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After Virtue

As part of my working vacation, I’ve started reading Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. I read it about 25 years ago and remember liking it. I’m liking it even more this time.

In the opening chapters AM tries to make the case that to understand philosophy’s current moral predicament, we have to see its history. This is (was?) a novel notion within the Anglo philosophical tradition that sees the history of ideas as relevant to modern thought as Aristotelian physics is to quantum mechanics. AM looks at one of the more popular and pervasive moral philosophies, emotivism, which is the belief that saying “X is morally good” is the same as “I approve of X. Please do X,” or, more succinctly, “Yay X!” AM takes this notion apart analytically — for instance, emotivism’s approval is a moral approval, so it fails as an explanation of morality — but more importantly wonders why it caught on. He shows, rather brilliantly, that emotivism was dreamed up by philosophers reacting against G.E. Moore’s claim that the moral good is an objective primitive that cannot be further explained. But, says AM, Moore’s philosophy was attractive to people who wanted there to be an objective good to support their subjective views of what’s right and wrong. The emotivists saw that this was the case and concluded that therefore all assertions of moral goodness are merely disguised expressions of subjective approval.

AM does not yet conclude that all moral philosophy must therefore be understood historically. But he’s working toward that, for he wants to understand how philosophical ethics has gone so wrong. Then he’s going to set it right. Brilliant. And fun.

7 Responses to “After Virtue”

  1. I see such lineage hence:

    1. Euthyphro
    2. Nico Ethics
    3. Crit o’ Judgment
    4. Rebel Camus

    So, I ask, what is to be done by a neoHegelian? Notice how I skp o’ ver Ju/Cr superego morality? Better d’ Sade!

  2. We can thank the post-modernists for the in-vogue shunning of history’s, and perhaps more important, historiography’s, importance and influence on contemporary thought and sense-making. I had a similar conversation yesterday with my son about ethnomusicology. I think there is a sort of narcissistic embrace of subjectivity that can result in problematics analogous to those of abject objectivism.

    I wonder whether this is the result of taking a deterministic approach to history and the influence of our forebears. I would love to see complexity approaches applied to a multi-disciplinary and trans-cultural reading of history, and then applied to contemporary thinking in philosophy, politics, sociology, psychology, music, literature, pedagogy, business management, and just about every other endeavour that is fragmented in (and by) the academy.

    I’ll stop ranting now…

  3. I think we mean objective abjectivism. PoMo is not what you think it is (obviously).

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  5. He tries to speak about morality, but historically there always were a lot of talks anout morality but lack if morality itself…

  6. also, as Nicche says: morality is just an abbreviation for ‘more-reality,’ and that doesn’t tell one much, one way or the other. I think physics is better put to practice than the sad morality of man.

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