sabato, marzo 14, 2009

Making a virtue out of a moral impasse

Sempre a proposito della conferenza su MacIntyre, qui trovate il video della lezione pubblica e qui un bel po' di foto, ben fatte.
Questo invece e' un articolo apparso sull'Irish Times di oggi.

Making a virtue out of a moral impasse

Sat, Mar 14, 2009

WORLD VIEW: ABOUT 500 people packed out a UCD lecture hall yesterday week to hear a lecture by Alasdair MacIntyre entitled “On Having Survived the Academic Moral Philosophy of the 20th Century”. Described by former UCD president Paddy Masterson as one the greatest living philosophers, a conference there celebrated his 80th birthday by examining aspects of his work (see

Introducing his lecture, he referred to Ray Kinsella’s invocation of his work in this newspaper as the possible source of an alternative morality to that which gave rise to the current financial and economic crisis. MacIntyre explained he was not going to propose such a solution. But many of those attending were keen to hear how his account of ethics might yield such insights. He concluded it is necessary to live on the intellectual and political margins to be able to see things as they really are, even while drawing on the philosophical mainstream.

MacIntyre’s distinctive blend of Aristotelian, Thomist and Marxist approaches to ethical engagement has made him a celebrated figure in that discipline – and well beyond it. He is a trenchant critic of advanced capitalist modernity and its characteristic liberal individualist ethos. Most people living in this world do not have a meaningful sense of purpose, experience a genuine community and lack a moral code.

He draws on the ideal of the Greek polis to propose a different way of life in which people work together practically. That possibility can be sustained in small exemplary communities resisting the destructive forces of liberal capitalism as best they can.

In his book After Virtue (1981) he puts it like this: “The tradition of the virtues is at variance with central features of the modern economic order and more especially its individualism, its acquisitiveness and its elevation of the values of the market to a central social place.”

By the virtues he means acquired human qualities, “the possession and the 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 . . . we have to accept as necessary components of any practice with internal goods and standards of excellence the virtues of justice, courage, and honesty.” Other virtues arising from the Greek and Christian traditions and seen as necessary by them for the good life are temperance, prudence, faith, hope and love.

MacIntyre argues that with modernity there came a vast fragmentation and instrumentalisation of moral life. It has increasingly been matched in moral philosophy.

His lecture traced how excellence in that discipline has come to be evaluated by “the quality of one’s analytic and argumentative skills, especially in their negative use to expose failures in the distinction-making of others or gaps in their arguments, together with an ability to summon up telling counter-examples ‘‘. . . Disagreement on fundamental issues is taken to be the permanent condition of philosophy.” This is unsatisfactory because it reduces most ethical disputes to matters of opinion or emotion, rather than of reasoned argument about how best to achieve and live a good life. To understand how that could be possible one must break with the ahistorical, armchair introspection characteristic of contemporary English-language moral philosophy and reconnect such theorising first with social practice and then with such human sciences as sociology and anthropology.

“We need to begin again and to do so by returning to the social context in which we learned the use of ‘good’ and its cognates. What we first had to learn was how to make the distinctions between what we desire and the choiceworthy, and between what pleases those others whom we desire to please and the choiceworthy.”

People learn (or do not learn) to discipline and transform their desires in particular settings such as housework, farmwork, making furniture and playing soccer – or becoming valued as human beings when they are recruited to the US marines.

MacIntyre offered a definition of such practical knowledge: “This discovery of a directedness in ourselves towards a final end is initially a discovery of what is presupposed by our practice, as it issues in a transformation of ourselves through the development of habits of feeling, thought, choice and action that are the virtues, habits without which – even if in partial and imperfect forms – we are unable to move towards being fully rational agents.”

Philosophers do not have the individual experience to justify their introspective method and are in any case constrained socially. While it is possible to imagine an alternative university regime – MacIntyre’s next book is entitled God, Philosophy, Universities and Masterson asked mischievously what it would take for UCD to exist on the margins – only such a reconnection of life and theory, of meaning and use, and of relating the practice of moral philosophy to living virtuously, offers a way out of this impasse.

MacIntyre’s work attracts such ostensibly unlikely partners as Marxists inspired by MacIntyre’s early but abiding critique of Stalinism, and Catholics who find his criticism of relativist secular liberalism correctly grounded in Thomas Aquinas’s philosophy. Aristotle is common to these positions (although their encounters can occasionally be comically incomprehending, for example on original sin).

So is their hope and conviction that an alternative life to that on offer from advanced capitalist modernity – now in deep crisis – is possible.

© 2009 The Irish Times