2.1 After Virtue, Back to Virtue, and the Character Gap

EPISODE SUMMARY:

The topic of season 2 of the Eudo Podcast are the virtues and their vices. We want to help others flourish in a disenchanted world. In order to flourish, it is important to understand the nature of the moral life. The problem is that the moral landscape, in a disenchanted world, is in tatters. Our moral landscape—the concepts we use, the criteria we employee, and the good we seek—are a mess. In this new season of the Eudo Podcast, Dr. Paul M. Gould will help us begin to understand this problem.


EPISODE NOTES:

C.S. Lewis’ Ship Analogy to help us understand the good life:

Each ship needs to be aware of three things to sail successfully:

  1. Each individual ship needs to be in proper order (so that it is sea-worthy, etc.)
  2. Social Harmony: each ship needs to be rightly ordered with respect to each other (so they don’t crash into each other, etc.)
  3. Destination– each ship needs to be rightly ordered toward their destination.

 

Now, just as there are three parts to the fleet of ships, there are three parts to morality:

  1. Personal: the human being needs to be rightly ordered with respect to himself; this is called character.
  2. Social:we need to be in the right ordering in relation to other people. (this is taught)
  3. Metaphysics: being rightly related/ordered to the true end in life (in harmony with reality).

Here is the problem: Today, Modern Moral philosophy has been reduced to the social element only.

In the old days, one of the central questions of philosophy for the ancients was the question:

WHAT SORT OF PERSON OUGHT I TO BE?

The main question for the ancients wasn’t, “Is this action morally right or wrong?” But, instead it was: “What is the good life?”; “What kind of person ought I to be?”

We are going to advocate a return to the classical view– the robust view of ethics where the central question is not is this action morally right, but what is the good life?  What does it mean to be a good person?

Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

His argument is simple:

  • First,our language of morality is in grave disorder.
    • We use concepts like rights, duty, the good life, virtue, and oughtness—but we have no idea what these concepts mean.
    • Rather, today we live in an emotivist culture (p. 22) where moral utterances have been reduced to expressions of personal preference and emotions.
  • Second,ever since belief in Aristotelian teleology was discredited by moral philosophers, attempts to provide an alternative rational foundation for morality have failed.

So, thinking about morality is nearly impossible in a life “after virtue,” according to MacIntyre. I love how Karen Swallow Prior describes this unfortunate state of affairs in her book On Reading Well. She says, “It’s something like when a kid hears an orchestra perform a Beethoven number and thinks it’s a riff on his favorite cartoon song.” (Prior, p. 24).

He says our choices are rather stark: we can either return to Aristotle and the virtue tradition, or we must embrace Nietzsche and the idea that there is no rational foundation for morality—in other words, all we can do is assert our own “wills to power” and reduce morality to expressions of emotions or return to the virtue tradition.

MacIntyre’s book After Virtueis one long argument that “the Aristotelian tradition can be restated in a way that restores intelligibility and rationality to our moral and social attitudes and commitments.”

Without teleology, argues MacIntyre, we are not able to envision a human life as a whole, as a unity, whose character provides the virtues with an adequate telos.

 

Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue

In his book Back to Virtue, the philosopher Peter Kreeft argues that western culture is a sick and weak.

  • The problem isn’t that we are worse off morally than cultures before us; rather, he argues that the problem is that we are “weaker in the knowledgeof morality.” (p. 25).
  • Whereas for our ancestors, their problem was not living up to their moral principles; our problem is not having any.

The reason why were are in this mess, according to Kreeft, is that we’ve thrown out our road map. We no longer have a coherent answer to the question, “what does it mean to be human?” and so we can no longer answer the question, “what is the highest good for humans?”

 

Christian Miller, The Character Gap

Finally, the Wake Forest philosopher Christian Miller has written an important book on character called the Character Gap.

  • The empirical research shows we are neither virtuous or vicious.
  • Rather, we are somewhere in the middle, morally speaking; we are a mixture of good and bad traits.
  • Miller looks at the empirical findings from Psychology that measure our behavior.
  • Specifically, he looked at the studies that measure our behavior when it comes to helping, harming, lying, and cheating. The results are sobering. We don’t help as much as we think we do. We lie and cheat and harm more than we think too.

 


CONCLUDING REMARKS: 

This season, we are going to walk the path of return. We are going to dust off the ancient road map—found in Scripture and in philosophy—that help us understand the nature of man and the human quest for the good that is God.


RESOURCES MENTIONED:

  • Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue
  • C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
  • Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue
  • Christian Miller, The Character Gap

 

Our sponsors

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *