Every year…

Every year I get at least one email from a student that shows me they have really ‘got’ what we have been studying. Last year a guy found Sigh No More by Mumford and Sons and was adamant (completely correctly in my view) that the philosophy described a sort of Christian ‘Platonism’, an idea of the human’s essence that was rejected by Jean-Paul Sartre (this was what we had been studying).

Anyway there’s more about that on my ib philosophy page, but the email I got this year was about the experience of doing philosophy. IB philosophy is a wonderful course with an emphasis on doing philosophy rather than just learning about it.It takes two years and the entire structure of the course is about helping the students to become the IB learner profile rather than just gaining some knowledge in order to repeat it. It is far more academically challenging and philosophically useful than any of the courses I have encountered that are taught elsewhere in Scotland or England. Those students that choose to take the ‘higher level’ (HL) version of the subject complete and exam paper on the question of ‘What is Philosophy?’, reflecting upon their mounting experience of studying it, and all students of both HL and Standard levels are required to complete a unit on ‘what makes a person?’

Of course this question is central to almost every other philosophical foray and it has always astounded me how certain exam boards think they can simply ‘miss it out’ of their syllabi. What’s nice about the song the student above emailed me is that it includes both of these elements:

Imagine if the life that you thought you shared
Wasn’t really there.
It was made up in your mind,
Could be anyone/anywhere

and

As the dust clears and it all starts to disappear,
It may get harder ’cause you just restarted.
And wherever you are, land on another star!
It may get harder ’cause you just restarted.

MacIntyre on Nietzsche ( vs Aristotle)

Hello, I promised the other day that I would have a look at this for you… I’ve just managed to find a few hours just now so I’ll stick down some quick ideas useful for the exam and try to find time to organise properly later….

Firstly I thought I would start with a strength… IB exam answers sometimes miss out the massive positives and evidence for a position and forget that these are key in making an informed and careful evaluation (which, of course, you get good marks for)…

As you know, MacIntyre’s argument in After Virtue* claims that all modern ‘moral discourse’ is broken as it tries to make sense of fragments of a lost language; and it is this, according to MacIntyre, that Nietzsche observed and took great issue with. Nietzsche correctly observed the problematic use and nature of moral language at play in the world around him. MacIntyre claims he ‘disposes of [recent attempts] to discover rational foundations for an objective morality’. And in only five paragraphs! (*113)

This said, however, MacIntyre is by no means a champion of Nietzsche. Nietzsche, he writes,

‘illegitimately generalised from the condition of moral judgement in his own day to the nature of morality as such…but it is worth noting that [he] began from a genuine insight.’ (*113 emphasis mine)
MacIntyre’s argument against Nietzsche is that if the original rejection of Aristotle was in fact a mistake, then it follows that each of the following philosophies based upon this rejection would be ill informed and unnecessary. And if these philosophies were indeed mistaken, then their logical conclusion (which Nietzsche ably voices) could be seen to be unnecessary also. Put another way, MacIntyre states clearly that if Nietzsche is correct that all moral philosophies are faulty then his position is inescapable. MacIntyre, of course, believes that it is possible to verbalise a coherent ‘virtue ethics’ account and so believes that this makes Nietzsche’s account not just unnecessary but incorrect (117). Nietzsche was right to call ‘Enlightenment’ moral philosophy a failure but, according to MacIntyre, it was only a failure because it left virtue ethics behind. MacIntyre is claiming that the vast majority of moral philosophy you have studied was ‘not only mistaken, but should never have been commenced in the first place’ (118).
In class we discussed that what sets virtue ethics apart from other normative accounts is that it is primarily concerned about a human telos. Of course there may be discussions about what to do in a certain situation, there may even be talk of prohibitions, but these are never the essential focus. In a claim very similar to Nietzsche’s, MacIntyre feels able to reject the entire of what he calls the ‘enlightenment project’ of moral philosophy. He points out that even Rawls understood virtues as tendencies that keeping the rules led to, the very same mistake that was made with the banishment of Aristotle. To see why I feel able to say this criticism has a Nietzschean ‘feel’, go back through your notes on Nietzsche’s ‘frustration’ with Kant.
Interestingly, Nietzsche and Aristotle are agreeing that the correct subject matter of this question of living well should be character. And both are rejecting the primacy of rules or legislation. Indeed a number of recent writers (eg Fraser above) understand Nietzsche as intimately concerned with flourishing and character. Following MacIntyre, we might agree that those virtues described by the German as ‘noble’ are the very same described in the Iliad.

