Once again, virtue

This short text seeks to bring to our attention an aspect defined by the Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in his ethics: as moral agents, we, human beings, are rational and dependent animals. In the book Dependent Rational Animals, published in 1999, MacIntyre seeks to support his point of view that virtues are essential for human life. To this end, he proposes that humans are vulnerable and dependent creatures who owe their existence, survival, and development to (flourishing) others. To prove this proposition, MacIntyre draws parallels between human beings and brilliant animals, such as dolphins and chimpanzees, and argues that human vulnerability and the dependence that each person has on others, and the need for a conception of social relations and the common good that supports virtues of rational independence (virtues of rational independence) and recognized dependence (virtues of recognized dependence).

Of particular interest here is the idea that flourishing demands other people. This notion is associated by the author with good, which is described in the book on three levels: first, some things can be seen as a means to an end (abilities, opportunities, capabilities that allow someone to achieve a good); secondly, the good as an end in itself, defined as something internal to certain practices that someone can engage in socially. Finally, the good is attributed to judgments of how an individual or community can order the goods of their lives – the good that is associated with human flourishing itself. These judgments must be articulated rationally, and because they are practical, they allow the person to become a “practical reasoner.”

This person, this practical reasoner, is someone who has already overcome the dependence associated with the child in a family or custody relationship (child-parent/child-guardian relationships) and is capable of evaluating and modifying their judgments in the face of reason, which allows you to choose reasonably between alternatives. The person must have the ability to understand what good is and what it takes to achieve it, but they also need a sense of independence, something that is practically impossible in childhood. Furthermore, a person must be able to set aside their immediate desires and pursue long-term goals.

That said, the ability to seek the good is limited only to the individual, which conflicts with the thinking of a philosopher interested in the community and its traditions, such as MacIntyre. However, this conflict does not exist; MacIntyre clarifies that the independent practical reasoner recognizes their dependence on others. And this, for MacIntyre, demands moral and intellectual virtues. As the child grows, more and more social relationships are established, essential for practical reasoning to be possible, and these relationships demand virtue.

Within a community, each person engages in relationships in which they both give something to others and receive something from them privately or from others. This giving is non-calculated: the virtuous agent is not concerned with reciprocity or asymmetry; what he gives to others is something that his reason told him should be provided. In other words, it is not a market exchange involving equivalent value. The individual good requires practical reasoning, and the common good requires political reasoning: from “which goods play something in my life,” we move on to the idea of “what role these goods can play in the life of the community.”

Much more could be said here, but space limits preclude further treatment of MacIntyre’s complex formulation in Dependent Rational Animals. In conclusion, I would like to highlight the fact that the individual is the one who exercises virtue, but such exercise is only possible in relationships with other individuals. The individual good also requires considering the good that can be produced with action for a community, and only those who can reason independently, that is, according to a reflection on the individual good, aware of the dependence that each one has on other human beings, they can at the same time achieve this good for themselves and the good for their community.

MacIntyre has never hidden his contempt for classical political liberalism, which he accuses of eroding community values and replacing them with those of individuals. However, in Dependent Rational Animals, the human community is seen as a gathering of independent human beings, even though they recognize their dependence on each other. This doesn’t make him a liberal, but it at least reduces his bias against individualism.

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