He has made a personal intellectual journey from Marxism to Catholicism and from Aristotle to Aquinas , and he is one of the preeminent Thomist political philosophers. He believes that modern philosophy and modern life are characterized by the absence of any coherent moral code, and that the vast majority of individuals living in this world lack a meaningful sense of purpose in their lives and also lack any genuine community. This way of life is to be sustained in small communities which are to resist as best they can the destructive forces of liberal capitalism. It is important to keep in mind that MacIntyre is not suggesting that we should merely tinker around the edges of liberal capitalist society; his goal is to fundamentally transform it.
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Gary Gutting reflects this Fourth of July on the morality of patriotism , which is grounded in a kind of in-group loyalty at odds with moral theories that require that we treat all human beings equally, regardless of whether we are part of the same family, tribe, or nation. Alasdair MacIntyre, for example, argues that morality is rooted in the life of a specific real community — a village, a city, a nation, with its idiosyncratic customs and history — and that, therefore, adherence to morality requires loyalty to such a community.
Patriotism, on this view, is essential for living a morally good life. For Aristotle, what is good for human beings are certain end-states toward which we naturally tend. These end-states perfect or fully actualize some set of dispositions, some potentiality.
Just as an acorn will tend to develop toward an end that actualizes its full potential Oak tree , human beings strive to function well in a way that is appropriate to human being.
And some human beings will adopt ends that are at odds with their own nature: which is to say, they will have two sets of dispositions in conflict. One set of dispositions is determined by the kind of thing they are — by their human nature; the other by something particular to them, based on their idiosyncratic development.
Insofar as John belongs to the type serial killer , or even the sui generis type John-the-Serial-Killer , he will have tendencies discordant with his nature. Likewise with the serial killer who has ceased to be human. As we have seen, our ends our determined by the type of beings we are. And these groups and activities structure me -- alter the kind of being I am: they give me certain potentialities, toward which I naturally strive. Chess may have meant little to me until I started playing it: but once I start, I create a new set of inward dispositions that will survive even my subjective loss of interest in chess.
So the activities and practices into which we enter not only give us a certain set of skills, but a tendency to continue to perfect those skills. Of course, one could give an Aristotelian response to this Aristotelian defense of patriotism: which is to say, I might fall in with the wrong crowd. Not every group is good for me. Ultimately, I have to revert to my membership in some core natural kind — the human kind — to judge the appropriateness of the effects that practices and groups have on me.
They may give me dispositions that are at odds with my humanity and hence my happiness. And of course, most cases are as extreme as this: as we grow our experiences structure us, and these structures take on a self-preserving and self-actualizing life of their own — sometimes to our detriment, to sometimes to our benefit. So the question then becomes whether being American, Norwegian, or belonging to any other sort of group or practice, is ultimately good for us or bad when measured against ends defined by our humanity.
And this leads us back to a conception of morality which, while still Aristotelian, seems consistent with the kind of enlightenment moral standpoint — a universal one — that MacIntyre has used Aristotle to argue against.
I find patriotism to be a function of the unconscious shortsighted, cavedwelling instinctual fears that inhabit the human mind actively ventriloquizing a disturbingly large segment of the public. There is simply no reason for it, your birth in to any given nation is an entirely contingent circumstance.
Ethical commitments should be to emancipation for every person in the world unconditionally, as long as we are willing to admit we could have also been born in to any existing form of human subjugation, and with much larger odds than being born in to some decaying American suburb.
The universal of our humanity might also only be a function of a certain kind of being an animal, or being living, and so you would have to compare your commitments with humanity to your commitments with all of life this would consist in the Peter Singer argument.
There is also no reason though that your being alive, is any more necessary than your being of organic matter, and here we can see that making ethical appeals to conventionally decided upon universals quickly breaks down. We lastly found however, that the being of organic matter, is merely a necessary result of there being matter in general. We can not assign human freedom in the form of an ontological category because it is rapidly becoming apparent the world is not and never will be in any way for-us, our pitiful existence pales in comparison with its vast expanse, our consciousness is in many ways very similar to a rock lying on a windy plain being carved away by its environment, before whatever life or process follows each of us is inevitably vaporized by the expanding sun.
Freedom is only a certain sociopolitical situation that we might attain if we do not first go extinct. I think in this sense we are forced to deal with the existential problem of knowing we are always member to the wrong crowd, humanity must eventually consume not only large numbers of one another, but all other species, the planet, and of course much more implausibly the solar system, and all of the galaxies, as it desires to persist against all odds.
We have not been conducive to life for the large swaths of species that we have already caused to go extinct, and as ecological catastrophe develops, nature likewise does not seem in any way to care for our presence. Good post! The one thing I might point out is that this sounds like what Carl Schmitt used to criticize the English pluralists for- the failure to distinguish between political association and other forms of association.
I think it is right and true to say that on an Aristotelian account the groups we belong to can require our devotion, and that they shape us, but for both Aristotle and Schmitt political association is qualitatively different from, say, the chess league. In fact, most of book 1 of the Politics is dedicated to showing how politics is fundamentally different from other forms of association.
I do not believe in ideals or forms of community as a nostrum for contemporary social ills. I give my political loyalty to no program. So we must be careful to distinguish patriotism as a virtue not only from nationalism, but from other senses in which it could also be interpreted.
It amounts to an endorsement of provincialism and irrational attitudes of submission to tradition. And these attitudes can and do quite easily turn ugly and hateful and warlike. The national anthem and the fourth of July are basically kabuki bomb theater, which tends to construe war as noble and even beautiful. Sorry for ranting and raving but, like I said, I find it a little disturbing.
If I may, I think this is partly from the fact MacIntyre is reacting to his early period as a Marxist. Problem is that we — people of the earth — may have a problem agreeing to what exactly the ends defined by our humanity might be, beyond perhaps empty generalizations that poorly serve as the unambiguous basis of globally shared ethics. And further problem is that political practices based on universalized human nature can lead to supremacist imperialism every bit as oppressive as parochial jingoism.
As such it does not privilege the Nation State, and certainly could not be used to justify the extreme Nationalism that one sees. As for the accusation of particularism: one of the limitations of being human is that we are born at a particular time, and live in a particular place. We are not transcendent. Thus, we have relationships with those around us — with our families and the communities we live in.
These relationships are greater than our bond with the rest of humanity, and therefore have greater sway. This is not to say that we are not concerned with the welfare of people around the world — it is a question of what weight do we give these concerns. For example, we are often more concerned about the structures of the tax systems in our own communities than in other communities, such as Afghanistan or Zambia.
A universalist would, in principle, object to this but it is hard to argue since one could legitimately as what business of our is it to interfere in these relationships. Another aspect of the Aristotelian ethics is that virtue lies in the middle. Thus, extreme Patriotism is wrong because it disregards the rest of the world, and no Patriotism is wrong because it disregards the local community.
What weight do you give to the concern that if we continue with our historically short-sighted individualistic ways we certainly will not be able to meet the global ecological and economic catastrophes that our world is presently suffering from? Really it seems that only more and more authoritarian regimes will be able to meet these urgent demands, and isolated individuals or small communities will have no way to respond to them but to comply. If you think you are, dont worry—nature will have the last laugh on you whether it is ashes or dirt.
Wait what does that even have to do with anything I wrote? If nature as you have anthropomorphized it finds death to be amusing for some reason then I assure you I am very much apart from it in that sense at least. Well written Wes. Your summary lends itself to a nature vs nurture provocation. I think most people who reflect may take at some point in their life a stance of philosophic indifference or neutrality but they themselves are grounded by institutions.
Institutions and traditions and culture for better or worse are the grounds for self. The valuing of your own values over different ones does not necessarily lead to a particular attitude towards outsiders.
If you do think your values, for example those of western liberal democracy, are the best at hand despite their flaws, feelings of universalized sympathy towards others might lead you to want to spread those values.
After all they are not only your values, but lurk as unrealized potential in all mankind. Your email address will not be published.
Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email. Log In. He notes that Alasdair MacIntyre has given a defense of patriotism: Alasdair MacIntyre, for example, argues that morality is rooted in the life of a specific real community — a village, a city, a nation, with its idiosyncratic customs and history — and that, therefore, adherence to morality requires loyalty to such a community.
Comments I find patriotism to be a function of the unconscious shortsighted, cavedwelling instinctual fears that inhabit the human mind actively ventriloquizing a disturbingly large segment of the public. Thanks for the cool post! Feser is the go to man on telos, but not so much on science.
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MacIntyre: "Is Patriotism a Virtue?"
Monday, February 5, Patriotism raises questions of the sort philosophers characteristically discuss: How is patriotism to be defined? How is it related to similar attitudes, such as nationalism? What is its moral standing: is it morally valuable or perhaps even mandatory, or is it rather a stance we should avoid?
Political Philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre
Whether they find him persuasive or no, few readers will deny that Alasdair MacIntyre is one of the most significant Catholic philosophers of our time. Titles like Whose Justice? Whose Rationality? So it behooves us to consider the question MacIntyre poses in the title of his Findley lecture: Is patriotism a virtue? The question is not a rhetorical one.
Is Patriotism a Virtue?
Gary Gutting reflects this Fourth of July on the morality of patriotism , which is grounded in a kind of in-group loyalty at odds with moral theories that require that we treat all human beings equally, regardless of whether we are part of the same family, tribe, or nation. Alasdair MacIntyre, for example, argues that morality is rooted in the life of a specific real community — a village, a city, a nation, with its idiosyncratic customs and history — and that, therefore, adherence to morality requires loyalty to such a community. Patriotism, on this view, is essential for living a morally good life. For Aristotle, what is good for human beings are certain end-states toward which we naturally tend. These end-states perfect or fully actualize some set of dispositions, some potentiality. Just as an acorn will tend to develop toward an end that actualizes its full potential Oak tree , human beings strive to function well in a way that is appropriate to human being. And some human beings will adopt ends that are at odds with their own nature: which is to say, they will have two sets of dispositions in conflict.