Sunday, August 07, 2011

Alasdair MacIntyre: On Having Survived Academic Moral Philosophy

Parts 2, 3, 4

Back to Arkes

Kant the Bogey Man: "I would simply claim, in a comparable way, that I’m drawing upon parts of Kant’s teaching that explain better than anything else the properties of our moral judgments."
Mr. Arkes uses Kant to explain moral judgments about racial discrimination and racial preferences.

When we make laws, we sweep away the private preferences of people, and impose a public rule made binding on everyone. Hence the connection between the logic of morals and the logic of law: when we legislate for other people, we need to say something more than, “most of us here think this is desirable,” or “most of us have strong ‘feelings’ that this is the just thing to do.” We would need rather to establish that we are acting on the basis of propositions that would hold their validity for everyone, even if not everyone recognizes why they happen to be true. And that is what we do when we seek to trace our judgments back to anchoring “first principles” as Thomas Reid understood them: propositions that were true of necessity. John Marshall and Alexander Hamilton referred in this way to the “axioms” of our judgment, meaning essentially the same thing. And yet O’Brien writes as though it were odd or eccentric—or on the face of things implausible—to say that our judgments find their firmest ground when they are anchored in propositions of that kind, which cannot be denied without falling into contradiction.

Comments: Arkes is trying to using Kantian (or liberal) reasons to justify a position on racial discrmination/racial preferences? I had forgotten if he is considered a proponent of the NNLT. Is he a liberal in his presuppositions, like John Finnis?

From an Aristotelian pov - moral science is helpful for lawmakers in understanding how human laws are derived from first principles. It is the task of the philosopher (or theologian) to supply the argumentation. (See William Wallace's The Role of Demonstration in Moral Theology.) The acquisition of moral science is a perfection for those who are to rule, since it is better than relying upon opinions about customs and laws. (This suffices for those who only need to obey in order to act rightly.) Moral science provides the answer to those seeking the ratio for particular precepts or laws.

The NNL theorists attempt to reason out rationale for moral precepts, but from different starting points. I don't know if anyone has ever examined the logic of their arguments to determine if they are valid. I suspect that the arguments are valid, just not sound.

On to Kozinski's piece

The Good, the Right, and Theology by Thaddeus J. Kozinski

I did find this difficult to read -- if his book is like this I may have to reconsider purchasing it. Typical of postmodern American English theological discourse? Does it share something in common with analytic philosophy in this respect? Is it merely style and diction or something more? I had to concentrate in my reading.

The inseparability of faith and reason, in both theory and practice, is one of the main points of Benedict XVI’s encyclical teachings. We can debate the political and philosophical ramifications of the affirmation that we are made in the image of God, that God loves us, and that He commands us to “be perfect as His father in heaven is perfect”; however, in the end, we either affirm these truths or we do not, based upon whether we have or have not encountered the living Christ, caritas in veritate, or perhaps just encountered those Christians who have. So, if human acts are a matter of experience, choice, and grace—not just logic, evidence, and demonstration, whether Aristotelian-eudaimonistic or Kantian-deontological in mode—then any debate about the metaphysical, epistemic, and rhetorical aspects of ethics must invite theology as an interlocutor. And this neglect of theology is the reason that the debate between Arkes and O’Brien is, as it stands, irresolvable.

Would an Aristotelian ethics deny that human acts involve experience (which builds up prudence) or choice? (Aristotle may not talk about voluntas but he does talk about rational appetite and choice.) The key here is grace. If we are oriented to a good that we cannot attain on our own but need of God's grace, then it is not theology that we need first of all, but Divine Revelation and the sacraments. (The witness of the Church in her life in this world.)

The problem is that they are both right. O’Brien is correct that arguments about and declarations of principled moral prescriptions and proscriptions, even rigorous and true ones, cannot ensure a public commitment to and embodiment of Christian or even humanistic values in our post-Enlightenment, neo-pagan, pluralistic political culture. Moral principles are experiential, cultural, and historical in their genealogy and in the subjective apparatus of human recognition. But Arkes is right that we can and must transcend these contingencies to see and act on principles in an absolute, universal, and eternal way. In other words, although reason is tradition-dependent (pace Kant), it is also tradition-transcendent (cum Kant). Somehow we must hold these together, and I don’t think we can outside of a theological narrative and discourse.

In other words, paideia is not accomplished through [academic] discussions of moral questions. One generation forms the next, both within the family and the community as a whole.

"But Arkes is right that we can and must transcend these contingencies to see and act on principles in an absolute, universal, and eternal way." What does this mean? Arkes explains that positive law cannot be based on emotion or ingrained preference, but must be anchored to first principles.

After reading the rest, I find that I don't have much about which to quibble. (Dangling prepositions?) Or do I? I still have to reconsider what MacIntyre says about the relationship between tradition and rationality.