LECTURE #9: MacIntyre on the Failure of Enlightenment Morality
I. The Catastrophe Parable: Chapter 1
A. Imagine a world in which mature natural science has experienced a catastrophic breakdown. The aftermath: clash between different fragments, none of which is coherently understood.
B. MacIntyre's claim: this has happened in the realm of morality, with the collapse of the Aristotelian-Biblical synthesis at the end of the medieval period.
II. The Enlightenment Project
A. The category of "morality" is created in the modern era. Historically moralis/ethikos concerned character, practical virtue. (38)
B. Pre-modern ethics characterized by two elements:
C. Both science & religion take a strongly anti-Aristotelian, anti-teleological turn at the beginning of the modern era (Luther, Descartes, Francis Bacon, Galileo). Nature consists of matter and its quantitatively determined motions. Human reason is purely calculative, silent about ends.
- Teleological account of nature (Aristotle's Nicomachean ethics). A contrast between man-as-he-happens-to-be and man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-essential-nature. Human beings (like other organisms) have built-in natural ends, purposes. Man is a a functional concept (58)
- The binding power of Divine law. This is not separated from teleology, but integrated with it. God's intentions/commands are incorporated into the human essence as created.
D. Modern moral philosophy replaces character (virtues/vices) with an obsession with rules and principles. Moral philosophy's task is to provide a rational justification for a unique set of rules.
The justification of the virtues depends upon some prior justificationof rules and principles; and if the latter become radically problematic, as they have, so also must the former. (119)
E. Modern philosophy conceives of human beings as essentially egoistic, driven by various and essentially private desires. Morality is identified with altruism, motivated by sympathy/empathy. Very different from the Aristotelian conception of friendship, or the Christian idea of love/charity. (229)
III. The Failure of the Enlightenment Project
A. First attempt: grounding morality in sentiments, feelings (especially sympathy). Hume, Diderot, Adam Smith, the Utilitarians (Bentham, Mill). Problems:
B. Second attempt: ground morality in the demands of pure reason. (Kant, Rawls, Gewirth) Kant's criteria of universalizability is too weak -- it is compatible with almost any moral opinion (including the immoralism of the sensible knave). (45) Gewirth illegitimately introduces the category of "rights", which can only make sense in a fixed social context. (66-67)
- These sentiments vary widely by person, class, culture. An arbitrary choice of preferred feelings is made. (49)
- This account assumes that human happiness is a simple, unitary matter (e.g., quantity of pleasure). Happiness is polymorphous. Mill's "higher" and "lower" pleasures. (63)
- No adequate account of the motivation for morality. Sympathy is weak, inconstant. One can make a pragmatic case for the existence of justice, but there's no avoiding the problem of Hobbes's "sensible knave", who obeys the rules of justice only when there in his own interest, who pursues the appearance (not the reality) of trustworthiness.
C. Third attempt: the appeal to raw "intuitions" of goodness, morality (Sidgwick, G.E. Moore) These "intuitions" merely reify the prejudices of a social class in a specific period. The moral claims lose all meaning, once broken free from their original teleological & theological contexts. (15, 60, 65, 110-111)
D. Fourth attempt: The irrationalism of criterionless choice. (Kierkegaard) In Either/Or (Enten-Eller), Kierkegaard contrasts two ways of life: the aesthetic ("A", the seducer) and the ethical (Judge William's discourse on marriage). For the aesthete, moral categories do not even arise. Kierkegaard believed that the seriousness of choice would drive one to the ethical. (40) Internal conflict between Kierkegaards conception of radical choice and his conception of the authoritativeness of the ethical (assumed to take the shape of traditional Christian morality). If we choose the ethical for no reason, how can it have authority over us.
IV. Consequences of the Failure
A. The unmasking of morality by Nietzsche.
All rational vindications of morality manifestly fail and therefore belief in the tenets of morality needs to be explained in terms of a set of rationalizations which conceal the fundamentally non-rational phenomenon of the will. (117)
Nietzsche urges that the conventional morality of Christianity be replaced by an act of creative "supermen". Similarly, Sartre sees the unmasking of "objective" morality as leading to a Marxist humanism. Their positive proposals are vague & murky (22)
B. Analytic emotivism.
C. The Sociology of Max Weber and Erving Goffman
- In contrast to Nietzsche, analytic debunkers of the rational/objective pretensions of morality think they can do so without displacing the grip of conventional morality on society. Stevenson in 1945: moral discourse is merely an expression of emotions.
- Problem: which emotions? what kind of approval? The account collapses into circularity: moral judgments express moral feelings.
D. Social and political implications
- Weber's fact/value distinction, and his conception of social science as value-neutral, derive from Nietzsche's moral anti-realism. (26, 111)
- The emotivist self -- is a bare, empty "peg" onto which any social role can be hung. For Sartre, the core of human being is "nothingness": we must arbitrarily select a meaning for our own lives. (33) To accept something as objectively right is to be guilty of "bad faith".
- Goffman's sociology: shares this conception of the emptiness of the self. Social roles cannot be objectively appropriate or inappropriate. Sucess is whatever passes for success. Goffman's sees something like Sartre's "bad faith" as ubiquitous. (33, 115-116)
- The democratized, emotivist self. Finds no limits set. (31-32)
- Three "characters" of the modern world: the aesthete, the manager, the therapist. (30)