Following this claim, MacIntyre traces the development of virtue ethics. You could look at Vardy’s description for a brief summary. In his conclusion he seeks to adjudicate on the question he posed midway through the book: Nietzsche or Aristotle?

Even more interestingly, MacIntyre asserts that a thoughtful Nietzschean would have just as much difficulty with the emotivism apparent in our society as a serious Aristotlean would. In making his case for the mistake rejection of Aristotle, MacIntyre has two key premises. The first is that contemporary moral vocabulary is composed of fragments and ‘left-overs’ from Aristotle’s teleological approach. The second is that Aristotle’s account of virtues, and the tradition to which it leads is rational and ultimately invulnerable to the Nietzschean attacks. To further make his case, MacIntyre attacks Nietzsche’s notion of the Ubermensch. This solitary individual finds no ‘good’ in the world of others and, according to MacIntyre, is necessarily deceptive (258). For this individual the congratulation or rebuke of another is empty for it does not originate in his or her own will.
MacIntyre believes that, in his defence of the virtues, he has shown that the human person is not individual by nature. And it is because Nietzsche assumes this that he understood all moral discourse as an articulation of the individual’s will – for what else could the latter be if the former is the case? The rather ironic claim is that it is Nietzsche, in addition to Kant et al., who assumes his conclusion on his way to arguing for it. In one sense you might hold us to be at a stalemate. For how are we to adjudicate on such a basic question? For MacIntyre the answer is clear. One has to be a member of a community in order to gain the skills required to condemn it. The absolute individual is an illusion, and it is only by assuming this radical individualism that one is led to see all community conceptions of ‘good’ as expressions of ‘will’. Of course, MacIntyre believes he has given a good account of virtue ethics which has the community conception of good as its foundation. For this reason he believes Nietzsche’s base assumption is false, as are the conclusions it necessitates.

MacIntyre reads Nietzsche as the closing prophet of the doomed enlightenment project of moral philosophy. Though Nietzsche mistakenly saw himself to be outside this period, condemning it completely, his entire position stemmed from the mistake that was hidden deep beneath Kantianism, Utilitarianism and Emotivism. He saw that there was a problem, a failure, but he mistook Aristotle’s tradition for part of the problem rather than its solution.

 

Sorry I realise my ‘quick ideas’ have been less than quick. In summary for analysing and evaluating Nietzsche’s Genealogy:

STRENGTH: Even scholars who certainly would not see themselves as Nietzscheans see that Nietzsche was the first to see the brokenness of much of our moral discourse.

CRITICISM: Nietzsche ‘illegitimately generalised from the condition of moral judgement in his own day to the nature of morality as such…”

CRITICISM: If Aristotle is right, then Nietzsche is wrong.

CRITICISM: Nietzsche’s ideal, his Ubermensch is based upon the assumption that the human person is radically isolated. MacIntyre reads the vast majority of FN’s writings as proceeding from this premise, one which AM finds faulty.

EVALUATION: I think your evaluation of each of these will be intertwined. You might mention Wittgenstein really quickly (arguments against private language), as well as having an opinion on MacIntyre’s argument as well as his reading of Nietzsche.

Family Guy and Plato Revision Lesson

In Seth MacFarline’s Family Guy, The Griffin family find themselves amongst the few survivors of the much hyped Y2K meltdown. On discovering an infinite food source the take it on themselves to create a new society – and everybody’s favourite idiot is in charge.

Watch the clip/ episode (“Da Boom”) and write a short essay answer (50mins planning and writing) explaining the relevance of this to what you have learnt about Plato from reading The Republic.  This will be your first practice at a philosophy exam type question, so remember be precise and analyse your hearts out.

 

Plato & Aristotle on God – ib philosophy of religion

here are the slides from today’s class if that’s useful, remember to finish the Plato reading and listen to the podcast for next day…

For the podcast click above

click above here for the question sheet

And finally; Here are the five discussion questions for next week:

what is the form of the Good? (& sun similie)

what is the philosopher ruler like?

what is the difference between belief and knowledge, for Plato? (& the line)

how does the cave fit with Plato’s other ideas?

having read the same book as the soldiers in to end all wars, how does Plato’s philosophy fit with the film?