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Continuum Studies in American Philosophy: Dorothy G. Rogers, America's First Women Philosophers Thorn Brooks and Fabian Freyenhagen, eds, The Legacy ofJohnRawls James Marcum, Thomas Kuhn's Revolution Joshua Rust, John Searle andThe Construction of Social Reality Eve Gaudet, Quine on Meaning




Continuum International Publishing Group The Tower Building, 11 York Road, London SE1 7NX 15 East 26th Street, New York, NY 10010 Stephen D. Carden 2006 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Stephen D. Carden has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as Author of this work. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: 0-8264-8900-1 (hardback)

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For Nellie Denton walk with me

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Acknowledgements Introduction 1 2 3 Rediscovery of the virtues Reconstruction of ethics Origins of the virtues

ix 1 6 28 56

4 Humanflourishing 80 5 The ethical life 103 133 143 146

Conclusion Bibliography Index

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This book originated from my study at Vanderbilt University. I wish to express my deep gratitude to John Lachs, who helped me to understand Dewey's philosophy; to Henry Teloh, who introduced me to Maclntyre's work; to Rob Talisse, who initiated my interest in pragmatism; and to Michael Hodges, who encouraged me from the beginning. Special thanks go to my friend Carl Runyon, who was generous enough to engage in extended conversation about the issues dealt with herein. I am also sincerely grateful for the support of Jackie Addington, Greg Labyak, Julia Ledford, and all my colleagues at Owensboro Community and Technical College. I owe the most to my family who have given generously of their tremendous love, strength, and understanding: my wife, Sandy; my children, Polly, Clayton, and Laura; and my mother, Mary, who continues to inspire my love of words and ideas.

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Alasdair Maclntyre is a central figure in the resurgence of interest in the virtues as fundamental concepts in moral philosophy; many of his ideas, however, were anticipated by John Dewey, who also regarded the virtues and the development of character as primary moral ideas. All the following ideas are found in the work of both philosophers: the significance of goods internal to human practices, the teleological nature of human conduct, the notion of virtues as habits constituting an integrated character, the importance of inquiry and practical intelligence, the social nature of morality, and a conception of the good focused on relations with others. On the other hand, while Maclntyre demonstrates a deep appreciation for history and tradition, Dewey advocates forward-thinking and innovation; while Maclntyre attacks liberalism, Dewey praises the liberation of human energies in a democracy; and while Maclntyre's approach is intellectualistic and dialectical, Dewey's method is naturalistic and empirical. Many of their apparent differences are reconcilable, but it is my contention that Dewey holds a more comprehensive view. His explanation of human conduct in terms of habit, impulse, and intelligence makes clear the biological origins of the virtues; his conception of growth offers a compelling vision of human flourishing; his conception of inquiry as problem-solving in response to particular human needs is flexible and grounded in scientific method; and his ability to move beyond metaphysical dualisms and intellectual abstractions by stressing the continuity of such concepts as means and ends can make virtue theory fresh, exciting, and even more relevant for contemporary times. Both philosophers have a great deal to say about the virtues in a moral life, although this aspect of Dewey's work is too often overlooked. This is regrettable, since Dewey has a profound view of the virtues and of ethics generally, although it is scattered through several of his works, especially Democracy an
Education (1916), Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920), Human Nature and Conduct

(1922), Experience and Mature (1925), "Three Independent Factors in Moral (1930), and Ethics (1932). Dewey's ethics is radical in many ways, and difficult, but once his moral philosophy is laid out somewhat systematically it is clear that he holds the virtues in human conduct to be a key element in the development of character and the progress of moral inquiry. While Dewey's remarks on ethics are rather scattered, Maclntyre's position continues to grow and develop through a series of major works: his


seminal book, After Virtue (1981); the two books that develop this line of thought, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (1988) and Three Rival Versio Moral Inquiry (1990); and his latest book, Dependent Rational Animals (1999). His admission in the latter that an understanding of the virtues must include the biological dimensions of human life provides even more points of comparison with Dewey, and will be important in the overall evaluation of each of their views. This study is a comparison of Maclntyre and Dewey that allows these two philosophers to converse about the nature and origins of the virtues and their importance for living a good life. Along the way, several other points of comparison become evident, especially with regard to their views on human practices, the nature of the self, a conception of human flourishing, moral inquiry, and the value of liberalism in the modern world. This comparison focuses on the validity of an approach to ethics through the virtues and their impact on social relations in our culture. Dewey's moral philosophy may not be fully reconcilable with contemporary virtue ethics, but his broad, consistent theory can serve to critique particular theories of virtue ethics that may suffer from a limited perspective. This, in fact, is how I present Dewey in comparison with Maclntyre, for despite Maclntyre's ability to draw upon a tremendous scope of historical thought, I intend to show that Dewey has a more comprehensive view on the virtues and that a close comparison of their ideas will reveal several significant weaknesses in Maclntyre's position. Both philosophers ground their ethics in human practices, although Dewey has a wider and more general understanding of them than is present in Maclntyre's singular conception. Dewey also has a greater appreciation for individual innovation than does Maclntyre with his more conservative stance; furthermore, Dewey's account of the virtues is greatly influenced by evolutionary biology while only in his latest book does Maclntyre attempt to investigate our animal natures. Both philosophers locate the virtues within a conception of human flourishing, but Dewey's idea of growth captures much of what Maclntyre intends while incorporating it into a broader and more compelling vision. Their notions of the self as a social construction differ as well. For Maclntyre, the self is constituted by the narrative accounts of human activity that we give to each other; Dewey agrees that human activity is purposive and historical in the sense that it reveals a means-end structure in reflectivity, but his more empirical account is less dependent on language and more connected to other more rudimentary processes in nature. Also, while Maclntyre calls for human activity to be ordered within a dialectical quest for the good, Dewey insists on a plurality of goods, each of which is unique to a particular situation; he argues that human activity is naturally ordered by growth, which is a process rather than an end state.


Still, nowhere do their views clash more fully than over the nature of moral inquiry, the conservative stance of Maclntyre contrasting with the liberal approach of Dewey. Although both recognize moral inquiry to be a primary human activity, Maclntyre argues that it must take place within a tradition while Dewey calls for a method of experimentation and innovation. The theory of truth that lies at the heart of Maclntyre's conception of traditionconstituted inquiry, however, is weak; Dewey's conception of inquiry, on the other hand, is not only part of a more consistent position, but can reengage contemporary moral philosophy. This leads naturally to their disagreement over the value of liberalism in American society. Both philosophers present strong critiques of modern American culture, but while Dewey's offered solution is framed within existing conditions, Maclntyre's calls for a return to a conservative past. In the first chapter of this study, then, I examine Maclntyre's critique of modern moral philosophy and his proposal to revitalize the AristotelianThomistic tradition. I make explicit the theory he has laid out for the virtues in a moral life including the quest for a human telos, and I explain his view of inquiry within a tradition and his criticism of liberalism. The second chapter examines Dewey's views on the virtues as they arise in experience, on values as the consummation of experience in growth, and on modern ethical theories. In subsequent chapters I compare and contrast their views and offer a defense of Dewey on the virtues, human flourishing, and moral inquiry. In the conclusion I gather together some of the more significant weaknesses in Maclntyre's position identified during the study. In many ways, the two philosophers are not that far apart. Dewey would certainly agree with Maclntyre's concept of a practice and the narrative form of a single human life as background ideas for the virtues. Moreover, Dewey's use of Darwinian evolutionary theory in understanding morality can help Maclntyre here, especially his description of human conduct as involving habit, impulse, and intelligence. Dewey can also offer a valuable critique of Maclntyre's concept of a practice through his emphasis on the continual need for intelligent transformation of habits and practices. Maclntyre's conception of a narrative form of a single human life is also enhanced by Dewey's view of nature as constituted by processes or histories. Both thinkers recognize the importance of internal goods in living the good life. Furthermore, Maclntyre's emphasis on human vulnerability and disability would be accepted by Dewey, who admits such realities about the human condition. Maclntyre is correct that they deserve greater emphasis than they have been given in the past, and that the relation of mutual dependency among people is key to the content of the virtues. In all these ways their views are similar, but there are serious differences as well. Maclntyre insists that there must be an overall end or goal for human


beings as such, not just an individual good and not just a social good, but a human telosa conception of human flourishing; in fact, the quest for this good is what drives the moral tradition he describes. Dewey, however, refuses to accept that any one good can be final: Since human experience is in constant flux, all goods pass away and are followed upon by new engagements. People do wish for the goods of life to stay; their temporary and fragile nature is partly what makes them valuable, but none is permanent. The idea of a human telos, according to Dewey, is an illusion. Nevertheless, I will argue that his conception of growth serves the purposes of a human telos without being a final or transcendent state external to the natural world. There is a clear sense in Dewey of what it means for human beings to flourish; it is for people to continually increase and expand their construction of goods in the natural and social environment. This requires the development and exercise of scientific inquiry in a participatory democracy, and it requires a social platform of liberalism that allows for experimentation, increased communication, and toleration of a variety of individual perspectives. Maclntyre does have a strong criticism to make of liberalism: In its rejection of all traditions it claims to be the most tolerant social and political order, but it is true that in some ways those who claim to be the most open-minded can be, in the end, quite close-minded, if tolerance is promoted at the expense of all other goods. But Dewey does not agree with Maclntyre's charge that liberalism fails to provide the resources to attain a common conception of the good; Maclntyre seems unaware of the many ways in which people do reach agreement in practices and institutions, which Dewey calls "social intelligence." Dewey's version of liberalism calls for increased social interaction through free inquiry and open communication. The most serious difference between Maclntyre and Dewey concerns their views on the nature of inquiry. Maclntyre argues that it is constituted in and by a tradition. The main challenge for Maclntyre is to show that criticism is possible both within a tradition and external to it, but his attempt to do so involves a certain conception of truth which is rather weak. When describing the dialectical process within a tradition of inquiry, he says that progress is made when problems that have been raised regarding the beliefs of the past are resolved by solutions that are able to withstand all other objections. Thus the tradition itself is held together by a type of coherence theory of truth, in that the test of truth of any one belief consists in its inclusion within a tradition of inquiry; but the point at which objections cease depends on the vitality of the individual participants. Furthermore, he uses a type of correspondence theory of truth when describing how, after such progress, participants within a tradition can realize that beliefs previously held are now known to be false, generating a kind of second-order claim to truth. In explaining this, he says that the mind is not a Cartesian substance but actively involved in the world,


yet when the mind is "adequate" to its object, it is informed by images and concepts which "re-present" objects and forms. Thus he characterizes the correspondence of the mind and its objects as "adequacy" of "re-presentation"; but still, the point of adequacy depends on the judgment of the participants, and to the degree that the authority of tradition obstructs the creativity and innovation of individuals, it limits the progress of rationality itself. So Maclntyre's conception of truth is weak at crucial points, limiting its force especially for inter-traditional criticism. Dewey, however, is able to avoid the pitfalls of describing the correspondence of mind and its objects, since both are correlative concepts that exist only in reflection upon the interaction of the organism with its environment. For him, the object of knowledge is not antecedent to the knowing; it is constructed within the process of inquiry. Dewey rejects the tendency in traditional philosophy to emphasize knowing as the universal human relationship to the world: Man is not a spectator of nature, he says, but part of its processes. Although Maclntyre tries to say this, he falls back into the traditional way philosophers have thought about subject and object. Here, Dewey can help him out. Dewey's moral philosophy is a kind of situationalism, as is Maclntyre's and Aristotle's: The right action can only be determined within the particular circumstances in question. This is why development of the virtues is central to morality; they attune insight into situations as they arise so that the right action may be realized. For Dewey, moral principles are hypotheses. None is universal, but they are not arbitrary either; they can be verified in experience. To hold on to principles without testing them in the world is the worst kind of dogmatism, and to subject them to criticism does not require a radical perspective outside the natural world. Being generalizations from past experience, principles are naturally carried forward into new situations, but experience cannot be forced into fitting prior conceptions; it is the principles which should be adjusted as a result of their contact with nature. The charge of relativismthat since what is right is relative to the particular situation, what is right for one person may not be right for anothercreates a problem for a moral philosophy based on universal principles and holding that what is right must carry across all situations for all people, but it does not create a problem for Dewey. According to him, principles serve as guides to conduct, but what is right in the situation is the particular process that results in the satisfaction of need. Moral goods are creations of our interaction with the environment; as such, they cannot be known in advance. Indeed, they do not even exist in advance of their construction within the situation, but this does not make them any less good. Experience, then, not the principle, is the arbiter for what is right; this view allows for continued growth in habits of thought and action and for the testing and refinement of principles for conduct. This is the better approach for making future growth possible.

1 Rediscovery of the virtues

In this chapter I lay out the basics of Maclntyre's moral philosophy. His work over the last two decades forms an expanding yet consistent and influential project to address fundamental issues in ethical theory and American culture. I begin by examining his analysis of the problem of incommensurability of modern ethical theories and his proposal for resolving it. Maclntyre's entire project can be seen as a response to this problem which appears not only to form an impasse to progress in moral philosophy but to foment irreconcilable divisions within our culture. I then present his development of a virtue theory beginning with his seminal work, After Virtue, and continued in his latest book, Dependent Rational Animals. This development reveals a remarkable shift fro Maclntyre's first attempt to avoid biology to his more recent embracing of it and of a conception of human flourishing that rejects some of the elitist flavor of Aristotelian ethics, incorporating a statement of human vulnerability and interdependency. Finally, I discuss the close relationship ofjustice and practical wisdom in the development of individual character, in a moral tradition, and in Maclntyre's critique of liberalism. The tremendous scope and depth of his work make any encapsulation of it difficult and, in a sense, unfair; his ideas develop organically, rather than analytically, and seethe with context in history. In bringing attention to the importance of the relation between freedom and truth for contemporary philosophy and its impact on cultural realities, Maclntyre has set the tone for the study of ethics today, and his work in revitalizing the virtues as an essential feature of the moral life has made virtue ethics possible as a viable theory for study.

Return to tradition
In After Virtue, Maclntyre lays out the problem of the incommensurability of modern ethical theories: that in determining which theory to take up, there is no neutral perspective from which to evaluate them one against another. As a consequence, argumentation about any number of contemporary issues tends to be interminable since the positions that are taken derive from reasoning based on certain incommensurable backgrounds. These backgrounds are, of course, presupposed in justifying the particular position or view being

Rediscovery of the virtues

espoused, and lend rational support or cognitive evidence to the claims being made. However, the proponents of the various ideological backgrounds cannot reach agreement or resolve their differences because the different backgrounds share no universal principles, beliefs, or values. It was Aristotle who noted that unless argumentation is rooted in shared values it will be ineffective, which entails that no terminus will be possible among the various lines of discussion. This incommensurability results from their foundational approach: Each theory, Maclntyre argues, begins with certain first principles that have no further justification, so the choice among them seems arbitrary. Modern ethical theories are powerful systems of thought which collectively tend to capture the majority of ideological views that occur in one form or another. The theories are based on certain deep and profound philosophical principles that ultimately function as incontrovertible starting points, but since each begins from a unique fundamental position they generate distinct views on moral problems, thus giving rise to distinct lines of argumentation. Maclntyre says: "From our rival conclusions we can argue back to our rival premises; but when we do arrive at our premises argument ceases and the invocation of one premise against another becomes a matter of pure assertion and counterassertion." The choice, then, becomes which ethical theory one should choose, and here they can function much like political parties: For whatever reason, one commits oneself to one ethical theory over the rest and, if consistent, follows the ramifications of that theory wherever they lead, regardless of the resulting position on any particular issue. However, sometimes, as with political parties, one switches theories depending on which particular position seems best. That is, rather than take the position that results logically from the ethical theory one is committed to, one chooses the ethical theory which will justify the particular position one wants to take concerning the issue at hand. Nietzsche claimed that because of this the theories themselves are masks for the exertion of the will to power; Maclntyre explains: "Nietzsche understood the academic mode of utterance as an expression of merely reactive attitudes and feelings, their negative, repressed, and repressive character disguised behind a mask of fixity and objectivity." Once a person realizes that changing ethical theories will allow the defense of either side of the issue one wishes to support, it begins to appear that the theories themselves are nothing more than systems of thought that exist to justify particular ideological beliefs. Since when one reaches the level of theoretical discussion there are no common standards by which to adjudicate among theories, one may pick the theory that seems most comfortable given one's pre-existing views on various controversial issues. There is no impetus to change one's views simply because an ethical theory results in an unwanted position; one merely chooses the ethical theory appropriate to one's views in that context. Then one has the entire

Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

reasoning power provided by these particular systems of thought to justify whatever position one wishes to take at the time. Rather than choosing the ethical theory which is most internally consistent or coherent, one chooses the theory based on one's opinions about the particular moral, social, or political controversy. Ethical theories then do become masks, or pretenses to wisdom, not only concealing the basic emotional disposition or close-minded bias one already has, but, seemingly, justifying it as well. Maclntyre suggests that Nietzsche's critique can be found today in the form of emotivismthe view that moral judgments are "nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character." 3 If the major ethical theories of modern times are incommensurable, then no one theory can claim to be better, or more correct, than any other. They become, not so much systems of cognitive principles, but schemes of rationalization to justify one's pre-existing position on a particular issue; they become ways to defend one's preference; rather than being normative, they are merely effective. This leads to a morality in which anyone's view is as good or correct as any other's, regardless of experience or expertise, the only real difference being effectiveness in the expression of one's preference. The more voices that align with any particular attitude, the more effective the expression and the more power is exerted by the collective will. In this view, power becomes the arbiter of moral judgments. According to Maclntyre, the incommensurability of ethical theories is ultimately due to the failure of the quest for an independent rational justification of morality, an effort taken up by the Enlightenment in its attempt to discover universal first principles of ethics by assuming an unbiased neutral perspective. The attempt to find a ground of morality in something other than religion has occupied modern philosophy since Hobbes first took up the question. He, of course, argued that since reason cannot replace religion, people must agree upon a secular sovereign to adjudicate all matters of disagreement. The notion of a social contract has long been acknowledged as one possible ground of morality, but its premise of individuals' choosing to leave a state of nature in order to form a society is contrary to what we know about the evolution of humans; people are social creatures, and the individual is more the creation of society than the other way around. Kant argued that reason is the only possible ground of morality since it possesses a universal structure, but his emphasis on absolute laws to determine conduct proves too inflexible a guide to the particular affairs of ordinary experience. When absolutes are applied to concrete situations, they either prove incommensurable or fail to provide the content necessary to engage in the concrete situations of life. Bentham proposed the fulfillment of desire as the ground of morality, but was unable to provide the motivation necessary to move from the psychological hedonism of individuals to the ethical hedonism he proposed for the collective.

Rediscovery of the virtues

The enlightened self-interest necessary to realize that my good is best achieved by means of the good of all is evidently rare and difficult for people to acquire. Thus all these attempts failed to provide the necessary ground of morality that was sought, even though some justification independent of religion was still considered fundamentally essential for the establishment of a moral philosophy that would be acceptable in modern times. Maclntyre says that "the breakdown of this project provided the historical background against which the predicaments of our own culture can become intelligible." As a consequence our moral tradition has become broken and fragmented: We have a set of moral rules, but we disagree over what makes them normative. Each theory is internally consistent, given its initial approach, and each provides a cognitive structure for moral decision-making that is sufficient in most cases; yet in taking different approaches in their beginnings, these ethical theories remain incommensurable. Each possesses its own inherent value, but they cannot be evaluated against each other, as they share no common value or standard by which to make a comparison. What this failure shows is that no unbiased neutral perspective is possible, and so, according to Maclntyre, either Nietzsche is correct or moral philosophy must work from within a tradition wherein certain first principles are assumed. In its belief that, once the ignorance and superstition of the past had been removed, a pure perspective would be possible from which a fresh look at things would reveal their true nature and provide for moral certainty, the Enlightenment looked to the future with confidence that human reason could solve problems in the areas where the institution and practice of the Church had failed. Human reason was sufficient to the task, it was believed, and once the obstacles to its natural functioning were removed, it would be able to see the world aright. It is true that many fresh perspectives were presented in intricate, systematic detail, each possessed of an intriguing originality, but no perspective was unbiased and neutral. Each perspective seemed unique, but this was because it was premised on an individual mind abstracted from its environmentself-conscious, and situated somehow behind experience peering out upon it. It is clear now that such an abstraction is purely artificial, since any individual mind is also a human mind, and it will necessarily bring with it the experiences that formed it and the events, conditions, and personalities that shaped it. To this degree, Maclntyre says, Nietzsche is correct that there is no escaping personal bias. To claim, however, that all attempts at moral philosophy are nothing but the exertions of a blind impulsive will to power is unwarranted, because the personal bias one brings is not purely an individual creation but also a product of the patterns of human culture that spawned it. This opens, then, the possibility for an individual mind to turn to engage the traditions that set the conditions for its field of activity. In this case it is


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

inevitable that within a tradition certain first principles are assumed, for, as Maclntyre states, it is a condition for the existence of a tradition at all: [Rjeason can only move towards being genuinely universal and impersonal insofar as it is neither neutral nor disinterested . . . [and] membership in a particular type of moral community, one from which fundamental dissent has to be excluded, is a condition for genuinely rational enquiry and more

especially for moral and theological enquiry.

In arguing for tradition-constituted inquiry, Maclntyre claims that criticism can take place within a living tradition, and that, despite the challenges of relativism to which such tradition-oriented inquiry would seem prone, evaluation among traditions is possible as well. It is crucial to understand that, for Maclntyre, tradition is more than just repetition of the pastconservation of the old just for the sake of its preservation is the worst form of dogma and will inevitably crumble and decay from stagnation. Living traditions are engaged in inquiry that involves criticism and creativity in order to move forward. Maclntyre contends that any tradition must begin with certain beliefs or shared values, but the changing nature of experience adds fuel to the objections that are raised to these beliefs. Engaged in a shared dialectical inquiry, participants in a tradition offer ideas for collective evaluation, some of which at times prove capable of meeting and answering all objections, and become incorporated into the body of shared beliefs. Some of the antecedent beliefs must then give way to new ones, Maclntyre explains, even though something from the past will always be brought forward into the future, since this is what gives a tradition its identity: Theoretical enquiry is constituted by a sequence of questions, ordered both so that questions are generated in accordance with the direction of enquiry and so that, at each stage, what needs to be presupposed or otherwise appealed to in answering the questions of that stage has already been provided. In the posing of each detailed set of questions, the principal answers made available by the various and conflicting traditions which have contributed to the making of this enquiry are set out and evaluated. At every stage what emerges is the outcome of some particular learner's debate with all those distinct pasts.6 Thus criticism is possible within a tradition, since each participant brings a unique perspective to the collective inquiry. No two participants have identical life histories, and although they share common values, how these values are applied to the changing life situations of each individual will vary, thus

Rediscovery of the virtues


sparking creative imagination of alternativesif the tradition is healthy and provides the necessary conditions for such inquiry to take place. Not all do. Maclntyre does recognize that traditions may fall into what he terms an "epistemological crisis" and cease to make progress: Conflicts over rival answers to key questions can no longer be settled rationally. Moreover, it may indeed happen that the use of the methods of enquiry and of the forms of argument, by means of which rational progress had been achieved so far, begins to have the effect of increasingly disclosing new inadequacies, hitherto unrecognized incoherences, and new problems for the solution of which there seem to be insufficient or no resources within the established fabric of belief. Maclntyre is famous for arguing that liberalism is, in fact, a tradition that is now in such a state of crisis, and he says that the only way to escape from such a state is for some adherent of that tradition to bring to it ideas from another tradition that are capable of removing the impasse. Thus criticism of traditions from outside is possible, according to Maclntyre, although it is rare: He limits it to the specific instance when an individual, his own tradition in crisis, has managed to immerse himself sufficiently in a tradition other than his own. If his original tradition has opened up conflicts that prove insoluble, Maclntyre argues that such an individual may be able to bring ideas from a second tradition that are capable of resolving the conflict: "For one view to have emerged from its encounter with another with its claim to superiority vindicated it must first have rendered itself maximally vulnerable to the strongest arguments which that other and rival view can bring to bear against it." In that case, he says, the other adherents of his original tradition would have to recognize the second tradition as superior since it proves able to resolve the problems that caused the crisis in the first place. The best example he gives of this is Aquinas, who was able to merge the two traditions of Aristotelian philosophy and Christianity. Graham explains that "rational superiority is to be found in the circumstances in which one tradition explains the persistent difficulties encountered by another better than the other can itself, and in ways that the adherents of the less successful tradition can recognize." Progress can, perhaps, be resumed, although the future of the revised tradition must include its admission of debt. This seems to be the only time, however, when such criticism is possible: when the tradition itself is in crisis; ordinarily, practical reasoning is strictly limited to the tradition within which one is working. Thus Maclntyre is deeply protective of traditions and draws a sharp limit to external criticism. Maclntyre claims that the best resources for moral inquiry are offered by the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition, of which one of the key ideas is the role of the virtues in leading a good life:


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

My own conclusion is very clear. It is that on the one hand we still, in spite of the efforts of three centuries of moral philosophy and one of sociology, lack any coherent rationally defensible statement of a liberal individualist point of view; and that, on the other hand, the Aristotelian tradition can be restated in a way that restores intelligibility and rationality to our moral and social attitudes and commitments.110 It is this tradition, Maclntyre argues, that has become fragmented in the modern world, so that modern ethical theories generally prescribe very similar moral rules, such as those that value truthfulness, courage, temperance, and justice, but all for different reasons. It is the meta-ethical systems that are incommensurable because of their failure to establish universal principles of ethics. Each ethical theory presents a mainstream view of right conduct, yet when differences arise over questions of justice, for instance, the contrary lines of reasoning which follow from each perspective prove irresolvable. Maclntyre's profound appreciation of history allows him to see that before the advent of modern philosophy, a powerful tradition of moral philosophy existed that had its roots in ancient Greece yet had been incorporated into the Christian moral tradition by Aquinas. A major part of Maclntyre's argument is that one of the defining features of modernity is its rejection of Scholasticism with its basis in Aristotle's philosophy, and with it the rejection of teleology. Descartes, for one, was clear in his rejection of it when he stated that purpose was useless in regard to physics. Maclntyre explains that the reason moral rules seem to have been imposed from some external authority is that we have lost the concept of a telos for mankind; obviously, if the moral rules were to direct us toward human nature as it should become, they will be at variance with human nature as it is now. So the Enlightenment marked the break up of the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition in moral philosophy, even though it has come down to us today in fragments. It has only been in the last few years that the concept of the virtues has even been accepted as a viable conception for modern times; part of the reason for its resurgence lies perhaps in the fact that still, for many people, the quest for living the good life draws the attention and excites wonder. In spite of recognizing the multiplicity of responses that are possible, one still contemplates the possibility of uncovering an answer to this question for oneselfwhat sort of person should I be? This question has not gone away.

Foundations of the virtues For Aristotle, the moral and intellectual virtues are acquired dispositions of character that can be determined for all rational animals since they, as do all species, have certain conditions under which they flourish. Such a naturalistic

Rediscovery of the virtuesT


approach to ethics has much to commend it in modern times. By grounding morality in a biological conception of human nature, Aristotle bypasses the religious and idealist objections that can engage one in endless controversy. All human beings presumably share certain natural conditions in order simply to survive, and just as the observation of more rudimentary forms of life reveals shared conditions under which they prosper, similar conclusions must follow about more complex species such as humankind. Aristotle's conception of human flourishing is manifested in his description of the several virtues that serve as means to and as constitutive of the good life. Aristotle's metaphysical biology has been replaced, of course, by Darwinian evolutionary theory, which leaves the problem today one of agreement on what constitutes human flourishing. But it is not clear that the problem here is the change from one theory of human biological nature to another, for surely the same disagreement over the conditions for human flourishing could be raised regarding Aristotle's view alone. It is one thing to say that the good life is one that is lived according to the virtues, and another to sayjust what those virtues are. Now few would disagree, perhaps, with the virtues of honesty, courage, temperance, and justice, yet what we mean when we speak today of courage or temperance may have changed somewhat from Aristotle's day. No doubt a greater number of people today would object to certain other Aristotelian virtues such as magnificence and high-mindedness. The more that details are added to spell out the conception of the good life, the more particular that conception becomesparticular, we might say, to a certain Athenian ideal of the fourth century BC. The problem, then, is that what begins with a sound basis in the universal conditions for biological life becomes gradually more relative to a particular perspective. In his seminal work, After Virtue, Maclntyre tried to avoid biology altogether by grounding the virtues in the three ideas of a practice, the narrative order of a single life, and a moral tradition, with the virtues deriving from this prior account of our social and moral life. Intended as a continuation of the philosophical tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas, Maclntyre's theory presupposes neither biology nor Christianity. Rather, he grounds the virtues in community life, the activities we engage in with others; even the personal, reflective views we have of our own individual lives he shows to be ordered in our relations with others. These three ideas which he offers as background to the concept of the virtues are not intended to be discrete elements of the conception, but cumulative; all three are necessary in his view, and it is a mistake to focus on any one to the exclusion of the others. The notion of a practice is itself complex. He defines it as follows: By "practice" I am going to mean any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

internal to that activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended. To engage in a practice is to realize what Maclntyre calls "internal goods," which are such that they can only be specified in terms of the practice of which they are goods and "can only be identified and recognized by the experience of participating in the practice in question." As opposed to external goods, which "are always some individual's property and possession," internal goods are "good for the whole community who participate in the practice"; furthermore, to be truly involved in a practice may sometimes require the sacrifice of external goods. The concept of internal goods echoes Aristotle's concept of activity, in which the ends of the action are included within the activity itself; as such, an activity is complete at any time, as opposed to a motion, which takes time for completion. Goods internal to a practice can only be defined within the particular practice wherein they exist, and so participation in the practice is required in order to even experience them, such as the pleasure of striking out the side in a World Series game. According to Maclntyre, another key feature of a practice involves the standards of excellence established by the masters of the practice throughout its history and which serve to define success in the activity, such that a fundamental relationship within a practice is that between the master and the novice. The novice must submit to the authority of the master, who has internalized the standards of excellence, in order to learn how to perform well and so begin to enjoy the internal rewards of excellence in purposeful activity. The process of learning, therefore, is crucial because it is here that the rules of the practice become a guide for future activity and the standards of excellence begin serving to distinguish correct from incorrect actions. It is important to note that the standards of excellence are not chosen by the practitioner; rather, they are inherited from the masters who developed them in the past. As such, the initiate begins a kind of search, or quest, for them. In fact, rather than choosing them the initiate must study, submit to, and emulate them; even in criticizing them, or in open rebellion against them, they serve to define negatively the direction the critic or rebel takes. In addition to this looking backward, the practitioner is also involved in a forward extension of his own powers as they develop along the lines delimited by the practice in which he is engaged. His own progress in stretching his abilities to reach the standards of excellence which define the practice constitutes progress for the practice itself; this can be seen most clearly, if perhaps rarely, when a genius appears every so often to set new standards of excellence for the

Rediscovery of the virtues


practice. Interestingly, this forward direction provides a needed distance to allow for criticism of the practice from inside; that is, given the aims of the practice, failure can be distinguished from success in certain areas. For instance, health-care workers may determine the need for increased attention to pain management. Now we can see how the concept of the virtues fits into this background of
social practices. As M a c l n t y r e says: "A virtue is an acquired human quality the possession and exercise of which tends to enable us to achieve those goods which are intern to practices and the lack of which effectively prevents usfrom achieving any such goods";

the virtues, then, which he lists as "justice, courage, and honesty" are characteristics of human behavior the exercise of which furthers the activities of whatever practice in which we engage. They are human qualities necessary to achieve the internal goods: justice in giving to each what he is due (which can only be known by those engaged in the practice); courage in taking risks necessary to promote the common goals of the practice; and honesty in listening to criticism from others engaged in the activity and speaking truthfully in return. These virtues of character cross boundaries and are not limited to one practice; also, they can be important in criticizing the practice itself from within, for the possibility does exist for practices to be counter to the good life. In fact, the necessity for criticism leads Maclntyre to place them within a larger social and moral context, the narrative order of a single human life. It is an important step in his overall argument when Maclntyre introduces the "concept of a self whose unity resides in the unity of a narrative which links birth to life to death as narrative beginning to middle to end." 15 In order to understand someone's behavior, it is essential to understand his intentions, for without that his behavior can be interpreted in any number of ways. Take for instance, someone at work outside in the yard: is he digging, gardening, exercising, winterizing, or pleasing his wife? Any of these could be both a true and appropriate response. Understanding the person's intentions involves placing his activity in a setting. As Maclntyre says: "We cannot . . . characterize behavior independently of intentions, and we cannot characterize intentions independently of the settings which make those intentions intelligible both to agents themselves and to others." 16 So from a person's behavior we are led to his intentions, which place the activity within a setting, Maclntyre contends, unifying the person's activities within a narrative of his life's story from birth to death. Each individual person finds her- or himself in the middle of thingsas someone's child and someone else's parent, as someone's niece or nephew and someone else's aunt or unclelooking backward toward that from which they have come and forward toward that to which they are going. The point here is that in order to understand anyone's behavior it must be placed within some socially recognized form of activity. This also places it


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

within a history and gives it a narrative form; furthermore, as I am the subject of a narrative that runs from my birth to my death, I am accountable for questions about the purpose of my behavior, and, likewise, I can ask others for an account of their actions. In explaining the final idea involved in composing the complex background for the virtues, the notion of a moral tradition, Maclntyre introduces his conception of man's telosthe element he argues is missing from modern ethical theories and about which there is seemingly so little agreement. He identifies it as the search itself: "[T]he good life for man is the life spent in seeking for the good life for man, and the virtues necessary for the seeking are those which will enable us to understand what more and what else the good life for man is." Again, the notion of history plays a key role in grounding the purpose of human activity and giving meaning to life. Thus to live an authentic life for Maclntyre requires at least some engagement in the tradition of searching for the good lifea centuries-old conversation, or argument, about what makes life worth living. In saying that the good life is to search for the good life, Maclntyre means that the product is the process; that is, the good life is not an end state but the active pursuit of reflective inquiry about how one should live. His point is that one should engage others dialectically within a moral tradition to carry out this life's work because, otherwise, progress cannot be achieved; this is, at least in part, what people who study moral philosophy are doingthat is, searching for the good life. Now some might resent Maclntyre's insistence on such a life of reflection since few people have the means to support such a leisurely pursuit. Some may see no value in such a search; there may be those who are living a very good life without reflecting on it at all. Maclntyre's response would be to point again to the lack of any coherent worldview in contemporary times and the inherent difficulty in achieving consensus on social problems without a shared conception of a universal human good. In his eyes, such a search is therefore necessary, and, in fact, constitutes the good life for man. Most recently, Maclntyre admits that a biological conception of human nature is essential to moral theory, and he further asserts the importance of attention to human vulnerability and disability to reveal our dependency on others. In his latest work, Dependent Rational Animals, he makes a concerte effort to establish clearly the basis of our rational nature in our animal nature; he claims that the identification of what makes an organism vulnerable assumes some conception of its flourishing. In trying to break down the hard line between human and nonhuman animals, Maclntyre presents recent investigations concerning the complex social behavior of dolphins. What he finds is that the behavior of higher animal forms does not present a sharp contrast to prelinguistic human behavior, and he offers a rebuttal of the claims made about radical differences between human and nonhuman

Rediscovery of the virtues


animals that are based on language. Just as language need not be presupposed in attributing beliefs to humans, he says it need not be presupposed in understanding nonhuman animals: "It is therefore in itself no obstacle to ascribing reasons for their actions to the members of nonhuman intelligent species, such as dolphins, that they do not possess the linguistic resources for articulating and uttering those reasons." 18 People often act "without thinking," but prove able later to state the reasons which led them to act in that way. The fact that they do not formulate a statement of intention before they act does not make their action unintelligible. It is one thing to act for a reason, and another to formulate that reason as a proposition. He refers to Malcolm's example of the dog that has chased the cat up a tree and waits below: It is proper to say that the dog believes the cat is up the tree, but not that the dog believes the proposition, "The cat is up the tree." Just as humans come to "read" each other's actions after interacting for a time, Maclntyre argues that humans who spend much time with nonhuman animals can do the same, and this is not to speak metaphorically about beliefs or reasons for action, but to speak naturally: [I]t is because we do have reasons for action prior to any reflection, the kinds of reason that we share with dolphins and chimpanzees, that we have an initial matter for reflection, a starting point for that transition to rationality which a mastery of some of the complexities of language use can provide. Maclntyre argues for a biological basis for the virtues in a universal conception of flourishing that is identical for all species, despite the divergent particulars needed to flesh out the concept for individual species: What it is to flourish is not of course the same for dolphins as it is for gorillas or for humans but it is one and the same concept of flourishing that finds application to members of different animaland plantspecies. And correspondingly it is one and the same concept of needs that finds similar broad application. What a plant or an animal needs is what it needs to flourish qua member of its particular species. And what it needs to flourish is to develop the distinctive powers that it possesses qua member of that species.20 Maclntyre says that humans flourish as independent practical reasoners: "Human beings need to learn to understand themselves as practical reasoners about goods, about what on particular occasions it is best for them to do and about how it is best for them to live out their lives." However, such ability also requires the acknowledgement of our dependency on others. Maclntyre insists that because our relations with others provide the resources for our growth and well-being, these relations of giving and receiving also reveal our mutual dependency on others:


