key features of heroic ages?
Every one has a role and just recompense based on his status. Kinship and household are the primary components. There is no clear distinction between ought and owe.
There is also a clear understanding of what actions are required to perform and what falls short. The man and his actions become identical. He has no hidden depths. TO judge a man is to judge his actions. Virtue ‘arete’ means excellence of any kind. This concept is more foreign to us than we first realize. The connection between courage and its allied virtues of friendship, fate and death escape us. Courage is partly a quality needed to sustain a household and a community. Kudos, glory, are celebrated publicly because they help to sustain the community. Cunning is another virtue. Courage also means that you can be relied on and are therefore a good friend. Fidelity is courageous. And the friendships are public bonds of reciprocal duty.
The virtues cannot be separated from the context of the social structure. In fact, morality and the social structure are one. There is no morality in the abstract. Nothing exists outside of the order. The words for stranger and guest are the same. What you owe a guest is well defined. Odysseus has to discover if the Cyclops is a part of the civilized world or of no regard.
Another theme is heroic societies is the fragility of life. It is owed very easily. It is the standard of value. The world is full of powers which no one can control One’s own wrath from the gods and fate for example. A man who does what he ought moves steadily towards his fate and his death. Defeat not victory lies at the end. Knowing this is a necessary part of courage and a virtue in and of itself.
Character is what forms your behavior takes in the succession of incidents you must face.
They do not judge their society from the outside. It is like chess. A move will win. It makes no sense to ask if it is the right move. Right and wrong took place within the predefined framework. There is no disagreement as to what the right thing to do is for people in the Iliad
The ultimate bad for them is defeat. But Homer is beyond his characters. He actually asks what victory and defeat mean.
It is here that we see the strong contrast with emotivist self and the heroic self. We step back and examine our situation from the outside. A man who withdrew from the heroic age would make himself disappear.
The heroic self is very local. It doesn’t aspire to a universalist worth. Their society is gone but we can still learn two things to apply today:
One: All morality is always to some degree tied to the socially local and particular and the aspirations of the morality of modernity to a universality freed from all particularity is an illusion, Second that there is no way to possess the virtues except as a part of a tradition. Our freedom of choice would to them make us ghosts.
Nietzsche’s self – assertion would have been foreign to the Heroic age. Homeric assertion happens within the context of a role. Ns individualism is a projection back from the 19th century. His perspectivism would have been strange.
We are what the past has made us. We cannot be entirely transcendental.
But are these stories that then define us just like children stories? What of modern complexity? When we are in real dilemmas shouldn’t we reason rationally?
CHAPTER ELEVEN – THE VIRTUES OF ATHENS
Perhaps Socrates’ repeated asking what virtues is was meant to point to the breakdown in language. For sure he is trying to expel Achilles and Homer. But Sophocles had already done that in Philoctetes.
The Oresteia, via Athena and Apollo, shift the locus of justice from the family to the polis. In antigone, the demands of the polis and those of the family are also contrasted.
We can see the claims of family and social role breaking down under the pressure of the state. But in all cases the relationship of virtue is still within a particular and Athenian context. There is no universal morality here. The relationship between being a good citizen and being a good man become central. The Greeks were unquestionably superior. But what characteristics did they share?
AWH Adkins has helpfully contrasted the competitive (Homeric) and the cooperative (Athenian) virtues. One deep conflict is between competing versions of justice. Dike means “just’ but more so ‘order in the universe’ The clarity disappears between Homer’s time and the 5th century. We therefore have difficulty talking about the ‘Greek view’ of virtues. He will consider four Athenian views. Each will present a response to incoherence. And all interpret their concept of virtues in terms of the polis. There was no Christian conception of a hermit yet.
What makes the virtues virtues? ‘humility’, ‘thrift’ and ‘conscientiousness’ would appear in no Greek list of virtues. A virtue of Isocrates was restraint in pursuing your own self interest. The contest (agon) is big from Achilles v Hector to the Olympics (Which were between city states). The definition of a greek (as opposed to a barbarian) is an area that is entitled to send competitors to the Olympics. But Agon is also seen in theater, debate in the assembly and finally philosophy. Theater, politics and philosophy were not as separated for them as they are for us. We have lost our coherence. But we shall come back to how we lost it later.
SO the city state and agon unify the apparent diversity of competing visions of virtue.
The Sophist: Thrasymacus only wants to win no matter what. He has no sense of right and wrong. He is thus like Agemmemnon. But Sparta is more brutal so the idea the Sophists get is relativism. Weaker sophists mince their relativism with absolutes and get caught. Callicles is totally relativistic and so doesn’t get the thrashing that others do.
