MacIntyre on Money

Friday, November 12, 2010 \AM\.\Fri\.

Alasdair MacIntyre, one of the greatest living Catholic thinkers, was featured last month in Prospect Magazine. The piece, entitled “MacIntyre on Money,” is well worth the read. Here’s a snippet:

MacIntyre has often given the impression of a robe-ripping Savonarola. He has lambasted the heirs to the principal western ethical schools: John Locke’s social contract, Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” Yet his is not a lone voice in the wilderness. He can claim connections with a trio of 20th-century intellectual heavyweights: the late Elizabeth Anscombe, her surviving husband, Peter Geach, and the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, winner in 2007 of the Templeton prize. What all four have in common is their Catholic faith, enthusiasm for Aristotle’s telos (life goals), and promotion of Thomism, the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas who married Christianity and Aristotle. Leo XIII (pope from 1878 to 1903), who revived Thomism while condemning communism and unfettered capitalism, is also an influence.

MacIntyre begins his Cambridge talk by asserting that the 2008 economic crisis was not due to a failure of business ethics. The opener is not a red herring. Ever since he published his key text After Virtue in 1981, he has argued that moral behaviour begins with the good practice of a profession, trade, or art: playing the violin, cutting hair, brick-laying, teaching philosophy. Through these everyday social practices, he maintains, people develop the appropriate virtues. In other words, the virtues necessary for human flourishing are not a result of the top-down application of abstract ethical principles, but the development of good character in everyday life. After Virtue, which is in essence an attack on the failings of the Enlightenment, has in its sights a catalogue of modern assumptions of beneficence: liberalism, humanism, individualism, capitalism. MacIntyre yearns for a single, shared view of the good life as opposed to modern pluralism’s assumption that there can be many competing views of how to live well.

This rift between economics and ethics, says MacIntyre, stems from the failure of our culture “to think coherently about money.” Instead, we should think like Aristotle and Aquinas, who saw the value of money “to be no more, no less than the value of the goods which can be exchanged, so there’s no reason for anyone to want money other than for the goods they buy.” Money affords more choices and choice is good. But when they are imposed by others whose interest is in getting us to spend, then money becomes the sole measure of human flourishing. “Goods are to be made and supplied, insofar as they can be turned into money… ultimately, money becomes the measure of all things, including itself.” Money can now be made “from the exchange of money for money… and trading in derivatives and in derivatives of derivatives.” And so those who work in the financial sector have become dislocated from the uses of money in everyday life. One symptom of this, MacIntyre contends, is gross inequality. In 2009, for instance, the chief executives of Britain’s 100 largest companies earned on average 81 times more than the average pay of a full-time worker.

MacIntyre’s After Virtue was a pivotal text for me, as I suspect it is for most. Its trenchant critiques of conservative and liberal liberalism, as well as of libertarianism, are as forceful now as they were 30 years ago. If you haven’t read any MacIntyre, get off the blogs, put away the computer, and do yourself the service of remedying that deficiency.

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John Finnis on the Moral Status of the Fetus

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 \AM\.\Wed\.

Last Friday, John Finnis, whom I and many others consider to be one of the foremost living Catholic intellectuals, debated philosophers Peter Singer and Maggie Little at the Princeton conference Open Hearts, Open Minds and Fair Minded Words (Mirror of Justice‘s own Rick Garnett discussed the constitutionality of legalized abortion on Saturday). My friend, Ryan Anderson, over at Public Discourse has published a revised version of Prof. Finnis’ opening remarks, which are well worth the read. Here are two snippets from the piece (be sure to read the whole thing at Public Discourse):

The thing about moral status is, if you believe in morality at all, that it is not a matter of choice or grant or convention, but of recognition. If you hear anyone talk about conferring or granting moral status, you know they are deeply confused about what morality and moral status are. The very idea of human rights and status is of someone who matters whether we like it or not, and even when no one is thinking about them; and matters, whether we like it or not, as at bottom an equal, because like us in nature as a substantial kind of being.

