A Good Man

To be outside of tradition is to have no shared vision of the 'good' - no shared moral vision. The meaning and purpose of 'man' is now in dispute, subject to competing claims in the marketplace of ideas. 'Man' ceases to be a 'functional concept' and becomes instead an evaluative concept, no longer tied to specific roles nor an underlying nature. 

Facts and values drift apart - 'is' loses its mooring to 'ought' - and we get 'value-free' facts that float in a neutral, objective space. Free from the operating system of tradition, individuals are now free to agree or disagree on the 'good for man'.

Instead of a shared vision of the 'good for man', we have a set of explicit rules. The virtues lose their proper context, float free.

[...] the concepts of a watch and of a farmer [...] are functional concepts; that is to say, we define both 'watch' and 'farmer' in terms of the purpose or function which a watch or a farmer are characteristically expected to serve.

It follows that the concept of a watch cannot be defined independently of the concept of a good watch nor the concept of a farmer independently of that of a good farmer; and that the criterion of something's being a watch and the criterion of something's being a good watch - and so also for 'farmer' and for all other functional concepts - are not independent of each other.

Now clearly both sets of criteria [...] are factual. Hence any argument which moves from premises which assert that the appropriate criteria are satisfied to a conclusion which asserts that ‘That is a good such-and-such', where 'such-and-such' picks out an item specified by a functional concept, will be a valid argument which moves from factual premises to an evaluative conclusion.

Thus we may safely assert that, if some amended version of the 'No “ought" conclusion from "is" premises' principle is to hold good, it must exclude arguments involving functional concepts from its scope. But this suggests strongly that those who have insisted that all moral arguments fall within the scope of such a principle may have been doing so, because they took it for granted that no moral arguments involve functional concepts.

Yet moral arguments within the classical, Aristotelian tradition - whether in its Greek or its medieval versions - involve at least one central functional concept, the concept of man understood as having an essential nature and an essential purpose or function; and it is when and only when the classical tradition in its integrity has been substantially rejected that moral arguments change their character so that they fall within the scope of some version of the 'No "ought" conclusion from "is" premises' principle.

That is to say, 'man' stands to 'good man' as 'watch' stands to 'good watch' or 'farmer' to 'good farmer' within the classical tradition. Aristotle takes it as a standing-point for ethical enquiry that the relationship of 'man' to 'living well' is analogous to that of 'harpist' to 'playing the harp well' (Nicomachean Ethics, 1095a 16).

But the use of 'man' as a functional concept is [...] rooted in the forms of social life to which the theorists of the classical tradition give expression. For according to that tradition to be a man is to fill a set of roles each of which has its own point and purpose: member of a family , citizen, soldier, philosopher, servant of God.

It is only when man is thought of as an individual prior to and apart from all roles that 'man' ceases to be a functional concept.

To call a watch good is to say that it is the kind of watch which someone would choose who wanted a watch to keep time accurately (rather than, say, to throw at the cat). The presupposition of this use of 'good' is that every type of item which it is appropriate to call good or bad - including persons and actions - has, as a matter of fact, some given specific purpose or function. To call something good therefore is also to make a factual statement.

To call a particular action just or right is to say that it is what a good man would do in such a situation; hence this type of statement too is factual. Within this tradition moral and evaluative statements can be called true or false in precisely the way in which all other factual statements can be so called.

But once the notion of essential human purposes or functions disappears from morality, it begins to appear implausible to treat moral judgments as factual statements.

It is thus not a timeless truth that moral or otherwise evaluative conclusions cannot be entailed by factual premises; but it is true that the meaning assigned to moral and indeed to other key evaluative expressions so changed during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries that what are by then commonly allowed to be factual premises cannot entail what are by then commonly taken to be evaluative or moral conclusions.

The notion of 'fact' with respect to human beings is thus transformed in the transition from the Aristotelian to the mechanist view.

On the former view human action, because it is to be explained teleologically, not only can, but must be, characterized with reference to the hierarchy of goods which provide the ends of human action. On the latter view human action not only can, but must be, characterized without any reference to such goods.

On the former view the facts about human action include the facts about what is valuable to human beings (and not just the facts about what they think to be valuable); on the latter view there are no facts about what is valuable.