Plato doesn’t challenge Callicles on the basis of his sytem ot bringing happiness. They both would have agreed on the goals. It is what he takes to be happiness that forms the basis of the dispute.
Callicles wants to dominate the polis as a tyrant. Plato’s happiness would happen in a perfect nonexistent polis. Philosophy, not politics is the route to his happiness. But his virtues remain in relation to the polis.
Sophocles is the person who most explores competing loyalties. But Plato says all aspects of life must be in harmony for justice (order) to exist. The modern version says that there is such a variety of goods that any attempt to unify them would lead to a straight jacket. Sophocles has objective virtues. And they sometimes conflict. This is a tragedy. You are wrong either way. You exist only in a city and yet have personal duties too. And your decisions also affect the community (which sort of becomes a dramatic character). And the Sophoclean is not emotive. It has a self but that self is accountable to standards to the death.
Sophocles’ use of narrative points out the view that life advances or doesn’t based on your choices for vice or virtue. Plato doesn’t use narrative. His is a stagnant for of virtue.
CHAPTER TWELVE – ARISTOTLE’S ACCOUNT OF THE VIRTUES
The present is only intelligible as a response to the past. Tradition may go up and it may go down. But it always carries over from the past. So Aristotle only makes sense in the trajectory of a tradition he did not acknowledge.
His Nichomacean ethics starts out “Every activity, every enquiry, every practice aims at some good. There is a continuing tension between how local and particular his sense of the good is and its universal leanings.
The virtues are those actions that will lead to eudaimonia (blessedness, happiness, prosperity) the telos of man. The means and the end can be characterized without reference to each other. On can lead to the other. This end presupposes virtues. The means without virtues makes no sense on his account. Having a correct end will ensure the correct virtue. This doesn’t mean that correct action can’t happen without correct ends in mind. Natural disposition, traits and talent can make you virtuous. But you have a tendency to not be well disciplined if you aren’t consciously choosing good ends. And truly virtuous acts require virtuous thoughts. You may think something is good for you and be mistaken. Aristotle does briefly mention that some things are prohibited everywhere no matter what. These would probably be violations against the bonds of the community. This sort of wrong would require recognition by the community (or the community fails itself) and exile would follow (as the person has already excluded themselves from the community). One can fail the community by positive wrong, or just failing to contribute (not being good enough).
To be just is to give each person his due. That might involve legal sanctions. But for Aristotle (unlike us) laws and morality are not the same thing. Rawls and Nozick are into laws that cannot do “according to right reason” when laws don’t apply. He mentions a lawsuit in which there is a compromise. The golden mean isn’t really about absolutes.
Education trains disposition. Otherwise, you are just good at doing the means that are linked to the ends. Intelligence is necessary for good character. Good judgment is necessary. Kant’s ‘good will’ if mixed with stupidity is not enough.
Aristotle could not have a ‘good’ bureaucrat because they claim moral neutrality. Also he wouldn’t believe in virtuous stupid people. Being good requires a unity and complexity of virtue. There are lots of different ways in which your contribution or destruction of the friendships that make the polis relationship can happen. The good are good all around. The type of friendship he has in mind is that which embodies a shared recognition of and pursuit of the good. Lawgivers should seek to make friendship a more important aim than justice. Justice is the rewarding of desert. Friendship is required for that initial constitution. We can’t relate as our friendships are all seen as private now. Communalism is against our notion of individualism. His friendships are about creating the good together and only secondarily about affection. If there is no common goal in society, you can only have friendships of mutual advantage. That is a lower kind of friendship.
Aristotle doesn’t like dissention. He gets his sense of unity of all virtues from Plato. Tragic flaws break the unity of life and result in tragedy. It isn’t that disorder is inherent. He doesn’t do dialectic, that is divisive, he does lecture.
There is a tension between his contemplation for contemplations sake and the need for a polis. Liberty requires a city. Barbarians and slaves cannot have virtue as they aren’t part of a political community. He writes as though Greeks and Barbarians were fixed in their ways forever. He isn’t historical and sees no progress towards a telos for the Greeks as a whole. He probably served Macedonia because he had no historical vision of the transient nature of the state.
Aristotle sees happiness as the end. But it cannot be the final measure without reference to the community. Beliefs and actions are contiguous. TO say you want to be well and then go out underdressed in the rain makes no sense.
A syllogism of good. First is the propensity of the individual. Then there are things that are good for society (major premise). Then there is the action decided upon (minor premise); then there is the action taken: (Conclusion).
