A MacIntyre: Philosophy & Society

This is a continuation of MacIntyre @ philcom, topics and posts originally appearing at philcom.

MacIntyre – #2: Philosophy and Society

Started by Anne Julienne, Feb 27 2013

This topic provides an opportunity to discuss the content of the second part – 2. Philosophy and Society – of the IEP article on MacIntyre’s political philosophy, the framework for which was announced on the first page.

This part opens with the following couple of sentences:

As we work through MacIntyre’s argument, we will be talking about both the world of ideas – that is, philosophy – and the world of institutions and actions – that is, politics and society. Although at times we will consider these two worlds separately, one of MacIntyre’s most strongly held convictions is that they are closely connected.

The following post will contain my thoughts and responses to the whole of this section.

Posted by Anne Julienne, 27 February 2013

In the Preface to his History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell wrote the following:

There are many histories of philosophy, but none of them, so far as I know, has quite the purpose that I have set myself. Philosophers are both effects and causes: effects of their social circumstances and of the politics and institutions of their time; causes (if they are fortunate) of beliefs which mould the politics and institutions of later ages. In most histories of philosophy, each philosopher appears as in a vacuum; his opinions are set forth unrelated except, at most, to those of earlier philosophers. I have tried, on the contrary, to exhibit each philosopher, as far as truth permits, as an outcome of his milieu, a man in whom were crystallized and concentrated thoughts and feelings which, in a vague ahd diffused form, were common to the community of which he was a part.

Clearly, Russell was keen to emphasise the manner in which philosophy and society interact. Nor would I myself object to this notion. Since Russell’s time, the efforts of postmodernist philosophers have made this interaction ever more difficult to dismiss.

What worried me in reading about MacIntyre is: how, in developing his own philosophy, can he escape his own times, his own society and culture? At least within this fairly short article, it’s not clear how he intends to do this. Indeed, he seems to acknowledge that it cannot be done:

But philosophers do not and cannot stand outside of all societies to offer objective truths or objective moralities, since these must always be connected to particular societies.

I couldn ‘t help feeling that, despite his insistence that objective morality is impossible, he seems to be striving for just that.

Perhaps at this stage of my reading and understanding, I’m simply not appreciating how MacIntyre means to arrive at his conclusions. Or perhaps he himself sees his own conclusions as being very time and culture constrained. In a humble way, he offers them simply as a working model that might allow humanity to move forward, not as any kind of permanent “answer” or prescription.

It remains to be seen where he goes with this.

Posted by Pankaj Kumar Yadav, 03 March 2013

reminds me of Ludwig Wittgenstien…

who once said, we cannot think of what we cannot think of…!!!

Implying, it is impossible to think/define things which cannot be thought of. Though both L.W and the B.R understand that they are still trying to achieve what they themselves know is impossible.

Our thinking is not influenced by society but is created by society so it is impossible to come to a solution which is not influenced by the zeitgeist.

-My two cents.

Posted by Anne Julienne, 03 March 2013

Thank you, Pankaj, for your “two cents”. It’s nice to have you visit here. 🙂

Certainly, any future for society and for philosophy will grow out of where we are now. That’s inescapable. But it’s still strange the way we imagine “the impossible” and then make it happen. We play with ideas and rearrange an imagined world and, little by little, that world can come to be. This is what prophets and visionaries do, maybe it’s not what philosophers do. I think philosophers use thinking to clarify what is already there.

I guess that raises the question: Is philosophy a creative activity? I think it is but perhaps in a way that is more humble than that of the prophet or visionary.

We are all dreamers and we are all thinkers and the two can go hand in hand. Why not?

MacIntyre – #3. The Current Moral Disorder and Its Consequences

Started by Anne Julienne, Feb 27 2013

This topic moves on to the third section of the IEP article on MacIntyre, titled The Current Moral Disorder and Its Consequences.

This section begins by describing a thought experiment from After Virtue in which all aspects of science are destroyed: the books, the laboratories, the scientists themselves. There is nothing left but fragments here and there which a subsequent culture attempts to put back together.

These people, he argues, would combine these fragments as best they could, inventing theories to connect them as necessary. People would talk and act as though they were doing “science,” but they would actually be doing something very different from what we currently call science. From our point of view, in a world where the sciences are intact, their “science” would be full of errors and inconsistencies, “truths” which no one could actually prove, and competing theories which were incompatible with one another. Further, the supporters of these theories would be unable to agree on any way to resolve their differences.

This thought experiment is introduced in order to illustrate the current state of moral disorder.

One consequence of this situation is that we have endless and interminable debates within philosophy and, where philosophy influences politics, within politics as well.

Because we cannot agree on the premises of morality or what morality should aim at, we cannot agree about what counts as a reasoned argument, and since reasoned argument is impossible, all that remains for any individual is to attempt to manipulate other people’s emotions and attitudes to get them to comply with one’s own wishes.

… political arguments are not just interminable but extremely loud and angry, and [why] modern politics is simply a form of civil war.

A pretty grim picture indeed.

Posted by Anne Julienne, 27 February 2013

Although I’m sympathetic to MacIntyre’s dire view here, I do think he exaggerates both ways. Science is not as solid and reasonable as we might like to think while religion and morality are perhaps not in such a bad mess as he would like to make out.

There has been some good scholarship on the subject of religion in the last century, admittedly mainly driven from a Western and therefore Christian perspective. It should also be admitted that science has advanced mainly from that same cultural background. The Christian idea of a dying and resurrecting deity makes the “death” of a sacred cultural icon less painful as there is hope of something positive to come out from this, a kind of silver lining to the bleak cloud. We might lose some precious view of how things are but a new one will arise and will carry us forward. Even the much trumpeted “death of God” is now producing a kind of resurrection in the new religious turn. The new God will not be the same as the old God, but Christianity seems to assure us that the new God will come. A lot of the underlying vitality of Western science might, therefore, have arisen from this very Christian myth.

And religions and moral systems around the world are not in fragments. There are at least five great world religions that are intact and living, from which there are no “missing bits” as in the thought experiment scenario. These are usually listed as Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Their longevity and wide cultural dispersion mark them as special. However, there are also good data on other robust religious traditions such as Sikhism, Mormonism, Taoism, etc.

The comparative religion (as well as mythology) studies have discerned some common patterns alongside the incompatibilities.

I’m not fully convinced, therefore, that the contrast is as strong as MacIntyre makes it out to be.

Others might see it differently. Here’s the place to put your own point of view.

Posted by Pankaj Kumar Yadav, 03 March 2013

The analogy provided by MacIntyre is not perfect and as long as the analogy is not correct, there is no logical extrapolation that can be done out of this.

1. Science is not subjective, whereas Morality, Philosophy, religion, creation myths are…!!!

so when the new civilization tries to build science, eventually they willl get there… may be after many iterations.

whereas if we destroy the current moral system/religion/philosophical knowledge.. and try to build it again in my humble opinion, we would end up in a very different place.

I do agree that the current scientific knowledge is rooted in the western philosophies… if we had taken a different route, we would still reach the same destination in the knowledge graph(and we have not reached the destination yet)….!!!

Posted by Anne Julienne, 03 March 2013

I agree that the analogy is imperfect. I’m not sure about the sharp distinction you make between science as objective and religion (for example) as subjective. There is more subjectivity in science, I think, that you’re prepared to allow. Similarly, there is more objectivity (or at least a kind of universality) in religion than you might be prepared to allow.

Perhaps both science and religion have the same destination and that is simply not apparent to us yet.

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