Lecture: Contemporary Communitarianism, part II

Ian Shapiro - Yale

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Lecture Description

In this lecture, Professor Shapiro delves into the nuances of MacIntyre's argument, focusing specifically on his Aristotelian account of human psychology. It has two features: (1) man's nature is inherently teleological or purposive, and (2) human behavior is fundamentally other-directed, in that a person's happiness is conditioned upon the experience of others as it relates to him, particularly on the feeling of being valued by someone he values. MacIntyre's account of human psychology highlights the malleability and the contingency of human nature. There is the untutored, or raw, condition, and there is the condition of having realized one's telos. Ethics are how one evolves from the former to the latter, but MacIntyre notes that ethics are designed to improve behavior, not to describe or aggregate it. Therefore, ethics cannot be deduced from true statements about human nature (like Bentham's pain-avoidance/pleasure-seeking principle): this is his criticism of the Enlightenment project. But he does concede the Enlightenment notion that human beings are capable of thinking critically about purposes and goals. However, in order to have an effect on the people it is intended to influence, this critical reflection should originate from within the system of norms that people believe in and operate in. Thus, the anti-Enlightenment story subordinates the individual to the practice, to the group, and to the inherited system of norms and values.

Course Description

This course explores main answers to the question "when do governments deserve our allegiance?" It starts with a survey of major political theories of the Enlightenment—Utilitarianism, Marxism, and the social contract tradition—through classical formulations, historical context, and contemporary debates relating to politics today. It then turns to the rejection of Enlightenment political thinking. Lastly, it deals with the nature of, and justifications for, democratic politics, and their relations to Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment political thinking. Practical implications of these arguments are covered through discussion of a variety of concrete problems.

from course: The Moral Foundations of Politics


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