Whether the person can carry this scheme out takes us back to their character.
A weakness upon which people hit him is that we must accept his telos laden biology. If not we need a vision of human flourishing for a telos. But which conflicting version to take?
Can we have the civic nature of virtue and friendship in large industrial mega cities?
And lastly, Aristotle has an aversion to conflict and disagreement that he got from Plato. He misread, again, Sophocles as to not have bad things be a part of life. Can we deal with his aversion to difference and conflict nowadays? Sometimes we only learn of our purposes through conflict.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN – MEDIEVAL ASPECTS AND OCCASIONS
There are a number of strands to medieval thinking. It was not unitary. The first was that it had only just recently made its way out of heroic society. Germans, Anglos-Saxons, Norwegians, Irishmen and Welsh. All had pre-Christian pasts to remember. Often they turned the pagan hero into a Christian knight. Killing a known person isn’t a matter of law, it is a matter of revenge. The creation of uniform morality was late. Trial by ordeal placed their world in a cosmic context with universal justice.
In the twelfth century translations of pagan works had to be reconciled with Christian teachings. The bible doesn’t always give a coherent system of daily ethics. The four cardinal virtues of justice, prudence, temperance and courage had to be related to the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.
Abelard 1138 looked to Aristotle for a definition of sin.
But they change it. All comes down to will and choice for Christians. You may have a bad character, but that is just another external factor weighing in on the real action of the will.
The internalization of moral life is about the new testament but it also hearkens back to stoicism. Stoicism is very internal. The wise man does good, but his goodness has nothing to do with outcome. It is an all or nothing good or evil disposition. You need an unconditionally good will that conforms with the nature of the cosmic order. Telos is abandoned. Particular situations are to be ignored.
The largeness of the states it flourished under (Macedonia, Rome and the Church) accounts for why distance from community and emphasis on the internal individual relation to the whole (as opposed to law) is so heavy in stoicism.
In this individualism it anticipates much of modernism. Whenever positive virtues disappear, stoic individual endurance is a possibility for the West. As city states reemerge in the 12th and 13th, the questions of how to make worldly virtue comes back. The mandates of God get you into heaven. But beyond commandments of restriction, how do you create positive virtue?
These were fostered by a general creative tension between the secular and the religious. Loyalty and justice had tension. Loyalty to whom? Henry created law courts. Human law is a shadow of divine law. So law and morality are one. That is partly because the old Aristotelian idea of a polis of folks seeking the shared good together continues. I am my role in this heavenly cage. I can be excommunicated too. Becket was martyred and Henry went into penance land. He killed him, but shared the ecclesiastic world view that required atonement in front of the Church.
The church had to add charity to Aristotle’s virtues. He held that a good man could not be friends with a bad man. Charity is not just another virtue. It shows that all virtues take place within a certain form of narrative. The Christian one is one of redemption and forgiveness. Aristotle’s good goes throughout your life. Christian good can be gotten via forgiveness at the end of your life. The Christian narrative is one in which you avoid evils. Aristotle’s is one in which you cultivate goods. Vice for him is a failure to cultivate good.
Fate can screw up Aristotle’s eudaimonia. It can’t screw up the Christian telos.
The idea of a growing life fixed in a narrative happens in the middle ages in ways that Aristotle doesn’t dig. Aristotle’s world is flat. Growth doesn’t happen. The middle ages emphasizes patience as the world is so bad.
Aquinas is way more tidy than Aristotle. His scheme has no room for tragedy, like Aristotle, but it has none of the nuance of real life struggles. It is a scheme only. And the conflicts are within us. The world was created good and all the shit is due to us. Aristotle doesn’t need a first principle too much because he says ‘for the most part’. Aquinas is very law like in comparison.
CHAPTER FOURTEEEN – THE NATURE OF VIRTUES
Does this story leave us with proof of diversity? There is a great variety in kind and manner of recognition. Aristotle likes mental excellence, Homer physical. Austen likes to be amiable, and Jesus humble. Homer says virtue is a quality that allows you to discharge your social roles. Aristotle and Jesus say they are essential to fulfilling the pre-existing telos of man as man. Franklin has external utility as the measure of his virtues.
Each claims a universal applicability, yet cannot have one.
There is a complex core to this tradition:
Each requires the acceptance of certain features of social and moral life to be defined and explained. There are no less than three stages in the logical development of the concept that he has identified as the concept cores.
This stage requires a background account of ‘practice’.
This account he has already characterized as the narrative order of a single human life.
