Saturday, August 9, 2008

Reflections after McIntyre

I went down to Washington State to the small town of Bellingham. There I sat with a copy of McIntyre's book After Virtue. I completed reading the prologue and preface and found some disagreement and a little agreement. In reading his thoughts, I came to the following conclusions:

Defending liberalism along traditional lines is unsatisfactory. Liberal individualism is an excessive disregard for any common moral language that ties values together since it promotes a problematic view of human beings. The atomism of liberal individualism construes human beings apart from the nurturing and social aspects of community that are needed for morality to exist. Values acquire a salience only in terms of our communal relations.

Moreover, I am having a hard time with liberal excesses of freedom without regard for the type of people we are becoming when we do what liberalism affords as a freedom and a right. Many of our reasons for approving liberal agendas anymore come from the fact that the government should not sanction or restrict a behavior. Government need only ensure through its presence and authority that such restrictions never take shape, yet liberal pundits who argue this are only the inverse of what I find objectionable in conservatives.

Like their counterparts, conservatives restrict too quickly what they view as excesses, and they promote an agenda of restrictive deficiency with respect to our social freedoms. Government only need enforce the deficiencies--there is a space to which government need never venture, preferring to promote social structures as they have always been to the point they are unmalleable and unmanageable. In this way, conservatism is never concerned with what is right as much as it is blindly committed to what benefits the existing power relations.

In both approaches to governance, there is a failure with respect to the national conversation on moral issues. As a moral philosopher, I am concerned with doing the right via what type of people we become. Unless our ultimate ends are fixed together, morality can never take shape. We can never become a better society until people realize that in order for morality to involve others, we must first start with ourselves valuing others. I agree, along with McIntyre, this is why morality has lost its efficacious power to override interests of those that choose against what is moral. In our society, we have lost what the moral ends of our society should be. They were clearer in a Greek polis.

Of course, I am less pessimistic than McIntyre about moral philosophy's independence to deliver the goods on the conversation about what moral ends the United States should strive. The self-appointed function of moral philosophers to be the voice of reason amongst a few comes off first as hubris, yet if others are not going to share the burden of reflection, then any reflective individual -- either philosopher or not -- must burden themselves with the challenge of addressing questions neglected by a national consciousness. There are moral problems that require solving and there are answers. These answers must shape public policy to promote the necessary moral ends for the improvement of the United States at large. In this, yes, you may say that I am a perfectionist, opposed to the Rawlsian procedural secularist who sees that the state should only promote public principles to which everyone may assent. Instead, I see moral matters and community integrally related to such an extent that Rawls' proceduralism purges the meaning of morality if he looks to moral agents as each separately assenting by their own reason. Such an interpretation of agency promotes the unrealistic atomism of individuals. We are more communally-centered than such a conception allows for. Thus, for these reasons, I see morality as an objective evaluation of those ends to which we direct our action, and a necessary component of moral philosophy must center not on the level of action, but instead, we must analyze where we are headed as a people. In this way, I accept more than McIntyre. I see moral philosophy as empowered and capable of answering morally true questions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your reflections are at least more agreeable than Macintyre's own. I don't think I've ever read a book that I have disagreed with more thoroughly than After Virtue.

The problem with After Virtue is that it functions by holding metaethics accountable to Macintyre's own Thomist moral values. Enlightenment, Nietzsche and Liberalism are all bad because they are not Thomist. He begins with his answer and works backwards; which, in my eyes, is the worst possible practice for a philosopher to follow. It is a reactionary, delusional work that is anti-reason, anti-critical, anti-philosophical.

His only genuine insights are already there in a far more rigorous (if frustratingly opaque) form in the works of Hegel.