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

Independent practical reasoners contribute to the formation and sustaining of their social relationships, as infants do not, and to learn how to become an independent practical reasoner is to learn how to cooperate with others in forming and sustaining those same relationships that make possible the achievement of common goods by independent practical reasoners. This is a deliberate departure from Aristotle's view of "the high-minded man" and a move closer to Aquinas, for the good life is not one of self-sufficiency independent of others. We are all vulnerable, Maclntyre says, and subject to disease, injury, disability, and harm; at such times we turn to others for assistance: [T]he acquisition of the necessary virtues, skills, and self-knowledge is something that we in key part owe to those particular others on whom we have had to depend. When we finally have become independent reasoners, generally early in our adult lives, many of these relationships of dependence are of course over. Yet this is not true of all of them. For we continue to the end of our lives to need others to sustain us in our practical reasoning. This is a primary fact of human nature, and because we receive such goods, we are obligated to give such goods in return, even though many times we do not repay the particular ones from whom we received, but give to others from whom we have received nothing. Dunne points out that Maclntyre's conception of human flourishing "resides most fully in the exercise of independent practical reasoning; but part of his intention is to show just how deeply beholden to others we are for this very exercisefor its character both as independent and as rational." 24 Dunne is most impressed by the importance of our relationships with others for our own well-being, noting the differences here from so many other moral philosophies that assume moral autonomy as fully present from the beginning; "[rjather," he says, "exercise of the virtues of an independent practical reasoner is in itself shot through with otherness." Maclntyre's conception of the virtues has then expanded to embrace those traits of character that promote human flourishing in the growth of our rational nature from our animal nature and in our dependency on the acts of giving and receiving that constitute our relations with others: If I am to flourish to the full extent that is possible for a human being, then my whole life has to be of a certain kind, one in which I not only engage in and achieve some measure of success in the activities of an independent practical reasoner, but also receive and have a reasonable expectation of receiving the attentive care needed when I am very young, old and ill, or injured.26

Rediscovery of the virtues


Maclntyre lays out two interdependent sets of virtues: those of an independent rational agent and those of a dependent rational animal, both of which are means to and constitutive of human flourishing. Becoming an independent practical reasoner is one essential characteristic of human flourishing. Maclntyre says that one must learn to evaluate reasons as good or bad (a starting point shared with prelinguistic beings), stand back from one's desires, and imagine alternative futures: [T]he practical learning needed, if one is to become a practical reasoner is the same learning needed, if one is to find one's place within a network of givers and receivers in which the achievement of one's individual good is understood to be inseparable from the achievement of the common good. We become independent practical reasoners through the acquisition and exercise of the intellectual and moral virtues, which we owe to those that educated us about how to function well in society. Recognition of our dependency is important because after we become independent practical reasoners we owe to others what they need to become such as well. The virtues of independent practical reasoning, then, are interrelated with the virtues of acknowledged dependence realized in our relationships of giving and receiving. The central virtue of this acknowledged dependence is what Maclntyre calls "just generosity"a combination of justice and generosity so that we "give more than justice requires" in acting from "attentive and affectionate regard" for the other. 28 In other words, one does more for others than follow strict proportional allotment of what is owed; one practices the virtues of charity and misericordiam in the sense of genuine concern and compassio for others. Furthermore, Maclntyre argues that while our relationships with those in our community engage our affections, these virtues extend further beyond, even to strangers who confront us with genuine need. Thus the virtues of giving"industriousness in getting, thrift in saving, and discrimination in giving"arise, as well as the virtues of receiving"gratitude," "courtesy," "forbearance," and "truthful acknowledgement of dependence." In this latest work, then, Maclntyre goes more deeply into our biological and physical existence in relations with others than he had earlier, grounding the virtues in our animal nature and our dependence on others. These conditions present us with basic human needs which, of course, determine the course of our well-being. And he also says more about the nature of human flourishing in this elemental context: that an understanding of our vulnerabilities assumes a structure for human excellence. Human flourishing requires our functioning as independent practical reasoners who, in being accountable to others, engage with others in pursuit of an understanding of the common good; such functioning is made possible in virtue of the characteristics learned from others in evaluating our reasons for action, standing back from our


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

desires, and imagining alternative futures. But this flourishing also involves the acknowledgment of our dependency on others expressed by the virtues ofjust generosityjustice initiated from a sense of charity, beneficence, misericordiama willingness to give more than is demanded by what is proportional. Both of these interdependent sets of virtues are acquired from and exercised in our relations with others of giving and receiving, a network of relations formed in and forming in turn a local community. Nations, Maclntyre says, are too large an arena for such relations to form, and families are too small. A local community is needed, Maclntyre says, wherein each person can engage in and contribute to the pursuit of a common conception of the good"some form of local community within which the activities of families, workplaces, schools, clinics, clubs dedicated to debate and clubs dedicated to games and sports, and religious congregations may all find a place." 30 The ideal of human flourishing, then, is a life in pursuit of the good in accordance with the virtues of acknowledged dependencea life lived in community formed and maintained by the combined pursuit of a common conception of the good life.

The crisis of modernity

A key idea for Maclntyre that runs throughout his work is the importance of the relationship between the moral and the intellectual virtues, especially justice and practical wisdom. It is not clear how sharp a distinction should be drawn between these two classes of virtues, for there is ample evidence that they are closely related to each other. Plato's Republic, for example, begins with a remark about the virtue of listening which would seem to be a moral virtue, but clearly it serves as an important prerequisite for such intellectual virtues as open-mindedness. The basis for the distinction is, of course, in Aristotle, who posited two sorts of objectsthe changing and the unchanging which are reflected in our desires and in our thoughts. To the degree that we distinguish between behavior and thought, the distinction is preserved, but as C. S. Peirce demonstrates in his essay, "The Fixation of Belief," our moral dispositions affect how we settle our intellectual doubts. And some in the current field of virtue epistemology conflate the distinction as well, focusing as they do on the character of the knower for the justification of a belief. Maclntyre's claim echoes Aristotle's, in that understanding what justice demands in a situation requires possession of the virtue itself; in other words, a person must be just in order to exercise practical wisdom. The source of much of our disagreement over contemporary issues is due to our tendency to apply a rule or principle to every situation where there is a conflict. How we apply the rule, however, and even which rule we use, depend on what

Rediscovery of the virtues


particular bias we have, such as a particular religious or political point of view. Before one can determine what justice requires, one must examine the particulars of the situation, that is, exercise a finely tuned sensitivity to the context of the situation. This, of course, is to practice the intellectual virtue otphronesis, and it requires training from an early age involving the imitation of role models. Practical wisdom develops along with moral goodness; one cannot evaluate actions correctly unless one has acquired the correct disposition. The idea that a person may live any way he wishes to live and still be able to judge what is right and wrong in any situation is mistaken. A person cannot cheat others on a regular basis and yet know what justice demands. This is the view encouraged, however, by a principles approach to moral evaluation, which draws a sharp line between belief and practice; all that is needed is the correct set of rules and a willing obedience to their authority. On the contrary, Maclntyre argues that the capacity for practical reasoning is inseparable from an education in the exercise of the moral virtues because practical wisdom and moral excellence develop in a symbiotic relationship. The virtues themselves derive from a conception of the good, projecting what a person could be if he realized his telos. They are characteristics a person develops over a lifetime of making the right choices in pursuit of the good, qualities which enable an individual to do what his role requires and to preserve or restore a just order. Rules are important for training a person, whether it is a child or an apprentice new to a practice. Bypassing the need to explain each decision individually, rules cover many instances and thereby facilitate learning and acclimation to the proper activity; but in describing this process of moral and intellectual development it becomes clear that moral rules are not primary, but rather derive from the virtues. It is easy to see that just having rules is not enough. In Plato's Republic Socrates demonstrated the limitation of such a view with the example of someone who had lent his weapons to another for safe-keeping only to return as a madman in a deranged state asking for them back. Keeping the rule in such a case would be the unjust thing to do. The point is that there will always be exceptions, and that it takes something other than obedience to authority to decide when to follow the rule or not. It requires sensitivity to the circumstances and the context of the situationin other words, it requires practical wisdom, which is developed over a lifetime with others in pursuit of moral excellence. As Aristotle said, all creatures learn by imitating; the novice learns the practice by imitating the master, just as the child learns to be a good person by imitating the right role model. Graham explains that "practical reason will be a matter of relying upon the judgments of those well versed in the moral traditions of specific times and places, and by emulation coming to be able to make judgments in our turn."v This can lead to a charge of circularity, such


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

that the right choice is what thephronimos would do, but aphronimos is identified as the one who makes the right choice. Nevertheless, the circle is broken by the experience that comes from living with others in common pursuit of the good, although Maclntyre says that it is only apparent to one who shares that good. In the end, one is simply left with the dogmatic assertion that there are cases and there are cases. A mother, for example, who abuses her children is a poor mother; on the other hand, the mother who sacrifices personal pleasures or gain by caring for an infirm child is a virtuous mother, and it requires only a minimum of acquaintance with the role of a mother to distinguish the two. Rules are needed for moral education. We become just by performing just acts, but we cannot know which acts to perform until we become justthus the need for good role models; but rules can help here, too. First comes learning to apply the rule and acquiring the disposition to do what the rule prescribes. Next comes learning how to justify the performance of good acts. Then you apply that justification to new cases. But in the advanced stages of moral education, when the movement is from the less to the more complex casesthere is no longer any rule-governed behavior, but the development of moral excellence alongside practical wisdom. They undergo a mutual development, interrelated in growth and maturity through experience. No rule governs this. Ifphronesis were rule-governed, then there would be an infinite regress of rules to govern the application of rules (as Wittgenstein hinted in his Philosophical Investigations). So there must be justification th is not rule-governed, such that an increase in the ability to make more complex judgments is validated by an increase in the adequacy of the conception of the good. Again, there is no circularity here. In developing the conception of the good and the virtues of character, each corrects the other; there is a dialectic between them. In this development, justification can only be made with hindsightbeing able to explain why a mistake was made, and being able to defend a position against all possible objections. Looking forward, the phronimos may have nothing external to his own judgment to which to appeal in making a decision. The difference here is that this is no mere appeal to personal bias or a mask for the will to power; rather, Maclntyre argues that the decision emanates from a practical wisdom that has been attuned to the particularities of life by the pursuit of the good in concert with other members of the community. It is true that one chooses to become just, but it requires time to develop that disposition, and longer still to acquire the virtue. One must purposely subject oneself to situations demanding a just action and consciously choose to do the right thing and do this repeatedly until it becomes natural, a habit. Of course one does not know what the right thing is unless one has been trained, and this training is not an intellectual exercise so much as an organized activity. The reason for the action should be explained as the action is being taken by a role

Rediscovery of the virtues


model providing the guidance. One becomes able to recognize a role model by coming to trust the others around one, those who have helped and cared for one in the past. The virtues begin with fulfilling social roles and expand with maturity to the living of a good life. So it is clear that moral rules can only be general descriptions of what a good and wise person would do; the rules are not primary. First comes the virtuous person who is able to see what the right action is in the particular circumstances; then comes the rule which generalizes this right action for future reference and training purposes. Moral rules are needed by the individual and by the community, but they cannot provide justification for the Tightness of an action. This is another reason why moral inquiry must be constituted in and by a tradition: The conception of the good is not an individual insight but a communal affair. Just as the virtues we acquire from others are formed out of our relations with them, our exercise of these virtues contributes to the well-being of all in the community. These virtues are inculcated in the young so that they will do well and the community prosper. A conception of the good is presupposed in the process of acculturation, one that is held up perhaps in different forms, but one that reflects generally the values of the community. Our relations with others and the goods we hold both individually and in common are ordered by a striving for the human goodwhat provides for and consists in human flourishing. The quest for the human telos unifies the community, including individuals who challenge any conception of the good which is expressed. According to Maclntyre, we are all engaged in this quest; some may be more absorbed in it than others, but it forms the relations we value the most. To engage directly in the quest is to participate in the ongoing tradition of moral philosophy in the search for the good. It is a dialectical quest in which beliefs are proclaimed, objections raised, and objections made to the objections; points of criticism that have withstood all objections become part of the body of knowledge to be proclaimed as subject for dialogue, and so the tradition moves forward. Maclntyre contends that even this dialectical process requires the exercise of the virtues of honesty, courage, temperance, and justice, and we could list more virtues of criticism, creativity, open-mindedness, as well as respect and even reverence for the tradition itself: What emerged from Socrates' confrontation with Gallicles in the Gorgia was that it is a precondition of engaging in rational enquiry through the method of dialectic that one should already possess and recognize certain moral virtues without which the cooperative progress of dialectic will be impossible, something further acknowledged by Plato in the Republic in his identification of those virtues the practice of which must precede initiation into philosophical community and by Aristotle in his account of the


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

inseparability of the moral and the intellectual virtues in both political and philosophical community. 32 "A living tradition," according to Maclntyre, "is an historically extended, socially embodied argument, and an argument precisely in part about the goods which constitute that tradition." Maclntyre discusses three major moral traditions, or traditions of inquiry: the Aristotelian, the Augustinian, and the Humean. Such a tradition of inquiry is at least partially denned by its adherents becoming aware of the existence and direction of the tradition and by their confronting the current problems in an effort to further the tradition in its progress. Of course within a tradition there is conflict: As a participant engages in the inquiry he can only do so by assuming certain beliefs as given, from which the tradition has generated a set of problems to confront. So the tradition looks both backward and forward: backward to the discussion of the great questions of the past and the intellectual efforts to define and position the inquiry, and forward to the resolution of current problems of thought. It is the process begun by the Melisians centuries ago: Thales first proposed a theory, and Anaximander studied it, criticized it, and proposed a revision to the theory to meet the criticism; then Anaximenes did the same with Anaximander's revised theorystudy, criticism, and further revision. Thus the tradition of inquiry was born and continues today in several different areas of human interest, not the least of which is moral philosophy. Maclntyre argues that the method of doing moral philosophy is bound within traditions: We submit to the given beliefs of one of the great thinkers of the past in an effort to understand him. Part of that effort is always to question or criticize these ideas while offering a proposal or revision to meet the criticism. In doing so, Maclntyre explains, the tradition of enquiry is carried forward: The standards of achievement within any craft are justified historically. They have emerged from the criticism of their predecessors and they are justified because and insofar as they have remedied the defects and transcended the limitations of those predecessors as guides to excellent achieve-

ment within that particular cr

Maclntyre argues that liberalism (that loose collection of social, political, economic, and ethical views that generally value the promotion of individual freedom, toleration of individual preferences, and the rule of constitutional law) now constitutes a tradition. In defining itself in its rejection of all traditions as stultifying to free thought, it promotes the value of tolerance, yet it has proven to be intolerant of contrary views. As the Enlightenment rejected what it saw as the ignorance and superstition of the past, the philosopher felt himself to be emancipated, standing alone in a new era of thought, where principles universal to man could be entertained for the first time and be accepted or

Rediscovery of the virtues


rejected on the basis of their intrinsic value. The philosopher could stand alone, outside all obscurantist traditions, and see clearly and distinctly to judge the true relations of things. No hindrance to thought was to be tolerated; rather, the value was freedom of speech and discussion. Now because it became wedded to the political ideals of liberty and equality, it stood ready to solve all major impediments to human happiness. However, one by one the universal principles once proposed have fallen to criticism until none has survived; attempts have been made, especially by Kant and Mill, to secure a ground for the establishment of a theory of morality with which to adjudicate among rival views, but they have all failed. Maclntyre says that "gradually less and less importance has been attached to arriving at substantive conclusions and more and more to continuing the debate for its own sake"; and our legal system has evolved as an arena "in which conflict resolution takes place without invoking any overall theory of human good." Maclntyre concludes that no unbiased neutral perspective is possible, and the effort of modern philosophers to assume one in their search for universal first principles is what has led to the emergence of liberalism itself as a tradition. The effort of the northern European Enlightenment to throw off the ignorance and superstition of the past and proclaim the liberty, rationality and self-interest of the individual set the conditions for what was believed to be a fresh, unbiased perspective upon the real without the blinders of the heavy traditions of the pastespecially Scholasticism, which the new science was not only proving to be wrong, but to be dangerous. The principles discoveredby Hobbes in a social contract to escape the state of nature and establish a society, by Kant in the most universal structures of reason, and by Mill in the psychological motivators of pain and pleasureare signs of the varied thought that ruled the day. The social, political, and economic forces provided the background conditions for the emergence of liberty and equality as fundamental ideals in moral philosophy as well. Liberalism grew from this assertion of individualism and intellectual freedom to pursue universal principles which would rule by consent of all. However, as is evident, no universal principles have been able to draw a consensus; each, in fact, begins with a dogmatic assumption. So the forces of liberalism have emerged as conditions to sustain the search for such principles, although they cannot be agreed on, guaranteeing freedom of choice among the possibilities to all, and preventing the imposition of any one. Maclntyre's point is that such forces in fact not only promote this individualistic liberalism as a conception of the good but impose it over any other, and so liberalism constitutes a tradition unto itself: "[Ljiberal theory is best understood, not at all as an attempt to find a rationality independent of tradition, but as itself the articulation of an historically developed and developing set of social institutions and forms of activity, that is, as the voice of a tradition." 36


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

The several ethical theories which exist today are incommensurable because of the failure to establish a purely objective stance from which to judge them, yet the political reality has continued to push for independence of thought, holding up the virtue of tolerance expressed in the maxim that no one's conception of the good is to be forced on anyone else. Maclntyre lays bare the inconsistency in the idea of free thinking as an absolute value. Each person is free to pursue his own conception of happiness unless that conception includes imposing his conception upon someone elsethat is not allowed. So, in fact, it becomes clear that no conception of the good life contrary to that of liberalism itself is to be tolerated; to the degree that one proposes a particular conception of the good life, it can be entertained in thought, but is never to be implemented among others. Thus liberalism, despite its claim to be the only open-minded venue of thought, is, in fact, close-minded after all. It can now be seen that liberalism does in fact constitute a tradition because it is aware of itself and its direction, and because there are those who engage in confronting the current problems with a view to resolving them in the future; however, it has reached the stage where no resolution is possible, predicated as it is on an illusionthe illusion of the detached eye looking from a purely objective position. As Maclntyre says: "[I]t is an illusion to suppose that there is some neutral standing ground, some locus for rationality as such, which can afford

rational resources sufficient for enquiry independent of all traditions."

Thus liberalism is a tradition in crisis.

Notes 1. Maclntyre, A., After Virtue [hereinafter AF], 8. 2. Maclntyre, A., Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry [hereinafter 77? 3. Maclntyre, AV, 12. 4. Ibid., 39. 5. Maclntyre, 772F, 59-60. 6. Ibid., 79. 7. Maclntyre, A., Whose Justice? Which Rationality? [hereinafter WJWR], 362. 8. Maclntyre, TRV, 181. 9. Graham, G., "Maclntyre on history and philosophy," 35. 10. Maclntyre, AV, 259. 11. Ibid., 187. 12. Ibid., 188-9. 13. Ibid., 190-1. 14. Ibid., 191. 15. Ibid., 205. 16. Ibid., 206. 17. Ibid., 219.

Rediscovery of the virtues

18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24.


Maclntyre, A., Dependent Rational Animals [hereinafter DRA], 24-5. Ibid., 56. Ibid., 64. Ibid., 67. Ibid., 74. Ibid., 96. Dunne, J., "Ethics revised: flourishing as vulnerable and dependent: a critical notice of Alasdair Maclntyre's Dependent Rational Animals," 348. 25. Ibid., 349. 26. Maclntyre, DRA, 108. 27. Ibid., 113. 28. Ibid., 121-2. 29. Ibid., 126-7. 30. Ibid., 135. 31. Graham, "Maclntyre on history and philosophy," 30. 32. Maclntyre, TRV, 60. 33. Maclntyre, AV, 222. 34. Maclntyre, TRV, 64. 35. Maclntyre, WJWR, 344. 36. Ibid., 345. 37. Ibid., 367.

Reconstruction of ethics

In this chapter I attempt to construct a limited but consistent picture of what I take to be Dewey's moral philosophy. Certainly other interpretations along these lines are possible, but I do not believe that many would disagree with the essential elements that I lay out. I begin by drawing upon Dewey's analysis of human conduct in terms of habits to develop a conception of the virtues in moral experience as he describes it. I do not intend to place Dewey in the virtue ethics camp (if one actually exists), but he does have much to say about the virtues and the development of character. I then examine Dewey's notion of consummatory experience as growth in order to determine how it might function in the distinction of virtues and vices. Again, Dewey does not accept traditional views of eudaimonia, but he does offer clarification about the good in human experience. Finally, I discuss Dewey's critique of modern moral philosophy and attempt to characterize his own view in contrast to it. Dewey's work is difficult to confine because it is enormous, comprehensive, and radical; nevertheless, it can provide valuable insight into a rich and powerful approach to morality using the virtues that is distinct from the dominant deontological and consequentialist approaches. Dewey requires sensitivity to the context of particular situations wherein moral problems arise, and calls for intelligent action in their resolution; in the consummation of these active forces he envisions the construction of good as a result. His way is demanding but extraordinarily promising.

The virtues in experience

Dewey begins by accepting Darwinian evolutionary theory as the biological background for morality. This places him in sharp contrast to Aristotle, who also based his claims about the virtues and human flourishing on his biological understanding of man, but since species, according to him, were unchanging, they provided an absolute foundation for his claims about morality. Darwin's theory of evolution, however, challenges the immutability of species, arguing that they evolve over time and so are constantly changing. In fact, Darwinian evolutionary theory takes a more nominalistic approach to the whole question of what a species is: It is a name for a general group of individuals. As time passes and natural conditions change, new groups of individuals adapt and

Reconstruction of ethics


emerge, leading to new classifications of species. Thus Dewey works from a background of biological flux wherein species classification is imposed upon individual life forms for ordering purposes. This view impacts all areas of his moral philosophy. Nature, according to Dewey, includes the organism interacting with its environment, which means that each affects and is affected by the other. This allows him to interpret nature as constituted by events, or "histories" as he calls them, rather than substances: It is significant that "life" and "history" have the same fullness of undivided meaning. Life denotes a function, a comprehensive activity, in which organism and environment are included. Only upon reflective analysis does it break up into external conditionsair breathed, food taken, ground walked uponand internal structureslungs respiring, stomach digesting, legs walking. Through reflection upon our primary experience we may distinguish the organism from its environment, but they are never wholly distinct. The actions of the organism create change in the environment, but at the same time the environment conditions those actions; each takes in and expels the other. So it is clear that neither exists independently, and neither is selfsufficient; the inclusive process is what is real. Nevertheless, Dewey explains, distinctions may be posited by selective emphasis of conscious reflection, and given such a perspective, particular processes may be framed with purpose and histories take shape. So, according to Dewey, the human organism is not separate from the natural world, but included within the natural processes of life. Nor is experience a private state to be investigated through brooding introspection; experience is experience of nature, Dewey says, manifested in its wholeness and all its particularities. The twoexperience and naturedo not confront one another as antecedent substances; rather, there is one world, one nature, and one experience in process. The natural processes which experience reveals are the processes which experience and nature undergo. Philosophy, says Dewey, has labored for too long under the bifurcation of experience and naturethe artificial separation of man from the natural processes of life, placing experience in a separate world of pure essences of thought that reflect the way in which we experience nature distinct from nature itself. According to Dewey, this illusion has caused philosophy to despair of change and to disparage the temporary and particular, so much so that it has become greatly abstracted from living men and women. Dewey seeks an understanding of human nature that is natural, that liberates philosophy from a decrepit attachment to ancient forms and separate realities, and that returns thought to the richness and abundance of this life. The belief that objective standards of


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

thought and action can be distilled from ordinary experience is central to Dewey's moral philosophy. His method is to engage in reflection upon primary experience in order to enrich our understanding through relations of meanings shared with others; the key is to accept this reflective experience as part of nature as wellas natural, rather than separateand then to return to primary experience in order to verify discoveries. This, according to Dewey, is what allows modern science to achieve its remarkable success, manifested in our increasing control over experience. So it is with the modern biological approach to human conduct and morality that Dewey wants to work. All life processes begin with need, he says, which the organism seeks to fulfill, and, to the extent possible, it experiences satisfaction in the resolution of the original difficulty. For Dewey, nature is constituted by events, and for living organisms the events are the efforts to satisfy needs. All life forms have fundamental requirements which they must fulfill in order to survive; thus human conduct also begins from needs which are to be met through interaction with the environment because, according to Dewey, such a state of need is not subjective but an objective and natural condition. A successful outcome brings an end to the particular process, but of course not all efforts are successful; sometimes a series of efforts will follow from a particular need and continue until either the need is met, or the efforts blocked, or the organism dies. In any case, both the organism and its environment are transformed by the process such that if it is successful the possibility of ensuing interactions is thereby enhanced, but if the need is left unresolved it presents a recurring obstacle to further growth. Most needs are met by habitual activity which has proven sufficient to resolve similar situations with a minimum of effort. The organism is guided into the future by repetition in itself and in its environment. Efforts to satisfy need that are successful stratify into layers of accumulated activity which channel new efforts along old paths. Habitual activity can be seen to dominate all life processes, from the simple to the complex, including human behavior. For these reasons, habit is a fundamental element in Dewey's conception of human conduct and for his moral philosophy. Human behavior is simply a more complex form of the satisfaction of need through effort and is likewise habitual, yet human beings have a greater range of needs and are capable of a greater variety of satisfactions; furthermore, Dewey explains, the social environment for humans is in some ways more significant than the natural environment: [Sjince habits involve the support of environing conditions, a society or some specific group of fellow-men, is always accessory before and after the fact. Some activity proceeds from a man; then it sets up reactions in the surroundings. Others approve, disapprove, protest, encourage, share and

Reconstruction of ethics


resist. Even letting a man alone is a definite response. Envy, admiration and imitation are complicities. Neutrality is non-existent. Conduct is always shared; this is the difference between it and a physiological process. Now we ordinarily think of habits as mindless routine or annoying tendencies we would rather not have, while our more positive forms of behavior we claim as voluntary choices made freely. Dewey's point, however, is that our choices are not made as freely and spontaneously as we might think, nor are our habits as mindless as we suppose. It is important to keep in mind that, for Dewey, a habit is not the sole possession of an organism, but a product of the interaction of organism and its environment; both are implicated in habitual activity: The social environment acts through native impulses and speech and moral habitudes manifest themselves. There are specific good reasons for the usual attribution of acts to the person from whom they immediately proceed. But to convert this special reference into a belief of exclusive ownership is as misleading as to suppose that breathing and digesting are complete within the human body. To get a rational basis for moral discussion we must begin with recognizing that functions and habits are ways of using and incorporating the environment in which the latter has its say as surely as the former. Habits are acquired from the earliest age, and, partly because human infants are relatively more vulnerable and dependent than nonhuman animals, Dewey argues that the main source of our habits is other people. We learn them through imitation and repetition of the actions of those closest to us, forming a storehouse of potential activitiesprocesses gained from channeling activity into well-worn paths. The accumulation of habits follows alongside our maturation, allowing a continual expansion of the range of our behavior. Because we are more complex animals, our needs are more varied, allowing a greater scope of possible forms of satisfaction, but they are also, then, more difficult to satisfy, requiring more effort of a complicated variety. As Aristotle commented, human beings are capable of higher forms of activity and thus possess greater capacity for living, but for the same reason, there is also greater possibility of failing to achieve the good as it is more difficult and the way more fraught with obstacles and danger. Now because the experience of satisfaction can be attained through effort, it is capable of being controlled, which Dewey says is the role of intelligence. When conditions change (as they constantly do, whether in the organism or in its environment) habits may prove ineffective, and the organism will act impulsively, striking out in unpredictable ways because of the obstruction:


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

For it is a commonplace that the more suavely efficient a habit the more unconsciously it operates. Only a hitch in its workings occasions emotion and provokes thought. . . . Normally, the environment remains sufficiently in harmony with the body of organized activities to sustain most of them in active function. But a novel factor in the surroundings releases some impulse which tends to initiate a different and incompatible activity, to bring about a redistribution of the elements of organized activity between those that have been respectively central and subsidiary.6 Dewey claims that it is in the resolution of uncertainty or conflict that intelligence appears, bringing tremendous power and satisfaction to the human collective in controlling its interaction with the environment: As organized habits are definitely deployed and focused, the confused situation takes on form, it is "cleared up"the essential function of intelligence. Processes become objects. Without habit there is only irritation and confused hesitation. With habit alone there is a machine-like repetition, a duplicating recurrence of old acts. With conflict of habits and release of impulse there is conscious search. In the more rudimentary life forms this behavior is no more than trial and error, Dewey says, but through knowledge and experimentation humans can understand what conditions will lead to desired consequences and thus control them. When faced with an interruption of habitual behavior, the intelligent organism can rehearse in its imagination several possible courses of action which it has acquired from past experience until it comes upon one which releases activity from the obstruction and reengages it in pursuit of satisfaction. In such deliberative episodes, it is the means to resolution of the difficulty at hand that promises satisfaction. With the more complex repertoire that humans possess, such means become meanings shared in communication with others, coded in language, and retained as knowledge. At the same time, impulsive behavior can be controlled through the method of experimentation; by constructing certain stable conditions within which activity is allowed to drive forward, knowledge is corrected and expanded, provided it is verified in experience along the way. Furthermore, with greater purposive changes in the natural world arise greater challenges in return from the environment to which human activity must adapt; as a result, both the organism and its environment are increasingly and more extensively transformed. Habits can be greatly improved through transformations brought on by intelligent interaction with the environment. By providing a constant check on individual conduct, such interaction creates a dynamic potential for the expansion of intelligence. Because each individual stands in a unique place,

Reconstruction of ethics


he or she brings an impetus to change, while the environment provides the structure and conditions for such change to be meaningful; this synergetic interaction of organism and environment is capable of meeting the continual demand for adaptation to the flux of nature. Experience is greatly enriched through such interaction because habits are refined as their numbers increase. Each generation can benefit from the collective intelligence of the past, and as long as opportunity is provided for future growth, the improvement of habits and enrichment of experience will continue. Habits that tend to expand the number and range of human interests further the capacity for greater and wider experience, while habits that tend to limit the development of new and other habits hinder further growth and development. In the latter case, the human being is less able to entertain creative and innovative activities, and the experience becomes more encased in repetitive behavior and routine conduct; such limited experience tends to reinforce its already deepened channels of activity, until it becomes very unusual to strike out in new ways except, perhaps, in a wild and uncontrolled fashion. On the other hand, the development and exercise of habits that lead into new areas of experience tend to create more varied and complex forms of experience; by being open to new and different paths of inquiry, a person is better able to adapt to the changes in the environment and the challenges they present. Rather than sinking deeper into routine and becoming antagonistic toward change, a person is more able to engage in controlled innovative activity. The ideal is intelligent creativity, and certain habits characterize this ideal while others do not; knowing the difference is crucial for happiness. Fortunately, Dewey explains, such dispositions are not impenetrable aspects of individual psychology, but elements of human experience open to reflective analysis: Honesty, chastity, malice, peevishness, courage, triviality, industry, irresponsibility are not private possessions of a person. They are working adaptations of personal capacities with environing forces. All virtues and vices are habits which incorporate objective forces. They are interactions of elements contributed by the make-up of an individual with elements supplied by the outdoor world. They can be studied as objectively as physiological functions, and they can be modified by change of either personal or social elements. As we are social by nature, it is society that engenders these dispositions by approval and disapproval from the earliest age. According to Dewey: "Liability is the beginning of responsibility. We are held accountable by others for the consequences of our acts. They visit their like and dislike of these consequences upon us." Each generation acculturates its young into patterns of


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

behavior that will allow them to function well within that society; Dewey says that we pass on what we think is valuable to the ones who come after us: "Our individual habits are links in forming the endless chain of humanity. Their significance depends upon the environment inherited from our forerunners, and it is enhanced as we foresee the fruits of our labors in the world in which our successors live." This bringing forward of the past links us more intimately as a culture, surrounding the young with an environment conducive to their transition into adulthood and beyond. Making the old new again is the source of living cultures, and just as some habits further human experience while others limit it, the institutions and practices of a culture which inculcate these dispositions into its young can be distinguished or evaluated in the same way. Cultures that tend to value goods that require displacement of the natural environment without regard for future relations will create habits that are similarly wasteful in individuals, and cultures that exclude half of their population, such as all the women, from decision-making are inherently limited in their potential for intelligent innovation and adaptation to the changing environment. Now just as some cultures can be intolerant of change, some cultures can provide opportunities for experimentation and growth, but Dewey contends that the interaction between the individual and his social environment is what fuels the transformation of each, whichever direction it takes, for good or ill. So, for Dewey, certain habits can be classified as virtuesnamely, those acquired dispositions that are effective in satisfying needs in the changing conditions of the natural and social environment and that enhance the capacity for greater and wider experience in the future. At first there would seem to be an indefinite number of such dispositions, as each person, situation, and need will be unique; but general patterns do emerge. Certain dispositions prove to be more fruitful than others. It is habit, after all, that allows us to meet our needs in a world of constant change; furthermore, our culture passes on the general dispositions that time has proven to be more effective. The processes of maturation and growth also tend to stabilize dispositions that promote healthy development, and society should adjust the conditions for development and opportunities for innovation with a view toward this overall well-being. Through all of this, however, no matter how complex human conduct becomes, it is the general biological pattern of the satisfaction of need through intelligent effort that forms the basis of our interaction with nature and with each other, transforming us into the creatures of profound experience that we are. No doubt the virtues are possible because our habits interpenetratethe exercise of one affects all the others to a degree. Human behavior is complex because any one habit is parallel to and intersects with others; they are not just

Reconstruction of ethics


blind channels of routine, but complex interrelated forms of behavior that impact on one another. One reason for so many different dispositions lies in the shades of nuance they display in their interaction when in effect. Any one characteristic is blended with others. This does not hinder the effectiveness of conduct, but rather enhances it, as it provides not just a greater number of habits, but a richness and coloration of all. The depth and complexity of human behavior is not a machine-like repetition of vast numbers of fast operations, but a repertoire of ways of acting and reacting that are seasoned and refined with experience. Dewey calls this interpenetration of habits "character": "Were it not for the continued operation of all habits in every act, no such thing as character could exist. There would be simply a bundle, an untied bundle at that, of isolated acts. Character is the interpenetration of habits." 11 Furthermore, those characters whose habits are more integrated are stronger and more stable, says Dewey, while the less integration of habits, the more divided and fragmented the character: Of course interpenetration is never total. It is most marked by what we call strong characters. Integration is an achievement rather than a datum. A weak, unstable, vacillating character is one in which different habits alternate with one another rather than embody one another. The strength, solidity of a habit is not its own possession but is due to reinforcement by the force of other habits which it absorbs into itself. One way of putting this is to say that a person is what he does. One of the clearest signs of insincerity is hypocrisythe conflict between the character that a person claims and the character that is manifested in action. Stability of disposition is a mark of intelligent control of one's behavior through training and experiencenot that there is less innovation and experimentation, for these are qualities of virtuous behavior in general; but because all aspects of one's character are involved in the formation of the virtues and in their exercise, the collective disposition itself takes on a particular color. Thus no one action or habit predominates because they interpenetrate one another. Habits that are not integrated, such that contrary impulses are excited, cause turmoil in the character wherein these conflicting, disjointed habits are bred. Integration of habits, however, provides for their harmonious functioning. Since each aspect of character is affected by every other, control of their coordination provides for more intelligent behavior, more stability in conduct, and greater strength in one's efforts, and since the formation of character is in our control, at least one focus of moral philosophy should be on what sort of character one wants to develop, what sort of person one wants to become.