Account number three constitutes a moral accounting.
Each stage presupposes the prior.
Virtues need specific practices or actions to judge. He has two caveats on this:
First, virtues don’t only happen in practice & second, by practice he means any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence systematically.
Throwing a football isn’t practice, playing football games is.
Bricklaying isn’t a practice, architecture is.
Planting turnips isn’t, farming is.
In the middle ages creating and sustaining a community was a practice.
A child playing chess for money isn’t doing a practice. If he is doing it for the experience of doing it and the practice can have competent judges (chess qualifies) it is a practice. The life of a dedicated chess player may also be considered internal.
Practices have a history. Think of the history of painting. To start in a practice is to enter into a dialogue with the standards set thus far. It is to recognize them. These standards rule out emotivist and subjective analysis of judgment.
External goods involve a win lose situation due to scarcity. Internal goods help the whole community.
The preceding has prepared us to give a definition of virtue:
A virtue is an acquired human quality the possession 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.
To judge something as worthy we must enter the world of standards that puts us in relation to a community. Justice requires that we treat each other as they merit according to impartial standards. TO have an Aristotelian style friendship for real we must have courage, truthfulness and justice (though the degree of these may change per culture).
Practices cannot flourish in societies in which the virtues are not valued.
Practices are not just technical skills. They never have goals that are fixed for all times. The goals are transmuted by the history of the practice.
Institutions are not practices. They are for external goods. They distribute rewards to those that practice. Without rewards a practice dies. SO the practice is always vulnerable to corruption by the flattery, money, status of the institution. Therefore, the virtues of truthfulness, courage and justice are needed for the promulgation of the practice.
Liberal individualistic governments are there to facilitate individuals and thus offer no moral standards.
Ancient and medieval views require virtues for sustenance and are like parents READ CRITO AGAIN (BY SOCRATES).
The integrity of the practice will depend partly on how it can use the virtues to prevent the corruption of the institutions that judge and sustain it. Vices corrupt the institution.
Thommy Jefferson thought only a society of small farmers could sustain virtues. Adam Ferguson sees commercial culture as corrupting virtues.
Any society that only recognizes external goods would get very competitive. The virtues can hinder your acquisition of external goods. They may be ditched except as a simulacra.
This account of virtue doesn’t require you to take Aristotle’s metaphysical biology nor does it require that all have the same ends to have values.
This is not utilitarian. Utilitarian looks for external goods. The happiness that results from practice comes indirectly from a job well done. It is an internal good. This virtue account is also historical. Utilitarianism requires that you sever your ties with history. JS Mill tried to wiggle out of utilitarianism with higher and lower pleasures. He didn’t play football. But interior and exterior goods are a better criteria. Football has a depth then depending on your engagement with the history. The minute you value, in such a way you imply criteria. Thus honesty, courage and justice have an evaluative nature that Social science’s facts don’t. (CH 7).
Consider these objections to MacIntyre. Some practices are evil. Torture or painting pursued to the neglect of your family aren’t virtue are they? Having standards of practices doesn’t make them immune from moral criticism.
Also, how does the virtue fit in with the good life? To not follow what Aristotle called the good life would be to fail in a variety of ways in respect to the kinds of excellences possible.
3 Ways that virtue life sketched so far could be defective:
1 – conflicting goods. Lenin stopped listening to Beethoven. How do you choose between them? The modern self is all criterionless choices and would have been alien to Aristotle.
2 – Without an overriding telos our virtues are partial (patience with a stupid child).
Without an ovveriding telos the use of virtues may be arbitrary.
3 - Is a singularity of purpose all of life?
CHAPTER FIFTEEN – THE VIRTUES, THE UNITY OF A HUMAN LIFE AND THE CONCEPT OF A TRADITION
Socially, modern life is fragmented and so a unity of purpose impossible.
Philosophically we tend to look at episode by episode.
A self separated from its roles in the Sartrian way loses the arena of social relationships. Integrity means the smashing of relationships for him.
We spoke of the fragmenting of the modern life around emotivism. Here I wish to speak of the continuity of self. It is natural to think of the self as a narrative. The explanation for what we are doing, requires a reference to a past and future.
Settings have histories (often multiple). Furthermore, these intentions may have connection to long trajectories of history and future. There is no behavior free of intentions and setting and history. Thus B.F. Skinner’s immediate science of behavior don’t work. Analytic philosophers also try to speak of a human action. How do we individuate? There are contexts for everything.
These intentions always take place within relationships.
