Aristotle on Essence

Talk about functions is an import of certain metaphysical doctrines peculiar to Aristotle. He sees the furniture of the world as being composed of substances, each of which has an essence. This essence contains the properties that make the substance unique from other substances. In effect, essence is what separate cats from children. In our empirical experience, we encounter a large variety of different cats: some have no fur, some are spotted, some have no tail, some are brown, some like to swim, etc. These various properties listed that are nonessential are called accidental properties. That is, we can conceive of the cat as being orange instead of brown, and it would still remain a cat. All of this terminology has recently been resurrected by Kripke and Putnam in terms of possible worlds analysis, although their new synthesis is a somewhat bastardized version of Aristotle. For Aristotle, you cannot possible run a substance through possible world analysis and removing properties, in order to find essential properties. You must first being the inquiry with the essential properties already abstracted from the substance, else you would have no knowledge of what can go and what must stay, i.e. accidental versus essential.

While this is a seemingly abstract analysis, it is an important one. Like Plato, Aristotle bases all of his positions on certain metaphysical doctrines. His ethics, politics, physics, and biology, can only be understood with reference to metaphysics. Now within essence are four causes: efficient, material, form, and final. This excerpt from the Nichomachean Ethics is meant to illustrate the operation of the final cause, using a hypothetical imperative. If X wants to be a good X (good in terms of functioning properly of excellence), then there are certain steps that must be taken in order to achieve this end. Here the acorn and oak tree is not particularly useful, because unlike an inanimate object that just ‘tends’ on its own to fulfill its final cause. Man is a different sort of an animal. He is, in fact, a rational animal. Acorns do not write treatises on how to achieve the end of an oak. They do not have wills; they are not conscious agents. They are simply directed towards a given end because their essence has the potentiality for that end, and they are unable to thwart it. That would depend wholly on external circumstances, such as the appropriate amount of soil, light, water, etc. (efficient causes). As a side note, some do object to man ‘flourishing’ because it is usually given with the analogy of inorganic life. However, according to Aristotle, inanimate objects cannot achieve eudemonia. They are like the noncitizens of the city state.

Notes on Machiavelli

Machiavelli equivocates on the term vice, referring to it in instances that (1) are devastating to a prince’s rule, and (2) actions that are viewed to be immoral, but that nevertheless seem to further the reign of the prince. The second category seems to be an anomaly, since these elements are usually though to be virtuous. Nevertheless, in a public/private split, Machiavelli recognizes that the actions are both virtuous and vicious, in the sense that although they bolster the prince’s reign, they are regrettable.

-Necessity is the ultimate arbiter
-Men are beasts, since the laws that should appeal to men as men are most often not efficacious. Thus, given human nature, the use of force—and the use of it well—is a necessity.
-If all men were good (moral), the necessity of adopting the fox and lion would not be useful, but since men are not good, this justifies deceiving them and employing the wiles of the fox and the strength of the lion.
-Machiavelli does not show regret at war. When  he does pause, however, is not on war itself, but at the means used in conducting war, which he thinks are unbecoming of a prince, regardless of whether or not they are useful—another equivocation (tis time on ‘virtue’ rather than vice) on virtue. (35). These methods are ‘virtuous’ in the sense that they acquire empire, but not in the sense that they violate glory.
-Virtue: conformity to necessity within the bounds of glory, and for Machiavelli, glory seems to be the term under which a hint of morality can slip in, so he does not completely separate morality from politics; he merely severely limits its practical application to politics, for to act morally (given the fickle nature of his subjects) would be the antithesis of rightly-ordered, stable rule.
-Choose/prefer good over evil, but do not hesitate to part from good when necessary.
-The fact that people in general are wicked is the sort of justification that Machiavelli uses for his doctrine of necessity. It is regrettable, but a brute fact about human nature. The first wrong justifies the second wrong, for Machiavelli seems to think that if it were not for a corrupted human nature, then none of these methods recommended would be permissible. They would be judged immoral and done away with. It’s a necessity, but a bitter one, which is praised through clenched teeth. It is not a wholesale embrace of evil.
-He frames it in terms of departure from and forced to, which supports my interpretation that morality is the default position, but the facts of human nature literally compel a prince into virtu, and virtu is given some moral justification as well, since a prince’s terrible rule would result in the absence of glory and honor and the presence of anarchy—human nature unchecked and unbounded by law (77).
-Fortune gives opportunity for virtue. 

