Monday, September 28, 2020

Dependent Rational Animals #1

Dependent Rational Animals is the title of a book by Alasdair MacIntyre. I had heard of him several times and knew he was a virtue ethicist, but had not read any of his books. I enjoyed reading this one. I may try others.

This post will present some key parts of the first chapter.

Two sets of facts – about our vulnerabilities and afflictions and our dependence on others – are so evident that no credible account of the human condition should avoid their importance. Yet the history of Western philosophy suggests otherwise with rare exceptions. When the ill, the injured and the otherwise disabled are presented, it is near always about the benevolence of those who are continuously rational, healthy, and untroubled. Even someone as perceptive as Adam Smith, when recognizing ill health and old age, finds reason to put them on one side. This is true of philosophy in general.

It is similar with dependence. Dependence on others is most obvious in childhood and old age. Philosophers have recognized it in a general way, but the full extent of it is generally absent. When Aristotle discusses the need for friends in times of adversity and loss, he insists that manly men differ from women in being unwilling to have others saddened by their grief. They do not want to share it or let it affect others. Aristotle says the magnanimous man is forgetful of what he has received, but remembers what he has given.

Thus Aristotle anticipated Adam Smith and others the standpoint of those who feel self-sufficiently superior. Modern moral philosophy has understandably and rightly placed great emphasis on individual autonomy and making independent choices. MacIntyre will argue that the virtues of independent rational agency need accompanied by the virtues of acknowledged dependence and a failure to understand this is apt to obscure some features of rational agency.

MacIntyre only mentions the dependence of children in Chapter 1, but does cover that in later chapters. He says little about dependency in the workplace – which one might prefer to call interdependence – anywhere. 

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