Someone at a bus stop says “The name of the common wild duck is Histrionicus Histrionicus histrionicus.” The meaning is clear. But we want an intention. Why did he say it?
Statements usually happen in conversations. To understand conversations you overhear, you have to put them into a framework. Oh it is a fight between lovers, they are just chit chatting. Conversations have a point like a play and script with a climax and end. We also go to school, play chess and do actions within a narrative of our lives.
If we describe George Washington we can do it many ways. He can be fit into many narratives. We are often in multiple narratives.
But we are only the co-authors of our narratives. We are on a set that we didn’t create. And we are subordinate in other people’s narratives.
An action is a moment in a history.
Sartre says that to put ourselves in an imagined narrative is bad faith. There is no narrative. Of course there is some unpredictability in this narrative. That is what makes it fun. But there is also a telos (hopefully), a variety of ends and goals to be attended to.
We are a story telling animal. Ask yourself “Of what stories am I a part??”
Is there a point to your story?
Tradition gives us the uber stories.
Is there a point to America?
Despite what the empiricists say, there is a continuity in our self-narratives that makes the past present. We are not just psychological states or events.
The narrative concept of selfhood is twofold. You are what others take you to be in your story. On the other, you are the subject of your story. You may be both son and husband. But you are also the single you about which the stories are told.
You are accountable for your stories, and you can ask others for an account. “Whatcha doin’?”
The unity of a life consists in its continuity. A moral life asks what is good for man? What is good for me? Life is a quest. What is your quest for? There were two key features to medieval quest stories. They have a goal (telos) and it is not a predetermined goal. The meaning comes through the vicissitudes. So the quest is for a practice, but also for the meaning of the distractions and hardships we face. The good life for man is the life spent in seeking for the good life for man. The requisite virtues are those which help us find the answer.
The good life is, however, always situated. It is not for an abstracted individual. What is the good life for a 5th century Athenian general? What of a 13th century nun? We all determine the good life as bearers of a particular social identity. What is a good life for the son of, or an American. What is good for me must be what is good for someone that inhabits these roles. We are born with debts, expectations and obligations.
This is shocking to modern individualism. We take our roles to be non-essential. I am biologically my father’s son, but I cannot be held responsible unless I choose to assume it. I am a member of a country, but I cannot be responsible for what my country does or has done.
Being an American is not taken to be apart of the moral identity. A German who says I am not responsible if I make a Jew apprehensive.
But my identity is always embedded in the story of a past and community.
This doesn’t mean you have to accept the limitations and morals of that group, but that is where you leave from. It is your starting point towards the good.
My story is, whether I choose it or like it or not, a part of a continuing tradition that I bear. Our actions always have histories.
But what is tradition? Many theorists follow Burke I contrasting tradition with reason. They also group the continuation of tradition and conflict.
All reasoning takes place within a traditional mode of thought, whether it is science or medieval logic. A tradition is always partially constituted by an argument about the goods of that tradition.
A university is up for constant argument about what a university is and aught to be. A farm too. There is a continuity of conflict that goes way back. A living tradition is a historically extended argument about the goods which constitute it.
What kills traditions? The exercise or lack of exercise of the relevant virtues. The virtues can be excercised on our private practice, but also are in relation to the larger narrative. We are often unaware of that larger narrative. But, the sense of tradition manifests itself in a grasp of those future possibilities which the past has made available to the present. The living tradition is not over as a story.
You can ask what is best for you, in your situation, with your narrative. There not being wrong or right is put out by people that deny place and narrative. You have one. The traditional virtues are much different than that of bureaucratic individualism.
CHAPTER SIXTEEN – FROM THE VIRTUES TO VIRTUE AND AFTER VIRTUE
Subcultures have traditions, but the core of our culture has melted down. Pluralism leaves us no center. Utility and rights exist in some vacuum. There is no concept of virtue as hooked to our stations. Some have said that narratives segregate us from life.
The concept of narrative goes against the individualistic model. The concept of practice with goods internal to themselves does to.
When work was in the household, it was easy to see it as a part of sustaining a community. With industry that is gone. There is an external good only to such work that lends itself to consumerism. Politics were internal for Aristotle and external for Mills. The aesthete and the bureaucratic manager have become the central characters of modern society. The unity of life and practice have been expelled. As individual rational beings we must contrive our own happiness.
Without the unity of life where do you practice virtue? We still praise virtues, but we don’t know why. Virtues could be understood as natural to individual passions or necessary to curb them. The individual is a recent invention.
In the 17th and 18th morality came to be associated with altruism because of the assumed dangers of our natural egoistic natures. With Aristotle, there is no tension between us, your good is my good, mine is yours, so I needn’t sacrifice myself for you.
