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June 09, 2009


Joyless Moralist

I really don't think MacIntyre and Lewis are so much at odds as you suppose, though I *do* think that you have your finger on what I would also see as a weakness in MacIntyre -- so keen is his interest in diagnosing the ways that community, the development of history, etc., influence thought and behavior, he tends to talk as though such norms are *entirely* community dependent. He doesn't seem to give any role to what Aristotle would call nous, or to what we might call conscience or innate moral insight or something like that. Of course, I do also think that history and community are enormously important to shaping morality. And I also think that Christianity brought certain insights that human beings, using natural reason alone, would never have been able to find. But I do think this is one aspect of human psychology that MacIntyre somewhat misses, or at least covers inadequately, and perhaps Lewis has an edge here.

However, I don't think you're right at all to place Lewis alongside Kant and Hume in acknowledging the naturalistic fallacy as such. You really just need one observation to plug the gap that you want to exploit, namely: an alien with nothing but charts of human behavioral tendencies, would not really be able to know what a human being is. He would know some things about what they do, but that's not sufficient to really know what they *are* since the inner life of human beings is so critical to understanding them. In some ways it's not such a good example, because we'd want to know what sort of aliens we were talking about, and how similar/dissimilar to us they were. Obviously he doesn't portray all the alien races in his Space Trilogy as being unable to comprehend the moral law. However, my point remains: knowing what sorts of things human beings *do* is not sufficient to determine what they *are* in the relevant sense. But when we *do* have sufficient information about what men are (and one of his main points in the passage is that we do, since we *are* men), we can certainly use that to determine how they ought to be. I think Lewis would be perfectly happy with an argument like this.

Finally... modern science really hasn't refuted Aristotle in any very important respect. I mean, sure, he was wrong about some specific subjects (embryology, how gravity works, etc.) but there's nothing about his larger metaphysical picture that's been *refuted* by modern physics or biology. They don't accept Aristotelian metaphysical principles, but that only limits the range of questions they are capable of addressing.

Also (sorry, I know I said ("finally")... when did you become such an apologist for Darwin? I'm shocked!

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