Stoic News

By Dave Kelly

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Achievement of Alasdair MacIntyre

"That word "teleological" is the key to MacIntyre's solution, the loss of which is the cause of the catastrophe described in his science-fiction parable. Teleology is the study of final causes, goals, purposes, and aims: a style of explanation that saturates Aristotle's philosophy. After the combined impact of Newton and Darwin, however, this type of explanation seems mostly quaint-and once Aristotle's science seemed quaint, his ethics soon followed: when Newton demonstrated how motion can be better explained as resulting from the outcome of mechanical laws, and when Darwin posited natural selection as the "mechanism" for explaining an organ's functionality, the use of teleology in ethics was doomed.

"This is perhaps the greatest category mistake ever made in the history of philosophy. Emptying moral discourse of teleological concepts because of the perceived impact of Newton and Darwin has been for MacIntyre the catastrophe of our times. In the Aristotelian tradition, MacIntyre argues, "there is a fundamental contrast between man-as-he- happens-to-be and man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-essential- nature. . . . The precepts which enjoin the various virtues and prohibit the vices instruct us how to move from potentiality to act, how to realize our true nature, and to reach our true end. To defy them will be to be frustrated and incomplete, to fail to achieve that good of rational happiness which it is peculiarly ours as a species to pursue."" Search: alasdair.macintyre


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