Locke, Scanlon, and Mackinnon on free speech

What are the limits to free speech or freedom of expression, if the end goal is a free and democratic society in both the private and public spheres?

John Locke begins by arguing from the perspective of a Christian in contending for freedom of expression—because coercion to force someone to conform to a certain persuasion leaves their consciences untouched and instead promotes a fake civil society under which men are forced to suppress their deeply held convictions at the behest of the public good, or the prevention of licentiousness. Locke repudiates the idea that the Commonwealth’s task is anything other than the protection and advancement of civil interests. These civil interests include basic goods which Locke holds to be essential: life, liberty, health, and the protection of private property, which can be anything from immovable to capital. Only the enforcement of these ideals is the duty of the civil magistrate. All else is viewed by Locke as illegitimate, for God has not bestowed upon the Civil magistrate jurisdiction in these matters.

Conscience is God’s domain alone, Locke maintains. Moreover, not even consent could be sufficient to extend this power to the magistrate. Man is bound from ceding matters of the mind and of persuasion. This is self-evident to Locke, because outward actions alone as representing submissions to civil authority in the matters of a prescribed religion would not be faith, which is what religion requires. One must really believe, being persuaded in his own mind that faith is something valuable, something worthy of pursuit. Forced belief is not only unprofitable and ultimately unsuccessful, but it damages the recipient, according to Locke. No effort by other men to coerce people into believing what they are set against can be accomplished.

Locke concludes by stating that all men should equally enjoy the same rights that all men do. His reasoning is deeply ingrained in theology, in particular man’s relationship with God, and the authority afforded to the Commonwealth by God.

A second approach is provided by Thomas Scanlon, who argues that the Millian principle shows that we have good reason to think that freedom of expression ought to be near absolute. The autonomous individual, Scanlon writes, is a logical result that can be deduced from Mill’s writings in On Liberty. Scanlon’s argument is that the Millian principle prescribes that the power of the state is directly limited in relation to the faculties possessed by autonomous agents, namely rationality and sovereignty. This autonomous individual is capable of weighing different courses of action, that is, he is a purposeful being that calculates means and ends in deciding what course of action to pursue. We need not worry how rational an individual is, and indeed if the requirement was perfect rationality, then none would qualify. There is no test for rationality—it only matters that man is by nature rational.

As such, since autonomous individuals do not respond to stimuli in the same way other objects do, an individual cannot in acting (which is defined as purposeful behavior) have done so without independent consideration of an idea or imperative. Reasons are used in order to weight the evidence for and against he idea. Scanlon therefore thinks that the law cannot be used to prevent individuals from coming to hold false beliefs, as rationality dictates that that duty is wholly theirs. Not even harm resulting as a consequence of acting upon false beliefs provides justification for interfering with freedom of speech because again, the individual acts based on his judgment by weighing courses of actions. Of course, Scanlon is reasonable enough allow for legal responsibility to be extended to those who advocate, to those not in full possession of their cognitive faculties, e.g. children or invalids, the committing of a crime. The other caveat results if someone were to coerce or aid you in a crime. As limitations, these seem reasonable, but Scanlon does have a very permissive view of freedom of speech. His argument, in removing the theological undertones, provides a plausible basis for affirming that not only should we have the right to freedom of expression, but that its limitations are so scarce as to make them near non-existence in practical application. This so far does not lead us towards a justification of more broad instance of limitation.

Catherine Mackinnon argues that there are good reasons for limiting free speech. Equality and freedom emerge from the debate as two valuable goods that must be balanced in relation to each other. She states that free speech has been inordinately valued by societies around the world, while equality has been tragically neglected. The more speech that the dominant have, the less equal society becomes. In this regard, all individuals cannot be placed on the same level, for their amount of influence that they have on public opinion and discourse varies drastically. However, those that are dominant in society have the ability to widely disseminate their views at the expense of social equality. Mackinnon emphasizes the damage done to equality by the existence of racism, sexual harassment, and hate propaganda.