'Fact' becomes value-free, 'is' becomes a stranger to 'ought' and explanation, as well as evaluation, changes its character as a result of this divorce between 'is' and 'ought'.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.69-70, 92, 98-9

[...] reason for [Kant], as much as for Hume, discerns no essential natures and no teleological features in the objective universe available for study by physics [...] and what is true of them is true also of Diderot, of Smith and of Kierkegaard.

All reject any teleological view of human nature, any view of man as having an essence which defines his true end. But to understand this is to understand why their project of finding a basis for morality had to fail.

The moral scheme which forms the historical background to their thought had, as we have seen, a structure which required three elements: untutored human nature, man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-telos and the moral precepts which enable him to pass from one state to the other.

But the joint effect of the secular rejection of both Protestant and Catholic theology and the scientific and philosophical rejection of Aristotelianism was to eliminate any notion of man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-telos.

Since the whole point of ethics - both as a theoretical and a practical discipline - is to enable man to pass from his present state to his true end, the elimination of any notion of essential human nature and with it the abandonment of any notion of a telos leaves behind a moral scheme composed of two remaining elements whose relationship becomes quite unclear.

Hence the eighteenth-century moral philosophers engaged in what was an inevitably unsuccessful project; for they did indeed attempt to find a rational basis for their moral beliefs in a particular understanding of human nature, while inheriting a set of moral injunctions on the one hand and a conception of human nature on the other which had been expressly designed to be discrepant with each other.

This discrepancy was not removed by their revised beliefs about human nature. They inherited incoherent fragments of a once coherent scheme of thought and action and, since they did not recognize their own peculiar historical and cultural situation, they could not recognize the impossible and quixotic character of their self-appointed task.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.65-6

The project of providing a rational vindication of morality had decisively failed; and from henceforward the morality of our predecessor culture - and subsequently of our own - lacked any public, shared rationale or justification.

In a world of secular rationality religion could no longer provide such a shared background and foundation for moral discourse and action; and the failure of philosophy to provide what religion could no longer furnish was an important cause of philosophy losing its central cultural role and becoming a marginal, narrowly academic subject.

[...] moral judgments are linguistic survivals from the practices of classical theism which have lost the context provided by these practices [...] Moral judgments lose any clear status and the sentences which express them in a parallel way lose any undebatable meaning. Such sentences become available as forms of expression for an emotivist self which lacking the guidance of the context in which they were originally at home has lost its linguistic as well as its practical way in the world.

[...] the moral vocabulary had become detached from any precise central context of understanding and made available to different competing moral groups for their special and differing purposes.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.58, 71, 271

Ronald Dworkin has recently argued that the central doctrine of modern liberalism is the thesis that questions about the good life for man or the ends of human life are to be regarded from the public standpoint as systematically unsettlable. On these individuals are free to agree or to disagree.

The rules of morality and law hence are not to be derived from or justified in terms of some more fundamental conception of the good for man.

In a society where there is no longer a shared conception of the community's good as specified by the good for man, there can no longer either be any very substantial concept of what it is to contribute more or less to the achievement of that good.

Hence notions of desert and of honor become detached from the context in which they were originally at home. Honor becomes nothing more than a badge of aristocratic status, and status itself, tied as it is now so securely to property, has very little to do with desert.

Distributive justice cannot any longer be defined in terms of desert either, and so the alternatives become those of defining justice in terms of some sort of equality (a project which Hume himself rejects) or in terms of legal entitlements.

Rules become the primary concept of the moral life. Qualities of character then generally come to be prized only because they will lead us to follow the right set of rules [...] a stance characteristic not just of liberalism, but of modernity.

Hence on the modern view the justification of the virtues depends upon some prior justification of rules and principles; and if the latter become radically problematic, as they have, so also must the former.

The virtues are now not to be practiced for the sake of some good other, or more, than the practice of the virtues itself. Virtue is, indeed has to be, its own end, its own reward and its own motive.

[...] when teleology [...] is abandoned, there is always a tendency to substitute for it some version of Stoicism [...] It is central to this Stoic tendency to believe that there is a single standard of virtue and that moral achievement lies simply in total compliance with it.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.138, 269-71

From the Enlightenment on, modern political philosophy has been characterized by the abandonment of a set of questions that an earlier age had deemed central: What is a well-lived life? What does it mean to be human? What is the nature of the city and humanity? How does culture and religion fit into all of this?

For the modern world, the death of God was followed by the disappearance of the question of human nature.