The concept of friendship has no altruism in it. For many 17th and 18th century thinkers the notion of a shared god for man is an Aristotelian chimaera. Each man seeks his own desires.
Hume says that it is in our long term advantage to be just. The need to inculcate that presupposes an antagonism between myself and society. Hume takes variations in morality to indicate the egoistic self reacting to different situations. He prefers Cicero to Christianity.
But he never sees that he is in a situation. His scientism has blocked that off. He never asks what the virtues are for a 19th century British philosopher and father of three. Ironically, the virtues he points out all show the influence of his society. The passions are thus well harnessed for individual gain. He cannot justify his dislike of monkish virtues based on his hunch as a valuable dislike.
Honor requires a community, something larger to fight for, and so Hume gets rid of it. The plug of ‘sympathy’ explains why he does sometimes act altruistically.
Rules start to take a larger place in society at this time. They are less restricting than roles. Other than that you are on your own. And a concept of pluralities of virtues gives way to virtue as singular. Language is corrupted as moral and virtuous come to mean the same thing. Dutiful and virtuous and duty and obligation come to mean the same thing. Vice got narrowed to meaning infidelity and virtue became a single noun.
As remarked earlier, when teleology disappears (Christian or Aristotelian) Stoicism rises. Virtue becomes its own reward. The society and your role are not there. It is a matter of will. Virtue becomes one standard.
Nature becomes a single minded replacement for a single minded god. Dr. Johnson warns that “he who seeks happiness by changing everything but his own nature, will waste his life” in multiplicities of futile attempts.
Medieval patience was for a better life after. Victorian patience was for enduring despair. Rules take over that have no clear criteria. Be humble, just and sincere.
Republicanism comes back. And in this there is a hint of Aristotle. But the virtues now just mean following the rules of society. This is the Roman version, not the Greek version of republican virtue. The nuance of various positive virtues is still born in rules that we follow to follow.
Egalitarianism is the new ethos of this bland republicanism. It isn’t just deserts. It is a submission of the many into the one. Virtue replaces the virtues.
Kant considers himself a latter day stoic. He makes rule abstractions. This is, again again, to replace the lost Aristotelian view.
Smith and others glob onto republicanism as the greatest view of life. As for many 18th centurians, it is a way to sneak in a community of virtue, but it is Roman, not Greek in origin. And the Roman / Italian (Machiavellian) difference is that it sees the ultimate good in the public good which is prior to and independent of the summing of individual desires and interests. Virtue just becomes allowing the public to give you standards of behavior. Hence, republicanism, like Stoicism, makes virtue primary and the virtues secondary. (not all republicans were stoics). It didn’t speak Aristotle or his discredited science. And it didn’t uphold despots of the state.
Instead it brought back the medieval passion for equality. The state was not the source of ethics. Public desert and public merit of Aristotle were also abandoned. Working for others was in, but not at a level at which judgment of excellence came into play. This was for equality of the common man.
Aristotelian friendship and Christian love of neighbor become fraternity. To do your job is the ultimate virtue that is working class and takes over France. Finery is out. Long hair is in. Very common.
Cobbett is republican against the virtues of the rules of Victorianism.
Jane Austen tries to save virtues by relocating them inside of the private social sphere. When production was within the household the unmarried sister or aunt was a useful and valued member of the household; the ‘spinster’ who did the spinning. Later those who don’t marry has to fear expulsion into drudgery.
When Austen speaks of ‘happiness’ she also does so as an Aristotelian. Her heroines seek the good through seeking their own good in marriage. Much therefore of what she presents about the virtues and vices is thoroughly traditional. She praises the virtue of being socially agreeable. But she doesn’t merely reproduce the tradition she extends it via three central propositions. She gives self knowledge a central position. A Christian rather than a Socratic self knowledge which only comes through repentance.
When Kierkegaard argues for the aesthetic life, he does so by seening our lives as disconnected vignettes. She sees commitments and responsibilities to the future as springing from the past. Her virtue is constancy. And without constancy all other virtues lose their point. It is reinforced by and reinforces patience (which is like Aristotle’s courage). It recognizes a particular kind of threat to the integrity of the personality in the modern world.
Those that exhibit constancy are not as charming as the others. For charm is the characteristically modern quality by which we simulate virtue. She pushes virtue for the sake of a kind of happiness, not utility.
Her writing in a comic narration is due to her being Christian and seeing the telos of human life implicit in its everyday, small moments.
She gets ignored as a philosopher because she writes of a restricted social sphere. This is what he is arguing we need to concentrate on for a rebirth of virtues.
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN – JUSTICE AS A VIRTUE: CHANGING CONCEPTIONS
When Aristotle praised justice as the first virtue of political life, he did so in such a way as to suggest that a community which lacks practical agreement on a conception of justice must also lack the necessary basis for political community.
What if we weigh the ideal of keeping what I earn versus redistributing monies.
Rawls sees us as situated behind a veil of ignorance. Nozick derives his freedom from the inalienable rights of each individual, premises for which he does not himself offer arguments. For Rawls how those who now are in grave need of money got that way is irrelevant. And both are preoccupied with money as an abstract.
Neither make reference to desert in their accounts of justice. Each sees society as composed of individuals with is or her own interest who have come together just to formulate common rules of life. Individuals are primary in both accounts and society secondary.
Rawls makes it a presupposition that we must expect to disagree with others about what the good life for man is. It is from both views as if we had been shipwrecked on a deserted island.
The individualistic view has distinguished ancestry: Hobbes and Locke both get great respect from Nozick. And it contains a certain note of realism about modern society nothing but a collection of strangers.
Desert is also ruled out by a exclusion of references to the bast to to claims of desert based upon past actions and suffering. This is why redistributive versus unalienable rights to my stuff views stay mutually exclusive. They are abstractions like the modern notions of rights and utility.
It has implications for Constitutional theory. Ronald Dworkin invites us to see the Supreme Court’s function as that of invoking a set of consistent principles exemplified by the Bakke case. They did a numbers game to try to keep evenness and account for helping previously deprived minorities. But they approached it as peace keepers between incompatible ends. They didn’t do it by invoking shared principles.
Laws, whether civil or political are expedients to the pretensions of the parties (not moral lessons). Politics becomes civil war carried on by other means.
But if this is so, virtue has been displaced. Patriotism cannot be what it was because we lack a patria.
Where government does not express or represent the moral community of citizens, but is instead a set of institutional arrangements for imposing a bureaucratized unity on a society which lacks genuine moral consensus, the nature of political obligation becomes systematically unclear. Patriotism is or was a virtue founded on attachment primarily to a political and moral community and only secondarily to the government of the community.
[Problems: What would then be our shared moral community? Washington’s lack of entangling alliances contra Bush? Is our republican past replaced by an individuated tradition (ironically) at the time of independence (As the myth of individualism says). Our framers were into negative rights. We definitely need to ground our understandings on realities. Underrepresented minorities fails because a) they weren’t underrepresented, just not existent. And b) if we are to be a nation of shared community, we can have no minorities from it or c) if we are to be a nation of abstract ideals, we cannot count for race. Why the obsession with race? One: because it was important via black people. And secondly, because we like it’s scientific countable nature (As in After Virtue, it is a telos free, value free, science concept). Perhaps our core values can only be sussed out from comparing ourselves to other societies: Perhaps we base them on tradition: But it is so under attack from modern changes to it. At least we should know that America is not an abstraction and in fact, there are none. Perhaps we base them on why others come here (just money? Life expectancy? No. liberty and freedom from persecution.) Here go heavy on the Lester Ward?)]
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN – AFTER VIRTUE: NIETZSCHE or ARISTOTLE, TROTSKY and ST. BENEDICT
In Chapter nine he showed that our morality is in disorder due to being fragmented. There have been rational attempts to prop it back up. And it would be easy in the contemporary world to be an intelligent Nietzscheian. Nietzschean man, the Ubermensch, the man who transcends, finds his good nowhere in the social world to date. In the Will to Power he states ‘A great man – a man whom nature has constructed and invented in the grand style – what is he? . . . If he cannot lead, he goes alone; then it can happen that he may snarl at some things he meets on the way . . . he wants no “sympathetic” heart, but servants, tools; in his intercourse with men he is always intent on making something out of them. He knows he is incommunicable; he finds it tasteless to be familiar.”
We need to use notions like those of practice, or the narrative unity of a human life and of moral tradition, then goods, and with them the only grounds for the authority of laws and virtues, can only be discovered by entering into those relationships.
So it was right to see Nietzsche as in some sense the ultimate antagonist of the Aristotelian tradition. Liberal individualism versus Aristotelian traditionalism.
The differences extend beyond ethics and morality to the understanding of human actions.
He wants to recognize three compelling objections.