As she holds that these views are demonstrably false, Mackinnon believes that we are justified in prohibiting their expression. The state’s job, then, is to ensure that equality is preserved by prohibiting types of speech that do great damage to society, and by giving equal access to speech. While Mackinnon’s arguments do seem decent, they fail to address the Millian claim that once firmly held beliefs often tend to be absurdities. However, since this is discoverable only through the passage of time, the view that they can be legislated and vigorously enforced seems overconfident, especially since a great majority of our beliefs have been overturned over time.

Hume on skepticism

For Hume, there are no formal or final causes, just efficient and material, and even then he sheds considerable doubt on our abilities to determine induction and causality. Although he is part of the Enlightenment project as a whole, he nevertheless finds it necessary to denigrate reason to the status of slave to the passions. Its principle function is rationalization of actions undertaken, as a result of passions.

Actions cannot, according to Hume, be reasonable or unreasonable. They can only be laudable or unlaudable. So, he says, it’s not contrary to reason to prefer the destruction of the whole world to the scratching of his finger. This attitude is quite prevalent in the Treatise, although it softens up later in the Inquiry, for if taken absolutely literally, it would be self-contradictory. His exposition on the failure of reason requires a hefty dose of reason, so it is much like him sawing off the branch on which he is sitting.

In the Inquiry, he later acknowledges that reason may be a part of causing us to act, but the sentiments still are our prime motivation. His conception of morality is what Kant most complained about. Hume’s mostly engaging in philosophical anthropology. He’s demonstrating how humans do act, but not how they ought to act. But this criticism for Hume is irrelevant, since if there is no such thing as objective morality, then anthropology is sufficient. Any talk about duty is merely perspectival and illusory, which leads us to his main reasons for rejecting objective morality.

The first is the is/ought problem. Hume states that we cannot derive prescriptive statements from descriptive facts. It presents a challenge to the majority of moral systems, since they rely heavily on factual premises, in order to reach moral conclusions. But for Hume, this is nothing more than a deductive fallacy. This criticism alone, however, is not enough to totally defeat objectivity. He has to next introduce a newer epistemological division: relations of ideas and the facts of experience. Relations of ideas are statements that are trivially true; they’re tautologies, like ‘all unmarried men are bachelors.’ They say nothing new about the world, or anything particularly profound. On the other hand, we have facts of experience. Those are the fleeting, contingent observations of inductive reasoning, on which morality could never be based because of the is/ought problem.

So, according to Hume, since an objective account of morality cannot comfortable fit between the divisions, morality cannot be an expression of reason, but is instead based on the emotions and passions, which vary from culture to culture and from person to person. There is nothing objective in the terms ‘good’ and ‘evil’. They are nothing but an expression of personal approval or disapproval. A.J. Ayer and the other logical positivists later adopted this account wholesale, saying that when someone says murder is wrong, all they are saying is “boo murder!” Good actions, then, are those actions which tend to be preferred by people—like pleasure. And bad actions are the inverse: they cause pain.

This division of Hume’s is an attempt to improve upon Locke’s empiricism by importing Stoic and Epicurean (materialist) elements. He also has a large influence on Adam Smith’s work, and Hume already developed some fascinating economic theories of his own. For him, the most important feature of his philosophy is skepticism. He is suspicious of the claims of revealed religion, skeptical of induction and causality, skeptical of the meaningless postulates of Aristotle and the Scholastics, skeptical of attempts to create an objective morality, and skeptical of radical change at the hands of the societal rationalists. He aims to tear reason down from its lofty position and place it where it belongs, as slave to the passions and desires. We may not agree with him, but we can recognize the extent of his influence and appreciate subsequent attempts to answer him.

Hume’s critique of social contract theory

 The debate between contract versus convention is a continuation of the clash between individualism and communitarianism. Although social contract theory as far as we can tell originated with Socrates, it was assimilated during the Enlightenment era to support projects that Socrates would have had nothing kind to say about. Rather than justifying the state or the community, social contract theorists (SCT) of the modern period were occupied with tearing down state authority to the level of the individual. Instead of SCT being a one-way contract, with the state having the right to enforce any terms or to reach any decision whatsoever, it was seen as something artificially created, adopted through autonomous agency, and limited.