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

The consummation of experience in growth

Since any particular interaction of an organism and its environment begins from need, Dewey views human behavior as naturally teleological, but his understanding of ends, as well as means, is rather different from most traditional conceptions. Means signify and culminate in their ends; ends possess in themselves the fruition of the conditions and effort that provide for their existence. Ends, for Dewey, do not hold the hallowed status of values as in some other theories. What makes an end valuable is not its relationship to some higher-order principles of conduct or to a fixed, unchanging good, nor is it valuable just because it is enjoyed; rather, it is only when it is mixed with human intelligence and endeavor that it can be recognized as worthy of being enjoyed. We must understand the conditions of its creation as well as the impact its existence will have on the future in order to judge its value. Because nature is constituted by events or histories, ends can be distinguished from means, even though they remain aspects of the one process of the satisfaction of need through effort. Habitual activity is formed in response to such natural processes. When there is uncertainty about which good to pursue, or when there is an intervening obstruction to satisfaction, the organism seeks the means to its resolution so as to release activity. When humans are faced with such conflict, the means to its resolution becomes the "end-inview" which, when attained, releases activity, resulting in what Dewey calls the consummation of experiencea primary value in the moral life. So means and ends are not antecedent to human activity, but emerge from within that activity itself; and as nature is in flux, the ends of activity become means to further ends. Means and ends arise, then, within the processes or events of nature and, given intelligent involvement, they may be distinguished or abstracted from the history that unfolds; nonetheless, Dewey argues, they are bound to the particular process in which they arise. Ends can be a source of pain or pleasure, but when they fulfill desire they are naturally enjoyed. For Dewey, there are natural ends and those that result from purposeful activity. We encounter ends in nature when we observe the processes or cycles of life, such as the falling of leaves after the summer days and before the advent of winter. Other ends arise as the result of our own actions, such as landing the shimmering fish that breaks the water, hooked at the end of our line. The many processes of life can have many different resolutions, and the experience of such a resolution, whether it be for good or ill, marks a transformation, an experience that will not return again. We seek, of course, at least to repeat it if it is pleasurable or fulfilling; on the other hand, if it is painful or damaging, we seek to shorten it if possible, or at least to avoid it in the future.

Reconstruction of ethics


Means are the conditions for such endsthe relations among qualities which allow intelligent control of the outcome. Much of human activity involves securing the most fruitful and efficient means to satisfaction of our needs; as Dewey says: "Through instrumental arts, arts of control based on study of nature, objects which are fulfilling and good, may be multiplied and rendered secure." One look at how people have transformed the environment around them to serve their needs, and conditioned the natural world to provide their goods with a minimum of effort, demonstrates the power given by intelligent control of the means for the attainment or the avoidance of ends. The knowledge that comes from experience is a catalog of the relations among objects and events as they arise, and experimentation with these relations raises awareness of new possibilities and cautions us of dangers. When we act with purpose, we attempt to establish the conditions that are right for the good we seek, so that we can predict what experiences will follow and which can be avoided. Knowledge is power, but knowledge of means is intelligence and control. Qualities are the most primary experiences of nature, Dewey explains, objects of appreciation in their immediacy; they are had or felt, but not known, yet they are the goods and ills of life: [I]n every event there is something obdurate, self-sufficient, wholly immediate, neither a relation nor an element in a relational whole, but terminal and exclusive. Here, as in so many other matters, materialists and idealists agree in an underlying metaphysics which ignores in behalf of relations and relational systems, those irreducible, infinitely plural, undefinable and indescribable qualities which a thing must have in order to be, and in order to be capable of becoming the subject of relations and a theme of discourse. 14 Human experience is characterized by the enjoyment of qualities, the colors, feelings, tastes, smells, the beautiful and the joyful, as well as the ugly, the sorrowful, the painful, and the many other qualities which are not enjoyed but are nonetheless real. Qualities are the objects and events in human experience that draw us out and lead us on. Dewey says that they cannot be described; they are not objects of knowledge, but felt experiences complete in themselves. We enjoy them because they satisfy, but they are fragile and fleeting. They arrest our attention, and we want them to last, but experience reveals that as soon as the enjoyment of quality is directly felt, it becomes an opening onto something else. What is known is the relations among qualities, the conditions that may result in desired consequences or may prevent those ends which we wish to avert. Qualities are immediate and ineffable. Reflection concerns


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

the connections among them, the conditions for their occurrence. We learn to control these conditions, and when it is our actions that bring them about, we experience the consummation of our labor. We enjoy such creations in a different way from those ends we encounter in nature because of the labor and effort we mix into them; they are fulfilling, allowing us to join in their finality and completion and in their movement toward new possibilities. In reflection, the means to the experience of qualities become the possibilities of such enjoyment, pointing to and signifying that to which they lead. Dewey says that "the sciences were born of the arts"; 15 the enjoyable qualities of nature fill us with desire which drives us toward our recreating the experience through manipulation and control of the conditions for its existence. For Dewey, the sciences are not threatening to the experience of value, but powerful systems of its production and maintenance. Means and ends, then, are correlative terms, aspects of one and the same process, for means culminate in ends, and ends are produced by means; so Dewey says that there is no real chasm between science or technology, which concerns means, and the experience of ends in art or moral conduct: "Reduction of natural existences to the status of means thus presents nothing inherently adverse to possessed and appreciated ends, but rather renders the latter a more secure and extensive affair." Ends are primary but fleeting; science allows control over their creation. Ends in nature are genuine endings, but they can be good or bad, so the ability to control the experience of ends provides for a more fulfilling life. Purposeful human activity that overcomes difficulty culminates in direct enjoyment; this is the fundamental character of value and excellence in human experience. For Dewey, ethics is directly related to ordinary life. By breaking down the bifurcation of science as practical and art as contemplative, Dewey is "defining value by enjoyments which are the consequences of intelligent action. Without the intervention of thought, enjoyments are not values but problematic goods, becoming values when they re-issue in a changed form from intelligent behavior." 17 The intelligent construction of these consummations of experience requires reflection upon the relations discovered among qualities which can be ordered to conditions conducive to satisfaction of needs. This sets up the distinction Dewey makes between the satisfying and the satisfactory the former is immediate, but the latter is a product of reflection: "To say that something satisfies is to report something as an isolated finality. To assert that it is satisfactory is to define it in its connections and interactions." Again, an object is not valuable just because it is enjoyed. We all recognize that sometimes we are better off avoiding certain enjoyments. Usually this is because of the relations between the particular object or event and others. Something is deemed valuable in virtue of its interrelationships with other goods and ills of life.

Reconstruction of ethics


For Dewey, goods are constructed within experience, and the point is to direct our interaction with the environment for the betterment of life. In the processes through which humans come to satisfy needs, the consummation of such experience is considered good, but such goods are not antecedent to the process of their creation. It is a common experience that products of one's own creation are more meaningful because of the effort and design that go into them. Control of the conditions to generate satisfaction is what provides meaning in the activity, culminating in the good: A casual liking is one that happens without knowledge of how it occurs nor to what effect. The difference between it and one which is sought because of a judgment that it is worth having and is to be striven for, makes just the difference between enjoyments which are accidental and enjoyments that have value and hence a claim upon our attitude and conduct. We desire the satisfactory, but knowledge of goods antecedent to experience does not have the certainty of absolute and universal truth. The prediction of particular goods is an important factor in intelligent activity, but there is no fixed hierarchy of goods, and no one good is final and unchanging. Dewey says that "in the practice of science, knowledge is an affair of making sure, not of grasping antecedently given sureties. . . . Truths already possessed may have practical or moral certainty, but logically they never lose a hypothetic quality." 20 All goods are particular goods experienced within the temporary context of local conditions. Indeed, it is the local conditions that form the good; thus, no good can be outside the natural world. As needs arise within the actual circumstances of life, they are each particular to the local situation. To the degree that these needs are met through our effort, the experience of their satisfaction is a deepening and enriching consequence. Yet the meaning embodied in the good when constructed in this way is not as time-bound as the situation itself, for the understanding of the effort and conditions that went into its construction is shared through communication; furthermore, the individual is transformed through this interaction as his environment is changed. Now, according to Dewey, there is not just a plurality of goods; there is an indefinitely large number of them, and each is contextualized to a particular time and place. Because the good is constructed within experience, it is bound by the particular conditions in which it arises. The good which results in any one situation is a unique creation ofjust that time and place. The natural and social conditions are implicated along with the human activity, as these interact with each other, and to change any one of these conditions changes the result, no matter how slightly. For these reasons a catalog of human goods could never be complete, as the possibilities for the future could never be defined exhaustively.


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

Yet a kind of ordering is possible because some goods further the expansion and liberation of human energies more than others; and because human activity has a role in structuring those goods, a general description is possible in terms of human conduct as well. Not only are some habits more successful, but some of the aims of activity are more conducive to further and other future goods. According to Dewey: "The more numerous our habits the wider the field of possible observation and foretelling. The more flexible they are, the more refined is perception in its discrimination and the more delicate the presentation evoked by imagination." 21 Likewise, some goods are more limiting than others of future potential for the development of deeper and varied interests. One's natural and social environment does determine the range and scope of human activity, but because of the transforming power of interaction, the potential for change is there, and it can serve either to facilitate innovation and experimentation or obstruct the flow of opportunity and growth. Because human goods and the effort involved in their construction are inclusive of each other, a standard of value emerges from within experience by which to judge them in terms of their fecundity for alternative futures. To the degree that generalizations can be made about the satisfactory, the best methods to use when engaged in satisfaction of needs can be conceived of as virtues and their integration as development of character. We see in Dewey a focus on the development of character as key to the enrichment of experience throughout life: Expertness of taste is at once the result and the reward of constant exercise of thinking. . . . The formation of a cultivated and effectively operative good judgment or taste with respect to what is esthetically admirable, intellectually acceptable and morally approvable is the supreme task set to human beings by the incidents of experience. Here, then, in Dewey, is a rich foundation for the virtues in the development of character for the sake of our well-being: "Wide sympathy, keen sensitiveness, persistence in the face of the disagreeable, balance of interests enabling us to undertake the work of analysis and decision intelligently are the distinctively moral traitsthe virtues or moral excellencies." Just as some habits are virtues, some goods are better than others. Such a symbiotic relationship should not be surprising, as it is our habits that have formed as pathways to our varied goods, and the goods are valued because of the experience of traveling the paths. The ends we determine for the resolution of our needs call forth the effort to create them, and the conduct by which we achieve their fulfillment results in the consummation of the experience as a whole. To the degree that human activity satisfies a need, it is good, and a large part of the strength of Dewey's view is that values, the goods and ills of

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life, are generated from and have their existence within the local conditions of the natural world. Thus individual goods are not abstracted from natural goods or social goods, for they are outgrowths of the interaction of all these forces: the individual, the social, and the natural. Intelligent activity, however, works to control the direction of human experience toward greater well-being. Mindless routine, for example, is a sign that the flow of intelligent activity has been dammed up and the goods hoarded by the few who control the resources of opportunity. In a healthy environment, information flows freely along lines channeled for increasing opportunities for adaptation to change. Human activity should be directed toward the creation of fulfilling experience and not toward temporary swells of energy that return upon themselves, blocking the vision of other possibilities. Dewey is very close to Aristotle here, who also argued, contra Plato, that there are many and various goods which people seek. But Aristotle was not content to leave it at that, for he viewed these goods as forming a hierarchy in terms of goods being instrumental to further goods; ultimately, he argued, these instrumental goods must be completed by an intrinsic good, something good in itself; otherwise, none of them would have any real value at all: If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good. Dewey agrees that goods are means to further goods, but unlike Aristotle, who argued that all human goods ultimately merged into one true goodthe human telos of eudaimonia, he clearly argues that such a conception is mistake Thus his [Aristotle's] pluralism solved the problem of how to have your cake and eat it too, for a classified and hierarchically ordered set of pluralities, of variants, has none of the sting of the miscellaneous and uncoordinated plurals of our actual world. Goods are natural and for that reason are varied and temporary; Dewey says that "consummatory objects instead of being a graded series of numerable and unalterable species or kinds of existence ranked under still fewer genera, are infinitely numerous, variable and individualized affairs." They have genuine value, but there is no antecedent hierarchy of values, nor is there a fixed, unchanging good for all humans. Value arises from within experience when human activity culminates in the satisfaction of need through intelligent effort.


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

Goods, then, are local and temporary. The experiences we value are those that liberate activity through the resolution of conflict. We want such moments to last, and this desire for permanence increases the enjoyment of their presence. Now if there is one common thread that runs through these experiences, it is the wish to control the creation and duration of these goods, such that we are better able to bring our activity to fruition. Clearly this ability comes with maturity and experience, but it only comes under the right conditions. Such ability can be blocked or even extinguished under adverse circumstances, so what is needed is an understanding of how such ability can be nurtured and developed. In Dewey's terms, this would be an understanding of growth and the habits, or virtues, which sustain it. As Dewey says: "Life grows when a temporary falling out is a transition to a more extensive balance of the energies of the organism with those of the conditions under which it lives." With each consummation of purposeful activity, the organism and its environment are transformed, allowing just that much more potential for future interaction: The world is full of things that are indifferent and even hostile to life; the very processes by which life is maintained tend to throw it out of gear with its surroundings. Nevertheless, if life continues and if in continuing it expands, there is an overcoming of factors of opposition and conflict; there is a transformation of them into differentiated aspects of a higher powered and more significant life. We have seen already that human experience is shared experience, and that our habits and dispositions are formed by influences from our social environment especially, but in coming to understand the virtues as not just effective in satisfying immediate needs but as means to and constitutive of a transforming experience which increases future satisfactions, we have reached something fundamental in human experience beyond just the cultural values we possess. The human being is fundamentally changed. Sometimes we learn as much from unfavorable results as from favorablesometimes more. Much has been said in this regard about the value of sufferinghow it makes us enlightened, deeper persons, perhaps making us more compassionate toward others. Of course, few seek out suffering as a means to that end, although this must be partly the basis of the ascetic virtues of selflessness. Still, in learning from pleasant results, success reinforces the efforts made toward that end and allows us to see what worked and what did not. In either case, experience changes us, and if the experience is purposeful, under our control, it transforms us into more powerful agents, as it is our own abilities that are put to the test. By engaging with the environment with intent and direction, we come to a larger per-

spective. Through meaningful interaction with our environment, more is

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made possible; a wider vista with more alternatives for further activity is opened up. We have greater control over our future. We have grown. Dewey explains it as follows: There is in nature, even below the level of life, something more than mere flux and change. Form is arrived at whenever a stable, even though moving, equilibrium is reached. Changes interlock and sustain one another. Wherever there is this coherence there is endurance. Order is not imposed from without but is made out of the relations of harmonious interactions that energies bear to one another. Because it is active (not anything static because foreign to what goes on) order itself develops. It comes to include within its balanced movement a greater variety of changes. . . . For only when an organism shares in the ordered relations of its environment does it secure the stability essential to living. And when the participation comes after a phase of disruption and conflict, it bears within itself the germs of a consummation akin to the esthetic. This is not growth toward something external or transcendent to experience, Dewey argues, nor is it to attain some unchanging state of being, for it is growth itself that is valuable, yet to nurture habits that promote growth is to strengthen character and to live a better life: The end is no longer a terminus or limit to be reached. It is the active process of transforming the existent situation. Not perfection as a final goal, but the ever-enduring process of perfecting, maturing, refining is the aim in living. Honesty, industry, temperance, justice, like health, wealth, and learning, are not goods to be possessed as they would be if they expressed fixed ends to be attained. They are directions of change in the quality of experience. Growth itself is the only moral "end". Growth is clearly a natural process of flourishing, at least considering the particular organism which is undergoing growth. There is no problematic distance between the organism's present condition and the end or goal toward which it is to move, unless its growth presents a threat to other organisms in its environment. In such a case, growth needs some regulatory influence from its environment to prevent its possible destruction of those beings around it; for example, the kudzu vine climbs trees for better light until it cuts the light off from the tree entirely and kills it. So the flourishing of an individual organism must be placed within, and balanced against, the growth of its environment as well. A cancerous growth may be flourishing, but the larger organism of which it is a part is not; this, of course, bodes poorly for both. Likewise, it is not good for people to overshadow others to the point of preventing their growth; surely

society grows best when all people are actively engaged. We should, then,


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

encourage habits that lead to growth for all individualshabits that can work in harmony to unify and strengthen characterand, Dewey says, we must sustain such habits throughout life, for without it growth can easily cease: [Ejverywhere there is an opportunity and a need to go beyond what one has been, beyond "himself, if the self is identified with the body of desires, affections, and habits which has been potent in the past. Indeed we may say that the good person is precisely the one who is most conscious of the alternative, and is the most concerned to find openings for the newly forming or growing self; since no matter how "good" he has been, he becomes "bad" (even though acting upon a relatively high plane of attainment) as soon as he fails to respond to the demand for growth. Any other basis for judging the moral status of the self is conventional. In reality, direction of movement, not the plane of attainment and rest, determines moral quality. 31 This conception of growth arising from within experience can provide a natural end to unify human activity and a criterion for evaluation of virtues and vices; in Dewey's view, habits which promote growth are virtues, while those which inhibit it are vices: Happiness as distinct from pleasure is a condition of the self. There is a difference between a tranquil pleasure and tranquility of the mind; there is contentment with external circumstances because they cater to our immediate enjoyment, and there is contentment of character and spirit which is maintained in adverse circumstances. A criterion can be given for marking off mere transient gratification from true happiness. The latter issues from objects which are enjoyable in themselves but which also reinforce and enlarge the other desires and tendencies which are sources of happiness;

in a pleasure there is not such harmonizing and expanding tendency.

Now the idea of growth as an end may seem confused, for how can an end of activity be itself a process? It is important here to keep in mind that, for Dewey, an end is never an absolute end; it is not an eternal, unchanging state. Ends are temporary, yet some are more stable than others; this can provide guidance for intelligent activity in the effort to satisfy needs. But in addition to their intrinsic value, Dewey argues that ends open up further and more varied ends as a result of their creation: It is in the quality of becoming that virtue resides. We set up this and th end to be reached, but the end is growth itself. To make an end a final goal i but to arrest growth. Many a person gets morally discouraged because he has not attained the object upon which he set his resolution, but in fact his moral status is determined by his movement in that direction, not by his

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possession. If such a person would set his thought and desire upon the process of evolution instead of upon some ulterior goal, he would find a new freedom and happiness. It is the next step which lies within our power. It is because purposive activity has culminated in the experience of growth that the individual and surrounding environment have been positively transformed, opening up new and different goods for future enjoyment. This is the idea of good that Dewey's conception of growth capturesan order of nature that is not limited to any one culturethe direction of human activity toward continual improvement in our well-being. This point can be especially appreciated when related to the purpose of education, for it is this formalized training wherein the young are acculturated into the values handed down that represent the origins of one's society. Dewey argues that education should transform students of all ages in such a way that they become capable of further education; this, also, is growth: When the identity of the moral process with the processes of specific growth is realized, the more conscious and formal education of childhood will be seen to be the most economical and efficient means of social advance and reorganization, and it will also be evident that the test of all the institutions of adult life is their effect in furthering continued education. Government, business, art, religion, all social institutions have a meaning, a purpose. That purpose is to set free and to develop the capacities of human individuals without respect to race, sex, class or economic status. And this is all one with saying that the test of their value is the extent to which they educate every individual into the full stature of his possibility. Democracy has many meanings, but if it has a moral meaning, it is found in resolving that the supreme test of all political institutions and industrial arrangements shall be the contribution they make to the all-around growth of every member of society. This is what growth means for living a good life, and why it can serve as a unifying end for helping in the direction of the virtues. It is true that growth is not toward some distant end, for it is itself the end; growth arises and gets its direction from the conditions in which we live. But this can be controlled in order to increase the well-being of all, for individuals grow if the social conditions are right, and the social conditions improve when individuals flourish.

Dewey's ethics With regard to modern moral philosophy, Dewey's approach is to highlight what is valuable in each theory and what is misguided. He realizes the


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

significance of these ethical theories in trying to establish a foundation for moral knowledge in the post-medieval world, but he is most impressed in this regard with the rise of modern science. Its rootedness in experimentation allows it to ask meaningful questions of nature which it can then answer in experience, rather than to stubbornly deduce judgments from dogma. Darwinian evolutionary theory, for instance, is able to accept the changing nature of biological life rather than interpret it through a hierarchy of unchanging forms, or species. Unfortunately, in Dewey's view, moral philosophy did not incorporate the experimental method of science, but tended toward the old dualisms characteristic of the quest for certainty: The quest for certainty is a quest for a peace which is assured, an object which is unqualified by risk and the shadow of fear which action casts. For it is not uncertainty jfrtfr^ which men dislike, but the fact that uncertainty involves us in peril of evils. Uncertainty that affected only the detail of consequences to be experienced provided they had a warrant of being enjoyable would have no sting. It would bring the zest of adventure and the spice of variety. Quest for complete certainty can be fulfilled in pure knowing alone. Such is the verdict of our most enduring philosophical tradition. Philosophers, according to Dewey, have continued to labor under the presupposition that there is a realm of unchanging truth by which the natural world is to be evaluated. This is so ingrained into the philosophical tradition that few can imagine how to proceed without first ascertaining a model of certainty which, by being applied to concrete reality, allows them to see clearly. For moral philosophers, the focus of attention has been on an action, usually an individual's action, which is to be placed within its appropriate category of right or wrong. Beginning from such an action, abstracted from its context in life to serve as a paradigm for similar actions, modern moral philosophy has become divided over which "end" of the action is primary in its evaluation. Deontological theories emphasize the motives for actions, while consequentialist theories emphasize the results, focusing on either the motive of the agent who acts, or the consequences of the action in the world. In the former case, the action is right or wrong in its inception; in the latter, its value depends on the results after its having been performed. This exclusive attention to the evaluation of actions is an example of how philosophers tend to forget their use of what Dewey calls "selective emphasis." Only by abstracting a particular action out of its natural context can it be appraised in terms of the motive of the agent who performs it or the particular consequences that result from it; but because this requires drawing a limit to the conditions surrounding the action, any such limit will not only be extremely difficult to draw, but somewhat arbitrary as well. Of course, the point

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of such evaluation is not only to bestow moral praise or blame, but also to establish a precedent for future actions with similar motives or similar consequences. It soon goes beyond generalization, however, to establish classes of actions that are either morally acceptable, morally unacceptable, or morally required. But problems result in trying to determine which classification applies in borderline cases. Again, Dewey would say that the philosopher gets "caught up" in the secondary objects of experience and "forgets" about the primary experience from which they arise: The objects of reflection in philosophy, being reached by methods that seem to those who employ them rationally mandatory, are taken to be "real" in and of themselvesand supremely real. Then it becomes an insoluble problem why the things of gross, primary experience, should be what they are, or indeed why they should be at all. 36 When an action is treated as such an abstraction, the attempt to pin down a feature for classification then forces one to focus on either end of the action exclusivelyeither on what "went into it" or on what "comes from it." A focus on motives, for instance, is clearly an important part of the moral evaluation of an action, but it is not the only concern. It is true that not all the consequences of an action can be controlled and that they may, in fact, turn out counter to what was intended, but to exclude them from consideration can lead one to a poor decision. Respect for one's duty is an admirable quality, but holding on to it despite contrary evidence in the particular situation is not. On the other hand, a focus on consequences exclusive of the motive also gives a limited view. It is true that good intentions are not always sufficient and are perhaps sometimes misguided, but the wrong reasons can taint even the best of consequences. For example, trying to determine what is just in a situation demands an understanding of the background of the participants in the decision-making process, not just a calculation of the future distribution of goods. Dewey characterizes deontological and consequentialist theories as distinguishing parts of a whole and consequently missing their unity: "[T]hey separate a unified deed into two disjoined parts, an inner called motive and an outer called act."" Dewey's focus on the whole action as a particular process or history escapes the limitations of both types of theories while preserving what is valuable in each; in the same way as means and ends are correlative terms with no independent existence outside the inclusive history or event, one's motive is realized in the results of one's actions, and the consequences are structured by one's intentions: Common sense in short never loses sight wholly of the two facts which limit and define a moral situation. One is that consequences fix the moral quality


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

of an act. The other is that upon the whole, or in the long run but not unqualifiedly, consequences are what they are because of the nature of desire and disposition. Respect for one's duty is a natural characteristic of good training, but one must also be sensitive to the particular circumstances in the concrete affairs of life. Likewise, moral evaluation is by nature forward-looking; we investigate motives and causes of events in order to uncover a variable which can be controlled in the future, but there is no end antecedent to its creation in the activity itself. One's focus must always be on the situation at hand and the conditions conducive to a resolution in success. This requires a broad vision and an open-minded approach to problem-solving. Either the motive or the consequences may need to be made uppermost in the situation, but one's conceptions must be flexible enough to see all that is needed in the case. This is not an easy task; it demands creative intelligence, but it offers the best approach. Dewey regarded the bifurcation of motive and consequence for independent moral evaluation as another unfortunate legacy of the old dualism set up between the natural world of change and the unchanging world beyond. This, according to Dewey, is the most serious problem for modern moral philosophy: the attempt to ground morality in some absolute, universal principle or fixed, unchanging good: Ethical theory began among the Greeks as an attempt to find a regulation for the conduct of life which should have a rational basis and purpose instead of being derived from custom. But reason as a substitute for custom was under the obligation of supplying objects and laws as fixed as those of custom had been. Ethical theory ever since has been singularly hypnotized by the notion that its business is to discover some final end or good or some ultimate and supreme law. This is the common element among the diversity of theories/39 Despite the universal difficulty in determining the source of their principles, modern ethical theories still frame the moral situation in terms of fitting an individual case under a general principle. The problem is that a moral principle remains unified and unchanging while our practices, because they must respond to the particular and changing contexts of life, are diverse and variable. Separating the principle from our practices creates a chasm which cannot be crossed except by interpretation, and any interpretation will then require its own justification; furthermore, a practice can be characterized in ways that accord with the principle and in ways that do not. The result is the principle's becoming such an abstraction that it functions merely to rationalize what course of action we feel inclined to pursue in the first place; instead of

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choosing the action determined by the principle, we choose the principle determined by the action. Dewey views this predilection for principles to be a result of not accepting the scientific method in ethics: It is worth noting once more that the underlying issue is, after all, only the same as that which has been already threshed out in physical inquiry. There too it long seemed as if rational assurance and demonstration could be attained only if we began with universal conceptions and subsumed particular cases under them. The men who initiated the methods of inquiry that are now everywhere adopted were denounced in their day (and sincerely) as subverters of truth and foes of science. If they have won in the end, it is because, as has already been pointed out, the method of universals confirmed prejudices and sanctioned ideas that had gained currency irrespective of evidence for them; while placing the initial and final weight upon the individual case, stimulated painstaking inquiry into facts and examination

of principles.
For Dewey, moral principles are hypotheses: No past decision nor old principle can ever be wholly relied upon to justify a course of action. No amount of pains taken in forming a purpose in a definite case is final; the consequences of its adoption must be carefully noted, and a purpose held only as a working hypothesis until results confirm its rightness. The moral stance faces forward toward the future; it is in this direction that our problems will arise. No matter how well or poorly things have gone up until the present, the point of past experience should be focused on what is to come. Principles to guide conduct are not deduced from a pre-existing logical hierarchy; they arise from past experience. None of the moral principles is universal, but they are not arbitrary either, because they can be verified in experience. Each experience into which a moral principle is brought is a test, no matter how many times the principle has been tested before. But as there is no way to know that the future will resemble the past, all such principles of conduct are in essence hypotheses; in the present they are conditional. This is their force; in this way they provide structure for approaching the moral experience and for evaluating the results. To hold on to principles without testing them is to be dogmatic, and to subject them to criticism does not require a radical perspective, nor is it to assume a perspective outside the natural world. To regard moral principles as absolute may seem necessary for moral knowledge, and strict adherence to duty may seem an admirable quality, but, according to Dewey, more is required for intelligent engagement with


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

the world around us. Kant argued that the agent should bring order to his moral world, insisting on the necessity of respect for universal law; this, according to Kant, is what reason commands of conduct in order to produce a good will. But for Dewey, rigid obedience to a morality of principles is not enough to solve the problems that arise in life nor to guide us toward an increase in human well-being. The conditions for happiness are to be found in the natural events that we must control in order to live and flourish. The natural processes of life are what is real; they provide order and continuity to our actions in the world. We must change the conditions in our environment to make things better, and this requires more than just thinking about the relations of concepts; it requires intelligent action. Dewey's critique of a fixed, unchanging good as a supreme end for human activity was presented in the previous section; it is enough here to point out that he would agree with the utilitarian focus on consequences insofar as human activity begins from needs and works towards their satisfaction: "Upon the whole, utilitarianism has marked the best in the transition from the classic theory of ends and goods to that which is now possible." The end of human activity is the good, but it is not simply a quantity such as pleasure; it is a consummation of experience which opens new paths in our repertoire of habits. Now the possibility of such transformation may be part of what Mill means by his distinction in the quality of pleasures, but the expression of this in a principle demanding a hedonic calculus is too formal and rigid in Dewey's view: "Like every theory that sets up fixed and final aims, in making the end passive and possessive, it made all active operations mere tools." Dewey's effort here to incorporate the experimental method of the natural sciences into moral philosophy is striking because it offers a framework for moral decision-making that is verifiable rather than dogmatic. There is much intuitive appeal in an ethical theory that can respond to the changing nature of the natural and social environment while maintaining a ground in the more stable processes fundamental to life. It offers a way in which one can "make it new" and still avoid a purely subjective moral stance; one can learn from the past without repeating it. Instead of trying to make old conclusions fit new premises, Dewey says, one must achieve the success of bygone days in a new environment: More definitely, the transfer of the burden of the moral life from following rules or pursuing fixed ends over the detection of the ills that need remedy in a special case and the formation of plans and methods for dealing with them, eliminates the causes which have kept moral theory controversial, and which have also kept it remote from helpful contact with the exigencies of practice.

Reconstruction of ethics


If we treat moral principles as hypotheses, they can be evaluated in their application to current conditions. There is no need to appeal to some higher, more universal standard nor some absolute ground of rationality, for this in effect removes such principles further from the natural world and makes them less relevant to life. To test moral principles in the affairs of life shows that rather than requiring a pure, unbiased perspective removed from any taint of historical conditions in the natural world, the standard for their evaluation is their open success or failure in furthering the pursuit of the good. Neither is the good outside experience; it is not some fixed, unchanging telos which orders our activity from outside. The good is always temporalized and localized to particular situations and realizable in our lives here on earth. Dewey raises these questions: Is not the belief in the single, final and ultimate (whether conceived as good or authoritative law) an intellectual product of that feudal organization which is disappearing historically and of that belief in a bounded, ordered cosmos, wherein rest is higher than motion, which has disappeared from natural science? It has been repeatedly suggested that the present limit of intellectual reconstruction lies in the fact that it has not as yet been seriously applied in the moral and social disciplines. Would not this further application demand precisely that we advance to a belief in a plurality of changing, moving, individualized goods and ends, and to a belief that principles, criteria, laws are intellectual instruments for analyzing individual or unique situations? Being generalizations from past experience, principles are naturally carried forward into new situations, but experience cannot be forced into fitting prior conceptions; it is the principles, Dewey holds, which should be adjusted as a result of their contact with nature: Morals is not a catalogue of acts nor a set of rules to be applied like drugstore prescriptions or cook-book recipes. The need in morals is for specific methods in inquiry and of contrivance: Methods of inquiry to locate difficulties and evils; methods of contrivance to form plans to be used as working hypotheses in dealing with them. And the pragmatic import of the logic of individualized situations, each having its own irreplaceable good and principle, is to transfer the attention of theory from preoccupation with general conceptions to the problem of developing effective methods of inquiry. 46 Humans learn from their experience, and, with the power of communication, they are able to share their experiences with each other, giving rise to a storehouse of wisdom from accumulated past experience. The structures of meaning-relations that make up our mental world may be formulated into


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

principles which empower us to engage in living, making successful activity more probable, and, in effect, more fulfilling. But the power which the principles give us must not cause us to lose sight of their essential nature: They are inductive generalizations; as such, we can never know how accurate they will be in predicting the future. This means that, to some extent, uncertainty will always be with us; to deny it, and to insist on the inviolability of principles, will lead to falsification of experience and interpretation of results to justify antecedent ideology. In Dewey's view, if there is an immoral way to live, this would be itinauthentic engagement with the world: The blunt assertion that every moral situation is a unique situation having its own irreplaceable good may seem not merely blunt but preposterous. For the established tradition teaches that it is precisely the irregularity of special cases which makes necessary the guidance of conduct by universals, and that the essence of the virtuous disposition is willingness to subordinate every particular case to adjudication by a fixed principle. It would then follow that submission of a generic end and law to determination by the concrete situation entails complete confusion and unrestrained licentiousness. Let us, however, follow the pragmatic rule, and in order to discover the meaning of the idea ask for its consequences. Then it surprisingly turns out that the primary significance of the concrete situation is to transfer the weight and burden of morality to intelligence. It does not destroy responsibility; it only locates it.47 Moral goods are creations resulting from our interaction with the environment; as such, they cannot be known in advance. Ordinarily our actions follow along well-worn paths channeled over time. These habits, instilled in us by those around us, are more or less effective in meeting needs as they arise. A moral situation arises when there is more than one good from which we must choose. Beginning from such uncertainty, there is a tendency to strike out impulsively, but such behavior can be controlled; measuring by intelligence, using the resources of knowledge, and structuring the conditions for experimental trial, the mind can rehearse alternative futures until it discovers the technique which will best resolve the initial difficulty and allow activity to resume. Indeed, moral goods do not even exist in advance of their construction within the situation, but that does not make them any less good. After resolving a moral uncertainty positively, the process undertaken is valued because of the intelligent effort made in the use of resources and because such an event transforms those engaged in ita consummation of experience resulting in their growth, which is as close to a unifying end for human conduct as Dewey gets. Judgment about values, about what objects or events should or should not be pursued, requires examination of the means to bring about their existence

Reconstruction of ethics


and the consequences their existence will entail; thus all judgment is bound by nature to the context of the particular situation at hand. Judgment is not simply the bringing together or separation of antecedently existing concepts. Generalizations result naturally from contemplation of past experience, but their point is to help future judgmentnot to determine it. Judgments must result from engagement with present conditions; thus they are by nature particular. Values are objects or events that have been judged worthy of pursuit or avoidance; thus they too are dependent on the conditions leading to and resulting from objects or events to be enjoyed. None is universal or eternal, for each is a result of particular temporal conditions. The complaint is that this will make value subjective; but that is not the case. Although the individual's disposition or motives do influence the realization of value, value is constituted by natural forces in the environment, in the objective surroundings as much as by human contrivance. Things have value because of their roles in natural events. They are relative in the sense that none is absolute, eternal, or unchanging, but they are nonetheless real. Dewey's moral philosophy is a kind of situationalism: The best action to take can only be determined within the particular circumstances in question. This is why development of the virtues is important to morality: They allow greater insight into situations as they arise. This is counter to the traditional view of ethics within which an action is right or wrong insofar as it accords with a moral rule or end. According to Dewey, the Tightness of an action arises from the conditions under which the action occurs, so he insists that instead of speaking of the right or wrong action, we should speak of the better or worse. Moral situations begin with uncertainty about the particular good to be pursued, and the resolution of that uncertainty marks the action with "rightness" when the path is cleared through intelligent interaction with the environment. This does not mean, however, that the better action will not result in some unfavorable results, or that another action would not create a different good. In the ordinary affairs of life, the particulars are usually mixtures of moral categories, and do not fit neatly and precisely into one or the other; and yet, since the conditions which give rise to moral uncertainty as well as the fulfilling experience of its resolution are genuine elements in experience, there is no threat to the validity of moral judgment. Values are real. The qualities of experience are genuine and motivate human passions, so moral problems can be resolved for the betterment or the worsening of the situation, but actions cannot be judged by deduction or by mechanical application of some antecedent framework. The better action can be difficult to determine, as it requires creative intelligence and sensitivity to the particulars of the situation. In sum, one does the best one can in the situation and hopes for the best result, but there is no guarantee. The particular situation, including all the circumstances that make its resolution possible, is the context within which


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

the action exists. Judgments about its moral worth can only be made after the action has been resolved. When facing forward, there is no better approach to a moral situation than by means of the virtues, for they are habits which have proven to be more effective in resolving conflict and providing for that consummation of experience that leads to the positive transformation of growth. The agent's own characterthe interpenetration of habits which are brought to bear within the situationcan have tremendous impact on achieving good results; if one's character is more stable than not, the chances are greater that the better action will be taken. There is no substitute for a finely tuned sensibility when addressing a moral problem, nor for a strong character rich with experience colored by reflection and creativity. Dewey's view allows for continued growth because of the testing and refinement of the virtues. It is the character of a personthat interpenetration of habitswhich is refined and attuned through experience and which influences the future well-being of that person. A healthy community will establish and maintain avenues of communication through which knowledge of moral rules and ends used in the formation of character are verified in experience and kept open to revision and change. This view is focused on the actual conditions of life rather than on an eternal, unchanging realm of pure thought; but it is marked, perhaps, by more stability than might be supposed, as communication with others allows a meaningful human approach to living conditions. Yet it must be a balance of change and permanence that rules the day, a measure or proportion that all people recognize and understand, which guides their interaction while requiring their participative influence for the individual and the common good to harmonize. This is the only approach that makes growth possible.

