Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Charles Taylor on Alisdair MacIntyre

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

I love that warm feeling you get when you read something by an author you respect that beautifully articulates something you already believe. In this case, I discovered that Charles Taylor, who is a genius, basically shares my assessment of Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. Here is a quote from Sources of the Self that I discovered today:

The sympathies of this type of outlook [one that rejects modernity root and branch] tend to be rather narrow, and their reading of the varied facets of the modern identity unsympathetic. The deeper moral vision, the genuine moral sources invoked in the aspiration to disengaged reason to expressive fulfillment tend to be overlooked, and the less impressive motives—pride, self-satisfaction, liberation from demanding standards—brought to the fore. Modernity is often read through its least impressive, most trivializing offshoots.

A penetrating book like Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue can create the impression in some readers [me!] of dismissing the Enlightenment Project simply as a mistake.

Quote of the Day

Monday, July 14th, 2008

From Wallace Stevens’ “Esthetique du Mal” via Bernard Williams’ Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy:

How cold the vacancy
When the Phantoms are gone and the shaken realist
First sees reality. The mortal no
Has its emptiness and tragic expirations.
The tragedy, however, may have begun,
Again, in the imagination’s new beginning,
In the yes of the realist spoken because he must
Say yes, spoken because under every no
Lay a passion for yes that had never been broken.

After After Virtue

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

My girlfriend has a copy of After Virtue lying around, and I’ve been re-reading parts of it two years after I finished it for the first time. MacIntyre spends a long time drilling home the point that The Enlightenment Project Had To Fail. He deliberately obscures the reasons why The Enlightenment Project Had To Happen. For the un-initiated, “The Enlightenment Project” is the one of finding a rational basis for morality—a rationally compelling answer to the question “why should I be moral.” According to MacIntyre:

The [pre-enlightenment] moral scheme that forms the background to their [Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, etc.] thought had, as we have seen, a structure which required three elements: untutored human nature, man-as-he-could-be-if he-realized-his-telos, and the moral precepts which enable him to pass from one state to the other.

But the joint effect of the secular rejection of both Protestant and Catholic theology and the scientific and philosophical rejection of Aristotelianism was to eliminate any notion of man-as-he-could-be-if he-realized-his-telos.

[Enlightenment thinkers] inherited incoherent fragments of a once coherent scheme of thought and action and, since they did not recognize their own peculiar historical and cultural situation, they could not recognize the impossible and quixotic character of their self-appointed task.

The problem is that the concept of a human telos as a grounding for moralitya purpose that simply exists the same way objects do—was never coherent in the first place. Good-for-me is just as obscure and mysterious a concept as good-in-general (which is, in a sentence, the reason I am no longer a Randroid). A telos is my telos because I find it (or, if I understood it correctly, would find it) a compelling reason to act. If the telos just exists out there in the ether, there is no explanation of how this is possible. It must be by virtue of connection to something in my nature. The Enlightenment project is an attempt to solve this problem. MacIntyre’s historicism is an attempt to conceal it.