It did not represent hidden, ultimate obligations that the community burdened the individual with. Rather, it was the individual’s assent to the existence of the community that gave it is power, and this consent was seen as absolutely necessary, a thought which continues to be prominent today in theories that justify the state altogether.

As for social contract theories that went too far, Hume was ready to ridicule. His thought experiment making light of tacit consent as justifying the authority of the state or community was this: suppose someone is drugged and then dragged onto a ship in the middle of the ocean. We would feel ridiculous to say that he consents to the orders and authority of the captain simply because he does not throw himself overboard. Likewise, for the poor artisan living on subsistence wages, how can we say that he consents because he is unable to move to a foreign country where (1) he will likely starve to death, and (2) cannot even speak the language, etc.? This is essentially Hume’s criticism of the more overbearing types of social contract theory.

Hume’s view of legitimacy and justification is based on convention. Government is not justified because of some mysterious contract that everyone must have entered into at some seminal point in history. It is instead justified because of its utility. Owing to his non-cognitivist approach to ethics, Hume had no moral justification to offer for the state. Rather, he thought that it was rationally justified because it provides utility—far more utility than would be provided in its absence. Hume was no anarchist. He was quite conservative in his politics. The utility invoked was not really related to utilitarianism. It does not describe pleasure or happiness, and there is no calculus of utils. What Hume means to say is that utility is to be identified with usefulness. And this is an easy enough question to answer. All Hume has to show is that the existence of a state provides more overall use and benefits from that use than its non-existence. It provides impartiality, safety, security, a framework of rights and responsibilities, creates shared values, promotes economic exchange and prosperity, etc. If these things are not possible without a state, then the problem for Hume is solved.

Again, there might be a problem for Hume in trying to calculate aggregate utility, but he takes it as commonsensical that the majority of people prefer flourishing to suffering, freedom to slavery, peace to war, and prosperity to poverty. Of course, one could just stonewall and claim that for them the opposite would be true. Hume would then have nothing to say; he just assumes that the majority’s preferences would side with him over the others. Thus, while there is no morality behind obedience, it makes sense to keep one’s promises and obligations on a rational level; if we did not, society would cease to exist, and that would remove all utility.

There’s some agreement with Hobbes here. Both view the non-existence of the state as totally unacceptable. There could be no division of labor and no arts, no industry, no production, etc. For Hobbes, it would be the war of all against all, but for Hume it would just be less utility; he would reject Hobbes’ view of human nature.

Similarly, Locke believes in a state but does not believe that the state of nature would exist as Hobbes assumes. It would be livable; the reason that we want to form a state, however, is so we can avoid the problems inherent in taking enforcement into our own hands. Since natural rights exist apart from and prior to the state, the right to their enforcement must also exist (executive power). So everyone who suffers violation can pursue justice, something that Locke acknowledges will cause mischief. 

What’s Hume’s conception of justice?

Justice, according to Hume, is an artificial virtue, which springs from the difficulties that scarcity presents. Justice here is related to property rights. He notes that where there is no scarcity of goods (for example water and air), there are consequently no disputes, since they are easily accessible by all in abundance. And, as he further points out, land in some country is also viewed this way—it being so plentiful that no rules are really necessary. But Hume takes it as self-evident that there will be conflict over scarce resources. If the majority of land is occupied, my use of this land precludes the use of this land by another, and these others might be motivated to dispossess me of this land.

His solution is not to abolish the institution of private property, as private property is far too ingrained. Nor would we want to, for there are tremendous benefits to be gained from decentralizing resources into the hands of the industrious. Where there is no scarcity, justice is of no use at all. Its primary use is that of utility; but Hume readily acknowledges that if it ceases to perform its function and wealth becomes centralized enough so that a minority of the population has all the wealth, he argues that justice can easily be discarded because it does not have the same status, as say, a natural law would. It is useful for certain ends, and if it cannot fulfill its function, it is suspended until later needed.

