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I show how the account of strong evaluative meaning developed in Chapter 1 allows us to overcome problems in prominent views among neo-Aristotelians of the relationship of virtue to happiness (e.g., instrumentalist accounts) by enabling us to regard virtue as constitutive of happiness understood as a normatively higher, nobler, more meaningful mode of life, and which I show is in keeping with Aristotle’s own view of eudaimonia. I engage here especially with Philippa Foot, since she has endorsed each of the prominent views I consider throughout her career. In making the case for my constitutive view I also seek to avoid McDowell’s problematic claim that “no sacrifice necessitated by the life of excellence … can count as a genuine loss.” My account of a meaningful life aims to address the problem of loss in human life, which I argue requires us to address the problem of cosmodicy (i.e., the problem of affirming life in the world as worthwhile in the face of evil and suffering). This problem is taken up further in Chapters 4 and 5.
I introduce the main theme of the book: the problem of disenchantment and neo-Aristotelian ethics as a response to this problem. I also describe my central objective of articulating and defending an even fuller kind of re-enchantment than is found in any of the major neo-Aristotelian views on offer and how this is connected to an understanding of human beings as being fundamentally and distinctively the meaning-seeking animal. Additionally, I seek to clarify what is meant by “disenchantment” and “re-enchantment” in order to avoid some possible misunderstandings. Finally, I provide an overview of each of the chapters that follow.
I explore the place of spirituality within a neo-Aristotelian ethical perspective. Among neo-Aristotelians this issue is often either ignored or excluded from consideration. I discuss why this is and also why it is problematic. More positively, I suggest how spirituality can play an important role in a neo-Aristotelian account of “the good life.” By “spirituality” I mean a practical life-orientation that is shaped by what is taken to be a self-transcending source of meaning, which involves strong normative demands, including demands of the sacred or the reverence-worthy. I argue that through an exploration of the strong evaluative standpoint from within our human form of life as meaning-seeking animals we can come to appreciate better the importance of spirituality for human beings throughout recorded history and why we can be described as homo religiosus. In addition, I argue against the anti-contemplative stance of many neo-Aristotelians and for the integral importance of contemplation for human life, and for the spiritual life in particular. I also discuss the draw of theistic spirituality, even though my account allows for both theistic and non-theistic forms of spirituality.
I seek to establish the claim that we are fundamentally and distinctively the meaning-seeking animal through an exploration of the engaged standpoint from within our human form of life, where it can be seen that our human form of life is shaped by “strong evaluative meaning,” that is, meaning or value that involves qualitative distinction (e.g., between higher and lower, noble and base, sacred and profane, etc.) and places normative demands upon us. I also show how this dimension of meaning is overlooked by the dominant neo-Aristotelian approach because of its emphasis on a disengaged standpoint on our human form of life rather than an engaged standpoint and, thus, it does not provide us with an adequate philosophical anthropology and along with this it does not provide us with an adequate account of our reasons for the life of virtue. Moreover, I seek to counter a disenchanting move made by such neo-Aristotelians that involves denying any special realm of obligation. There is such a realm, I argue, and it is the whole realm of strong evaluative meaning, which includes more than just the domain of “the moral” narrowly construed as concerned with what we owe to others.
In this book I have tried to articulate my dissatisfaction with the flatness of the dominant approach to neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics and offer a better approach that seeks re-enchantment. Even though all neo-Aristotelians can be seen as seeking at least a minimal form of re-enchantment in virtue of responding to the modern problem of disenchantment (i.e., the perceived loss or threat of loss of meaning or value), I have sought to argue for a fuller re-enchantment than any of the major views on offer.
I make the case that neo-Aristotelian virtue ethicists need to address the question of the meaning of life (i.e., the question of how our lives fit into the grand scheme of things and whether there is a cosmic or ultimate source of meaning to which we must align our lives). I examine Bernard Williams’ forceful challenge that evolutionary science has done away with the sort of teleological worldview that is needed in order to make sense of an Aristotelian ethical perspective. I consider Hursthouse’s response to Williams’ challenge and argue that it is not sufficient. I also argue against McDowell’s quietism according to which we should remain content with the strong evaluative meanings that arise for us within a particular acquired ethical outlook (e.g., our sense of the noble) and not seek to provide any ontological grounding or justification for them beyond appealing to our second nature. I contend that what we need is in fact a teleological worldview. Against Williams, I argue that there is no necessary incompatibility between evolutionary science and a teleological worldview, and indeed there is some good reason to affirm such a worldview.
I discuss how strong evaluative meaning makes an important difference for a proper account of the nature and extent of the demands for other-regarding concern. The dominant neo-Aristotelian approach has regarded the other-regarding virtues (e.g., justice, generosity, honesty, etc.) as virtues primarily because of their role in promoting the “good functioning of our social group,” which is seen as important for achieving our own flourishing as rational social animals. I focus especially on MacIntyre’s account of other-regarding concern as rooted in social networks of giving and receiving in his book Dependent Rational Animals. What is overlooked in the dominant approach is the strong evaluative sense of human beings as being worthy of our concern for their own sake due to their inherent dignity (or sanctity) and that a normatively higher, nobler, more meaningful mode of life can be achieved through such concern. I seek to show the difference this makes for ensuring that we regard all human beings as fully amongst us, for making sense of and defending moral absolutes, and for properly responding to the demands of universal and particular concern.
The revival of Aristotelian virtue ethics can be seen as a response to the modern problem of disenchantment, that is, the perceived loss of meaning in modernity. However, in Virtue and Meaning, David McPherson contends that the dominant approach still embraces an overly disenchanted view. In a wide-ranging discussion, McPherson argues for a more fully re-enchanted perspective that gives better recognition to the meanings by which we live and after which we seek, and to the fact that human beings are the meaning-seeking animal. In doing so, he defends distinctive accounts of the relationship between virtue and happiness, other-regarding demands, and the significance of linking neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics with a view of the meaning of life and a spiritual life where contemplation has a central role. This book will be valuable for philosophers and other readers who are interested in virtue ethics and the perennial question of the meaning of life.
This essay articulates a kind of conservatism that it argues is the most fundamental and important kind of conservatism, viz. existential conservatism, which involves an affirmative and appreciative stance towards the given world. While this form of conservatism can be connected to political conservatism, as seen with Roger Scruton, it need not be, as seen with G. A. Cohen. It is argued that existential conservatism should be embraced whether or not one embraces political conservatism, though it is also shown that existential conservatism imposes constraints on our political thinking. In particular, it is argued that Cohen's ‘luck egalitarianism’ stands at odds with his existential conservatism and that one should be a sufficientarian rather than an egalitarian with regard to economic justice.
This article seeks to get clear on an important feature of a theistic way of life: namely, the appeal to ‘deep desires’ as part of an ethical and spiritual life-orientation. My main thesis is that such appeals should primarily be seen as pertaining to our acquired second nature and the space of meaning it makes possible, rather than first nature or innateness. To appeal to the ‘depth’ of a desire, on this account, is to say something about its normative importance: it is something of profound significance for our human fulfilment about which we ought to be concerned, and it correlates with the normative ‘height’ of the object of desire. Thus, our deepest desire correlates with what is seen as the highest or most worthy object of our desire (or love), which the theist claims is God. This view is contrasted with subjectivist accounts where desires are seen as ‘deep’ in that they structure our identity. My account affirms that deep desires structure our identity, but they do so because of their perceived objective normative importance. I also seek to show how we should affirm Alasdair MacIntyre's claim that ‘the deepest desire of every [human] being, whether they acknowledge it or not, is to be at one with God’.