About the moral status of the fetus, it’s clear, I suggest, beyond doubt, after forty years of intense philosophical discussion, that there’s no credible halfway house between, on the one hand, acknowledging that whether we like it or not the fetus—indeed the embryonic baby from the outset—has the same radical equality of nature that we all have despite myriad differences, and on the other hand joining Peter and Jeffrey in denying two things: (1) denying that the primary question is one of fact—shared nature as beings all having or capable of developing (given only food and protection) rational characteristics and activities, and (2) denying equality or ethical or moral entitlement to rights such as life until some time after birth (and here I think Reiman’s position will prove more stably defensible than Peter’s in making that years after birth; but of course neither of them can limit their denial of human equality to conditions of infancy; the denial extends to various sorts of disablement and decay). And each of them goes wrong from the outset in making “moral status” the fundamental predicate in the discussion, instead of predicates of the form “person,” “rational nature,” “kind of being.”

Notre Dame Law School is very blessed to have both John Finnis and Rick Garnett on board.


Proposition 8 Struck Down, For The Time Being

Wednesday, August 4, 2010 \PM\.\Wed\.

By now I’m sure you all know that Proposition 8 was struck down by a federal judge. Who knows what will happen on appeal. There is much to be said, but I want to focus on one narrow and possibly tangential point. This phrase from the judge’s ruling, a phrase being reposted on facebook in many statuses:

“A private moral view that Same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples is not a proper basis for legislation.”

The absurdity of that sentence really struck me. There was nothing “private” about the view of the “superiority” of hetereosexual couples. It has been carried on through generations of communities and in the present day was represented by 52% of Californians. How a popular decision that represented thousands of years of ethical thinking and concern for the family became a private morality is baffling.

More troubling is the implication of the judge that a “moral view” is not a proper basis for legislation. Since when has this been the case? Our laws on pedophilia, minimum wage, health care, torture, human rights, etc. are based at least on part on “moral views,” views that in some respects may be just as if not more private than the ones the judge rejects today.

If morality is not a basis for legislation, what on earth is? Morality guides us in making decisions; without a moral or ethical compass (or perhaps even without a religious one) there is no basis for legislation to be made. Laws are supposed to help make society run better, but there is no way to make society run better unless you have a notion of what a “better society” looks like, and you don’t get to that notion without morality.

State recognition of homosexual marriage is one thing, but this ruling attacks the foundation of our government. Morality must have a place in the public sphere and must be one of the foremost foundations of legislation.

To be sure, the judge is simply smoke-screening for the fact that he is imposing his own standards of morality. But the fact that his statement rejecting a moral basis for legislation is being so celebrated should worry all Americans.


Elena Kagan: “I’m sorry-the memo which is?”

Thursday, July 1, 2010 \AM\.\Thu\.

 

 

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was asked yesterday about her falsification of evidence detailed here.  Her response was a classic example of Beltway Weaselspeak:

“Did you write that memo?” Hatch asked.

“Senator, with respect,” Kagan began, “I don’t think that that’s what happened — ”

“Did you write that memo?”

“I’m sorry — the memo which is?”

“The memo that caused them to go back to the language of ‘medically necessary,’ which was the big issue to begin with — ”

“Yes, well, I’ve seen the document — ”

“But did you write it?”

“The document is certainly in my handwriting.”

Although Kagan later explained her thinking in the memo — she said she was only trying to help the medical group express its true opinion — and it was clear that she did write the memo, she looked slippery in her attempt to avoid openly admitting that she did so.  That won’t sit well with skeptical senators.

Shannen Coffin, the former Bush deputy attorney general who defended the partial birth abortion ban responds to this non-answer at National Review Online: Read the rest of this entry »


Kagan Engaged in Falsification of Evidence to Defeat Partial Birth Abortion Ban

Wednesday, June 30, 2010 \AM\.\Wed\.

