MD The Eudaimonic MoQ (solution part 1)

From: Wim Nusselder (
Date: Thu Apr 10 2003 - 21:13:57 BST

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    [Part 2A of]


    Clearly the way to understand a fourth level, existing above the social
    level, is through describing the values which override social values. Thus,
    whatever the fourth level is, it must be something which emerges from the
    social level, but which cannot be captured through a description of the
    social level. More precisely, given that we are describing human activity,
    it must describe the way in which a particular human being rejects social
    values, in favour of a higher value. Put at its most simple, the fourth
    level occurs when a particular human being is able to say "My society says
    that this is good, but is my society right to say so?" - in other words,
    there is a questioning of social values. We are fortunate that there are
    some historical accounts of this process, and this history is one of the
    main strengths of my proposed revision.

    The capacity to break out from social conditioning, ie to question social
    values, depends upon the ability to distinguish oneself as an individual
    apart from the various social roles that are played. In After Virtue,
    Alasdair MacIntyre discusses Homeric virtue (the arete that Pirsig also
    discusses in ZMM) and he argues that "morality and social structure are in
    fact one and the same in heroic society. There is only one set of social
    bonds. Morality as something distinct does not yet exist. Evaluative
    questions are questions of social fact. It is for this reason that Homer
    speaks always of knowledge of what to do and how to judge." It is only when
    there is some sense of self as something apart from those social roles (eg
    husband or wife, child or parent, noble or slave) that there is the
    possibility of judgement about what is right - in MoQ terms, that openness
    to DQ depends upon a degree of detachment from the social role.

    Just as the cell is the unit at the biological level, and the social roles
    represent the unit at the social level (eg father, husband, son, farmer,
    politician, scientist), the unit of the fourth level is not a disembodied
    rational intellect, but an autonomous - ie socially detached - individual.
    And that autonomy is not dependent primarily upon reason, but upon emotional
    maturity. MacIntyre describes the transition (from human being as social
    unit, to human being as individual) as being the change from the story of
    the tribe or nation, to being the story of the individual. What is crucially
    at issue is a transition from being a vehicle or unit of that social order -
    and therefore whose decisions are wholly determined by that order - to being
    an autonomous unit of decision making, "For freedom of choice of values
    would, from the standpoint of a tradition ultimately rooted in heroic
    socieies, appear more like the freedom of ghosts - of those whose human
    substance approached vanishing point - than that of men". Sometime around
    Homer and Isaiah, but best exemplified in the culture of fifth century
    Athens (where Socrates appears at the tail end), human beings gained the
    capacity to operate as individuals, and not as social units. Whenever a
    human being is in a decision making situation pre-5th century, then their
    decisions are geared around an application of biological and social level
    elements, eg instinct (run away from lions and tigers) or (eg)retribution
    (maintain status of clan or tribe). For various reasons, largely contact
    with other civilisations and greater affluence, human beings in Classical
    Greece became able to consider themselves separately from their social role;
    moreover, they began to dscriminate and judge between the claims of
    alternative societies. The key is that whereas before your identity was
    exhaustively defined by your social role, and your place in the story of
    that society, and your decisions were determined by the values of that
    society, now your identity is able to maintain its own narrative structure,
    your place is determined by the quality of your own actions, and your
    decisions are determined by your own values.

    The pre-eminent forum for this discrimination was the theatre, which
    pre-dates the philosophical innovations. A quotation from Martha Nussbaum
    (The Fragility of Goodness):

    "It is not accidental that it was in fifth-century Athens that this
    dialectical debate-filled sort of theater got its hold. These aspects of
    tragedy [their capacity to communicate ethical teaching, ie arete] are
    thoroughly continuous with the nature of Athenian political discourse, where
    public debate is everywhere, and each citizen is encouraged to be either a
    participant or at least an actively critical judge... Plato's debt to tragic
    theatre is not a debt to some arbitrary aesthetic invention - it is at the
    same time a debt to the social institutions of his culture. In the same way,
    his repudiations of tragedy and of Athenian democracy are closely linked".

    [to be continued]

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