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«MacIntyre’s Theistic Eudaimonism In a Fallen World In Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for Philosophical Ethics PH860/560 Presented to Nancey ...»

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MacIntyre’s Theistic Eudaimonism

In a Fallen World

In Partial Fulfilment of the Requirements for

Philosophical Ethics PH860/560

Presented to Nancey Murphy

Fuller Theological Seminary

Chester J. DeLagneau

March 22, 2013

WC: 7,356

The precepts of ethics now have to be understood not only as teleological injunctions, but

also as expressions of a divinely ordained law. The table of virtues and vices has to be

amended and added to and a concept of sin is added to the Aristotelian concept of error.

The law of God requires a new kind of respect and awe. The true end of man can no longer be completed achieved in this world, but only in another.

—Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue1 Introduction As eudaimonists, Owen Flanagan and Alasdair MacIntyre both believe that the good life for human beings requires virtuous living, which is in accord with right reason. But as a naturalist, Flanagan’s view of the virtues differs from MacIntyre’s Thomism. In this paper, I make two kinds of arguments within an ethical framework: philosophical and theological. First, I argue that MacIntyre’s theistic eudaimonism could be justified in a world where God exists, but Flanagan’s ethical eudaimonism is inadequate in a world where the Abrahamic God exists.

Secondly, I argue that MacIntyre’s theistic eudaimonism coupled with his conception of the disunity of the virtues opens up the possibility for flourishing in a fallen world not in spite of suffering but in tandem with suffering.

1 The God Question Imagine the possibility that God is standing behind a curtain and we are prevented from peeking behind it in order to make sure that he is in fact there. The mere prospect that God is real affects or changes how we understand ourselves and the world in which we live. For example, if the question of God’s existence had never been brought up human beings would have continued to live in whatever ethical ways their socio-political culture entailed. But when the God question was raised people seem to have shifted in their thinking from self-governing creatures to Godgoverned creatures because that is how the majority of the population have been behaving for Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 3rd ed. (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 2007), 53.

thousands of years. The point I am trying to make is not that we ought to live ethical lives because we can prove with absolute certainty that God exists; rather, the point is that that we ought to live ethical lives because we cannot prove with absolute certainty whether or not God actually does exist. The prevailing intuition is that the question of God’s existence exposes people to a viable option when it comes to ethics. That option is theistic eudaimonism.

2 Aristotle’s Ethical Eudaimonism Before I begin to describe theistic eudaimonism, particularly MacIntyre’s Thomistic

eudaimonism, it would be appropriate to discuss the type of eudaimonism that preceded it:

Aristotle’s ethical eudaimonism. To the ancient and medieval thinkers, the classical Greek term for flourishing is (eudaimonia), which is commonly translated as happiness, blessedness, or wellbeing and is “identified with summum bonum, the supreme or highest good, the objectively good life for humans.”2 “It is the state of being well and doing well in being well….”3 What makes the good life objective opposed to subjective is that happiness is a starting point for the sake of or that aims at an end.4 MacIntyre elucidates: “Every activity, every enquiry, every practice aims at some good; for by ‘the good’ or ‘a good’ we mean that at which human beings characteristically aim.”5 According to Aristotle—arguably the most influential eudaimonist in history—the general agreement between people vis-à-vis “the good” is happiness “and [they] identify living well and David A. Horner, “The Pursuit of Happiness: Why Christian Ethics Should be Eudaimonistic,” Evangelical Philosophical Society (November 2003): 4.

MacIntyre, After Virtue, 148.

See Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics 1.12.1102a1 (cited as NE).

MacIntyre, After Virtue, 148.

doing well with being happy.”6 He goes on to say that even though the ethical consensus is eudaimonistic, “the many” and “the wise” disagree as to what this happiness is: “For the former think [happiness] is some plain and obvious thing, like pleasure, wealth, or honour.”7 They would fall into the category of subjective happiness. But for the latter, which includes Aristotle, happiness is broader than that. He sketches his portrait of eudaimonia to include morality and objective living, which is tantamount to “virtuous action” or making “the best of circumstances”8 (distinguishing his teleologically “thick” concept of eudaimonia from a teleologically “thin” concept of eudaimonia).9 In the penultimate chapter to Book 1 of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argues that happiness is a “first principle.”10 The Greek word (archē) is translated into the English word principle, which in classical and biblical Greek means “beginning” or “starting point,” not the modern interpretation of “rule” or “law.” Thus, happiness is a starting point. But a starting point for what? As noted earlier it is for the sake of an end. At this point happiness as a starting point for the sake of an end sounds like a consequentialist (utilitarian) theory of action, which argues that the end justifies the means.11 According to Julia Annas, however, that is highly improbable. In her book, The Morality of Happiness, she describes which teleological ethical





NE 1.4.1095a15 in Introduction to Aristotle, 2nd ed. trans. W. D. Ross, ed. Richard McKeon (Chicago:

University of Chicago Press, 1973), 349.

NE 1.4.1095a20.

NE 1.10.1100b15, 1101a1. MacIntyre writes, “[T]he exercise of the virtues requires... a capacity to judge [prudently] and to do the right thing in the right place at the right time in the right way.” Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 3rd ed. (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 2007), 150.

This notion of “thin” eudaimonia is borrowed from Julia Annas’ book, The Morality of Happiness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

NE 1.12.1102a1.