The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat Senator from New York, was a pro-abort, but he voted to ban partial birth abortion, which he correctly described as “barely disguised infanticide”.  Many pro-aborts draw the line at this gruesome killing of an infant.  Not so Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan apparently.  Shannen W. Coffin has written a fascinating article at National Review Online.  Coffin was the deputy attorney general in the Bush administration who defended the partial birth abortion ban law.  In this article he details how Kagan falsified evidence in an attempt to defeat a partial birth abortion ban in Congress during the Clinton administration:

When President Obama promised in his inaugural address to “restore science to its rightful place,” he never explained what that rightful place would be. Documents recently released in connection with the Supreme Court nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan suggest an answer: wherever it can best be used to skew political debate and judicial outcomes.

The documents involved date from the Clinton White House. They show Miss Kagan’s willingness to manipulate medical science to fit the Democratic party’s political agenda on the hot-button issue of abortion. As such, they reflect poorly on both the author and the president who nominated her to the Supreme Court.

There is no better example of this distortion of science than the language the United States Supreme Court cited in striking down Nebraska’s ban on partial-birth abortion in 2000. This language purported to come from a “select panel” of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a supposedly nonpartisan physicians’ group. ACOG declared that the partial-birth-abortion procedure “may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman.” The Court relied on the ACOG statement as a key example of medical opinion supporting the abortion method.

Years later, when President Bush signed a federal partial-birth-abortion ban (something President Clinton had vetoed), the ACOG official policy statement was front and center in the attack on the legislation. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Kopf, one of the three federal judges that issued orders enjoining the federal ban (later overturned by the Supreme Court), devoted more than 15 pages of his lengthy opinion to ACOG’s policy statement and the integrity of the process that led to it.

Like the Supreme Court majority in the prior dispute over the Nebraska ban, Judge Kopf asserted that the ACOG policy statement was entitled to judicial deference because it was the result of an inscrutable collaborative process among expert medical professionals. “Before and during the task force meeting,” he concluded, “neither ACOG nor the task force members conversed with other individuals or organizations, including congressmen and doctors who provided congressional testimony, concerning the topics addressed” in the ACOG statement.

In other words, what medical science has pronounced, let no court dare question. The problem is that the critical language of the ACOG statement was not drafted by scientists and doctors. Rather, it was inserted into ACOG’s policy statement at the suggestion of then–Clinton White House policy adviser Elena Kagan. Read the rest of this entry »


The Television Ethic

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 \PM\.\Wed\.

It seems to me that the shows on TV have gotten worse, much worse than they have ever been. Shows like “Cougar Town,” “Super Nanny,” “One Tree Hill” or “The Bachelorette” – basically any show on any of the major networks. These shows are either a shameless “sitcom” with bad and awkward sexual humor, a boring reality show that smug Americans watch so they can make themselves feel like they’re better than the narcissistic dweebs who end up on those shows, or an overwrought “drama” that lacks any sense of humanity instead substituting gratuitous sexual content.

I suppose what’s most striking is the total absence of anything sacred. If you watch TV, it’s clear there’s nothing special about human affairs and human relationships. Television teaches us that we’re all really only out for ourselves. Other people are a means to increase our “happiness” and to the extent they do that they are valuable. Traditional human virtues like love, gratitude, forbearance, patience, loyalty, faithfulness, and peace are mocked on television. No one on television takes any of these things seriously. In fact nothing on television takes anything seriously (maybe a few rare exceptions e.g. LOST). After all, persons who take things seriously are really just fooling themselves that who they are matters or what they do matters. It’s not who you are, it’s what you have, or who you have. Television teaches an ethic of exploitation for personal gain and I think it’s terrible.

But maybe it’s always been this way and I haven’t paid close enough attention.


The Claremont Reviews Advent Interview with Fr. James V. Schall

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 \AM\.\Tue\.

Since 2002 Ken Masugi, a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute and lecturer in Government at Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, has conducted Advent interviews with James V. Schall, S.J., author of over thirty books on political theory and theology. Fr. Schall teaches in the Government Department of Georgetown University.

The interviews themselves are a delight to read and span a variety of topics from current events to the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI to issues in philosophy, theology and ethics — and sometimes, in addition, what books Fr. Schall himself is reading at that particular moment in time.

Read the rest of this entry »