Hume further illustrates his understanding of justice through an example of a war between barbarians and a civilized nation. Justice in this case can readily be abandoned, since the war begins precisely because both cultures have incompatible notions of justice. If the barbarians do not observe the rules of war, there is no reason why the civilized nation should hold its head high and accept the casualties. The rules of justice serve no purpose here. That justice is useful to society is self-evident, but the real question is whether its beneficial consequences can be the sole foundation. Hume intends to argue for this radically reductionist account of justice, which he distinguishes from the natural virtues.

The natural virtues arise out of the disposition of men towards one another. While Hume’s account is agent-centered and mildly egoistic, it is a far cry from Hobbes’ crude oversimplification of selfish desire as being the ultimate reason for action. Hume criticizes this heavily for being naïve; clearly there are other motivating factors at play. Hume labels these the sentiments. We can have benevolent sentiments, altruistic ones, kind sentiments, etc. We are free to name them as they appear without constantly having to reduce them to raw egoism. While Hume does admit that there is a possibility that egoism may be the only true foundation of action, he does not think it very likely, and argues strongly for a more thick conception of human action.

There is nothing more than this, however. The sentiments do not lead us to facts of the matter about morality. Morality is one of those concepts that must go the way of most metaphysics, according to Hume. His Epicurean materialism will not let it in the door. His first assault on the notion of objective morality is that reason is impotent in guiding us to action; it is cold and dispassionate. But, Hume says, we are clearly motivated to act in ways which we think are moral. So, he concludes, their basis cannot be rational. In the Inquiry, Hume softens his original approach in the Treatise, admitting that reason does play a part, albeit a small one. It is still for the most part a slave to the passions, to be used to rationalize our actions. These actions cannot really be called reasonable or unreasonable, but are merely laudable or unlaudable.

The second attack on morality comes from the is/ought problem. All the moral systems, which he had previously analyzed, all made heavy use of factual premises to lead to moral conclusions. But, Hume says, that is a formal deductive fallacy. One cannot infer something that was not first in the premises, and since statements of fact have no normative content, it follows that the majority of moral systems have been taken by Hume and dashed on the rocks. Although he agrees with Aristotle on his emphasis on character, Hume’s account differs because it is non-cognitive, a term that would later by heavily used by Ayer and the logical positivists to demonstrate that since morality is neither analytic nor synthetic, it must be based purely on emotions, and any claim beyond that is merely illusory.

Brief notes on Hobbes

Equality: people are similar both mentally and physically, such that no one is invulnerable or able to dominate others exclusively, which is why a state will not arise naturally, unless instituted by contract. Groups will rise and fall because of this principle of equality, and so will not be able to make any claim to statehood gradually.

-People shun death and wish to preserve their own lives
-People are partial to localities
-People have very limited benevolence
-People use good and bad to denote personal preferences
-Anxiety about the future leads to the adoption of religious beliefs
-In the state of nature, we have a natural right—to preserve self in whatever way is deemed necessary. This becomes a virtually unlimited right, thus continually functioning as a source of war and conflict.

Hobbes’ various normative theories are distinct from the crude subjectivism displayed by those in the state of nature. Whereas theirs is a morality based on ad hoc and arbitrary preferences, Hobbes’ theorems are based on deduction from geometric-like axioms. He does this to achieve a certain level of objectivity and certainty in his moral inquiry. This is meant to cure the intellectual defects inherent in the philosophies of past thinkers, as their systems amount to nothing more than an expression of preference to attain some sort of end in mind. Hobbes’ theorems, by contrast, are intended to encourage the submission of people to political authority, since they guide towards peace. While the state of nature is a state of perpetual war, he conceives of men as being rational in the sense that they know peace inhibits and obscures their own flourishing and so are encouraged to pursue the theorems which lead towards the institution of the sovereign.