First: Arguments in philosophy rarely take the form of proofs; and the most successful arguments on topics central to philosophy never do. The ideal of proofs has been barren. His arguments do entail a view of human thinking and rationality (the second, his mistaken word choice). He won’t get into the views of Kantians and his own here.
The Second is that he has just used the parts of Aristotle he likes and ignored others. Okay, It is a symbol and he doesn’t want to be regarded as overly academic. He will not fight them on their own ground.
Third, Marxists say that alienation will be gotten rid of only with the end of capitalism. But Marxists fall back onto a straightforward version of Kantian kingdoms of ends or utilitarianism. That is their fault.
After people left the project of shoring up Roman Imperium, they new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that they might survive the dark ages. We have also reached that turning point. The difference here is that the barbarians aren’t at the gate, they are running our country. We need a new St. Benedict.
CHAPTER NINETEEN – POSTSCRIPT TO THE SECOND EDITION
He must address three big types of criticisms this book has received.
1. The relationship of philosophy to history.
He uses history to argue philosophical points. And though folks don’t like this, he has no problem breaking down the walls between philosophy and history. Secondly, they say that he uses an analytic methodology to show that emotivism failed and then doesn’t like analytic philosophy due to its place in history.
Morality only happens in the historical lives of particular social groups (as Vico noted). Both identity and characteristics and practice change through time. Morality that is not of a particular time is to be found nowhere. Morality of 4th century Athens is just that.
Kant and analytic philosophers thought they’d found a way around that. William Frankena, his critic, as an analytic philosopher, doesn’t like his historicism. But just as what Kant took to be absolutes in physics were just absolutes in Newtonian physics, his presuppositions, were just those of a secularized version of Protestantism which furnished modern individualism with a charter.
Analytic philosophy now believes that there are no grounds for belief in universal necessary principals outside purely formal enquiries – except relative to some set of assumptions. Cartesian first principles, Kantian a priori’s and their ghosts which haunted empiricism are gone. Now it studies inferences. Rorty says that being able to see the entire universe of arguments allows us to refute each and that is what is left.
It can produce conclusive negatives only.
Rorty, Lewis and Frankena go on considering arguments as objects of investigation in abstraction from the social and historical contexts from which they get their traditional import.
It is like Newtonian physics being superior to its predecessors. It wouldn’t be any such thing unless you knew what came before it. It does solve more problems. And moral philosophy can be judged as it unfolds in history by how it meets the needs of its own time. Here he and Franken part company.
And just as no supra-being stands behind physics ideas and says “Yep! That’s the right one and THE transcendental truth.” They work in a context and are therefore the right ones then. The pursuit is therefore, never over and involves fallibilism.
2. The Virtues and the Issue of Relativism
He gives virtues in three stages in this book::::::
- First, which concerns virtues as qualities necessary to achieve the goods internal to practices.
- Second, considers them as qualities that contribute to the good of a whole life.
- Third, relates them to a good that only exists within an ongoing social tradition.
An advantage here is that, unlike emotivism based virtue, with practice as an anchor, life isn’t divided into means and ends. It takes account of life as ongoing and goals are re discovered and discovered as we pursue them. The best sorts of practices do constantly ask for new goals, architecture v. bricklaying. Kant’s imperatives, as he acknowledged, were not those of skill or nor imperatives of prudence. The excellence is not in the imperative or the individual practicing but in the context of the craft.
But what of a chess player who is vicious in real life and his goals (fame, power,money)? Is his good internal to the practice of chess? His real good is outside of chess. Lower level chess players might get the same enjoyment.
A virtue must also be a virtue in practice of being a) a whole human life b) practices and c) tradition. It still must incorporate the question of what the best kind of human life to lead is.
If two cultures meet with different values and traditions we may be able to create a rational transcendental standard by which to judge (he says no), or there is no reason to choose one over the other. His rejection of the enlightenment project means he takes the latter scenario.
If they can see that their traditions are different, they can compare. And each may thereby actually learn more about their own tradition. And their culture may thereby change. And if they can withstand the challenge of alternate values, and adapt, they can have confidence in the viability of their culture.
But he cannot deny, won’t deny, that this does lead to no rational basis upon which to choose. He believes that there are NO successful a priori arguments concerning virtue. The Aristotelian moral tradition is the best example we possess of a tradition whose adherents are rationally entitled to a high measure of confidence in its epistemological and moral resources. The next book will show how absolutes of Vico and Hegel can be somewhat blended with the temporal.
3. The Relationship of Moral Philosophy to Theology.
Aristotle and the bible needed reconciliation from the first. But some traditions aren’t rational and are rule based. Should we adhere to them? This is a work in progress.