Synopsis: MacIntyre’s _After Virtue_ (chs. 1-5)

Synopsis: _After Virtue_ (chs. 1-5)

CHAPTER ONE (“A Disquieting Suggestion”)

MacIntyre imagines a situation in which, due to some kind of natural, world-wide catastrophe, modern science is largely forgotten. All that remain are vestiges and memories. On this scenario science has lost “certain canons of consistency and coherence … needed to make sense of what [it is] doing.” This hypthetical situation of chaos is characterized by: 1 arbitrary terms bandied around and enlisted for tendencious motives 2 rival and competing premises for which no further argument can be given 3 subjectivist accounts versus more objective accounts of truth 4 vestiges of an old language / vocabulary still (or again) in use Neither analytic (description of current language) nor continental (suppling of epistemological basis for that wh is given, which in this case are the “false simulacra” of natural science) philosophy would be able to “uncover the fact of this disorder.” This is how our actual world is, in terms of morality.

CHAPTER TWO (“The Nature of Moral Disagreement Today and the Claims of Emotivism”)

MacIntyre gives three reasons why moral argument (the examples he gives are war, abortion, and health care / education) in our culture is so frustrated: 1. conceptual incommensurability of rival arguments. Typically, both of the arguments, for and against whatever position, are (in principle) logically valid. But we possess no rational way of weighing the claims of one argument against the other. 2. claim to impersonality. Typically, both of the arguments, for and against whatever position, claim to be impersonal, rational arguments, but are, in fact, highly personal and tendencious. 3. alienation from original context. Typically, the arguments that are put forth for or against whatever position are assembled from a melange of ecclectic and often cacophanous sources, most of which are not directly transferrable to our day. The key terms used in these arguments, for example, often change their meaning over time. (A prime example of this, I might add, is the term “religion” which has morphed in meaning since the time of, say, Aquinas, to such a point that he would no longer recognize its definition today.)

CHAPTER THREE (“Emotivism: Social Content and Social Context”)

Emotivism denies its rootedness in any particular sociology. But, in fact, its sociology is one in which the distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations is ignored. Emotivism: “on values, reason says nothing” (contra the Medievals, I might add).

CHAPTER FOUR (“The Predecessor Culture and the Enlightenment Project of Justifying Morality”)

Our predecessor culture of the Enlightenment is primarily Northern European. Musical culture gives us a hint: the rise of the Catholic mass as concert performance (a la Bach or Handel) blurs the “traditional distinction between the religious and the aesthetic.” (38) No Greek or Latin word is correctly translated by our English word “moral.” The project of [rational justification of morality, independent of the theological, the legal, and the aesthetic] has broken down, and this has led to the predicaments of our own culture. Kierkegaard’s Either/Or is the beginning of the end of Enlightenment’s systematic attempt to discover a rational justification of morality. 3 characteristics of Either/Or to which we ought to attend: 1. the connection b/t its mode of presentation and its central thesis; 2. its deep internal inconsistency b/t its concept of radical choice and its concept of the ethical; 3. the conservative and traditional character of SK’s account of the ethical. Kantian Moral Philosophy’s 2 theses: 1. universalizability: if the rules for morality are rational, they must be the same for all rational beings (just like the rules of arithmatic); 2. if the rules of morality are binding on all rational beings, then what matters is their will to carry them out, not their contingent ability to do so. Categorical Imperative is the basis of deontological ethics. (46) Kierkegaardian choice is a surrogate for Kantian reason. For Hume & Diderot, the content of morality is largely the same as that of Kant / Kierkegaard, which is bizarre, b/c, unlike Kant / Kierkegaard, they “liked to think of themselves as philosophical radicals.” Rameau challenges Diderot / Hume on traditional morality. Diderot / Hume try to justify traditional morality on the basis of desire, as that which moves us to action. This fails. Kant reacts to Diderot’s / Hume’s failure, and tries to provide a rational basis (the Categorical Imperative / deontological ethics) for trad morality, but this, too, fails. Enter Soren Kierkegaard, who substitutes “radical choice” for the rational Categorical Imperative. This, too, fails, but MacIntyre’s point is that this is the real birth of the emotivism that characterizes the frustrated moral arguments of our own time. SK is the father of emotivism.

CHAPTER FIVE (“Why the Enlightenment Project of Justifying Morality Had to Fail”)

Two reasons why all of these attempts to justify morality were destined to fail: the ineradicable discrepancy b/t their (shared) conception of moral rules / precepts, and their (shared) conception of human nature. But first, the history of each of these (shared) conceptions. Premodern ethics had 3 categories: 1. man-as-he-happens-to-be 2. man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-telos 3. the precepts of rational ethics as the means of transition from 1 to 2. Thus, classical/theistic ethics had a “two-fold … purpose” (this is one’s ultimate telos, and this is how one gets there) and a “double-standard” (revelation by God and amenability to reason). (53) “About ends, [reason] must be silent” says the Jansenist-cum-Protestant view of reason. On this view reason is merely calculative: it can talk about means but not ends. The Enlightenment thinkers are deriving their moral precepts from man-as-he-happens-to-be (ie, “human nature”), as opposed to man-as-he-could-be plus reason-as-a-means-to-an-end, as the premoderns did. Thus the moderns are left with a discrepancy b/t moral precepts (which did not really change very much: they were all “christians”) on the one hand, and “human nature” (ie, man-as-he-happens-to-be” on the other). All the Enlightenment thinkers claim not to move from the “is-es” of human nature to “ought,” but they all, in fact, do (or at least try to). Hume (and the other Enlightenment thinkers) deny that “is” implies “ought,” and, even though many more recent thinkers follow them in this, MacIntyre (relying on A.N. Prior) debunks this view. Moral teleology of man is rooted in man as a functional concept, with a function / telos that is given by God. This is how the ancients and medievals approached morality. This is the most important point of this chapter, and this is what makes this chapter the most important one in the book so far. Ancient (eg, Aristotle’s) teleology was not rooted in his metaphysical biology, but in something prior: traditonal social roles like farmer, father, philosopher. Here again philosophy (and theology) are always rooted in sociology. (Doesn’t ERH make this point? Walker Percy?) Think about theology as rooted in the sociology of the church: in this sense praxis is prior to theology narrowly defined. The sacraments are prior to doctrine.


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[…] tasks for the church in terms of its current vocation in our nihilistic culture of consumeristic emotivism is training the people in virtue, or what the early church called […]

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