[…] the Enlightenment undertook a major strategic retreat. If the only way to stop people from killing one another about the right way to open an egg involved a world where nobody thought about it too much, then the intellectual cost of ceasing such thought seemed a small price to pay. The question of human nature was abandoned because it is too perilous a question to debate.

This disappearance had many repercussions. If humans can be approximated as rational economic actors (and, ultimately, even Adam Smith and Karl Marx agree on this point), then those who seek glory in the name of God or country appear odd; but if such odd people are commonplace and capable of asserting themselves with explosive force, then the account of politics that pretends they do not exist needs to be reexamined.

[Peter Thiel]
‘The Straussian Moment’

Related posts: 

The Technological Paradigm

Few people deny that technological change has political consequences; yet equally few people seem to realize that the present "system," in the widest sense, is the product of technology and cannot be significantly changed unless technology is changed.

“The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities ... has agglomerated population, centralized means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands.”

If the bourgeoisie did all this, what enabled it to do so? The answer cannot be in doubt; the creation of modern technologies.

Once a process of technological development has been set in motion it proceeds largely by its own momentum, irrespective of the intentions of its originators. It demands an appropriate "system," for inappropriate systems spell inefficiency and failure. Whoever created modern technology, for whatever purpose, this technology or, to use the Marxian term, these modes of production, now demand a system that suits them, that is appropriate to them.

Maybe what is most wrong is that which has been and continues to be the strongest formative force - the technology itself.

If our technology has been created mainly by the capitalist system, is it not probable that it bears the marks of its origin, a technology for the few at the expense of the masses, a technology of exploitation, a technology that is class-orientated, undemocratic, inhuman, and also unecological and nonconservationist?

I never cease to be astonished at the docility with which people - even those who call themselves Socialists or Marxists - accept technology uncritically, as if technology were a part of natural law.

The implicit assumption is that you can have a technological transplant without getting at the same time an ideological transplant; that technology is ideologically neutral; that you can acquire the hardware without the software that lies behind it, has made the hardware possible, and keeps it moving.

People still say: It is not the technology; it is the "system." Maybe a particular "system" gave birth to this technology; but now it stares us in the face that the system we have is the product, the inevitable product, of the technology. As I compare the societies which appear to have different "systems," the evidence seems to be overwhelming that where they employ the same technology they act very much the same and become more alike every day. Mindless work in office or factory is equally mindless under any system.

I suggest therefore that those who want to promote a better society, achieve a better system, must not confine their activities to attempts to change the "super-structure” rules, agreements, taxes, welfare, education, health services, etc. The expenditure incurred in trying to buy a better society can be like pouring money into a bottomless pit. If there is no change in the base - which is technology - there is unlikely to be any real change in the superstructure.

In other words, the new technologies will be in the image of the system that brings them forth, and they will reinforce the system. If the system is ruled by giant enterprises - whether privately or publicly owned - the new technologies will tend to be "gigantic" in one way or another, designed for "massive breakthroughs," at massive cost, demanding extreme specialization, promising a massive impact - no matter consequences." The slogan is "A breakthrough a day keeps the crisis at bay."

[E.F. Schumacher]
Good Work, p. 38-44

"The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord: the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist."

And it was not only the mill-owner but also the working population brought into being within and around the mills which seemed to contemporaries to be "new". "The instant we get near the borders of the manufacturing parts of Lancashire," a rural magistrate wrote in 1808, "we meet a fresh race of beings, both in point of manners, employments and subordina­tion…”; while Robert Owen, in 1815 , declared that "the general diffusion of manufactures throughout a country gener­ates a new character in its inhabitants . . . an essential change in the general character of the mass of the people."

The steam-engine had "drawn together the population into dense masses" and already Gaskell saw in working-class organisations an " 'imperium in imperio' of the most obnoxious descrip­tion"

“The steam-engine had no precedent, the spinning-jenny is without ancestry, the mule and the power-loom entered on no prepared heritage : they sprang into sudden existence like Minerva from the brain of Jupiter.”

“The manufacturing population is not new in its forma­tion alone: it is new in its habits of thought and action, which have been formed by the circumstances of its condition, with little instruction, and less guidance, from external sources…”

For Engels, describing the Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 it seemed that "the first proletarians were engendered by it … the factory hands, eldest children of the industrial revolution, have from the beginning to the present day formed the nucleus of the Labour Movement.”

The physical instruments of production were seen as giving rise in a direct and more-or-Iess compulsive way to new social relationships, institutions, and cultural modes.