Admittedly for MacIntyre, the exercise of virtues appears to be a means-to-end enterprise, which is not clearly delineated by Aristotle. But MacIntyre does seem to tip his hat at Anthony Kenny’s commentary of the NE (1228a1): “ ‘It is the correctness of the end of the purposive choice of which virtue is the cause.’ ” MacIntyre, After Virtue, 149. That is, the means by which to achieve the end is not contingent but necessary because virtue is necessarily correlated to the good and, in fact, it is the cause of it.

activity the ancients preferred and practiced. She argues that there is an “almost complete absence in ancient ethics of anything resembling consequentialist ideas.”12 So what does this means-to-end relationship look like?

David A. Horner paints a colourful picture:

Actions done for the sake of the end of “living according to virtue,” for example, do not produce that end, or maximize it; rather they exemplify or express it – they are constituents of it. Eudaimonia is not thought of as a state or a set of consequences to be produced, as on utilitarianism, but rather a moral kind of life to be lived. There is an intrinsic moral connection between the moral end of flourishing and actions that are done for its sake. Thus, for eudaimonists, unlike utilitarians, some “means” to happiness are absolutely ruled out.13 So there are teleological ethical systems like utilitarianism that prescribe that the means maximize the end result, rather than exemplify it. But that is not so for eudaimonism.

Eudaimonists like Aristotle suggest that there is a necessary connection between summum bonum for human beings and doing the right thing. As MacIntyre makes clear, “Aristotle’s view is teleological, but it is not consequentialist.”14 3 Aquinas’ Theistic Eudaimonism For Aristotle the fact that there is a necessary moral connection between summum bonum and doing the right thing means that the universal end as happiness is embodied through virtuous means by which “the man who is truly good and wise... always makes the best of circumstances.”15 For Aquinas, who—generally speaking—synthesized the traditions of

–  –  –

Aristotelianism and Augustinianism,16 also propounded that there is a necessary moral connection between the pursuit of happiness and doing the right thing; however, there are seminal differences between Aristotle’s conception of eudaimonia and Aquinas’. I will discuss three below: (1) human nature, (2) telos and (3) virtues.

To some degree Aquinas inherited Augustine’s Pauline doctrine of anthropology.17 “On Aquinas’ account the Augustinian understanding of the Christian doctrine of human nature does not merely show that Aristotle’s theory of practical life is incomplete, in the sense that it needs to be supplemented. It shows it to be incomplete in a way which involves radical defectiveness (see A. Donagan Human Ends and Human Actions, Milwaukee, 1985).”18 For Aristotle the description of the virtues of the polis are normative for human nature. Simply put, the is of the Greek city-state becomes the ought. But to Aquinas this reasoning is radically defective even though he “describes the norms of human nature as such, and expects to find them exemplified in human life in particular societies” because he “cannot treat the descriptive task with the confidence of Aristotle because he has a belief in original sin….”19 In other words, he does not share Aristotle’s optimism for human nature. Furthermore, according to MacIntyre, “Aquinas was able to show how the will, conceived in Augustinian fashion, could both serve and mislead Synthesizing these traditions was no simple task: “What Aquinas had to reckon with were two rival, incompatible and apparently incommensurable traditions, each with its own history and its own developed and developing mode of enquiry and each requiring its own institutionalizing embodiment in certain highly specific forms.” Alasdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1990), 116.

I say “to some degree” because Aquinas does not have the same Augustinian belief in “the wholesale corruption of human desires and choices [thus] he can treat human nature as it is a tolerably reliable guide to human nature as it ought to be. [And] as a Christian he, unlike Aristotle, although like the Stoics, treats human nature as one in all men.” Alasdair MacIntyre, A Short History of Ethics, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1996), 118.

Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1988), 193.

Alasdair MacIntyre, A Short History of Ethics, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1996), 118.

“[H]uman nature as it ought to be, not human nature as it is, is the norm.” Ibid.

the mind, as conceived in Aristotelian fashion.”20 In unregenerate human beings, there is a “collusion of the will in moral evil”:21 a will to choose to do evil;22 thus, people’s disobedience to the law is the result of mala voluntas (bad or defective will) not, as Aristotle believed, a result of akrasia (knowing the good and not doing it).23 For Aquinas, each act of disobedience is a consequence of a corruption of reason by the force of some passion.24 And this disobedience, which cannot be eradicated even by the most refined moral education, speaks to the “collusion of the will in moral evil….” And this moral evil stems from a defective human nature caused by original sin. For Aquinas, the only remedy is God’s grace.

The telos (end or goal) for Aquinas is not the Aristotelian notion of fulfilling one’s nature via reasonable and virtuous living,25 but the notion of culminating one’s journey into the “presence of God himself, into the good life and happy state which God himself is….”26 God, who is perfectly happy, is the object of people’s happiness. That is, “God’s happiness is God; for him his very existence is an activity by which he is fulfilled from within and not from without;

but man’s ultimate fulfilment comes by cleaving to God.”27 Thus, humanity’s ultimate goal is to be with God. But because this life presents us with multifarious worldly preoccupations, MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, 124.

MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? 181.

This is contrary to Augustine’s doctrine of the bondage of the will, whereby fallen humanity is not able not to sin (non posse non peccare).

The concept of (natural and revealed) laws for Aquinas implies moral rules, which one must obey or follow to flourish. But for social contract theorists like John Rawls, laws are not the dominant focus. Rather, the political rights and values of all citizens for a just and fair society via an “overlapping consensus” are essential for the good life. See John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2001), 183.

MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? 181.

Even though, for Aquinas, happiness in this life requires these things.

Timothy McDermott, “Introductory Comment,” in Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation, ed.

Timothy McDermott (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1989), 169.

ST: A Concise Translation, 176. See Summa Theologica I-II.Q.3.A.2 (cited as ST).



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