-Hated Aristotle and the Scholastics and heaped ridicule on them.
-Was an ardent materialist
-His translation of the Peloponnesian wars by Thucydides clearly influenced his political thought
-Conflict between the supremacy of Parliament and the King
-King Charles I advocated the divine right theory of kingship and forced loans when Parliament ignored his request for finances to support his military campaigns against Spain, as well as a trade war with France.
-Religious tension with Puritans against Anglican dogma dictated by the state.
-Behemoth -> history of the English civil war
-Few scholars have examined the Biblical allusion Hobbes makes with reference to the Leviathan. In the book of Job, the Leviathan is portrayed as a King over the Children of Pride. By referencing the Leviathan, Hobbes communicates a clear picture to his religious readers exactly in what manner the sovereign will govern. Leviathan’s role is to put an end to the prideful passions of his subjects, which lead to endless wars.
-Prisoner’s dilemma -> the theorems lead us out of it
-Hobbes is a contractarian. The state is an artificial entity.
-No natural order
-We have a certain human nature (although he denies final causes)
-Three causes of quarrel: competition, diffidence, and glory
-Leviathan: The first general theory of politics in English
-A large portion is dedicated to commentary on psychology and religion

Material impact in semantics

I want to introduce a new term I’ve been using lately: material impact. The context is subterfuge in semantics. Sometimes the carving of the ‘semantic landscape’ lasts a little too long for comfort, especially when the term isn’t crucial to the argument. Supposing an argument makes use of 200 terms, and only 4 of those terms are very relevant to the success of that argument, it makes little sense to dwell on the ‘justifications not given’ for the 196 other terms. Assumptions have to be made at some point. There can always be a justification of the justification of the justification until we get back to first principles through ‘principle chaining.’

The idea is that if term X for phenomenon Y is used in argument Z does not materially impact the success of the argument, then there shouldn’t be much reason to dwell on ‘X’ endlessly. We might as well make up a word, or in terms of a phenomenon, we can ‘just-for-the-sake-of-argument’ construct a bogus causal mechanism to more clearly illustrate the phenomenon.

 I’m not being clear, but for now I need to keep the above in very abstract terms, otherwise I’ll lose sight of the insight I’m having here if I use more concrete examples. The principle will get obscured in the irrelevant details of the concrete. It can happen, even if you once had a clear idea of what the principle was in order to construct the concrete properly in the first place.

‘Whatever term you’d like to use, the term itself doesn’t materially impact the argument.’ It’s a signal to move beyond semantics and into mechanism/phenomenon. Interestingly enough, as I noted, sometimes it’s very difficult to get a grasp on the phenomenon without reference to a causal mechanism, but it’s fine to just construct one out of thin air that sounds superficially plausible. That there is a causal mechanism is granted, given the phenomenon, but the exact precise details of the mechanism is irrelevant to the actual existence of the phenomenon itself, so sometimes it’s just helpful to ‘posit a mechanism.’

If I’m trying to explain the differences between X and Y, or I’m trying to account for some phenomenon Z, I don’t want hang-ups around the causal mechanism to obscure the relational differences between X and Y, and I don’t want it to obscure the existence of the phenomenon. If phenomenon Z exists, then there must be a causal mechanism to account for it (at least within the system—I’m going to bracket out discussions about whether the system as a whole needs a causal mechanism, too—I’m just talking about normal, day-to-day events within this physical system).

Notes on Kant

-Logic cannot have any empirical part, for else it could not be universal.

-Natural and moral philosophy can each have empirical parts.

-Ethics divided into practical anthropology and rational parts

-Practical anthropology should be preceded by a metaphysics of morals.

-Moral laws hold for all rational beings because they are rational.

-He’s similar to Plato, although Plato gives us a much stronger ontological description of his theory, Kant’s is quite lacking, simply referring to reason alone.

-Conformity to the moral law must be for the sake of conformity to the moral law and not anything else, for that would render the action amoral.

-Empirical moral philosophy does not deserve the name of moral philosophy

-The requirements of pure morality are so stringent that even Kant admits that it is difficult to even imagine rational beings obtaining a moral state, though we all try to achieve it.

-Character is desirable, but it is based too much on happenstance and the arbitrary factors of upbringing. For Kant, character has no bearing on morality, against whatever Aristotle may say in protest.