[E.P. Thompson]
The Making of the English Working Class, p.208

People form warped conclusions because they [make-]believe worldviews begin and end with content, however content (e.g., "meaning") is just a secondary effect of human organisation.

All content lives within a pre-established organisational paradigm. In other words, the distance between people, the rate at which people communicate and the number of people communicating *determines* the content they produce.

We'll express frustration about the incoherence of anti-racism content, but it's futile because we're mistaking a competitive or organisational effect for incoherence.

Yes, much of it *is* incoherent, but incoherence isn't a content problem, it's an organisational problem.

This is why I increasingly retreat from online debates. I see the same effects in the context of moral debates (ie, they mistake a motive problem for an idea/truth problem). Modern "morality" isn't a content problem, it's an organisational problem.

People's problems with my views often begin at a failure to understand we're speaking from diff. vantage points: they're fixated on content, I'm speaking about prior [organisational] effects that determine content.

For example, while you're talking about "what is compassion?" or "is this compassionate?" (content), I'm talking about the organisational paradigm which precedes "compassion".

In other words, how does rate of communication, population size and proximity affect "compassion"?

Population size obviously determines the trajectory and strength of compassion. Compassion will be stronger and more authentic in a proximate population of five (eg, a family) than a widely dispersed population of 1B (social network).

The competitive effects are also different. The population of 1B is naturally more competitive than the population of five (or even a small tribe), which precipitates "competitive compassion".

Remote "compassion" is also significantly more likely to be falsified.

Lastly, is "compassion" even scalable in a population of 1B? There must be a saturation point because we can't be infinitely compassionate.

For me, this (scalability) is the real breaking point of the modern organisational paradigm imposed by mass comm.

I speak about this a lot, but inclusion is the trajectory of dissolution. No category can include in perpetuity without stripping itself of its raison detre.


Related posts: 

Answering the Challenge

Men today plan explorations in the stratosphere and trips to the Moon. The Earth itself, our planet, will be transformed into a space-ship [barco-espacio] bursting into the cosmos.

And yet, this interpolation merely rehearses an old response, a desperate insistence on the continuity of an earlier historical response to the "Challenge" of the open sea(s). Men today imagine the present "Challenge" as merely an inflated version of the discovery of the Americas. We have already said that such a response is entirely comprehensible, from a psychological point of view. Back then, Earth’s new continents and oceans of the Earth were just emerging on the horizon. But I do not see some new cosmos opening up in the same way; nor do I hear a cosmic call or "Challenge."

The apparent continuation of the old Response under a more modern guise leads us to regard history in ahistorical and anachronistic terms. It is completely natural for the conqueror of a past era to fail to accommodate history's later call. After all, how can the conqueror understand that even his victory was to be a victory made only once?

The one who succeeds in corralling unfettered technology in order to dominate and insert it into a concrete order, is the one who offers a true response to the present call, not the one who attempts to land on the Moon or Mars with the resources given to him by that unfettered technology.

Taming unfettered technology would be, for example, the work of a new Hercules. It is from this direction that I await the new call, the "Challenge" of our present.

[Carl Schmitt]
‘The Planetary Tension Between Orient and Occident and the Opposition Between Land and Sea’, Chap. V

Related posts: 

Land and Sea

Land          -        Sea
Finite         -         Infinite

The retreat of nature as an obstacle to man's progress, which he achieves by means of his labor in culture and civilization, proceeds differently when man works on and through ships rather than by cultivating the earth and creating pasturelands.

The house remains the nucleus and center of terrestrial life, together with all its concrete orders: house and property, matrimony, family, and inheritance. All these concrete orders are born and grow upon the soil and under the stamp of terrestrial life, specifically agricultural life. The fundamental institution of law, dominium or property, receives its name from domus, house. That is obvious. But even legal jurists do not realize that the German word for laborer, “Bauer,” does not refer to the cultivation of the soil, but rather the act of building: Bau, Gebau. Labor thus designates in the first instance, the man who builds a house.

Terrestrial life revolves around the house. In contrast, maritime life revolves around the ship, which one must navigate. The house is rest: the ship, movement. The space in which the ship moves is distinct from that of the house. As a consequence, the ship belongs to another environment with a different horizon. On the ship, men engage in a different kind of social relation(ship) amongst themselves as well as with the outer world. They also have a fundamentally different relation to nature, above all with respect to animals. The man of the earth tames and domesticates animals—the elephant, the camel, horse, dog, cat, ox, mule—and makes them domestic animals. Fish, on the other hand, can never be domesticated. Never: they are fished and eaten because the house is foreign to the sea.