1. Dewey, J., Experience and Nature [hereinafter LW1], 19. 2. The distinction Dewey makes between primary and reflective experience will be important to his criticism of modern moral philosophy, although the difference between them is only a matter of degree: "The distinction is one between what is experienced as the result of a minimum of incidental reflection and what is experienced in consequence of continued and regulated reflective inquiry." (Ibid., 15.) 3. "Selective emphasis" is another important concept Dewey relates to reflective experience and to his criticism of modern philosophy: "Selective emphasis, with accompanying omission and rejection, is the heart-beat of mental life," (ibid., 31). All organisms tend to limit the experiential field to objects of interest and ignore the rest; the problem comes, he says, when philosophers forget this. 4. Dewey, J., HumanNature and Conduct [hereinafter MW14], 16.

Reconstruction of ethics
5. Ibid., 15. 6. Ibid., 125. 7. Ibid., 126. 8. Ibid., 16. 9. Ibid., 217. 10. Ibid., 19. 11. Ibid., 29. 12. Ibid., 30. 13. Dewey, LW1, 104. 14. Ibid., 74. 15. Ibid., 105. 16. Ibid., 109. 17. Dewey, J., The Quest for Certainty [hereinafter LW4], 207. 18. Ibid., 208. 19. Ibid., 211. 20. Dewey, LW1, 123. 21. Dewey, MW14, 123. 22. Dewey, LW4, 209. 23. Dewey, J., Reconstruction in Philosophy [hereinafter MW12], 1734. 24. Aristotle, NicomacheanEthics, 1094al8-22. 25. Dewey, LW 1,48. 26. Ibid., 96. 27. Dewey, J., Art as Experience [hereinafter LW10], 20. 28. Ibid., 20. 29. Ibid. 30. Dewey, MW 12, 181. 31. Dewey, J., Ethics [hereinafter LW7], 307. 32. Ibid., 199. 33. Ibid., 306. 34. Dewey, MW 12, 186. 35. Dewey, LW4, 7. 36. Dewey, LW1, 17. 37. Dewey, MW14, 33. 38. Ibid., 34. 39. Dewey, MW 12, 172. 40. Ibid., 174. 41. Ibid., 179-8i 42. Ibid., 182-3. 43. Ibid., 183. 44. Ibid., 174. 45. Ibid., 172-3. 46. Ibid., 177. 47. Ibid., 173.


3 Origins of the virtues

Maclntyre's work on virtue ethics has dominated the field since publication of his After Virtue, while Dewey's moral philosophy has received little attention, especially in regard to his conception of the virtues. Both philosophers share an Aristotelian tendency in their thought, basing their ideas on human practices and the role of the virtues in the pursuit of happiness. There are, however, some interesting differences between them, making it instructive to compare their views, for what results is a deeper appreciation of each philosopher and a better understanding of the nature of the virtues. In this section, the views of Maclntyre and Dewey are compared regarding human practices and the impact of modern biology as a background to the virtues. While examining their conceptions of human practices, I spend some time considering the interpretation of Dewey's ethics as a virtue ethics position and argue that such an interpretation would limit and falsify his view; this does not, however, diminish the relevance of his work for virtue ethics theory. One significant point examined subsequently concerns the respective positions of Maclntyre and Dewey on the balance of conservative and liberal forces in regard to the role of individual innovation in making practices responsive to change. I will argue that Dewey offers a better appreciation of the standards of excellence within a practice as meaningful to the present rather than as revered products of the past, and he recognizes the individual practitioner as an innovative force rather than subsumed within the trappings of tradition. The other main point examined concerns Dewey's and Maclntyre's use of evolutionary theory rather than Aristotle's metaphysical biology in their conceptions of human nature. Dewey begins with a background for the virtues in evolutionary theory while Maclntyre comes late to this view. I will argue that the former's conception of habits as patterns of interaction between individual and environment offers a more congenial model for the virtuesone that is rooted in our current understanding of the biological nature of man than does Maclntyre's attempt to make the traditional conception of the virtues fit a modern conception of human origins. H u m a n practices Both philosophers begin from philosophical foundations in human practices. On this starting point they agree, and it leads them both to acknowledge the

Origins of the virtues


social nature of morality. Because human activity is learned from interaction with others around us, naturally the standards for right and wrong are inculcated by society (or, rather, societies, for instead of one amorphous mass of others there are various sizes and types of groups to which any one of us belongs). This runs counter to many modern ethical theories, whether classified as deontological or consequentialist, which begin from a focus on the individual and tend to emphasize theory before practice. Not so for Maclntyre and Dewey, who begin by focusing on organized community activities in the pursuit of common goods and who seek the ground for morality in human practices rather than in universal principles of thought. Dewey, however, carries this emphasis on human practices further than Maclntyre does, seeking ultimately to collapse the distinction between theory and practice entirely; for Maclntyre, theory and practice remain distinct. It is important to note that, in the discussion that follows, the idea of a practice is for Maclntyre a specific conception of well-defined social activity; Dewey, on the other hand, does not address such a limited conception but has in mind human practices in the broadest sense. Still, there are significant points of comparison to examine between them. Human practices have an integral role in almost all areas of Dewey's philosophy. They form the foundation for his views on human nature, on thought, and on values. The human organism is fundamentally and inextricably involved in interaction with its environment, and its patterns of activity, or habits, if intelligently controlled in practices, offer avenues of creativity and fulfillment. One of the aspects of human practice that Dewey has in mind is its relation to theory, because he believes their separation is mistaken. Rather than separating a world of ideas from the world of practice, Dewey seeks to demonstrate that theory may emerge from ordinary engagement with life, but that it must return to primary experience for verification. For Dewey, thought, or rather inquiry, is not a contemplative "seeing" of an external object, but a problem-solving practice which forms its object of knowledge from within the situation. Further, the practice of inquiry is not limited to facts but includes values, which are objects or events judged worthy of pursuit based on practical responses to human needs. Fundamentally, the concept of human practices allows Dewey to close the gap between theory and practice and to engage philosophy in significant and relevant activity in the natural and social environment. Human practices form the essential background to Dewey's project of making philosophy experimental. Again, Dewey is describing the nature of human conduct in general, while Maclntyre describes particular organized activities in which people engage within communitiessocially established practices such as football, architecture, or farming. Each, then, uses the same philosophical ideahuman practicesto ground an understanding of human conduct, but Maclntyre's focus


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

is relatively specific while Dewey has a much wider scope. Partly because of this more comprehensive approach, Dewey would have some significant criticisms to make of Maclntyre's conception as a ground for morality. By a "practice," Maclntyre means a particular yet complex phenomenon: any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended. This, the first of three background ideas to his conception of a virtue, forms a bedrock in human activity that is organized, purposeful, and collective. A practice is normative, establishing standards for correct and incorrect actions, because anyone who enters into the practice must accept the authority of the master and submit to the standards of excellence particular to that practice. At the same time it must provide room for individual variability; the competent practitioner must exercise sufficient autonomy at least to be accountable for his actions. One of the key ideas in Maclntyre's conception of a practice is his distinction between internal and external goods, and he uses it in his definition
of a virtue: "^4 virtue is an acquired human quality the possession and exercise of which tends to enable us to achieve those goods which are internal to practices and the lack of which effectively prevents us from achieving any such goods."2 In this context, internal

goods function not only as a defining feature of a particular practice as opposed to other activities, but also as reasons for trying to excel in practices. Again, they are opposed to external goods partly because they cannot be achieved except by engaging in that particular practice, whereas external goods are attainable in other ways; in fact, Maclntyre says of internal goods that they can be specified only within the unique contexts of particular practices. For example, the practice of teaching involves certain external goods such as economic stability, health insurance, retirement savings, and job security, but these are different from the pleasure that comes from witnessing the wonder in the eyes of a student engaged in reflection on a new experience. The former goods are available from other occupations as well, but the latter internal good can only be achieved through the practice of teaching. One kind of internal good which Maclntyre describes is the "excellence of the products," which includes the activity of production as well as the end product; furthermore, this "has to be understood historically," he says, as a "progress towards and beyond a variety of types and modes of excellence." The practitioner has to be engaged in the historical progression of the

Origins of the virtues


practice itself; excellence is achieved not just in the effort to maintain this progress and overcome difficulties, but especially in creating new and different forms excelling those of the past. It becomes clear that Maclntyre intends by a practice not just a set of skills, but the historical transformation of goals. Dewey would be quite sympathetic with this view, but would no doubt transpose it to a broader level; instead of envisioning practices as bounded by their particular history and occupation, he tends to view all human activity as potentially transforming. Nevertheless, he would recognize the distinction that Maclntyre draws between internal and external goods. This is evidenced in his analysis of human practices in terms of means and ends. We do not fully understand, Dewey says, that means are an integral part of ends; that is, means and ends coalesce. Maclntyre's external goods are in Dewey's mind ends that we view as emerging only when the means to those ends are finished and disappear. We work, for example, for money; labor is necessary because it is seen as antecedent to the consequences we want and enjoy. Human activity that is merely "useful" becomes routine, causing much of our lives to be spent in work that is only externally related to our enjoyments, in that we purchase our pleasures from the monetary rewards of our labor. Maclntyre's internal goods, on the other hand, are realized according to Dewey when human activity is experienced as both means to and constitutive of ends. Meaningful activity fuses the production and the enjoyment, and through an intelligent approach to human practices we can transform our labor from routine drudgery to enjoyable experience possessing lasting value. Experience that results from uniting artistic creativity with esthetic enjoyment is art, and, as Dewey says: "Any activity that is productive of objects whose perception is an immediate good, and whose operation is a continual source of

enjoyable perception of other events exhibits fineness of art."

Dewey states repeatedly that in conscious experience the ends and means of activity are stages of one process. The joy of consummatory experience comes from the operation of intelligent activity in harmony with the environment not just from the product of the activity, but from the activity of the individual in its production as well. Thus something you make yourself can be worth much more to you than a consumer product off the shelf, yet one who has not experienced such activity will have little conception of its value. It is clear, then, that Dewey values deeply the experience that Maclntyre designates as an internal good, and is likewise highly critical of society's exclusive focus on external goods. Furthermore, Dewey attributes this limited focus to the chasm we have established between science and art, and he seeks to break it down: "[SJcience is an art," he says, and "art is practice"; "the only distinction worth drawing is not between practice and theory, but between those modes of practice that are not intelligent, not inherently and immediately enjoyable,


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

and those which are full of enjoyed meanings." The richness of meaningful labor is fundamental to the enjoyment of life, and Dewey insists that this avenue of experience is open in many varied forms of occupation. He says that "artthe mode of activity that is charged with meanings capable of immediately enjoyed possessionis the complete culmination of nature, and that 'science' is properly a handmaiden that conducts natural events to this happy issue." Thus what Maclntyre describes in a particular practice, Dewey typically expands to the whole of human experience: Thought, intelligence, science is the intentional direction of natural events to meanings capable of immediate possession and enjoyment; this directionwhich is operative artis itself a natural event in which nature otherwise partial and incomplete comes fully to itself; so that objects of conscious experience when reflectively chosen, form the "end" of nature. In Maclntyre's view, internal goods are essential aretaic conceptions, and their opposition to external goods is central to setting a morality of the virtues and the pursuit of excellence apart from a morality guided by rules and the competition for coming out ahead. Internal goods are the incentives for those who excel in cooperative activity in pursuit of a common good; they are the mark of excellence in achievement, in being the best. External goods can be won even by those who are not the best in the traditional activity, but have so mastered the rules of the game that they prove more effective within that framework. It is important to note, Maclntyre says, that often external goods must be sacrificed in order to achieve excellence. This analysis does make clear a key distinction often drawn between virtue ethics, with its focus on character, and rule-based ethics that focuses on obedience of the will: With the latter conception, the common tendency is to hold that all that is required is to not break the rules, while the former conception requires more than that. A legalistic conception of morality is somewhat necessary to provide a framework for social activity to function; it serves to train newcomers and establishes limits to that activity. But a person can use the rules to harm himself and others without having done anything to violate them. The history of relations between the native Americans and English settlers in the early years of colonization provides an example: when the two groups established treaties and attempted cohabitation, some among the settlers would inevitably use existing laws to "trick" the natives into giving up their property claims to those who could use the law more effectively. It might be suggested that new, more stringent laws could be made to prevent such devious behavior, but a better response might be that, rather than endlessly multiplying laws, it would be more beneficial to focus on excellence in activity than on winning the activity. Certainly there is a valuable point to be made

Origins of the virtues


here, that a virtuous person would not use the rules to his advantage exclusive of the interests of others. Dewey would agree with this criticism of rule-based ethics and that a focus on the development of a character integrated with virtues or good habits would enhance the possibility for positive outcomes in problematic situations; rules should be viewed as guides rather than commands because each particular situation is unique, leaving it up to the people within the situation to work it out. A person of strong, integrated character is more likely to direct events toward a more positive outcome. Dewey's wish to reconcile art and science leads to a similar recognition that excellence in the product and in its production is valuable over and above the external rewards of otherwise meaningless labor. He differs from Maclntyre, however, in not retaining the distinction between aretaic and deontological ethics in order to define the former as the better theory; after having posed them, Dewey typically seeks a way through such distinctions, taking what is valuable in each with him. Thus his ethical view is more fluid than Maclntyre's and more difficult to pin down in traditional philosophical structures. As it is in human practices that virtues first emerge, it is perhaps appropriate at this point to examine how closely aligned Dewey would be with a virtue ethics theory. Gouinlock emphasizes the centrality of the virtues in Dewey's moral philosophy, arguing that they permit him to avoid the extremes of absolutism and relativism in ethics and to achieve a pluralist position. Dewey's view is not absolutist, Gouinlock says, because it remains flexible and permissive enough to adapt to change; but nor is it relativisticbecause the virtues place limitations on what conduct is possible. Comfortable in pointing out that "Dewey repeatedly appeals to the necessity of various traits of character, or habits, in the moral life,"8 Gouinlock argues that the virtues unify Dewey's scientific and democratic approaches to ethics because the same traits of character are common to both: A "democratic mind" involves the virtues of "being scientific," "being willing to communicate," and "showing respect for other persons"; specifically, being scientific means becoming "well informed," entertaining "a variety of hypotheses," and regarding "both oneself and one's ideas as fallible"in short, being "open-minded." Furthermore, he claims, even with the exercise of the virtues moral agreement will not usually be unanimous; hence pluralism is also needed as a dimension of the moral life. Pappas makes a strong case for the virtues within the pragmatism of Dewey, especially the virtues of open-mindedness and courage as they promote flexibility and openness of character while maintaining conviction and resoluteness. Given the pragmatist's view of experience as "ongoing" and constituted by both the stable and the precarious, "the primary tool in situations" is character that is both adaptable and integrated; likewise, Pappas suggests that "the distinction between virtue and a vice is the distinction between a good


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

tool and a bad tool." 10 Generally, he says, a pragmatist will conceive of virtues as "contextual, instrumental, pluralistic, and experimental." They must not be mere means to some larger good or pre-determined end of experience, but must remain focused on events as they arise in experience; "many times," says Pappas, "we cherish and preserve certain tools without having yet any idea of the kinds of goods it will provide for us." Pappas argues specifically against the teleological view of Maclntyre, whose "move is simply one of relativizing the 'good' to what he calls a 'practice'." 13 Rather, he says, as experience is open-ended, the value of virtuous habits lies in their enhancement of possibilities for the futurenot that they "lead to the acquisition or possession of some already established good." In fact, Pappas argues that pragmatism can revitalize the virtues more so than traditional philosophy; being open to both novelty and fixity within experience, the pragmatist will value character that has integrated a plurality of dispositions through an experimental approach because "the only possible test of whether a disposition is a virtue or not is in acquiring it, incorporating it in a general way of life." Teehan argues that Dewey does have a virtue ethics because of his critique of modern deontological and consequentialist theories, the centrality he places on moral evaluation of character rather than act, and his discussion specifically about the virtues. Teehan points to Dewey's rejection of modern philosophical ethics that present morality in terms of antecedent rules or ideals to be applied to experience. Teehan argues that ethics should focus on particular situations, that moral values "develop in relation to the concrete needs of morally problematic situations and are held as valuable due to their efficacy in resolving particular moral problems." 16 Teehan spends more time with his second point, for it is clear that Dewey does discuss particular virtues as habits, but Teehan's claim that "the basis for moral judgment itself is the effects of acts and consequences on the character of the agent" seems, in regards to Dewey, somewhat questionable. Teehan proceeds to distinguish Dewey's view of the self as "firmly embedded in . . . social relations" from other moralities that focus on the development or perfection of a pre-existing self that Dewey rejects. Teehan rightly points out that "our choices are instrumental in constructing a certain character and that character is instrumental in making future moral choices." 19 Teehan then distinguishes two criteria for correct action: integrity"the result of the unity between an agent's actions and his or her moral image," a "moral image" being "a conception of who I am and who I believe I ought to be"; 21 and growth"the guiding principle for morality" 22 indicating that "change in which that which was present before expands and develops in such a way that its functioning is maintained or enhanced." Teehan then presents a highly teleological view of human flourishing in terms of growth in biological, psychological, social, and moral functioning, yet he argues that this is not just another egoist position because of

Origins of the virtues


"the transactional relationship between the individual and society"they are "mutually constitutive," he says; "they are what they are because of the relationship." Thus it is, he says, that in choosing what sort of person I want to be I am choosing what sort of world I want it to be also. There is much to recommend an approach to Dewey's moral philosophy through the virtues, for they soften the fixed rules or duties of deontological ethics yet create value within ongoing experience rather than in a terminal good as in consequentialist ethics. Cultivation of the virtues allows both the flexibility to deal with change and the rigidity for control of events. However, in his essay "Three independent factors in morals," Dewey clearly sets his view apart from any moral theory which fixates on single principles such as the good, the right, or the virtuous. He presents these three independent factors as unique and ultimately irreducible, and their opposition as the cause of the uncertainty and conflict within moral situations. Pappas agrees that a focus on character as the primary concern of moral agents is not Dewey's viewwhich thereby distinguishes him from most proponents of virtue ethics. According to Pappas, Dewey refuses the dualism between character-centered and act-centered ethics "while recovering the strengths of both views"; ' referring to "Three independent factors in morals," he says that Dewey intends the good, the right, and the virtuous to be independent, that none is primary, but that each represents valid aspects of the moral dimensions of experience. For Dewey, Pappas says, "if morality centers anywhere it is on morally problematic situations"; "good, virtue, and duty are all irreducible features found intertwined in moral situations." Clearly this follows from Dewey's initial assumption that the interaction of organism and environment is primary. There can be no firm distinction of character (or self) and action, for character is just the disposition to act and the action is the expression of character; character forms and is formed by actions, so to the extent that ethical theorists assert one over the other they are mistaken and limited in their view. Furthermore, as Dewey points out, habits implicate the environment as well as the organism; activity is primary; self and other are products of reflection. It is interesting to compare Dewey's explanation of the inefficiency of moral theories with Maclntyre's. Dewey offers his own historical account of the origins of consequentialist and deontological ethical theories with the Greeks and the Romans respectively, and he explains that the virtues originate in social approbation. He points out, however, that current moral theories "all postulate one single principle as an explanation of moral life"; "in their zeal for a unitary view they have oversimplified the moral life." Such a singular focus has the effect of forcing a dualistic classification on all moral phenomena: good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice; all moral features are then made to fit into one or other of these polar opposites. "The outcome," Dewey


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

says, "is a gap between the tangled realities of practice and the abstract forms of theory."2 Dewey seeks a middle ground"a middle footing which leans a much to one side as to the other without following any rule which may be posed in advance." This approach does not constitute a competition among ethical theories but seeks a moderate position that can pull from others as needed. One can argue, then, that Dewey takes a virtue ethics approach; but that is not as accurate as saying that he takes a pragmatist approach. Still, he has much to offer virtue ethics in formulating its theoretical structures in order to avoid extremes while searching for the most fruitful approach. This explanation of the incommensurability of modern ethical theories clarifies a real distinction between Maclntyre and Dewey, for they both sense a similar problem but analyze it differently. Both would agree that the foundational approach to ethical theory is misconceived, but whereas Maclntyre argues that its failure is due to the severance of our cultural ties to the classical tradition, Dewey argues that its failure follows from its refusal to admit to what is clearly a plurality of valuesa refusal which Maclntyre wants to continue. In his theory of the virtues grounded in a quest for a human telos, Maclntyre seeks to revitalize a moral tradition with the singular focus that Dewey decries. Dewey is not denying that a conception of the virtuous, like that of the good and the right, is vital to understanding the moral dimensions of human experience; he would, no doubt, applaud Maclntyre's efforts to clarify its importancewhich has been too long ignored thanks to the dominance of consequentialist and deontological theories. But he would point out that human experience simply cannot be codified from any one perspective. Thus it becomes more evident that Dewey anticipates Maclntyre's view but has already moved beyond it; his view is most clearly expressed as combing the entire field for all relevant means to moral progress: A moral philosophy which should frankly recognize the impossibility of reducing all the elements in moral situations to a single commensurable principle, which should recognize that each human being has to make the best adjustment he can among forces which are genuinely disparate, would throw light upon actual predicaments of conduct and help individuals in making a juster estimate of the force of each competing factor. All that would be lost would be the idea that theoretically there is in advance a single theoretically correct solution for every difficulty with which each and every individual is confronted. Personally I think the surrender of this idea would be a gain instead of a loss. In taking attention away from rigid rules and standards it would lead men to attend more fully to the concrete elements entering into the situations in which they have to act. As seen here, Dewey's progressive and open-ended approach contrasts sharply at times with Maclntyre's more conservative stance; this may be made

Origins of the virtues


more evident by discussing the next element in a practice, the standards of excellence. These standards serve as measures for practitioners in their striving not just for success, but for mastery of the practice; as such, they define the virtuous behavior which the practitioner must exercise in order to achieve and even surpass them. Dewey realizes the value of past success, but he fears its power to limit human creativity and progress more than Maclntyre does. He understands the place of customs, or widespread uniformities of habit, which are ways in which the traditions of the past come down to us; as such, they represent a conservative human culture and its established ways of dealing with particular kinds of pursuits and avoidances that regularly occur. At the same time, customs tend to perpetuate themselves, even when they no longer respond to the needs of the individual in relation to the environment; if so, they can turn into automatic routines that limit or even prevent human growth and development. Maclntyre is surely aware that blind adherence to standards of excellence from the past can block innovative activity, but he is more concerned that rejection of them can lead to expression that is so personal that it cannot be understood or evaluated, or that might even become inhibitive or destructive of the common good. The key to appreciating Maclntyre's view here is to understand a practice as being an historical progression: The novice, in learning the practice, must submit to the standards of excellence from the past and to the master of the practice who instructs him in his training. Still, in addition to this looking backward, the practitioner is also involved in a forward extension of his own powers as they develop along the lines delimited by the practice in which he is engaged. The practitioner's own progress in stretching his abilities to reach the standards of excellence is a third key element Maclntyre identifies in a practice. As the practitioner's performance approaches those standards in quality, the sense of accomplishment begins to motivate further the refinement of his activity. As his performance grows "toward and beyond" the achievements of the past, at some point the novice becomes a master himself with authority over other novices. Nevertheless, Dewey would want to know what makes this history progressive: How does the extension of one's powers to achieve pre-existing standards of excellence transform the practice itself, such that it responds to changing conditions and continues to further human well-being? In order to answer this question, another aspect of Maclntyre's conception of a practice needs to be examined; for it is not just the "human powers to achieve excellence" that are "systematically extended," but also "human conceptions of the ends and goods involved." 32 Now it is one thing to extend one's powers in learning a practice, but another to extend one's conception of the ends of a practice or the goods that result from it; in this sense, if the value


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

and purpose of the organized activity change, the practice itself surely undergoes transformation. Such change must reach beyond just the training of the novice, and involve all the practitioners as well as the function of the practice within the community. It must also involve the institution that provides the resources for the practice to continue, for the institution relates to the community as a whole in the exchange of values, especially of those goods and ends external to a practice. Of course, it is the practitioners themselves who interact with the individuals in the community, but the institution exists in order, hopefully, to help the practice be more effective in its functioning. If it is responding to the changing needs of the community, the practice will undergo change as well. Dewey would agree that such change will be partly determined by the external demands of the institution, but he would insist that because of the unique individuals that come to the practice, the activity within a practice will naturally change as well. If the individual is able to move beyond the standards of excellence of the past, he must provide the impetus to change in making the practice his own. At least, this is true of a progressive society; it was not so in the Middle Ages, and this may be why Maclntyre does not appear to fully appreciate the role of innovative individuals, immersed as he is with the classical tradition. For him, the standards are there more to be emulated than surpassed. Nevertheless, Dewey would insist that the transformation of the practice should be driven both by the institution in responding to the needs of the community and by the individual practitioner. The practice is thereby placed within a larger context insofar as it functions within the community wherein it exists, and it is charged with an internal source of change by the individuals that arrive over time. What Dewey would prefer would be a balance of conservation and liberation of energies, with one side or the other receiving emphasis depending on the particular conditions. The practice of teaching, for example, is subject to pressure from government to demonstrate success on standardized tests; at the same time, individual teachers see more clearly the particular needs of students in class. This play of forces should keep the practice of teaching responsive to the needs of the community, but only if a good balance is maintained. Maclntyre is not as concerned as Dewey is, however, with the practice's being innovative and experimental in its operation. Maclntyre is more concerned with tying the creative efforts of the individual to the rich heritage that is his past in order to engender in him the sense of value that comes from the achievement of excellence. It is too easy for the individual to enthrone his own personal idiosyncrasies as standards of excellence since they feel right to him, especially if there is no compunction in him to recognize the forms that have emerged through the collective effort of mankind. These forms which pre-exist the arrival of any one individual were forged in the crucible of

Origins of the virtues


human struggle with the light and dark forces that only time reveals. It is too easy to take the romantic stand of the individual against the worldto "do it my way"; and doing so leads to products of individual sentiment rather than meaningful works that tease universal themes out of the particulars. More specifically, the virtues which are spawned by practices are not individual creations, according to Maclntyre, but characteristics of human activity essential for the practice to function well. Honesty, courage, and justice are inculcated in the young as part of their learning the practice, so that they will be able to extend their own individual powers to achieve excellence. Only through the exercise of the virtues among the practitioners is the practice itself made possible, and only through the development of the virtues in the novice is it possible for him to become a practitioner. The skills of effectiveness are means to the external goods that are attainable; without the recognition of the standards of excellence which make the virtues possible, these are the only skills and goods that are apparent to individuals. Only through social interactioncooperative activity in pursuit of a common goodare such moral realities made possible, and through time the virtues are refined so that the effort to reach and even surpass the standards of excellence is made more rewarding through the richness of the internal goods attached to such success. Social activity directed toward a common good and maintained over time achieves a moral dimension that opens up possibilities for individual achievement that would be otherwise nonexistent. The standards of excellence that emerge from within such activity serve to entice and reward individual achievement with a greatness of spirit that can only be earned through virtuous effort. Recognition of merit is enhanced by coming from other practitioners who realize its value and by being placed within an historical dimension that expands greatness beyond the present. At the same time, individual achievement is possible only through the existence of the historical social activity of which it is an expression; as such, the extension of human powers to achieve excellence is reflected in enhanced awareness of the goods and ends involved in the practice as a whole. These realities are distinct, for Maclntyre, from the role of the institutions that support such practices, although they are certainly related; much of the moral value in the life of a practitioner is unrealized by the institutions and thus merit goes unrecognized. Nevertheless, to the extent that a practice holds to its own standards of excellence, such a life has its own rewards. Although Dewey would have high praise for the extension of human powers and of the ends and goods involved in a practice, he would not be as focused on conserving the "standards of excellence" from the past in defining success in activity. While he recognizes that the function of education involves communication of practices from the older to the younger, he makes clear how this process develops from within experience rather than from without, or from


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

the past. He addresses the theory that "education is essentially retrospective; that it looks primarily to the past... and that mind is adequately formed in the degree in which it is patterned upon the spiritual heritage of the past," 33 but he does not agree with it. Rather, he points out what is valuable in that educational theory but calls attention to its weaknesses as well: [I]t is a part of wisdom to utilize the products of past history so far as they are of help for the future. Since they represent the results of prior experience, their value for future experience may, of course, be indefinitely great. . . . [B]ut there is an enormous difference between availing ourselves of them as present resources and taking them as standards and patterns in their retrospective character. 34 For one thing, the point of education, he says, is not to conserve the past: "The business of education is rather to liberate the young from reviving and retraversing the past than to lead them to a recapitulation of it." 35 It is important to note what education means for Dewey. I would venture to guess that most people associate him with education more so than with philosophy, and that most educators, as Garrison remarks, "have also tended to relegate Dewey to the periphery of the philosophical pantheon." 36 But the typical understanding of formal educationthe books, maps, and figures of the classroomfails to appreciate the broad conception of education (formal and informal) that Dewey had. As he says, education is one with growth: "Since growth is the characteristic of life, education is all one with growing; it has no end beyond itself." As Dewey conceived of it, education and growth take place for people of all ages: "[EJducation means the enterprise of supplying the conditions which insure growth, or adequacy of life, irrespective of age." Education is the grasping of the meaning from experience (i.e., the interconnection among events) that results in increasing the possibility for further education; as he defines it, education is "that reconstruction or reorganization of experience which adds to the meaning of experience, and which increases ability to direct the course of subsequent experience." 39 Education forms minds for people; it accumulates the wisdom and practices of the community or society into the capacity for greater control of the environment and increased capacity for richer experience. It is the means by which the culture perpetuates itself. Thus education is always conservative, but it can also be too conservative. In a static society, education is conceived of as bringing the young and immature up to pre-existing standards or levels of expertise; thus the past is conserved in the present, with little vision of a different future. A progressive society, according to Dewey, tries continually to grow: "They endeavor to shape the experience of the young so that instead of reproducing current habits, better habits shall be formed, and thus the future adult society

Origins of the virtues



be an improvement on their own." Dewey does not view children as passive receptors of intellectual content; rather, they are unique individuals, each with native activities that are more blind and impulsive than intelligent and controlled. Education is the transformation of the child's experience into more meaningful experience resulting in greater capacity for more meaningful experience in the future. Thus the child must be permitted to manifest his creative impulses early in life, just as the environment with which he interacts must be structured by the educator so that it feeds back into the child's development. Dewey considers tradition in the same way he conceives of a society's culture, as the accumulation of its collective experience. The value of tradition is in its meaningthe understanding of interrelations among events; its function in education is to guide growth rather than control it. This is why it is important to Dewey that the individual be a crucial source of the transformation of human practices. The youth does not come emptyhanded, waiting like a sponge to soak up the content of knowledge that is presented to him. Rather, he comes with a variety of impulses that strike out in uncontrolled ways. These impulses are material for trainingwhat the youth must come to master. It is natural to look at past achievements for inspiration, but they were achievements of their time. One cannot simply copy or replicate the great products of the past, for in that sense they are nothing but fossils; one must achieve in the present situation in a novel way that which was accomplished in the past. This is the fundamental problem of creativityhow to make something new out of the resources at hand. Dewey explains it this way: The study of past products will not help us understand the present, becau the present is not due to the products, but to the life of which they were the products. A knowledge of the past and its heritage is of great significance when it enters into the present, but not otherwise. Dewey argues that formal education exists because human societies have become so complex in their activities that the gap between practicing members and the younger generations has grown beyond what can be handled by less formal methods. The ideas and activities that must be passed on in order for the culture to continue require more time and special attention for understanding. On the other hand, one important lesson of past traditions is that a culture must enjoy progressive change if it is not to become stagnant and die, and such change results primarily from the innovation of individuals that occurs despite the conservative nature of cultural traditions. What is needed from education, then, is the right balance of conservative and progressive forces. Dewey is fighting the notion of education as a learning to dwell in the forms of the past, as if the past formed a separate world where nothing changes: "The


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

past is a great resource for the imagination; it adds a new dimension to life, but on condition that it be seen as the past of the present, and not as another and disconnected world." 42 There is a tendency in scholarship to dig into the past and to take the fossil for the creative act itself, but this leads to works about works about works, and learning becomes soaking up information. This model of knowledge as information is affecting schools today, where computer technology that puts a continual strain on the budget is justified with reference to the belief that we make students smarter by just providing access to information. The true goal of education, and its really great difficulty as well, is to channel students' energies into intelligent inquiry that they control. The standards of excellence in Maclntyre's idea of a practice are essential to his conception of the virtues because the effort to achieve them leads to the realization of internal goods only if the virtues of honesty, courage, and justice guide that effort. Such standards do not have as prominent a role in Dewey's view of human practices, although they certainly have value; the point is how one uses them in the present: "A mind that is adequately sensitive to the needs and occasions of the present actuality will have the liveliest of motives for interest in the background of the present, and will never have to hunt for a way back because it will never have lost connection." But we must not be unfair to Maclntyre here, for the result of the virtuous effort to achieve the standards of excellence in a practice is that "human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended." Clearly, the point of his conception is to make excellence present in current times; not just to reaffirm the excellence of the past, but to empower the practitioners of today in their pursuit of the "goods and ends involved." These differences between Maclntyre and Dewey over adherence to standards of excellence and over the role of the individual in driving the transformation of a practice are significant. It just makes sense that if individual practitioners do, at least sometimes, achieve true innovation then it must be the individual who provides the impetus for change. The actual conditions of life change, and individuals are impacted on more quickly and to a greater degree by such change than are larger forces such as institutions and practices. As a result, the practice itself will be transformed, not only by the institution in response to changing community needs, but also by innovative individuals responding to changing environmental conditions in their own unique ways. Maclntyre resists the influence of individualism and values tradition because it is unjust and imprudent for past achievements to go unrecognized; if there is a continual push to "make it new," then the contributions of the past will not receive the acclamation they are due, and which is necessary for the proper guidance of future activity. If the governing standard is only "what you have done lately," then there will be little or no appreciation of merit. The achievement of excellence will have merely temporary value and be too easily

Origins of the virtues


discarded, and our practices will lack any sense of greater purpose than the immediate gratification of pleasure. Thus Maclntyre seems more concerned with conditions within a practice than the current conditions outside it. Dewey would agree that what is valuable from the past must be preserved through the transformation brought on by creative individuals. To engage in the practice, the individual submits to the standards of excellence from the past; but this is in order to master them, and because he is a new individual amid changing environmental forces, the impulses which drive him are unique. If he is to master the practice, he must make it his own. Change is inevitable, but it does not arise ex nihilo; the past is transformed but not lost. What is needed then, is a balance of conservation and liberation, preservation and innovation, which does recognize merit as transcending the temporary goal of an individual, but which also inspires the achievement of excellence in future practitioners and fuels the historical transformation of the ends and goals involved. So, for both Maclntyre and Dewey human practices are socially constituted activities that serve as grounds for the emergence of the virtues, and both measure those virtues by their extension of human powers to achieve excellence and in their extension of human understanding of the goods and ends of activity. Ultimately, Maclntyre projects this extension of human powers and of the goods and ends of practices into the grander scale of participation in a tradition of dialectical inquiry into a human telos, while Dewey fits the consummation of human interaction with the environment within an overall forward movement of growth. Their fundamental disagreement appears over the role of "standards of excellence" in measuring or providing for the growth and development of practitioners and the role of individual practitioners in making a practice progressive. Still, what Maclntyre means by "standards of excellence" is not just "past products," but the human act of achievement at the time in which the product was created; and this is exactly what Dewey finds valuable in the study of the pastthat it can inspire greatness today. Their views, then, may not be that far apart, although Dewey seems to have expressed more clearly than Maclntyre what is valuable in studying past practices, and to have shown more effectively the importance of reflective criticism and individual creativity in transforming or reconstructing those past practices to deal with the changing circumstances of life. Overall, Dewey has more trust in how individuals modify traditions in response to current conditions, while Macln-

tyre puts more faith in what is conserved by tradition over time.

Biological connections The agreement of Maclntyre and Dewey on the philosophical importance of human practices is evident, and, despite their difference in attitude toward


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

individual innovation, both consider the virtues to play an important role in human conduct. Dewey, however, presents a conception of human practices that involves a much stronger connection to our biological origins than does Maclntyre in After Virtue, although, as already noted, the latter does introduce a biological foundation for the virtues in his latest book, Dependent Rational Animals. According to Dewey, the self is constituted by habits, which are given a biological foundation as the function between organism and environment by means of which needs are satisfied and life is furthered. In fact, for both Maclntyre and Dewey, virtues and vices are conceived of as habits; and, of course, this is the traditional view of Aquinas and Aristotle. As the latter remarked in the JVicomachean Ethics: [Mjoral excellence comes about as a result of habit, whence also its name is one that is formed by a slight variation from the word for "habit". From this it is also plain that none of the moral excellences arises in us by nature; for nothing that exists by nature can form a habit contrary to its nature. 45 But Dewey is heavily influenced by Darwinism in the way he conceives of the world and man's place in it. "All virtues and vices are habits," Dewey says, "which incorporate objective forces. They are interactions of elements contributed by the make-up of an individual with elements supplied by the out-door world." 46 The environment and the organism are mutually implicated in such a function: They are both active and must both cooperate. A habit is not the private possession of an individual; it is the product of interactions inclusive of organism and environment. Habits are determined as much by particular features of the environment as by the impulses of the organism. In other words, habits are more than just automatic routines by which the organism makes passive adjustments to its environment. A habit certainly does that, for since the environment is just as actively involved as the organism, the organism must respond and adjust to that activity. But a habit is also a way in which the organism makes the environment adjust to it. Organism and environment both influence and adapt to each other. Maclntyre does not provide such a biological conception of the virtues as does Dewey. This is partly because he picks up the tradition of the virtues through Aristotle and Aquinas, whose conception of species as unchanging included no small amount of metaphysical content. The human species was distinguished from the nonhuman in terms of a rational soul which participated to some degree in the nature of the divine, and virtues were expressions of the powers that make up its unchanging nature. It was this conception of human nature that provided normativity and the motivation to be moral: One should cultivate the virtues in order to function properly and be happy. Aristotle's three-part conception of the human soul as rational, sensitive, and

Origins of the virtues


nutritive, for instance, led to his distinction of intellectual and moral virtues. The ancient notion of the four classic virtues reflects this understanding as well; as Socrates described them in the Republic, temperance governed the appetites which functioned in the lower regions of the torso, courage was the virtue of the spirit located in the heart, and wisdom was excellence of mind seated in the head; justice was given no specific location in the body but was represented by the balance, proportion, and proper functioning of the other three. Now I am not attributing such a view to Aristotle or Aquinas, but their ideas did emerge from this background. My point is that the conception of what a virtue is in the Aristotelian tradition involves a metaphysical approach that assumes an entire worldview of particular substances and eternal essences not assumed in Dewey, who begins instead from a conception of nature in process which we come to understand through interaction with it. One reason that Maclntyre avoided biology in After Virtue was because of this problematic metaphysical background. The Aristotelian conception of human nature is unacceptable, premised as it is on a conception of unchanging species, and it posed a serious obstacle to Maclntyre's attempt to revitalize the classical tradition. He evidently could find no good explanation of the virtues that would include the ideas of evolution and natural selectionit must have seemed that to accept the evolution of species would be to reject the traditional foundation for the virtues. According to this view, normativity would be lost without a conception of human nature as universal and unchanging, for if human nature is subject to change, or if it is somehow relative to time or place, then knowing what it requires becomes problematic. Of course, conceiving of human nature as unchanging leads to valuing past achievements and to a generally conservative stance, features which fit nicely with Maclntyre's program; but clearly, on this crucial issue, Dewey has a more realistic view. Prior, though, disagrees, and claims that Maclntyre is too quick in his dismissal of Aristotle's metaphysical biology. Arguing for the importance of a conception of eudaimonia for virtue ethics in particular, Prior holds th "Aristotle's ethics is not metaphysical or biological in ways that render it archaic or obsolete. .. . Instead, Aristotle's account of human nature seems more like empirical psychology than outdated natural philosophy." 47 Prior admits that Aristotle's eudaimonism is tied to an essentialist metaphysics, b tries to defend it nonetheless, if perhaps unconvincingly: "Philosophers," he claims, "have long since left behind the prejudices of the Logical Positivist era, when to label a position metaphysical was to subject it to abuse." The traditional view of human nature was that it is complete and wholly intelligible, whether formed by God at the dawn of time or carefully differentiated by close comparison with nonhuman species. It was assumed that all


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

people share certain universal characteristics which together make up our nature. The virtues, then, can be determined for all as dispositions or habits that meet the demands established by human nature. Moral judgment in particular situations is guided by the virtues which in turn are guided by a conception of human flourishing determined by our understanding of human nature. Such an understanding is challenged by the idea of the evolution of species through genetic variation and natural selection because human nature can no longer be appealed to as an unchanging object of knowledge. Placing it in flux necessitates an entirely different conception of nature and of the theoretical framework for morality. Dewey attempts to establish just such a conception. Human beings, he argues, must be described empirically in their typical patterns of activity. It is evident that all organisms that survive and reproduce adapt to their environment. Clearly in primitive life forms there is little if any cognitive functioning, yet there are habits, whether instinctual or learned, through which the organism interacts with its environment. Such systems of interaction can be differentiated in terms of their complexity, with human behavior being the most complex of all. The virtues are still described as dispositions or habits that lead to and constitute human well-being, but there can be no one conception of such a life. Rather, the point becomes to increase human flexibility and capabilities in all areas of human endeavor that enhance control over future experiences, such that what life opens up before us are greater possibilities of further interaction rather than fewer. In forming his theory in After Virtue, Maclntyre tried to bypass considerations of biology with the three background ideas of a practice, a narrative conception of the self, and a moral tradition. These three ideas share certain features in common. For one thing, they are all facets of the social nature of human activity; even the narrative conception of the self is rooted in the stories people tell about themselves and about each other. Furthermore, these ideas are also linked in being historical in nature; that is, they progress over time. Again, even the narrative conception of the self involves looking backward to the social relationships that create identity and forward to the relationships that are to be established in the kind of person one chooses to be. Thus Maclntyre tried to ground the virtues in social and historical aspects of our existence rather than in the biological. This is an impressive accomplishment, especially as it stresses the commonality of human ambitions and activities and as it awakens in us a sense of our ties to the past and the richness of our heritage. In response to modern tendencies toward individual subjectivity, Maclntyre calls attention to the reality of human practices. However, a theory of the virtues as human activity must find a way to establish their reality in the physiological dimensions of human existencenot just in the social and historical. Without confronting

Origins of the virtues


our physical way of being in the world, a theory of morality will remain rather disconnected from our understanding of ourselves. Maclntyre believes that a reconnection with our traditions is necessary to provide the ground to center us, but it is not sufficient without an understanding of our animal nature. The problem this raises, however, lies in the dark shadows of determinism and irrationality cast by the latter. Maclntyre does confront the challenge that evolutionary theory makes to the classical view of human nature in his latest book, Dependent Rational An mals, wherein he sets out to show how our moral life developed out of our animal nature. In comparing the prelinguistic behavior of humans with the social interaction of various species of dolphins, Maclntyre stresses the continuity of their activity with ours while refraining from presupposing a fundamental, radical difference in their cognitive life. He finds it reasonable to ascribe beliefs and reasons for action to nonhuman animals in much the same way as humans ascribe them to each otherthrough our interaction with one another in cooperative activity toward a common good. Maclntyre does not go so far as to attribute virtues to nonhuman animals, but neither would he attribute them to human infants; nevertheless, he claims that social interaction can be quite highly developed in the former and emerges in the latter as coordinated activity in pursuit of the good. One of the key differences between humans and nonhuman animals identified by Maclntyre is the growth of practical reasoning wherewith we reflect on the relative value of various goods and their effect on the kind of life that is being constituted. In moving toward a broader understanding of purposive behavior across species, Maclntyre argues that we can become more aware of our own vulnerability to injury, disease, and disability because we become more aware of our physical way of being in the world. This awareness, he claims, leads to a set of virtues related to our mutual dependence on others for our well-being for our flourishing, in fact. The virtues necessary to become an independent practical reasoner include more reflective characteristics, while the virtues needed in relations of mutual dependence are the more interpersonal behaviors of giving and receiving. We develop into autonomous creatures, but we are never completely independent, at least not for a complete life. Dewey would agree with such a characterization of the virtues as intelligent habits which effect the satisfaction of need if they develop the potential for further satisfactions in the future. Clearly such activity requires the influence of society because of the knowledge that comes from communal experience over time. A virtue originates in natural activity that is purposive, and it is refined by the socializing influences of others. Still, Maclntyre's exposition of the virtues emphasizes their reflective nature made meaningful through intellectual pursuits; they ultimately derive their purpose from the quest for the good, a dialectical inquiry into the good for man qua man. Dewey, on


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

the other hand, maintains that there can be no such good because there is no such single nature. Here, then, is a point of contention that will be picked up in the next chapter, but it is worthwhile to lay it out now in relation especially to a biological background for the virtues. Maclntyre claims that a conception of what is good for man qua man is one of the fundamental elements of an aretaic ethics and that the quest for it is the unifying force in moral activity. The conception itself changes over time and must be understood in an historical sense i.e. as the best conception we have so far; nevertheless, it must also be assumed that such a truly human good is conceivable. Maclntyre argues that such a conception is assumed when recognizing human vulnerabilities of disease and disability, that understanding real human needs requires a conception of human flourishing. The particular diseases and disabilities vary, but we all have them at some point in time; we have all been infants and most of us will become elderly before we die. If we can recognize these universal human deficits, then we must at the same time imagine a universal conception of human well-being as complete and whole. This is an interesting argument, for it does seem natural to speak of what is good for man qua man; but when we examine more closely the borders of the concept of man, or species in general, the edges begin to blur. For example, today we are able to manipulate the genetic structure of individuals, and if this involves germ-line cells, then we affect future generations as well. We can insert human DNA into pigs, causing them to make human blood; organs too, perhaps soon. At what point does a pig stop being a pig and become another species? Humans share almost their entire DNA with chimpanzees; how much human DNA implanted into a chimp would it take to make it human, or vice versa? The point is that these distinctions are not immutable. Dewey says that we make them for a reason. Selective emphasis, he says, leads us to focus on some things and ignore others, and it is inescapable. Such distinctions are products of reflection that we can use to gain greater control over our experience, but to imagine that they are eternal, unchanging essences is not only mistaken, but dangerous. If they are products of selective emphasis, then to hold them up as set in stone and determining of our morality is to enshrine personal bias. There is no single human nature, then, according to Dewey. This is more in agreement with our genuine understanding of biological evolution. Certainly Maclntyre recognizes this and understands its implications for aretaic ethics, but it is unclear how he can then continue to hold to his conception of what is good for man qua man. Then again, he does not lay claim to the conception, but to the quest for it. This will require closer examination in the chapter to follow, but for now it is clearer why Maclntyre initially tried to avoid biology

Origins of the virtues


in After Virtue, and it appears that it raises nagging questions for him even after confronting it in his more recent work. One reason why Maclntyre might insist on the quest for a human telos is that he finds unacceptable the implications that evolutionary theory has for our understanding of human purposes in general. The only purposes it ascribes to any living being are those of survival and reproduction. This is not, however, the traditional sense of purpose as something higher or greater that gives meaning to our lives. It is not especially inspirational to say that an organism must survive long enough to reproduce because otherwise its species will not exist. It is understandable that Maclntyre would seek to avoid such implications and to affirm a "higher" telos for man, even as he attempts to relate his understanding of the virtues to our animal natures; but these implications make it very difficult to accept a purpose for man qua man, given the framework provided by our science of life. Dewey, on the other hand, would accept these implications within the purposes for which evolutionary biology exists to further our understanding of life, including human life. Through science we have greater control over many aspects of human well-being, but one must not fail to recognize the role of selective emphasis in reflective experience. Naturally the evolutionary biologist sees most clearly that upon which he focuses, but there is always more on the fringes of experience than we ever fully fathom in our conceptions. For this reason Dewey argues that there are an indefinite number of ends or purposes for people to take up, as we continually engage in unique situations. To speak of single purposes for single forms or natures is natural for human understanding, but it is limiting to restrict or reduce experience to such conceptions. This is why Dewey refuses the conception of a universal human telos; surely he would appreciate what motivates Maclntyre to propose such a quest, but would consider it doomed to failure because experience is simply too rich for any one such idea. It is much better, he would say, to remain as inclusive and accepting as possible than to be too limiting and defining. This is why Dewey represents more adequately the spirit of American democracy and openness in philosophy, and it is why his view tends to be more comprehensive. In his latest book Maclntyre tries to use biology to do two things: to establish an understanding of the virtues in cooperative social activity originating in our animal nature, and to demonstrate that our human vulnerabilities are the reason for our mutual dependence on each other for the means to flourish as members of our species. He feels the need, however, to return ultimately to the dialectical quest for a human telos as the unifying theme of our flourishing as rational animals, perhaps because, unlike Dewey, he cannot accept the provisional nature of the particular goods that arise from primary experience that the means and ends of human purposes only exist in particular situations.


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

But if the virtues truly arise from our animal nature, then their purpose and content must arise from the same physical conditions as we do. This is why Dewey offers a more realistic view: Maclntyre is compelled to continue his search for the human good beyond the conditions of our existence. In conclusion, while Maclntyre has initially no biological model for the traditional view of the virtues that he wants to revive, Dewey builds his conception of human practices on an acceptance of evolutionary biology from the first. That background allows one to understand the character and habits of the moral agent as implicating the natural and social environment in complex but particular situations, whereas Macintyre still assumes a bifurcation between man and nature. For Dewey, man and nature are bound by their interaction, so it is as necessary to effect change in the environment as it is to effect change in humans in order to improve the welfare of all. This is clearly a more powerful approach to problem-solving in general, and not just in the moral life. For Dewey, there is no separate explanation necessary for a moral life as opposed to a biological life as it has developed for human beings; the truly human life is the moral life. The gist of this comparison so far, then, is that Dewey's conception of habits provides a sound explanation for the nature of the virtues, and his progressive view of human practices supports a balance of conservative and liberal forces; on the other hand, Maclntyre's conception of a practice tends to minimize the role of individual innovation in promoting moral progress, and his attempt to characterize the virtues while avoiding certain implications of modern biology has hampered his efforts to provide a clear formulation of their nature.

1. Maclntyre, AV, 187. 2. Ibid., 191. 3. Ibid., 189. 4. Dewey, LW 1,274. 5. Ibid., 268-9. 6. Ibid., 269. 7. Ibid. 8. Gouinlock, J., "Dewey, virtue, and moral pluralism," 176. 9. Ibid., 177. 10. Pappas, G.F., "Open-mindedness and courage: complementary virtues of pragmatism," 321. 11. Ibid., 321. 12. Ibid., 322. 13. Ibid., 321. 14. Ibid., 322.

Origins of the virtues


15. Ibid. 16. Teehan, J., "Character, integrity and Dewey's virtue ethics," 843. 17. Ibid., 844. 18. Ibid., 845. 19. Ibid., 847. 20. Ibid., 857. 21. Ibid., 847. 22. Ibid., 848. 23. Ibid., 849. 24. Ibid., 851. 25. Pappas, G.F., "To be or to do: John Dewey and the great divide in ethics," 458. 26. Ibid., 459. 27. Dewey, J. "Three independent factors in morals" [hereinafter LW5], 280. 28. Ibid., 288. 29. Ibid. 30. Ibid., 281. 31. Ibid., 288. 32. Maclntyre, AV, 187. 33. Dewey, J., Democracy and Education [hereinafter MW9], 78. 34. Ibid., 79. 35. Ibid. 36. Garrison, J.W., "John Dewey's philosophy as education," 63. 37. Dewey, MW9, 58. 38. Ibid., 56. 39. Ibid., 82. 40. Ibid., 85. 41. Ibid., 81. 42. Ibid., 82. 43. Ibid. 44. Maclntyre, AV, 187. 45. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1103al 7-20. 46. Dewey, MW14, 16. 47. Prior, W.J., "Eudaimonism and virtue," 334. 48. Ibid., 335.

Human flourishing

Let us continue the picture of the virtues by examining them as character traits included within an understanding of human flourishing; without such inclusion, it seems, they would lack the necessary unity and consistency to function in a systematic approach to moral judgment. Maclntyre and Dewey both consider the virtues key to human aspirations to fuller development and both argue that the most general end or purpose of human activity is progressive rather than static; but to study the differences between them helps to expose these conceptions to greater critical appreciation. Aristotle conceived of the virtues as means to and constitutive of human flourishing; that is, given the nature of man, the virtues are key to the good life, or eudaimonia. The notion of human flourishing has clear biological conno tations which Aristotle used to his advantage. We have seen that Maclntyre tried at first to avoid a biological conception of human nature, only to admit its necessity in his latest work, wherein he draws the lines from our animal nature to our rational nature with purposive social activity. This allows him to use the idea of flourishing in regard to human as well as nonhuman species, while allowing for different content in the living experiences of each. Dewey, on the other hand, frames his conception of human nature from the beginning with the biological background of evolutionary theory, and his conception of growth would appear to fit well with the idea of human flourishing. He, however, does not accept the conception of a human telos which Maclntyre makes central to his ethics. This chapter will compare what Maclntyre and Dewey say about the ends or purposes of human activity, but this is preceded by a discussion of their views on the nature of the personal self in order to understand the conditions for its flourishing. They both conceive of the self as an essentially social construction. Maclntyre offers a narrative conception of the self, however, which is somewhat different from Dewey's more nonlinguistic view of the self as an organization of activities. I will argue that Dewey's conception manages to avoid the metaphysical entanglements which Maclntyre falls into while trying to establish the unity of the self. I will then argue that the place of Maclntyre's quest for a human telos in his moral philosophy is untenable and that Dewey offers a more consistent conception of human flourishing as growth.

Human flourishing Social theory of self


Both philosophers' conceptions of the self differ from what is generally assumed in modern moral philosophy. Neither Maclntyre nor Dewey accept the notion of an isolated ego that wills either to act or not, but neither is a determinist either, since they reject the idea that laws make us do things. For Dewey, the self is a confluence of activities taken up through its environment, especially its social environment. The self for Maclntyre is not isolated from society either, but immersed within it. It does not choose to engage in society or enter into a contract to accept its laws; rather, he says that the self is born within society and is constituted by recognition of pre-existing social relationships and the formation of new ones. The idea of the self as an independent substance that stands behind activity to control it is not held by either Maclntyre or Dewey; both philosophers agree that such a conception is illusory and damaging to healthy social relationships. Still, Maclntyre struggles more than Dewey to establish personal identity, partly because he begins working without a biological conception of human nature, and partly because he feels a greater need to establish a substantial, unified self. As Maclntyre explains, the concept of the self has suffered during modern times from attacks by both the analytical tradition, which has tended to reduce the complexity of human behavior to single actions, and by the existential tradition, which has dispersed the self into isolated social roles. If the concept of a virtue is to be viable it must be shown that character is real, which for Maclntyre means that there is sufficient unity to a single life that it may possess a set of dispositions towards activity that cut across practices and serve as grounds to criticize the moral value of those practices in terms of their propensity towards living the good life. The virtues arise from rudimentary social activity, but they are greatly refined in the realm of human practices; yet even though they originate in socially constituted practices, they transcend particular practices or social roles. As Maclntyre describes them, they are characteristics of a unified life: "[T]he unity of a virtue in someone's life is intelligible only as a characteristic of a unitary life, a life that can be conceived and evaluated as a whole." According to Maclntyre, the virtues of justice, courage, and honesty emerge within the context of a practice as those human qualities necessary to achieve the internal goods: justice in giving to each what he is due (which can only be known by those engaged in the practice), courage in taking risks necessary to promote the common goals of the practice, and honesty in listening to criticism from others engaged in the activity and speaking truthfully in return. Now these virtues of character differ from excellences of skill in that they cross boundaries and are not limited to one practice; also, they can be important in criticizing a practice itself, for the possibility does exist for practices to


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

be counter to the good life. In fact, the necessity for criticism leads Maclntyre to place the virtues within a larger social and moral context, the narrative order of a single human life: "a concept of a self whose unity resides in the unity of a narrative which links birth to life to death as narrative beginning to middle to end." Maclntyre holds that the practice of the virtues necessarily involves a narrative structure to human life. Courage, for instance, is acquired from actions taken in the face of perilous situations that we have encountered. Courage has value because through it we overcome adversity. It is acquired from the past, but projects us into the future. As we pass through life, it is through the virtues, and the vices as well, that we continually make the past become present in our actions. But the idea of an individual life being unified through a narrative structure needs closer examination. Any one life is the intersection of many different stories told by different people; each story reveals some aspect of character, certainly, but what is the person whose character we understand? What provides the unity, and how substantial is it? Does Maclntyre intend "narrative" as a metaphor or in its literal sense? Dewey would point out here that the self is not an element of primary, but a product of secondary, or reflective, experience; it is the interactions between organisms and the environment that are fundamental. Such natural processes do have an historical structure of means and ends, organized in terms of purpose and explicable as narratives, but they are not primarily linguistic. The self, including character, is identified by reflection upon events in order to understand or attain greater control over problematic situations. For Dewey, then, the self will be conceived of differently depending on the circumstances. Pappas points out that for Dewey "the self is not a substance but an organization of habits that is relatively stable and enduring. The self changes, therefore, as habits are modified." Dewey argues that people act from their habits, and he describes character as the interpenetration of habits, such that each habitual action influences all the others. The greater the interpenetration, he says, the more stable the character. So even though they agree that the self is a social phenomenon realized historically, Dewey is not concerned with establishing as strong a unity to selfhood as is Maclntyre. Maclntyre would respond that if there is no more to the self than a collection of various perspectives each of which is unique, then there is no unity to the self at all. There would be a different self with each new perspective offered. There would be no way to identify the same self from one circumstance to another. What would be the identifying feature that would permit the classification of perspectives in the first place? To classify one perspective with another, there must be some third feature which unites them. This unifying feature is what Maclntyre seeks in the form of narrativesa person's character. A character is unified by the structure of the narrative of which it is part,

Human flourishing


so in laying claim to a narrative form of a single life, Maclntyre fuses the intersubjectivity of the others who tell the stories with the historical dimension of the narrative's unfolding plot. This is the setting within which a character exists; it is unified within the narrative structure. Maclntyre argues that any conception of human activity must presuppose some set of intentions for the agent; in fact, if these are unknown, we find ourselves trying to guess them just in order to make sense of the activity. The intentions which explain the activity must, however, make reference to a setting, the essential nature of which is historical. He says: "We cannot . .. characterize behavior independently of intentions, and we cannot characterize intentions independently of the settings which make those intentions intelligible both to agents themselves and to others." The unity of a single life is, then, its setting in history, or better, in the several histories that intersect in one life, since the explanation of any particular action requires reference to past and future complexes of interactions. But if, in fact, there are several histories or narratives that intersect, there may not be the sufficient unity that Maclntyre seeks. Here again, the lack of a biological model makes this part of Maclntyre's argument somewhat tenuous. Given his effort to revitalize the Aristotelian tradition, his position requires a substantial unity to human nature, as well as to the individual, but such permanence is difficult to secure without Aristotle's biology. According to Maclntyre, each individual person finds himself in the middle of various but determining social relationshipssomeone's child may be a parent to another, someone's student another's teacher, a patient of one a healer of someone else. A person finds himself looking backward toward those from whom he has come and forward toward those to whom he is going, roles determined by the past correlative to those that are forming for the future. A person's identity, then, requires definition from the others around him. Each action he takes involves his accountability to others as well as the accountability of others to him; that is, in being the subject of a particular history, each person is held accountable for his story. Insofar as his behavior is intelligible, he can give reasons for it and be responsible for explaining it in terms of his intentions, which necessarily involve reference to setting and characters. For Maclntyre, narratives embody history and educate us, especially stories about heroes. It is no accident that all civilizations began with heroic mythologies. We enter social roles in media res, and so to understand what I ought to I must engage in the narrative structure of my life, such that what I am now is continuous with my past and leads into the future. In this sense, our personal identity is imputed to us by others; thus, for Maclntyre, the unity of the self is a shared unity of social roles that, rather than being dispersed and isolated, are enriched and entangled with the dimensions of past and future, with the connections that pre-exist our coming and those that are yet to be established


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

through our interaction with others. An individual is one particular convergence of stories that portray this character in dramatic action, open-ended but purposeful. As my identity is imputed to me, I am held accountable by others for my actions insofar as any explanation of them must make reference to the social conditions and roles which I inhabitthat is, a setting, and any elaboration of that setting is naturally in narrative form. According to Maclntyre, "The self inhabits a character whose unity is given as the unity of a character." 5 Now such a conception of the self may be viewed either from the subjective side, such that I am aware of my own narrative structure as myself, or objectively, in that I am accountable to others for how my actions fit into that narrative structure. How does this conception of human existence as a narrative allow for the criticism of a practice? By providing for the unity of a self that transcends any particular practice, that can acquire the virtues of justice, courage, and honesty as character traits, and that can see the place of any particular practice within an historical context that includes both ancestors and progeny. For example, the commercialization of science and technology presents us today with almost insurmountable problems of pollution and the destruction of our natural resources; but these are not so much difficulties for chemists as they are problems for the ordinary citizens of today and for those yet to exist. They present obstacles to the good life of all mankind, and in order to correct such problems we must be able to imagine the perspective of those who will inherit our legacy. Maclntyre is responding to the need to establish a unified self capable of possessing character traits. He does this by reflecting on the nature of social interaction that identifies a person in his social roles. Of course, this was the origin of the virtues which he outlined in early Greek society as described by Homer; a person's social role gave that person his purpose, or function, which he could perform well or poorly. Excellence, or virtue, was the highest achievement of a hero in performing this function. Maclntyre transposes this framework, including the storyteller, to contemporary times, but the storyteller has become everyman. Now clearly Homer wove together a variety of stories of human competition and daring into unified works, but what provides that unity when everyone tells the story simultaneously? There will not be the clear progression of events that combines the many tales into an epic; rather, Maclntyre must assume that a local community of organized practices and the institutions that support them will provide the necessary continuity. Crowther agrees with the significance of narrative for the nature of selfconsciousness and for characterizing our relationships with others. He explains that a narrative conception of the self can provide a "constitutive end of the human condition" to be realized in "the reciprocity of our own narrative and the narratives of others." This reciprocity, Crowther says, takes on an



ethical dimension in that if it is to be "open and robust," then "our exchanges with others should be informed by virtues"; otherwise, "the constitutive end of self-consciousness" may not be fully realized. Two points should be made to clarify Maclntyre's efforts concerning the self. One is to repeat the point that in After Virtue he is working without a bio logical foundation for human nature. In Dependent Rational Animals he show less concern over the problem of constituting a self from the stories told about it and in which it engages; the narratives are still important, but there he stresses the continuity between human and nonhuman natures. The second point is that Maclntyre is continuing to move from his conception of a practice towards the necessity of a moral tradition by way of the narrative quest for a human telos. As it is a narrative unity of a single life, language is essential to th expression and identification of the intelligibility of human conduct through accountability. Maclntyre is setting the stage for the dialectical discussion about the good which he takes to be the central question for the classical moral tradition. The fact that the virtues require a narrative form of life is an important step. Weinstein expresses clearly the cumulative relation among Maclntyre's three background ideas of a practice, a narrative form of self, and a moral tradition: Maclntyre has developed a system that extends out concentrically. In the center are practices. These contain internal goods that drive individuals to engage in them. Practices themselves necessitate the development of a story of justification which people use to develop a meaning in their own lives. The narratives are then unified to form a conception of a human telos that is itself the center and driving force behind a tradition, they form a cultural narrative. What emerges, then, is a distinction between smaller and larger narratives. There are many stories to tell about one's life, from the cradle to the grave. For some heroes, the stories continue even past the death of the character; they concern the impact on a community of the character's life. These each reveal a person's character more fully, but they are not continuous because of the character; character is formed by the narrative. The stories are acts within a larger drama, books within an epic. The larger drama or epic goes unfinished, while the lives of characters are written in and out of it. Of course, no one person writes this, but each person does envision its being written by his culture as his world changes. This great epic is interpreted by Maclntyre as a moral tradition whose universal theme is the quest for the human telos. There are two final points that Maclntyre makes about the narrative form of life. One is that there will always be a certain unpredictability about it: "it is


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

crucial," he says, "that at any given point in an enacted dramatic narrative we do not know what will happen next." The second point he makes is that human activity is teleological: There is no present which is not informed by some image of some future and an image of the future which always presents itself in the form of a telosor of a variety of ends or goalstowards which we are either moving or failing

to move in the present.

Dewey could accept Maclntyre's idea of the self as a narrative form of life that is open-ended and purposive, but not in the teleological sense that Maclntyre describes. The search for a human telos is part of the legacy of the old quest for certainty; rather, Dewey argues for an indefinite number of ends and goals for human activity. While for Maclntyre the virtues exist in a person's narrative history, for Dewey habits "constitute the self" in its purposive activity directed toward the satisfaction of needs. Persons are mixtures of better and worse, and no one is thoroughly one or the other; rather, he says, people simply have tendencies toward certain characteristic modes ofbehavior: [T]he foundation for value and the striving to realize it is found in nature, because when nature is viewed as consisting of events rather than substances, it is characterized by histories, that is, by continuity of change proceeding from beginnings to endings. Thus, for Dewey, the world is full of histories, which are not necessarily connected to language. We are continually engaging in beginnings and endings. Ideally, these histories are controlled, but ends are never permanent; they are transitory. Just as we seek means to specific ends, these ends become means to further ends. Thus our lives are engaged in continual historical progressions many individual movements intertwined yet formed as purposive engagements with the environment. Dewey puts it this way: Our individual habits are links in forming the endless chain of humanity. Their significance depends upon the environment inherited from our forerunners, and it is enhanced as we foresee the fruits of our labors in the world in which our successors live. So for Dewey, as for Maclntyre, the virtues exist within the historical dimensions that form the horizons to our communal lives, tying us to those from whom we come and those toward whom we go. For Dewey also, the virtues cut across human practices, but not because they are possessed by a single

Human flourishing


life unified by its narrative form. The virtues transcend particular practices because they function as especially effective methods by which intelligent activity resolves problematic situations so as to consummate the energies involved in a transforming process of growth. It is the particular situations that are problematic according to Dewey, so the virtues are as much elements of the environment as they are constituents of human nature. Dewey is not so concerned, then, with establishing the unity of an individual human life as with focusing on the conditions for resolution within a problematic situation. The virtues serve as dispositions toward such effective engagement. Dewey begins with a biological understanding of human conduct and draws out the consequences for a conception of the virtues as habits in the constitution of character. He would agree with Maclntyre about the significance of the social environment in establishing the self, and, since he views nature as composed of events or histories, these can naturally be given narrative form through social communication. But he is most concerned with envisioning particular situations that are inclusive of self and others and with recognizing the unification of energies in common purpose. Because Dewey views nature as constituted by events rather than substances, the unity of a personal self would be a product of reflection. This does not make its nature merely subjective, since in nature there are more or less stable objects and events, and what is more stable may be distinguished from the less stable; but to conceive of the self as an individual substance independent of its environment is mistaken. One aspect of Dewey's view that is different from most traditional philosophies is his movement away from the hard dualisms of mind and body, or man and nature, and toward more inclusive systems within which such distinctions can be made selectively. To defend a conception of human nature as an unchanging, intelligible form set off from the external world is a debilitating effort, according to Dewey. He begins, rather, from the interaction of organism and environment as a constituent process in nature. Still, Dewey's view of the self does seem to lack substantial unity. He assumes an empirical method to describe simply and openly what is presented in experience. The value of his description is in its power to resolve difficulties and uncertainties and increase power and understanding. But in this description there appears a nagging question: Who is doing the describing? Who is having the experience? Presumably a self of some sort, but what is the nature of this self? In claiming that primary experience is experience of values in nature, it is important that such experience be primary and not reflective; but how do we know that our experience of values is not reflective, or constituted by some antecedent quality of our nature as humans? Dewey assumes as little as possible in this regard, basing his empirical descriptions on the biological framework of an organism interacting with


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

its environment; of course the organism brings its unique nature to the interaction just as the environment presents specific conditions, but the nature of the organism and the conditions of its environment are results of previous interactions as well, including its heredity. The organism seeks satisfaction of needs through effort, and the human organism brings its quite complex habits of thought and action to bear on the situation. Still, how is a collection of habits able to control its activity? If intelligent problem-solving is a matter of running through possible scenarios in the imagination until one results in activity, what is it that controls the review of possible actions? Surely it is something more substantial than just the habits themselves. One possible response to this question can be found in Mead. He says that the self divides into the "me" and the " I " : The " I " is the response of the organism to the attitudes of the others; the "me" is the organized set of attitudes of others which one himself assumes. The attitudes of the others constitute the organized "me", and then one reacts toward that as an " I " . 1 2 The individual experiences himself as the "me"the attitudes of others organized into a whole and taken into himself. The " I " is the subject of this reflexive experience, serving strictly as a necessary function for the possibility of such experience. The " I " never appears in experience, but is the movement in response to the "me." Only after experience can the individual, in reflecting upon himself as object, realize that it was "me," after all, who acted. One important characteristic of the " I , " according to Mead, is "the fact that this response of the T' is something that is more or less uncertain." This aspect of novelty provides not only for Mead's notions of freedom and moral responsibility but is also the source of scientific discovery and artistic creativity: The " I " gives the sense of freedom, of initiative. The situation is there for us to act in a self-conscious fashion. We are aware of ourselves, and of what the situation is, but exactly how we will act never gets into experience until after the action takes place. Such an explanation of freedom sounds somewhat like the "swerve" that Epicurus introduced into his falling atoms to allow for their collision: It escapes determinism by introducing chance. If the " I " is so elusive, however, and its action merely random, any basis for our ordinary sense of moral responsibility seems undercut. Furthermore, although the "me" is at least somewhat stable, and does provide what content the self has, this content is simply a reflection of the group, the reflection having being modified by the adjustments of the unpredictable and transparent " I . " But Pappas disagrees:

Human flourishing


"Because we are selves in a process of continuous formation, what we do at any point in time is not a creation ex nihilo. Instead, what we do depends on the history of the self." The pragmatist is just not as concerned about locating moral responsibility as he is in controlling future consequences. In fact, the only reason to search the past for a cause of a particular event is to find a variable which can be controlled in the future. The belief that a substantial self must lie behind activity as its cause in order for an act to be morally responsible is simply not the view of the pragmatist. Mead, and Dewey, are able to avoid the metaphysical baggage that comes with such a conception. The nature of the self which possesses the virtues is, then, a difficult question; indeed, it is one issue that lies behind much disagreement in contemporary society about when human life begins and ends. Maclntyre attempts to establish the self in the narrative structure that takes shape through our linguistic relations with others, but it is not clear that this conception provides the unity and substance to the individual that Maclntyre seeks; furthermore, it is more evidence of his tendency to base distinctions in abstract dimensions of thought. Dewey does not put such emphasis on the linguistic nature of human relationships, although it is perhaps the central reason for the powerful ability humans have to reshape their world; still, language emerges from our need to share experience, rather than the other way around. Dewey does not worry so much over establishing a unity to the self; he views nature as constituted by processes rather than substances, from which self and other may be distinguished through reflectivity, but only in order to assist in gaining control over situations, not in order to behold the self in its pure and natural structure. If one begins with life itself, the interaction of people in their social and natural environment, one can characterize the habits that emerge as virtues and vices without having first to establish a single conception of human nature. One may describe character as the confluence or "interpenetration" of habits to get at the idea that types of character may be distinguished as strong and integrated or weak and diffused. All this is done, however, through reflection upon primary experience rather than by antecedent cognitive structures of metaphysics. So if one insists on a substantial self "behind" human activity, one will be disappointed with Dewey's view; but one must also question one's own assumption, especially its origins. If Dewey is correct that such an assumption is a product of the traditional metaphysical picture of an unchanging reality lying behind natural processes, then it is clear that it lacks evidence, and one should challenge one's own point of view to determine if such a structure is in fact needed, or if Dewey might open up a fresh perspective on understanding human practices that can not only avoid many of the traditional puzzles that appear to be interminable, but demonstrate why they are unnecessary and mistaken.


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

For Dewey and Maclntyre, the self is essentially a social construction and must be denned in its relations with others. Maclntyre's wish to establish a stronger unity to the self is due, perhaps, to what are perceived to be attacks against the notion of personal identity in various forms; but Dewey would point out that it is mistaken to attempt to isolate the self in such a way that it is conceived as radically different from its environment. Maclntyre would respond that he does not intend to isolate the self from its environment at all, but in fact to demonstrate that its social environment provides unity in the form of narrative structure that is sufficient for it to be accountable for its actions. While Maclntyre attempts to provide a more intersubjective and historical conception of a narrative self, however, his need for moral accountability forces him toward a more traditional conception of a substantial self responsible for its activity. Dewey is more consistent in his refusal of an approach to experience through substance and in his general acceptance of reality as fundamentally process. Rather than seeking to establish the unity of an independent being, Dewey would describe the unity of forces working together, not as static objects but as moving energies. We can mark off the boundaries of any one entity in reflection in order to gain better control of the situation, but to understand the unity of a human being requires interaction over time. The unity of a person is displayed in his activity, which then necessarily must include the environment with which he interacts. A person is not so much what is inside him as he is what is outside himmost significantly, the social environment. All forms of human activity are addressed by Dewey in terms of habits, and, as we have seen, they can either enhance the functions of life or inhibit them. For Dewey, there is no one universal conception of human nature; each person's nature can only be described by his habits and past conduct. Dewey's approach is characteristically empirical; experience is a transaction between organism and environment. Human conduct is the deliberate interaction with the social and natural environment by means of which individuals transform conditions that are initially disordered and troubling into situations that are unified and directed. Individuals must identify the nature of the problematic conditions, formulate possible plans of action that would utilize the instrumentalities of the particular situation, and execute the plan that seems to hold most promise for success. In human practices, individuals move from initial conditions of alienation from the environment to those in which they have effectively engaged their powers with those of their surroundings and have brought the two to consummation. Dewey thought that conduct of this sort characterizes all forms of effective activity; it is natural to a living being striving to cope with processes of change, it allows humans control over the environment, and it provides a consummation of effort that human beings find intrinsically fulfilling.

Human flourishi Human ends and growth


Dewey's and Maclntyre's views of the self, then, are not that different, for both want to avoid the isolated individual found in modern ethical theories. Maclntyre's narrative form of life ties the individual to linguistic forms that may be somewhat more deterministic than Dewey's more empirical view, which is less dependent on language, less cognitive in nature, and fundamentally open-ended. Both philosophers view the self as socially constituted, and both view human activity as purposive, but they disagree strongly over its being teleological, at least in the classical sense, and the question as to the existence of a human telos is one of the most fundamental differences between them. Maclntyre insists that there must be an overall end or goal for human beings as such, not just an individual good and not just a social good, but a fixed and universal human telos; in fact, the quest for this telos is what driv the moral tradition he describes. Dewey argues that there are as many ends for human nature as there are situations for conduct, but there is no one telos which is fixed and universal for all mankind; since human experience is in constant flux, all goods pass away and are followed upon by new engagements. Dewey complains about morality having been removed from ordinary life and placed in a metaphysical domain including such things as absolute values and essential natures. Thus, while Maclntyre seeks a human telos that is single and unchanging, Dewey insists that it be plural and flexible. A crucial move for Maclntyre is that upon the constitution of the unity of a single life its open-ended and teleological nature brings us to a search for the good: To ask 'What is the good for me?' is to ask how best I might live out that unity and bring it to completion. To ask 'What is the good for man?' is to ask what all answers to the former question must have in common. But now it is important to emphasize that it is the systematic asking of these two questions and the attempt to answer them in deed as well as in word which provide the moral life with its unity. The unity of a human life is the unity ol a narrative quest. There is a great deal of difference, it seems, between these two questions. The good for me is surely determined by the character I am and the particular narrative of which I am a part, but the good for man must be determined by what is universal among all the characters in all the narratives that have ever been and ever will be; and yet for Maclntyre, it follows that these two are related quests. McMylor explains: "To ask what is the good for man is to find what all single life narratives have in common." 17 In discussing the ends and goals of human practices, Maclntyre used the plural forms, but now, in considering a unified self that transcends any one practice, it is argued that each self


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

will search for one universal good for man. Now Dewey would point out that the question of what is good for me will be unique to the situation whence the question arises, and that even if we could describe all such questions in one general form, it cannot be exhaustive since those that will occur in the future are yet to be determined; a better question would be to ask what the good is in the situation. Nevertheless, Maclntyre says that it is the quest for the answer to all such questions "in deed as well as in word" that constitutes the unity of the moral life. For Maclntyre, all the questions concerning accountability and intelligibility coalesce into the most inclusive question of allabout one's purpose as a unified self. In this sense, the question includes all the particularities of any one narrative character, the same purpose as for any such unified self. As McMylor says: "Every human narrative must then embody some purpose, quest or telos, which it is constantly striving to move towards . . . for the narrative to have any meaning at all." In this sense, there is no substantive difference between asking what one should do in this particular situation and what one should do in this particular social role, or evenbeyond all social roleswhat one should do as a person, what sort of person one should become, or what the good for man really is. Maclntyre's view is that the unity of a moral life is the unity of a narrative quest for a universal human telos, and the virtues sustain us in this activity. So Maclntyre argues that there must be a fixed and universal telos to order our values; otherwise, the choice of which of them to espouse will be arbitrary, and any justification nothing but a mask for the will to power. Dewey agrees that human behavior is purposive, but argues that there is no one purpose rather there are many. Maclntyre would respond that a person cannot choose intelligently between two rival values unless there is a basis for saying that one is better than the other, and that Dewey's naturalism allows for no such basis since he allows for no non-empirical standard; but Dewey would counter that this response misunderstands his approach. There will always be a basis for distinguishing between values, he would say, within the context of the situation; waiting for standards to drop from the sky actually makes intelligent choice impossible, and yet the satisfaction of need through effort is quite real and rather universal among living organisms. Since it is the situation that is problematic, conditions in the environment must be controlled in order to effect its resolution. In reflecting upon such experience, it is clear that some goods are more satisfactory than others; thus there is no need to postulate some non-empirical standard by which to compare them. In ordinary life we make such judgments from the natural conditions presented to us in the situation. Maclntyre would object that this leaves nothing to guide our actions but individual preferences, but Dewey does not mean that an object is valuable just because it is enjoyed. As he explains, the experience of satisfaction is an

Human flourishing


element of primary experience; to say it is satisfactory involves reflection upon its relations with many other goods and ends: "To say that something satisfies is to report something as an isolated finality. To assert that it is satisfactory is to define it in its connections and interaactions." Thus we order our values through intelligent reflection upon our experience; even more importantly, we verify such judgments through interaction with the environment. Dewey argues that values exist in nature right along with other facts, that experience presents us with esthetic and moral qualities which are immediatenot known, but hadand that they are just as real as ordinary qualities of colors, odors, and flavors. For Dewey, when we are engaged in purposive activity, things take on means-end relationships depending on the particular activity in which we are engaged, but the ends we seek are always ends-inviewthat is, none are absolute ends, because they can just as easily become means for other, further ends. Thus none is primary, and none is outside experience. The value they have is always within the particular context of human activity. Such goods, according to Dewey, are constructed by intelligent activity. But let us examine Maclntyre's view again more closely. In Dependent Rational Animals he also discusses the emergence of a quest for a human telos from the initial questions we ask concerning our own individual goods. The first inkling of this questioning comes when we compare alternative goods; we learn that there is a difference between what seems good and what is really better. As this is very early in life, our parents and others close to us help us learn to discriminate, but we also learn through trial and error. Eventually we begin to step back from immediate desires and judge what is best for us as a person. Still we lean on others for help in making such judgments, but we also exercise more autonomy while being accountable to others for our choices. Finally, according to Maclntyre, we envision alternative futures that would result from the choices we make; at this time we ask the most general question about what sort of person we want to become, about how to live the good life. Yet even in this we are not isolated but, hopefully, have others with whom we discuss the possibilities. Our relationships with others are crucial every step along the way for, as Maclntyre points out, we are vulnerable during all periods of life, but especially when very young or very old. We need the help of others to develop our potential, but our potential can only be fully realized when we have become autonomous in our decision-making, or, as Maclntyre puts it, "independent practical reasoners." Yet even here he does not mean purely individual thought, but shared reasoning within the realm of interpersonal relationships. To flourish, the bird must be pushed out of the nest, but it never flies away entirely. This is how Maclntyre describes human flourishing in his latest book, and this seems to be what he has in mind as the human telosan activity, not an


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

end-state; a balance of dependence and independence that, presumably, is the right balance for each person. It is not a goal that brings an end to activity, but a vision of a future which serves to order the other goods in our lives, of use in deciding between alternative goods, a conception of flourishing that helps us decide which goods will best serve such an end. Maclntyre contends that such a conception of a good life gives unity to the exercise and development of the virtues, for we see how they are the constituent elements of our happiness; as it is through the virtues that we can attain this happiness, human flourishing is the full exercise of the virtues. Again, such a conception of a telos for mankind is a conception of living, of activity, Maclntyre says, to which we can come closer through conscious effort to live a good life: "[T]he good life for man is the life spent in seeking for the good life for man, and the virtues necessary for the seeking are those which will enable us to understand what more and what else the good life for man is." It seems that we must conceive of it as an end, but we realize we can never know with certainty that we have attained it. It serves as a mark for which we aim, but its meaning is in the effort and discipline required to reach it. It should be mentioned again that this is not a solitary quest, but one for all to share, as it is a universal telosone conception to serve the many. In fact, what Maclntyre envisions is how such a quest for human flourishing rooted in the virtues can order not only our individual lives, but our relations with others in community as well. Such is his conception of the good life for man socially, morally, and politically. Maclntyre's picture of human flourishing as an "independent practical reasoner" who recognizes relations of interdependency with others is not contrary to Dewey's view. What would be objectionable for Dewey is an ethical theory that looks to order and arrange fixed ends, objects, or events that are regarded as goods-in-themselves, within an all-inclusive hierarchy structured towards one universal end, or the end. For Dewey, there are all sorts of ends in nature both enjoyable and grievous. We work with the conditions for their existence, so as to have greater control over our experience. Reflection concerns the connections among them and the conditions for their occurrence, and when our actions come to fruition we experience the consummation of our labor. According to Dewey, traditional philosophy has confused two senses of ends: Classic metaphysics is a confused union of these two senses of ends, the primarily natural and the secondarily natural, or practical, moral... . For it treats as natural ends apart from reflection just those objects that are worthy and excellent to reflective choice. Furthermore, after the category of "ends-in-themselves" is postulated, Dewey says that it is purified of those ends that are repulsive or harmful so that all that

Human flourishing


are left are goods; then "popular teleology adds a ranking of objects according to which some are more completely ends than others, until there is reached an object which is only end, never eventful and temporalthe end." 22 Dewey says that "to think of objects as more or less ends is nonsense. They either have immediate and terminal quality; or they do not: quality as such is absolute, not comparative." 2 ' Maclntyre presents the development of practical reasoning as dependent upon assessing the value of the ends or goods which are presented as alternatives: from the goods that are better than others in particular situations, to those that are "good for me," and on to those alternative futures that are good lives. For Maclntyre, it is the quest for the good life that is the good life, and so, in effect, the human telos is a form of human activity; but as the activity is a quest for an end, Maclntyre must presuppose the telos to be the object of the quest in accordance with which we order our lives. He, of course, is consciously working from within the classical moral tradition, but we have already seen that some metaphysical assumptions inherent in that tradition present obstacles to his view of the virtues. Dewey, not bound by this tradition, subjects such assumptions to criticism, continually rooting them out so that a more secure understanding can be attained. Dewey's refusal to accept a universal and fixed end signifies a fundamental disagreement with Maclntyre. Maclntyre does describe our conception of the human telos as changing over time, developing with our maturity and in the history of a tradition as well, but at the same time the telos is assumed and presented in just the sense that Dewey would criticize. Again, it is clear that Maclntyre identifies human flourishing with our active pursuit of the good life, but it is the object of the search that draws us toward it. We change, but the telos itself does not. This conception can be put in terms of form and content. There is stability for Maclntyre in what the end is, i.e., in its form; but there is also change in what you turn up, i.e., its content. Thus the content of the good life can change as our conception of it changes, but the good life is still the search itself. Dewey does not have such a problem with his understanding of human flourishing as a search for the good life, because to him the only end that makes any sense for human activity is growth itself, or rather, "growing." Growth is a process rather than a product or end-state. It is experienced as becoming; only in reflection is it recognized as an event. Growth is realized when an indeterminate situation is resolved in a consummation of powers through intelligent activity. Interaction with the environment transforms both the environment and us, and if it results in positive consequences, such that our possibilities for satisfactory activity are increased for the future, we value the experience in the deepest sense and we seek to develop the capacities and abilities to create it again. It must be created anew, because we emerge


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

from such a consummation as changed creatures. Life is in flux, and so an identical experience cannot be the goal. This is the sense in which growth itself can serve as an end. Savage agrees: In Dewey's philosophy, the process of growth is the final end. Just as eudaimonia is the final end in Aristotle's philosophy and all other ends are efficient, growth is the final end for Dewey, and all other goods are tools, instruments, or methods for its realization. 24 Fahey draws an interesting comparison between Dewey and Aristotle, focused on "the idea of the good as a link between the character virtues and practical deliberation"; he argues that "Dewey and Aristotle propose an aesthetic unification of the various virtues" 25 but that sympathy and duty also serve to unify activity requiring discernment beyond just the humanization of the concrete forces in the situation. Thus, "[hjabitual discernment projects a moral good, a good from the standpoint of an entire character" consisting in "both the complex of ends found in deliberation as well as the attitude that the virtues foster toward this end." This is not a single fixed end for human activity, for Dewey at least, but it is "pre-reflective and orienting; it cannot be fully realized in action because all realized goods are partial." Functioning as an ideal, " [t]he idea of the good, because it is necessarily vague, orients discursive deliberations rather than being a part of them." Clearly, the idea of the good must be flexible enough to fit the many particular goods to be realized, which is why its content is so difficult to pin down. If it does orient inquiry as Fahey describes, it must reflect the unity of character as well as the social bonds that unite us with others. Such an idea of the good functions as a telos in that it draws us toward itself, yet it loses its ideality in the individual goods constructed from particular situations. This explains why the proper approach to moral inquiry is sensitivity to the elements present in the situation and to what is missing, for the estimation of better and worse requires wisdom of experience rather than theoretical or syllogistic structures. Dewey's idea of growth lends itself to such a function in unifying and orienting human activity. The key to the virtues, according to Dewey, is that they promote growth, both for the individual and for the natural and social environment in which he lives. Through intelligent engagement in the conscious effort to satisfy needs, the resolution of uncertainty and the overcoming of opposition result in the consummation of the energies involved. The individual is both transformed and transforming. This growth, which is Dewey's own conception of human flourishing, can serve as a unifying end to the pursuit of the virtues. Gouinlock describes Dewey's idea of growth as one of his "generalizations about kinds of experience which tend for the most part to be good":

Human flourishing


Quite simply, the process of growth is one in which the organism enhances its ability to participate with its environment: As increasingly complex features of the environment are incorporated into modes of behavior, the organism acquires new functions in nature; and interactions become more meaningful. Gouinlock describes the experience of growth as follows: [W]hen the self "grows" . . . the structure of habitsfunctional cooperations of organism and environmentbecomes more inclusive and more complex: The environment that is incorporated into behavior becomes more extensive and more meaningful and it fulfills more diverse and effectual functions in behavior; and at the same time human energies find fuller and more effective engagement with their surroundings. Finally, Gouinlock argues that individual growth is compatible with pluralism in society; "in the process of growth a person not only enhances his powers of thinking and acting, but he also can become tolerant and appreciative of a widening and richer spectrum of values." 32 The experience of growth is fulfilling and can be expressed as selfdevelopment or self-realization, as long as it is not assumed that there is some pre-existing structure working its way to realization. Nor is it the continuation of a certain state of being. It is the process of growing itself. Hook offers a rich analysis of Dewey's concept of growth as an inclusive process that is not pre-determined by any fixed notions of human nature nor by any transcendent or exclusive end; rather, growth itself "develops the standards by which its direction and desirability are judged": It embraces all the positive intellectual, emotional, and moral ends which appear in everybody's easy schedule of the good life and the good educationgrowth in skills and powers, knowledge and appreciation, value and thought. For Dewey, however, it is not enough to list these ends; they must be brought into living and relevant relation to the developing powers and habits and imagination of the individual person. We grow not by worshiping values but by realizing them in our daily behavior. Hook points out that "[i]t excludes . . . the kinds of growth which interfere with or reverse the direction of change in this variety of growths." 34 Hook argues that Dewey's "post-Darwinian naturalism" is one reason why he believed that man must always engage in activity in order to find peace, and that "[t]o live is to grow with the problems and challenges of the present." Hook points out that growth is not a purely biological or psychological aspect of individual development, but that it involves our social lives as well: "The


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

organism grows not only in and with its natural environment; it grows with other organisms in society." 36 Therein lies the basis for Dewey's promotion of democracy as a way of life: "because he took the growth of every individual person as his moral ideal." Pekarsky offers a detailed exposition of Dewey's idea of growth, which, he says, "seems to become the ultimate arbiter in matters of conduct." He notes that, as a process of transformation, growth refers to "the ability to interact effectively with one's environment"; furthermore, Pekarsky explains, it is not just the development of the understanding as "a grasp of the connections among events," but also includes the growth of appreciation for "the infinite relationships that connect the objects and events that constitute the world": 41 As a characteristic of both human and nonhuman organisms, growth is the process through which an organism progressively acquires more of those powers that contribute to flourishing in its environment. It must be stressed, however, that in human beings flourishing, as understood by Dewey, is not to be construed as just a matter of efficiency in surviving or accomplishing one's purposes; it also includes as a necessary condition the capacity and disposition to develop an ever-deeper appreciation for the beings, things, events, and activities that compose one's world... . Because the human being's success in dealing with his or her environment is substantially dependent on the adequacy of his or her system of beliefs and because the expansion and refinement of one's belief system offers endlessly new possibilities for appreciation, the preeminent (but by no means the only) form of human growth is the progressive development of a person's intellectual universe in response to the novelties and problems life presents. But if such development is to demarcate real growth, it must be accompanied by increments in appreciation and accomplished in such a way that the agent's ability to meet life head-on is enhanced. In Dewey's view, life is punctuated by ebbs and flows of moving forces. We do better and worse; we succeed and we fail. There is no end to this process, for it is the process of life itself. But when we overcome the uncertain and perilous, the experience of unification and affirmation that results gives purpose to our lives. These are the moments we value. As such, human flourishing is not a transcendent end but a natural process, free of the metaphysical assumptions that plague Maclntyre's view. Yet Maclntyre considers the existence of a human telos to be a central issue for ethics. It is for him one of the key ideas missing from modern moral philosophy. With the rejection of Aristotle along with Scholasticism during the Enlightenment, the concept of teleology was dismissed as simply wrong. In the modern view, human activity results from free will. There is no "ought" that can be derived from what "is" because values are separate from

Human flourishing


facts about the world; the former are evaluative while the latter are descriptive. The world is neutral regarding good and evil; only man makes it so through his willing. But what should he will, and how is he to know it? These are the questions that plague modern moral philosophy, because in assuming a split between facts and values, the latter have no place except in the individual will. This is why Maclntyre regards Nietzsche as the inevitable legacy of modern ethics. If, on the other hand, humans have a purpose, then there would be no chasm between a good watch or a good teacher and a good person. Each may be evaluated in terms of its end or telos. Here Dewey would again object that there are many purposes for human activity, but no universal telos for everyone, and that such an idea is an illusion foisted upon philosophy by the quest for certainty. This is exactly the objection that Maclntyre is opposing with his conceptions of a practice, a narrative form of life, and a moral tradition; all these social and historical aspects of the human way of being in the world suggest the possibility of an overriding end to human existence. In the biological conception of human nature explicated in his latest work, he demonstrates that recognition of the human vulnerabilities of creatures presupposes a conception of their flourishing that requires in humans the exercise of the virtues. The conception of man's telos is used by Maclntyre to establish a sensible ethic of good relations with others without resorting to divine creation or metaphysical forms; rather, he provides a single and unifying purpose in the quest for that telos, which is nothing other than the quest for living the good life. But this is the mistake, according to Dewey: The quest must not be for the good life, but for a good life. Since there is no one human nature, there is no one end for everyone, unless it be growth itself. Growth results from the existing conditions of life; it is a natural process, not a transcendent, unchanging end. If one assumes such an end, one is much more likely to limit growth than to achieve it. But Maclntyre's conception of man's telos is the quest itselfthe quest is that which can unify and order human activities. Yet Dewey will point out that if there is no such telos, then all the examination and argumentation will be pointless. Would it not be better to grasp the concept of growth as liberation, education, communication, and empowerment of people? Why insist on a philosophical abstraction to provide meaning to life when there is an abundance of meanings possible through involvement in particular situations? Maclntyre would regard that, however, as too chaotic. Yes, he would say, the meaning of life is in the living of it, but without an overriding end, there would be no order to one's preferences, nor any way to come to agreement with others about values. But that is because of the mistaken assumption, Dewey would contend, that values are not in the world but must ultimately come from some transcendent vision. Growth, on the other hand, emerges from within experience rather than from outside. It is a question of trusting


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

in the virtues of intelligent activity to create the good from what is present in each particular situationof actively making a difference in the lives we live. Ultimately, Maclntyre's insistence on a universal telos for man is mistaken. There is no such thing. His conception of the good life as the quest for the good life is appropriate for a philosopher, but there are too many other people's lives that belie his claim. There are many people who are living a good life without having searched for it, and many who are happy who would no doubt be at a loss to offer a definition of it. Take, for example, a man I knew who grew up in rural Kentucky during the Depression with nothing but his determination to make a better life. The remarkable thing is that he became a farmer, a carpenter, an infantryman, a mechanic on tanks, fighter planes, and automobiles, a builder, a cabinet maker, a welder, a plumber, and an electrician. In other words, he figured out how to do what he needed to do. He was a husband, a father and grandfather, an elder at his church, a storyteller, and a pillar of his community. When he was first married he worked for fifty cents a day; when he died, he and his wife of 59 years were worth over a million dollars. Now his life was unique, although many people from that generation have similar stories of success through determined effort. There was no doubt in the mind of anyone who knew him that his was a good life. It was also a hard lifea life of work and sacrifice, of manual labor and tireless problem-solving. He could have been an engineer, perhaps, but would never have been satisfied as a moral philosopher in the tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas. He just would not have fit that mold. Maclntyre's conception of the good life is, therefore, too limited, and his idea of a universal telos for man is simply wrong. This example illustrates not only a clear exception to Maclntyre's claim of universality, it also points to a deeper bias in his approachthe intellectualistic nature of his claim. He assumes that people are constantly engaged in critical reflection on whether they are living the good life or not, but this is simply not true. By far the largest percentage of our conscious lives is clearly not spent in such philosophical inquiry, but subsumed within the living of our lives. It was Socrates who said that the unexamined life was not worth living, but even he was not always thinking; sometimes he just ate, or drank, or played with his children. Some unexamined life is always going to be around. Dewey explains that most of the time we are engaged in habitual activities, and that we only reflect when things go wrong. This seems to be a much more realistic understanding of human life; it makes one wonder if Maclntyre takes seriously the concept of habits. Certainly the life of the man described above fits such a conception much more closely than the purely intellectual life envisioned by Maclntyre. This man was quick-witted and intellectually sharp, but he was no scholar. He was too busy working to improve conditions in the environment in which he found himself with others. Looking back on his life at its end, he could realize, perhaps, that it had been a good one, but it

Human flourishing


was certainly not one spent in a conscious search for the good. There was too much else to do. In conclusion, Maclntyre and Dewey are both critical of the modern view of the self as an isolated free will confronting a value-neutral world. Both regard human practices as purposeful and hold that a life can be lived well or poorly depending on the virtues or habits a person acquires. Both view human existence as social rather than solitary and contend that a person's character impacts the choices he makes rather than their being spontaneous and uncaused. These constitute significant differences from modern ethics and together amount to a formidable position for supporting the ideas of character, the virtues, and human flourishing. The differences between the two philosophers arise over their particular views of the teleological nature of human activity. Maclntyre tries to establish the social and historical dimensions of selfhood in order to combat the isolated and unbiased conception presumed by modernity. Dewey rejects the latter also, but is able to move beyond it through his conception of nature as consisting fundamentally of processes rather than substances. Maclntyre leans in this direction, but he remains ensconced in traditional metaphysics. This difference is nowhere more apparent than in their conceptions of human teleology. Both regard the fact/value dichotomy to be mistaken, but Dewey moves past it to the experience of values as present in nature. For Dewey, there is no chasm between experience and nature, nor between man and the world, so there is no need to find the means to cross it. Maclntyre, on the other hand, feels this chasm at the heart of modern philosophy and seeks to repair it by returning to tradition. Much of what he accomplishes in this regard has been invaluable for the course of moral philosophy in demonstrating that a conception of the virtues can reveal previously ignored or disregarded dimensions of human experience. His conception of human flourishing is consequently rich in content, but the notion of a universal human telos is rather misguided compared to Dewey's wider ranging and more flexible focus. In another sense it can be said that Dewey and Maclntyre come to much the same conclusion about human flourishingthat the virtues are constitutive of the good life, both for the individual and for the community, since these are ultimately inseparable. This is why, in order to complete the picture of the virtues for both philosophers, we must look finally at how their respective conceptions of human flourishing play out in the broader realms of social life.

1. Maclntyre, AV, 205. 2. Ibid.

3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33.

Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

Pappas, G.F., "Dewey's ethics," 110-11. Maclntyre, A V, 206. Ibid., 217. Crowther, P., "Narrative and self-consciousness: a basis for virtue ethics," 442. Weinstein,J.R., On Maclntyre, 65. Maclntyre, AV, 215. Ibid., 215-16. Dewey, LW1, 5-6. Dewey, MW14, 19. Mead, G.H., Mind, Self\ and Society: From the Standpoint ofa Social Behaviorist, 175. Ibid., 176. Ibid., 177-8. Pappas, "Dewey's ethics," 111. Maclntyre, AV, 218-19. McMylor, P., Alasdair Maclntyre: Critic of Modernity, 158. Ibid. Dewey, LW4, 208. Maclntyre, AV, 219. Dewey, LW1, 88. Ibid. Ibid., 89. Savage, D.M., John Dewey's Liberalism: Individual, Community, and Self-Development, 43-4. Fahey, G.M., "The idea of the good in John Dewey and Aristotle," 1. Ibid., 18. Ibid., 19. Ibid., 20. Gouinlock, J., John Dewey's Philosophy of Value, 237. Ibid., 238. Ibid., 239. Ibid., 242. Hook, S., "John Dewey: philosopher of growth," 1013-14.

34. 35. 36. 37.

38. 39. 40. 41. 42.

Ibid., 1014. Ibid., 1015. Ibid. Ibid.

Pekarsky, D., "Dewey's conception of growth reconsidered," 283. Ibid., 285. Ibid., 286. Ibid., 288. Ibid., 290.

5 The ethical life

In this chapter a comparison is made between Maclntyre's and Dewey's views regarding the nature of moral inquiry, the role of tradition, and liberalism as the predominant social and political order. Both philosophers consider inquiry to be the fundamental approach to moral life, but they have quite different views on how it functions. For Maclntyre, moral inquiry is a dialectical process involving practical rationality much as Aristotle described it using the practical syllogism with a conception of the good and ordering of particulars within it. Maclntyre conceives of rationality as the working out of structures of thought in theory in advance of ensuing action. This theoretical work must take place within a tradition, he argues, in order to be valid. For Dewey, moral inquiry is a problem-solving activity that humans use to resolve problematic situations; a conception of the good does not exist antecedently to its construction from existing conditions. Dewey argues, in fact, that logic accrues from experience, and so he views theoretical structures as empirical generalizations from past experience to be used as hypotheses and tested experientially. He conceives, then, of traditions as bodies of such past knowledge whose value must be continually proven in experience. Thus, for Maclntyre moral inquiry is theoretical; for Dewey it is experiential. I will argue that Maclntyre's solution of engaging in traditions of inquiry about the human good to order and direct activity encounters significant problems; problems that Dewey is able to avoid while also offering a conception of inquiry that incorporates the virtues in a more comprehensive approach to all areas of life. The second point of comparison in this chapter concerns the two philosophers' respective views on liberalism, for both consider the social expression of moral values to be key to understanding their nature and relations. Both philosophers have criticisms of liberalism, but each focuses on a different aspect of it and offers different solutions. Maclntyre objects to liberalism because it is intrinsically structured to preclude agreement on a conception of practical rationality with which to adjudicate among contrary views concerning the good. He considers liberalism to be a disordered social program that should be discarded in favor of a social order guided by tradition-constituted inquiry in the quest for a common conception of the good. On the other hand, Dewey objects to liberalism as it exists because it has not been fully implemented in the lives of people; thus it has failed to achieve the results of which it is


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

capable and which are demanded of it. He argues that the removal of the obstacles to autonomy was not enough to fully empower people to engage in meaningful activity but merely allowed the existing institutions and powers that be to pursue their individual aims. Through education, he argues, liberalism can become a truly democratic order of experiential inquiry into existing social and environmental conditions so that the potentiality of growth among individuals and within society may be realized. Dewey, that is, seeks a solution from within existing resources, while Maclntyre seeks it from outside. I will argue, then, that Maclntyre is too quick to reject liberalism and that Dewey's approach is more positive since he points to specific problems that can be corrected with the engagement of more people in meaningful activity, wherein multifarious goods may be constructed out of the existing conditions in life. Overall, Maclntyre's focus on theory and justification is indicative of an inveterate intellectualism, while Dewey is interested in how our ideas impact and are corrected by reality.

The nature of moral inquiry

We have seen in Maclntyre's theory of the virtues the background ideas of a practice and a narrative conception of the self. Both of these ideas stress the social nature of morality and, as Maclntyre points out, they contrast with modern individualist views. In a practice, people are engaged together in a cooperative effort to reach common ends and goods, with the virtues emerging from this shared activity. Individual practitioners are encouraged to reach levels of individual achievement measured by standards of excellence from the past; at the same time, the entire practice is engaged in the historical transformation of goals, placing individual success within a broader context measured by human standards established over time in the cooperative effort to achieve common ends. Maclntyre then presents a narrative conception of the self in the social roles and relationships carried forward from the past as a story that is yet unfinished but is moving with the characters involved toward a telosa developing conception of human flourishing. The process that drives both these conceptions is fully realized, however, in Maclntyre's idea of a moral tradition. The virtues are central to human conduct, he says, because they are characteristics of a self that is established in and through its social rolesnot discrete social roles, but narrative relationships that tie individuals together in a community identified by its historical traditions: What I am . . . is in key part what I inherit, a specific past that is present to some degree in my present. I find myself part of a history and that is

The ethical life


generally to say, whether I like it or not, whether I recognize it or not, one of the bearers of a tradition. 1 The conception of tradition is central to Maclntyre's view, and not just because it is the framework within which we identify ourselves as unified beings and measure our achievements of excellence. He says that our intellectual quests for understanding in virtually all disciplines are framed within tradition as well: For all reasoning takes place within the context of some traditional mode of thought, transcending through criticism and invention the limitations of what had hitherto been reasoned in that tradition; this is as true of modern physics as of medieval logic. This is surely a unique element of Maclntyre's viewthe idea that reasoning is always bounded by some traditional mode of thought. The converse of this position, of course, is that there is no pure perspective on reality that is free of historical influence. As Maclntyre contends, the efforts of modern philosophy to attain certainty about morality have failed, leaving several different ethical theories and no way for us to choose among them. What is lacking, according to Maclntyre, is a conception of practical rationality that transcends these various theories and is capable of providing means or standards by which to compare and evaluate them. He argues that since no such conception of rationality can be free of historical influence, it should be constituted by the traditions of thought in which one exists. Much as the individual finds himself in the middle of a story and pre-existing social relationships, one finds oneself within an historical tradition of thought; as such, one should consciously engage in that tradition by studying its seminal works and participating in the "criticism and invention" that drives it. This, in fact, is a characteristic that Maclntyre identifies as a virtue: "the virtue of having an adequate sense of the traditions to which one belongs or which confront one." For Dewey, such a conception of inquiry is mistaken; it is a legacy of the quest for certainty that originated in ancient times and continues to plague philosophy today. It presupposes a metaphysics that divorces the stable from the precarious, items which are found together in experience, and relegates each to extreme poles of unbridgeable dualisms such as certainty and opinion, reality and illusion, mind and body. Certainty as a state attainable in pure thought would have little relevance to life, wherein control of environmental conditions for the successful fulfillment of need is the operative variable. To study the works of the past is to be more aware of one's culture; this is a natural way for societies to be in the world if they are to continue. Such


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

awareness is necessary, according to Dewey, for it is the place where we begin; it is the given from which we engage in life, and to understand the past is to be prepared for what is to come. To engage in such reasoning may increase one's knowledge, then, but it is only through interaction with nature that life is furthered; intelligence is forward-looking. Dewey compares the preservation of tradition with the continuity of life, which is maintained through continual renewal. The forces an organism encounters are used, if possible, for its own growth; "it struggles to use surrounding energies in its own behalf."4 Individuals die, but life goes on; and within the social community a similar continuity is preserved through "the constant reweaving of the social fabric." The medium of this renewal is communication; Dewey enjoys the wordplay among "common," "community," and "communication": "Men live in a community in virtue of the things which they have in common; and communication is the way in which they come to possess things in common." 6 Such a community as Dewey has in mind is quite similar to that envisioned by Maclntyreone which would not only share a common end, but one in which all were "cognizant of the common end and all interested in it so that they regulated their specific activity in view of it." Dewey, like Maclntyre, views such communal living as means to and constitutive of human flourishing: "Not only is social life identical with communication, but all communication (and hence all genuine social life) is educative. To be a recipient of a communication is to have an enlarged and changed experience." In fact, he says it is through such interaction of individuals that each one changes and is changed by the othera mutually transforming experience: "It enlarges and enlightens experience; it stimulates and enriches imagination; it creates responsibility for accuracy and vividness of statement and thought." 9 Such communication, or education, can take place at all levels within the community where there is conscious participation by the members. Dewey notes that in the more advanced civilizations the gap between the mature and the immature widens to a point such that formal education is required to transmit the knowledge and skills of the learned in the form of symbols, which thus requires literacy. Still, he says, "the measure of the worth of any social institution, economic, domestic, political, legal, religious, is its effect in enlarging and improving experience." Seigfried explains it this way: Successful strategic conceptions and directing ideas frequently become habitual, get cultivated and preserved in customs and traditions, and are embodied in institutions such as research laboratories and universities. But no matter how established and pervasive such forms of inquiry are, they still lack what is required for what Dewey describes as the logical forms that

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10 7

guarantee the control of inquiry and distinguish it from what Kant called "a merely random groping". As Dewey argues, by itself the habitual and traditional character of these forms easily defeats the control of inquiry. We are bearers of a culture because we are not isolated from those others that have nurtured and educated us; but a living culture is also one that encourages innovation and creativity. These are lost when activity is directed purely by routines that are blind and unthinking. The virtues are characteristics that promote cooperative activity, but that is not their end, for humans do not flourish unless they are growing into something new and different from what they have been. No matter how romantic and seductive past traditions may seem, the products of the past cannot be revitalized; we must succeed in a new way within current situations, and, while traditions can inspire, we must find the means to our ends through renewed investigation of the particular conditions that may influence our success. On the other hand, Maclntyre realizes that an unthinking devotion to the past can lead to the death and decay of traditions; rather, awareness of past traditions should make us more ready to face future situations. Awareness of one's traditions grounds one with others in an historical framework within which to approach moral judgments. Without some framework to justify rationally the judgments one makes about individual issues, one's judgments would appear arbitrary, and certainly no more authoritative than anyone else's. Modern moral philosophy has attempted to establish just such a framework with which to approach particular cases, but if there is no way to successfully achieve such a universal foundation for ethics, we are left, according to Maclntyre, with Nietzsche's charge that there is no escape from personal bias. Maclntyre argues that traditions of thought offer a viable alternative to Nietzsche's radical position because they provide the anchor necessary to work toward a conceptualization of the situation within an overarching frame of reference. A tradition of thought, constituted by an argument concerning the good, brings forward the work of past participants in denning its goods and ends, but it is open-ended because the argument is never over; as Maclntyre says: "A living tradition then is an historically extended, socially embodied argument, and an argument precisely in part about the goods which constitute that tradition." As Graham explains: "This notion of intellectual inheritance raises the individual inquirer above the peculiarities of his or her own time, but without removing the whole enterprise into the impossible realm of the timeless." ' The alternative to Nietzsche given by tradition is twofold: Rather than an individual quest for meaning a moral tradition is a social quest, and rather than the quest being timeless it is an historical progressionan extended argument of many voices examining, criticizing, and defending ideas over time.


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

This process carves out certain avenues of thought and abandons others, brings forward certain past products and creates new ones. The value of tradition lies, then, in the intersubjectivity of thought and the authenticity bestowed by history. According to Maclntyre, the individual does not confront an abyss; rather, he confronts his storya shared network of relations and activity constituting a body of knowledge; or better, an ongoing conversation about universal themes generated by the human conditionour mutual search for the good life. Dewey offers a third alternativea middle ground between Nietzsche and Maclntyre. He rejects the subjectivity of Nietzsche's position as mistaken in its separation of experience and nature; Dewey holds that the means to resolve problematic situations arise from within existing conditions, and that, using existing knowledge, intelligence works from what is stable in the situation to find a way out of the difficulty. He also refuses the rigidity of Maclntyre's position by insisting on verification of theoretical conceptions by experimentation rather than by dialectic; for Dewey, each person naturally inherits the traditions of his culture, but the innovative and creative individual will view past knowledge as a body of hypothetical principles to be tested in experience. Rosenbaum contrasts Dewey's and Maclntyre's perspectives on moral inquiry by examining their respective treatments of Kant; Dewey displays "charitable generosity"1 toward the great philosopher, while Maclntyre is "harsh and critical." Maclntyre disagrees with Kant, he says, because of the latter's elevation of "individual autonomy," yet he agrees with him about "the priority of reason in the moral life": "Unlike Kant, Maclntyre seeks an account of rationality embedded in an historical tradition of thought, but in doing so he does evince a Kant-like commitment to seeing moral thought deliberation, reflection, or inquiryas essentially rooted in reason." Rosenbaum points out a rationalistic tendency in Maclntyre's thought evident in his view of the purpose of moral inquiry as being "to legitimate standards of behavior discursively and to apply them successfully in one's life." He explains Dewey's moral thought, on the other hand, as focused on "our ability to project outcomes and to sort them as better or worse""not discursive reasoning" but "dramatic imaginative rehearsal" of alternative possible courses of action.1 Whereas Maclntyre wants "to 'rationalize' the project of living life, to establish or show how eventually to establish, normative standards for guidance of action," 19 Rosenbaum describes Dewey's view of moral inquiry as "concrete and imaginative rather than abstract and discursive, and it aims (approximately) at harmonizing individuals' own disparate tendencies as well as at harmonizing potential conflicts among individuals in social interaction with one another." He adds that, for Dewey, "imagination" is the "key to moral deliberation, rather than rational dialectic."

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The problem Maclntyre finds with Dewey's view, however, is that even when experience is consulted, the individual cannot assess it without certain theoretical preconceptions: When individuals articulate to and for themselves the processes through which they proceed to action or when observers describe those processes in others, they cannot do so except by employing some particular theoryinformed or theory-supposing scheme of concepts, by conceptualizing that which they do or undergo or observe in a way which accords with one theory rather than another. There are no preconceptual or even pretheoretical data, and this entails that no set of examples of action, no matter how comprehensive, can provide a neutral court of appeal for decision between rival theories/22 This is one of the fundamental points in Maclntyre's argument, and it echoes other twentieth-century voices. Maclntyre points to Nietzsche in particular, but it can be found in Marx, Freud, Wittgenstein, Kuhn, and others: There are no "pretheoretical data"; there is no "neutral court of appeal." Maclntyre contends that any particular view is immediately undercut by the possibility that there might be another perspective providing a different version of the same object; this argument becomes, ultimately, an epistemological problem of justification: What is true of physical enquiry holds also for theological and moral enquiry. What are taken to be the relevant data and how they are identified, characterized, and classified will depend upon who is performing these tasks and what his or her theological and moral standpoint and perspective is. 23 His response to this critique is to accept one's theoretical presuppositions and engage in the tradition of thought of which they are a part. But is this critique inescapable? Maclntyre claims that liberalism, which is "by far the strongest claimant to provide such a ['neutral traditionindependent'] ground," fails, and he supports this claim with the following: The evidence for the failure of Kant's heirs in these constructive enterprises is contained in the reviews of the books expounding them in the professional philosophical journals. The book review pages of those journals are the graveyards of constructive academic philosophy, and any doubts as to whether rational consensus might not after all be achievable in modern academic moral philosophy can be put to rest by reading them through regularly.


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

Maclntyre is offering as evidence the interminable nature of philosophical discussion, but is the fact that consensus has not been achieved evidence of anything other than the fact that consensus has not been achieved? To appeal to the mass of disagreement in philosophical journals can support the claim that such consensus is difficult to achieve, but it is invalid to claim on this basis that a "neutral tradition-independent" perspective is impossible. Furthermore, what is the perspective of the one who claims that no neutral perspective is possible? Presumably it is just another perspective; otherwise the position would be self-contradictory. But if it is just another perspective, then it is no more or less valid than any other, including one that claims a neutral perspective. In formulating his conception of tradition-constituted inquiry, Maclntyre confronts this objection when he addresses himself to the relativist and perspectivist challenges: "The relativist challenge rests upon a denial that rational debate between and rational choice among rival traditions is possible; the perspectivist challenge puts in question the possibility of making truth claims from within any one tradition." 26 The former challenge, he explains, is that no one tradition has any means ofjustifying itself over and against any of its rivals, and the latter challenge is that since inquiry must be limited within traditions, they should be regarded as "providing very different, complementary perspectives for envisaging the realities about which they speak to us." 27 Maclntyre sees both challenges as part of the post-Enlightenment tradition of thought and, therefore, as biased against the rationality of traditions: "What neither [Enlightenment thinkers or post-modernist relativists and perspectivists] was or is able to recognize is the kind of rationality possessed by traditions"; the irony implied here is that they reject the rationality of traditions while arguing from the particular rational structures of their own. So what is it that keeps Maclntyre's view from being just another perspective? Even though he argues that rational inquiry must take place within a tradition because there is no tradition-independent standpoint possible, Maclntyre himself seems to assume such a neutral perspective in order to analyze the several traditions as he does. This is evident in the following assessment he makes of his reply to the relativist and perspectivist challenges: Notice that the grounds for an answer to relativism and perspectivism are to be found, not in any theory of rationality as yet explicitly articulated and advanced within one or more of the traditions with which we have been concerned, but rather with a theory embodied in and presupposed by their practices of inquiry, yet never fully spelled out. 9 Since such a "meta-theory" of traditions transcends all of them, doesn't it require a perspective outside them as well?

The ethical life


Weinstein points out this problem of self-reference"Is Maclntyre's own claim absolutist and not perspectival?"and suggests that the appropriate response is to maintain that Maclntyre's claim that "all rationality is tradition-bound" remains a "particular view put forth by a particular tradition" and consequently open to challenge by other traditions; "[ultimately," Weinstein says, "Maclntyre's claim about non-tradition-bound rationality is that it falls apart as a conception." 30 It is, then, a key element of Maclntyre's argument that claims to universal truth can be made from within traditions: The participant in a craft is rational qua participant insofar as he or she conforms to the best standards of reason discovered so far, and the rationality in which he or she thus shares is always . .. understood as a historically situated rationality, even if one which aims at a timeless formulation of its own standards which would be their final and perfected form through a series of successive reformulations, past and yet to come. In support of this, Maclntyre argues that if one is familiar enough with two or more traditions and can recognize certain shared concepts and relations, this will enable him to present a theory of rationality across the board and to determine which tradition has more rational power from within: One can indeed, as I have tried to do, learn the idiom of each from within as a new first language, much in the way that an anthropologist constituted him or herself a linguistic and cultural beginner in some alien culture. In so doing one can come to recognize that the only capacity which the adherents of each standpoint possess for translating the utterances of the other would always result in what some adherent of that other standpoint who had learned the rival language would have to characterize as mistranslation, as misrepresentation. Of course within both conceptual schemes it is possible for each to recognize the concepts of the other as in some ways variants upon his or her own. 32 So in order to make his case, Maclntyre must show that criticism is possible not only within a tradition but externally among traditions as well. His attempt to do so involves both the notions of coherence and correspondence. In laying out his explanation, Maclntyre says that progress within a tradition is achieved by identifying inadequacies and resolving them in transformations of the original beliefs; he contends that this can never be radical criticism, however, because certain core beliefs will never be transformed: "Some core of shared belief, constitutive of allegiance to the tradition, has to survive every rupture." 33 Maclntyre defends his view by arguing that we can only engage


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

in critical inquiry in and through relationships to others. Rational inquiry is, again, interpersonal. We ask for the strongest objections, he says, which sometimes push the limits of the standards in place up to this time, and the best rational defense of any one position is its ability to withstand such objections. Maclntyre's conception of practical rationality follows Aristotelian lines: [TJhere can be a chain of sound justificatory reasoning that runs from the nature of the human good to the need for each of the virtues, and from what the virtues require to answers to the question of what action should be performed in these particular circumstances by me here and now. This core commitment and mutual recognition defines the tradition and, according to Maclntyre, makes rational inquiry possible: It is only because and when a certain range of moral commitments is shared, as it must be within a community structured by networks of giving and receiving, that not only shared deliberation, but shared critical enquiry concerning that deliberation and the way of life of which it is a part, becomes possible. These are deliberations, then, of a cooperative rather than adversarial community, and inquiry is made possible because of these amiable conditions; still this places a limit on criticism. Within such a tradition of inquiry, Maclntyre says that progress is made when problems that have been raised regarding beliefs of the past are resolved by solutions that are able to withstand the strongest objections. We may call this a coherence theory in that the test for truth of any one belief consists in its inclusion within the tradition of inquiry. Such a conception has an inherent weakness, however: At what point do we say that a particular position has "sufficiently withstood" all objections? The lack of objections may be due simply to a lack of innovative, creative, or imaginative thought, or to a lack of experience among the participants. In criticizing the socio-cultural tradition of liberalism, Maclntyre objects that "[w]e are provided with no philosophical standard of value in the light of which we can discover whether the cost of a particular commitment is too high relative to the philosophical benefits which it confers";36 yet a similar objection can be leveled against the test of truth here, and appeal at this point to the shared moral commitments of the tradition simply reveals the inherent dogmatism in such a conception of inquiry, which can serve to limit criticism and creativity. Rice attempts to pin down Maclntyre's use of coherence as a criterion of truth. Distinct from the stronger forms of coherence theory, which use strict implication between the system as a whole and the truth of any individual

The ethical life


element, Maclntyre's conception of coherence includes, according to Rice, more than just logical consistency, since it also includes "breadth of explanatory application, and probability/relation of various claims." Rice, however, questions the sufficiency of this theory of truth to meet the challenges of ethical relativism as Maclntyre intends with his notion of traditionconstituted inquiry. He agrees that Maclntyre's use of internal coherence does help to make sense of reform within a tradition; however, because the notion of genuine moral progress requires that traditions determine among each other which is rationally the best, a more substantial notion of truth is required to motivate such engagement and to adjudicate among them. Rice considers the correspondence theory of truth that Maclntyre also introduces to be "fleeting" and "attenuated"not enough, that is, to do the job that is required. Maclntyre describes how, after having resolved an internal inadequacy, participants within a tradition can realize that beliefs previously held no longer correspond to reality and are now known to be false, generating a claim to truth in response: Between those older beliefs and the world as they now understand it there is a radical discrepancy to be perceived. It is this lack of correspondence, between what the mind then judged and believed and reality as now perceived, classified, and understood, which is ascribed when those earlier judgments and beliefs are called false. The original and most elementary version of the correspondence theory of truth is one in which it is applied retrospectively in the form of a correspondence theory of falsity. However, in order to realize that past beliefs are wrong is it not necessary first to realize that present beliefs are more adequate than the earlier ones? The process of inquiry which Maclntyre describes involves raising objections and resolving them; surely one can know that objections have been resolved only when all have been "sufficiently withstood," and only then can it be claimed that earlier beliefs are false and are to be discarded henceforth. He defines correspondence as "adequacy" between thought and reality, a matter of "intelligent thought which is or is not adequate in its dealings with its objects, the realities of the social and rational world." 39 The mind is adequate to its purposes when it is informed by images and concepts which "re-present" objects and forms. Maclntyre pictures the mind as actively engaged in the world because the sense of adequacy he describes is in terms of the mind's purposes. Specifically it is these "re-presentations" which are or are not adequate to those purposes, for the objects and the forms under which objects are re-presented are originally presented as they are"manifest" and "unhidden." As might be expected, Maclntyre insists that the mind


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

can get it right or wrong, and that this is its own responsibility. Reality is manifested openly, he says; it is up to the mind to "re-present" it correctly: "One of the great originating insights of tradition-constituted enquiries is that false beliefs and false judgments represent a failure of the mind, not of its objects."41 Maclntyre reminds us that as beliefs from the past are recognized as inconsistent with current beliefs (they are inadequate and therefore false), this gives rise in turn to the realization that we are engaged in an historical transformation of our understanding within a tradition; the mind grows ever more adequate to its objects, such that "correspondence or the lack of it becomes a feature of a developing complex conception of truth." Again, truth is realized as an afterthought to a recognition that if past beliefs are false, then present beliefs must be true; in fact, Maclntyre expresses this as a kind of irrevisability standard for timeless truth in reverse: To claim truth for one's present mindset and the judgments which are its expression is to claim that this kind of inadequacy, this kind of discrepancy, will never appear in any possible future situation, no matter how searching the enquiry, no matter how much evidence is provided, no matter what developments in rational enquiry may occur.43 Yet we have already remarked upon the confusion in this notion: How can you recognize that past beliefs are false unless you know that present beliefs are true? Well, for Maclntyre, truth is a question of a present mindset's being adequate to its purposes; but again, the point at which one recognizes adequacy, like the point at which belief has "sufficiently" withstood all objections, is a matter of degree. As these are problems for criticism within traditions, it is even more difficult to see how such terms can serve to adjudicate among different traditions of inquiry. Thus, Maclntyre remains prone to the charge of relativism after all. Dewey, of course, would regard the above discussion with suspicion, for he would consider such a problem of knowledge to be a consequence of the ageold tendency of reflective experience to maintain its separation from contact with reality. All this discussion about tradition-constituted inquiry is over the justification of moral judgments in the abstract, while the only real justification comes with experience, when hypotheses are tested by the consequences that result from their controlled application. The scientific method of experimentation has proven itself more useful by doing just thatasking questions of nature and constructing innovative conditions for a meaningful response. Of course there is a body of theory that builds up from this, and in this sense it is a tradition of thought, but to argue that the tradition itself is the ground of rationality is to miss the larger picture of how it works. The ground of

inquiry is primary experience, for it is from there that uncertainties, obstacles,

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and problems arise and it is there that the actions we take have their results. Hickman offers this explanation: Dewey identified inquiry as the primary means by which reflective organisms seek to achieve stability through adaptation. It is by means of inquiry that humans are able to exert control over their own habit formation, thereby creating new instruments. In the short run, these instruments enable us to improve conditions that we deem unsatisfactory. In the long run, they enable us to influence the course of our own evolution. Such a battle among rival traditions of thought as envisaged by Maclntyre appears sadly irrelevant to the affairs of life and the improvement of the human condition first hand. Dewey is more interested in a wide range of various perspectives, but their validity can only be established when put to the test of experience. The human condition is improved only by changing the actual conditions of living. For Dewey, the good is constructed within experience; this is also the case with respect to the process of inquiry: "Inquiry is the controlled or directed transformation of an indeterminate situation into one that is so determinate in its constituent distinctions and relations as to convert the elements of the original

situation into a unified whole."45 It is important to remember that, for Dewey, is the situation that is indeterminate. It is not the mind that needs correction in agreement with its object; change must come in the existential situation, and when the indeterminate is transformed into the unified through intelligent activity, the resulting experience brings the joy of growth in its wake. Pappas describes Dewey's ethics as "situational" or "contextual" because "moral theory is developed from the particular facts and the deliberations that are the features of a particular moral situation." This is in contrast with most philosophical theorists who attempt to take conceptual frameworks that have been constructed antecedently to experience in the abstract and apply them across-the-board to experience in order to impose rationality upon it. Pappas points out that Dewey's main problem with many ethical theories is that "they tend to distrust the capacity of human intelligence to find innovative ways of coming to terms with experienced problems." Maclntyre does present the mind as engaged in purposeful activity, but his analysis of moral inquiry begins with a gap between images in the mind and objects in the world. Dewey is able to avoid the pitfalls that Maclntyre encounters when describing the correspondence of mind and its objects, since both are correlative concepts that exist only as aspects of the interaction of the organism with its environment. The problem of explaining the correspondence of mind and its objects occurs only as a result of separating experience from nature initially. Hickman explains this as what Dewey termed "the philosopher's fallacy":


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

Historically, one of the great philosophical errors has been the treatment of objects produced by abstraction from common sense experience as if they were prior to and independent of the experience from which they were abstracted. They are then said to exist in a realm that is separate and superior to common sense. Having then created this fracture within experience, some philosophers have spent inordinate amounts of time attempting to show how the two realms might be related. Reflective experience is secondary experience, and it is in this capacity that control over the problematic situation is possible; but its meaning is in its return to primary experience and the manipulation of the conditions that created the uncertainty initially and that hold the possibility of its resolution. Again, mind and object do not confront one another as separate substances existing antecedently to the situation; they are aspects of reflection upon primary experience that may be entertained individually in order to better control the situation, but neither alone holds the power to achieve success. For Dewey, the object of knowledge is not antecedent to the knowing, but constructed within the process of inquiry: "[OJbjects are the objectives o inquiry." Inquiry begins from the ordinary needs we have that cannot be settled by habitual behavior. Something unusual about the situation provokes an impulsive response. Impulse becomes intelligent inquiry through anticipation of results from alternative actions. To see the problem, according to Dewey, is to be well on the way to resolving it, for the conditions of the problem hold the key to solving it: "Ideas are anticipated consequences (forecasts) of what will happen when certain operations are executed under and with respect to observed conditions." All the distinctions that arise in the process of inquiry are functional; their meaning is their possibility or potential to effect a desired result. This is true of both facts or natural conditions and of the ideas or forms of response. As Gouinlock explains: "Ideas . . . are instrumental: They direct us from present to future experiences by stating the conditions upon which the institution of future events is contingent." Need focuses attention; what is emphasized is selected by the need which presses upon the indeterminate situation until the relations among objects are aligned to effect a resolution of the forces resulting in their unification. The items or distinctions made within this process are meaningful in virtue of their role in or relation to the unification of the whole. Dewey rejects the tendency in traditional philosophy to emphasize knowing as a spectator-relationship to the world. Thought, or rather inquiry, is not a contemplative "seeing," but a unique problem-solving practice which forms its object(ive) of knowledge from within the situation. Dewey interprets reality and knowledge as changing. Fixity is not the mark of reality; change is. The ideal of knowledge is to find ways in which change can be directed in

The ethical life


order to respond to some obstruction. Rather than the presupposition that knowledge is the beholding of what is or that the knower is a spectator of unchanging reality, Dewey begins with the idea of experience as interaction with the world. In his view, philosophical thinking, like all thinking, is interested thinking. Dewey was interested in men and women and their practical problems, but he had little interest in maintaining the traditional view of philosophical inquiry. Dewey thought that traditional philosophical problems are what they are because of a disparaging view of experience. By contast, Dewey takes an empirical approach to experience as the interactivity of the biological organism and its environment. Man is not a spectator of nature but part of its processes. Although Maclntyre tries to say this, he falls back into the traditional way in which philosophers have thought about the chasm between subject and object. Here, Dewey can help him out. Still, Maclntyre's view strikes a chord with many people who believe in the central importance of western civilization, especially given what may be viewed as attacks against it over the last few decades in our so-called "culture wars," as well as the rise of champions of non-western cultures clamoring for equal representation in the history books and in our schools and curricula. Maclntyre can appeal to a great number of people who long for their own champions in this field. Even more importantly (and all traditions would share these values), he can appeal to the intersubjectivity provided by the individuals within the tradition to add credence to shared beliefs, and he can point to the process of historical transformation by which key ideas and beliefs are handed down through interpretation, criticism, and creativity. Nevertheless, the concerns which led Maclntyre to his emphasis on a moral tradition are not shared by Dewey. Maclntyre is concerned by the fragmentation of our social and cultural experience and seeks a way toward commonality of thought. Dewey is not so concerned with working within a tradition of thought, although he does labor to enhance communal experience. He thought that the tendency of all philosophical systems was to remain caught up in thought and not to put ideas to the test of experience. That is precisely what is valuable in Maclntyre's idea of a practice: It provides a foundation for the virtues and human flourishing in purposeful communal activity rather than abstract principles or rational conceptions. The same intersubjectivity and historical transformation that operates within practices is carried over by Maclntyre to larger currents of traditions of moral philosophy. Dewey's complaint, however, would be that, whereas in a practice the practitioners are actively engaged with the environment, traditions of thought lose that ground in experience. Logical consistency of ideas is not adequate as a basis for effective approaches to moral problems; intellectual structures that justify judgments do not necessarily ensure control over and the improvement of consequences. Philosophical systems that continue to labor under the


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

separation of experience and nature are, in fact, debilitating; they are obstacles to real progress in improving the conditions of life. The intellectual problem that Maclntyre sets out to solve is, according to Dewey, not the real problem. The incommensurability of modern ethical theories is generated by a deeper problem within philosophy itselfthe assumption of the separation of experience and nature. In wishing for their hold on truth to be certain, philosophers seek consistency within their own world of intellectual objects; they realize, of course, that eventually the chasm between philosophy and nature must be crossed, so they search for a foundation to bridge that gapa conceptual certainty to establish a foothold upon which the entire intellectual structure, or framework, can rest. Nietzsche charged that no such foothold was possible, which means that all such systems of thought remain just thatsystems of thought; with no "philosopher's stone" of certainty, no one system can be verified as better, more accurate, or more valid than any other. As a result, Maclntyre seeks the "stone" in traditiona dialectical inquiry into the human good that claims to seek "the best we can do," or at least "the best we have done so far." Dewey would respond that Maclntyre's idea of a practice achieves a valuable connection between experience and nature, but that such a connection is missing from his conception of a moral tradition, it being too abstract and intellectualistic to have a meaningful impact on living conditions. For Dewey, intelligence begins with reflection upon primary experience, which gives one greater awareness, obviously, and greater control over experience. Objects of reflection, when ordered in systematic relations among themselves, can be utilized more effectively as means to unifications of values. Rather than being singular in nature, they share meanings symbolized in language and shared in activity with others. With greater understanding comes greater control. The mistake occurs when the objects of reflection are taken to be more real than primary experience and their unchanging nature is taken to be a sign of their greater or higher reality, when in fact, Dewey argues, their meaning, relevance, and validity are realized only when they are returned to primary experience in order to resolve the problems, uncertainties, and obstacles from which they originated. Dewey would agree with Maclntyre that because our intelligence is social it has greater power than when assumed to be individualistic, and he would agree that the test of time is a natural standard for cultures to rely on when selecting what is valuable to pass on to future generations. On the other hand, progress is only possible through individual criticism and creativity, and as long as the historical transformation of thought remains dialectical and isolated from nature, it suffers from the same problem that plagues the philosophical systems it tries to correct. Only in societies that encourage individual innovation and experimentation can humans flourish, and only when

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people engage in interaction with nature, and not just intellectually, are their ideas verifiable, meaningful, and relevant. Porter raises a question for Maclntyre along these lines concerning the proper relation of rationality to the authority that regulates inquiry within a tradition. She identifies three senses of authority in Maclntyre's conception of tradition: the original texts or bodies of belief, the master of a practice or teacher of a tradition, and "some authoritative presence that can oversee the development of a tradition as a whole." 52 She points out that these three different senses of authority confuse the relation between authority within a tradition and rationality, especially for an individual. The individual must submit to an authority in order to learn and engage in a tradition, but an authority must also repress activities that would disrupt the proper functioning of the tradition. In one sense, Maclntyre intends tradition to be selfcorrective in virtue of the dialectical process; on the other hand, he holds that there must exist an authority to prohibit radical dissent; she argues that this repression of dissent can become inimical to rational progress. Citing the example of Abelard's condemnation as a heretic by the church, she asks: "How can we escape the conclusion that, in this case, authority functioned to undermine, rather than to promote, rationality?"5 It seems, therefore, that rationality can suffer under the auspices of tradition. This criticism points to Maclntyre's failure to give adequate consideration to the role of an individual mind in criticizing traditions and making them more responsive to changing conditions. Dewey is more aware of the need for attention to maintaining the correct balance between conservative and liberal forces. One the one hand, he says that the existence of a social order requires conservation of custom and tradition: "The need of education, moreover, and of maintenance of tradition against deviation serve to bring otherwise unconscious customs to mind, and to render consciousness of them acute and emotional"; on the other hand, "[e]very invention, every improvement in art, technological, military and political, has its genesis in the observation and ingenuity of a particular innovator." Dewey is able to capture the antithesis at the heart of the problem and state it clearly: "Thus, while negatively individuality means something to be subdued, positively it denotes the source of change in institutions and customs."

Maclntyre finds a return to tradition necessary because his approach to moral inquiry focuses on theoretical study in advance of its application to moral judgments. We have incommensurable views on major issues, he says, because we have no common conception of the good. What is needed, in


Virtue Ethics: D ewey and Maclntyre

his view, is revitalization of a moral tradition as the quest for that good in order to provide a consistent theoretical structure capable of justifying our moral judgments. Because liberalism is basically antagonistic toward a single conception of the good, it cannot provide appropriate conditions for a true community of people to exist. Instead, we live fragmented lives in isolated spheres of activity with no authentic structure by which to adjudicate our differences. Dewey, on the other hand, values tradition for what it can tell us about how we should approach the future; people were able to improve their lives under past conditions, and it is those achievements and those conditions that have led to our situation today. What we are is the product of the past, but past products cannot be reincarnated to solve our problems today, for the conditions under which we live are not the conditions of the past. What worked then will not work now; we must find new solutions within our own circumstances, and when we are successful the varied forces within and around us transform us and the environment into more inclusive forces with even greater potential. Moral inquiry should not be limited to being pursued within a tradition; what is needed is the greater involvement of a greater number of people in taking control of the course of their lives. Dewey does not describe our different views as incommensurable, for in the actual living of life together we work things out. We have various conceptions of the good, for each situation is unique, and the good is created within it; yet our various conceptions and creations result in a common goodour growth, the liberation and empowerment of human energies. The problem with liberalism, according to Dewey, is that while it freed pre-existing powers and allowed the formation of large corporate structures and industrial organizations, it failed to free the many individuals who in the past were not possessed of power and opportunity; it has not been adequately used to educate and engage people in activity to promote their own growth. The problem, then, is not liberalism itself, but the fact that it has not been fully implemented for all people. An intellectual conception cannot accomplish this, nor can an elite provide direction for the many. Only when people share experience and communicate freely will the barriers among us be overcome. One question that must be addressed up front is whether by "liberalism" both Maclntyre and Dewey mean the same thing. Liberalism itself has undergone significant change historically. Take, for instance, what it advocates regarding the relationship between government and business. Classic liberalism as espoused by Mill involved a laissez-faire economic theory that called for the removal of governmental control over business. In contemporary times, most who consider themselves "liberal" call instead for increased governmental regulation of business in order to protect employees, consumers, and the environment from harm.

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Both philosophers offer sharp critiques of contemporary culture, but Dewey seeks to revitalize liberalism rather than abandon it. He argues that because it only removed obstacles to the powers that be and did not positively empower individuals through social reform, liberalism has not been fully implemented. In this sense, he seems to have in mind the classic liberalism of Mill. Maclntyre, on the other hand, is also responding to contemporary theorists such as Rawls and Nozick; still, he conceives of them both as inheritors of the Enlightenment tradition. To the extent that Maclntyre and Dewey may disagree about what they mean by "liberalism," the comparison of their views in this regard would be invalid. With this in mind, let me offer the following premise: I understand liberalism to be a loose collection of social, political, economic, and ethical views that generally value the promotion of freedom, individuality, toleration of individual preferences, and the rule of constitutional law. In what follows I will not discuss the last of these features, but it does seem to me that Maclntyre and Dewey both write about the respects in which liberalism promotes individuality and a plurality of values. Maclntyre, for instance, often speaks disparagingly of "liberal individualism" or the "liberal individual," especially when he is contrasting it with his position that the self is a social construction. Again, Dewey would agree that pure individualism is not an accurate conception and that the self is essentially a reflection of society; however, he differs from Maclntyre by praising the individual for creativity and innovation in making practices more responsive to change. There is a balance between the individual and society that is more prominent in Dewey than in Maclntyre: The former envisions a healthy liberalism as striking that same balance; the latter tends to equate liberalism with individualism, which he regards as an inherent weakness. They also both regard liberalism as advocating a plurality of values. Dewey, of course, regards this as a strength of the theory, in that experience does indeed present an indefinite number of ends. Maclntyre regards this as another of liberalism's flaws, holding as he does that, without a common conception of the good, argumentation over the pursuit of ends will be interminable. In regard to freedom, Dewey finds this to be an invaluable aspect of liberalism when balanced by the reality of social order. Interestingly, Maclntyre does not address the value of freedom in this connection; in fact, he does not talk much about it at all. By contrast, Dewey writes often about the rich experience of freedom. One of the reasons why Maclntyre argues for the necessity of inquiry being conducted within traditions of thought concerns the deep divisions within the liberal society that has emerged as a consequence of the attempt to establish a tradition-independent moral standpoint. According to Maclntyre, the


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

original search begun during the Enlightenment was for a pure perspective on rationality and justice which could sort out competing views and objectively identify the wrong ones. The failure of this movement of thought, which Maclntyre says characterizes all post-Enlightenment theories of ethics, has led to the emergence of liberalism as a tradition in itself. Furthermore, the interminable nature of moral disagreement has been transformed from a problem to a virtue, if Maclntyre is to be believed, and this transformation constitutes an important part of the history of liberalism as a tradition. What began as the toleration of individual differences in order to support freedom of thought has become the imposition of tolerance. Maclntyre argues that, in the beginning, it was believed that evaluative principles or standards would be found so that differences in moral judgment could be resolved, and since freedom of thought was essential to this project, political, social, and economic forces formed in support of it. However, the philosophical project failed to establish any principles or standards capable of resolving debates, for reasons already discussed; thus moral disagreement has become interminable, emotivism has become a popular ethical theory, and political and economic forces prevent any one conception of the good from being anything more than an individual preference. In Maclntyre's view, this combination of forces constitutes a tradition which, despite the value it places on tolerance, has itself become quite intolerant of rival views. What is accepted in the public arena, he says, is the expression of preferences, and when individuals join as groups their unified preference gains power in the process of bargaining over social goods, for the conception of justice that emerges within liberalism is that of conflict resolution. Maclntyre describes several means of resolution, from polls to judicial reviews, but generally the more powerful the preference, the better its chances of winning the competition. There is no true community here at any level; rather, isolated spheres of activity exist within which external goods are pursued. In Maclntyre's view, the liberal individual is one raised to believe that "a variety of goods should be pursued, each appropriate to its own sphere, with no overall good supplying any unity to life." What is valued is effectiveness in bargaining for one's preferences. Dewey does not agree with Maclntyre's charge that liberalism cannot provide the resources to attain a true community. For Dewey, human flourishing results when people have the freedom, resources, and encouragement to continually increase and expand their construction of goods in the natural and social environment. This requires the development and exercise of intelligent inquiry in a participatory democracy, and along with it a social platform of liberalism that allows for experimentation, communication, and toleration of a variety of individual interests. Only when individuals are free to engage in innovative inquiry and communicate the results is progress likely to result.

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Of course, traditional values and beliefs will impact the consequences, but a progressive society will seek to enhance creativity rather than squelch it. A purely individualistic expression will lack meaning if it escapes the influence of tradition altogether, but an overly authoritarian order can cause stagnation if it imposes routine on all individual activity. What is needed is the right balance of these forces; this requires openness and communication among all forms of human activity to ensure they embody the conditions for growth and human nourishing. Dewey has his own critique of liberalism, which differs from Maclntyre's. Maclntyre's complaint concerns liberalism's emphasis on the free choice of individuals without a common conception of the good to order particular goodsthus rational deliberation is limited to the expression of preferences, which, as he notes, are subject to change. For the person engaged in this tradition there is no reason to choose one good over another except insofar as one is, at least temporarily, preferred. It is interesting that where Maclntyre sees a weakness, Dewey sees a strength. Obviously, with humans being the most complex of species, the past experiences of each individual which enter into each choice create a wide variety of goods or preferences from which to choose, but this variability and flexibility is for Dewey the potential for growth. Because the individual is free to choose from among many goods, his choice can lead him to engage in the creation of the particular consequences he chooses in an educative experience, increasing his potential for future choices. By using his energy in the construction of good from the environing conditions, he increases the meaning of the experience and empowers himself for even greater satisfactions in the future. Unfortunately, says Dewey, the political and economic forces of classic liberalism removed the obstacles to growth from the social environment without empowering the individuals that existed behind those barriers. The assumption of a self-sufficient human nature, one fully realized and waiting to exercise its autonomy, was mistakenanother legacy of the metaphysical mindset of traditional worldviews. With the advent of liberal social structures, Dewey explains, only those with pre-existing power or privilege were truly freed: The real fallacy lies in the notion that individuals have such a native or original endowment of rights, powers, and wants that all that is required on the side of institutions and laws is to eliminate the obstructions they offer to the "free" play of the natural equipment of individuals. . . . Since actual, that is, effective, rights and demands are products of interactions, and are not found in the original and isolated constitution of human nature, whether moral or psychological, mere elimination of obstructions is not enough. The latter merely liberates force and ability as that happens to be distributed by past accidents of history. This "free" action operates disastrously as


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

far as the many are concerned. The only possible conclusion, both intellectually and practically, is that the attainment of freedom conceived as power to act in accord with choice depends upon positive and constructive changes in social arrangements. 57 The legacy, then, of classic liberalism has been the advent of large business conglomerates and corporate power structures that obstruct the free inquiry and open communication required for individuals to form a genuine public. The mass of people have not been educated or empowered to the extent necessary to engage in the intelligent pursuit of their happiness or to sustain a true democracy. Even the educational institutions that were created failed to involve people actively but tended to bring ideas to them to be learned in the abstract. Only when labor becomes creation are people truly liberated. Dewey says that we should "seek for freedom in something which comes to be, in a certain kind of growth; in consequences, rather than antecedents"; and that "freedom resides in the development of preferences into intel-

ligent choices."5
Once again, Dewey's interpretation of nature as processes rather than substances reveals the inadequacies of prevailing rational frameworks: "Individuality in a social and moral sense is something to be wrought out." 60 Removing barriers to the freedom of pre-existing powers is not enough; the social and natural environment must be made conducive to growth. Dewey says: "The best guarantee of collective efficiency and power is liberation and use of the diversity of individual capacities in initiative, planning, foresight, vigor and endurance." For these reasons, Dewey argues, a free and open society and a comprehensive form of participatory democracy offer the most promise for the pursuit of happiness: "Full education comes only when there is a responsible share on the part of each person, in proportion to capacity, in shaping the aims and policies of the social groups to which he belongs. This fact fixes the significance of democracy." 62 Pekarsky defends Dewey's conception of growth as a measure for evaluating life choices against the counter-example of a burglar who seemingly grows if successful; he argues that the problem with such a career, however successful, is that it isolates one from interaction with everyday people. In explaining that growth requires "access and openness to, as well as a capacity to appreciate, ways of thinking and being other than one's own," Pekarsky points out the importance Dewey placed on a liberal society: [Growth] substantially depends on the availability of, and our openness to, the ideas and points of view of people very different from ourselves. It is made possible by opportunities to share with them our experiences and thoughts, and to reconstruct or elaborate our understandings and activities in the light of their varied responses.

The ethical life


Pekarsky then presents Dewey's criticism of the existing economic order and remarks that "in a society that has turned work into drudgery one is unlikely to find human beings using their leisure time in growth-enhancing ways." According to Dewey, improvement in the human condition requires changing the social environment as well as the individual. We do hold individuals accountable, but they are also products of the environment. Society establishes the conditions for poverty and the lack of education, not purely the individuals who bear those burdens and live out those roles. Unfortunately, there is not enough inquiry into the social conditions that underlie problems ofjustice; rather, there is too much focus on intellectual conceptions of rights, duties, and obligations as the moral authority. Our moral traditions esteem these concepts as transcendent of nature, while in reality they are nothing more than social demands we make upon each other, and social demands can be improved through intelligent inquiry. Individuals grow in community with others when there is genuine give and take of human goods. This is why the conception of the good must grow and develop; it cannot have a fixed meaning. Dewey says that "the conception of common good, of general well-being, is a criterion which demands the full development of individuals in their distinctive individuality, not a sacrifice of them to some alleged vague larger good under the plea that it is 'social'." This is a conception of the good in terms of what we are capable of becoming, not a conservation of what we have been. Savage agrees: [T]he end of Dewey's liberal society is the good of the individual. Ultimately, this is the strength of Dewey's defense of liberalism. It justifies liberal principles such as negative freedom, individual rights, toleration, and pluralism because they are components of the method for discovering and realizing one's good, not because they are neutral between competing conceptions of the good. And because the good, in a contingent and changing environment, can never be settled and fixed, it is the process itself that is the final end. 67 Humans have a complex background, making their conduct more flexible. Each individual's history differs from others and enters into his present choices, along with intelligence and vision. People have a natural propensity for changing preferences. What is needed is to increase the social interaction among all people because only that can lead to growth in intelligence and power. Only when individuals experience the consequences of free choices will their knowledge of relations increase, and as a result their power will increase as well. According to Dewey, intelligence is embodied in social activities; it is not a self-contained ability implanted in individuals by nature. Dewey argues that "[gjiven a social medium in whose institutions the available knowledge, ideas


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

and art of humanity were incarnate . . . the average individual would rise to undreamed of heights of social and political intelligence." 68 What is needed is the opening up of social resources of intelligence to everyone. Resources are now in the hands of a few who control them for their own gain. Still, the desires of the masses can be intelligently guided, not just exploited; they are flexible, not antecedently formed. But until the interaction among people increases, the stratification of society will continue. A framework of liberalism and democracy is needed, but until a more progressive approach is taken toward the empowerment of people, the contradictions will continue. Consumerism, for example, tends to maintain existing structures by identifying individual happiness with the immediate gratification of desires and by identifying social well-being with increasing productivity and "consumer confidence." Until people experience the affecting of consequences in their lives through meaningful activityuntil labor, that is, becomes artthese barriers to growth will continue to stratify society, and the majority will continue not to participate. Maclntyre agrees with this critique, at least to an extent, but whereas Dewey regards the contemporary power structure to be a result of the lack of meaningful interaction among the members of society, Maclntyre regards it as a result of the lack of a common conception of the good. But the cure which Maclntyre offers may be worse than the disease. Wain criticizes Maclntyre's view of the state as "paternalistic" and argues that he should have considered Dewey's view (as well as that of Habermas) in constructing a response to the problem of modernity. Wain claims that "what Maclntyre calls a 'practice' sounds pretty close to what Dewey had in mind when describing democracy as a 'way of life' "; for instance, "Dewey would have agreed wholeheartedly that the goods internal to a democracy can only be specified in terms of its practice and recognized by the experience of participating in it." ~ Wain argues, however, that they would part company when Maclntyre, in criticizing the liberal individualism of modernity, proposed a return to an ancient and medieval tradition responsible for educating its citizens according to its conception of the good as parents raise their children. According to Wain, Maclntyre allows only two alternative positions: "an atomistic individualism" which "denies the community any moral, political and educative value whatsoever," and a view of "the state (not the community) as 'moral educator' "; Dewey offers a third alternative that gives that role to the community: "Dewey's contention was that it is the act of'living together' that educates, and that education, in this sense, is simply assured by unrestricted communication; i.e., by plurality in itself." Alexander argues that Dewey offers a conception of democracy that is enhanced by liberalism and pluralism in promoting openness and communication: "While Dewey would agree with much in Maclntyre's critique of

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Enlightenment and liberalism, he offers an alternative view of democracy and what a democratic, pluralistic tradition must be." 71 Alexander points out that "Dewey was especially critical of the formalistic concept of reason and personhood that had emerged with the Enlightenment," and that in response he developed an understanding of communication that was "more inclusive and rich," that provided the "open space" wherein "humans can share experiences," but that requires "a shifting of perspectives and a recognition of the diversity of roles within any communicative process"ideas that "cut at the root of intellectualistic concepts of tradition like Maclntyre's." 73 "[P]luralism is integral to the idea of an ongoing process," he says, just as openness is "an essential part of his conception of rationality or intelligence." Alexander argues that Maclntyre's recognition of the importance of narrative would be shared by Dewey, but that the former abandons the strength such an approach might have in the context of situations in process when he turns to the "histori-

cally unfolding Kuhnian paradigms of traditions":

[I]n the end rationality for Maclntyre is a finished paradigm, internally consistent and indifferent to any other ideas. However much Maclntyre stresses the idea of "history", it is as a process toward a fixed, ideal end. Deweyan intelligence, by contrast, does not see the essence of reason in a finished product, but in the ability to connect experiences meaningfully. It sees process as continuity achieved through the interplay of order and contingency, in which ambiguity and real potentiality for alternative developments are present. This allows for a broader conception of tradition, in which a variety of symbolic connections are possible. Savage also advocates Dewey's conception of liberalism over Maclntyre's proposals. He presents a highly developed exposition of Dewey's social and political philosophy as passing between the Scylla and Gharybdis represented by Maclntyre and others as hard communitarians on the one hand and by Rorty and others as radical individualists on the other. Savage finds that Dewey is able to escape these perils while retaining the strengths of each view: [A] conception of liberalism based on self-development can achieve a golden mean between a virtue-based communitarianism that shortchanges individual initiative and freedom and a postmodernist glorification of difference that shortchanges objective and/or intersubjective standards of value.'77 Interestingly, Savage characterizes the virtuescritical reflection, creative individuality, and sociabilityas methods; they are functionalbased on the best ways of adapting to change and thus the means to, and constitutive


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

of, self-development: "Dewey's conception of self-development depends on a method of adaptation. The method justifies a body of fixed intellectual and moral virtues that makes up what I will call Dewey's conception of autonomy." "For Dewey," Savage claims, "self-development is the end of life and autonomy is the means." His argument depends upon an interpretation of Dewey's conception of growth in two distinct senses: an experiential sense which represents a "continuous cycle of readapting to a contingent and changing environmental context," and an instrumental sense of "realizing the general method . . . that results in the kind of growth required in the first sense." 80 It is the second sense that Savage develops into his ideas of individual autonomy and liberal democracy. Furthermore, he argues that Dewey advocates pluralism, that since the virtues are necessary for any particular conception

of the good they place limitations on the conception of the good, yet they
remain neutral regarding the substance of the good:
[T]he virtues are necessary to any particular conception of the goodthey in fact place limitations on the desirable conceptions of the goodbut they do not prevent the liberal state from being neutral between those conceptions of the good that do not circumvent the virtues of procedural rationality. Savage argues also that several of Maclntyre's ideas are perfected by Dewey, such as the notion of internal goods, and that of the narrative order of a single human life placed within a communal context. Indeed, the ideal of the community is the self-development of the individual, which requires the moral and intellectual development of each of its members. Savage offers this comparison: Maclntyre's argument can be summarized as the claim that we must choose between living within the rational context of a cultural tradition or adhering to the values of liberal society, in which case all of our moral choices must be noncontextual and thus arbitrary or emotivist. Dewey's conceptions of the self and autonomy show that this choice is unnecessary. There is nothing incompatible between the liberal values of freedom, individuality, autonomy, and voluntarism, on the one hand, and the contextual and narrative conception of the self, on the other. 8 Rosenbaum frames his comparison of these two philosophers with their common critique of contemporary American culture as deficient in providing the resources necessary to a fulfilling existence: "Dewey, like Maclntyre, believed that dominant patterns of value and behavior cultivated by American culture are typically detrimental to realizing individual potential as well

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as stifling to individual and social hope." Rosenbaum points out their similar use of Aristotelian ideas about the virtues and about the interdependence of individuals and communities, but he also clarifies differences: Maclntyre looks outside contemporary culture for a solution that involves a resurgence of the moral tradition running from Aristotle through Aquinas, while Dewey seeks to use existing resources institutionalized in contemporary science and democracy. Like Porter, Rosenbaum sees a change in Maclntyre from his early conception of the virtues as rooted in community practices to a later view centered on the authority of others; he also points out that Maclntyre differs from Dewey in offering a conception of a human good which Dewey refuses: Maclntyre argues for the "idea of'the good life for man', the Aristotelian telos for humans as rational animals." "For Dewey," he says, "any backward-looking proposal for addressing American cultural incoherence is as doomed to failure as is any other anachronistic proposal for dealing with current problems"; rather, Dewey advocates "seeking greater consistency with our own ideals" embedded in the institutions of science and democracy. 5 Rosenbaum argues that "Dewey's conception of moral democracy and its connection with the scientific attitude is the ideal that informs all of his thought about morality and society"; this is because "scientific communities are natural contemporary loci of the personal virtues that must characterize members of a successful democratic community . .. virtually indistinguishable from the classical Aristotelian virtueswisdom, courage, temperance, and justicethat Maclntyre also endorses." The form of social life that Dewey envisions is simply more promising than that offered by Maclntyre. They both agree that the focus of modern moral philosophy on an isolated individual is mistaken, but Dewey retains more emphasis than Maclntyre on individuality as the source of progressive social change. For Dewey, the practice of inquiry is not limited to past beliefs. It concerns the facts and values that condition practical responses to human needs that construct new situations to facilitate and liberate energies otherwise frustrated. A creative mind can entertain traditions of thought and even immerse itself in a tradition in order to gain what insights it has to offer; but the idea that it must accept certain fundamental beliefs in order to engage in inquiry is not the sense of inquiry that Dewey presents. All ideas are subject to inquiry, for their meaning is their function in furthering the aims of life; and all inquiry is moral, for it is the origin of the virtues themselves. Maclntyre claims that liberalism refuses to entertain any conception of the good except the individualistic pursuit of particular goods; but the answer is not a retreat into the self-imposed isolation of dogmatic tradition. For Dewey, a common good is compatible with an indefinite number of varying conceptions; what is needed is to increase social inquiry and open communication, to empower individuals through active engagement with the natural and


Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre

social environment. Rather than despair of change, one must accept it and attempt to control it; this is the only path to human flourishing. To bring closure to this long argument, let us end simply with a final remark from Dewey that could easily be seen as anticipating Maclntyre and that draws the comparison between them most clearly; he says that his suggestions about social and political reform "will not form a set of ideas to be expounded, reasoned out and argumentatively supported, but will be a spontaneous way of envisaging life."88

1. 2.
3. 4, 5. 6.

7. 8. 9. 10.
11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19.

20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29.
30. 31.


Maclntyre, AV, 221. Ibid., 222. Ibid., 223. Dewey, MW9, 4. Ibid., 6. Ibid., 7. Ibid., 8. Ibid. Ibid., 9. Ibid. Seigfried, H., "Dewey's logical forms," 189. Maclntyre, AV, 222. Graham, "Maclntyre on history and philosophy," 28. Rosenbaum, S., "A virtue of Dewey's moral thought," 187 Ibid., 189. Ibid. Ibid., 190. Ibid., 191. Ibid. Ibid., 192. Ibid. Maclntyre, WJWR, 332-3. Maclntyre, TRV, 17. Maclntyre, WJWR, 346. Ibid., 334. Ibid., 352. Ibid. Ibid., 353. Ibid., 354. Weinstein, J.R., On Maclntyre, 87. Maclntyre, TRV, 65. Ibid., 43.

The ethical life

33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75.


Maclntyre, WJWR, 356. Maclntyre, DRA, 159. Ibid., 161. Maclntyre, WJWR, 335. Rice, E., "Combatting ethical relativism: Maclntyre's use of coherence and progress," 63. Maclntyre, WJWR, 356. Ibid. Ibid., 357. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid., 358. Hickman, L., "Dewey's theory of inquiry," 167. Dewey,J., Logic: The Theory of Inquiry [hereinafter LW12], 108. Pappas, "Dewey's ethics," 103. Ibid., 102. Hickman, "Dewey's theory of inquiry," 171. Dewey, LW12, 122. Ibid., 113. Gouinlock, "Dewey's theory of moral deliberation," 73. Porter, J., "Tradition in the recent work of Alasdair Maclntyre," 63. Ibid., 66. Dewey, LW1, 164. Ibid., 165. Maclntyre, WJWR,337. Dewey, J., "Philosophies of Freedom" [hereinafter LW3], 100-1. Ibid., 108. Ibid., 112. Dewey, MW12, 191. Ibid., 199. Ibid. Pekarsky, D., "Burglars, robber barons, and the good life," 70. Ibid., 69. Ibid., 72. Dewey, LW7, 348. Savage, John Dewey's Liberalism, 122. Dewey, J., Liberalism and Social Action [hereinafter LW11], 50. Wain, K., "Maclntyre and the idea of an educated public," 110-11. Ibid., 112. Alexander, T.M., "Educating the democratic heart: pluralism, traditions, and the humanities," 247. Ibid., 249. Ibid., 250. Ibid., 256. Ibid., 255.

132 76. 77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86. 87. 88.

Virtue Ethics: Dewey and Maclntyre Ibid., 255-6. Savage, John Dewey's Liberalism, 28. Ibid., 18. Ibid., 19. Ibid., 7. Ibid., 54. Ibid., 52. Rosenbaum, S., "Maclntyre or Dewey," 39. Ibid., 45. Ibid., 51. Ibid., 54. Ibid., 55. Dewey, MW12, 200.


This comparative study has shown that Maclntyre and Dewey have a common interest in describing human conduct in terms of virtues and vices, that they both entertain a central notion of human flourishing, and they both offer fundamental critiques of social conditions for moral inquiry. Several of their ideas have been shown to be similar, but serious differences have been revealed as well. Over all, Dewey proves to have a more comprehensive view than Maclntyre does, and certain key points of comparison reveal some significant problems in the latter's work. In concluding this study, I will summarize these weaknesses and point to the problem areas in Maclntyre's position. One serious weakness appears in Maclntyre's struggle with including a modern understanding of the biological dimensions of life in his theory of the virtues, especially the impact of Darwinian evolutionary theory on the notion of human nature. The modern understanding of the role of natural selection in the origin of species poses a serious challenge to any conception of the virtues rooted in human nature, but as Maclntyre is trying to resurrect Aristotelian ethics, he at first attempts to avoid this problem. His work in After Virtue led to innovative ideas, such as his account of a practice and the narrative form of human life, but despite the fact that these notions do enhance our understanding of the moral dimensions of human activity, they cannot replace an account of human origins in the evolution of life on earth. His latest work attempts to plumb the depths of human ties to nonhuman animals specifically, and develop from that account of vulnerability a conception of the virtues that govern our giving and receiving in social relationships, culminating in a view of human flourishing as an autonomy that recognizes its dependency on othersa dependent rational animal. But still the virtues possess a highly reflective nature in that they arise as dispositions encouraged by society in dialectical pursuit of a conception of the good, an intellectual quest which is the organizing principle for both character formation and social order. As a result, Maclntyre's moral philosophy seems disconnected from this latest biological account that now props it up. Perhaps the fundamental difficulty of any attempt to revitalize the classical moral tradition in the contemporary world is that we have and can have no conception of human nature that is fixed and unchanging. At any rate, Maclntyre's attempt to make the rational structures of Aristotelian and Thomistic thought fit a biological model of natural selection appears strained and artificial.



Dewey, on the other hand, is led to his account of human activity from his understanding of Darwinian evolutionary theory, which is ubiquitous in his philosophy, from his understanding of experience and nature to his logical theory. Human conduct is rendered in terms of habit, impulse, and intelligence, and from this account an understanding of what a virtue is and why it is important to the development of character is made to seem natural. Even though Dewey's ethics will, perhaps, never be at home as a virtue ethics theory, he is able to give an account of the virtues that emerges naturally from our understanding of the processes of life, natural selection, and the evolution of species. Compared to Dewey's account, Maclntyre's discomfort with a biological account of human nature and conduct is a significant problem. Again, this does not mean that Maclntyre's conception of a practice is not important, for it reveals the virtues to be rooted in shared activity organized around standards of excellence whose pursuit by practitioners can result in their experience of goods internal to the practice. This is a significant dimension of human experience. Of course, Dewey would want to take the philosophical foundations of human practices to greater reaches of experience, just as he would expand Maclntyre's conception of a narrative form of the self to histories or nonlinguistic processes of nature as well. But this does not diminish the importance of Maclntyre's work for increasing our understanding and appreciation of these aspects of our way of being with each other. The importance of the social dimensions of human experience is recognized by both these philosophers. In fact, it is because he maintains a conception of the individual formed from social realities that Maclntyre offers much to correct the extreme focus on the isolated individual that is characteristic of modern moral philosophy; however, it is also the source of a second weakness, for it leads him to underappreciate the importance of the individual as a source of innovation in making human practices more responsive to change, whether an individual practice as Maclntyre describes or a moral tradition. The standards of excellence toward which practitioners strive can serve either to inspire greatness or to repress individual creativity, so if the practice is to be progressive, such that its ends and goals are transformed, there must be sufficient space for individual variability. Likewise, within a moral tradition, dialectic serves to maintain vigilance against faulty conceptions; yet given Maclntyre's test of truth as coherence with other beliefs, evidenced when a particular conception has sufficiently withstood all objections, the question as to just when that point of sufficiency is reached depends upon the vigor of individual criticism and imagination as much as the laws of logic that govern the dialectical process. Maclntyre has worked so hard to define the self using social realities, that it is not clear how he is to allow for sufficient individual variance, criticism, and creativity. Dewey, on the other hand, moves constantly between social forms



and individual energies, trying to maintain the right balance between authority and freedom and not end up on either side exclusively. Maclntyre could do with a better sense of that balance. A third weakness results from his lack of attention to the physical and biological aspects of our existence, which leaves his conception of the self and human activity rather attenuated. On the one hand, he seeks a more robust conception of personal identity to counter the existential vapidity of Sartre's view of the self; on the other hand, he seeks to locate personal identity within social realities in order to avoid the individualism that characterizes modern ethical thought. It is not clear that his narrative conception of the self provides sufficient unity and substance to meet his needs. He attempts in his latest book to correct this weakness, but the understanding of human nature that results from his pondering our animal nature causes him to move from the Aristotelian ideals of pride and high-mindedness to the Christian ideals of humility and misericordiam; as such, one could question if his conception of the goo life for man is still centered in human excellence at all. But more importantly, the impact of Darwin is still not fully appreciated, for he continues to insist on a universal telos for the human species, despite the difficulties that attend such a view. I have argued that Dewey provides a more comprehensive philosophical background resulting in a direct and profound account of the virtues, human flourishing, and moral inquiry. Where Maclntyre offers the three background ideas of a practice, the narrative order of a single life, and a moral tradition, Dewey explains the virtues as habits that succeed in satisfying needs and promoting growth. For Maclntyre, the virtues are explained as necessary for the functioning of a practice and to the continuation of traditions of moral inquiry, but there is no distinct account ofjust what a virtue isno clear psychological or biological explanation of its origin. Virtues are inculcated by others, of course, for practices and traditions are socially organized activities, but Maclntyre seems more concerned with explaining their philosophical function than with investigating their origins in the living being. They are necessary to his understanding of our relations with others and to his ultimate scheme of traditions of thought, but more is needed to establish their reality than to show their cognitive dimensions. Dewey is able to base his explanation of the virtues in biological processes that characterize all life forms whereby needs are satisfied through effort. Dewey's embrace of evolutionary biology contrasts sharply with Maclntyre's attempt to get around this issue. Clearly, Dewey's conception of the virtues covers not only a broader range of interpersonal functions in human practices than Maclntyre is able to present, but explains their cognitive dimensions as expressive of the physical and biological realities of life. Another weakness in Maclntyre's work is his conception of a universal human telosa dialectical quest for the good life for manas the ordering



principle for the virtues. Such an intellectual journey may inspire moral philosophers but it remains separate from the material conditions of life. To seek a common conception of the good is an admirable endeavor, but it is a philosophical quest involving purely theoretical structures that are only incidentally applied to the individual struggles and social activities of people trying to cope with and control their environment in order to meet their needs. An adequate conception of human flourishing should emerge from the bottom up, so to speak; it should arise from the actual struggle of life rather than from the airy realm of conceptual coherence. This is the advantage of Dewey's approach to moral philosophy and to his conception of human flourishing as growth: It is rooted in the biological processes of need, effort, and satisfaction and the resulting transformation that occurs in the organism and the environment because of those processes. In fact, growth is this process, not a fixed end for a conception of man's unchanging nature nor a rational ideal transcendent of nature to be explicated in dialectic. Growth, while endlessly variable, is directional and functions as an ordering principle for the virtues; at the same time it is an experiential conception of human flourishing rather than an intellectual onearising from within experience rather than being imposed from above. Maclntyre seeks a universal conception of the good with a content sufficient to bring order to our moral world. Dewey's conception of growth has no such singular content; as its content comes from primary experience, it remains inclusive of an indefinite number of transitory goods. Still, it has direction; growth is recognized by its propensity to further the growth of the organism and the environment in which the process occurs. Furthermore, Dewey could point out the philosopher's fallacy in Maclntyre's approach the separation between a conception of the good with a rational content and the aims of activity within the human community. Because Maclntyre's conception of the good is based on a chasm between moral theory and practice, Maclntyre would have difficulty with the imposition of such a contentfilled conception on the lives of men. On the other hand, the structure of growth is evident to reflective experience but is also immediately verifiable in the primary experience which it includes; it is not imposed upon practice but emerges from it. This disagreement comes down to the difference between Dewey's pragmatic approach to philosophy and Maclntyre's approach through the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition. Maclntyre's problem is in trying to determine a single, universal purpose for man in spite of the difficulty, given the changing nature of material conditions for life, of specifying a fixed human nature. Once it is admitted that there are an indefinite number of ends for human activity that are transitory and fleeting but nonetheless real, a form of



life can be conceived that thrives in freedom, open-mindedness, and courage; criticism and creativity; reflection and communicationone that is inclusive, pluralistic, and liberal. Maclntyre is more concerned with the conservation of past traditions than with the encouragement of individual experimentation and creativity. One of the reasons for this preoccupation is his view that humans must have a telos; this is a legacy of Aristotle's metaphysical biolog and the assumption that species are unchanging, but such a view simply flies in the face of what we understand about the origins of species. Human goals and ends vary with the person, the stage of life, the society, and the historical epoch; they change as environmental conditions change. Maclntyre's conception of human flourishing also appears distant and abstract whereas Dewey grounds it in interaction with the environment. Maclntyre pictures the full development of human beings as involving an intellectual quest for the human telos; this quest is a philosophical effort within the boundaries of a tradition of thought that exists within local communities characterized by the virtues of giving and receiving that support independent practical reasoners. Still, the quest is a dialectical search of ideas. Dewey's conception of growth, on the other hand, includes all aspects of human activity, and is available to all people capable of the pursuit of the satisfaction of needsnot just the intellectuals. Dewey puts his finger on an experience that people recognize as joyous and fulfilling when he describes the consummation of forces through intelligent control of actual conditions; the elimination of obstacles and the resolution of uncertainties through human effort brings a transformation of all parties involved. Growth is a natural process which is achievable in this life in countless places and times, yet it can serve as a unifying end for a conception of the virtues and the development of character. It offers what Maclntyre seeks, in ordering our particular goods, but it does not involve the metaphysical and epistemological pitfalls that come with a rigid, unitary conception of a human telos drawing everything to itself. In evaluating their respective positions, this aspect of Maclntyre's position is important to keep in mind. A serious point of contention revealed in this, comparison is Maclntyre's inveterate rationalism. It was Parmenides who said that whatever is thought must be, that the structure of thought reveals the structure of reality. Similarly, Maclntyre holds that structures of thought must first be verified by internal consistency and then reflected in social relations and the moral life, rather than the other way around; yet this rationalistic approach to moral inquiry, such that theory is to be applied to practice, belies his locating the philosophical background to the virtues in his conception of a practice. Furthermore, the inflexibility of this position is evident in his proposal of tradition-constituted inquiry and his rejection of liberalism.



One of the most significant advantages Dewey holds over Maclntyre lies in his view of moral inquiry: Maclntyre holds that differing moral judgments are ultimately irresolvable outside any tradition-constituted theoretical framework, but Dewey argues that inquiry can be effective through an intelligent approach to particular situations. Maclntyre seems more concerned with academic philosophical positions and their inability to reach agreement on universal principles in ethics. His answer to postmodernist anti-rationalism is to withdraw within a tradition and defend its boundaries, engaging in genuine dialogue only with its members and within its confines, and only rarely venturing outside. This is a typical reaction to the world's events and forces when they seem to be out of controlto return to and take up one's traditions, trusting in the familiar that has withstood the test of time. The problem is that the world's events are then left to work themselves out on their own. The world has a myriad of voices and undergoes changes of all shapes and sizes. To withdraw within a realm of thought protected from outside influences allows one to pursue intellectual agreements and disagreements with endless fascination, and it may create in one a sense of justification regarding right belief because the members of the tradition share your guiding values and engage with you in condemning the mistaken judgments of the outside world. However, to adopt such a course would be to abandon events to work themselves out as they will; would it not be better to engage in the world's processes with others to at least attempt to make some material improvement? Dewey affirms that moral inquiry begins with the uncertain and the perilous. With eyes open to the actual conditions that exist in the situation, and using critical reflection and individual creativity, one must evaluate those conditions that are more or less stable and find the means to a resolution of the conflict that will enhance future experience. The approach is toward particulars rather than abstract ideas; instead of falling into bewilderment over the immensity of the problems and the interminability of the debate, one turns over one stone at a time to succeed to the extent that one can, to make the world better, rather than perfect. Dewey's moral philosophy requires a different approach from the typical focus on large social issues in the abstract, such as abortion, the justification for war, or a welfare state; moral inquiry must work from the inside out, so to speak, in the particular situations through which the lives of individuals are directly affected. This is why the development of character is important: to create in people that sensitivity to the context of a difficult situation and the wherewithal to direct the situation to a better result. The guiding end here would be the promotion of growth and the joy of shared experience. Dewey offers a way and the vision to carry such transforming experience to more people, not just a select few, so they can engage in the intelligent direction of the course of their lives. Rather than



turning within to a self-perpetuating tradition, it is a turning without to the multiplicity and complexity of life. Maclntyre's theoretical approach to moral inquiry is also evident in his understanding of rationality as determining the means to arrive at an end which has been set for us because of our naturea human telos that motivates everyone at all levels of human activity to exercise the means to that end. But such an analysis of human experience falsifies its fluidity and organic structure. By working out coherent structures of thought and then imposing them on human activity, moral inquiry becomes an abstract discussion of concepts and their relations. Dewey's account reveals why Maclntyre's return to tradition will not resolve the interminable debate in a way that will improve our moral character. Because of his pragmatic approach, Dewey is able to avoid the theoretical problems with tradition-constituted inquiry that Maclntyre encounters, but more importantly he shows that puzzling over structures of thought is not the only approach possible to moral inquiry. For Dewey, inquiry is the fundamental approach humans take toward experience whenever difficulties arise, and because of the changing nature of experience, this is always an engagement with a new and different situation. The key to resolving the uncertainties and perplexities lies within the particulars. It is Maclntyre's rationalistic approach that leads him to throw up his hands at liberalism. Because of his insistence on a common conception of the good to direct our actions, those actions being in turn the means to that allencompassing good, he is led to reject liberalism as chaotic and without a moral center. Now within ancient and medieval communities, a common conception of the good did serve to order human activityeven if it was imposed by force, ignorance, or divine rightand the idea of a single good for man was a natural way to envision the relations among the powers that be. But in the modern world, increased interaction among humans because of travel and communication forces a different analysis of human activity and relationships. Moral inquiry must be more flexible regarding the content of the good in order to address the needs of a greater variety of people. Dewey criticizes liberalism as well, but for a different reason. He sees growth as the moral imperative for both individual and social progress, and he believes that it is accomplished through intelligent democratic activity in resolving conflicts within situations. This is why participatory selfgovernment must reach all the people in order to engage them in resolving the concrete situations they face. We must become more proactive in the liberation and empowerment of people through education to enrich their lives with the various goods of life, not just consumer products or general standard of living estimates. In this way human goods arise from existing conditions rather than being imposed through hierarchies of social relations that



express rational structures of thought. Such rationalism has an intrinsic beauty, but this is because it represents past relations with the edges fixed and clear. The structures must adapt to experience if progress is to be possible. In trying to revitalize a virtues approach to ethics, Maclntyre called for renewed investigation of the classical tradition of moral inquiry as a foundation for rationality. One strength of his view is his critique of modern ethical theories: They do limit their focus to the isolated individual and to evaluating human actions in the abstract. A most impressive aspect of his work is the legacy he will leave to modern ethics in helping to reestablish the importance of the virtues, for they do offer a fresh and valuable approach. The virtues are dispositions toward good behavior. Rather than having to apply a rule to a situation, one's actions are seen as flowing from one's character, so that one ought to act as a virtuous person would act. One advantage that seems to follow is a more holistic approach to the moral life, such that simply not breaking the rules is not enough. Rather than abstract questions of morality being compartmentalized into specific areas such as euthanasia, whistle-blowing, or other typically hard issues, moral worth is located in particular situations found in all walks of life. This changes greatly the way we view ethicswe rely on the character of people who, working without the absolute rules, principles, or commands of specific theories, must decide on their own between better and worse. This is why the virtues are important within the context of any problematic situation, since they are tools for resolving moral conflicts and uncertainties. But any virtuous person should also realize the plurality of values that are in play in any condition of uncertainty. People have desires for the good, however those goods are classified or ordered; people also have respect for duty and for obligations imposed by law. The virtuous person who is wise, courageous, temperate, and just will admit the plurality of interests and find the means to resolve them, hopefully, in a unification of opposing forces; but this will always be a matter of degreemore or less good, right, or virtuous. One can only recognize the right, the good, and the virtuous with hindsight. And in considering the individual's perspective in moral problem-solving, a focus on growth or human flourishing can guide a person's actions, and can be used in retrospect in learning from the past. But a moral theory must admit the plurality of values that go into a morally problematic situation, which is made problematic by the existence of competing goods. A singular focus on any one pre-established framework is part and parcel of the bifurcation of experience and nature that Dewey deplored. It can be disconcerting to see a plurality of ethical theories, each with its own founders, some with an ancient history and some with a rather brief history, and to see that they can lead to different results when applied to actual cases. The rational mind demands consistency in the philosophical structures



of one worldview, and the presence of incommensurable ethical theories can appear to be problematica thorn in the side. It would be reassuring if we were all part of one moral tradition of thought, for it would then be more likely that we could come to agreement on the hard questions of abortion or the proper relationship between government and business. It is true that it can appear arbitrary which ethical theory one takes up, but it is most likely a result of one's own predispositionsone's philosophical bias. Such biases can, of course, change. Do we admire one person more because he has been a consistent utilitarian throughout his career, as opposed to someone who switches his allegiance? Isn't it more likely that the multiplicity of ethical theories exists because people are complex beings from divergent environmental conditions? Why must a plurality of values be seen as a problem? It is only so if one insists on entertaining one view rather than two. Isn't it true that even when you opt for one view you can see the reasons behind the other one? Is it somehow irrational for these to be incommensurable? Isn't it more accurate to say that the better and worse are always found together in any particular situation? The challenge that opposing views offer can also be interestingin coming to understand an opposing view, defending one view over the other, trying to find a compromise or reconciliation between them, or perhaps imagining an entirely new approach. Is the situation today for moral philosophy frustrating or invigorating? Is it confused and mistaken, or accurate and realistic? There may come a time in the future of philosophy when the various ethical theories are resolved into one worldview, but it is not this time. This does not mean that a tradition should be rejected just because it seems out of step. There is validity that comes with the test of time, but it is only one view. There are others, and new ones that have yet to emerge. Some may be discarded, but they do not disappear. The human mind is informed by both individual creativity and tradition. This is a problematic situation, and it incites people to study and engage in moral philosophy in order to find the answer; but it is not failure if the answer is not forthcoming. There is joy of discovery in the process and lasting value in the wonder and awe that attend it. The strengths of Dewey's view are his natural emphasis on human practices and his use of evolutionary biology as a basis for understanding themhis analysis of human activity in terms of the notions of habit, impulse, and intelligence with the naturally purposive organization required by the satisfaction of need through effort. Dewey can escape the problematic dualisms of experience and nature that plague traditional philosophy, and he understands the social nature of morality while valuing individual innovation and creativity. His conception of human flourishing as growth provides a natural direction for human activities. Dewey's critique of classic liberalism is enhanced by his progressive stance calling for social growth through greater shared experiencethe exercise by people of increased flexibility and control over their



lives through greater social involvement and through democratic participation in decision-making in the groups of which they are a part. This is the advantage that Dewey has over Maclntyre: He recognizes the importance of a morality of virtue, but he also recognizes the importance of an open-minded point of view. Rather than rejecting the plurality of demands and attempting to establish a unified worldview within a tradition of thought, Dewey seeks to engage the problematic situation with clarity and courage. He seeks a moral theory that is flexible, wise, and committed to effective action; he seeks good results over theoretical consistency, and moral progress over conservation of tradition. He anticipates what Maclntyre is trying to do, but he also understands that to be effective philosophy must be broad, pluralistic, and flexible. What Maclntyre sees, then, as a weakness, Dewey sees as a strength. Maclntyre appeals to fear of the current cultural malaise; Dewey appeals to courage and hope for a better tomorrow. Rather than seeking a solution in a return to tradition, Dewey looks for it on the path to the future.


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Abelard, Peter 119 absolutes 8 adequacy 11314 Alexander, Thomas M. 126-7 Anaximander 24 Anaximenes 24 Aristotle 7, 12-14, 20-1, 28, 41, 72-3, 80 art and science 38, 59-60 authority 14,58,119,129 Bentham, Jeremy 8 biology 13,71-8 chance 88 character 35,40 communication 106, 122-9 communitarianism 127 community 104, 106, 112, 120-9 consummation of experience 36, 38, 50 context 21, 39, 46, 53, 92, 93, 128 "contextual" 115 creativity 33,69-71,112 criticism 15,111-12,114 Crowther, Paul 84-5 culture 34, 105, 107-8 Darwinian evolutionary theory 13, 28-9, 76-7 democracy 122,124,126-7,129 Descartes, Rene 12 Dunne, Joseph 18 education 45,68-70,106 Enlightenment 8, 9, 24-5, 122, 127 emotivism 8, 122 ends and means 36-8, 59, 94-5 "epistemological crisis" 11 experience, primary and reflective 29-30, 114, 116, 118 experimentation 32, 34, 35, 114, 118, 122

Fahey, Gregory M. freedom 121-4


Garrison, James W. 68 Gouinlock, James 61, 96-7, 116 Graham, Gordon 11,21,107 growth, Dewey's idea of 42-5, 959, 120, 123-4, 128 habit 30-3, 35, 72 Hickman, Larry A. 115-16 histories 29,36 Hobbes, Thomas 8, 25 Homer 84 Hook, Sidney 97-8 human conduct 57, 87, 90, 104 human nature 57,72-6,81-90,91,99, 123 human practices 56^71 individualism 121, 126 individuality 119, 121, 124, 125, 127, 129 innovation 34-5,70,71 institutions 66,67 intelligence 31-3,41,60 goods, internal and external 14, 58-60 intersubjectivity 83,108,117 justice 20-2 8, 25, 50, 108

Kant, Immanuel liberalism


McMylor, Peter 91,92 Mead, George H. 88-9 Melisians 24 Mill, John Stuart 25, 50, 120-1 mind 9,52,113-14,115-16 modernity 12, 20-6, 101, 126 moralinquiry 11,23,104-19

Index moral principles 48-52 mutual dependency 17 naturalism 92,97 Nietzsche, Friedrich 7-9, 107, 118 Nozick, Robert 121 Pappas, Gregory Fernando 61~2, 63, 82, 115 Peirce, Charles Sanders 20 Pekarsky, Daniel 98,124-5 Plato 20,21 pluralism 97, 121, 126-7, 128 Porter, Jean 119 practical wisdom (phronesis) 20~2 practice, Maclntyre's idea of 13-15, see also human practices Prior, William J. 73 qualities 37-8 Rawlsjohn 121 Rice, Eugene 112-13 Rosenbaum, Stuart 108,128-9 satisfaction 30-2, 34, 36 satisfactory, satisfying 38, 92-3 Savage, Daniel M. 96, 125, 127-8


Scholasticism 25 Seigfried, Hans 106-7 selective emphasis 29, 46, 76, 77 self Dewey's idea of 87-9 narrative conception of 15-16, 82-6 social theory of 81-90 situation 52-4 "situational" 115 situationalism 53 social intelligence 118,125-6 standards of excellence 14, 65-7, 70-1 Teehanjohn 62-3 telos 12,16,21,86,91-101 Thales 24 tolerance 26, 122 tradition 9-11,23-6, 104-12, 117, 119 transformation, transformed 30, 32, 36, 42 truth 112-14 vulnerability 18, 19

Wain, Kenneth 126 Weinstein, Jack Russell 85,111 Wittgenstein, Ludwig 22