-Kant is a deontologist—ethics based on duty

-Nature is purposive (like Aristotle)

-Ethics are synthetic a priori

Communitarian basics

The communitarian response to liberalism presents some of the most difficult objections which challenge the trinity of basic liberal beliefs, namely will, autonomy, and choice. The communitarian conceives of individuals as intimately linked with the community, and holds that the modern atomistic idea of the individual hinders his ability to obtain the good life and further distorts his obligations and responsibilities to the community. While Alasdair MacIntyre and Michael Sandel offer convincing reasons that liberalism is deficient, they ultimately fail to present a case that is unassailable. Moreover, the liberal answers to their objections offer good reasons as to why the triad of liberalism ought to be preferred.

Alasdair MacIntyre is a good start for the basic communitarian case against liberalism. He maintains that the fundamental question that divides the two ideologies is: what is the nature of man? What does the good, moral life consist of? And lastly: what is the status of man in relation to the community? The differences between liberalism and communitarianism, then, are the result of the various answers that could be provided in response to these questions which would dictate political philosophy.

MacIntyre first argues against the notions of distinctiveness that characterize contemporary liberalism, most notably the distinction between the private and public spheres, the corporate and the personal, etc. He then asks us to think about what consists of the good for one man individually, and what consists of the good for man in general. The answer to this, of course, will place one firmly in one camp or the other. Knowing this, MacIntyre develops his theory of the good by stating that the good life is the pursuit of virtues. From MacIntyre’s perspective, these virtues are incapable of fulfillment by an individual as strictly an individual. They require community. But since there are a potentially infinite number of communities, MacIntyre has to quickly clarify his position, in order to avoid moral subjectivism. While the good life is unique in every community, the objectivity arises out of adhering to the standard of telos fulfillment, that is, the end or purpose.

That is the central moral imperative, according to MacIntyre. He mentions that the good life in one place and in one time period is far different than what is now conceived to be good life. The fact that individuals possess different social identities within their society shows exactly what their rights, duties, and responsibilities are. The good for an individual is what is good for the various social roles than individual finds himself in. Therefore, MacIntyre writes, we inherent a variety of obligations from our families, cities, etc. MacIntyre, in anticipating knee-jerk reactions to his arguments, admits that this conception appears foreign and strange to the modern liberal, who views these roles as mere contingencies to be affirmed or denied explicitly through consent. He then illustrates or attempts to illustrates that we are indeed bound and responsible through our various identities (which are essential to us) for various actions that have been committed by others through our nations, our ethnicities, our biological parents, etc. because of the benefits we receive as a result of those previous actions.

But it would seem strange, according to MacIntyre, to accept those benefits, while simultaneously rejecting obligations and responsibilities which are attached, as well. The self cannot be detached from its social, ethnic, or historical roles. Identity is derived from the community. Existence as a brute fact, while familiar to Sartre, is completely foreign to MacIntyre’s thought. The self also inherits its sense of morality from the community, namely its allowances and limitations. For MacIntyre, the Kantian idea of autonomy, which has served as a foundation of liberalism, is a painful illusion.

Michael Sandel, of the same communitarian tradition, criticizes John Rawls for conceiving of the community as a mere feeling. Sandel states that members of a society are bound together not because they share the same values of communitarianism, but because their identity is defined, at least in part, by the community to which they belong. It is not a voluntary association, and it does not simply state what individuals have; it states what they are, that is, their identity. Sandel claims that Rawls simply does not take his own view to its logical conclusion, since Rawls continues to use vocabulary that moves far beyond his own limitations as a liberal. A much stronger version of community is required for the cogency of Rawls’ view. Since Rawls switches, or appears to switch, between strong and weak communitarian language in order to afford the individual with autonomy, will, and choice, Sandel maintains that the over-emphasis of the self and of human agency is disastrous.

He states that we can know goods in a community that we cannot know or realize alone, and that this is the foundation of communitarianism. The same arguments that applied to MacIntyre seem to apply here, as well. We ought to have very rigorous reasons for accepting the community as the ontological ultimate. Indeed, what can result from this arrangement is the suppression of individual ends, rather than liberation within context. Moreover, it stifles the possibility of variation within identities and halts the progress that can be made through the abandonment of these identities, which for the liberal, are actually more morally neutral than explicitly good or evil, since they have to be scrutinized by the same standard, morally speaking, to which every common practice or tradition ought to be.