We bring these simple historical-cultural examples to mind here, in order to recall the profound difference between terrestrial and maritime existence, land and sea life.

We are looking for an answer to the question of why the industrial Revolution, with its unfettered technology, remains tied to maritime existence. A land-based order, with the house at its center, necessarily has a fundamentally different relation to technology than an order of life that revolves around the ship. The absolutization of technology and technological progress, the conflation of technical progress to mean progress in general, everything that one might understand under the catch-phrase "unfettered technology" [técnica desencadenada] develops only when fed by the nutritious subsoil and climate of maritime existence.

By following the call of the open seas, by actualizing the passage to sea life, the British isle gave a magnificent historical response to the historical call of the age of discoveries. With this it created the foundations of the industrial Revolution and the beginning of an era whose problematic we are experiencing today.

We have spoken concretely of the industrial Revolution, which is our present destiny. To reiterate, it could not have originated in any other country but England in the eighteenth century. An industrial Revolution signifies the freeing of technological progress: this liberation is solely comprehensible from within maritime existence; here it appears logical, up to a certain point.

Technological inventions have been made everywhere throughout the ages. The British contribution to technology is no greater than that of other nations. It always comes down to knowing what becomes of the technological invention, and this depends on the context, the concrete order, in which the invention turns up. Within the context of maritime existence, technological inventions develop unfettered and free, as opposed to when they emerge from the fixed organs of terrestrial life and remain surrounded and integrated to these.

The British, who in the eighteenth century were responsible for all the discoveries that led to the industrial Revolution (the coke oven, etc.) were in no way more brilliant than the men of other times and other countries that, while remaining tied to the land, had in an equal manner brought to realization many of the same eighteenth-century inventions. Technological inventions are not discoveries revealed by some mysterious, higher power. They fall within their time. They develop or decay according to the corresponding and concrete order of human life in which they have emerged.

So, this is to say that the inventions that inaugurate the industrial Revolution only become its foundation where the passage to maritime existence, sea life, has taken place. The passage to a purely maritime existence has as its result and in its most far reaching and intimate consequences, the freeing of technology as an autonomous force.

Notwithstanding all that had been developed before the arrival of technology in the context of essentially terrestrial life and existence, technology in an absolute sense had never arisen. It bears repeating here the observation that thalassic culture—limited to the coasts and interior seas—does not even signify a definitive step toward maritime existence. Only upon the ocean can the ship become the counter-image of the house.

Faith in absolute progress is a sign of having accomplished this passage toward maritime existence. The reactions caught up in a continuous and limitless process of invention are born in the historical, social and morally infinite space of sea life.

We are not referring here to the difference between sedentary and nomad peoples, but rather the opposition between land and sea as the possibilities of living in one of two elementally distinct forms of life. It is for this reason mistaken to speak of naval nomads, in comparison to nomads on horse, camel, or other nomads belonging to Terra firma. This is only one of the many incorrect homologies between land and sea. The space in which historical human existence localizes itself is fundamentally different between earth and sea, both in terms of their horizon of possibility as in terms of their very foundations; and essentially different forces lay behind human culture, on the one hand, and human civilization, on the other. These affect the one who views the sea from the land differently than the one who views the land from the sea, insofar as culture is determined more by the terrestrial (land-based order) and civilization by the maritime; and the maritime image of the world is first and foremost technomorphic before being sociomorphic.

"The principle of family life is dependence on the soil, on land, terra firma. Similarly, the natural element for industry, animating its outward movement, is the sea".

[Carl Schmitt]
‘The Planetary Tension Between Orient and Occident and the Opposition Between Land and Sea’, Chap. V

Related posts: 

Enabling Contraints

Short Term       -          Long Term
Unknown         -          Known

Unpredictability and teleology therefore coexist as part of our lives; like characters in a fictional narrative we do not know what will happen next, but nonetheless our lives have a certain form which projects itself towards our future.

Thus the narratives which we live out have both an unpredictable and a partially teleological character.

If the narrative of our individual and social lives is to continue intelligibly - and either type of narrative may lapse into unintelligibility - it is always both the case that there are constraints on how the story can continue and that within those constraints there are indefinitely many ways that it can continue.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.250

Related posts: