📰 MacIntyre on Money - Prospect Magazine
Full Title: MacIntyre on Money - Prospect Magazine
MacIntyre’s key moral and political idea is that to be human is to be an Aristotelian goal-driven, social animal. Being good, according to Aristotle, consists in a creature (whether plant, animal, or human) acting according to its Nature—its Telos, or purpose. The Telos for human beings is to generate a communal life with others; and the good society is composed of many independent, self-reliant groups.
Ever since he published his key text After Virtue in 1981, he has argued that moral behaviour begins with the good practice of a profession, trade, or art: playing the violin, cutting hair, brick-laying, teaching philosophy. Through these everyday social practices, he maintains, people develop the appropriate virtues. In other words, the virtues necessary for human flourishing are not a result of the top-down application of abstract ethical principles, but the development of good character in everyday life.
In philosophy he attacks consequentialism, the view that what matters about an action is its consequences, which is usually coupled with Utilitarianism’s “greatest happiness” principle. He also rejects Kantianism—the identification of universal ethical maxims based on reason and applied to circumstances top down.
MacIntyre’s critique routinely cites the contradictory moral principles adopted by the allies in the second world war. Britain invoked a Kantian reason for declaring war on Germany: that Hitler could not be allowed to invade his neighbours. But the bombing of Dresden (which for a Kantian involved the treatment of people as a means to an end, something that should never be countenanced) was justified under consequentialist or utilitarian arguments: to bring the war to a swift end.
MacIntyre seeks to oppose Utilitarianism on the grounds that people are called on by their very nature to be good, not merely to perform acts that can be interpreted as good.
When it comes to the money-men, MacIntyre applies his metaphysical approach with unrelenting rigour. There are skills, he argues, like being a good burglar, that are inimical to the virtues. Those engaged in finance—particularly money trading—are, in MacIntyre’s view, like good burglars. Teaching ethics to traders is as pointless as reading Aristotle to your dog. The better the trader, the more morally despicable.
Successful money-men do not—and cannot—take into account the human victims of the collateral damage resulting from market crises. Hence the financial sector is in essence an environment of “bad character” despite the fact that it appears to many a benevolent engine of growth.
MacIntyre’s conversion to Catholicism in his fifties, he tells me, occurred as a result of being convinced of Thomism while attempting to disabuse his students of its authenticity.
The imposition of unjust debt is a symptom of the “moral condition of the economic system of advanced Modernity, and is in its most basic forms an expression of the vices of intemperateness, and injustice, and imprudence.”
Those who expose others to risk in the financial markets must spell out in public and in advance the risks that they are distributing in intelligible terms.
MacIntyre appears to have entered an endgame position involving a hybrid of Marx and Aquinas, with Marx as the prime influence.
The link between Aquinas and the 20th century is distributism, a philosophy which repudiated usury, communism and capitalism in equal measure for an economy based on guilds, specialist associations, self-sufficiency and barter.
“We are waiting not for a Godot,” he concludes in After Virtue, “but for another—doubtless very different—St Benedict.” But who or what would that look like? He does not, as yet, say.